Starting Point: The Lucky Cigarette

Bram Eulaers

Jones made it thirty feet from the steaming wreck of his downed pod before he gave up. Walking was pointless; there was no where to go. In the wide, open landscape of Beta Seuden 3’s northern desert he could see for miles around, and what he saw confirmed that there was nothing for miles around.

There was air, at least. Air to breathe. Air to light his final cigarette, and a nice comfy rock to rest his bruised and sore butt.

He drew the cigarette from the pack with reverence and care, as though it were a sacred relic – a cultural artefact from a world now so distant and unattainable. It was the last in the pack and probably the last he’d ever see. He’d turned it upside-down when the pack was new – a strange custom he’d adopted. Somebody had once told him that doing so was lucky. So much for that.

How would you continue this story? Let us know in the comments below.

Artwork by Bram Eulaers

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  • Kim

    I like 🙂

  • John H Reiher Jr

    If you can breath the air, then that means there is some form of life on this world. Get some water from pod and move at night, unless it’s a binary or trinary system…

    • Does oxygen mean there’s *definitely* going to be life?

      • No, but it’s a good indicator. High levels of oxygen exist in Earth’s atmosphere because there is life here – it’s a bi-product of photosynthesis.

      • John H Reiher Jr

        There are a some non-organic processes that can create oxygen, but not in the quantities necessary for life. Oxygen is a reactive gas and it will rust a planet fairly quickly if it isn’t replenished.

  • I just received this continuation via Facebook. It’s by author William Benning…

    Lifting the visor from the Mark IV helmet, Jones felt the oppressive heat press against his face, stifling his breath as he tried to inhale the scorching and powder dry air. Looking at the cigarette, he considered that today was one helluva day to give up smoking. It was a day that had started out with such great promise. The Combined Terran Fleet had expected to surprise the Barrusians in the Beta Seuden system and drive them from their forward bases in the galaxy. It would put the Barrusians very much on the defensive and stall their seemingly unstoppable progress towards Earth and her Outer colonies.

    The Barrusians had laid such a neat trap for Jones and his comrades in the Avenger fighters that they had been swamped and overwhelmed within moments. The Avengers had fought valiantly against the overwhelming odds, but the sheer weight of numbers had been decisive in the battle. The only saving grace for the heroic sacrifice of the thirty Avenger fighters in his battle group was that they had delayed the Barrosian fighter-bombers sufficiently for the Terran capital ships to move into range to engage the main Barrusian fleet.

    “Thirty men,” Jones muttered, fishing the lighter from the pocket of his survival suit, silently mourning the loss of friends and comrades in arms.

    It had only been by pure chance that Jones’ Avenger had been hit on the left wing casing by the Barussian laser cannon. The damage to the wing had been fatal to the Avenger craft, but had given Jones just enough time to deploy the escape pod. His luck had held further as the pod had hurtled uncontrollably through the battle with Terran and Barrusian craft scratching and snarling at each other in the vicious one-sided dog-fight. But, somehow he had managed to break into the atmosphere of Beta Seuden 3

    With a mixture of anger and sadness, Jones flicked open the cover of the lighter and keyed the ignition. The pale yellow flame sputtered to life in the harsh dryness of the desert heat giving Jones only a few seconds to light the cigarette before the flame petered out.

    Taking a heavy draw in the cigarette, Jones felt the harsh, caustic burning taste of the tobacco on the back of his throat and held the smoke deep in his lungs for several long seconds before exhaling heavily. Having smoked from the age of twelve, Jones felt the familiar comfort of the nicotine as it surged through his bloodstream to his brain. It was a comfort for Jones, no matter how transient and artificial that comfort might be, to feel the familiar warmth of his nicotine hit. Smoking may have been a filthy habit, but it was a lot safer than the ‘uppers’ that some of the other pilots popped illegally.

