It’s Friday, and I feel like some humor. I’m sharing this snippet of the Dodging Fate series, which is currently available exclusively as part of the Pew!Pew! series. If you like redshirts, humor, and sci-fi, check it out.
More Pew!Pew! is on its way. So far, I’ve written three novellas in the Dodging Fate series, and have signed on for at least two more.
From Dodging Fate
So, I’m a redshirt.
I come from a long line of redshirts. I denied it for a long time, but when your family members have a habit of getting decapitated, impaled, or just plain dematerialized, you eventually have to face facts.
My dad had his spine removed from his body when a member of his crew de-evolved into what I can only describe as a cross between an alligator and a yeti. A yeti-gator, as we now refer to it.
My uncle was bitten by a phase-shifted arachnid and unintentionally relocated to an alternative universe that didn’t have oxygen. I mean, seriously. Try calculating those odds.
My grandmother was happily baking cookies when a cyborg transported into her kitchen and assimilated her. Technically, she’s still alive, and she does send me cookies every now and then, but to be honest, they taste like shit. Cyborgs have no idea how to make proper cookies.
My great-grandfather had just landed a cargo ship full of rutabagas when a nearby ship malfunctioned and shot a harpoon straight into the cockpit. A frigging harpoon. It doesn’t even make sense. You know what else? I have no idea what rutabagas are used for.
There are more examples, but relating the tragic demises of the majority of my family members is bumming me out. Do you have any idea how depressing family reunions are for the few of us that are left? So, let’s move on.
As soon as I accepted that I’m a redshirt (thanks to the diligent psychotherapy provided by one Dr. Ramalama), I decided I would be the one to break the cycle. To stop the madness. To change my family for the better, in the hope that one day we can qualify for the group discount when we visit the buffet on Mars. I have dreams. (I’m not kidding, the hushpuppies there are to die for. If you ever go there, carry a really big purse. You’ll thank me later.)
Also, not being terrified for my life every time I get onto an escalator would be great. People look at you like you’re a real dumbass when you take a running leap to avoid the grates at the terminus. Besides, I have a cousin who died jumping. Just jumping. She landed, fractured both her femurs and suffered a pulmonary embolism. As a result, I kind of have a complex about jumping.
Actually, I have to be honest. I have a lot of complexes. I suspect Dr. Ramalama guided me toward my epiphany of self-realization just so I would leave the planet. Someone like me is just too much work for one mental healthcare professional. Whenever I brought up my fear of forks, I could practically hear her eyes roll.
That’s how I got to this point: boarding a transport ship for Mebdar IV. It’s a retirement planet. Most people see it as a fate worse than death. “Don’t even think of shipping me off to Mebdar IV,” I’ve heard many an elderly person say. But when it’s well established that your fate is death, your priorities shift. And for a guy like me, a place where all the food is soft with no bones or pits inside, and most walkways are lined with handrails, and there’s always staff nearby to hear a call for help…well, it sounds like perfection.
But before I can settle myself into that bubble-wrapped, user-friendly existence, I have to make it to Mebdar IV. This means a lengthy trip among the stars and, I assure you, space travel has never been kind to my people. I’d say, “Just ask my dad,” but you already know what happened to him. (The yeti-gator-spine-removal procedure.)
I can only hope my first trip into space will be less eventful.
My trip to the space port proves to be unremarkable, which gives me hope for the journey ahead, even as Dr. Ramalama’s words ring in my memory. “Charlie, your attempts to create order in the universe by watching for harbingers is irrational.”
I know it’s true. But I also know that my cousin Tilda got a metal splinter in her finger from an ill-wrought writing scrib. She contracted blood poisoning almost immediately and died within a week. There are more ways to die than Dr. Ramalama ever thought about, and for me, forgetting about that fact would be the truly irrational action.
As my taxi pulls into the passenger drop-off lane and I get out, I carefully watch for veering vehicles, runaway luggage trolleys, and robots run amok. It doesn’t matter that these events are unlikely. They happen, and when they do, you can bet I’m going to be right there, front and center, poised to become another redshirt headline. As I enter the space port, I feel a small measure relief, but I’ve only made it over one little hurdle. There are many more to come.
Don’t even get me started on how many ways there are to die. We poor bastards of squishy cellular composition, with our delicate throats and exposed eyeballs and need for a very specific mix of air are all but destined for a sad, messy end. It’s like some sick sadist actually designed us for maximum suffering. We’re just too high maintenance.
