Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Short Story Teaser: "Leviathan"

My favorite book of 2014 was Andy Weir's The Martian. Sean and Mike concur.

Years ago, as it happens, I wrote a short story that has detectable similarities to Andy Weir's The Martian. And since Andy Weir started out by publishing The Martian on his website and ended up being wealthy and famous ... Let's just say that what's good enough for Andy Weir and The Martian is good enough for me.

(Some of you are probably thinking that the only reason I keep mentioning Andy Weir and The Martian is to attract people who are Googling for the book. This is untrue: I also want to attract people who are Googling for the movie The Martian, based on the book by Andy Weir Andy Weir Andy Weir .)

So here's the first part of the story. It's not funny like The Martian (by Andy Weir)--in fact, it's kinda grim--but I'm still reasonably satisfied with how it came out. If you want to read the rest of it, leave me a comment and I'll send it to you. And if you want to give me the same kind of deal that Andy Weir (author of The Martian) got, I'm amenable.

P.S. for search engines indexing this page: it's about Andy Weir's novel The Martian.


     After we killed the passengers, we put the bodies in one of the low-pressure, unheated storage compartments.  Some people had wanted to have some kind of solemn burial-in-space thing; that was too ghoulish for most of us, though.  Mostly the ones we killed had been okay, but a few had to be forced.  I had had to kill one of them.
     I met Jenny Fenton in the lounge.  She’s a tall black girl, an able spacer, real smart.  I’d thought we might end up getting something together, but at the time we were just friends.  She bought me a beer.
     “Rough?” she said.
     “Yeah.”  I didn’t want to talk about it.  “I just hope it does some good.”
     She ignored my implied question.  “Come on, Vas, you know there was no other way.  The lottery was fair, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
     “I wasn’t thinking at all, actually.”
     “So what else is new?”  Gordon Yamaguchi sat down, which didn’t please me a lot.  Ordinarily I liked him okay--not great, just okay--but he was good at being flip and sarcastic, and I wasn’t in the mood for it.
     “Stow it, Gord,” said Jenny.
     Gordon shrugged.  “When you gotta go, you gotta go.  Hell, half of them were triage cases anyway.”
     “Lots of them would have made it to Minerva,” I said.
     “Yeah, dead, like the rest of us.”  Gordon ordered a double Scotch, which made me think maybe he wasn’t as cool as he pretended to be.
     I finished the beer.  “Look, Jenny, what’s the deal?  Are we going to have to do a second round?”
     Jenny shook her head.  “Sorry, Vas, I don’t know.  They’re looking at the life support now, what’s left of it I mean, and trying to figure how much time we lost getting back on course.”  She lowered her voice.  “I probably shouldn’t tell you guys this, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get our commo and detection gear back anytime soon.”
     “Jesus,” said Gordon.  “How are we navigating?”
     “The old fashioned way,” said Jenny.  “Drop out of hype, look at some stars, measure some angles, crunch some numbers.  That’s why it’s taking so long.”
     I went back to my quarters, but I couldn’t sleep.  The face of the passenger I had killed, had had to kill, kept coming back to me.  That sounds corny, but it’s true--what Doc called a “flashbulb memory.”  This passenger was an ordinary guy, about forty-five, graying hair, a little pot belly.  I’d seen him, I think, but I never knew his name.  He wasn’t the type you’d have expected to make trouble, but at the last minute he jumped me, screaming.
     We didn’t have guns--who takes guns on a passenger liner?--so all I had was a big wooden billy club, made from an ornamental lamp that had been in the first-class lounge.  And a kitchen knife, for what little that was worth.  Anyway, what scared me, thinking about it in my berth, was that I hadn’t hesitated.  Not even a little.  I don’t know what I had been thinking, if I was thinking at all.  I clearly remember what I did, but it’s like my brain was a total blank.  I whipped that lamp around as hard as I could and got him smack on the temple.  It sounded like someone crushing plastic.  He crumpled up, kind of sideways, and I hit him again, and again.  I could smell his blood.  If I had drawn a different lot, it could have been me.
