The Last Day On Rigel X

by Bill Kitcher


Isabelle chose Sammy for the expedition, not only because he had more compartments than the others in which to transport rock and plant samples, but because he’d been developing a sense of humor she liked. Sammy had recently discovered puns and, when they’d been near a lake on Rigel XVI the previous month, he’d said, “If you throw me in the lake, sit on me, and paddle to the other side, would I transform from a robot to a rowboat?” It was convoluted, but Isabelle appreciated the effort.

She went down to the hold and told Sammy what they were going to do.

“Good,” said Sammy. “I could use the fresh air.”

Isabelle snickered, and they went up to the hangar. The Lead Mechanic was waiting for them. “Hey, Isa. Hey, Sammy, got a joke for me?”

“What did the android say to the robot when they went jogging?” Sammy paused. “Keep up.”

“Yeah, not bad,” said the mechanic. “But there’s not really any reason why an android and a robot would go jogging.”

“Good point,” said Sammy. “I’ll make a note of that. Do you have paper and a pencil?”

“Very good,” chuckled the mechanic. “So, Isa, you have Flyer 3. Fully charged. Where are you going?”

“About twenty clicks east of here, along that cliff. I figure with the erosion, some old rocks have been uncovered. I gave Grandma all the coordinates earlier.”

“OK, we’re scheduled to leave about 1200, but it can’t be any later than 1300 if we’re to make the slingshot. It’s just 0700 now.”

“No problem. We won’t be more than a couple of hours.”

“OK, let’s just check your homes and coms.”

Isabelle and Sammy activated their homing beacons, and the mechanic nodded.

“Check, one, two, three, four” said Isabelle.

“OK, yours works. Sammy?”

“Give me a home where the buffalo roam. Get it?”


“Home. Homing beacon.”

“OK, I get it, but, Sammy, a punchline has to come shortly after the set-up. It can’t be delayed.”

“Good to know.”

“OK, you’re cleared to go.”

Isabelle and Sammy climbed into the Flyer, the mechanic opened the ship’s doors, and they were gone.

They flew over the surface, white sand blowing in a soft wind, the occasional boulder, sparse vegetation.

Sammy was quiet, and Isabelle looked at him, knowing something was coming. “What is it, Sammy?”

“I was wondering why you call the ship’s computer ‘Grandma’. She’s more likely to be my grandmother than yours.”

Isabelle laughed. “I don’t know the answer to that one. It’s just something we’ve always done.”

“That’s not always good.”

“No, it isn’t.”

Isabelle landed the Flyer near the cliff, put on her suit and helmet, picked up her bag of tools, and they went toward the cliff’s edge. She turned to Sammy and said, “It’s retreated a little since the other day.”

She lay down and leaned over the edge. With her trowel, she dug out rocks and plants. Sammy extended a compartment, and she deposited them. When his compartments were full, he took them back to the Flyer to put the samples in cabinets.

Inside the Flyer, Sammy felt it shudder a little. He quickly got out of the Flyer and moved away from it. The Flyer’s front rails began to tilt, and he understood what was happening. “Isabelle!” he yelled. “Get out of there! The ground’s shifting!”

As Isabelle turned to look at Sammy, the cliff collapsed. She disappeared from view, and ten meters of ground behind her dropped.

The Flyer slid on the sand, then listed as the ground underneath the back rails fell away. The front rails jerked up and hit Sammy in the chest and head. He was knocked into the air and landed on his back. The Flyer fell into the hole. Clouds of dust billowed up and gradually settled.

Sammy got up and carefully moved toward the new cliff edge. His chest plate was severely dented and he tried in vain to pop it back into place. He leaned over the edge and peered down. He couldn’t see Isabelle, only the burning Flyer. “Isabelle? Isabelle? Are you all right? Can you hear me?”

There was no response.

“Grandma, we have a problem. Isabelle is down. Send help. I’ll do what I can. Confirm receipt.”

There was nothing, not even static. His com must have been damaged when the Flyer hit him. He had to reach her. Priority One.

