A Cause for Jealousy
“Captain! Check the radar. We have a small object in range, approximately 50 kilograms.” Doctor Harris leaned away from the display as his captain, Captain Allen stepped across the bridge to check the radar.
The bridge of the Amalthea was quite small. At the fore was space for a pilot and co-pilot to sit at the instrument boards that would fly and navigate the ship. Behind them were four seats for non-pilot crew to use during moments of high acceleration, such as takeoff. The whole room, like much of the ships interior, was lined with dark grey panels, designed to absorb excess heat and transfer it to external radiators.
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“Indeed,” Allen remarked. “We're pretty far from any debris fields though. I suppose it could be a loner. See if you can get a visual on it. I'll contact Roberts.” Roberts, the third and final member of the crew, was the engineer.
Each of the three men, friends from childhood, filled a different role aboard Amalthea. They had grown up on dreams of exploring the vast reaches of outer space, and they had each worked, complimenting each others strengths and weaknesses, to fulfill that goal.
Captain Allen was the pilot and negotiator on board. He was the first to make contact with any foreign intelligences, as humanity quickly found there were many of. Doctor Harris, of course, served as the medical doctor. He also aided Allen with piloting and navigation, and was a top rate chef. Engineer Roberts maintained the Amalthea, keeping each of its systems in top shape. He also served as the quartermaster and financial expert, keeping close track of the crews funds.
“Roberts, we have a foreign object on the radar, attempting to secure a visual. We may need to stage an extraction. Are you in shape to take point?”
Roberts' cheery voice hummed over the intercom. “Sure thing Cap'n. I'll finish up here, prep suits in the bay, then meet you in the bridge.”
“Acknowledged Roberts. See you in a bit.” Allen turned back to Harris. “Anything on camera?”
“I think I have spotted the object, but I'm having difficulty dialing in the focus. We may still be too distant.”
Allen nodded, falling silent as they cruised closer and closer. Several minutes later, Roberts strolled into the bridge, whistling merrily. “What have we got? Is it worth pulling in?”
Harris snapped back into focus, looking back down at the camera display. “Uh...”
Roberts peered of Harris' shoulder and his eyebrows shot up. “Wha...? That's a person! Captain, we need to get moving!”
Harris snapped out of his shock as Allen checked the screen as well, disbelief melting from his face. He glanced up at Roberts' back as the engineer hustled towards the bay. “Harris, lets go. I'll spot Roberts. You anchor. I want you ready to take the subject as soon as we have them aboard.”
“Ahead of you. I am going to quick stop in the infirmary on the way. Don't begin without me. No need to take excessive risk.”
Allen nodded, running ahead of Harris. His feet clanged noisily on the metal grates that comprised the central hallway floor. Beneath the grates ran many tubes, hoses, conduits, and other lines that acted as the arteries of the ship, bringing electricity and other essentials from their life support bay out to the rest of the ship. He passed by the various closed doors to the relatively small number of rooms on their ship, their quarters, the mess hall, and a few other essentials. The Amalthea was built for efficiency and speed, not keeping large crews comfortable.
Allen caught up with Roberts as he was beginning to suit up. “Harris?” Roberts asked with a look.
“He'll be along in a minute. He's running anchor. He wanted to prep the infirmary.” Roberts nodded, zipping into his suit, then holding his helmet so that Allen could check him over. Allen covered the safety checks, making sure everything was in order. Satisfied, he turned to his own suit.
As Allen was finishing zipping his own suit into place, Harris jogged into the bay. He checked over Allen, then clipped and locked both Allen and Roberts to large tethers. If everything went well, Allen would not even need his. His job was to remain in the depressurized lock, on standby incase Roberts needed aid.
Satisfied with the safety check, and securely tethered in place, both men stepped into the lock, leaving Harris to man the ship. The lock hissed as it engaged, pumping the air in the lock back into the main cabin. As the pressures reached equilibrium, the outer hatch opened.
Roberts wasted no time in taking a large leap in the direction of the adrift person. His powerful leap took him close to his target, and he used the small thrusters on his belt to bring him in close enough to make contact. He looked over the individual for a moment before pulling the individual close. He clipped a short lead onto the individual from his belt, pulled them close into a hug, then signaled Allen.
