The Pilot


The Pilot

“When did you know you were lost?” he asked, his voice a perfect blend of concern and compassion.

I sighed. “As soon as I got out of the cryo chamber.” How many times had I said that in the last three days? “The star on the viewer wasn’t right. It should have been a red dwarf. But I guess the computer woke me up because something went wrong.”

“What went wrong?” He leaned forward in his chair, pen poised above a notepad.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was too busy worrying about surviving the crash into your atmosphere.” Memories of the planet’s surface rushing to greet me flooded through my brain. I still couldn’t believe I’d survived.

Neither could they.

The alien psychiatrist nodded sympathetically, but his eyes belied his doubt. Under the circumstances, I couldn’t really blame him. Who knew there was another planet with sentient life that looked like humans? And the odds that I would end up here by accident must have been infinitesimal. It didn’t help that my ship had engaged its self-destruct protocol as soon as we entered the alien atmosphere. I was lucky I got out before it imploded.

“You understand that we’ve found no evidence to corroborate your story?” He tapped his pen against the notepad.

“Yes,” I said.

“How do you explain that?”

“I can’t. I’m not an astrophysicist. I’m just a pilot.”

The psychiatrist sat back in his chair. His pen rested against his lips. “So what made you go to our Supreme Leader’s private residence?”

More of the same questions. I sighed again. “It’s just where I ended up. I didn’t know whose house it was.”

“I see,” he said.

I’m not sure he saw anything. He thought I was either a terrorist pretending to be crazy or just a crazy person with massive delusions. He clearly didn’t believe I was an alien.

“You’ll get the DNA test back soon, right?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Maybe you should just wait to see the results. I know we look alike, but I’m really not from here.”

“You’re just lost,” he said.

It was my turn to nod and his turn to sigh.

He looked at his watch. “Okay, let’s take a break. I’ll go check on the tests.”

I watched him leave, then turned to look out the window at the alien world. It was a lot like home, but the vegetation was different, and the sky was more purple than blue. It also had fewer people than Earth. I remembered the vast expanses of virgin land I’d seen as my ship plummeted toward the surface. Pristine. Unspoiled.

As the minutes ticked by, I rested my head against the window and closed my eyes. The sound of the door crashing open awakened me. I turned sleepy eyes toward the psychiatrist.

“Who are you and why are you here?” The concern and compassion had disappeared, replaced with anger. And fear, I think.

“You got the test results,” I said.

He tossed some papers on the table and visibly tried to collect himself. “Yes. You were telling the truth. You’re not from here.”

“No, I’m not,” I replied.

He pointed to a line in the test results. “This is not biological. Your DNA has been altered.”

“More like augmented,” I said.


I looked at him. “I think you already know why.”

He dropped into his chair. “So the fact that everyone who’s come into contact with you is sick is no accident?”

I shook my head.

“You said you were lost,” he said.

“I lied.”

He nodded and his shoulders slumped. “How long do we have?”

“Your species will be extinct in about a week. The disease is very aggressive.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Why us?” he finally asked. “Why here?”

I smiled. “Because your planet is beautiful.”


This is my submission for this week’s speakeasy challenge, in which we had to use this sentence as our first line: “When did you know you were lost?” he asked. And we had to make some reference to a photo prompt, which you can see if you click through to the challenge page.

An announcement for those of you who are writers: I will be running a writing workshop this summer, in cahoots with my fellow speakeasy editor, Natalie. It will give you the opportunity to work one-on-one with a professional editor at a total steal! You can register over at yeah write (my workshop is the Gold Lounge/Tier 3).
Or you can email me for more details.


Image credit: Dan Verkys @ deviantART

56 thoughts on “The Pilot

  1. A perfectly executed twist! I love the subtle foreshadowing as the main character has a moment to appreciate the unspoiled pristineness of the new planet.

  2. Darn you Suzanne – you with your good stories that suck me in and make me want to vote for them 😉 Your stories all unfold in a way that makes it seem the writing is effortless, which is how I know it was nothing of the sort. Another good ‘un!

  3. I didn’t realize the landing was quite intentional until the end – nice twist. I do feel for the inhabitants of that planet. If earth is any indication, that planet may not stay beautiful for long…

  4. Oh my… Suzanne this is amazing. I’m completely in love with how you turned the story around. And I feel terrible at hearing the fate of the inhabitants. Sounds so much like… what us humans would do.

  5. I like the understated, matter-of-factness of the genocide – it’s simply “hello, you’re all dead.” No doubt, one day wars will happen without anyone knowing.

  6. Ooh, that’s vicious. The last line is fantastic, “Because your planet is beautiful.” I love it! This is such a plausible scenario to me, it gives me chills. I find it interesting that you went with the psychologist angle, the stranger in a strange land scenario, as well. I guess the sentence prompt lends itself to it. I love the dialog and the behavior of both is very believable. Great story!

    1. Thank you so much! Yeah, I noticed that we both went with psychiatrists, although mine seems a little less deserving of his fate than yours. 😉

  7. A simply brilliant, rich story–from beginning to end. That earthling fooled me too, right up to the end. I like the narrator’s sighing, tired demeanor. This has drama, complex characters, and a genius twist of surprise. Love it. You have such a facility for story-telling and literary writing. I learn so much by reading your work.

  8. Also, I admit, I thought the Earthling really was crazy at first. It’s even more scary, though, when it turned out it wasn’t craziness.

  9. Yay space imperialism! So I guess we don’t learn from the past (or is this a refined and intentional version of the conquistador’s spreading of pox?) 😈. For some strange reason, it’s nice to be the attacker this time around.
    How would you feel if you were that man, looking straight into the face of extinction? It’s brilliant in a sadistic way. You’d make a pretty good space tyrant Suzanne. Take that however you want 😉!

    Joke aside, this is another brilliant post! Guess you’re not the boss around here for nothing!

    1. Oh, this was definitely a calculated and intentional move. And, um, thank you – I never considered a career as a space tyrant, but I like the sound of it! 😉

      Thank you so much for your great comment, DragonSpark!

  10. I didn’t get to comment earlier, but I just have to chime in and tell you how much I loved this story. You know how I love a twist at the end involving biological warfare! 🙂

  11. Exactly what I needed this morning with my coffee. Loved it – very well done. You have a great casual approach to dialogue and it reads beautifully. Thank you!

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