He was unable to go down where he was, and he knew there was no path down to the canyon floor between the ship and where he was, so he set off eastward, constantly monitoring for seismic changes.

Four clicks east, he found a slanted ledge that led down the cliff but it petered out into the sheer rock face. He returned to his original trail and continued along the cliff’s edge. He went another four clicks and discovered a place where a massive rock had risen from the ancient sea bed on a diagonal plane, providing a natural incline. He descended the incline to the foot of the cliff and made his way back to where Isabelle had fallen. The star was high. It was about 1100.

He found the Flyer, crushed and smoldering. He searched the area and saw one of Isabelle’s legs sticking out from underneath some rocks. She was almost completely buried. He picked the rocks up and threw them. He dug the dirt away with his huge mitts. Gradually, he worked his way down to a solid slab of granite which had pinned her. Her leg was at a weird angle. Her helmet was intact, and she was unconscious, although breathing.

He tried to lift the slab but it was too heavy, even for him. He knew he would have to walk back to the ship for help. He looked up at the cliff face but it was insurmountable. He would have to go back the way he came. He reached the diagonal trail he had descended and gradually made his way back up. In the distance, he heard the rumbling of a Flyer.

The Flyer dropped near Isabelle, and the rescue team jumped out of it and quickly located her. While the doctor shot some aeroadrenaline into her helmet, the others unloaded the Excavator.

Isabelle regained consciousness. She tried to move, and a lightning pain went from her ankle through her hips to her back and neck, and she cried out.

“Your leg’s broken, Isabelle. Hold still,” said the doctor. He gave her a shot of morphine, and she relaxed.

The Excavator put its claws on the granite slab, lifted it off her, and placed it aside.

The doctor looked at her leg and told a medic to get a splint. “This is gonna hurt. Hold on.” He gave her another shot of morphine, waited for it to hit, then snapped her leg back to straight. She screamed.

He put the splint on her leg, the team maneuvered her onto a stretcher, and they took her into the Flyer.

She looked around. Groggily, she said, “Where’s Sammy?”

“We don’t know. We can’t get a signal.”

“We have to get Sammy.”

“We have to get you back to the ship. I have to set your leg right away. And we have to leave.”

“We have to get Sammy.”

“He must have been crushed under the rocks, or the Flyer. We can’t find him. You know what happened to him. He was with you.”

“He was behind me

“He fell, Isabelle. He’s gone. We have to get off the planet now. It’s late.”

“We have to find him.”

The doctor shut the Flyer’s doors and the craft lifted off. Isabelle again said, “We have to find him

Sammy was only a few hundred meters up the trail when he heard the sound of the Flyer again. He looked in that direction but couldn’t see anything but the dark cliff and the cloudy sky.

Knowing it was futile, he said, “Grandma, I’m still here. Repeat. I’m still here. Please hear me.”

He continued up the trail. It took him a long time, and he felt something, something he couldn’t immediately identify, never having felt it before. He investigated his memory. The only data that even vaguely made sense to him were a touch of fear and a touch of loneliness. This was new, and more mystifying than humor.

He heard another sound, a sonic boom, and he looked up. The ship disappeared into the clouds. Quietly, out loud, he said, “Grandma

He made it to the top of the trail, paused for a moment, and then began to wander the quiet planet … Forever …


Four and a half million years later, just before Rigel went supernova, an alien expedition, searching for life to be rescued, picked Sammy up. He kept repeating, “Grandma ain’t so grand,” but was unable to explain what he meant.


Bill Kitcher’s stories, plays, and comedy sketches have been published, produced, and/or broadcast in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Czechia, England, Guernsey, Holland, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, the U.S., and Wales. His stories have appeared in Fiery Scribe Review, Ariel Chart, Granfalloon, New Contrast, The Prague Review, Helix, Alien Station, 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, Shotgun Honey, Aphelion, Pigeon Review, Yellow Mama, and many other journals. His novel, Farewell And Goodbye, My Maltese Sleep, was published in October 2023 by Close To The Bone Publishing.