Allen looked in at Harris, giving him the 'okay'. Harris vanished from view for a moment, then the tether on Roberts began to pull back in. Soon enough, all three were in the bay. Harris took the rescuee from Roberts and rushed off, leaving Allen and Roberts to unsuit.
In the infirmary, Harris removed the individuals helmet to find a woman. She was blonde, had full, pink lips, and arched eyebrows. She was, in other words, about the most attractive woman Harris had ever seen. He let out a breath, closing his eyes to focus again. When he opened them, he performed a quick vitals check. He found that the woman was alive, but her vitals had been slowed substantially. Her pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rate were all much lower than expected, and he set probes to monitor each.
As he was finishing, Allen and Roberts burst into the room, faces flush with interest. “Well?” Allen asked, crossing to look at their rescuee. “Oh, wow...” he said, trailing off. Roberts merely nodded his agreement, eyes as wide as Harris expected his own had been moments ago.
“Her vitals are all low. I suspect she entered some sort of pseudo hibernation and that is the only reason she is still alive. I'll monitor her, and see if we can't get her awake again. It may be of benefit to put her on a saline drip to ensure she does not get dehydrated.” Harris looked to Allen and Roberts. “Are we in agreement on that? I don't want to go using resources we may need in an emergency.”
“Harris, I think this qualifies as an emergency,” Allen chuckled.
“Right,” Roberts nodded in agreement. “What sort of men would we be if we couldn't handle a little bit of risk for a woman?”
“Well, I am glad we are in agreement then. I will get her started on a saline drip. You two shoo. I'll send word when she wakes.”
The next week passed in quiet anticipation. The three friends were another month from their destination, and the appearance of a new person on board was far and away the most interesting thing to happen since they had departed on their journey. The men had tried and failed to find any form of identification on her, so had taken to calling her 'the woman' for lack of a better identifier.
Over the course of the week, the woman's vitals slowly but surely crept back up to a normal range. Harris was sitting in the infirmary, going through old records when he heard a soft gasp and a whispered, “Where am I?”
Harris whirled at the soft voice. “You're awake!” he exclaimed, his excitement causing his voice to raise more than intended. “Sorry, that was a bit loud. Are you feeling okay?”
The woman, still prone, turned her head to look at Harris. “I think so. I feel a bit fatigued, but nothing seems out of sorts. Where am I?”
“Right, sorry. You are aboard the Amalthea. It is a ship, captained by my friend, Captain Allen. I am Doctor Harris, and also aboard is our other friend, Engineer Roberts. Together, we explore the depths of space, and discover locations of potential interest to humanity in general.”
The woman blinked a few times, her long lashes drawing Harris' gaze to her bright, sapphire eyes. “That sounds very impressive. You must be very brave to explore space with just the three of you.”
Harris grinned, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well, it isn't that impressive,” he said, feeling a bit of heat rising to his face. 'Am I really reacting like this?' he thought. 'I'm not twenty anymore. I should have better control...' “Anyway, what is your name? How did you manage to find yourself floating in deep space?”
The woman closed her eyes, considering. As she did, Harris noted a small twinge of disappointment, and, annoyed, quashed it. “I'm... not sure. I cannot remember my name. You say I was floating in deep space?” She turned to look at him once more.
Harris nodded. “We spotted you on radar, otherwise we probably would have flown past, none the wiser.”
“Wow, I must have gotten very lucky then.” Harris nodded his agreement. “And, of course, I must thank you! Without your help, I would surely still be in hibernation, on the brink of death.”
Harris felt a grin tug at his face, but he forced it down. “I was merely doing my duty,” Harris said, allowing a small smile to slide onto his face.
“Still, I would like to thank you in a... more substantial way. Just words seem too little for having saved my life.” The woman looked imploringly at him.
As Harris was considering how best to answer, the infirmary door slid open with a hiss. Roberts strolled in, whistling a new merry tune. “Morning Harris! Allen wanted me to check up on you; he hasn't seen ya today.” Roberts stopped dead in his tracks. “You're awake,” he cried, a grin lighting his face as he took a step towards the woman. “I see your service hasn't been so subpar as to prevent your recovery.” Roberts chuckled, giving her a wink.
