“Uh-oh,” said Bradley.
“What’s ‘uh-oh?’” asked Nate. “I don’t like ‘uh-oh’ coming from the guy piloting our spaceship.”
Bradley poked at the shriveling bubble the alien on the planet Zirbidot told him was the fuel gauge. They were still several thousand astronomical units away from their destination planet in this super solar system, and the fuel was almost empty. It was like that time he substituted for Tony Stewart in the Daytona 500 without making a pitstop. He was still sure he would have made it if they’d used the lubricants he’d told them to.
“We’re out of fuel, and we have to land,” said Bradley.
“We’re in outer space—there’s nowhere to land,” said Nate. He rolled out of the co-pilot cradle and opened the cabin portal. “Jack. Nate,” he yelled. “Get up here. Bradley says we’re going down.”
Nate crawled back into the cradle. “How can we be out of fuel? The Zirbidiots who sold us this thing said it had enough to get us to planet Shishishicali.”
“I can only assume they were mistaken,” said Bradley. “You shouldn’t call them Zirbidiots.”
“Your choosing now to get defensive when I make fun of alien names?”
“They’re not idiots.”
“What the hell’s going on?” asked Tim stepping inside, Jack crowding in behind him.
“Bradley says we’re out of gas,” said Nate.
“Why? What happened?” asked Jack.
“Did you take a detour?” asked Tim. “You go for the scenic route, Bradley?”
“I see we have hostile Tim today,” said Bradley.
“Hostile?” said Tim. “You get us stranded in space to die an icy death, and you’re worried about hostile? You haven’t seen my hostile, jackass.”
“Hold on. Hold on,” said Jack. “Bradley?” Jack started imitating Mr. Rogers from ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.’ It always made Bradley feel like a baby. It was nice. He grinned. “Did you follow the flight instructions the Zerberts gave you?”
“To the letter.”
“Then why are we out of fuel,” said Jack.
“They must have lied to us,” said Nate.
“I’ve never heard of an alien lying,” said Tim.
“I’ve never heard of aliens forcing you to take garbage off the planet when you buy a ship, either,” said Nate. “But we’ve got a cargo hold full of it.”
“We’re wasting time,” said Jack. “What do we do? Any ideas, Bradley?”
This was a Bradley moment. For all intents and purposes, he was the captain, and he was going to get his ship and passengers out of the soup.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m going to get us out of the soup.”
“Could you be more specific, bug-eyes?” asked Tim.
Tim was always making fun of Bradley’s glasses. Or his stupid grin, or his stories, or his paunch, or his wacky ideas, or his—
“Earth to Bradley,” said Tim. He knocked on Bradley’s head, but Jack pulled his arm away.
“What are you going to do, Bradley?” asked Jack.
“I’m already doing it,” he said. “The ship’s controllers just calculated the nearest survivable planet for our bio-types. I only have to commit it, and it will take us there and land automatically.”
In unison, Jack, Tim, and Nate said, “Commit it!”
Bradley slid one of the flappy things over and twisted the corresponding polyp. The ship immediately changed directions and hurled toward a middle planet.
“Where are we going?” asked Tim.
“The best the translator can work it, it’s called Kukka Mitta Porprinkay,” said Bradley.
Tim, Nate and Bradley looked at Jack. “Kooky My Porcupine,” he said.
“When does the thing say we’ll be landing?” asked Tim.
“Three hours, twenty-four minutes,” said Bradley. “Forty-two percent chance of success.”
“Okay,” said Tim. “I’m takin’ a nap.” He slipped out the door.
Nate nudged Jack. “Play some chess?”
“Sure. Right after I stick my head in the engine and melt my brain.”
“C’mon. Bradley has to pilot the ship, and I’m bored.”
Down the corridor, the sound of Tim running increased. He stormed in. “Did you say we had a forty-two percent chance of survival?” he asked.
Bradley grinned. “I think we’re in good shape.” Tim’s shoulders relaxed. “I was up against worse odds fighting the Kurgans in Kashmir.”
“There are no Kurgans in Kashmir,” yelled Tim.
“Not any more,” said Bradley. “With my experience, I expect our odds are at least fifty-fifty.”
Nate groaned. Tim spat. Jack farted.
“Please don’t let that be the last thing I smell before I die,” said Tim.