    The wisp of barely visible smoke from his mouth drifted away sullenly from his comfortable rock as Jones replaced his lighter in his pocket. Now, he had to think. Instinctively, his survival training kicked in as he quickly took stock of his situation. He had one canteen of one litre of drinking water at his hip. There were three days emergency rations in his survival pack along with the medical kit and the miniature distress beacon, flashlight, compass and survival blanket.

    But, from where Jones was sitting it looked like survival was going to be a bit of a thin option. For a moment, he considered activating the distress beacon, and then thought better of it. If the Terrna Fleet had been driven off, then the last thing that he needed was to find himself on a Barruisian mining colony. Better to die out here than in the agony of Tharrium poisoning. Yep, he sure was in a pickle, Jones concluded and sit back to enjoy the final cigarette.

    “What are you z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z?” an unexpected voice called out from close behind him, the last phrase sounding like the buzzing of a bee in the high pitched question.

    “Wha…!?” Jones gasped dropping the cigarette, rolling to the ground in his panic and scrabbling for the pistol at his hip as he landed.

    “What are you z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z?” the high-pitched voice buzzed once again.

    Still startled, Jones sighted the pistol on a small dark brown creature with two spindly legs and arms that crouched on the rock he had just vacated…..”

  • ebonstormz

    Jones made it thirty feet from the steaming wreck of his downed pod before he gave up. Walking was pointless; there was no where to go. In the wide, open landscape of Beta Seuden 3′s northern desert he could see for miles around, and what he saw confirmed that there was nothing for miles around.

    There was air, at least. Air to breathe. Air to light his final cigarette, and a nice comfy rock to rest his bruised and sore butt.

    He drew the cigarette from the pack with reverence and care, as though it were a sacred relic – a cultural artefact from a world now so distant and unattainable. It was the last in the pack and probably the last he’d ever see. He’d turned it upside-down when the pack was new – a strange custom he’d adopted. Somebody had once told him that doing so was lucky. So much for that.

    Taking a deep pull on his cig, he felt the hot smoke mix with the thin atmosphere of Beta Seuden 3. He enjoyed rolling the smoke around in his mouth while he check out the distant mountains bordering the desert. It would be night soon. The Galactic database entry on Beta Seuden 3 was recently edited indicating there may be an outpost on planet but on the more verdant southern continent.

    No hope of a rescue unless he can find a way to convince someone to come looking for him in the first place. He looked skyward and imagined he could see the Princeton Fleet and Belnarian Fleets fighting for control of the potential jump-point inside the solar system.

    Whichever group could claim it, would be able to use this mineral rich system as a staging point in their ongoing conflict.

    Jones knew the Belnariand were winning and unless this cigarette was going to share its luck, the next visitors he got on this were going to speak Galactic Three with a decidedly unpleasant accent.

    Heading back to his drop pod, he grabbed the survival kit, stripped away the piloting equipment from his suit and strapped on his nano-sponge air filtration and water gathering mask. The material would grab the water from his breath and even the dry desert atmosphere giving him a few ounces of water, every few hours.

    He unpacked the close-fitting exoskeletal enhancement unit in the pod and put it together. Strapping into it, he would be able to cover nearly fifty miles a day, mostly at night with far less fatigue than he would without it.

    He could also use it to dig a shelter during the day and recharge the exoskeleton with the solar reflective recharging blanket while hiding from the nearly fifty-five degree Celsius daytime temperatures.

    Once he reached the ocean, he would be able to launch an uplink drone and establish communication with the Southern continent base. Each had a flight time of twenty four hours and a maximum height of twenty five thousand feet.

    Jones finished off the last of his cigarette, knowing he wouldn’t see another for months if he made it back to Sector One at all. But it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. Even if the Belnarians took this system, it would be years before they could complete their claim.

    Centering his food, water and tools on his back, he turned on the exoskeleton and took off at a lope across the rapidly cooling desert. His HUD showed his direction, and he maintained his course.

    It wouldn’t do for them to count us out of the war yet. If this map was to be believed, it would be a twenty day hike to the mountains. With little water and nothing but this refined energy puree for food.

    He would have to speak to the management about the accommodations on this tour package.