“Yes, yes, very funny,” Harris said dryly. “If you would please, inform the captain that I am fine and the patient has awoken. I am going to need to conduct an evaluation now that she is, so if you two could keep busy at something else for a while, I would appreciate it.”
“Gotcha, gotcha,” Roberts said, grin still solidly in place. “I'll get started on breakfast then, since it sounds like you'll be busy today.” He backed out of the room with a wave.
“He seemed friendly,” the woman remarked.
“Yes, he is a cheerful one,” Harris agreed. “Anyway, let's get you a basic checkup, then we can go partake in breakfast. It won't be as good as mine, but Roberts does fairly well for himself.” Harris said with a chuckle.
Twenty minutes later, Harris had finished. It was something that should have taken only fifteen, but the woman seemed unsure of herself when attempting fitness related tasks and relied on Harris for balancing help. Not that Harris minded. He quite enjoyed the contact with such an attractive young lady.
“Your results seem very good, considering,” he remarked while scanning his notes. He set them aside onto a stack of files on his desk where he would compile them into a full report. “Your physical fitness is below average, but that is to be expected after your period adrift. We will start a regimen in a few days, after you've gotten your energy back.”
“That does sound agreeable,” she smiled. “I would like to shake off the remainder of my time in isolation as quickly as possible. Perhaps I will find my memories once again?”
“It is certainly a possibility,” Harris agreed. “Now, if you want to have breakfast, just take a left out the door, and the mess hall is the next door on the left. I'm sure Roberts has something put together by now. I'll be along as soon as I finalize my report.”
The woman smiled graciously before leaving, her steps already more confident than when Harris had begun his test. Harris caught himself a minute later, having been stuck in a dreamlike daze. “Wow, that woman is a wrecking ball to my concentration. Or, rather, my concentration on anything else.” Harris shook his head and turned to enter his report into the Amalthea's system.
Several minutes later, Harris opened the door to the mess hall to find Allen, Roberts, and the woman sitting around the single table. Harris noted that all three seats were taken. He glanced noted the amused faces of Allen and Roberts; they must have been telling stories. Then the woman turned to look at him, and he felt certain by the look in her face that the stories had been about him.
Harris felt his face flushing, and he walked into the kitchen, which as a room was only really separated from the mess hall by a bar. His head was buzzing so badly with embarrassment that he couldn't make out what was being said at the table. While he loaded his own plate, his thoughts went from considering which story it could be, to thoughts of anger and jealousy. How dare his friends try to embarrass him in front of this new woman? Why couldn't he be the one telling the stories? He hadn't done half the embarrassing things that Allen had done, or a third of Roberts.
Finishing loading his plate, Harris forced himself to calm down. The only way to do damage control at this point was to find out exactly what was going on. He wandered around the bar, pulling one of the stools out of its hidden compartment. He sat backwards on it, facing the others.
“Harris, are you okay?” Allen asked, looking perplexed. Harris noticed that both Roberts and the woman were wearing similar looks, between confusion and worry.
“Yeah, of course. Why wouldn't I be?”
“Well, your smile looks a little forced. That and you put hot sauce on your eggs instead of ketchup. You never voluntarily eat spicy things.”
Harris evaluated the stiff nature of his face, and let his smile drop. “Sorry guys. I'm just thinking.”
“What has you so engrossed?” Roberts asked. “And, if you wanna trade your eggs out, I will gladly eat those for you.”
“Uh, thanks,” Harris muttered, passing the plate over to Roberts who slid the eggs onto his own plate before passing it back. Harris stood to get more eggs, hoping Roberts' question would simply be overlooked.
“So, what is so heavy on your mind?” the woman asked, face still concerned as she watched him over the bar.
“I'm...” Harris trailed off, considering. “I'm working on a fitness plan.” Harris let out a slow breath, relief at finding a plausible lie to cover for him.
“That's so sweet,” the woman said, smiling broadly at him. “You'll have plenty of time to think about it though. Like you said, I need to regain my strength first.”
Harris sat back on the stool, having plated his breakfast properly this time. “I know that, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. Anyway, I didn't mean to bring the atmosphere down. What were you all talking about?”
