Stella sat in a leather chair, straps buckled over her chest. Her mother was kneeling in front of her with a smile stretched across her face, Stella giggling as she tickled her through her little suit. Outside a nearby window her mother glanced, the corner of her mouth creasing.
Stars speckled the black abyss, drifting as the ship glided away from a distant blue planet mottled in green.
Her mother turned back to her, making Stella beam. Six-year-old hands wrapped around her mother's fingers as she laughed. People standing in the metal room around them spoke in lowered tones, hands over controls, locking containers firmly behind panels. Moments later a man's voice went through the speakers. People moved alongside Stella and her mother, locking into similar seats. Her mother did the same.
"Initiating Light-Speed travel," the voice said. Stars outside the window accelerated past them, turning from dots to streaks.
People around them cheered, raising fists into the air. Stella laughed and squealed in surprise, making the people around her smile. Relief flooded her mother's face.
Minutes drew by with increasing ease, conversation buzzing. Her mother kept Stella company with toys and adventurous stories.
Suddenly something slammed against the ship, cutting off her mother’s voice, sending everything spinning. The vessel screeched as something went offline. Passengers yelled out, clutching the edges of their seats. Buttons glowed red. Alarms blared. White clouds sprayed outside the ship, leveling everyone to a stand-still as stars came to a halt.
There was silence. People stared wide-eyed at each other for a few long seconds. They were breathless as they turned to their view screens.
Another BOOM cracked against the ship, yanking people against their straps. The pilot shouted from the front room, people unclasping from seats and rushing for various consoles. Stella stared at it all, her hands on her straps as her big eyes widening.
Bolts of light bloomed outside the ship, hisses and crunches echoed off walls. Her mother was in front of her again. She unbuckled Stella’s straps, and slinging Stella into her arms she rushed her down the halls. A man was waiting for them, pushing past people to reach Stella and her mother when he spotted them in the crowd. Her father!
They all moved ahead, looking for their suits pinned against the walls with the others. The smaller suit labeled for Stella was missing from its hook, lost in the panic. Her father desperately turned to her mother as the ship rocked. In an instant he yanked his own off the wall, placing small Stella inside, locking the helmet in place. Her mother shouted at him, but he was already helping her mother into hers. Tears fell down her mother's face. Stella wondered why.
More hits shook the ship. The hull began to collapse, crumbling in on itself. Seconds later walls ripped, people shot into space. The man at Stella's side was gone in an instant, and she was floating in space, adrift in the sudden quiet. Where had daddy gone?
But her mother was next to her. Something white was hissing out of her suit, making her mom look tired. But Stella let her rest. And she slept well, even when Stella shook her.
It was quiet, then. For a long while. Stella sang to herself, trying to fill the void, to get the stars to sing along. She thought they did. For what seemed like an eternity Stella drifted there, her hands bumping against the arms of the large suit.
Then a light washed over her face, making her squint and blink to see another ship coming into view. Strange people pulled her inside, unlocking her helmet to expose fresh air. Their voices cackled and roared strangely. It took a moment for Stella's chip to correct the sound. Then they came in clear.
"Thank goodness one survived."
Stella smiled. They seemed nice.