Thursday, October 20, 2011

No. 28: Space Dork, Book One

Colonel Nicholas Bonaparte leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the console. He sighed, took a long drag off his cigar and quickly exhaled. He normally didn’t smoke a cigar, in fact he could barely stand them but he always smoked one before coming into port. In less than two hours, his ship, The Napoleon Giant, would be docking in Calgary, Canada.

Bonaparte was not his real last name. He had it changed when he was twenty-four to reflect his heritage. Not that he was a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte but his ancestors had a habit of changing their names to reflect famous people. Bonaparte stared at the riveted steel-gray ceiling while continuing to puff on his cigar. He was 59 and still had good hair—straight black—and perfect health. After a two week rest in Calgary he was going to depart for his 75th expedition into the universe.

“Colonel?” yelled someone from outside in the corridor. Bonaparte fixed his ear in order to hear more clearly and determined who was calling for him. About a second before he figured out who it was, Corporal Anthony DuBecky and Major Clark Etheridge came into the room. “Colonel, we have those reports for you,” Etheridge said.

He handed Bonaparte a clipboard with a list of problems, accidents and used rations that the Giant used over the last five months. Everything seemed in order and Bonaparte quickly initialed the boxes next to lines that read ‘Used boxes of Eighty (80) cans of soup: 15’ and ‘Number of Crew Admitted to Sick Bay During Trip: 130’ and ‘Number of Deaths During Trip: 3’.

Although technology had been clearly advanced, these excursions into the distant ends of the universe were dangerous. Bonaparte’s crew always had the lowest number of fatalities in all of the North American Space Administration. Bonaparte handed the clipboard back to Etheridge and both subordinates left.

The North American Space Administration, or NASA was founded in 2119 when the United States’ NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and Mexican Space Program merged. Each ship basically housed 1 colonel, 2 majors, four captains, four corporals and 400 employees, or technicians. The technicians were the ones that really did all the work. Unfortunately, on this trip two corporals and a captain died because of a massive Scandia leak in the recreation room. When they arrive in Calgary, those people will need to be replaced by NASA.

First Technician Damon Gonzalez tinkered with Robot-2, the Napoleon Giant’s helper android. Every so often, as a screw is tightened, Robot-2 came alive with a piercing “Vreeet!”

“I hate it when they scream,” Gonzalez sighed. He closed the battery compartment and restarted Robot-2. “I’m sorry, 2 but we are going to need to replace you when we dock at Calgary.”

Robot-2 slowly booted up and turned it’s head toward Gonzalez. “Well…you’re…no…spring…chicken…either,” it said slowly as it’ artificial intelligence chip began running.

“It’s nothing against you but after 25 years, it’s time for the Giant to upgrade to the new Robot-6.”

“Despite my flaws, I am still a wonder machine. You, too, have been here for 25 years and I don’t see them replacing you,” Robot-2 said in a snide voice.

“That’s different, 2. I’m human and have years of experience whereas you are basically unable to do anything beyond your programming,” Gonzalez tried not to be too hard on Robot-2.

“Maybe not work-related but as for humans and their emotions, that’s something that cannot be programmed.”

“It’s that type of attitude that has kept you onboard this long. Come on, 2,” Gonzalez put his arm around Robot-2 and they both headed out of the door. “You’ve got lavatories to clean.”

Leroy Rizzo was driving toward Calgary with his sister, Haylie, in the passenger seat. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Rizzo asked.

“I’ve wanted to join NASA ever since I was a kid and I am going through with it. You should also look into this, you could probably qualify for captain or something.”

“People die on those expeditions, Haylie. I’m not gonna sign up for some cockamamie excursion into the unknown and be eaten by an amorphous blob,” Rizzo argued.

“It’s not that bad. I’m going to be on the Napoleon Giant which has had the fewest fatalities of all NASA’s ships,” Haylie defended. “Besides, most deaths are caused by space plagues than being an alien’s dinner.”

“But they’ve still had fatalities. I’m proud that you are following a dream but I don’t think this is worth it,” Rizzo said as the car crossed into the Calgary city limits. As they arrived at the NASA offices, Rizzo continued to complain about joining. They walked into the office and sat down in front of Sgt. Erik Thornehawk.

“Welcome to the North American Space Administration. What can I do for you?” asked Thornehawk.

“I’m Haylie Rizzo and I’m scheduled to join the Napoleon Giant.”

“Let me check here…” Thornehawk searched through a small stack of folders on his desk. “Here you are. All right, I have to ask you a few questions and we’ll get you set up with a badge. Nationality?”

“American,” Haylie answered.

“Do you know the skill level you’re going to be at?”

“I think third technician.”

“I’ll check to make sure. Anything to declare?”

“What do you mean?”

“Anything. A disease, fruit or vegetables, a monkey.”

“Oh. No.”

“Good. And are you healthy and ready to go through the training?”

“I though third techs didn’t do the actual work,” Rizzo interrupted.

“Third techs are the lowest rank on the ship but there’s always the possibility they will need to replace the first and second technicians,” Thornehawk explained. “All right, Miss Rizzo, if you’ll step right through that door, Elsie will assist you with getting your badge.”

Haylie entered the door and Rizzo stood stupidly in the center of the room. “Is there anything I can help you with, sir?” Thornehawk asked.

“God, no! I wouldn’t join this outfit no matter what. This job is a death trap!” Rizzo rolled his eyes and prepared to exit the doors. Before he could, a woman came in. She had shoulder-length black hair with subtle highlights. Her eyes made her seem stuck-up but as you looked at her smile, everything changed.