“We were telling the story about that time in academy when we accidently caused the Orthen to crash.”
Harris groaned. “That was so bad. Why would you tell her that one?”
“It's hilarious!” Roberts laughed. “Besides, while we may have some guilt, there are definitely several safety measures that should have prevented our stunt.”
“Yeah, and having a protocol named after us is pretty cool too,” Allen grinned.
“Sure, but we crashed The Orthen. That thing was legendary.”
“Yep, and it should have been in a museum before we could have gotten a hold of it. Anyway, I need to get back to the bridge.” Allen put his dishes into a washer and left the mess hall.
“I better get back to work too,” Roberts commented, following Allen.
When the two had left and the door hissed back shut, the woman turned to Harris. “Well, sounds like you three got up to some wild adventures.” Her eyes sparkled as she looked at Harris.
“Well, I suppose,” Harris said, rubbing the back of his neck. “We got into our share of trouble back in the day. Then again, what boys that age don't?”
The woman smiled. “Indeed. At least you were never seriously hurt during your escapades.”
Harris ate the rest of his breakfast in silence, not sure where to go with their conversation. As he finished, he mechanically brought his dishes to the washer, mind still trying to find something to say to the woman.
“Do you...?” he started, not sure what he wanted to ask. “Uh, do you want to go to the bridge with me? Allen and I can show you how we pilot the ship.”
“Oh, you are a pilot too? You must be very smart, being both a doctor and a pilot.”
“I suppose,” Harris responded, laughing a bit. “Though, Allen is the true pilot. I am more like his assistant.”
Harris lead the woman out of the mess hall and towards the bridge. Allen looked up as they walked in. “Harris! Good to see you. We have some tricky navigation coming up this week. I would like a course plotted out before we reach the rough patches. I've already sent coordinates to you, can you check them over?”
Harris slid into his seat, rotating it away from Allen to face his navigation panels. “What have we got?” he asked, scanning the coordinate list.
“There is a rogue comet storm that we should reach tomorrow and couple of small black holes orbiting each other later on. Oh, and it isn't in our path directly, but there is a pulsar close enough to be worrisome, so we will need to account for that as well.”
“A pulsar?” the woman asked. “What is that?”
“It's an end of life star, usually a neutron star, that has large beams of electromagnetic radiation firing from their magnetic poles. We get hit by that, and it's game over. All of our systems would go down simultaneously, and there would be no way to fix them in time.” Allen finished with a grim look on his face.
“The part he isn't telling you is that pulsars are very predictable,” Harris reassured the woman. “Unless we really mess up, it'll be trivial to avoid, it just takes some forethought so we aren't scrambling at the last second.”
Harris turned back to his screen to work on the navigation calculations. A few minutes later, he heard whispering behind him; clearly Allen and the woman didn't want him to hear something. Aggravation rising again, Harris spun in his chair to find the woman in Allen's seat, Allen standing over her, showing her various controls.
Allen glanced over as Harris turned. “Ah, sorry, we didn't want to distract you. I was just showing her the controls.”
“Right, well, if you don't want to get zapped with a giant radiation laser later this week while we dodge around a couple of black holes, I would like some peace and quiet.” Harris rolled his eyes as he turned back to his work.
“Come on,” Allen laughed, nudging him in the ribs. “You have plenty of time.”
“True enough. Which also means you will have plenty of time when the calculations are done.”
Allen sighed. “I suppose that is true. Would you like to shadow Roberts until we're finished?” He offered the woman his hand, and pulled her to her feet. He led her by the hand out of the bridge.
Harris felt a stab of jealousy watching Allen, and he was having trouble focusing as he turned back to his calculations. What was wrong with him? He had never felt this way before, and he and his friends had interacted with plenty of attractive women in the past. What made this woman so different? Allen returned to the bridge several minutes later to find Harris staring blankly at his screen.
“Wha...?” Harris whipped around and sighed when he saw that Allen had returned.
“Okay, seriously, Harris, you've been acting weird since earlier this morning. What's going on?”
“Nothing,” Harris sighed again. “Sorry, its nothing. I just lost focus. I'm getting started now.” Harris turned back to the navigator, rubbing his eyes.
