Friday, October 19, 2007

"A Bit of Chocolate" - Complete Full Short Story!

Today's post is once more from If - E - Zine(tm) Issue Number 9, this year's Special Halloween Edition. This is the full short story. Enjoy!

“A Bit of Chocolate”
© 2007 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.

The small bit of chocolate was a perfect sphere wrapped in foil. Donal held it lightly between his finger and thumb, rolling it so as not to apply too much of his body’s heat to any one point and melt the contents.

The chocolate became a star became a world drifting in darkness. Donal sat at the port of a spacecraft, watching.

“Donal,” the voice was mechanically filtered. “Donal. Stop daydreaming. Get to work.”
Donal heard nothing.

In another part of the ship Captain Barris and his first mate, Evelyn Trudeau, watched Donal through security monitors.

“He’s gone again,” said Trudeau.

“For crying out loud,” Captain Barris exhaled in defeat.

“It’s not Donal’s fault. The space sensitive are subject to Space Fever.”

“I know, I know.” Captain Barris depressed a button and spoke through the comlink again. “Donal. Donal. Stop daydreaming, Donal. Donal? Are you with us?”

* * * * *

Captain Barris and Trudeau were floating in a meeting room of a space station with Dr. Iizuka.

“It’s not Donal’s fault,” said Dr. Iizuka. “Some level of stress is bound to affect everyone that comes into space. Even you, Barris. Your levels of excitement and enthusiasm, though typically not viewed as traditional stress, releases chemicals into your body that elevates your heart rate, your blood pressure, your breathing rate, a lot of things. Prolonged exposure to such elevated levels of stress will cause a certain level of wear. Endurance and metal adaptability is key to space existence.

“We try to get people who basically view space travel as a job. There’s no excitement to that which is viewed as routine, no stress. The people we look for are those that see space travel as just another day. The problem is that still relatively few people have actually ventured into space.”

“If I’ve such high levels of excitement and stress, then why keep me around?” Captain Barris asked.

“Because you’re good as a leader and perform consistently in high-stress situations. You have a good deal of endurance and adaptability.”

“What about Donal?” Trudeau asked.

“He’s just another one that couldn’t take deep space.”

“But he did well enough getting to the station.”

“Yes, but here at the station though we may be floating about in weightlessness we are still under the influence of the earth’s gravity, we are still subject in small, subtle ways to our home planet. Here we are in orbit and still attached by an unseen umbilical cord.

“But out there, in deep space, the connection diminishes. We’re all as children taking its first steps: shaky and nervous and capable of falling flat on our faces.
“Again, it’s not Donal’s fault.”

“But he’s the third mathematician that’s gone off on us like this,” Captain Barris said. “And the seventh crew member in total. There has to be a fault somewhere and I’m beginning to think it’s not all physiological.”

“How do you mean?” asked Dr. Iizuka.

“If more than one person is experiencing problems, than its cause is likely to be some common aspect of our humanity. We may each have different backgrounds but we all go through the same rigorous training which means our training is in some way deficient in that its not catching and filtering out whatever is causing us problems once we get into deep space. Our training is not screening for something.”

“But what?” asked Trudeau. “We go through some of the toughest training on earth and in space.”

“It has to be something we don’t yet know about,” Captain Barris answered.

“From what Donal told me he was having trouble identifying an object he was looking at. I think he might have been hallucinating. He says he doesn’t remember you calling to him. He was essentially catatonic which leads me to believe he may be suffering from some sort of schizoaffective disorder. In fact, all of the people that have suffered from ‘Space Fever’ have displayed similar symptoms.”

“Why doesn’t our training screen for such a thing?” asked Trudeau.

“It’s not that easy. While all the elements may be preset within a person, there must be a triggering event for the disorder to manifest itself.”

“The triggering event is then somewhere within the deep space screening,” suggested Trudeau.

“It would seem,” confirmed Dr. Iizuka.

“So it could be physiological, after all?” asked Captain Barris.

“It could be a lot of things,” Dr. Iizuka said.

“What I was getting at earlier,” said Captain Barris, “is that it could be something within our society. Something so obvious that we’ve not thought about it.

“It’s been nearly a century since the first manned space flight. And just now we’re gathering a team for Mars. Why would it take so long for us to be reaching out to our neighbor? Technology doesn’t develop that slowly unless it’s stifled with a lack of interest or funding. The private sector didn’t get involved until cash prizes were involved, then the private sector even spent more money than the prizes were worth.

“That only suggests money wasn’t a motivator. That leaves a lack of interest. Humanity simply isn’t interested in space exploration or advancing itself.

“Dr. Iizuka, you mentioned an ‘unseen umbilical’. Maybe you weren’t far off. Maybe when we feel gravity slip from us we snap, pardon the expression. We’re all birds leaving the nest. Some fly, others fall and die.”

“That’s quite a bit of speculation,” said Trudeau.

“Maybe,’ said Dr. Iizuka, “but we have to entertain every idea until we come up with solid evidence.”

Captain Barris shook his head. “They’re so damned concerned about the politics of the day. I’m glad we’re up here and away from it all.”

“Is that why you became an astronaut, Captain?” Dr. Iizuka asked.

“Actually,” Captain Barris stammered a bit before he decided to be honest, “Yeah.”

* * * * *

Captain Barris rolled his eyes in boredom.

“Seems we’ve lost another one,” Trudeau said.

He watched as another prospective astronaut lolled his head about, unresponsive. Captain Barris closed his eyes. His eyelids exploded with a field of colors before his pupils. Blues and greens and reds swirled themselves into tiny spots before his eyes. For a moment he thought they looked like small foil-wrapped chocolates.

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