Spaceship captain to his crew: “Only one of us will be alive tomorrow, and you must decide who that will be.”
The captain called his five crew members to the bridge. “I’ve got very little good news this morning, and a lot of bad news.”
“Give us the bad news first, Captain,” the lieutenant said.
“Only one of us is going to be leaving this pod today.”
“But, sir, our oxygen’s about to run out,” an officer said.
“Yes,” the captain said, “but the problem is that most of our transport pills have expired.”
“We’re gonna die here?” an officer asked.
“In service to the people of Planet Earth,” the captain said.
“Oh, sir, surely there’s some way to–”
“How could this happen?” another officer asked. “Those pills should have lasted for at least a year. We’ve only been here for three months.”
“It’s this planet,” the captain said. “Our bodies are aging at a faster-than-normal rate, and as it turns, so are the pills.”
“So, you’ve analyzed them?”
“Yes,” the captain said. “I’m sorry. I should have anticipated this possibility and aborted the mission. All we have is one good pill.” He held up a small glass box containing a pill. He set it on the console.
“But, sir, someone can take that pill, teleport to the mother ship, and send back fresh pills for the rest of us.”
The captain turned his back to the crew.
The lieutenant said, “There are no pills on the mother ship. We stretched our resources to the limits for this final mission.”
An officer said, “That’s crap! We should never have attempted this mission. This is your fault, Captain!”
“Officer, that’s insubordination!” the lieutenant said. “I will deliver him to the brig, sir.”
The captain spun around. “Stand down, lieutenant. What’s the point?”
An officer asked, “What will happen if we transport with expired pills?”
Another officer said, “Our bodies will be dismembered en route.”
“I’m proud of you, team,” the captain said. “We have confirmed that there is nothing on this planet that poses a threat to our civilization. We’ve completed our mission.”
“Yes, sir,” said one of the officers, “but I was really hoping to go home to my family after this mission.”
“Such is the life of a soldier,” the captain said.
“So, who gets to live?” an officer asked.
“Yeah, who gets the good pill?” another officer asked.
The captain said, “First, let me ask you a question: Are there any of you who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow officers?”
“Go to your quarters and ask yourselves this: Who is the most worthy among us? You’ve got ten minutes to make your decision. Then come back here and we’ll take a verbal vote. Oh, and there’s one catch: You cannot vote for yourself. Go.”
The captain had been in his quarters for less than five minutes when he heard a beeping sound and knew that someone had tripped the alarm he’d set on the glass box containing the pill. He ran to the bridge.
The others joined him there.
The glass box was open and the pill was gone.
They all ran to the teleportation room.
Officer Kent was sitting in a teleport chair.
“Kent took the pill,” an officer said. “He’s saving himself and leaving us here to die!”
An officer ran toward Kent. “He’s not going anywhere!”
“No, stop.” The captain said, “Lieutenant, go to my office and get the small box that’s on my desk.”
The other officers looked at each other, confused.
When the lieutenant returned, the captain said, “Give each of us a pill.”
“But, sir, aren’t they expired?” an officer asked.
“Swallow your pill. That’s an order,” the captain said, “and take your places in the transport chairs.”
The captain took a chair as well.
“But, sir, if our pills are no good, the transporter will chew us up like ground beef,” an officer said.
“He’s right, sir,” another officer said. “I think I’d rather stay here and overdose myself on pain meds–go out peacefully. I don’t want to be cut to shreds.”
“Trust me,” the captain said, “and follow my orders!”
Officer Kent said, “You guys are crazy. I’m the only one who’s gonna make it.”
“Then why are you still here?” an officer asked.
“I was just waiting for my pill to fully dissolve in my stomach. Goodbye, losers.” Officer Kent pressed the ENGAGE button on his chair.
They watched him for a moment.
“Why isn’t it working?” one of them asked.
“Yeah, he should already be gone,” another one said. “You think there’s a problem on the mother ship?”
