Κυριακή, 2 Ιουνίου 2019


Published in Schlock! Magazine

We're two weeks out of exiting Q-space, halfway through slingshotting along the orbit of Kepler-186f when I finally hear the buzzing.
It flashes across my ear, the sound of it like the crack of a tiny bullwhip and from the corner of my eye, I catch it: the tiny black shape, wobbling through the air, miniscule wings beating too fast to see.
It bobs in the dry, recycled air of the command module once, twice, then finally lands near a dried patch of mayo, stuck among the blinking lights of panel #3.
"No. No freaking way," I whisper, as I watch the first fly to make it outside of the Home System rub its front and hind legs in anticipation of the feast. Its tiny, compound eyes seem to almost glisten in the off-blue light of the simulated evening in the module.
Eyes glued to the fly, I reach out for something to swat it with: my hands trace the hard angles of one of the command tablets, a sheaf of laminated protocol papers, an edible plastic mug.
Finally, my fingers get tangled into a length of super-elastic hose that Tanaka had salvaged off the old food processor, its ends weighed down by squeeze-toy silicone balls. It's lacking some spread, but it should more than make up for it impact-wise.
"Atta boy, you stay right there..." I whisper, almost too soft to hear, as I pull back the rubbery length and line it up with the fly, pulling back as far as it will go. I hold back my breath to steady myself and let go, the stretch-toy whipping through the air as quick as a bullet.
The weighed end slaps into Panel #3, just as the fly launches off the polymer paneling, letting the switches surrounding it take the bulk of the blow. Three of them flip at once and the lights in the command module flip to a sepia yellow, letting out a shrill alarm.
Jettisoning biome 4J , the ship's AI voice comes in and I flick the switches back into place all at once, before our entire farming strip gets launched into the cold, outer dark.
The buzzing comes again, as soon as the alarm has faded, the fly zipping past me to land on a cryostasis-regulating touchscreen, zipping off it just as the stretch-toy slaps at the controls. All at once, the AI begins the process of thawing Alvarez and the rest of the Shift-3 crew and I have to scramble to get them back under before they go into cardiac arrest.
I whip the stretch-toy one last time, aiming at the fly, perched in a corner of the control module, well away from any panels, dials and screens, only for the weighted end to bounce right back off the smooth polymer walls and slap me right in the eye.
"Oh, your mother!" I shout just as white-hot pain lances into my brain and I whip the stretch-toy around like a madman, hear it slapping against the ceiling uselessly, then slap at the door controls and turn the air conditioning way up, until the artificial breeze shoos the fly out the door and into the ship proper, where it can't do any more damage.
"How the hell did you even get here?" I call out to the fly, as I watch it meld into the  shadows lingering in the twists and turns of the ship's bridge "thought the pencil-necks back home sterilized the food, put all our clothes through UV just to keep you out. Hell, they flash-freeze the seeds, you know that?"
Creeping into my field of view, the fly crawls out of the dark and onto the crescent shaped reinforced glass pane of the research lab. I whip the stretch-toy at it, missing it by a hair's breadth, the end of it slapping the security lock. The lab's door slides open, letting out a gust of cold, dead air.
"Unless..." I say, following the fly inside the room, watching it circle the gleaming counters, the spotless surfaces of unbelievably expensive medical equipment, before finally settling near a row of perfectly arranged beakers, connected by some inexplicably intricate series of tubes, a ruby-red liquid slowly dripping through them "you overwintered. Curled your little larva body up into a ball and slowed down your metabolism so you'd keep warm. It's how your kind got around, in the refrigerator days."
Again, the stretch-toy slaps at empty space were the fly used to be and one of the beakers gets thrown out of balance, let loose from the contraption. It spins slowly into the diminished gravity and I grab it out of the air but the rest of the liquid's started shooting out of the gap in the tubing and is punching a hole through the counter and into the flooring below.
Warning. Containment compromised. Engaging emergency measures.
A stream of acrid blue smoke starts to pour out of the vents as the doors start to close and the fly and I race for the gap, clearing the bridge just as the lab's magnetically locked doors clamp shut behind us. I go for a cheap shot, but the fly whips around me once, twice, then charges just as I try to go for a rebound shot. The end slaps against a jutting bit of plastic, then smacks me right in the liver.
It takes 20 seconds for the pain to kick in, just as the fly makes a victory lap around me then heads off toward the biomes. Pain washes over me like rolling flame and I crumple like a rag doll onto the floor, trying to catch my breath.
How can I say this nicely, Wong's voice echoes in my head as she's ticking off boxes during the last psych evaluation; you have trouble...letting things go?
But the company needed somebody that had handled 6 months' worth of in-transit isolation before and they wanted them cheap and Wong's diagnosis helped me get the job even if they did pay me a pittance and now here I was...
"Up against a shiksha fly!" I roar and step into the biomes, snapping away at the water regulators (letting a stream of lukewarm recycled water hit me in the face) and knocking down the tardigrade glass casing (the glass crunching painfully under my ship loafers) and popping off the oxygen regulator's cap (which caused a brief fire as it brushed by a length of temporarily exposed heating coils).
We pirouette, the fly and I, twisting and turning like poltergeists in love until the fly zipps right beside my ear just as the stretch-toy smacks me in the chin. I bite down on my tongue hard but keep myself from blacking out against the pain, as I watch the fly zip inside the fungal enclosure, laid out against the airlock.
"Goh yoo, yoo widdle noodgeh," I managed against my swollen tongue, as I shut down the door to the enclosure. The fly lands behind the glass, uselessly searching for a way out of the maglocked door, even as I fumble for the big red lever that causes the entire enclosure to bathe in red light and the ship AI to go:
Jettisonning biome 32D; unauthorized activity detected, please...
And I slapp my thumb against the DNA lock, bypassing the dumb machine, watching as the room hisses like a dying serpent and everything shudders then goes quiet right before the airlock opens up into the great yawning cosmos and the entire enclosure goes hurtling of out into the nothing, tumbling away into the cold and the dark.
In the space between the blinks of an eye, I catch the fly looking up at me, its compound eyes glistening with escaping moisture, as its legs are ripped away from the glass and it becomes just a speck of black against the stars. I stick my face against the glass and check, again and again, keeping the airlock open well past the safety limit until I am sure the biome is nice and empty.
I've only just closed the airlock against the AI's protestations about possible critical pressure loss, when the buzzing comes again, from somewhere near the legume patch, louder than before:

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