The Family Curse

When I was a young man, my uncle summoned me, much as I have summoned you today. I went to my uncle, for I was his favorite, indeed I was the only member of the family he spoke with at the time. I found him in the care of nurses, for his health was failing him rapidly. I was conducted into his presence and sat beside him that I might comfort him as he faced the inevitable. He had a crazed look about him, as if he were a man hunted, haunted, hounded by some rapacious and ravenous specter of the past. It was a look I was all too familiar with. Yet, I sat, silently, as he stared frightfully about, looking every which way for some menacing mirage that was all too real to his addled mind. He muttered every now and then, words of nonsense and words of curse, both as meaningless to me as they were purposeful to him. Perhaps they were some form of ward against the coming darkness, some manner of staving off that which all men must meet. However, I knew this was not the truth of it. No, his demons were not of his destiny, but of his antiquity, his madness a malicious and avaricious malady that had grown throughout his life until the man before me had been reduced to grasping at the folds of his robe and the arms of the chair in which he sat, seeking refuge in ephemeral reality from the ethereal nightmare that had been his beleaguered life.


While I watched, entranced, his face contorted through fears and emotions as he wrestled with his fading consciousness in order to bring forth some manner of words as to why he had summoned me. At long last, he was able to triumph over his diminishing faculties and while staring deep into my eyes he spoke in a voice both weary and frenzied, “Beware, your father! He is plotting against you even now!”


My shock at this pronouncement must not have been evident, or he was no longer capable of discerning such, as a smile of contentment struggled onto his lips as the rest of his visage was a war of other conflicting emotions. However, I could not let it rest at that. I loved my uncle dearly, I was the only one who had loved him in his later years as he descended into his madness. It was not in my nature to hate, but more than that, I pitied the man, for I knew what ailed him, and I feared it. I had to try, one final time, to reason with him, to try to unravel the perplexing animosity he held for our family, and my dear father in particular. Reaching out, I took up his feeble sweaty hand, stealing myself against the chill of his skin, and held it firmly as he instinctively jerked back. The contact had crystallized his face momentarily into a terrible countenance of horror, but that passed as his fond memories of me regained control of his dwindling sensibilities. I spoke, and his gaze snapped from my hand on his to my face. “Dear uncle, why do you say these things about my father, who has ever treated me, and you, with the utmost compassion? What makes you pronounce these heinous charges against your own blood?”


Anger now gripped him, and he snarled at me, not in hostility or contempt, but in frustration, as he always did when I rejected his guidance, and he launched fervently into an impassioned diatribe of all the past sins and wrongdoings of his loving sibling, many of them imagined, and most of the rest hyperbolic confoundments of minor slights long forgotten by all but him. He detailed, as he always did, in ever more elaborate invectives, how every possible misfortune was ultimately the consequence of some intricate machination of my father, or occasionally my brothers or some other more distant member of the family. He delved bitterly into long bygone family history of relations long since departed, many before my own time, and how most or all of them had long been plotting against him. I had heard it all before, far too often in fact, which is why I was able to recognize his usual harangue, his tiresome denunciations and accusations against kith and kin, from the babbling sounds that dribbled from his slackening mouth, his words rapidly degrading into a series of zealous noises that few could hope to comprehend. As his capacity for speech deserted him, his animosity swelled, and in the end, as the light faded from his eyes, the malice never left them, and his lifeless husk held fast the hatred which had so defined his sorrowful existence. In the end his demons had consumed him, his animus giving life to naught but antagonism and petty jealousies that had plagued our family incessantly for the majority of his life.


You may ask, as well you should, why did I hold such fondness for a man such as this, a man so animated with antipathy toward all others I held dear? I could not help but consider him with sympathy and compassion, for he held the family curse. In the depths of his delusions, he had long ago given leave to reason, he had long since surrendered to paranoia. You see, my father, whom I loved, had died decades before my uncle, yet still the surviving brother blamed the other for every ill that befell him. Indeed, eventually my uncle stopped believing my father was dead, and suspected his hand in every action against him, saw him around every corner, bedeviling his every enterprise. It mattered not what was real, it mattered little how many times I tried to convince him of the truth, all that mattered was his deep seated animosity toward his sibling, and his twisted logic that set all of his ills at the feet of his supposed adversary, and by extension all of the rest of his family, save me.


