First published in With Words We Weave: Survival, THPW 2023 Anthology

Teddy’s fingers trembled as he toggled through the switches at the control panel, carefully avoiding the large red and blue plunger buttons in front of him. At eleven years old, he’d be the youngest human space pilot in Earth’s history. And the last.

Teddy glanced at the HeadUpDisplay of his father in the control room. Beside the HUD glared the Dram manifesto with their demands punctuating the bottom of the note.

Press RED to save yourself and kill the rest of us.

Press BLUE to kill yourself and save the world.

“You’re doing great, kid. I’m so proud of you.” His father’s voice quivered, but his smile was as broad and steady as ever.

“You’ve told me that a thousand times.”

“So only a thousand more to go.” Roger chuffed. “Mom is still in negotiations with the Drams, but I think you’ll have to go without us, Ted.”

“No.” Teddy’s lips pressed into a narrow line as he swallowed back his tears. “Can’t she explain that we believe in God, too? Can’t they understand that God created the whole universe, and He’ll be wherever we go?”

“Son, you know it, and I know it. But these folks don’t see it. They want to capture their god in a box and keep him for Earth only.”

“What good is a puny god like that?” Teddy went through the automated systems checks as he’d been trained to do. It was easier than thinking about the choice he had to make. But he did have to make it. “I won’t leave you and Mom. No matter what.”

“Listen to me, Theodore Calvin George. You will show some respect and do exactly what I tell you to do.” Roger’s tone stiffened. “I am your superior officer as well as your father.” His voice cracked through the last word. “The Dram explosives are still in place. The countdown has already started. We cannot afford to lose you. You have to make it to Delta Four with your cargo.”

His stomach ached. The ship carried a thousand archives of Earth’s history and technology. And his DNA carried the cures for a dozen diseases that ravaged the colonies on Delta Four.

Teddy squeezed his eyes shut. “Yessir.” His chin shuddered, and his nose watered. “But you and Mom and all the others will die. I can’t do that to you.” Teddy reached to brush a tear away, but his visor was in the way. “Isn’t there another way? If we had more time—”

“But we don’t.” Roger’s face melted at the edges. “There’s less than a minute left.” He scrubbed away the tears pouring over his gaunt cheekbones. “I’m so proud of you, Ted.”

“Dad, I can’t. Let me press the blue button. The Dram note said it would only kill me. I can save thousands. Daddy, please. I’m just one kid.”

“You’re not just one kid, Ted. You’re THE one kid.” He gulped back his emotion. “Your mom and I love you so much. And we’re so proud of you. Have I told you that?”

“Only a few seconds left. Dad, please.”

“Press the red button now, Commander. That’s an order.”

Teddy mashed down the red button with a moan. “I love you, Dad.”