Saturday, March 9, 2013


Terminal by Legolover-361

It was easy to comprehend the news, even while floating at an odd angle above the computer terminal Evan had accessed. The hardest part was looking away again.

Evan Dole:

The San Antonio branch of Jefferson Health regrets to inform you that your wife, Renee Patricia Dole, died soon after childbirth. We offer our deepest condolences for your loss.

Your baby son is healthy and is being monitored at the hospital for the next week, at which point he will be given to your wife’s parents. Your wife informed us that you had agreed with her on the name “Daniel”.

We suggest contacting your parents and hers as soon as possible to arrange a funeral for Mrs. Dole. Again, we offer our condolences.

-Dr. James Smith, on behalf of Jefferson Health

“Dole?” A knock on his bedroom door: Gordon Lightfoot, Evan’s bunkmate. “Dole, I don’t know if you heard, but your monitoring shift is on — I’m off on lunch break—”

Gone. Like a candle extinguished. Like Evan’s hope of returning to Earth to see Renee’s eyes once more.

He inhaled.

“Coming,” he said.

* * *

Monitoring aboard the ISS Kepler was, though imperative due to the space station’s location in the asteroid belt, mostly dull work. Evan’s shifts were mostly in the aft monitoring room, but in his travels around the Kepler, all the monitoring rooms were dim and cramped. His tasks were as follows: Keep his eyes on the computer screens, make sure no red lights are flashing, and be prepared to activate the emergency klaxons should a red light start to flash.

The only thing worse for Evan than losing his wife would be to get killed by an unnoticed asteroid puncturing the Kepler and never seeing his son.

He suddenly realized he was imagining scenarios for his death. Goodness, he was thinking too much. But how was one supposed to stop thinking?

The blinking lights remained stubbornly green.

* * *

“You haven’t eaten.”

Evan shrugged from his position about a meter above the floor and sideways. Rico Gonzales gazed at him a second longer before turning back to the heater and popping out his food tray. “Mm,” he said. “Astronaut mashed potatoes. They’re better than real potatoes because they’re in space.”

“‘Better’ isn’t the word I’d use to describe it,” Gordon interjected.

“‘Better’ is how you ought to describe it if you want to survive on it.” Rico munched and tried to look satisfied at the same time; his attempt failed. He swallowed quickly and asked, “But, Evan, seriously, are you all right?”


Evan thought his glare would be enough to dissuade the other crew members from speaking more on the matter. He was wrong. “Suck it up and eat,” said Gordon. “I know you’re homesick, but your wife isn’t going to appreciate you coming home skin and bones.”

“My wife is dead.”

Evan only realized what he said after he said it. Gordon stopped. Rico looked uneasy.

Gordon was the first to break the silence. “Oh. I’m... sorry, mate.”

“Your kid?” asked Rico.

Evan’s throat was dry. “Alive. Fine.” Suddenly, socializing made him feel sick. He floated to the doorway, saying, “Excuse me,” on his way out of the break room. Gordon and Rico, to their credit, said nothing more.

Hopefully they didn’t hear Evan’s sobs before he shut the door to his bedroom.

* * *

The next twenty-four-hour period — it was hard to call such periods “days” when, in space, there were no sunrises or sunsets — passed with agonizing sluggishness. Evan could have counted each second if he so desired. Gordon and Rico said nothing to Evan, though he could hear them muttering to each other in the hallways.

The other two crew members of the ISS Kepler, Irena Markovich and Sally Rhodes, must have heard the news from Gordon and / or Rico; they offered their condolences around the approximate time of midday, though the sunlight didn’t comfort Evan now any more than it would have at midnight on Earth, and the words felt hollow as though the emotion that ought to have been there was absent. At least the two women tried to sound sorry, which in itself was a challenge.

Evan didn’t cry again — what use were tears against death? — but he did spend a lot of time in his room, reading poetry. He normally didn’t read poetry, but he felt he needed something beautiful in his life. Yes, space was beautiful, but after so long in a thin capsule in the middle of it, it had become the norm. Besides, space was what had kept him from Renee’s side.

Challenge by John 55555:

The man looked around the walls of his prison yet again. Left wall, front wall, right wall, back wall. He did not neglect the floor and the ceiling either. The marks etched on the wall indicated that he had not lain here long. Two weeks, a little more. At first he had hewn his marks carefully, spending time and making them rather pleasing to the eye. as he suspected his eye would dwell upon them long and often. But the time spent quickly peaked and fell to the absolute minimum.

I wonder." he said to himself, "if those marks represent me as a man? have a dwindled to the bare minimum, in a mere sixteen days?"

His head fell to his hands, and he ran his fingers through his dirty hair. The light that fell upon it was just as scattered and unwashed.

"Four walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage." fell from his lips.

"Stone walls" The words came back to him, in a corrective tone.

He rose to his feet in an instant. "Who is this? Who comes bearing the first human words I have heard in this place?"

"Human? There I disappoint you. But I cannot help my nature and cannot justly be condemned for it."

The man gestured ineffectively, his gestures, once strong, might too have fallen to the bare minimum. "Who in this dungeon is not unjustly condemned?"

A low, somehow bluish laugh flowed through the chamber, its source impossible to distinguish. "Do you now change the golden rule? Do unto others as has been done unto me? That is a poor maxim indeed, it has ruined much and will ruin much more."

The man slumped back to his bench, ceasing to look for the origin o the voice. "No, no. that was never my motto and I resolve that it never shall be. May these stones gall me and this light the that reminds me bear witness."

"Good. Perhaps all is not lost for you, Sir Knight, the title you once merited. For even words without meaning have their ripples."

"What are you, that speaks to me as one speaks to a child? A ghost, a legend that has gained substance, a priest who walks among the hopeless, if in spirit only?"

No laugh greeted this, almost to the surprise of the knight. "I am all of these in part. That is my challenge. And this is yours. To stay a man and a true knight in the deepest dungeons of the world. For your time here."

"My time? Is that not a prophecy? Am I to leave this place that saps my soul?"

"No, no. That hope is not yours to have. Perhaps you will be rescued in life and body, or perhaps the heavy hand will merely take your soul, when the time comes."

"This is your challenge. No true knight is permitted to deny any just challenge. And this is just."

The knight rose slowly. Then knelt in the mud.

"I accept this challenge."

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