Yes, this was a family curse. My ancestors have struggled time and again with a particular family member, always male, who turns to this poisonous madness as his life progresses, a madness that turns that man into the bitterest of enemies toward almost all of his family, but always in particular against his brother, always his brother most of all. Again and again, throughout the ages, the madness seizes upon the hapless fellow, and he descends into obsession and specious judgment. The family is helpless to prevent it, try as they might, and some diligently attempted to forestall their beloved sons from spiraling into neurosis. Yet, without fail, it recurs again and again, every second generation. My uncle was the last. The next would be of your generation.


You see now, why I called you here, why I am telling you of our family curse. No, it is not what you think. It is not your brother who is falling prey to the madness. No, I’m afraid it is you. I know, you think it is your brother, and in the coming years, you will think everything is because of your brother, but it is not, and it never will be. It pains me beyond what mere words can convey to have to tell you, my dear nephew, that you are doomed to fall into an inescapable insanity, one in which you will fear and hate all those you love so dearly. I have seen the signs already, and they are unmistakable. Even now, I can see the apprehension in your eyes, the doubt and the paranoia starting to take hold. You are questioning, now, every word I tell you, as your mind tries to excuse all of the symptoms you yourself have noticed recently, as you try to explain to yourself how none of these are your fault, and all your suspicions about yourself are unfounded while all your fears about us are true.


There is no escape, I am sad to say, and even now my warning is too late. I should have told you long ago. But even then, would it have helped? Could this have been abated if you had known before the malady had manifested? I do not know, nor can we ever know. No, I’m afraid it is far too late, my warning far too little, and your future far too predictable. Farewell, dear nephew. Please try to remember me fondly, even as the mania sets in. Please try to recall that I tried to stave off your fate, as vain as my attempt was. Farewell, and may you know happiness in the next life, if not in this.


The Words in the Wind

The man pulled himself up to the top, looked around, and did not care for what he saw.

He saw a world trying to hurry and rush, who knows where other than its own eventual end. He saw what others all saw, but refused to acknowledge the inevitability of it all. Misery was there, hand in hand with apathy and ego. No life seemed to matter, life itself seemed not to matter. There was a lot of energy here, but little purpose to it all.

Sighing, he settled down to meditate on what he saw, hoping to find a solution to the mystery of life. What was the point of it all, what was the plan, was their a plan? The man pondered these questions and all of the myriad questions that sprang forth wherever his ponderings led him. Age crept up upon him like the evening shadows, caressing first his skin, then settling in deep to chill his bones, and yet still he pondered the questions of life. As the sun set on his life, the shadows of age became more rapacious, springing up suddenly and seizing him in a cold dark grip, squeezing the very last drops of his youth out of him. Ravenous, age drank all the life that spilled out, lapping up every drop like sweet honey.

Finally, the last drops fell out of him. Age had consumed his very flesh, which now fell fully lifeless, hollow, sallow, and wrinkled to the ground, there to shatter into dust and blow away on the strong winds of time. At last, there was no longer any trace of the man, and the very memory of him was forgotten by those still rushing around in the world below.

And yet, as his lifeless husk fell to meet the ground, there could be seen on the face of the man, a serene smile. He had thought of a solution before he passed. He had solved the mystery of life. Every so often, if you close your eyes and listen right, you can hear his ashes whisper it in the winds of time, laughing softly.

A Word

In the waning years of the galactic Empire of Man, in a remote archival station on a distant mining planet, a young bureaucrat, twelfth level, rediscovered a word. A single word of power and importance such that it had been removed with great passion by fire and death from human memory over the course of several millennia.

