The Last Space Cowboy
Monday, October 2, 2017

“Seriously, though,” I began as I took a drink and looked sternly at the others, “who said we weren’t going to be able to pull this off?” “You,” I heard in chorus.


I don't usually post things that I write, but I got an A on this in my recent Creative Writing class. It is a short story. A piece of sci-fi that has been bouncing around in my head for decades. I feel it could be set in the Firefly universe. I may re-write this as a much longer, more dramatic piece, if/when I get the time. Please take a few minutes to read and, if you like, comment on it, what you liked and/or didn't like (and please be honest, I'm a big boy, I can handle constructive criticism). Thank you!

NOTE: the original text has two different typefaces. One for the main character's present thoughts, one for the flash post it here, I simply went with bold and not-bold)



By John Reyman

What the hell was that? Why is it so dark? Who is banging on the door? You’ve got to focus, Tholia. Open your eyes. There’s that buzzing noise again. Ugh, is that a proximity alert? Ok! I’m awake. Open your eyes!

Damn, that red light! It’s blinding. Flashing incessantly like that. And that alarm! It’s as though a wasp is in my skull, stinging my brain. I wish it would stop. Good god, my head hurts. The throbbing, it’s incessant, and my body…my body, why can I hardly move? There’s not much that’ll keep an Augmentoid down. We’re made tough. Tougher than our human genetic donors, right? Never mind that, pull yourself up. DO IT NOW! What a struggle this is, pulling my weight from the floor. I’m heavy, like a dead body. Muscles are rebelling. Thoughts are scattering like cockroaches from a light.

There now, on my feet. Wow, it’s cold in here. Makes the teeth chatter.

OK, OK! What is so important, you damned light? Tell me what it is before my head explodes.

Click. Woobleep!

Oh shit, you have got to be joking! What the hell is going on?!? This can’t be right. C’mon you stupid interface, show me – anything but that. Straight for Eldritch Minor. Figures. A dead rock in the middle of nowhere.


Holy hell! Grab the terminal! Too late.


Floors are hard. Yeah, safety tip, genius. We must already be passing through the outer most ring. Ring! What a misnomer! An oort shell. The entire planet is surrounded icy floating junk. A veritable load of frozen crap. FOCUS! Now what? Right, get up, figure out what we’ve…shit. We. Where the hell is everyone? Why is there no power? What’s the last thing you remember, Tholia? Think…think, think! The bar! Yes, the bar. What was at the bar? Grend, he was there. Marsy as well and…damn that throbbing. Venx! Yes, Venx was there, we all were. No, not the bar. There was a bar, but at a restaurant. Fenrir’s Den, that was it, finest slop this side of the Milky Way, at least that’s what they claimed. Enough! No time for frivolity. Focus, Tholia. How’d you get here? Where IS here? The ship. Right. Which ship?

Damn the glare of this screen. Red and ominous. I’m starting to hate you. All that flashing in contrast with the alarm. Who designs such nonsense? Never mind, it’s standard, but if I can bypass the terminal settings…yes! Thank you, Venx!

“You’re welcome,” Venx chuckled.

“For what?” I asked.

“For teaching you something you didn’t know.”

“Please. I read the manual.”

“And did the manual teach you the programmer commands you used to gain access?” he quipped.

“Fine,” I resigned, “I owe you a shekar,” and stuck out my tongue like a child. He laughed boisterously.

Ha HAAA! Is it appropriate to laugh right now? I don’t care. Besides, Tholia, you just might not be getting out of this, so laugh while you can don’t you think? Yep. Now then, what…ship…is…this? The Draxxon 8, CT49756203. Great, a commercial transport. It’s probably huge. The gravity of the situation just got a little heavier.

Schematics! Yes, such a generic design, very utilitarian.


