Excerpt from a short story.
As Alaika and Johnston’s reconnaissance wrapped-up, Alaika took a last look through the Hyperscope. Looking through its visor, Alaika adjusted the heads-up display via augmented reality. He requested the lens to focus on the constellation Lyra. The optic device protruding through The Argos bent the light through gravitational lensing. It produced a topographical grid that overlapped the constellation. Alaika looked at the general specifications of Lyra which scrolled down to the side of the map noting the elements, temperature, and orbits of the planetary bodies. About to disengage with the device, he noticed what looked to be a comet streaking across his line of sight, blazing across the grid so fast that he barely saw it. Too fast, he thought, his spine tingling. As fast as it appeared, it vanished into the black maw of space. It was like a sinkhole in space had opened, just in time to swallow the object. Alaika could hardly believe what he saw, thankful that the Hyperscope was recording the entire event. He desperately hoped that whatever it was that he saw, was not some tired trick of his eyes. He removed the visors and turned excitedly toward Johnston. His mouth moving so fast that Frank watched in confused astonishment. “Whoa! Slow down Alek.” I haven’t seen you this pumped up since your solo fly-by to Mars.” Alaika took a breath, and started over, describing to Johnston what he just witnessed. “It must have been going near light speed. I thought it a comet, yet the tail wasn’t there. “Could have been burned out, but it was going way to fast. Incredible. I mean the thing just ceased to be.” “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was there and then it wasn’t.” Johnston, a logic driven skeptic, shrugged non-concomitantly. “You know, you have been staring through that thing for a while now.” “Right. I know. I’m pretty beat, but the quantum cube drive could tell us for certain.” “We need to get it back to Icarus and have Dr. Crenshaw process the data drive.” “I’m with you on that,” replied Johnston as he stretched out his cramped limbs, various bones grating and popping in protest. “You know, I haven’t felt this confined since I hid myself away in a flour barrel on Lake Ontario.” Alek looked over, his eyebrow raised quizzically. “You what?” Alek asked. “You hid yourself in a barrel of flowers?” “No, like flour for bread,” replied Frank. “It was a storage barrel on a ship. “I got stuck in one as a kid.” “You my stout friend? I don’t believe it,” Alek quipped. “Oh yea. Got stuck all the time,” Johnston said. “But there was one time that was especially bad. You see, my dad would take us to Lake Ontego for summer every year. We stayed right on the shores next to a retired navy guy. He was nuts about old ships. He actually built a full-scale, working replication of a War Sloop modeled after the USS Constellation. It was incredible. The lake was big, the houses bigger, but the sloop towered above them all. It even had working canon. The detail was amazing considering how huge it was. He kept flour barrels below deck. I mean original barrels merchants would have for trading. I loved that ship. I would wait for night to fall and steal onto it. I felt like a ninja prowling through the night. I kept a climbing harness in one of those empty flour barrels. Each night, I would race up the rigging, a telescope hanging from my belt. I hitched myself from the mast and lay back in space, only air between me and a three-story fall to the deck below. I watched the stars, searching the night sky with my telescope for my favorite clusters. I connected the stars like dots to form constellations in my mind’s eye. So much, that I became an expert and knew that my life would always involve those twinkling curiosities, shining from so far away. “The misadventure occurred on the last day of our Summer stay. I made a vow to scale the mast one last time. The moon was bright and full. It seemed to pull me, though the heavy night air. I was covered in sweat by the time I reached the Sloop-of-War. I went to retrieve my harness but the sound of heavy footfalls on the gangplank above, caught me off guard. I counted what must have been hundreds of steps. Laughter and corks blasting from bottles rang through the air. Afraid to get caught, I dove into the nearest barrel. Steps came close and stopped.” All I could hear was whispered conversations and celebrations. Suffice to say, it was one hell of a long night, squeezed into that barrel. “The revelers stayed until dawn. I had to topple the damn barrel to get out and smacked my head.” “See this?” Johnston asked, as he pulled back some of his sweaty hair, revealing a scar etched near his right temple.” “Da,” replied Alaika nodding his head. “Go on.” “So, the antique barrel splintered along with my head. I know I should have been more careful. Anyway, I crawled out and as I tried to stand, I pulled my back. I don’t have to tell you, it freaking hurt.” “Are you implying something Johnston? I may have some grays, but I’m not yet an old man.” Johnston smirked. “Right commander.” “As you wouldn’t know, it hurt like hell to pull my back. I was on hands and knees, scraping them a good bit, when I got topside. The sky looked like someone had scattered pink paint along its edges. The deck was littered with cone hats, streamers were woven through the rigging, and confetti clung to everything. Empty wine bottles and discarded hors d’oeuvres lay scattered on the deck, covering the wooden planks from stem to stern. I started down the slipway as soon as I could stand upright and immediately stepped in someone’s throw up. It seemed like ages to hobble home and through my bedroom window. Stiff as a board, I was about to pull the sheets over my head when I noticed my dad in the doorway. He was shaking his head. He seemed more bemused than angry as I confessed my adventure. He suggested strongly that I go to my neighbor and tell him. I ended up in servitude to my dad when he lent me the two grand it took to replace the antique barrel. It was the last time I ever broke something so valuable, but it didn’t stop my curiosity to explore. That was the night, I decided to devote myself to space. I’ll never forget it.” Frank said. “I too have had such nights.” Alaika added. “The forbidden fruit is sweetest.” “Yea, that’s true.” Johnston said, nodding his head in appreciation. “What’s that from? That saying?” he asked, digging a fist into his back, trying to massage his clenched muscles. “Ah yes. The forbidden fruit is sweetest. An expression I once heard as a child back in the Russia.” Johnston waited, searching his friend’s face, expecting him to continue. Alaika noticed. “A discussion for another time my friend. Go ahead and start docking procedures,” he said. Johnston complied without hesitation. He brought his wrist to his mouth which triggered a subcutaneous mic. “Argos to Icarus. Copy”
By: Paul Lillie
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