When the great and bloated departments of the Government of Man decayed from within and broke into more primitive forms of tribalistic territorialism, when the Empire ever more irreversibly cascaded from de facto to de jure then through nomine tenus, finally coming to rest in memoriam, the young bureaucrat, twelfth level, learned the word. Spreading it to others he knew and trusted, he soon encountered resistance to its very existence. This did not deter him, as the resistance was sparse and unorganized, as those offering it were much more thoroughly occupied trying to not lose their heads in the midst of the empire’s collapse.

As such, the ranks of the adherents to the word of power quickly swelled, as they latched onto what appeared to be a growing movement of strength in the face of looming chaos and hardship. Many of these new recruits had little understanding of the true meaning of the word, having never encountered it or its fruits in their short lifetimes. Thus lacking a reference to guide them, they often engaged in actions in direct opposition to the true meaning of the word. Yet, even these well-intentioned fumblings added to the power of the word, as their actions served to draw more attention to the word and thus bolstered their numbers against the now strengthening resistance to its return to the course of human events. This resistance was most readily embraced by those who had most directly benefited from the old order, as well as those factions rising up to take its place.

Violence inevitably broke out between these two sides, and the young discoverer perished while championing the word to his followers. The passion with which these same disciples struck back shocked any who observed it. Simple brutality and skirmishes escalated almost instantly into pitched warfare, as both sides elected martyrs and heroes from amongst their own ranks and those of their opponents. Soon, those factions previously not aligned with either side found themselves swept along into the heightening conflict, as the forces of the word and the forces who wished the word had remained forgotten turned world after world into a battlefield on which they tried their best to obliterate their enemies.

As their vague causes turned into far more single-minded crusades, logic and wisdom fled before the unforgiving warzone, seamlessly replaced by fanatical devotion and sacrifice. Those that dared question the intent of their leaders suffered for their lack of faith in manners designed to dissuade others from following suite. Even the higher orders of those who followed the word with blind loyalty dared not speculate on the actual meaning of the word itself, as to do so would be to challenge the now certain interpretation of the word as a weapon uniting them against their foes. So it was that the intent of the word was lost in the swelling wave of its standard bearers.

Eventually, many centuries of bloodshed and destruction later, with their grand civilization, that had taken millenia to build up, in ruins about them, finally those few who remained who were capable of research began investigating this cursed word, disregarding the still not inconsiderable danger this presented to their persons. Against the condemnation of the established priesthood of the word, these rogue scholars presented their findings to the galaxy. The uproar of anger against those who had so fervently co-opted the word for the exact opposite of its defined purpose made short work of the remaining forces of the word. The equally exhausted opposition forces stood little chance of resisting the populist groundswell of the common people, who had tired of both factions long ago as their loved ones died for causes that ultimately meant nothing and served no purpose other than to kill the opposing side.

While this final tumultuous upheaval against the dying movements which had drug mankind back down into destitution ran its course, smaller regional governments began to form, applying the word in its true form to their governance, finding success as they did so. Peace returned as the word of power finally took hold. Mankind recovered gradually, rebuilding what the oppressive empire had so methodically erected before, this time in more gentle and natural forms. And so it was that a word so long obliterated from human memory realized its power to alleviate misery and ignorance wherever it was spoken with understanding and without fear of the consequences.

Once again mankind embraced the word ‘freedom’.

A Brief History of Thought – A Short Story

When the world first asked, “Why?”, it was barely in its inception, newly wrought from the flames of creation. Yet even then men stood up and inquired amongst them, “For what purpose are we here? If all eventually fades, why do we be?” It was from this first thought that myriad lines of questioning arose to confound each other and divide mankind into many divergent camps, all despite the driving central question being the same throughout. It was not enough for any that they had found an answer they believed in, they felt it necessary to prove the others wrong, or at least vulnerable to steel.