And tough. Thank the Uni someone had the sense not to rely on energy shielding when building this tub. Getting somewhere now…no engine power. Check. Limited auxiliary power. Fabulous. Life support back-up failing, many sections closed off already. Great! Well, no power, no light, no air, and no…no tools or weapons. Now that’s a problem. Someone has liberated me of all but my clothes. Ow, the throbbing. It is fading a little. Not fast enough to feel better about it. STOP IT! Think, you fool. You’re, alone on a ship, floating dead in space, being pulled into the planetary equivalent of a cesspool. You didn’t get here by accident. You we’re drinking with the crew, planet-side, and…why? OH! The score...

“The score of a lifetime!” Grend bellowed.

“Huzzah!” everyone cheered as though we were pirates of a millennia ago on Old Earth.

The room was abuzz with laughter and rattled with the camaraderie of the Space Cowboys.

“I can’t believe we pulled it off,” chimed in Marsy, waving to a waiter to bring more alcohol.

“Always the pessimist, you,” I retorted as the waiter brought us a new round of drinks.

“I learned it by watching you!”

“Well, at least you’re learning something!”

Mutual laughter exchanged and further depletion of alcohols, both named and unnamed, persisted. The waiter paused briefly to glance at me, and I winked at him. I was drunk and he had a cute butt. He smiled and walked away.

“Seriously, though,” I began as I took a drink and looked sternly at the others, “who said we weren’t going to be able to pull this off?”

“You,” I heard in chorus.

“Well, kids, mark your chronologs, for today is the day Tholia Xan was decidedly wrong!” I held my mug aloft to toast myself with a grin.

“Huzzah!” rang among the rafters and was immediately drowned out by the celebratory clanking of drinking apparatus amongst the crew.



A cluster of oortish chunks. The good news? You’re still in the debris field. The bad news? It’s like standing inside a bell while someone hammers it. I’m certainly sobering up fast now. Yeah, I can feel the effects of the alcohol fading now. Headache, goes without saying. Muscles are sore. Mouth feels like a tar pit…fitting, as Eldritch is covered in them. Which will be worse? Landing in a tar pit? Highly likely. Or not? Which means crashing. One is slow and painful. Eldritch tar pits are also acidic, joy! The other, quick and fiery. Probably explode on impact anyway. Or burn up in atmo. Ok, get to the cockpit. Only one chance to survive this. Get the engines online before the pull of that mud ball takes over.


Almost reassuring at this point, that sound, still got time. Then again, it’s like an ominous clock tower of old, chiming away my time remaining. Tick tock! Crash or burn…or both. Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts like…Marsy. She was always the optimist. And the mechanic.

“I’m not a ‘mechanic’,” Marsy objected, “I am an Engineer, First Class, Graduate of Alpha Omni—“

“Okay! Okay…I get it,” I interrupted, “just explain to me like I’m not an Engineer.”

“Well, everything electronic maintains something mechanical.”


“And that means pressing the button isn’t going to make things happen if parts are broken.”

“I know that, that’s why I told you to fix it.”

“And that takes time, I don’t have a magic wand.”

I pointed to her tool belt.

“That’s a sonic manipulator and it’s not the same thing, and you know it.”

“Solution then, what is the alternative?”

“Seeing as though the problem here is mechanical, the part needs to be replaced which is easy.”

“Then what is the hold up?”

“Easy…if you have the part.”

“Oh,” I conceded.

“So if you want lunch, you’re going to have to do it the old fashioned way, by hand.”

“Damn it.”

Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT! Can’t get power to the door. Wait a tick. The manual release! So long as there hasn’t been a hull breach I can pry this thing open. Quickly now.

It’s so cold in here. Hands are numb. If my skin wasn’t blue already it would be now. C’mon you stupid panel. Unnngghh! Slide!


Thank you! Now to just lift…whoa! That’s cold. Ok, grip tight and…

Klank. Fssst!

