Standing on the observation platform with the rest of the spectators, Donovan Mitchell watched the SpaceX launch with a despair that was completely at odds with the rest of the group’s jubilation. His teammate and friend Joe Ingles was in that spacecraft, a craft that was headed for Mars despite its occupant’s total lack of relevant training or experience.
Elon Musk, who had been standing among them, was suddenly beckoned back into the control room. Donovan anxiously watched him leave, then wondered: had something gone wrong with the launch? Something wronger than putting a non-astronaut like Joe in there?
Suddenly, alarms were going off inside the sealed, windowless control room. They were faint, but they could be heard. What could also be heard was Elon’s voice, clearly yelling, but the words muffled by the wall between them. Worried, Donovan turned his eyes back to the rising ship. When he saw what happened next, he gasped along with the rest of them.
A human-shaped form, made small by distance, had fallen out of the craft and was hurtling towards Earth. Joe. Clearly, he had decided that any fate was better than the fate of dying alone and unprepared in the desolation of space.
Donovan couldn’t bear to watch. He hid his face in his hands and prepared for the worst. However, when he heard another gasp from the crowd, he looked up again only to see Joe slowly descending to Earth with a parachute billowing above him. Somehow, he had, in freefall, figured out how to deploy the life-saving parachute.
Donovan did the only thing he could think of: he leaped off the observation site and sprinted towards the spot where it looked like Joe would land. Even when the Mars-bound craft careened off course, disrupted by the opening of its hatch, and hit the ground half a mile away with a large explosion, Donovan kept running through the searing heat and bone-shaking shockwave, hoping that no burning shrapnel would ignite Joe’s parachute.
When Joe finally reached the ground, Donovan caught him in his arms. “I thought I’d never see you again,” Donovan said through tears of happiness.
“Me too, mate,” Joe replied, squeezing Donovan in a tight hug and clapping him on the back. Then, he let go of his teammate and quickly began to shed the rest of the equipment he had been wearing for the prolonged spaceflight. “We gotta get outta here, though. Elon’s gone crazy. Completely crackers.”
“How did you…?” Donovan began before trailing off.
“No time to explain, mate,” Joe said. “Come on, this way.” He started running in a direction away from the SpaceX facility. Donovan had no choice but to follow him. “I was up in the air so long, I think I found a good way to escape,” Joe continued as they ran. “We just have to hope that Elon’s too distraught to effectively pursue us.”
Emergency sirens could be heard from far away, no doubt responding to the large fire that was engulfing the field of the launch site. Even at a considerable distance, Donovan could feel the heat of the inferno. “Where are we going, anyway?” he asked between hard breaths. The launch site was miles of desolate beach road away from any kind of main settlement.
“There’s a little neighborhood up here,” Joe answered. “Must’ve been a failed resort community or something, it’s not fully built out. We should be able to hide there.”
Suddenly, there were anguished wails from behind them, the voice belonging to a person they were all too familiar with. “JOE! JOOOOOOOOE! GET BACK HERE! STOP RUNNING!” Donovan looked back to see Elon a few hundred feet behind them, pumping his legs as hard as he could to catch up the escapees. “THAT’S BILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF EQUIPMENT THAT YOU DESTROYED! YOU AND YOUR BOYFRIEND WILL BE HELD LIABLE!”
“He’s not my boyfriend, ya cunt!” Joe yelled back, increasing his speed to put more distance between them.
When Donovan next looked back fifteen seconds later, Elon had stopped running and had his hands on his knees, catching his breath. When he next spoke, his voice was interrupted by coughs and pauses. “THANKS TO YOUR IDIOCY, IT’LL BE YEARS BEFORE WE SEND SOMEBODY TO MARS!”
Joe just smirked and kept running, with Donovan close behind. He could see a few small houses surrounded by palm trees in the distance. A few minutes later, they were there, standing in a neighborhood that was little more than a single boulevard lined by 60’s-era houses. Many of the homes had boards covering the windows and doors.
“This one,” Joe said, pointing at a decrepit house painted a garish “tropical” pink shade. He removed the plywood from a broken window, and they carefully climbed into the dark bedroom before replacing the plywood as best they could.
Donovan got out his phone. “I’ll have somebody pick us up.”
“Arrange it in the middle of the night so we’re not seen,” Joe said. “I’m guessing Elon’s still out th-”
“JOE! WHERE ARE YOU?” came Elon’s deranged voice from outside. “JOE? JOE!!!!!!”
The two Jazz teammates sat in scared silence.