Captain goes down with his ship, has company.
- Sam Thomas
Corporal Friedman, floating several metres in the air, pushed himself along the hundreds of small floor to ceiling lockers with his left hand. He hummed to fill the silence as he went, tapping out the beat with a large flat nosed screwdriver. In the curved passage behind him several lockers lay jimmied open like shucked oysters, their pillaged contents spinning in the stale mustard light of the ship. He was bored more than anything. Storage and excess weight on the ship had been monitored ruthlessly and contraband was usually confiscated well before anybody ever set foot on board. Anything of interest would be well camouflaged, but Friedman didn’t have much else to do except wait around and hassle the captain. So he tapped his tune and kept a wary eye for pearls.
He found a name he vaguely recognised, Sergeant Thompson. He grabbed a handhold and tried to recall the sergeant’s face. He found he couldn’t and substituted the features of every other thick-necked cave dweller he had ever dealt with in the military.
‘SAR-geeent Thomp-SON! Puddle up you piss stain!’ Friedman barked in his best officer imitation. ‘There have been allegations that you’ve been concealing prohibited materials on this ship and it WILL. NOT. BE. TOLERATED. YOU FILTHY MOOSE FUCKING SCUM!’ Friedman jammed the screwdriver into the gap chuckling. He’d been chewed out so many times, it was kind of fun to give the harangue. Even if Thompson was probably a space popsicle in an escape pod somewhere. He wiggled his ‘skeleton key’ until the lock popped.
‘What have got here then Thom-o…’ muttered Friedman rummaging in the locker. He felt the seams in Thompson’s regulation hairball grey uniform for irregularities, then tossed them to float with his other useless finds. The uniform was closely followed by a mess kit, some toiletries, and a photo of a sour faced woman. She had a mouth like a carp and the eyes of a cold cocked pig. Friedman shuddered.
‘No wonder you signed up.’
The locker was bare now except for an Mp3 device, which he pocketed, and a sad looking protein bar. Friedman reached in and tore the wrapper.
‘Thanks for nothing Thompson, you…’ Friedman felt something hard in the bottom of the wrapper. He reached in a pulled out a non-descript inch long vial full of clear liquid. His heart skipped a beat. Carefully, he popped the cap, wiped some of the substance on his finger and put it in his mouth. It tasted like month old coffee grounds and made his tongue go a little numb. Friedman laughed.
‘Thompson you cheeky moose fucker.’
Outside distant stars brightly perforated infinity, too far flung to shed any light or warmth on the bridge. Inside shapes floated sluggishly around the oblong space, only changing course when some inevitable collision disturbed their orbit. In the centre of the dark, almost-stillness, a frenzied shadow assaulted the controls on a semicircle console from the captain’s chair.
‘Vrrooooooooom! Shhhhh chika chika chika BOOM!’ It screamed, throttling a flight lever in each hand. ‘Ba-ba-ba-Bang! Weeeaooow voosh.’
A dignified figure in a smart blue uniform slid through the circular portal behind the chair, gracefully avoiding the empty protein sachets, Nute-rich packs and what looked like a pair of underwear. It came to a halt by the chair, floating loosely at attention, and waited. The man cleared his throat. He cleared it again, loudly. The man in the chair stopped pummelling the controls and, still leaning heavily on the levers, let out a deep sigh.
‘If you are getting sick, private Dick, I’m going to have you quarantined. And spayed.’ Behind him the floating man’s face flushed.
‘I’ve told you, my name is not Dick, I’m the bloody captain you idiot.’
The younger man in the chair crossed his ankles on the console, his wrists behind his head, and shrugged. The shrug clearly stated maybe he knew that, or maybe he didn’t, and either way truth was a matter of perception.
‘What are you doing on my bridge corporal Friedman, and where the hell is your uniform?’
Friedman glanced at Dick from under a thick black eyebrow. ‘I was repelling fighter ships from the Pigshead nebula, private Dick, thus saving mankind from becoming the latest acquisition of the dreaded Frogman slave empire.’ He pressed the latch on his harness and rose naked in the zero gravity to face the commander. ‘And my uniform is with your wife.’ He said jabbing Dick in the chest. ‘I was banging her when the Frogmen showed up.’
Dick was bigger than Friedman by several muscular inches and had spent his time in military academy honing, along with a fine strategic mind, his natural ability for pugilism. But Friedman and scrappy and weight doesn’t count for very much in space.
After a long clumsy scuffle both men lay panting in orbit with the debris. Friedman touched a hand to his smarting nose. A crimson bead detached itself and hung in front of his dilated eyes.
‘You know Dick,’ he wheezed, ‘your wife gave me more trouble.’ Then he laughed, and waited for the inevitable collision.
Friedman tried to sit up. It felt like something rattled loose in his skull and slid through his grey matter until it hit bone again. Slowly, very slowly, he reached into the storage shelf in the tiny hooded nook that was his sleeping quarters and found a water sachet. After fumbling to pierce the mouthpiece he sipped it gently, wincing when he knocked his swollen lip, letting the cool droplets soothe his turbulent stomach.
When he had gotten down the water without incident he grasped a Nute-rich pack unclipped his sleeping harness and, ducking his head, drifted into the barracks. It was dull in the yellow light, but he could still see the tunnel curving out of view, both walls pockmarked with identical sleeping recesses and round doorways. Friedman realised he was still naked and headed for one of portals in the outer wall of the barracks. He pushed himself through into the locker corridor and retrieved a spare pair of pants and a singlet, then closed the locker door on the starchy button up shirt and the few interesting items he’d managed to steal.
After struggling into the clothes Friedman made his way to the head. He wanted a shower so badly it was starting to drive him mad, but he made do with the sterilized wipes available. Tenderly he sponged the blood and what he—strongly—suspected was vomit from his face and neck, stubble catching unpleasantly in the disposable cloth.
Friedman was starting to look like he’d only visited to one of the milder layers of hell when an authoritative voice peeled out from the speakers. The broken silence set Friedman’s teeth chattering and he briefly thought about throwing up again. He considered a meeting with the captain in his current state and decided he would rather stick his hand in a blender. Since he wasn’t sure there was a blender on the ship, and he was sure the man wouldn’t let up until he came running, Friedman did his best zero-G shamble to the bridge.
When he arrived 15 minutes later the captain had his hands clasped behind his back, starring into oblivion through the view screen. The room was spotless. Friedman floated to the chair normally reserved for the navigator and coughed. The captain turned and Friedman was gratified to see the man’s sharp face was sporting an ugly swollen bruise under one eye.
‘You know Dick, you’re going to want to put a…’
‘Shut up Friedman.’ Interrupted the captain.
‘…steak on that.’ finished Friedman. He smiled helpfully. The captain frowned.
‘Corporal this is the third time since the evacuation that I’ve found you intoxicated...’
‘I prefer the term “so high he’s left the stratosphere” myself.’ Said Friedman, fiddling with the dead mapping controls. The captain actually smiled a little.
‘…Which, considering I’ve locked the med-bay, is actually a little impressive.’ He moved closer to Friedman, lifting his fists a little. ‘But it will NOT happen again corporal. With just us on board we have a projected two weeks until the life support cuts out on this ship and we suffocate or freeze. I refuse to spent that time drifting around in trash and vomit with an insubordinate, hopped up, naked waste of space.’ The captain returned to his empty vigil. ‘If it happens again Friedman you will be jettisoned.’
Friedman waited a moment and then rose and moved to the door. ‘You’d miss me too much Dick.’ Then he slid into the hallway. He had a locker inspection scheduled.
The captain sighed to himself. ‘I should have left you in the brig.’ He said quietly.