Yes! There’s air! Now to slide the door. Crap this is heavy. Stupid space truck. GRRRGGGH! That’s it! It’s moving! More annoying red lights! Push harder you slug! GRRRRRRRRUGHHH! It won’t budge any further. Grend was right, I need to engage in more physical activity. Not the kind he was looking for though. He’s human, I’m augmented. Not that he’s not physically attractive, but he’s not like me. Genetically speaking, we’re not compatible. Augmentoid…though physically…yeah that was fun. Also, he’s much larger than I am. By at least 2 feet. Barrel-chested. Today small is a good thing. Got maybe a foot of room to squeeze through. This is going to be close. Just. Have. To. Contort…





In space no one can hear you scream. I bet I just broke that saying, ow, right along with a rib or three. Just my luck. That impact jolted the ship. Shifted the door right as I was squeezing through. I heard and felt the crack. Damn it, this hurts. It’s like a fire in my chest, right over the second heart. Never goes smooth. Except the heist, that went off without a hitch.

“That seemed a little too easy,” Grend offered with concern as we headed back to the ship.

“Naw, we were just that good!” exclaimed Marsy, the alcohol clearly not quelling her optimism.

Venx offered his evaluation, “I think we simply got it right, thanks to Marsy’s information.”

“Veritas,” I summarized, then asked, “Marsy, how exactly did you get those blueprints from the Office of Construction and Housing?”

“Oh! That! Well…I sort of…uh…well, as luck would have it, I dated the guy in Records back in school. I sort of let him think I still had a thing for him, and well, y’know…one thing led to another and—“

“Holy Three Suns of Algol!” Venx exclaimed, “You clutched with him just to get info?! You truly are a Space Cowboy after all!”

With that, Grend laid an approving punch on Marsy’s shoulder and, though she smiled, rubbing her arm indicated Grend may have been his usual too enthusiastic. Grend’s enthusiastic drinking also was evident as, following his friendly blow, he stumbled through a puddle, into a wall, and promptly passed out on the ground. From there, Venx and I tried to carry him, but he was too big, and we were too drunk. So we sat down to rest.

“No rest for the wicked,” Marsy jested, “I’ll go rustle us some help! Last ride of the Space Cowboys!”

No rest for the wicked indeed. Can’t just sit here, nursing cracked ribs, Tholia. Time is running out. It’s been minutes since the last impact on the hull. That means this metal coffin is past the layer of space feces. Next stop, Eldritch Minor. No! Must. Get. Up. Unnngh! The fire in my chest, it is so hard to breathe. Just a few more feet. The hatch to the cockpit is just up ahead. Ugh, the headache is back. Of course it is. Tag team me, ganging up. Well screw you, pain, I’m not dying today, not like this, not without a fight. Just a few more feet. Keep lying to yourself! Soon it will be just a few more feet.

Cough! Cough!

Damned door. There’s blood in my lung. Broken rib must’ve pierced it. Unngh! Just a few more feet. There’s a light! Not a warning light, but a sliver of sunlight! The cockpit door is ajar! Faster, you fool! MOVE! Unfff! Stupid blood. Urrrgh! Whoa. Easy now. Breathe. Shake it off. Can’t pass out now. Get your hand in that doorway and push. Just a. Few. More. Feet!



Yes, that hurt. Now get up. Get UP! Can’t. Can’t breathe. Puddle of blood. Dark, almost black, on the floor. Glistening in the light. The light, fading. Darkness closes in. Chest on fire. Head pounding like the Grim Reaper’s personal orchestra. Gah! Ominous scream of blood racing through me in despair. Just sets the mood. Move! Must. Move. To. Light. The light! Pull yourself up, you wretch. Use that chair. Forget the pain and breathe! Mmmnnnnfff! There now. What do you see?

The surface. A sickly black and green of acidic tar and even more acidic swamp. Then faint glow of a poisonous blue-green atmosphere. The chunks of ice in orbit. The ship is in a slow tumble. Got to do something. Command panel, three seats. All…occupied? Hrmmnnnfff! Stupid pathetic ribs. Who is here? Grend! He’s not awake. Not breathing! Check his pulse. Nothing. Cold flesh. He’s dead. Been dead a while. So is Venx. Not a mark on them though. Odd. Who is this third person? Blonde hair, lavender jumpsuit. Marsy? Damn it. No! No no no no no! Stupid little genius. OW! Note to self, don’t punch corpses for being—-hold on... Not Marsy?