He worked slowly for several hours, never making much progress. As evening on the ship rolled around, denoted by the lights slowly dimming, Allen tapped Harris on the shoulder. “Come on, you've done enough for today.”
“No I haven't,” Harris sighed. “I'm still way behind. I don't know what's wrong with me captain. I just can't seem to concentrate today.”
“Everybody has those sorts of days Harris. We'll get back to it tomorrow. Let's go see what Roberts is up to, then see about dinner.” Harris nodded unenthusiastically, following Allen as he left the bridge.
They found Harris working in the life support bay, a large mechanical room that held the ship's regenerative systems, such as the reverse osmosis water filter, the atmosphere oxygenator, and the composter. It appeared he had finished his work as well, and was chatting with the woman, pointing out various aspects of the machinery.
“Allen! Harris! Dinner time? I figured it would be soon.”
“Well, we had a tough day of navigation, so dinner isn't ready yet, but we are headed to the mess,” Allen explained.
“Right then, no need to wait around here. Let's go!” Roberts smiled enthusiastically, leading the way.
In the mess, Harris began dinner prep while the others pulled stools out at the bar. They chatted about various thing while Harris worked, but he tuned them out, trying his hardest to focus on the task before him. He had to regain his focus; if not, he needed to retire as a spacefarer. It was far to dangerous to do this job with an unfocused mind.
Fifteen minutes later, Harris served up the dinner. Food was relatively easy to make, everything had been prepared before hand and was a combination of canned, freeze-dried, and frozen. Combining ingredients into interesting meals and spicing were left up to the chef, which was why Harris was generally on duty. He was the best at making food taste excellent and choosing optimal food combinations for nutritional purposes.
So, Allen was surprised when he took a bite. “Harris? Did you add extra salt to this?”
“What? I don't think so,” Harris tasted his own dish to find that it was over salted. He swallowed with a grimace. “Seems I did though. Sorry guys, I really am out of it today. I thought I had brought myself back in line, but it seems not.”
The others did not respond; they were too busy eating. “You don't have to,” Harris protested.
“In the depths of space, you eat what you are giving,” Allen quoted, finger raised as if he were lecturing. “Besides,” he continued, lowering his finger, “we all know that there are much worse chefs out there. You're allowed a miss every once and a while.”
“Well, unless you had done it as a prank,” Roberts grinned. “Then I was gonna force feed it to ya.” The group cracked up, and Harris felt a smile tug at his own face.
“Thanks,” he said, smiling fully now. “I'll try to get myself back in order by tomorrow.”
The group spent the evening chatting and talking few a few hours before they decided to turn in for the night. The Amalthea had only a single bunk room, so the men prepared the infirmary for the woman to sleep in. Leaving her with a round of 'good nights' the men turned into their own bunks.
They had only been laying there for a moment when Roberts said, “So, Harris, you into her?”
“Wha...?” Harris exclaimed, sitting up fast enough to bash his head on the bunk above him. “Ow, ow...”
“I take it that is a yes,” Allen chuckled. “No worries, we get it man, she's gorgeous. I have to wonder what led to her drifting in space though. It seems a little suspicious.”
“Yeah, I would be careful. Don't get too attached yet,” Roberts said. “You never know, she could have been kicked off her last ship for eating a crewmate or something.”
“Wait, eating? What the heck Roberts?” Harris peered up from his bunk to see Roberts looking down at him from above, a grin on his face.
“Just for example,” Roberts said with a wink before laying back down. “I mean, it is a common punishment out in the frontier, making any criminals into castaways.”
“Yeah, but cannibalism?”
“Roberts does have a point though,” Allen said. “You're smitten now, but you don't really know anything about her. Just be careful. And, don't worry too much buddy, we're here for you too. We'll say something if she tries to take a bite while you aren't around.”
“You two...” Harris seethed.
“Lighten up. No need to take it so seriously,” Allen said. “Anyway, long day of more navigation calculations tomorrow, so get some sleep. Lights.”
As Allen finished speaking, the lights dimmed further until they were off altogether. Harris heard Roberts breathing deeply above him within moments, and Allen joined him only a few minutes later. Harris, however lay awake. He felt tired, but his mind was racing, preventing sleep. His friends sounded helpful, but what if they were trying to sabotage him instead? After all, they had both seemed close to her at various points over the day.
