Listen to this story:
Fiction by J Louis Messina
Illustrations by David Miles
I was ready to have the best time of my life in space, checking out the music and social clubs — until I heard the words that I dreaded most at 14.
“A-Leon,” Mom said, “look after your little sister. We’re going shopping.”
The Space Station Vacation, the largest in the Klagg Galaxy with 50 exotic locations and over 100 amusement rides with the latest technology, was the dream of every kid on the planet Zargo. It was my family’s first trip here.
“Meet us in 30 minitinks at the Ngogn pool,” my dad said. “Don’t be late or lose her again, or you’ll spend the rest of the vacation in the room.”
So unfair! My nine-year-old sister, P-Esst, was worse than the Ragoo meteor shower. It destroyed anything in its path, too. She was a ball of energy with no listening skills. Keeping an eye on her was like tracking the microscopic Bit Bug. It disappeared in a blink, too.
My summer vacation as dead as the Necro-moon, I seized P-Esst’s hand and tugged her over to the teen Cosmos Club to get a cold drink, watch the dances and keep an eye on her.
“No!” P-Esst said, pulling. “I want to do the Space Launchers.”
“You know I really hate those type of rides. I never really have any fun because of you.”
Dragging her to a booth, we sat.
“This is really, really boring,” P-Esst said, mimicking me.
Ignoring her, I looked around. A cute girl signaled me. I blushed. Squeezing through the twirl of dancers, I was about to say something cooler than the Boomerang Nebula, when another girl came over and joined her. She had been gesturing for her friend, not me.
Feeling as dumb as a meteorite, I stumbled back to the booth. P-Esst was gone. I glimpsed her slipping out the front door.
“Come back!” I said, running after her.
She disappeared into the mass of tourists. This can’t be happening!
I jostled into the sea of bodies. At least I knew where she was headed.
I popped out of the crushing horde in time to see P-Esst climb onto the Interstellar Zipper, the fastest hovercraft in the universe. Our parents had bought the VER (Virtually Every Ride) package scanned onto our foreheads and a guaranteed Front of the Line Pass. I ran through the scanner, beeped and hopped onto the vehicle.
As I took off, there was a nanocentury I thought I’d left my head behind. Things and places blurred, my face flattened and a long string of drool looked suspended in the air.
I almost caught her, but P-Esst, a little girl with a lot of nerve, splashed into a pool of shrieking swimmers, and then bounced back onto ground and decelerated at Space Launchers Land.
Trying the same stunt maneuver, I sank into the pool. I clambered out and, drenched to my bones, squished to the Launchers.
P-Esst blasted off. No way I was doing that ride. I’d lose my last 10 lunches. Wait until the little criminal got back. I’d throw her in jail!
Red lights flashed, an alarm rang and a panicked voice cried out over the com: “The last Launcher malfunctioned! It just hurtled into space!”
“I need to save my sister!” I pushed the ride operative out of my way. Gasping, I jumped into another Launcher and buckled in, imagining spending the rest of my life locked in my room. “How can I catch her?”
“Follow the location device on the screen,” the operator said and shut the door.
“Prepare for the wildest flight of your life, space cadets!” a corny commander voice said over speakers inside.
The caution sign above the controls read: “If you have a bad heart, do not ride. Real space flight action.” My heart went bad just reading it.
In an arcsecond, I took off at warp speed into space, rumbling in my seat. A blip on the monitor showed P-Esst’s ship. I clutched the steering control and rocketed after her. But what could I do when I caught up?
“Command control, here,” a voice said. “When you get close enough, push the red button, and a net will discharge.”
“Will do,” I said.
The ship was easy to handle, and I was actually having fun for the first time on my vacation. This was better than a game simulator. I had her Launcher in my sights, flew nearer, and pressed the button. The net sprang out and covered my sister’s ship.
“Ease up!” said command control. “Or we’ll lose you both in the asteroid belt.”
My heart exploding like a supernova, I pulled back on the stick, but it was too late.
Planetoids struck our Launchers, throwing us off course. Our rockets blew out clouds of fire and smoke, and our ships spun farther into outer space at light-speed. We’d traveled 3 parsecs on the display — really, really lost in space now.
“What do I do?” I shouted, but I was in another galaxy on my own. “P-Esst, can you hear me?”
“Read you, A-Leon,” my sister answered. “Isn’t this just jet-kool?”
The asteroids must’ve knocked her head silly. There was nothing jet-kool about this. Then the monitor flashed an alert.
“If we don’t get out of this tailspin, it says we’re going to crash onto that uncharted planet!” I shouted.
“No problem. Deploy your robot. I’ll do the same.”
“Robot?” I pulled down a lever marked “robot assistance.” A panel opened behind me, and out stepped an android 10 mingles high.
“Danger! Danger!” the robot warned.
“No kidding.” Was that all it did? “Can you save us?”
The robot wrapped its arms around me and a protective shield surrounded us. A laser shot from its eyes and cut a hole in the side of the ship. Then it leaped out, zooming through space faster than thought.
My sister’s robot flew beside us, and when we slowed, we were back at the Space Launchers. The robots landed and let us go.
There was applause from the spectators. I waved, feeling heroic.
“Congratulations!” the ride operator said. “You’ve completed your mission.”
“What mission?” I said. “You should fix those things before someone gets killed.”
The operator laughed. “You’re really into the game, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
P-Esst took my hand. “That was all part of the attraction. None of that was real.”
“Oh,” I said in a small voice. “Knew that. Just acting.” I looked at the time. “Only one minitinks left to get to the Ngogn pool. We’ll never make it.”
P-Esst pointed across from the Launchers. “It’s right there.”
“Yeah, knew that, too. Let’s go meet Mom and Dad.
Our parents were sunning around the pool.
“How’d it go?” Mom asked. “Did you kids have fun?”
“Didn’t get lost, did you?” Dad said.
“Not in the least,” I said. “P-Esst is one jet-kool little sister.”
Then we changed into our swim suits and jumped into the pool, really, really lost in playing.