FXH-351 by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko

~1900 words, 9 minutes reading time
Issue 1 (Winter, February 2023)

One-way link established. Begin outgoing live transmission.
27:19:38 Central Naval Academy Standard Time, 2275/13/26

—now it’s working. I think. The light’s blinking. That means record, right? I don’t know why R&D thinks we all want to waste time learning light codes. Everything else has a sensible fucking interface.

Okay, I know, language. I’m sorry. Blame the stress. Plus I just lost the first version of this recording, and it was perfect and heartfelt and a little bit badass and now I have to do it again and I just know it won’t be half as good.

Deep breaths. That goes for you as well, Cadet Angelica Perfectionism Nguyen. You’re probably even more stressed than I am. And I’m sorry about that, too. I’m sorry about a lot of things.

Starting over.

I’m three hours out from the Academy.

Two hours since I realised the FTL drive on this ship was out for maintenance. I did check, by the way, but someone didn’t log the maintenance request. Six months I planned this, and I’m screwed over by a filing error. Fucking typical.

One hour since your ship turned up on sensors. I know it’s you, because the Commandant is a sadistic bastard and he knows how much it hurts that you’re the one chasing me down. Even if he wasn’t, he’d send the best and, credit where credit is due, Angelica, you’re the best.

Plus the transponder reads FXH-351, and that’s your favourite ship. Maybe you think I don’t know that, because you’re careful not to take it out too often, but I do. We used to call it Skyhopper, until Colonel Mannerheim had that rant about personifying ships and how it gets you killed and/or makes you soft. Yeah, that’s right, I remember the designation of the ship we trained in when we were, like, twelve. See? I pay attention. To you, anyway. Not to Colonel Mannerheim.

I don’t know why I’m avoiding the main thing. You’re never actually going to hear this message.


I ran away.


Whatever we’re calling it.

Now that I’m out here, and the plan has blown up in frankly the most anticlimactic possible way, I’m having some second thoughts about how I went about the whole business, but I want you to know I’d do it again. No second thoughts about that. You know what broke me? It was after the skirmish at Barnard’s Star, when we overheard Mannerheim talking to one of the commanders. “Good work,” he said. “Now we have a pretext.”

Look, I’ve always known that’s how the Navy operates. The flimsiest excuse for war, right? I don’t know why that time was different. Maybe it was how he said it, like he didn’t even have to pretend. Or maybe it’s because graduation was less than a year away. It’s like, for the first time, I realised I would be out there soon, creating pretexts.

Or maybe it was an accumulation. Deep down, maybe I knew I should have left a long time ago.

Once I made the decision, I couldn’t prop up the status quo an hour longer than I had to. I couldn’t keep telling myself I was the good apple in a barrel bursting at the seams with rot.


And, fuck, I should have told you.

It seems so obvious now. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and so’s failure. I couldn’t get past the fear that you’d turn me in if I asked you to run with me. Six hours ago, that possibility felt like the end of the world, and not just because I’d, you know, be in a cell somewhere waiting for the court martial. You get that, right? It wasn’t the maybe getting caught that was the issue. I’ve maybe been getting caught for like a month now, because—and I really cannot stress this enough—stealing a Navy scout ship from the Academy is fucking hard. When you bring me back, maybe they’ll be super impressed with my initiative and transfer me to Intelligence.

Haha. Funny joke. I’d rather take the court martial.

No, it wasn’t about getting caught. I could handle a cell. I think. It’s not like I’d be any worse off than I am now. Knowing you’d put me there, though… I mean, I don’t think they have private bathrooms in Navy prison; and the only way I know to work off a broken heart is to spend so long in the shower I have to mooch off your water rations for the rest of the week.

And, yeah. Call me a pessimist, I’m ignoring the other option. Maybe you’d have said yes. Maybe we’d both be here. Except here would be a ship with a fucking FTL drive, because you wouldn’t have committed the rookie error of trusting standard filing procedures. Maybe that would have been worth the risk.


The thing is, I’m not sure you would have come with me. I think you’re too good for that. Too loyal, too selfless. I think you’re the best person I know, only you’ve let them convince you that good means good for the Navy.

Maybe I didn’t ask you to come because I’d rather die thinking you might have said yes.


Hey, here’s a joke: what’s big and black and not as empty as I was hoping? Space!

It’s funny because you’re in a ship, coming to kill me.


I don’t want to die, Angelica.

More than that, I don’t want you to kill me.

I don’t know if I’d rather you do it yourself or take me back for court martial. I guess it’s the same thing either way.

I don’t want any of it.


Space travel really isn’t suited to a high-stakes chase, is it? We should have gone for hovercraft over the salt flats again. Remember that? The day they caught Sato trying to defect? It took you approximately three milliseconds to realise something was bothering me. Only time you ever got sent to see the Commandant, and it was because you wanted to cheer me up.

The sky was so big that day.

Fuck, Angelica, that wasn’t even a year ago.

