Thousand Words a Day Bit for July 28, 2017

This one’s goofy enough to put on the home page instead of in the “1000 Words a Day” tab above. Look for 1000-word bits every day here at tophatbanjo.com.

Bit for July 28, 2017:

Hank found himself sitting in the control room of a spaceship crewed by two people: himself and his wife. He looked at the computer monitor in front of him and saw that it was an antenna calibration program, one intended to diagnose the antenna aim, sweep, and range–all very important to the quality of the signal to and from Earth. He started looking at the numbers and making some adjustments.

“Hank?” Trixie called from the room that served as their bedroom. Hank heard her well enough, but thought if he didn’t respond, she’d get tired of the effort.

But no. “Hank!” this time louder and more insistent. He could see where this was leading, and knew enough to start putting the brakes on it before it went too far. He put his head back and yelled. “Yeah?”

Her response was a long series of sibilants and plosives lost in the heavily padded coarse interior walls of the living quarters. The rest of the ship wasn’t insulated; you could hear a pin drop in there. But in here, sound wouldn’t go around a corner. “I can’t hear you,” he answered back loudly.

“What?” she screamed.

Oh, God, he thought as he got out of his chair and padded across the control room, down the narrow hall, and turned left to enter the room where she sat fiddling with her hair. If Hank had turned right, he would have entered their dining room–actually, it was the emergency bunker, but the two of them ate meals there. “I can’t hear you in there, honey,” he said as he entered.

She was seated on a box in front of the closed secondary life support spares locker, on which she had glued a mirror. She had a lock of hair in one hand and appeared to be attacking it with a comb in the other. “I can’t get this tease to do right, the humidity is too high in here again! Did you change it?”

“No,” he lied. “The plants need at least 64 percent,” he lied again.

“Well, stop messing with it,” she said, staring at herself in the mirror as she continued to use the comb on her hair. “I can’t go around looking like this!”

Hank sighed and turned to go back to the control room; he was right in the middle of calibrating the cable feed from Earth, and God help us all if Trixie should be denied her shows. Every day she watched a series of reality shows that to Hank seemed exactly alike: young, bizarrely dressed men and women arguing pointlessly about makeup or music he had never heard of and what they were going to do that day.

“I said I can’t go around looking like this!”

Hank found himself getting bored–and annoyed. He lifted his right hand, touched his finger to the top of his right zygomatic arch, moved the finger a bit laterally and pressed. The room he was standing in–and Trixie’s voice–clicked off and he registered that he was seated in a recliner in a small dark room, with wires connected to him at the head, at the chest, and at each ankle. His left leg was asleep and tingled painfully when he moved it.

“Hank, what’s wrong?” a man’s voice said in his ear.

“Nothing,” Hank said into his headset. “It’s just, this program is boring and pointless.”

“It’s not, really,” the man responded. Hank stretched and got up, moving the wires so that he could stand next to the chair. He put most of his weight on his right leg and shook the left to restore some of the blood flow. “I feel like I’ve been sitting forever. How long was it?”

A pause, and then the voice in his ear sounded again. “Two hours, eleven minutes.”

“Jeez, Bobby, how long were you going to let me stay in there?” he responded. “I need a movement break every once in a while, you know.”

“Sure. Sorry.”

“You’re sorry. That’s great. My leg’s asleep.”

“Hank, it’s Helen,” a voice said in his other ear. “We’ve got enough data for today, you want to break off.”

“Break off?” the man said. “But we–“

Helen cut him off. “We’ll run the ego stressor tomorrow, Bob,” she said.

“Yeah, let’s do it tomorrow,” Hank agreed. “What time is it now?”

“Two fifteen,” Helen said.

“Ego stressor tomorrow, and we can work in the identity challenge protocol too, okay?” Hank wasn’t really asking; he was already taking the wires off his chest.

The lights came on, and then the single door opened and Helen came in. “Here, let me help you with that,” she said as she started taking the wires off of Hank’s head.

“What’s the deal with this Trixie character?” Hank asked as they were disconnecting him. “A ditsy diva as one half of a two-man crew?”

“Well, we’re testing adaptation,” she said. “Adaptation to the absurd is just another kind of adaptation, isn’t it?”

Hank shrugged. “I guess.” He had submitted himself to the battery of tests in order to be considered for the position of watchman on the upcoming Titan mission; if cleared, he would remain awake during the twenty-eight month mission to Titan while his crewmates slept through the outbound journey. On the way back, Tom Bateman would watch; Tom had already been cleared for the job. “Tom went through all of this?”

“Sure,” she said. Finally he was free of the monitors, and he stretched again. His leg was nearly back to normal now.

“Okay, I’m going to shower and get out of here.” He stepped toward the door; when he got there, he turned around. “Hey, tell Bobby not to let me sit still so long, okay? It’s not good for my veins.”

“Not still for too long, gotcha.” Helen smiled. “How long are you going to sit still on the Endro?

Hank smiled back. “Twenty-eight months, I guess. See you later”

 

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