“What about Prisoner #3422?” the warden, Timothy Markowitz, asked thickly. He was staring hard at the back of the head warden’s head, wondering if the man had gone mad. He just said he was releasing all prisoners to different parts of the galaxy that was ordered by the President of the United Nations. It was vital to get them out as soon as possible. How soon could they do that with all the names they had? It was going to take all day to sort out the problem. Timothy sighed. He wanted to fly a starship, not do all this stupid crap. He didn’t even like prison. The food was awful. The prisoners were loud and obnoxious and the head warden looked like he wanted to throttle Timothy all the time. Once, he slipped and fell on a piece of ice and had to have back surgery. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
“Put him on a starship,” Johnson Jones answered with a sugary smile. “He’s no use to us. We’ve studied his intelligence scores, he’s good at math, but not much anything else. With the population exploding, we don’t have any room for him on Earth.” Johnson snorted. “We don’t have room for anyone on Earth, actually, least of all the prisoners.”
Timothy shook his head, looking worried. “This is bad. Very bad. What are we going to do?” he asked critically.
“You’ll still have a job tomorrow-if you do it right!” he snarled, and threw a paper weight at his head. It hit the wall and fell to the floor with a crash.
Timothy swallowed hard, terrified of the head warden’s weird attitude, and nodded. He didn’t want to get kicked off the planet like the other prisoners-he had never gotten in trouble a day in his life. “I just hope I’m not going to hell,” he muttered, and, shaking his head, filled out the prisoner’s release form. At least he wasn’t going anywhere. That was a plus.
Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhhh.
The super-tram was coming in faster than I expected.
I jumped back onto the platform just in time to see it squeal to a stop next to me.
The conductor helped me aboard. “Nervous?” he asked me. He wore a gray tie and a suit. I wore jeans and a t-shirt. I shrugged. “I’ve never been to the moon,” I said.
He snorted and almost smiled. “Very few people have,” he answered. “Let me take those bags.”
He took the bags and tossed them in their rightful compartment; the suitcases landed in their rightful places in one flying leap. I was impressed. Not many people could do that.
Being a conductor must be an interesting job.
Not as good as my job, though.
I was a prisoner with the Department of Corrections, on voluntary leave of absence for three months. I learned my lesson. Never take a hover craft without permission. It was a federal crime on most planets.
“Please,” he instructed. “Take your seat.”
Swallowing hard, I nodded and found a seat by the window.
The conductor came over the loud speaker. “We will be arriving on the Moon in three hours and fifteen seconds,” he chirped. “Buckle your seat belts and hold on tight. It’s going to be a wild ride.”
“Three hours,” someone sitting next to me whistled. “That’s pretty fast.” He shook his head. “Makes me wonder how they build them darn things.” He shook his head again, and chuckled aloud. Hey, I liked this guy. Not more than myself, but still, he was cool. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
I chuckled. Clearly this guy wasn’t a scientist. “I’m Brian,” I said, lying through my teeth. “Brian Jones. I’m a physicist at the University of Norte Dame and I’ve heard that they use microchips in their engine-it programs the trams to move faster.”
“My name is Nicholas Lauder. How are we able to breathe oxygen in space?” he asked me curiously. “I studied astronomy for two years at the University of Michigan before I became a real estate agent, but I’ve been wondering about that.” He frowned. “It’s very peculiar. Very peculiar indeed.”
I shrugged. “Just like in a space shuttle,” I said. “That’s all it is.”
“The trams have been around for awhile,” he said musingly.
I nodded. “They sure have,” I answered.
I didn’t say anything after that. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to talk, it was that the low-gravity amps were making me sleepy.
I curled up in a ball and fell asleep, using my arm as a pillow.
A man in a dark suit came running up to me while I was asleep. Looking left, and then right, he injected me with a syringe. Chuckling to himself, he walked down the aisle and disappeared. I never felt a thing.
Nicholas shook me awake. “Hey, kid,” he said softly. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
I yawned sleepily. “What are you talking about?” I said, rubbing my eyes. “I’m supposed to give a tour of the space station on the moon.” I creaked my neck and looked out the window. Nothing but darkness. Nothing but stars. Stars as vast as the sky at home. I missed Earth, but not that much. “What about lunch?”
Nicholas frowned. “I don’t remember seeing you get on,” he said. “What’s your name?”
I looked at him in confusion. “I just told you that two hours ago.”
