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 watched the radar screen.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
©2008 Casey Callaghan
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