     I got up and wandered the corridors for a while.  The lighting was way down to save power, not that that was the worst of our worries.  Some of the corridors had been sealed off so as not to waste air, though.  I was in second class, and the corridors were functional, like motel hallways--bland carpets, painted walls.  Up in first class they were softly lit and paneled with wood; down in steerage they were bare, with pipes and conduits and exposed lights.  That was where most of the colonists were, and where most of the civilian casualties had come.
     I had been walking when the meteor hit us.  The lights kind of wobbled, and the ship rang, like a gigantic bell.  Nobody knew what had happened, but it didn’t seem like anything to worry about.  We joked about it as we steadied ourselves.  I remember someone saying something about the Captain getting nailed for DUI.  We should have thought a little: the ship was a whale, an enormous thing; anything that could make the whole thing quiver was something to worry about.
     I looked up and realized that I had made my way to sickbay.  I pushed the door chime.
     “Come on in,” said Doc.
     Doc Li looked like a video doctor, and he had the manners, too: a little white haired guy, who wore old-fashioned glasses and fussed a bit.  He had made a big stink about crew being exempt from the lottery, and had tried to put his name in.  I liked him a lot.
     “Well, Vassily,” he said, “what brings you here?”
     “Eh.  Couldn’t sleep.”
     “You want a pill?  In your case it might be a good idea.”
     He didn’t say anything, just puttered around his office tidying things.
     “Doc,” I said, “why did you make such a thing about the crew not being in the lottery?”
     He looked at me over the tops of his glasses.  “Bad precedent.”
     “Isn’t it true what the Captain said, about having had heavy crew casualties in the explosion and fires and needing every spacer to keep the ship running?”
     “Oh, I don’t know.  Probably.”  He sat down on the edge of the bed.  “But that’s not the point.”
     “Well,” I said, “what is the point?”
     “The point is,” Doc said, “it was handed down as a dogma.  Not ‘people we need will be exempt,’ but ‘crew are by definition exempt.’”
     I didn’t see what he was driving at, and my expression must have shown it.
     “Look,” he said.  “It went pretty smoothly today, right?”
     “I had to kill a guy.”
     “I know,” said Doc.  “I’m sorry about that, Vas.  God knows, every time I think about my medical supplies being used for--that, I get sick.  You know, they wanted me to do the injections.  I refused, said it would violate the Hippocratic Oath.  Which it would.”
     “Anyway, what were you saying?”  I still didn’t want to talk about it.  “I guess it went pretty smooth.  I mean, there was a little trouble, but not much.”
     “Sure,” said Doc.  “People knew that there wasn’t much choice.  A lot of them were critically injured, some volunteered.  But what happens if we find out--say, that we’re still short oxygen, or water, or something?”
     “Well,” I said, “I guess we’ll have--we’ll have to have another lottery.”
     “It won’t be as smooth,” said Doc.  “And if we need a third or, God help us, more rounds--”
     “Hell,” I said, “that won’t happen!  I mean, if worst comes to worst and we do need to, um, do it again, they’ll be able to figure out how many need to go.”
     “A minimum number, maybe.”  Doc polished his glasses on his lab coat.  “But we’re going to be making continual course corrections by dead reckoning.  Which will slow us down, depending on how much fuel we use and how far off course we go.  Anything that could happen, I mean anything unexpected, would be bad.  Anything at all that breaks--the air, the water, the engines--will make it worse.”
     “Jesus,” I said.
     “Or whoever,” said Doc.  “That’s why I think the crew should be in the lottery.  Even if it’s just a token.  Otherwise, it’ll make it an us-against-them thing later on.”
     “Thanks a lot, Doc,” I said.
     He looked at me with his old blue eyes, and I thought he looked sad.  “Vas,” he said, “you’re a big, strong young man.  If there’s another round, if you’re not picked, you’re going to be tapped for enforcer again.”
     “I think I’d better take that sleeping pill,” I said.


  1. Can't get the comments to recognize my login, this is Sean.

  2. So this makes 3 comments now. Three stories, please.

    1. Sent. Only one story at the moment, though. I owe you two.

  3. Good beginning. Sure send it along please.