This is an advantage the cyborgs and AIs have over us. It’s an advantage that, honestly, I sometimes covet. I mean, I could deal with only being able to make shitty cookies and having to be careful around strong magnets. But sacrificing my brain, autonomy, and greater consciousness is too high a price. Therefore, I’m stuck with this soft, vulnerable body, which is basically just a bag of water with a little carbon thrown in.
As I look at the throngs of people moving through the spaceport, I take a deep breath and begin my calming exercise. It’s a technique Dr. Ramalama taught me where I focus on something that gives me a sense of control. In accordance with both my nature and my profession, I mentally calculate the probabilities of various events.
My background as a redshirt, along with my likelihood of a tragic and untimely end, prompted me to become a statistician. One of the first things you learn in statistics class is that a previous random event has no bearing at all on the next random event. But someone like Dr. Ramalama doesn’t know what I know; that good luck and bad luck are as real as gravity or solar radiation. Just because you can’t see luck doesn’t mean it isn’t a true force of nature. The mechanics of it are the secret of the universe, but it’s a genuine and measurable phenomenon.
I really need the universe to provide me with a little good luck to see me through this voyage. I knew this all along as I prepared for this trip, but as I step into the writhing mass of eager travelers, I feel my family legacy—my probable fate—in the back of my throat. Threatening to choke me.
People are rushing around me in all possible directions, often while carrying heavy baggage. I carry only one slim overnight bag. Having read about the muggings that can occur when a person is overburdened and distracted, I chose to send my belongings to Mebdar IV ahead of me. I don’t mind wearing my single outfit and pair of pajamas every day. My manner of dress is consistent even when I have a full closet. A slim pair of beige trousers ensures that I don’t get tripped up by excess fabric, while a plain beige stretch-knit shirt provides the most opportunity to escape from anything that might snag the garment. Nowhere on my person do I have hanging tabs, ties, or dangling pieces that might get slammed in a door, caught on a chair, or otherwise be turned into a way of strangling or hanging me.
I do not want my epitaph to read: Here lies Charles Kenny. He was strangled by his own pants. If I’m going to die in some terrible way, at least it should be something with some pizzazz, like Nana being assimilated into a cyborg.
I wonder how she is. I should write her a letter.
Carrying my bag in front of me, I carefully avoid making contact with the people hurrying by. I don’t want to get beaten to a pulp for brushing shoulders with some macho Taklarian brute. I ignore the food cart vendors and their fantastic-smelling goods because I do not need food poisoning. Likewise, I hustle right by the gorgeous girls selling exotic vacations and unrealistic dreams. Not because I fear they might attack me in some way, but because, for a guy like me, a woman that beautiful is bound to be the death of me in some slower, subtler, and excruciatingly painful way.
I have to make a right turn just in front of one of these fantastic creatures. I pretend not to hear her siren song offering a free night’s stay and complimentary bar pass for a week’s vacation on the beaches of Faarklaar. It’s a prettier planet than the name implies.
Awash with relief and the unfamiliar feeling of success, I make it to the docking gate, and take a seat to wait. After ten minutes, the door to the gate opens and a smiling human of around fifty years arrives to welcome me and usher me to the airlock.
“Will this be your first visit to the Mebdar system?” he asks as he escorts me.
“Ah, well, I think you’ll enjoy it. I hope you enjoy your voyage as well. Garbdorian starships aren’t pretty, but their safety record is superior to that of any other fleet.”
“Yes, that’s why I chose this airline. That, and the fact that they staff their ships with people who speak a variety of languages. I didn’t want a miscommunication to result in my grisly death.”
The man seems taken aback. I may have said too much.
But he recovers quickly. “Well, no worries about that here. Our staff will speak to you in Earth Standard, if that’s what you prefer.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
As I step into the airlock, he looks hesitant. “Though, I should warn you about the signs on the ship. The Garbdorians pride themselves on translating all languages into Standard and, well, sometimes they don’t quite convey the intended message. Be sure to ask a staff member when in doubt.”
That seemed less than promising, but it was too late to rethink my choices. “Okay. Thank you.”
He brightens. “Enjoy your trip.”
Enjoyment would be nice, but I’d happily settle for mere survival.
I carefully step over the ridge on the other side of the airlock. There’s a one-millimeter difference between the ship side and the lock side. Most people wouldn’t notice it, and certainly no one would ever trip on it. Unless that someone was me.
Once officially aboard the ship, I notice a sign that says Please careful your walking in vestigial parallel of conformity.