Into this maelstrom of bickering ideologies, a few attempted to extricate themselves of the issue entirely by asking “How did we come into being? The why will be answered by the how, surely.” These dedicated themselves to observation and reasoning, and yet even these, once they had reached conclusions in their varied methodologies, decided that the others were wholly inept and had to be ridiculed or even persecuted for this. The argument was born, which in turn spawned more than enough stupidity to reverse all of the previously achieved observations and reasoning.

From this stupidity, many emerged wondering, “When and Where are we then? Surely these must be relevant to the other questions!” Which of course, they were not. The less said of these people the better.

Finally, from the chaos of human reasoning arose those who finally realized the central question of their existence. These chose finally to question, “What are we? What makes us able to ask these other confrontational and unsolvable questions? What are we that we can make war on each other over concepts and theories?” These did much thinking and pondering on this subject. There was, of course, only one probable conclusion that they could come to, and this in itself answered the other questions entirely, if not entirely satisfactorily for the others. The answer, you see, was “We are an anomaly.”

With that, the others set upon the ‘What’s and committed many a justifiable anomaly.

Chai – A Short Story

I was sipping on some tea when I woke up to realize that I was not in the time I imagined I was. That is to say, I realized there was the distinct possibility that I had already woken up at least once already that day, or would in the very near future, at the very least. It was with this rather disturbing, if familiar, realization that I woke up and began searching for the beginning of this most troubling day.

It all started with some chai. Now chai is a particular invention that comes in as many variations as you can tolerate imagining, and appeals to almost as many people for exactly those reasons. I like it because it is, or so I have been told by those who have bothered to notice.

This particular chai was angry. What it was upset about I still have yet to fully understand, but it was indeed perturbed, and was doing its best to make my stomach of the same mind. Needless to say, an angry stomach can ruin the best of days, and I was in no mood to experience such, so I blinked and decided not to drink the chai in the first place. Then I blinked because I had not yet drunk the chai, and was understandably confused as to why, seeing as my stomach had just protested my having done so.

It was at this point that the chai unmade itself and I lost track of what I had done at any exact point of time. So I woke up. Except, I had not yet gone to sleep, or rather had, but was still sleeping, all at the same time.

Incidentally, at some point, I managed to write a working program. Normally this would be of no relevant interest in an increasingly bizarre and interesting day, except that this program survived the experience and is currently working quite well. Nothing else did.

Anyway, it was around the time I woke up for the infinite plus first time when I decided that this was no way to spend my day, and so I woke up again and set about finding a way to reestablish some semblance of order to the events I was experiencing. I settled on a plan of action and woke up again to discover that I had not yet set about creating my plan yet. I am not certain, but I believe I uttered some rather nasty things about time’s mother at this point. When no response presented itself, I assumed that time or its mother had to have heard me and contented myself with this knowledge as I woke up again.

I finally realized my problems maintaining any temporal frame of reference first began with my upset stomach and my wish that I had not imbibed my morning chai. And so I woke up again and set about making my chai.

After the infinite minus first attempt, I was finally able to drink my beverage, and suddenly, it was night, the day had passed, I had a working program, and my stomach was angry at me. I ignored it.

Not Today – A Short Story

Nancy would normally never have said anything, never have interfered. Not today. When Mary emerged from the back room, her right eye freshly blackened for what had to be the hundredth time, Nancy could have remained silent. She always had before, but not today. In front of dozens of others who had also never spoken up, Nancy strode over to Mary’s husband, ‘Butch’ Braggan, and shoved a calloused finger under the abusive man’s nose. Nancy snarled in a far more aggressive tone than she had ever been heard to use before, “You ever lay a hand on her again, Butch, and I’ll cut it off and beat you to death with it!”

Everyone was startled. None of the witnesses had ever dared cross Butch. He was feared not only in this colony, but across the whole of Titan. Truth be told, Butch was held in uneasy regard by the other colonies of the Saturn system as well, such was the spread of his fearsome reputation. There was no meaner man this side of the solar system, and his customers and neighbors alike tread lightly in his presence. They stared at Nancy with equal parts respect and wonder.

