Thousand Words a Day for August 13, 2017

“There’s nothing in here,” Jim’s muffled voice emanated from the four-inch pipe that Carla Datefield was watching intently.

“There’s got to be something in there,” she said into it. “The flow is down to–” she looked at the needle on an instrument that lay on the hard metal floor next to her. “It’s down to 28 and falling.”

“What?” Jim asked.

“Twenty-eight!” she called into the pipe, her British accent making the exclamation sound almost comical.

But Jim wasn’t laughing. “All right, I’m getting out of here.

Carla sighed and pulled the probe out of the pipe. She unhooked the wire, slid the probe into its storage slot, and tucked the wire into a pouch that was attached to the instrument. “We need to check the fans,” she said into the pipe–no response. “Jim?” Again, there was no response, and so she stood up, placing the instrument on the panel in front of her as she studied one of several monitors that pierced the dark tranquility of the ship’s bridge.

It was always dark on the bridge–Carla had often reflected on the fact that while the bridge was kept dark and cool, the rest of the ship was oppressively hot and bright, maintained that way for the comfort of the forty-five alien passengers on board. Dresnaks, they were called by the humans, although naturally, that was not the name they called themselves. The word in their language sounded something like what was once called a raspberry in parts of New England.

Alien or no, passengers weren’t allowed on the bridge, of course, and so it represented a refuge of sorts for the ship’s three human crew members. Morgan Frankel was a specialist in languages human and alien by trade and a long-time senior employee of the Foundation taking his turn as captain of a vessel. Devonte Johnson was the ship’s xenobiologist, navigator, and engineer. Carla Davies, Liverpudlian science officer and eternal optimist, found herself playing umpire and referee–or nursemaid–to Frankel’s and Johnson’s rather strong personalities.

Johnson strode onto the bridge and sat down in the captain’s chair. “He didn’t find anything, did he?”

“Nope,” Carla said. She continued to study the display. “I don’t think it’s the fans,” she said, as much to herself as to Johnson.

“The fans? Nope, it’s not. I ought to go down there and look for myself,” he said.

“Johnson, get out of my seat,” Frankel said as he entered the bridge.

Johnson ignored this request. “You didn’t find a blockage, Jimmy?” he said.

“There’s no blockage in the pipe, and don’t call me Jimmy,” Frankel responded. Johnson’s eagerness to ignore protocol angered Frankel and made Carla positively cringe with embarrassment, but there was nothing the captain could do except note the problem and perhaps Johnson wouldn’t get hired on to a long mission again–perhaps. Frankel moved over to join Carla and he too began to peer at the monitor. “You sure it’s not the fans?”

“I don’t think so, Captain,” Carla responded.

“It’s not the fans, Jimmy,” Johnson said. Frankel ignored him, and Johnson moved over to join them.

“Here’s the most likely place,” Frankel said, pointing. “There’s access through the 506 panel, right?”

“Yes, sir,” Carla responded. “But that requires EVA.”

“I’m not going out there,” Johnson volunteered cheerfully.

Frankel continued to ignore him. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

“I don’t know, Jimmy boy. EVA’s pretty dangerous this time of year.” Carla and Frankel made eye contact; Carla agreed that EVA was dangerous, but the time of year reference didn’t seem to make any sense. Carla–and Jim Frankel–knew very well that EVA was dangerous at any time, especially with a ship full of Dresnaks and an unreliable and undisciplined engineer to contend with.

“I’m going to get some sleep first, though,” Frankel said. “You’ll wake me in four hours?” he said, sotto voce, to Carla.

“Sure,” she responded. She heard the sound of soft leather on the hard floor, and turned to see that Johnson was leaving the bridge. “Don’t let him bother you, sir,” she said.

“He doesn’t bother me.” The way he said it, she could tell that he did. “You’ve got it here by yourself for a while?”

She nodded. Frankel held her gaze for a moment and then turned and strode off the bridge toward his quarters without a word. He walked right past Johnson, who was standing outside the bridge. When Frankel left, Johnson went back in.

“Hey, honey,” Johnson said. “Did he say four hours?”

“Yeah,” she said. She wondered how much to let her annoyance with Johnson show.

“Cat’s away, and all. Let’s say you and me have a drink.”

“No, thanks,” she said.

“Turn the camera on in 16B,” Johnson said as he settled down in the captain’s chair. “Put the feed on the main screen, okay?” Compartment 16B was the room that the Dresnaks were using as a mess hall.

“I’m not turning on the camera so you can get your voyeur jollies,” she said.

“Oh, no? How about if I call for a hearing?” Johnson bluffed. A hearing, conducted by the captain or his designated representative was the court-of-last-resort for inter-crew disputes aboard ship, but as Johnson was the captain’s designed representative, she thought it unlikely that a hearing would bear fruit.

“No,” she said, still studying the screen. She was convinced now that the fans were the problem and not any blockage in the pipe. “No drinks, no spying on the Dresnaks, and no hearing.” Carla was finished, and so she logged out of the control panel, make sure the drive connection was isolated and inactive, and turned around to face Johnson. “And no more Carla to talk to for today.”

Johnson grinned at her; his left hand was laying on top of the crotch of his pants, and he rotated his hand to grasp his genitals through the rough cloth of the pants he was wearing. “Here’s something for you,” he said with a leer.

“Oh, my God,” she said as she stepped around him and toward the exit.

“Tell your boyfriend I said hello,” he called after her, but there was no response, and then he was alone. 

After a few minutes, he heard a noise behind him, and thinking it was Carla, returning perhaps for some forgotten object, he opened his mouth to speak. As soon as he saw what it was, he closed it again. One of the Dresnak was standing a few feet inside the opening as if he was afraid to come into the dark, cool bridge. “You’re not supposed to be in here,” Johnson said. Then he repeated his comment in the Dresnaki language. There was no response to either exhortation–the Dresnak just stood there, moving weight from one back leg to another. It reminded Johnson of a kid trying to delay going to the bathroom. As a matter of simple fact, the motion was tied to the Dresnaki breathing cycle–but this one wouldn’t be breathing long, as Johnson was about to find out.


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