“No,” the captain said, “the problem lies in the fact that Officer Kent’s pill had expired.”
“Wait, what? I thought the one I took was the only good one,” Officer Kent said. “That’s what you told us.”
“I lied,” the captain said.
“What?!?” some of them said.
“Don’t you get it?” the lieutenant asked. “The captain lied because he had five good pills, so he needed someone to volunteer to stay back and die. But since nobody volunteered, he set us up. If somebody took the bait and stole what they thought was the one and only good pill–the only ticket out of here–then that person didn’t deserve to go.”
“Is that true?” an officer asked.
“Yes,” the captain said.
“That’s not fair. I don’t deserve this,” Officer Kent said.
“Actually, Kent, it’s exactly what you deserve,” the captain said. “Okay, team. Engage transport.”
“Captain, we made it!” one of the officers said.
“Is everybody okay?” The lieutenant stood up from his chair.
“I can’t believe we made it.”
The captain began to cough.
“I made it, too.” Officer Kent’s head appeared to have teleported safely, but it was bobbling above his transparent body–which was apparently stuck halfway between the pod and the mother ship.
“Not quite,” the lieutenant said.
“Almost.” Officer Kent’s body finally arrived, but not before his eyes rolled back and his head toppled to the floor. His headless body writhed in the chair for a few moments and then went limp.
Some of the crew gasped.
“He got what he deserved.” The captain started coughing again.
“Yeah, we played fair and we made it safely.”
“Yes, we played fair, but the captain didn’t,” the lieutenant said.
The captain began coughing again.
“What are you talking about, sir?” an officer asked.
“He figured that one of us would sneak out and steal that last good pill,” the lieutenant said.
“Right, and that’s what Kent did,” an officer said.
“Yes,” the lieutenant said, “it was the captain’s way of eliminating one person–since he only had five good pills–and on the surface it seems fair, except that there was one person who definitely would not have fallen into the trap–because he’s the one who set the trap.”
The captain could barely talk through his coughing fit. “Somebody had to do it.”
“But you lied to us,” the lieutenant said, “and the captain I know would have never lied to his crew.”
“What are you trying to say?” one of them asked.
“That he’s not our captain,” the lieutenant said. “He’s a freaking alien!”
“What?!?” the others said in unison.
The captain coughed hard and his body began to morph into a strange-looking creature. His voice dropped two octaves. “That’s right.” He coughed. “And the four of you are going to help me land this ship on my planet so we can study it. Then we will replicate it thousands of times to create a massive armada of warships so that we can destroy every living being on your precious Earth!” He began coughing again.
“That’s not gonna happen,” the lieutenant said. “You’re not going to make us do anything–because you’re gonna be dead.”
“Silly human.” The alien coughed. “You think this little cough is going to kill me?” He laughed and coughed.
“Oh, it’s more than just a little cough,” the lieutenant said. “When you sent me to the captain’s office to retrieve the box of pills, I already suspected that you weren’t the captain, so I coated all of the pills with Zilametric poison. It’s deadly to all living beings–unless you’ve been pre-antidoted, as all of our crew has.”
“You poisoned me?” The alien could barely get the words out between coughs. “I’m…going to…kill…you!”
“Obviously, you murdered our captain,” the lieutenant said, “so, I only wish I could give you a more drawn-out, excruciatingly painful death.”
The alien collapsed to the floor, wretched for a few moments, let out a horrendous-sounding scream, and died.
The officers stood in shock. Finally, one of them said, “Any more surprises, lieutenant?”
They all laughed nervously.
“I think we’ve had enough excitement for one morning,” the lieutenant said. “I’m hungry for a big stack of pancakes. What do you say?”
“I’ll do the cooking,” an officer said. He looked down at Officer Kent’s head and then at the alien’s body. “But I’m not taking out the trash, sir.”
Copyright © 2017 Robert Burton Robinson