Mary was startled, as no one had stood up for her in a very long time. She had never stood up for herself, cowed as she was by her aggressive husband. She had married him out of fear for what he would do if she refused. She had stayed married to him out of fear that what he did do was nothing compared to what he would do if she tried to leave. She stared at Nancy with nervous apprehension, both for what would inevitably happen to Nancy and for what she feared would happen to her as her cruel husband would assuredly take some of his revenge on her.

Butch Braggan was startled. No one talked to him that way! He would have to beat this fool to death for this! She had not touched him physically, but the blow to his honor could not be tolerated. Men feared him for good reason, after all. He stared at Nancy with a mixture of shock and vile hatred.

Before Butch could respond, with word or fist, Nancy turned and strode out of the store. She had said what she had meant to say, and to stay any longer would offer Butch a chance to start the fight there, and that would spoil Nancy’s plan. Nancy did in fact have a plan. As Nancy walked swiftly, but with a dignity and fury that belayed the assumption that she was fleeing, she could hear Butch come charging out of the store, swearing and cursing and calling her a coward. Butch did not pursue her, stopping just beyond the awning of his store as he hurled threats and invectives at the back of his retreating adversary.

Nancy, though she was sorely tempted to, did not stop, did not turn, and did not respond. Normally, she would endeavor to defend her own honor, and stand up for herself publicly. Not today. She knew that Butch would not be capable of letting this go, so Nancy did not need to confront him now. She needed Butch to come after her for her plan to work. Soon, the sound of the furious bully faded to a low dull echo as Nancy made her way to the edge of the colony.

When she reached the airlock on the eastern wall, Nancy greeted the clerk there, “Evenin’ George.”

George, whom Nancy had known for years, regarded her as if he were looking at a horse who had grown a human for a head, saying slowly, “You feeling alright today, Nancy?”

Nancy replied as she set her claim ticket down on the counter, “Never better. I need my suit.”

George raised an eyebrow quizzically as he retrieved the space pilot’s pressure suit and handed it to her, saying, “I just got a call from Mabel, from over at the store. She says you called out Butch. Is that true?”

Nancy carefully checked over her suit. She trusted George implicitly. George had never let her down as long as Nancy had known him, but she always checked her suit thoroughly. Only a fool would not personally guarantee the safety of a pressure suit before donning it. As she did, she offered a paltry reply to her friend, “Yep.”

George let out a low whistle. The classic low whistle that indicated awe and disbelief at another’s foolhardy bravado. George followed up this obligatory whistle with an obvious statement, “You’re a dead woman if you stay here.”

Nancy finished examining her suit and nodded in satisfaction. The nod served equally well as agreement with her friend’s assessment. She verbalized her consensus, “Yep. Need my suit.”

As Nancy put on her pressure suit, George struggled briefly to contain his desire to continue his commentary, and lost, “Normally I’d give you grief for turning tail and running, but damn, Nancy! You crossed Butch!”


“You know what happened to the last person who stood up to him!”


George ignored Nancy’s acknowledgment and proceeded to remind his friend, “Last time someone got between Butch and poor Mary, was that miner, what was his name?”


“That’s right. Abdul, fresh in from Io, as I recall. Abdul saw Butch slap Mary, and up and slugged him! Next day, no one could find the poor bastard. Never have found the body.”


George seemed oblivious that Nancy had been present for the events he had just recounted, or chose to act so. Grimacing and shaking his head he held out a hand to Nancy, “Here’s hoping you fare better, old friend.”

Nancy finished zipping up the last seam of her suit, and took the proffered hand, saying as they shook, “Goodbye, George. When Butch comes through, don’t try to stop him.”

George visibly blanched, replying shakily, “He’s coming through here?”

Nancy nodded as she settled her helmet over her head, “Should be here any minute now. Don’t interfere. Let him through.”

George shook his head, stating, “I’m no hero! But he’s gonna kill you!”

Nancy paused before setting the helmet down into its seal to grin and say, “Nope.”