“Hi, I’m Maria Sanchez and I’m the new captain of the Napoleon Giant,” she said with a slight Spanish accent.

“Ah, Captain Sanchez. Do you have anything to declare?” asked Thornehawk.


“All right, Captain, just go into that office and Elsie will assist you in getting a badge,” Thornehawk pointed at the same door Haylie went into. Rizzo watched Maria disappear through the door and paused for a couple of seconds. He went up to Thornehawk and cleared his throat. “Yes, can I help you?” he asked.

“Yeah, on second thought, is there any way I could join the Napoleon Giant?” Rizzo chuckled.

The three-mile long Napoleon Giant landed gently on the airstrip in Calgary. The crew emerged from the many doors and began congratulating each other on another mission well done. After about thirty minutes, the large group dissipated and the airfield was left silent. There was however, no rest for the captains. The captains immediately had to meet at NASA Headquarters and train the new recruits.

At HQ, Captain Anastasia Fielding took the new corporals, which included Rizzo; Captain Lou Schayer took the new captain, which only included Rizzo; and Captain Xin Huang took the technicians, which included Haylie.

Captain Fielding was a beautiful older woman with long brown hair tied back into a ponytail. She led Rizzo, another guy and the Giant’s current corporals, DuBecky and Kelly Nugent, into a small room and lined them up against the wall. “Welcome to the North America Space Administration. I am Captain Anastasia Fielding and these two are Corporals Anthony DuBecky and Kelly Nugent of the Napoleon Giant. For the next two weeks we are going to train you on the qualifications given to corporals,” DuBecky and Nugent walked up and stood next to Fielding. “The senior corporals will take it from here.”

“Greetings,” began Nugent. “I am going to be honest with you: being a corporal is a pain in the ass! You are in charge of overseeing all 400 technicians and all the technicians. Everyone will essentially be yelling at you…”

“If I wanted that, I’d go back home with mom,” Rizzo said under his breath.

“Corporals are the middleman between techs and captains. Despite being a messenger, being a corporal on the Napoleon Giant is not as bad as it is on other ships,” DuBecky admitted.

Rizzo rolled his eyes as the voices trailed off in his brain and he silently went to sleep, standing up and with his eyes open.

With less than an hour to go until the Napoleon Giant launches, Rizzo was in the Astro Bar downing shot after shot of cement bulldog. Sitting next to him was Corporal Manford Cardy, also a new corporal who was just sitting and nursing his third beer. “I don’t know why I’m doing this. I hate outer space, I hate working,” Rizzo voice, although drunk and slurred, was panicky.

“What did you do before this?” asked Cardy.

Rizzo paused for a second and nodded his head, “Bum,” he replied.

“How did you live? How did you make ends meet?”

“I lived in my mom’s basement and slept all day.”

“Wait. You have a college degree,” Cardy said.

“And a Ph.D. in neurology,” Rizzo revealed.

“Oh my God! Then why aren’t you a doctor or something?” Cardy shrieked. “You could be a millionaire with your smarts.”

“I hate working. That was the point of me being a bum. Now look at me. Following a woman I haven’t said two words to into space on a year-long journey. Have I lost my mind?”

“I joined so I could be closer to my girlfriend,” Cardy revealed.

“Oh, is she one of the new technicians?” asked Rizzo.

“No, she’s Captain Fielding,” Cardy smiled.

“You ol’ dog you,” Rizzo guffawed and downed one last bulldog. “Let’s get going. Space waits for no man.”

Cardy and Rizzo got up from the bar and left, heading toward the landing strip where the Napoleon Giant was waiting.

Bonaparte loved the sound his Giant made as it made it’s way through Earth’s atmosphere. Everything was perfect for what was to be the longest excursion the Giant had ever been through. Bonaparte walked through the corridors and inspected several things for a second time. On his way back to his quarters, Bonaparte ran into Majors Etheridge and Eric Hanson. “How’s everything boys?”

“Everything’s great, Colonel. The crew is all settled and ready to go to work once we pass the moon,” Etheridge reported.

“However, I regret to report that several of the crew show up on board visibly drunk, sir,” Hanson tattled in his British accent. “I suggest they be reprimanded especially considering two of them were corporals.”

“Oh come on, Major. We’re leaving for an entire year into the unknown of space. If a few want to down a couple of drinks to make it easier to get on board and say ‘good-bye’ to their home planet, then so be it. Quit being a douchebag and lighten up,” Bonaparte slapped Hanson on the back and entered his quarters.

Etheridge shook his head and walked away. Hanson continued to stand, at attention, in front of Bonaparte’s quarter’s door. He turned around, still at attention, turned his head around, stuck his tongue out at the door and plodded off down the corridor.

Rizzo and Cardy just happened to be assigned to the same room. Cardy was reading a book in his bunk while Rizzo stared out the window. “Didn’t you bring anything to kill time?” Cardy asked.

“No. I told you, this was a split decision. I wasn’t prepared for anything,” Rizzo sighed. “All you did was bring a book.”

“Yeah but it’s War and Peace so it’ll take me the better part of a year to read it.” Rizzo sighed a couple of times as he watched the Earth slowly get smaller through the porthole. “Could you stop doing that? It’s rather annoying,” Cardy asked.

“Sorry,” Rizzo replied as he waved ‘good-bye’ to Earth from the window of his new home.