Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
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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.

Aphelion One, Day 164

Botanist's Log, 15:48

Cabin fever is what happens when too few people are cooped up in close proximity for too long. It's characterised by irritability, anger, in some cases even paranoia.

I think I'm developing a bad case. I hope I'm developing a bad case, because I'm certainly feeling very paranoid.

It all started this morning; I had breakfast late, since I'd been on radar watch that morning. When Chang relieved me and I went off to look over the plants in the greenhouse, I came unexpectedly on the Captain, who stopped me to ask about the plants I was on my way to go see; but when I moved to go past him and show him their health, he stopped me to ask whether I'd spotted anything during my radar watch.

Quite surprising, since a no piece of rock had hit us and one that missed was hardly of much interest.

A few moments later, when I finally got to the greenhouse, there was Dr. Smith, looking as guilty as anything; that wide-eyed innocent look of his is like a flashing neon sign that says "I'm hiding something".

Of course, I immediately began to wonder what it was. Everything looked alright in the greenhouse; the plants were all doing well. (It is quite amazing how well spearmint grows in zero gravity, handled properly). I performed those tasks necessary to ensure that they would continue to do well, checking the nutrient solution in their root bulbs and so on.

Normally, this takes me some time; there are a lot of plants to check, after all. This time, I'd swear that I caught the smell of Smith's cologne in the greenhouse.

What was he doing there, and why had the Captain been acting spotter to make sure he got out before I arrived?

But that was just the first incident.

The second occurred when I arrived for lunch. There was a sudden, dead silence across the whole table. Everyone except Archana (radar duty) was there, and they were all completely and unnaturally silent until Chang asked me how my plants were doing.

Two little incidents. Two slight incidents. But... I'm not quite Dr. Smith, but strange things have happened when people have been shut alone together. Sidney's murder - no matter what Earth says, that was no accident - has been horrible for all of us. It's going to be a lot worse once we land, because we know the murderer is on the other ship. Whoever it is, he can't get to us until after we land. And when we do land...

Let's just say that there's a lot of horror stories that start like that.

And there's a lot that start with everyone except one person keeping some sort of secret.

Do they know? Did they find out who it was?

They can't think it was me. I mean, I was on this ship the whole time.

They can't have heard that story from Earth, could they? I mean, is mission control decided to investigate - I mean really investigate - all our backgrounds, and that came out, then could -

No. No-one's found that out yet. And no-one's going to.

* * *

Botanist's Log, 19:28

Now I feel really silly. I should have guessed, really I should have, but I'd lost track of time.

About an hour before supper, Archana managed to trap me in a conversation - and, now that I think about it, if I was ever near the door she was standing in it, but not obtrusively. Once we'd prepared supper, she took the first half and asked me to follow with the others; one of which had somehow managed to slip itself into the other end of the room. By the time I followed her, she'd had time to find her seat at the table - which had moved.

That was the first thing I noticed. Everyone's seats had shifted a few places around, so that I was looking at the large back of Gode, rather than Archana.

That was, of course, intentional on their part. Captain Curtis noticed my arrival, nodded; and everyone burst into a spontaneous rendition of "Happy Birthday".

Somehow, don't ask me how, Gode had even managed to conjure up a cake. Alright, a large cupcake, but still, when you're further from home than any other birthday girl has ever been, you'll take any cake that's offered.

Unless it's poisonous, of course.

Or vanilla (yuck).

Or a thin coating of icing on a grenade...

This one even had a candle (briefly - we don't have that much air to waste). And mint icing, which must have been what Smith had been harvesting a quiet leaf or two of this morning.

Chang had, amazingly, even gone as far as to find a gift that I hadn't seen in the almost two hundred days that we've been voyaging; and, I must say, his skill at origami is considerable.

Tonight I retire to bed a happy girl.


2009 Casey Callaghan

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