Nancy reached her ship, parked several leagues outside of the colony proper, near the mining facility where she had made her last delivery of equipment. The facility, comprised of two shaft entrances, multiple equipment sheds, and several mechanical structures, was closed down and secured for the biweekly dark period. Whenever Titan went behind Saturn and the light of the sun failed to reach the surface, the resulting deep chill made working on the exposed surface difficult, and no one cared to work in the shafts themselves without support personnel on the surface above to aide them in case of emergency.

Titan was already starting to enter twilight as Nancy opened the outer airlock hatch to her ship, the diffused light of the atmosphere dulling as it slowly shifted to gray. Twilight on Titan lasted for hours as the moon slowly swung around its massive parent. Nancy could not see the mighty ringed planet above, not really. Sure, there was sometimes a brighter spot in the sky, but it was barely distinguishable from large bright clouds.

Once through the airlock, Nancy quickly started up the pre-launch sequence. She did not take off her suit. Usually, this was the first task after entering the ship, so as to avoid possible damage to it, and because it was entirely unnecessary and cumbersome to wear the pressure suit inside the ship. Not today. Today she left it on, helmet and all. She did, however, swap out the air tank on her back, even though the tank she was replacing was still more than half full.

This done, and her ship humming steadily as it worked through the routine system checks to make sure it was ready to leave the moon’s surface, Nancy returned to the airlock. Cycling it back to the higher pressure of Titan’s atmosphere, Nancy pressed up against the outer hatch and slid down until she was well below the plastic window. Now in position, she waited.

Minutes passed inexorably. Nancy was a patient woman, as any space pilot had to be, and was not bothered by the tedium. She waited calmly, her focused attention on the light coming through the window. The twilight gray orange glow of Titan was steady. Then it dimmed suddenly and the handle to the hatch clicked.

Nancy braced herself against the side of the airlock and kicked the hatch hard with both feet. It slammed with great force into something on the other side and a shout of pain was heard. Nancy kicked again, but this time the hatch met no resistance, and slammed open into the side of the ship. There was a man in a pressure suit sprawled out on the ground some seven feet from the hatch. The low gravity of Titan had lent great distance to the man’s backward flight.

Nancy got up and quickly walked over to Butch, for that was the man on the ground, as he tried to recover his wits. Nancy reached down past Butch’s helmet and grabbed the air hose at the back. Placing a foot on his shoulder, she yanked hard, and the hose resisted. Butch, still dazed but instinctively aware he was in danger, clawed awkwardly at Nancy’s booted foot. Nancy ignored this and yanked harder at the hose, straining with the force. A terrifying hiss erupted as the helmet end of the hose dislodged, breaking its seal. The air in Butch’s suit was not escaping, the one way valve in his helmet ensured that, but the air from the tank on his back was now rapidly venting into the atmosphere.

Butch grabbed desperately at the hose, but Nancy prevented him as she stepped off of Butch’s shoulder and marched toward the mining facility, dragging Butch along by the hose as she went. In this manner, Nancy kept the hose dislodged and Butch off his feet, as her opponent never gained the leverage necessary to scramble up. Bypassing the buildings of the facility, Nancy marched steadily out into the open plains of Titan. She kept going, ignoring the struggles and tirade of her foe.

Nancy stopped only when she could no longer hear the hiss of escaping air from the hose. Venting as it had been, the tank had quickly run out, while the air in Butch’s suit must also be close to exhaustion. Planting her feet and leaning forward as she stopped, Nancy heaved and threw Butch forward and beyond her. Butch sailed and tumbled like a tumbleweed in the low gravity. Nancy did not waste time watching him land and hurried back toward her ship as fast as she could. Back at the ship, she spotted a crowbar lying near the airlock. Concluding that Butch had brought this to force his way into the ship in case Nancy had locked the hatch, as one normally would have done, Nancy took the time to retrieve it.

