He slowly opened his eyes. They burned as he tried to focus on something. On anything. Everything was a blurred shade of green. Wiping away the blood, he could see a little clearer. Intense pain radiated from his forehead. An open gash.
What happened? Where am I?
Sitting up to examine his surroundings, he found himself in a small field of debris — miscellaneous wreckage and broken equipment. Its origin: a small shipwreck where the surf met the beach. The craft, presumably his, was partially run aground with its aft bobbing in the waves. The glass of the wheelhouse had shattered and much of its contents, himself included, expelled and strewn onto the shore for twenty body lengths beyond the bow like a beached Leviathan that vomited its last supper.
He tried to recall the impact or even his own name, but only blankness and a throbbing brow ensued. Continuing to scan the beach, he saw something familiar. He slowly stood up and walked to a container, half-buried in the sand. He vaguely recalled it had been the receptacle for his fuel. Badly damaged and now free of its once tightly sealed lid, hardly any of its original contents remained.
Forcing his aching body to stand tall, he surveyed the beach past the site of the wreck. Though his expectations were low, the emptiness was alarming. Panicked, he limped to the small dune at the top of the beach to look beyond. Again, nothing, save an endless body of water stretched out as far as he could see.
His ship had crashed on a tiny, lifeless island.
Disheartened, he walked to his vessel and climbed through the hatch in the hull. He tried starting the engines, but the only hint of power was a flashing red light — an indication the craft had no fuel. He searched the contents of the cabin and found a power generator.
It was also empty.
A faint hum interrupted his thoughts. An alert, emanating from a portable transceiver. Words flashed on the display: Text Communication Received.
The screen was dim from the lack of power, but the message was clear enough.
My name is Frederica,
I am an amateur radio operator in California. I picked up your signal on this obscure frequency that I monitor, but was unable to determine its point of origin. It appears to be a mayday. Am I correct? It also seems to be encrypted and I cannot decipher it. If you receive this, please reply with your GPS coordinates and I will notify the authorities. They will send rescue if needed.
Maybe there was hope, after all. He was about to reply when another, less sanguine message appeared: Insufficient Power to Transmit.
With the amount of fuel he had left in the container, he could power the generator and attempt to reply.
Or, he could shove off this island and power up the engines for a very short time.
His ship seemed seaworthy but even if it could float, which direction would he go and would he find help?
As he contemplated his choices, he noticed a small speck of land on the port side horizon.
Could it be an inhabited island?
Scavenging what few supplies he could from the cabin and beach, he realized just how grim his situation was.
Enough sustenance for roughly fifteen sunsets. I’ll need to decide soon.
Crawling into the small bed in his cramped quarters, he drifted off. The waves gently crashed against the hull, rocking him like a mother’s foot on a cradle.
Sometime later he awoke to darkness. He climbed from the cabin back onto the beach and sat, deep in thought.
Two choices. Both are long shots.
His gaze shifted from the generator and transceiver, which now rested on the moonlit shore, to the battered hull of his vessel. Then he stared, fixed for hours in the direction of the faraway island. No sign of life. Nary a flicker or glow of light.
Finally, with an air of determination, he transferred the last fuel from the container to the power generator. He connected the transceiver and began typing:
Crashed on a small island in the middle of some ocean. Injured and have no memory. Minimal supplies. The signal you received must have been my ship’s distress beacon, not a message. Please trace this transmission and send help. Will check back before each night. Very limited power.
The message now sent, he sighed with relief.
The next evening, he powered it up again. No reply. Twenty times, just before sunset he activated the generator, anxiously awaiting a response. The rations had long since depleted along with his optimism. He could barely stand, let alone walk. But where would he go if he could?
Turning on the transceiver for what was likely the last time, the crimson glow of the “Message Received” light blinked. He struggled to focus until the words became clear.
We are in disbelief that you speak our language.
Many people are here with me as I compose this. We all have so many questions. But first, you should know, we have located the source of your transmission —
His skin was cracked and dehydrated, but he managed a small painful, grin and sat up as much as his frail arms could force him.
— and if our approximations are correct, you are in a quadrant of the galaxy unreachable by humankind. When I first received your signal, I assumed you were on —
The message went on but his smile withered and his eyes now dispiritedly focused on the wreckage of his spacecraft, oscillating with the incoming tide. His eyelids were heavy. The yellow glow of the energy crystal which had faithfully powered the generator was now extinguished as was his hope for rescue.
He slumped back down onto the sand.
Beyond his ship he saw a flicker of light from the distant island.
He slowly closed his eyes.
V.M. D’Angelo writes in Bangkok, Thailand.