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Stranded

By J. L. Ender

I glance up at the heavens as I stride toward the launchpad. The usual thick, gray clouds churn in their eternal cauldron.

There’s no reason to be nervous, I tell myself for the hundredth time. Most of the tests have gone perfectly fine.

Our airship has the long, rounded body of a submarine, albeit one with massive engines slung along the back. The resizer agent is built into those hefty engines, so I can adjust our size at will. In theory, anyway.

I settle into my chair, taking a deep breath to calm myself.

“All systems, uh, seem ok.” From behind me, Jordan gulps loudly. He’s been nervous for days. I can tell he wants to back out of the experiment—I mean expedition—but loyalty or pride won’t allow it.

“They seem ok? We’re risking our lives here.” Violet, my other intern, shakes her head, gorgeous red ringlets flashing in the dim cockpit lighting.

Jordan gives her a weak smile. “We’re good. Everything’s in the green.”

Maybe not loyalty or pride after all…

“That’s what I like to hear,” she replies.

“Me too.” I’m sitting at the front of the ship, a console of lights and buttons and levers arrayed before me.

We’re pointed toward the sky. I look upward, into the gray clouds. I think briefly about the world beyond, glimpsed through a satellite launched nearly a year ago. The images I’d seen had kept me awake for days. Even now, a year later, the experience haunts me. Can I really go through with this?

But I have no choice. I’m out of time. I’ll lose all funding if I don’t produce results today.

“Launch.”

At my word, we blast into the air. Already far below us, I spot a cheering crowd.

The clouds come faster than I’d thought possible. One moment and we’re through. A green world of flowers and trees spreads before us, a verdant paradise, but on a grotesque scale, everything outsized a million times bigger than it should be.

I glance back through the rearview camera. Home is a dot rapidly receding. Our entire world clings to the side of a honeybee as it zips from one flower to another. Last time I’d reviewed the satellite’s images, we were resting on the petal of a dandelion.

“Activate the resizer,” I say, slowing down the engines. I fire a tracer behind us. It’ll cling to the bee and help us find our way back later.

Jordan starts crying. “This is insane, this is insane.”

“Calm down, son. Violet?”

“On it,” she replies, reaching over the sobbing intern to slap a button on his console.

We begin to grow. Too fast. The trees suddenly seem tiny. I zip us into the air before we can destroy anything.

“Slow it down,” I bark. I scan my console for the override. I should have put Violet in charge of the resizer. Cursing my foolishness, I pilot the airship higher into the sky.

The ship is still growing, blotting out the sun to the world below.

“It’s not stopping!” Violet cries.

An overload alarm is blinking. I crane around. “You’re pulling the wrong lever!”

“I didn’t train for this!” she snaps, leaning awkwardly over Jordan.

She’s right. It’s my fault. I hit the manual override and take control, but it’s too late.

Ready to cry myself, I hit the emergency return button.

We contract, beginning to shrink back to our original size. Jordan suddenly unbuckles and leaps up.

“What are you doing?” I lean back. The homing beacon has engaged. The ship is on autopilot and will drive us home no matter what we do.

“I can’t go back! I can’t! Our home is a speck! A speck within a speck! Can you live on a speck? I can’t!”

“Jordan, our history goes back thousands of—”

He lets out a wordless scream and punches buttons on my console.

“Back off, you idiot! That’ll really get us killed!” As I shove him away, he bumps one last button.

Eject.

I hurtle skyward. Gray clouds so like the sky of my world flash by. Blades of grass come upon me so fast I can’t tell what size they are before darkness overwhelms me.

I wake up on my back. The gray sky mocks me. So close yet so far.

I pat my chest as I sit up. I’ve stopped shrinking, but I’m alone now. The airship zips by, fingernail-sized now. Heading back to the bee. Back to our infinitesimal home. Our speck.

I’m stranded. Unless they come back for me, I’ll never make it home.

But what had Jordan meant by speck within a speck?

I stand. I’m in someone’s backyard. I seem to be at least somewhat proportional to this world, everything roughly the right size.

I look up again. Could it be? A world within a world… within a world? What lies beyond these clouds?

Jordan’s words echo. A speck within a speck. I shiver involuntarily.

“Hey! What’s going on out here?” A silver-haired man in a bathrobe stands on his porch, a mug of coffee steaming in one hand.

“Hey yourself. I need access to a satellite and a long-range telescope.”

“Why…?” He frowns, probably thinking I’m crazy.

“I’ll bet you a million dollars I can blow your mind.”


Can you guess which song inspired this story? (This month it could be any time period, any genre.) Share in the comments!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J.L. Ender’s first published novel, Portal World, is available now. He has also released several short stories, including The Rocket Game and The Meek Shall Inherit. His new superhero series, Steel Fox Investigations, will begin January 2020. Ender has worked as a dishwasher, a beef jerky labeler, a warehouse worker, a shelf stocker, a greeter, a traveling technician, a laser engraver, a package handler, a copywriter, a graphic designer, a librarian, an editor, a dispatcher, and a phone operator. He lives in Ohio with his dog Bear.


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1 comment - Join the conversation

 

  • Awesome story, as always!

    I’m curious to know what inspired this one. The idea reminds me of Inception. And Ted Chiang’s stories. Though, I have to say I’m completely clueless as to what song it might have been based on.

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