Aphelion Issue 234, Volume 22
November 2018
 
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Dead Bored

By Casey Callaghan

Based on art by William R. Warren, Jr. as well as characters and situations created by Bill Wolfe, Casey Callaghan, and N.J. Kailhofer

Some of the individual versions of the stories in this series were written for forum flash challenge contests to help create this "world." As such, stories may not match the characters or settings of the continuous version of the story, which blended all the entries together.




He sat.

He watched the radar screen.

He sat.

He watched the radar screen.

Technically, Lt. Cmdr. Dunsirn was doing sterling work in ensuring that the spaceship "Aphelion 2" did not run afoul of some bit of unmapped space debris, drifting into its path and ruining a few billion dollars of taxpayer's money. The fact that if it happened, it would kill him and the other five members of the crew as well, was considered less important to the people back on Earth. People were replaceable. A few billion dollars lost, however, would lead to embarrassment on the part of some official of the chairborne division back on Earth, and that was inexcusable.

Hence the radar screen. Everyone had a watch - even the Captain came down for his daily four hours.

But there never was anything more than an odd grain of dust, an excuse to - oh, the excitement! - take out the logbook, note that a dust grain was not on a collision course and not moving fast enough to do any damage even if it was, and put the logbook back.

Dead.

Boring.

There was the clicking noise of someone moving down the corridor in a pair of magnetic boots. Automatically, Dunsirn's mind attached itself to the clicking. It would naturally be Jones, who had vertigo if he moved without the magnetic boots, no doubt headed off to check on the plants in his little greenhouse once again. After two months on the same ship, everyone knew almost all there was to know about everyone else. Their hobbies; Captain Curtis had his bonsai tree (a smile still flickered over Dunsirn's face whenever he remembered the man back on earth - "You want to bring a tree for your recreational allowance?" and the Captain's deadpan answer - "And my clippers and other tools, yes."), Jones his greenhouse, Smith and Zwelitini their interminable philosophical discussions on the nature of the both universe and free will, and finally Chang, who would simply practice some esoteric form of martial arts, sometimes for hours on end. He said it cleared the mind.

Dunsirn himself had taken a collection of his favourite books. It had been a mistake. One can only fit so many books into the recreational weight allowance, and he'd now read them all, except one, a dozen times each, and hardly felt capable of facing them again. He wondered briefly if Smith had finished the one that he had borrowed yet.

Books. History books. Once again, the point popped into his mind. No-one knew who the second person to step onto the moon was. No-one could tell who who had run a four-minute mile... second. No-one, he was sure, would ever know who had been the second in command of the second spaceship to land on Mars. Probably no-one would remember even Captain Curtis' name, though he had a chance of making it into the history books if something happened to Captain Dahl soon after arrival.

But for Lt. Cmdr. Dunsirn - not a hope. Unless something happened on the voyage, of course.

He stared at the radar screen again. Someone had arranged that it would show the time at the bottom. This, Dunsirn felt, merely made the torture more exquisite, as it showed you quite clearly how long was left in your shift.

In this case - another three hours until Zwelitini arrived.

He sighed, and tried unsuccessfully not to think of depressing subjects.

--------------

The boredom of their voyage was taking its toll on the other crew members too, Dunsirn noticed later at lunch. They'd decided to spend some weeks sampling the food of other cultures, just for a bit of variety. Unfortunately, Chang's cooking skills were poor enough in full Earth gravity; under the conditions imposed by null-grav, when a stray crumb could wreak havoc by getting in someone's eye, and with the limits imposed by their food stores, his efforts were... well, "abysmal" was probably the wrong word. "Abysmal", Dunsirn felt, might even be an improvement.

"Chang." said the captain, "these eggs are burnt."

"Yes, Captain." replied Chang meekly. "I don't know how it happened."

"Humph. What did you do? Put them back because you thought they weren't done yet?"

"I only did that once!" objected Jones immediately.

"It might help," observed Zwelitini, "if someone could have spared the budget for a proper chef."

"He'd have problems, too." pointed out Dunsirn, morosely. "All the equipment is so different from standard Earthside systems, that -"

"He'd have to relearn cookery from the ground up." chorused everyone at the table.

A few bites later, Zwelitini asked "Do we have nothing better to do than moan about the food over lunch?"

"You're right." said Chang. "We must think of a different subject to occupy our minds. If we are happy, time will pass quickly, and we will get to Mars sooner."

"Before someone snaps and kills somebody?" asked Dunsirn.

"Now, you see," replied Chang, "that is the wrong action. You are infecting us all with your negative moods. Think of sunlight, of happy things. If you cannot, then keep your negativity in and your mouth shut."

Dunsirn sighed inwardly, but he knew that Chang was right. He kept his negativity in and his mouth shut.

As always, of course, he spun out his lunch as long as possible. Eating involved at least doing something.

Straight after lunch, he went off to the radar room to ask Smith if he'd finished the book yet. One wasn't supposed to disturb the radar operator, but radar operators nonetheless prayed for disturbances.

He headed off the the radar room, knocked, opened the door, and went inside.

Two minutes later, Captain Curtis arrived for his shift.

He did not expect to see Dunsirn in there. And he really did not expect to see Smith dead, a hole drilled through his chest, his head at an unnatural angle, his sightless eyes staring at Dunsirn, who was sobbing and frantically checking Smith's neck for a pulse.


THE END


2008 Casey Callaghan


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