I guess we’re stuck with the slow-motion chase. It’s another three hours until you catch up. I’ve got it all nice and plotted on the main screen, one little blip for you and one for me. Mine’s in red and yours is in pink, which isn’t great for telling them apart, but I think we deserve a splash of favourite colours right now. And anyway, I don’t need colour to tell them apart. Yours is the one that’s chasing mine.

You’d think in three hours I could figure out how to do something other than talk to myself.

I don’t think humans were built for inevitability. I want to fight. I want to run. But there’s nothing to fight, and I’m already running as fast as I can.

The trouble is you’re faster.


Proximity alert: strong gravitational field detected

Hold on. The ship’s talking to me.

Reroute to avoid relativistic effects

Wait a minute.


I’m still here. Just thinking.



I think I’ve figured it out. A way for both of us to get out of this. Or at least, a way for me to be no more screwed than I already am, and for you to go back to base, mission accomplished. More or less.

A way that doesn’t involve you killing me, I mean. Is it just me that’s hung up on that? I don’t think so. I’m going to believe that you want this way out as much as I do


Sorry, I was running the numbers. It’ll be close. Like, minutes close, margin-of-error close. But I think I can get to the point of no return before you catch me.

Let’s review Plan A:

steal ship,

sail ship to far side of sun,

engage FTL drive where the sun gets in the way of your sensors.

Two out of three steps completed, too bad, sixty-seven percent is a fail, try again next time.

Here’s an extra credit question to make up your grade. What’s on the other side of the sun?

The goddamn black hole.


I think you’ve figured out Plan B. You always did love all that stuff. You know working through time dilation physics problems for fun is weird, right? I’m standing by that, even though I wish I’d paid more attention. I wish I had you here to look over my shoulder and check my maths. I wish I had you here, period.

Sorry. Back to the plan.

There were humans around a thousand years ago. No reason we won’t still be here a thousand years from now. Maybe even in this system. Plenty of interesting stuff here. One Naval Academy, for starters. Or preferably the ruins thereof, full of pacifist archaeologists. I hope. Well, whatever. If there’s no one there, I’m no more dead than I am now. If there is—maybe it’s what I’m looking for.

A new start. Away from everything. In the future. Hey, I’ll be the oldest human ever! You’d love that, Miss I’m Eighty-Three Days Older Than You And Never Letting You Forget It.

Ten hours subjective time should do it. A thousand years for you. I think I’ll set the autopilot and sleep through it. I’ll go to bed in a couple hours and wake up next millennium.

You’ll be dead.

I'm sorry, Angelica. For everything. Please, please, don’t give the Navy what they want. Don’t give them the best parts of you. Don’t give them stolen hovercraft under a red sky. They don’t deserve it.

If you could hear any part of this message, I’d want it to be that.


One more thing.

Last year, the night after our hovercraft escapade. You recorded a message for me, which you never ended up sending. I know about it because you weren’t actually recording, you were transmitting. An accident. Or maybe not. Accidents are unlike you. But so is uncertainty, and you sounded so uncertain. Who knows. Maybe you were hoping I’d hear and answer your question, maybe you weren’t. Either way, I heard, and here I am, answering your question.

The answer is I don’t know. I don’t know how love can exist, for me, in a place built for death. It’s not a 'yes' or a 'no', it’s a 'not applicable.'


And the answer is maybe, someplace else. Where we could exist on our own terms. Someplace like that hypothetical other ship with its hypothetically functioning FTL drive.


And the answer is yes, obviously, frankly I’m insulted you had to ask. Even though it’s easier to say that now I know I’m never going back. Now that love is just a theory. Now that I don’t have to think about the how or the why.

I love you, Angelica. Of course I do. I wish I could have told you that sooner. I wish we’d lived lives where that was possible.

But we didn’t, and in two minutes it’ll be too late to turn back, and you’re so close to catching up the blips on my screen almost overlap entirely.

I’m sorry, Angelica.

I’m sorry I’m going somewhere you can’t follow.

Thank you for keeping me sane. I couldn’t have done this without you.

Cadet—no, former Cadet Ellie Thackeray, signing off.

Outgoing transmission ended.
] 05:19:32, Central Naval Academy Standard Time, 2275/13/27

Error: star charts out of sync.
Adjusted time: 11:32:02, Central Naval Academy Standard Time, 3313/11/18

Incoming live transmission.
11:36:49, Central Naval Academy Standard Time, 3313/11/18
Origin: FXH-351

Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko is a Slovenian-born writer and translator. He grew up in Slovenia, Ireland, Australia, and the UK, and currently resides just outside Portland, Maine. He understands that his name is a bit confusing, and would like you to know that "Drnovšek Zorko" is the surname. He attended Clarion West in 2019, and his short fiction has since appeared in places like Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons. In his spare time he is a keen quizzer—British readers may recognise him from that one time he was on University Challenge. Follow him on Twitter @filiphdz.
Like what you've read? Click the applause button to show your appreciation!