What the actual hell is going on? Someone clearly wants us dead, that’s what. Wants it to look like an accident. Fair certain we Space Cowboys have made some enemies, but this is well orchestrated. But who is this Marsy look-alike? And why not the real Marsy? Crap, haven’t the time for this. Controls. The panel is fried. Auxiliary controls, where’s the back up?! Owff! Easy, Tholia, don’t breathe too quickly. What’s that noise? Really? The life support system has shut down?! Whatever. Right now my only hope is to get the engines online. There! AuxCon! Ouch. Easy, move smoothly not quickly. Got it. Power is fading. This is some kind of nightmare. C’mon c’mon! Fire up you garbage scow! Fire up! Huzzah! Engines! No. Just one.


“Ow, that was dumb.”

Focus. One engine is power, what can I do with that power? Option one, life support. Meaningless without flight control. Enough air, for now. No one else is breathing. Option two, communications. Divert and send out distress signal. Won’t matter. I won’t even be matter 30 minutes from now. Final option, attitude thrusters. After one-thousand years they still operate by expelling gas. Simple science, good science. However, that’s only a chance. A slim chance to bounce off the atmosphere if, and that’s a mighty big IF, the ship doesn’t burn up in atmo. Okay. That’s the option then. Skip like a rock on a pond. Like a rock with a hundred and thirty-one thrus—make that one hundred nine thrusters. Damnable space rocks. What now?! The ship is shaking. Hitting atmo! It’s now or never! Got to act fast.

“We’ve got to act fast. Get them to the ship, Euclis. Daylight will be here within the hour,” said a familiar voice in an unfamiliar tone.

“Yes, my sweet. Do not worry, your plan is foolproof,” replied an unfamiliar voice.

“Did you get the girl?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t easy or cheap.”

“That doesn’t matter, after today, money is not an issue.”

I groaned.

“She’s still alive!? Euclis, you moron!”

“I’ve got it covered, my love!” he exclaimed as he reached into his back pocket of his pants that hugged his very nice butt. A butt just like—-no! It was the waiter.

“Shh, no point in fighting it now,” he said as he covered my face with a black cloth and darkness consumed me, the odorless chemical giving me one last lullaby.

It all makes sense now. Perhaps too late. Perhaps just in time. Only one person could have rigged this ship. Rigged to ‘malfunction’ at just the right time. Only one person hailed a waiter who had drinks ready to go. Only one person had made contact with someone they had known in their past. Only one person wasn’t actually on this ship. They had poisoned us, but had not poisoned me enough.



Ungh! Shouting it like she can hear you, dumbass. Last ride indeed. Not certain I corrected course enough. The engine flamed out. This is it. Last of the Space Cowboys. Tholia Xan. The ship is shaking violently now. The flames are licking at the ship. It’s getting hotter in here. Breathing is very shallow now. Grend, Venx, and faux-Marsy flopping in their seats like epileptic marionettes. Acting as harbingers of Death himself. They mock me, mock my failure. They deserve better. Better than me. Better than a burial on Eldritch Minor. It’s so horrid even the scientists and outlaws steer clear. Their deaths are on my hands. That young woman wasn’t looking to die. Grend and Venx were my brothers. NO! They were better than that. In Fate’s hands now. Fate…ha! Marsy. Conniving little…


Can’t take much more of this shaking. Nor the silence-inducing rumble of re-entry. I can hardly hear myself think. It’s getting darker. No. I’m losing consciousness. Vision constricting. The pain in my chest is overwhelming. It’s not just the ribs that are broken. So sleepy. Can’t tell if descent is too steep. Perhaps I’ll wake…wake to the reassuring sounds. Sounds of icy rock striking the hull.

Or perhaps not…


Tuesday, October 3, 2017 10:40 PM


Thanx I liked it, Story set up different, enjoyable short read


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The Last Space Cowboy
“Seriously, though,” I began as I took a drink and looked sternly at the others, “who said we weren’t going to be able to pull this off?”

“You,” I heard in chorus.