He laid on the bed and listened to the downpour hammer on the roof of the small cabin. Days like this were the worst. The heavy rain made going outside impractical, even dangerous, and there was nothing to do inside. The few books he had were falling apart from being read so many times. The only thing left was thinking, and that had led to some dark places recently.
This planet had plenty of resources. Numerous plants were edible, and small game animals added variety. Few large predators lived nearby, and they left him alone. Even the climate in this region was generally mild. Except for the rain. Barring injury or illness, there was no reason he couldn’t live to an old age. That reality had begun to weigh on him.
Surviving was not a difficult prospect, but there was nothing for him to do. It had been at least a couple of years since he had helped his crew mates escape while stranding himself. It may have been a lot longer. He had given up keeping track of the days. After building the cabin, the repetitiveness began to erode his interest in living. The day to day necessities kept him busy, but there was no goal beyond surviving.
Finally the rain began to let up. He took the opportunity to go outside and get away from his thoughts. Several fruits were easier to find after a storm, so he decided to do a little foraging. Before heading out, he strapped his sidearm on to his waist. It was one of the few pieces of his uniform that still existed.
At the foot of a tree just out of sight of the cabin, he tied one end of a rope to a basket and began climbing. Once he was high enough, he tossed the other end of the rope over a branch and pulled the basket up. He secured the rope and began filling the basket with fruit. They looked similar to the bananas from Earth, but their flesh was more like that of an orange or a lemon. They tasted different from all of them. Once the basket was reasonably full, he untied the rope and slowly lowered it to the ground. The fruits became inedible once bruised, which they did easily.
Just before the basket reached the ground, he spotted one of the more dangerous animals he had encountered on this planet. It had a head that resembled a bear’s but a body that was closer to that of a mountain lion. They climbed trees easily, so he tried to remain still and avoid drawing its attention.
The creature sniffed at the basket near the ground, but quickly lost interest. Raising its snout into the air, it began searching for the source of another scent. Within moments it began to focus on the tree he was in.
Slowly, he drew his firearm. He didn’t want to shoot the creature, but he would if necessary. Aiming at it, he waited for it to leap. It sprang up to the lowest branches, and he squeezed the trigger.
Nothing happened. He tried to remember the last time he had fired the weapon but couldn’t. Its charge was completely depleted. The creature was making its way up, inching closer. Watching it carefully, he decided his best option was to try to hit it mid-jump and try to throw off its balance.
Before he could try, the creature turned as though something had alerted it. It jumped down and disappeared into the woods. He hadn’t heard anything but remained in the tree, scanning his surroundings. After several minutes, and nothing obvious happening, he made his way down the tree.
As he made his way back to the cabin, he tried to stay low to the ground and used various bushes and trees to hide behind. The world had gone silent, which made his every move sound much louder in his ears. Still, outside of the quiet, there was nothing out of the ordinary.
However, outside the cabin, there was something he couldn’t quite make sense of. There was a tall, thin humanoid figure pacing around the building. It shone with a bright yellow light that made it impossible to determine any details or features. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And the most terrifying. He wanted to escape, but he couldn’t even look away.
Then it spoke. Its voice was music, high and airy. There didn’t seem to be any words, but the meaning was clear.
“Captain? Are you here?”
The voice was that of his first mate, but perfected. Ignoring that part of him that was screaming with terror, he stepped out of the woods. The creature before him filled him with awe even though it was familiar.
“Katherine? Is that you?”
“Captain! There you are. We finally made it back.”
“But how . . . ?”
“We have traveled far to return and rescue you. We will explain it all, as much as we can. For now, will you come with me?”
“How long has it been?”
“Twelve years. I am sorry it took us so long.”
The sadness in that apology brought tears to his eyes. Nothing this beautiful should exist, much less apologize.
“Am I dreaming?”
“No. You were stuck in a nightmare. I am here to wake you up. Will you come?”
“Of course, I’ll go anywhere with you.”
Even though he could not make out a face, the being who had been his first mate still managed to convey a smile. She (if that was the right word anymore) wrapped her arms around him and carried him away.