Friday, August 7, 2020

Friday Flash: The Space Explorer is back!

That's right--I'm back with a bit of new flash fiction after all these months, and it's everyone's favorite Space Explorer! It ran a little long, at 1175 words, including the title.

Xavier Xanthum and the Galactic Sandwich

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, relaxed aboard his good ship Wanderlust. Kitty Comet hovered over his lap in the zero-g living space. For the moment, Xavier was content to let Larry drive the ship.

Comet mewed, and Xavier stroked the cat’s back, pressing it into his lap. Immediately the mewling changed to a roaring purr. Cat and spaceman alike relaxed, content.

“Captain, your presence on the bridge.”

Xavier groaned. The AI only got formal when something was wrong. Xavier set the cat gently aside and shoved off toward the control room. Comet continued to float in a curled position, drifting slowly with the air currents until she came to rest against the ventilation grate.

Xavier shot into the control room, which Larry had so grandly called the bridge. “What’s gone wrong now?”

“What do you make of this, Captain?”

Still with the “captain” thing. Xavier peered at the vidscreen. “It looks like… a sandwich?” He fiddled with the controls, zooming in on the strange object.

Not a sandwich. A holographic picture of a sandwich, projected from a nearby moon. Xavier was approaching an inhabited planet. That was according to plan. He needed supplies.

Suddenly, he also desperately needed a sandwich.

“’Bob’s Galactic Sandwich Shop,’” Xavier read from the holographic billboard.

“There is no such business listed in the directory,” Larry said. For an AI, he was pretty good at the doubt-filled voice.

“It’s new. How out of date must that directory be, anyway?”

“About three hours.” Larry’s voice went full artificial, as usual when Xavier was about to do something the AI considered foolish.

“Never mind. So this Bob fellow didn’t register with the authorities. Doesn’t mean he can’t make a sandwich. Take us down to the moon.”

“Redirecting.” The AI had little choice when Xavier issued a direct order, though Larry had been trying to get some new programing to allow him to stop Xavier from making big mistakes. He manifested, a pair of glowing eyeballs drifting around the room and pinning Xavier with a disapproving glare. But he obeyed orders.

Wanderlust shifted direction, bringing the billboard into better focus. The sandwich contained layers of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, though Xavier couldn’t name all of them. His mouth watered.

“What’s wrong?” Xavier didn’t like to be bossed by his own AI, but he knew that Larry had reasons for any opinion, voiced or not. After all, an AI couldn’t have hunches, so if Larry didn’t like the sandwich shop, something must be wrong.

“Why does this Bob advertise with an extra-planetary banner?”

“All the big outfits in the major ports do it.”

“Shiva isn’t a major port. It’s a minor moon around a modest colonial outpost.”

“I want that sandwich.” Which was all the answer Xavier needed to give.


They docked smoothly at the moon, which admittedly seemed a little too small and shiny to fit the usual run of extra-planetary orbs. Xavier had seen all kinds, but he’d never seen a moon-sized sandwich shop. The place was huge, and ships were docked at nearly all the fly-up portals.

It wasn’t until he left the ship for a closer look that Xavier began to share Larry’s unease.

There were no people about. All those ships, all those sandwiches… where were the customers? It was unnerving, but the smells of the roasting meats and toasted breads made his mouth water. Xavier wandered out in search of a menu. A gate closed behind him, cutting him off from return to the ship.

Xavier’s head jerked from side to side as he sought another route back to the Wanderlust, even as he cursed himself for not listening to Larry. He had a nasty feeling that he knew why he didn’t recognize the meat in that billboard sandwich. There were enough alien ships docked at Bob’s Sandwich Shop to provide a lot of unknown proteins.

He resigned himself to the loss of that imagined sandwich. Even if he got out of there, he wouldn’t be eating anything prepared on Shiva.

For the moment, the corridor was empty. Gates blocked both ends, and he made his way systematically down the hall, testing doors. If a knob turned under his hand, he planned to open it just enough to peek through before committing himself. Who knew what might lie behind an unsecured door in a place like this?

He needn’t have worried. Xavier found no doors that yielded to his touch. About to give up in despair, he heard a voice in his ear and whirled around. No one was behind me.

“It’s me, you idiot.” The voice came from his communicator, still clipped to his jumpsuit, and Xavier’s AI was annoyed with him.

“I'm trapped,” the intrepid space explorer whined.

“I know. I saw it happen. I’m scanning for a way out. Be patient.”

Be patient? Xavier didn’t see much future in that. How long before some machine came to turn him into a sandwich? He scanned the walls again, spotted a grate-covered opening midway along.

The ventilation system, Xavier reckoned. He moved toward the potential escape route, digging in a pocket for the tool kit he carried everywhere. Removing the screws should be a piece of cake, and then he just had to find his way back to the ship, with some guidance from Larry.

Heck, it wouldn’t even require tools. The cover had a latch and hinges.

“Don’t do it,” Larry’s voice warned.

“Don’t do it?” Xavier fought to keep from yelling. If no one had noticed him yet, he wanted to keep it that way.

“It’s not an air system.” Larry didn’t elaborate, which made Xavier think. He shuddered and headed as quickly as he could back toward the point where he’d entered the hall.

“Ah. I have it. I can’t raise the grates that block the hall, but I have unlocked the first door. It will take you through two more rooms, and a door into the hall by our docking port. I recommend haste, as I may have triggered an alarm.”

Xavier didn’t need urging. Xavier twisted the doorknob, ran through the next room, barely aware he scattered a couple of workers at desks and computers, passed through the second room the same way, and burst out into the hall as alarms sounded.

“Right ten paces, then left through your boarding port.”

Several clerks in hot pursuit, Xavier dove through his port just ahead of another gate, meant to block access. It caught his left shoe. He abandoned it, wriggled through Wanderlust’s port, and lay in the lock as Larry secured the doors and separated from the dock.

Only when the acceleration alarm sounded did Xavier manage to pull himself together and head to the control room. He strapped in just as the ship hit max pre-warp acceleration, and let Larry pick a new destination for a bit of R&R dirtside. One far from the deadly moon Shiva.

“Larry, make it someplace where they’ve never heard of sandwiches, okay? I seem to have lost my taste for them.”


All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


  1. It didn’t feel long. It felt just right!

    1. Awww. Though I really just meant that usually flash fiction aims for 1000 words :)


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