Seeing red

February 23, 2016 at 5:19 am | Posted in Short Story | 6 Comments
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Spin to win.

Spin out.

Guy and Jock were catching up over coffee.

It wasn’t real coffee, because they were 58 million kilometres from Melbourne.

And it wasn’t a real catch up, because they’d spent four years in training, 252 days on a dummy Mars run in a dummy spaceship and 126 days on a real Mars run in a real spaceship.

To say they knew each other well was a gross understatement. They weren’t merely used to living cheek by jowl, they were virtually in each other’s DNA.

Despite the best efforts of mission psychologists to match personalities, such extended intimate proximity can make a person twitchy. So double macchiatos halfway to the Red Planet were a no-no.

Jock looked down at Guy over his nano-wafer sippy cup. ‘So, how’re they hangin’, Man?’

‘Oh, you know,’ replied Guy with a shrug. ‘Same same.’

‘No shit?’

‘No shit.’

A single sphere of brown fluid escaped the straw. Jock trapped it in his meaty hand and mashed it into his mouth.

Guy watched him, noting that this was the seventy-seventh time he’d seen his crewmate do this. They really needed to upsize that cup for Jock’s big, coarse face. He took off his glasses and cleaned them on a napkin floating beside him. ‘How’s that video game coming?’

‘Finished.’

‘Already?’

‘Yep.’

‘That was quick.’

‘I’m getting better.’

‘How many’s that, then?’

Jock looked listlessly around the tiny dining quarters and sighed heavily. ‘All of ’em. And some of ’em twice.’

The geoscientist registered mild surprise. ‘You have come a long way.’

‘Yeah. But what am I supposed to do now?’

‘Shall I ask Control to send you a new game?’

‘You told me yourself; we’re too far gone. The files are too big. We can only receive text now – remember?’

Guy brightened. ‘Ah, yes. But that’s OK Jock; I’ll get them to send us more books!’

The flight engineer glowered. ‘You know damn well I hate books.’

‘Yes, but under the circumstances … ‘

‘Forget it. Always have and always will. Hated ’em.’

‘But what about that moon murder mystery? You seemed to like that.’

‘You read that to me in training. When I was sick.’

‘And?’

‘The drone of your voice sent me to sleep.’

‘Ah yes,’ said the smaller man. ‘How could I forget?’

The pair lapsed into silence. Guy began to look thoughtful. After a while, Jock noticed. He crushed the sippy cup to the size of pea and flicked it expertly into the reconstitution unit. ‘What’re you thinking about?’

Guy looked up quickly. ‘I was wondering if there’s any book you’d read.’

‘You mean apart from equipment manuals?’

‘Yes.’

‘You mean, read a book … for fun.’

‘Yes.’

‘No way.’

‘No?’

‘Never.’

Guy rotated pensively. ‘But what if there were one book.’

‘What sort of book?’

‘A murder mystery, set in space.’

Jock stretched his broad arms, which no amount of weightlessness had been able to atrophy. ‘Did we not just have a conversation about such a book?’

The cleaned glasses glinted. ‘Yes, we did. But what if this book were set in our spaceship?’

‘This one we’re flying in right now?’

‘Yes. Would that interest you?’

The broad arms folded. ‘A murder mystery.’

‘Yes.’

‘On our ship.’

‘Yes.’

‘Who gets murdered?’

‘Me.’

‘By whom?’

‘You.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I set you off.’

‘How?’

‘By bugging you about a murder mystery.’

Jock frowned as his brain caught up. ‘Not much of a f*cking mystery, is it?’

‘That depends’ said Guy.

‘On what?’

‘Whether you’ve noticed.’

‘Noticed what?’

‘The fact that I’ve been writing.’

‘You’re always bloody writing. You send the damn emails.’

‘Do you know what’s in those emails?’ Guy’s eyebrows arched.

‘No. Nor do I give a shit. I do every bloody thing around here and you send reports about it.’

‘So, you wouldn’t know if I’d been writing a book on the side.’

‘Have you?’

‘Maybe.’

‘And why exactly would you do that?’

‘That’s the mystery!’

Jock propelled himself to the snack machine. Not because he was hungry, but to break the annoying patter. He grabbed a tendy sandwich at random. Curried egg. Not his favourite. But he munched into it just the same. He glared at Guy through big bites. ‘Are you trying to tell me that Control have been happy for you to write a damn book instead of doing your work?’

‘Maybe they don’t know. Maybe I’ve done it during your sleep cycles.’

‘But they log every keystroke. What’re you writing it on – toilet paper?’

Guy paused, as if contemplating whether to proceed. ‘What if Control were in on it?’

‘In on what?!’

‘The novel.’

Jock laughed shortly. ‘Bloody hell, Man; have you been sniffing the coolant again?’

‘What if Control said it was OK for me to write a novel to entertain you when you ran out of computer games?’

‘Entertain me?!’

‘Yes.’

‘But why?’

‘To stop you thinking murderous thoughts.’

Jock stuffed the last of the sandwich down this throat. ‘Mate, if you keep this shit up, I’ll have more than murderous thoughts.’

Guy smiled. ‘Maybe that’s the idea.’

‘Oh for f*ck’s sake; are you deliberately trying to wind me up or what?’

‘Easy, Tiger; we don’t want to reach the climax too soon.’

Jock screwed up his face. ‘I really wish you wouldn’t use that word.’

‘It’s a literary term.’

‘Yeah, well keep it up and you may just climax on your own pancreas.’

Guy laughed heartily. ‘That’s very good, Jock. Do you mind if I use it?’

Jock pushed himself from the table towards the VacuJohn. ‘I’ll give you something better than that, Guy.’

‘What?’

‘The murder weapon.’

‘Really? What’s that?’

‘This dunny.’

‘How so?’

The flight engineer opened the cubicle door. ‘I estimate that, with a good seal and enough pressure, I can get your eyeballs out of your skull, down this chute and into the hydroponic radishes in time for dinner.’

Guy’s smile wavered. ‘That’s very … specific, Jock.’

‘It is.’ Jock gazed at his hands – opening and closing. ‘But I’ve been thinking about it.’

Gif by Lookang.


If this was entertaining, you may wish to:

Your smallest kindness will keep me going strong. With many thanks, Paul.


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6 Comments »

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  1. Tremendous! Also, an astronaut called ‘Jock’ is entertaining in itself. I allus enjoy my Imagine Day. 🙂

    • Good show, Ad! I wish all my characters could amuse without actually doing anything. Thank you for following the story all the way out. P.

  2. Awesome writing as always. I couldn’t put it down, or rather off. You know I’m writing a book about you, and Adam, and everything you did to Sharon. And Sheep Discos. And a weekend in Adelaide in 1986. Don’t kill me.

    • Dear WLB2. Lovely to see you. Your book, if it goes ahead as described, will indeed end with your demise. I suggest you try fiction. Better still, go out and do something new and interesting and then write about that. Pray do not fall back upon our careworn memories of thwarted youth. Kind regards and an exceedingly sharp HB, P.

  3. A cat ate my Avatar.

    • A similar fate awaits the real you if I don’t have 500 original and exhilarating words on your Bacchus Marsh Velcro conference by next Friday.


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