Once inside and with the airlock starting to cycle, Nancy did lock the hatch. The air pressure outside would have sufficed to keep the hatch in place, now that she had Butch’s crowbar safely inside with her, but she was not planning on staying in the atmosphere. The whine of the fans and pumps was winding down when a shadow fell across the window once more. The hapless figure outside pounded on the airlock hatch with all his might, alternating between begging for mercy and threatening the most vile and horrific acts if he were not let in.

Nancy calmly turned her back to the exterior hatch and entered her ship. Making her way to the pilot’s chair, she sat down. After checking the report of the pre-launch sequence to assure herself that all was in order, Nancy pushed the booster ignition button. A dull rumble vibrated the craft as the lifting thruster lit off. Slowly at first, then with unfaltering acceleration, Nancy’s ship rose through Titan’s atmosphere.

As the haze dropped away below and the beauty and majesty of the glorious rings of Saturn took form in front of her, Nancy gave the briefest of thought to what she had just done. Normally, Nancy was not a violent woman. Normally, she believed all issues could be resolved through peaceful means, given enough time. Normally, she would have endeavored to find a way, any way, to deal with Butch differently. Not today. Today Nancy was headed home to Earth, and was never returning again.

John J. Johnson – A Short Story

John J. Johnson was asleep. He floated peacefully in his sleep-harness as his ship hummed around him methodically, hurtling through the near void of space ever so sedately. He had just spent the better part of an earth day attempting to repair a puncture on the exterior bulkhead. While it was not at all critical to his voyage that the repair be effected before he arrived at his destination, he nonetheless had decided the day before that he should endeavor to finish the repair before his arrival at Europa. This determination was a combination of both an attempt to prove to himself his own capabilities in the matter as well as a venture to stave off the otherwise overwhelming boredom that these trips always inevitably entailed. Sure, there were a myriad of mental activities that he could have just as easily enjoyed, but there are only so many movies in a row that one can watch without getting a distinct urge to get up and do something, which on a spacecraft, is a potentially dangerous affliction. Many a tale has been passed around many a tavern across the Sol system of ‘spacers who get bored get dead’.

So it was that when the inch and a half asteroid skipped across the exterior of his craft at a couple of thousands of miles an hour, the wound it inflicted became an omnipresent temptation to get out and do something productive. Giving into his cabin fever had been the easiest part of the enterprise, as suiting up was an ever laborious task that no space-farer gets all the way through without some exhaustion and much frustration. After that, he had to patiently wait for the large empty cargo bay to cycle out the air ever so slowly. His mind had gone over the procedure he had been about to undertake over and over at least a dozen times as the lethargic whine of the aged air pump had grown gradually fainter.

After it had disappeared entirely and the indicator light had finally shown the all clear, John J. Johnson had scrambled out far too eagerly into the vast emptiness of space, showing an almost immature recklessness that was more characteristic of men far less experienced in space than him. It had taken almost fifteen hours of struggling and consternation to get the patch plate bolted into place properly. By the end of the ordeal, John J. Johnson had been cured entirely of his cabin fever, his energy, and his alertness. In such a state he had made his way, only half conscious, back into the cargo bay, waiting interminably for the air to return and pressurize to the proper level. Afterward, the removal of the suit had felt a million times more arduous than normal, and the long crawl to his bunkroom had felt like a marathon. Finally, he had struggled into the sleep-harness and had gratefully passed out.

In doing so, he had entirely missed, in his bleary fatigue, the urgently blinking text on his control console. The hum of his ship was uninterrupted by the standard array of loud warning klaxons that routinely would have gone off, had he not long ago disabled them out of irritation at their agitating volume. Nor was he jolted awake by the auto piloting system making an emergency course adjustment, having never trusted the damn computer to steer the ship, and thus having disengaged it. So it was that John J. Johnson was sound asleep when another asteroid struck his vessel at a couple of thousands of miles an hour. However, as this particular asteroid was over a mile wide and his ship was far less than a mile wide, the asteroid more accurately continued to fly through space virtually unaffected as a smallish collapsible particle impacted its forward facing surface.