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Originally published June 2010 in Spaceports & Spidersilk.

If you'd like to download this story with two additional short stories, you can get a free copy here.

By M.J.A. Ware


Okay, maybe sneaking on board a spaceship bound for Mars wasn’t such a bright idea. I got away with it, so I can’t be a total idiot, right?

Getting inside a three-billon-dollar spacecraft is a lot easier than you'd think. I used my mom’s access card to get past the security scanners and stowed away in a waste receptacle—that's a fancy way of saying, trash can. It wasn't as dirty as it sounds. I only hid there during the launch, so no one had used it (much) yet.

Once we’d taken-off, I squeezed into the air ducts. But it's been three days, and I’ve had just about as much confined space as I can handle.

            Outer space isn’t as fun as it sounds. I'm cold, hungry, and my clothes are getting pretty ripe. Fortunately, I brought some candy bars and a clean pair of underwear.

The worst part is that I can tell we're in trouble. I overheard the chief engineer talking to the captain, "There's something wrong with the computer's calculations, but no matter how many times I double-check the numbers, I can't find the error." And the crew keeps having to make unscheduled engine burns to stay on course.

The whole mess is really all my mom’s fault. She decided to go off on a three-year mission and leave me with evil Aunt Zooey.

I tried to explain to her that Aunt Zooey despises kids, but she wouldn’t listen.

So now, I'll be the first junior-high kid to tour the Red Planet—heck, I'm probably the first space stowaway too. I guess I’m famous.

Or will be, as long as we make it to Mars. The crew's really on edge. The chief even thinks we have gremlins. Though, I think he just heard me rattling around in the ducts.

The last message from mission control read, "Unable to isolate calculation error. If course anomalies continue, aborting the mission will be the only option." Which would really suck, because this is Mom’s first ever trip to Mars. She's so looking forward to it. Not to mention the colonists really need our supplies.

The intercom blares, “Dr. McNair, please report to the command level immediately, Captain out.”

Why's the captain calling Mom? Maybe it’s more problems with the ship. If I move quietly, I can crawl to the vent in the command center.

Once in the right duct, I scoot directly over the vent so I can look down and see the whole room.

Even from up here the captain’s clenched jaw is easy to read. He taps his fingers on a table.

‘Whoosh,’ the door opens and Mom walks in.

“Stacy, thanks for coming so quickly. I’m afraid I have some bad news,” the captain says.

“Is it the mission? Are we aborting?”

“No, it’s not the mission. It’s about your son, Steven.”


“Steven? What happened? Is he okay?”

“Well, we don’t know. We think he may have been kidnapped-”

"I knew I shouldn’t have left him. What was I thinking?” Tears start streaming down her face. Which makes me feel lower than a Martian slime beetle. “I wish I could see him again.”

There's a snap and the vent starts to give way—looks like Mom's going to get her wish. I try to grab hold of the sides of the duct, but it's no use. I tumble to the floor.

Mom and the captain just stare at me with their mouths wide open. “Aaa, hi Mom,” is all I get out.

“Steven James McNair. What in God’s name are you doing here? How did you get onboard? Do you know how much trouble you're in? And what's that smell?”

I can't answer all her questions at once so I pick the easiest. “That’s me. Haven’t showered in a few days.”

Just then, the chief engineer walks in. “Woah, what’s this? An E.T?”

“It appears we have a stowaway,” says the captain.

“Young man, when we get home, you are going to be in so much trouble.” Well, at least that won’t be for a while.

“I think, we’ve found the source of our course anomalies,” the engineer chuckles. He seems to find the whole thing funny—but he's the only one.

“What do you mean, the source of the anomalies? I haven’t done anything,” I say.

“Didn’t you? You added a good hundred pounds to the weight of the ship. That might not seem like much, but in a spinning cabin it’s enough to throw off all the computer’s calculations.”

“I can’t believe you snuck on board, Steven. What were you thinking?” Mom's shaking her head.

“I couldn’t stay with Aunt Zooey. She’d probably have eaten me.”

“So Captain, what do we do now?” asks the engineer, still grinning.

“Well, I’m afraid there’s not much we can do. Regulations, you know. I’m sorry, Stacy, but the regulations have to be followed.”

“There’s a regulation regarding stowaways?” Mom asks.

“Yes, Regulation forty-six A. Regarding treatment of stowaways.”

Mom frowns as she thinks, then seems to remember. “Oh yes, forty-six A.”

“We’ll have to make the arrangements right away. Of course we’ll let you shower and get cleaned up first.” He pats me on the shoulder.

“Before what?” I don’t like the sound of this. Are they going to lock me in the brig or something?

“Before we escort you off the ship.”

“Umm, say what?”

“I’m very sorry, but if you stay on board we will not have enough fuel to reach Mars. We carry little extra fuel and we need it all to ensure we arrive safely. There’s really no other choice.”

“But I’ll die out in space. Mom, what’s going on?” I start sweating like a pig at Easter.

“I’m sorry, Steven. But if you are old enough to stow away you’re old enough to face the consequences.”

I can tell you one thing—I no longer have a clean pair of underpants.

I take a few steps back, wondering if I can make a break for the door.

Thankfully, the engineer can’t contain himself any longer and busts out laughing. He laughs so hard he falls into a chair. Everyone joins in and I realized I'm not going to end up a space popsicle.

Mom’s bout of laughing ends quickly. “Don’t think you’re out of trouble. You are in for a world of hurt. You can’t even imagine the punishment I am going to think up.”

I stare down at the floor.

“It would be prudent to jettison some weight, so we can maintain our safety margin,” says the engineer.

"We'll have to see what we can spare," the captain replies.

"I have some audio equipment I can offer." Mom brought some high quality broadcasting equipment—planning to set up the first Martian radio station. She was going to broadcast Beach Boys twenty-four hours a day. Personally, I think I did the colonists a favor.

In total, we collect one hundred and forty pounds. Sixty of that Mom's stuff.

The whole crew gathers around to see the junk blown out the airlock. Among the radio equipment and used food canisters is the aluminum waste container I snuck on board in. As it flies away from the ship I can’t help but think what might had been, had the captain not been so understanding.


* * * * *

Copyright © 2010 by M.J.A. Ware

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