“I don’t remember,” Nicholas said.
“You don’t remember?” I squeaked. Clearly, this man was having a mental breakdown. He just wasn’t aware of it. I shook my head. “You know what? Never mind. I don’t care. I just have to get to the space station.”
“We’re not going to a space station.”
“Where are we going?”
Nicholas shrugged. “We’ve been stuck in a worm hole for seventeen years,” he explained. “We’re not going anywhere.” He chuckled. Apparently, he found the whole thing very funny.
I stared at him in shock and horror and couldn’t say anything else. This was too unreal. I couldn’t even blog it online like I could back at the prison. I shook my head. “What do I do now?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “There’s nothing we can do,” he explained. “Most of the people on here have some strange amnesia I can’t relate to.” He glared at me. “Including you.”
A shiver rolled down my spine. I didn’t know what else to say after that.
I got over that shock after like five seconds, especially when I realized I wasn’t going anywhere. I stumbled out of my seat and down the hall to the captain’s quarters. A green alien with tentacles was at the starboard. “It’s our prisoner,” he greeted me. “Good evening, prisoner, I hope you are well.” He looked like he wanted to kick me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let him. I wanted to find out why.
I looked startled. “Evening? I didn’t know you had day and night in space.” I frowned. “I didn’t know I was a prisoner. The only bad thing I’ve ever done is gotten a ticket for my hovercar. I was going seventy in a sixty mile per hour zone. It wasn’t a pretty sight.”
He shrugged. “We have so many crew members we decided to use it before we left.”
“Now we’re stuck in a worm hole.” I frowned disapprovingly.
He nodded, his face crestfallen. “Hey!” he said, brightening. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to get us out of one, would you? I’ll give you a gold coin. The universe is full of gold.”
I scowled. “I’m a physicist,” I said, shaking my head. “Not a magician.”
“That’s funny. According to your files, you’re a prisoner from Earth.”
“I don’t remember committing any crime.”
He sighed and snorted. “They all say that. According to our Intergalactic Laws, we have to tell you that we’re not going to judge you based on color, sex, religion, or creed, and you are welcome to work alongside the other crew members if you feel up to it. If you find a way out of this ship, we are not going to object. Do you understand?”
“In other words,” I said. “We’re all the big crazy.” I laughed. I liked being the big crazy. It sounded nice.
He nodded. “Pretty much.”
“Care to introduce yourself?”
“My name is Getta Gotta Gem. Call me Gem.” The alien smiled, and cackled madly.
“My name is Brian Jones. What kind of worm hole are we stuck in, Gem?” I asked him.
“According to our starboard, it’s one of the largest this galaxy has ever seen,” he said. “Our archives can record anything that has happened in the universe a long, long time ago, including the formation of the worm hole, but it can’t tell us how to get out of one.”
I frowned. I didn’t know what to say that would help. “Bummer,” I said instead. “Do we have any tacos?”
Gem chuckled. “We have tacos from three different galaxies. They’re in the cafeteria.”
I hurried out of the room, eager to find the cafeteria and to eat lunch.
Fun on the starship lasted about five seconds. I wandered around, looking for something to do. The crew members were more than friendly. I talked to Nicholas and Gem for three hours. I played video games in the virtual reality tank. I wandered back to the starboard, hoping to find a way back home.
“Gem,” I said. “I was supposed to start class before I got here. Have you ever tried going through the worm hole?”
He nodded. “Many times,” he replied. “We’ve tried different things to try to get us out of here, and nothing works.” He pointed to the starboard. “That’s the throttle that makes the ship go forward. There’s the break. And those buttons program the ship to do different things.”
“Like what?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “Like, star-jump. We’ve tried to star-jump once, but it didn’t go very far, only three feet, at the most. If we want to star-jump more than three feet, we need more fuel.”
“Where do we get the fuel?” I asked him.
He looked at me strangely. “Gee, you don’t know anything about star ships, do you?” he asked me. “We get the fuel on different planets. We got some fuel three hundred light years ago, and we’re always almost on empty.” He frowned. “I don’t know how to fix it. It’s becoming quite bothersome.”
“What happens to us when we’re in a worm hole?” I asked. “What happens to our psyche?”
“Psyche?” he scowled at me. “Listen, boy, we’re in this together. We can’t get out of it. Sit back and enjoy the ride.”
That’s exactly what I did.