As I try to figure that out, a dapper looking steward swoops in. “Welcome, Mr. Kenny. Thank you for choosing the Second Chance for your voyage. Please let us know if there’s anything we can help you with.”
“Hang on. This ship is named Second Chance?” My ticket only listed a Chance Fleet registry number.
“Yes, sir.” The reed-thin man holds his hands in front of him, with his fingers forming a tent sort of shape.
“What happened to the First Chance? Did something go wrong?”
“Oh, no. The Chance is still flying. This is the second in the Chance Fleet. We have seven now, and hundreds of thousands of happy customers.”
Explained that way, it doesn’t seem so bad. I was worried there for a second.
I point to the puzzling sign. “What does that mean?”
“That’s translated from Martian. It just means to watch your step, since some species are very sensitive to even the subtlest of changes in artificial gravity. The warning is mostly for Martians, who have unusually flat feet due to thousands of years of subterranean dwelling. They fall easily.”
I’ve never heard of that. “So why not have the sign in Martian, since it’s just for them? Why translate it to Standard?”
The man is clearly aghast at the idea. “And look like sectarian rubes? Not in the Chance Fleet. We offer a species-inclusive experience.”
“Uh…right.” I really have no response for that. It seems I have much to learn about interstellar travel and the intricacies of interspecies relations.
“You’re in cabin 25J. Right this way, please.” Without waiting to make sure I’m following, the guy begins a journey of ponderous twists and turns that finally ends with him planting himself parallel to a door and gesturing to it as if it were the grand prize on some lightstream gameshow. He fits a small fob into the lock mechanism and does the look at what you could win gesture again, so I scuttle sideways into the room like a frightened crab.
I set my carry-on atop the only piece of furniture in the room: a small ledge that will fold down from the wall to form a table. Or a desk. Or is it a seat? One thing’s for sure: I’m not going to have to worry about getting up to retrieve something from the other side of the room. If I stretched my arms out, I could brush both sides of the room with my fingertips. The space is only slightly longer on the other axis.
“So…where’s the bed?” I don’t want be taken for one of those sectarian rubes he’d spoken so scathingly of, even if I am one. But the brochure on the travel channel of the lightstream had mentioned beds, and in a few hours, I’ll need to sleep. I intend to keep to a strict schedule of sleeping and waking. Fatigue is a leading cause of fatal mishap.
“Very easy to operate!” The man springs into action. He gently places my bag on the floor, then pulls what I’d taken for a piece of abstract art on the wall and folds it down, combining it with the table/desk/whatever to form a bed. It’s kind of amazing.
“And if you need a chair, you do this.” He shows me how to push the bed back into the wall and pull out other structures, which fold together to make a chair.
Quite clever, really. The designers had packed a lot of function into a tiny space.
“Your storage compartment is here.” He touches a panel in the wall that pops out to reveal a one-meter by one-meter storage shelf. “And, of course, your lightstream is here.” He gestures to the opposite wall, the one that would be oriented near the foot of the bed, if it were assembled. The widescreen seems oversized for the tiny space.
The man holds out a flat rectangle. “This is your control for it.”
I accept the shiny black thing. It’s much fancier than the one I’d had at home. I gave my lightstream to Mrs. Redding down the hall a week ago. Better to buy a new one when I get to Mebdar IV. Shipping it would cost just as much and it would probably get broken in the process anyway.
“There’s a virtual tour of the ship on the home channel, so you’ll be able find your way to any part of the ship. Room service is available, and the dining room never closes. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No, I think that covers it. Thank you.”
“Excellent, Mr. Kenny. My name is Gus. If there’s anything you should need, don’t hesitate to let me know.”
He places the key fob in my palm and as he turns to go, my bladder reminds me of something I’ve forgotten. “Oh, excuse me, Gus. Where is the—” And I get stuck. How to refer to the toilet without my rube-ishness showing? “I mean, where do I—”
Gus understands and saves me from my unworldliness. “The water closet is out your door and to the right, two sections down. The shower room is to the left, three sections down.”
Separate toilets and showers. Apparently, my morning routine will need a little bit of an adjustment.
“Thank you, Gus.”
He gives me a jaunty I like the way those pants fit you kind of wave and leaves. Apparently, that gesture means something else here. I try to commit that fact to memory, so I won’t misinterpret the intentions of my fellow passengers.
I pick up my bag from the floor and place it in the storage compartment, then sit on the chair. Alone. In an otherwise empty, blandly cream-colored room. Others might find this disconcertingly boring.
I find it pleasantly safe.