Conrad opened his eyes to a view of a massive blue globe. He jerked back and twisted around in the microgravity. He touched something solid in front of him. A window.
He pushed against the window and turned around. Conrad scanned the small room, no larger than a public bathroom stall, and empty except for an EV spacesuit and door. He studied the view through the window. Neptune, he thought. How did I get here?
Oh yes, it’s coming back. It was the Inspiration Mars Flyby in 2021, which moved him to apply for the Grand Solar System Flyby. How was he to know that they were not looking for astronauts, but an astro-blogger? It seemed only yesterday that he left Uranus, but it had been three and a half years. How time flies when you’re in hibernation.
First things first. “Tito!”
There was a pause before Tito responded. “Earth spaceship Tito online.”
“What is your status?”
“All systems operating within normal parameters.”
Good, he was not going to die. “Are we still on course?”
“Your present course will take you out of the solar system.”
He was to have used Neptune’s gravity to head back. “Can you make a course correction to take me back to Earth?”
There was a rumble and the ship lurched to one side as the thrusters came to life for a twenty-second burn.
Now that he was back on course. It was time to get to work blogging.
“Tito, record the following for transmission.”
“To Ground Control. Have arrived at Neptune. The ship is in good shape, but was off course. Someone down there was asleep at the wheel. I have made the necessary course correction. Will transmit again once I have read my messages.”
“Tito, transmit message.”
Now Conrad could catch up on the news from home. Was he a grandfather? Did his youngest finish college? How many thousands of messages from around the world had he received since Uranus?
“Tito, what’s the inbox count?”
“Only one message?”
“Affirmative. Last message received 42 months ago.”
Disappointment was an understatement. “Read message.”
“Commander Conrad, congratulations on reaching Neptune. Unfortunately, our funding dried up as you were leaving Uranus and entering hibernation. By the time you read this, all of our equipment will be shut down, including the space station and satellite dishes. Our funds were tight from the beginning and we didn’t think you would get this far. So never gave you enough fuel to return and programmed Tito not to inform you. On behalf of all of us at Ground Control, may God be with you.”
Conrad floated about the empty cabin. The message explained why there was never a problem with the ship until now. He watched as Neptune filled the window. There was nothing he could do, or was there? He slowly put on the EV suit and stood by the door. “Tito, override safety protocols and open the door.”
The door blew away. Conrad was sucked out and began his fall to the surface of Neptune.
“Incoming emergency message from Ground Control, auto read,” announced Tito over the suit’s radio. “Commander Conrad, congratulations on reaching Neptune. Sorry about the glitch in the message system. We were hacked.”
This story was written in response to Jay Dee’s writing challenge known as What Will You Write?. As host, he begins a writing prompt on his blog, I Read Encyclopedias for Fun that we writers are to finish. “Neptune” is his first challenge. Everyone’s free to join in. Check out his post on the “Neptune” challenge.