The night hours passed, one after another, and finally, Harris greeted the morning, indicated by the lights slowly brightening to a dim glow. He continued to lay in his bunk, wide eyed and exhausted, as Allen and Roberts rose.
“Let's get moving Harris!” Allen said, moving over to stand beside him. “Oh, dude, you don't look so good.”
“Couldn't sleep,” Harris groaned.
Roberts moved to stand by Allen. “You should stay here then. Get at least a few hours,” Allen said.
“No time. We hit that comet storm tonight. It won't be the first time I worked on no sleep.”
“Wasn't the last time in school though? You know, ten years ago? We're a little older now, less able to handle that sort of abuse,” Allen said.
“I know, I know. We don't have any option though. I'm the best navigator here.”
Allen and Roberts relented at that, but Roberts said, “At least let me handle meals today.”
Harris nodded, climbing out of bed to follow them to the mess hall. There, they had a quiet breakfast before splitting for their day's tasks. The woman joined Harris and Allen in the bridge once again, but this time she sat in one of the crew chairs, giving the two men space to work.
As the morning passed, Harris was feeling pretty good about his work. His brain was too tired to be distracted by stray thoughts, which ironically allowed him to think only about navigation. By the time noon had rolled around, he had completed the calculations to guide them through the comet storm, and had begun working on the black holes and pulsar they would encounter later that week.
Around that time, Allen got up to get lunch, inquiring if Harris wanted a break. Harris was feeling good about his progress, however, and felt a break would disrupt his flow, so opted to skip. An hour or so after Allen returned, Harris completed his calculations.
While it had taken him by surprise in his early days, it turned out that black holes, while a much bigger threat, were easier to navigate around than lesser threats, like comet storms. This meant Harris was able to complete the next set of calculations much quicker.
He took a deep sigh as he finished and turned to Allen. “I think I'm done now. I'm going to grab something to eat, then see about taking a nap.”
“Go,” Allen said. “You've more than earned it.” He gave Harris a smile. “I can handle piloting through the comets tonight. We'll get you on the off chance anything goes wrong.”
“I feel bad about leaving you, but I'm not sure I would be any help by then,” Harris admitted. “You were right about us getting older. No sense in pushing things too far.”
“Right you are,” Allen said.
Harris left the bridge, and the woman followed him. “I heard that you weren't able to sleep last night.”
“Yeah,” Harris said. “Sorry, probably won't be much of a conversationalist until tomorrow at this rate.”
“That's okay. I want to join you anyway.”
The two of them entered the mess to find Roberts whistling while cooking behind the bar.
“Roberts? Late lunch for you too?” Harris asked, perplexed.
“Nah, just heard you were gonna turn in for a bit, and I figured I would go ahead and cook for you. We have to support each other in times like these. Besides, I'm ahead on my maintenance schedule anyway, so no big deal.”
Harris sat at the bar and the woman sat next to him. The minutes passed in silence as the two watched Roberts cooking. Finally, Roberts served Harris his lunch, and Harris ate hungrily. Roberts and the woman were talking idly, but Harris was too tired and hungry to pay much attention. When he had finished, Roberts snagged the plate from him before he could rise.
“You get off to bed now,” Roberts said, making a shooing motion with his hands.
Harris nodded his ascent, giving Roberts a fatigued smile. He made his way across the Amalthea to his bunk and collapsed. He was out moments later, into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
Harris was woken a few hours later to an alarm blaring. He jumped out of bed and ran began running towards the bridge, only to find Allen running his direction. Concern showed in his friend's eyes, and Harris fell in beside him.
“Comet struck,” Allen explained. “Our radiation shields are damaged. We need to get Roberts out there. Can you run anchor?”
“We've been hit?” Harris asked, panicking. “Damnit! I'm sorry Allen. I must have missed something in my calculations.”
“Worry about that later, we need to get the shields back up.” The two men reached the bay to find Roberts already suited. Harris moved to safety check him while Allen began suiting up as well.
As the men were suiting up, the woman wondered into the bay as well. “Good luck,” she said as Allen and Roberts entered the air lock. The two gave Harris and the woman a wave as the inner door closed.
