The landing was pretty sudden. Brian knew it was going to come, but still. Some things you can prepare for all your life, and still be surprised when it actually happens. He put his hand on his pocket. Good, it was still there.
He opened the hull and stepped out on the automatic ladder that dropped down. It was good to be back in normal gravity. He attached his clasp to the safety line. You couldn’t be safe enough. He hadn’t survived the first-ever faster-than-light space flight only to drop dead on the tarmac because his body wasn’t used to earth force yet.
As took the last rung, he felt a slight breeze touch his hair. He smelled the slight fumes of gasoline in the air. Home sweet home. It felt good to be back. Space was… well, just space. Diotima-5 was a nice place, but he surely hoped they’d never ask him to go back there. The creatures there were… well, how should he put it. Otherworldly. Although they were very good with… He shrugged off the memories. No need to delude himself. He would be able to get a girlfriend here on earth, especially now that he would be famous. Too famous maybe. The first man to fly faster than light. He’d probably get to pick the lucky lady to be with him. And she would definitely be in for a surprise, he’d definitely be showing her a couple of tricks.
He unclipped his safety and turned around. There was no-one there to meet him. Brian looked at his watch. It was the right time, hadn't they received his messages? He walked over to the hangar. It held only one plane, a classic model. A guy was sitting in a corner, thumbing through a magazine.
“That’s a beauty! I didn’t know there were still working models around.” Brian pointed at the machine, a stunning 1946 Ercoupe 415C, its yellow wings shining from being newly waxed. Brian ran over the hull with his fingers, tapping it in reverence.
“Sir? Could you please move away from the plane?”
Brian turned around a faced the boy, who he guessed must have been no older than seventeen. “It’s okay. It’s me, Brian. Didn’t you guys expect me? I sent you a ton of messages from Diotima. I never checked my inbox there, I was kind of… occupied I guess. But I had expected some kind of welcoming party. Although I’d take this beauty over boring speeches by Mr. Richard any day. You know what I mean?”
“Sir. I’m gonna have to ask you to leave the premises.”
“No, wait. You’ve got it all wrong. I just arrived from Diotima.” He checked his watch. “Which only took me, four minutes and thirty-six seconds.” He put on a big smile, which wasn't hard to do. Damn, fame would suit him just fine.
“Sir, I have no idea where Diotima is. But I’d like to ask you to get back in your vehicle and get the hell outta here. Otherwise I’d have to call the cops.”
“Diotima, you know. Fourteen light years behind Pluto. Hell, kid, don’t act so surprised. I know I was fast and all, but that’s technology for you.”
The boy walked to the telephone hanging on the side of the hangar. “Yeah, I need some assistance. I’m on the airstrip and there’s another one. Yeah. Some lunatic claiming he has just returned from some place called Diotima. Which is in space, apparently.”
Brian shook his head. What was going on. If this was meant to be a joke, it surely was a very bad one.
“Yeah, we’ll wait. Thank you officer, I appreciate it.” The boy hung up the phone and walked back to his chair. He picked up his magazine. “They’ll be here soon. I’m sure they’ll be mighty interested in whatever you’d like to tell them.”
“You know, I’ve just flew faster than anyone has ever flew before. Can you imagine the irony of me having to wait here for some police to show up? I could fly hundred time around the earth before they even got into their car.” Brian was getting upset. This joke was now definitely beyond not-funny.
Brian sat down on a chair next to the boy. There was nothing to do but wait. He glanced at the magazine the boy was reading. Mad. He sat up in the chair. “Hey, that’s cool. My grandfather told me about Mad. He used to read it all the time. But why are you reading it, isn’t that some kind of artifact?”
The boy didn’t even look up. “Just shut your mouth and wait till the police get here.”
Brian looked over the hangar. He didn’t recognise any of it. He hadn’t been gone that long, had he? “What date is today?”
“May 22nd, nineteen forty-seven.”
Brian leaned back. No shit. That was impossible. Or was it? Faster than light, sure. And back a hundred years.
A car drove up. Two officers got out, and walked over to the boy. “This him, Jimmy?”
“That’s the space traveler alright.” Jimmy got up and shook hands with the officer who seemed to be in charge. A big guy, with a huge moustache.
The smaller eyed Brian suspiciously. “Another one, I see. This one looks even more fancy. Why do they keep trying? The mental hospital is full of these guys. Did you also travel to space, faster than light and all?”
Brian nodded. He didn't know what to say. But it was pretty clear this is was not going to be funny any time soon.
“Okay, we’ll take it from here, Jimmy. Thanks for the call.” The moustache took out his hand cuffs and walked towards Brian.
“But I have proof!” Brian reached into his pocket, fumbling for the little rock he had smuggled from Diotima.
The moustache was not having a great day. He was married for three months now, but his wife still burnt the coffee in the morning. And now this guy showed up before he could even pour a cup at the office. What was wrong with the world? They’d probably have to spend the rest of the day questioning this lunatic and file his paperwork to have him committed. Of course he knew he should have warned him. Loony or not. He should have given him a chance to take his hand out of his pocket. But I guess it’s just not one of those stories where justice is served and all will be well in the end.
As for Brian, he hardly felt the bullet as it entered his shoulder. He did see the ground come closer as he fell. He smiled. At least now he knew why they had told him he would be the first to travel faster than light speed. Jerks.
This story was written for the #twentyfourhourshortstory contest organised eleven hours ago by @mctiller. His assignment: write a short story based on the following prompt: a test pilot returns to earth after the first-ever faster-than-light space flight.