Finally had time to do another Friday story, and thought I’d try for something a bit cheerier, since the last three included a story about internet misery, a sequel to that one and another called “Ready Salted Failure”.
So it’s time for a jolly adventure involving astronauts and a few off-colour jokes. And maybe a slight sense of end-of-an-era poignancy, but I can’t be serious all the time.
Time for lift-off!
Astronauts Beyond Space!
By Nick Bryan
‘It’s tragic, y’know. Fuckin’ tragic. The artform’s dying.’
‘Hodgson, you’re an astronaut, not a beat poet, and you’ve been on about this for about a month.’
‘What’s your point, junior?’
Cook tossed down his copy of Aeronautics Monthly with a sigh. ‘It’s not an artform, it’s working as a specialised pilot. Stop romanticising.’
But Hodgson, rocketing into his thirties, uniform scuffed, nearly bald bar a few grizzled patches where he’d messed up shaving, would not be deterred. ‘Piss off, it’s the end of an era. Now the shuttle program’s fucked, NASA’s basically a stuffed corpse propped up with a stick.’
‘Is it? So where are we sitting right now, exactly?’
‘Don’t fuckin’ ask me, Cook. Looks like a dentist’s waiting room from here.’
Cook had to admit, that was fair. He was the younger man in this conversation, the junior co-pilot, but he couldn’t talk up this particular NASA project. It had only a few chairs and low wooden table, laden down with six month old magazines and a broken snowglobe. Couldn’t they at least have stolen a poster of a spaceship from a teenage boy’s bedroom wall?
‘And,’ Hodgson ranted on, ‘what are we meant to do now?’
‘Well, if the big cheese does pension us off in ten minutes,’ Cook rattled out the speech he’d given his girlfriend that morning, ‘dunno about you, but I’m off to audition for Virgin Galactic.’
‘Oh, you fuckin’ sellout…’
‘Shut up.’ And he stood tall in his casually askew uniform, posing like a campaign poster. ‘They want young chaps who look good in a spacesuit and resemble Buck Rodgers, I reckon I can pull it off, maybe with a neater haircut and…’
‘Oh, don’t fob me off with the girlfriend speech, Cook,’ Hodgson literally growled as he said this, ‘you don’t want to end any more than I do.’
‘They’ve already discontinued the shuttle, you idiot,’ Cook sat forward in his seat, ‘what are we meant to do? Sit around and gaze, dreamy-eyed into the distance?’
‘At least have some respect for the…’
‘For what?’ And, even though they’d had this argument a dozen times, sometimes whilst flying a spacecraft at the same time, Cook still let it get to him. ‘Some wispy dream of spaceflight that never really existed? For Christ’s sake, Hodgson, you’re 38, you’re not fucking Gandalf, you can still retrain or whatever and…’
‘Kid, I spent hours of my life training for this gig, and…’
‘You think I didn’t?’
‘I think you wandered over from the Air Force and now you’ll either wander back or fuck off to some cushy corporate gig.’ He sneered. ‘I trained for years for this, all kinds of horribleness, you have any idea what zero gravity toilet training was like in the old days?’
‘Yes, I do Hodgson, because you’ve told me a dozen times…’
‘Kid,’ he got to his feet and Cook leapt up to meet him, ‘I had to headbutt my own shit for this job, and now you’re telling me to just forget about it because things have moved on?’
‘You’re ten years older than me, stop calling me “kid”.’
‘I’m telling you, we just need to repurpose.’
‘That’s what I keep telling you, you moron.’
‘No, no,’ Hodgson lowered his voice, suddenly backing out of the confrontation he had created, ‘I mean, we can still be astronauts, you know, we just need something new to explore.’
Cook was shocked out of his anger too, by sheer bemusement. ‘What?’
‘We’re not just pilots, man, we’re fuckin’ explorers. We just need a new frontier to explore.’
‘So what’s after space, exactly? Time?’
‘Don’t be stupid. What about burrowing downwards? What do we really know about what’s beneath us?’
Finally, Cook gave in to a fit of laughter. ‘So you want to build that drilling mole thing from Thunderbirds and go tunnelling? Good luck pitching to the boss, buddy. If I were you, I’d open with the time machine to soften him up.’
‘Oh come on, Cook,’ and, against all expectations, Hodgson didn’t get angry, ‘don’t you want to stay in this? Or are you telling me that ferrying rich twats around the lower atmosphere is what you dreamed of as a kid?’
Cook was stuck in the middle of the room, Hodgson’s earnest gaze burrowing into him like the drilling mole from Thunderbirds, and, annoyingly, he was starting to remember how he’d felt back when he started.
‘Yeah, I mean…’ He sighed. ‘I dunno, Hodgson, there ain’t much we can do. I mean, I always wanted to repurpose the shielding, tool up a submarine and go explore one of those ocean trenches, but…’
‘Well, pitch it. This is our last shot. Why the fuck not?’
‘No, look, he’s going to fire us, okay? He just is. This is the end for us as a team exploring new frontiers. And then what? You’re an intergalactic rickshaw driver and I’m giving fuckin’ space museum tours, amusing myself by telling schoolkids I once used a hoe on the moon.’
‘Used a…’ Cook paused, then rolled his eyes and laughed. ‘Yeah, I remember that. Man, it was wild. I had a good time with that spade.’
‘So come on.’ Hodgson took one final step closer. ‘Maybe no-one’s ever said this shit in a meeting before, but we’re meant to be about taking on the unexplored, yeah? What do you say, Cook?’
And before Cook could reply, an immaculately turned out young man in a shiny suit stepped into the room, not making a single sound until he said: ‘Gentlemen?’
‘He’ll see you now.’
Sorry there weren’t any aliens. I did consider putting some in, but it felt a bit against the tone. Copyright Nick Bryan 2012, please don’t steal, email me if you want to steal it in an approved fashion, the usual.