“They'll be fine,” Harris told her. “They are some of the best in the business.”
“Of course they will be fine,” the woman said, turning towards Harris. “That is, so long as you didn't mess up any other calculations. But you missed one comet, didn't you? What else did you miss?”
“What?” Harris exclaimed. “Why would you say that?”
“Oh, no reason,” the woman said, smiling slyly.
Harris watched Allen through the viewport in the air lock. As he watched, another alert began going off. Harris moved to the display next to the air lock, and felt nauseous when he saw the warning printed on the screen, 'Heightened Radiation Detected”.
“Allen, we have a problem,” Harris said into the com next to the door.
“Yeah, I see it. Roberts, would I be able to help you work faster if I was over there?”
“Probably, but it's risky.”
“As risky as having the ship fried by high radiation?”
Harris looked out the view port in time to see Allen disappear from view.
“I wondered if you had forgotten something else,” the woman said, her voice oddly cheery, given the circumstances.
Harris turned to face her. She was wearing a smile that looked far to reminiscent of a shark's for Harris to be comfortable. “What do you mean? And why do you sound so... happy about it?”
“Well, we are getting close enough to that pulsar for it to be dangerous. And, say a certain exhausted navigator miscalculated axial drift...” she trailed off, glancing at Harris from the side.
Harris fell silent for a moment, thinking back to his work earlier that day. Panic seized him once again. “Allen!” he spoke into the com, voice rising. “It's the pulsar! You have to get out of there!”
“Ha.... n't..... you.....” Allen voice barely registered through the static blasting through the com. All of a sudden, the static was pierced with yells that quickly turned to shrieks. With a sharp crack, something inside the box popped and it fell silent.
“No...” Harris whispered. He turned to the woman. “You knew!” he cried. “You knew I made a mistake! Why didn't you say something?”
“Oh!” she said brightly. “It seems I've remembered my name.” She grinned at him again, that sharklike grin. “I am Nym'vfurzusen.”
Harris gaped at her, not fully understanding the word that left her mouth. It was alien, and he wasn't quite sure how to pronounce it, even though he had just heard it uttered.
“Well, given your dumbfounded look, perhaps this will work better. Most call me Nym.”
Harris took a sharp breath in. “Nym? But that's the name given to the Son of the Void.”
“Indeed it is, and indeed I am,” Nym said, grinning. “I, of course, may take whichever form I desire, and this seemed well suited to sowing chaos on this cozy ship of yours.” Nym's flesh seemed to ripple and the next instant, standing before Harris was a well groomed man, with short dark hair, a short, stylish beard, and a deep violet shirt under charcoal grey vest and slacks. “Perhaps this fits better with your image of me?”
“You killed my friends!” Harris cried, sinking to his knees.
Nym held a hand to his heart, feigning horror. “Not I,” the man gasped. “Nay, I was but a poor lost traveler." His voice hardened. "No, it was you who made the mistakes. I'm afraid you killed your friends, Harris.”
Harris' eyes began darting back and forth, welling with tears. “No...” he breathed. “No, it's...”
“It's what?” Nym goaded. “Impossible? I would say, given their fates, it is very possible. And, you shall follow them shortly.” Nym's face blurred back to that of the woman's. “I felt as though I should give you your just reward, for being my hero and all.”
Harris moaned, collapsing to the floor.
“This is all your fault, you know,” Nym remarked. “You humans act like sharks in the ocean, invincible. You have conquered your planets and solar systems, and think there is nothing else to challenge your supremacy. But you are nothing, frogs in a well, proud of your pathetic croaking.”
“Why?” Harris whispered. “Why us?”
“I was bored,” Nym said. He pulled an old fashioned pocket watch from his vest pocket. “That said, I have wasted enough time here. I'm afraid I really must be going. Thank you for the diversion. It always pleases me to watch foolish mortals such as yourself fall apart as soon as you are confronted with the unknown and unexpected.”
Nym bowed and turned to the air lock. He paused a moment as he reached it, turning back to Harris. “I suppose I have one consolation for you. You will not need to live long with your grief. I have been enhancing the radiation shields while we speak, but, frankly, I cannot be bothered anymore.” The last thing Harris heard was, “Goodnight little frog.”
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