The dull whir of the tires on the road drowned out the talk radio station. Dad had given up on telling him to sit up or to keep his seatbelt fastened. Their car was alone on the desert highway, hadn’t seen anything besides sand and cactus for tens of miles.
“Hen, you want a blanket?” Mom asked.
Henry sat up, he was too old to take naps in the car. “Nuh-uh. Can I have a snack?”
“Sure, just grab whatever.”
The floorboard next to him was taken up by a red cooler, their last name in capital letters on the lid and sides in thick black marker. Like someone would steal a busted cooler. Chocolate chip granola bars, organic juice boxes, string cheese, and a bag of apple slices. Good grief, why does she always have to pack healthy stuff, Henry thought. Where’s the sodas, the chips? He settled on string cheese and a juice box then slammed the lid to make sure it stayed shut.
Outside the car, flat land stretched out to either side baked dry in the scorching sun. Henry was going to have a hard time finding a tree for his new fort, or maybe he could beg his dad to build one like a real survivalist would use. Clouds huddled together near the horizon. Silently, a dark freighter ship pushed through the surface of the thunderhead. Even in the bright southwestern sun light, Henry could see the lights on the belly of the ship. Hundreds of crewmen were working to ready the ship for landing, bringing back mineral ore from an asteroid mining expedition. This ship was their reason for leaving the rolling green hills of Ohio. Mom was the leading scientist in her field of something Henry could never pronounce right and she was going to study everything that had been brought back from space.
Henry didn’t say anything as he watched the ship slowly sink out of the sky. He threw the empty cheese wrapper onto the seat beside and him and let his fingers do a space walk across the back of Dad’s seat, bouncing high into the air between each step like the gravity was weak. His finger-hand spaceman walked, “ksssh, ksssh, ksssh”, and took a big leap to cross the cavern to get to the car door.
Henry jammed his straw into the juice box, draining it in a few gulps.
A dust cloud rose up around the freighter as its landing gear touched down.
Mom’s phone started ringing. “Maldanado, here,” she answered in her work voice. “Yes, sir. Yes. Understood. I can have my husband drop me off. Be there in an hour.”
“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then?” Dad asked.
“I’m sorry. I think everyone is just so excited to see what’s inside the vessel. It was just a mining mission, they didn’t expect to find another ship buried in the asteroid.” Mom turned to look at Henry. “Maybe I can bring you back a space rock?”
Henry’s finger-hand spaceman fell to his death trying to reach the safety of his ship.