SLOWPOKE • by Richard J. Dowling

Commander James Prieto woke once every fourteen months, and had done so for five hundred years. He would check that the Hidden Greatness was on-course, and that its 100,000 souls were safe in cryogenic suspension. Then he would go back to sleep, and dream of glory.


Today he came out of c-sleep with a red light flashing in the corner of his vision. His stomach fluttered. This was an unscheduled wake-up.

He opened the neural link with the ship’s computer. “What’s up, Sal?”

“We have received a radio transmission.”

“Solar radiation?”

“No,” said Sal. “An intelligible transmission.”

Impossible. Prieto checked the ship’s coordinates. The Hidden Greatness was entering the Danid solar system. Just as it should be. They were 46.3 light years from Earth. There was nobody out here.

Or so he’d been told in the rushed mission-briefings.

But if there was life? An alien civilization ready to protect its homeworld against what it would justifiably see as an invasion? If so, then he had guided the Hidden Greatness all this way for nothing. And the ship was not capable of a return voyage. It would become a tomb for all those on board.

“Play the message,” said Prieto.

At first there was just static, then a perky female voice said, “This is the Danid Planetary Authority. I hope you’re not angry, Commander.”

Prieto scratched his chin. Stunned is what he was. Could it be a hallucination brought on by too many trips in and out of c-sleep?

“The history files say you were going to be the first Commander to form a colony in another solar system,” the message continued. “So I’m sure this will be a disappointment.”

“History files?” Prieto repeated to himself. “What is she talking about?”

“It’s ironic really, but just after your ship left Earth there was a breakthrough…”

Suddenly he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Yes, he’d taken this mission for glory, but there would only be glory if he were the first to arrive.

“…ever heard of something called a hyperdrive?”

Richard J. Dowling hopes his fiction brings a smile to the faces of life forms throughout the universe.

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