The first bit of my Nanowrimo story, I Left My Heart On Omicron Ceti 3
Be warned, it’s unedited. So sorry if there are typos I missed.
Iwan couldn’t decide if his luck had turned for the better, or if it had remained at its typical worst.
Iwan had worked in the Galactic Force’s front office for six years. He’d joined the GF in the hopes of being one of those swoopy, sex magnetic space pilots who traveled the universe and scored with every attractive being from here to the Crab Nebula. There was one teeny tiny problem: Iwan was terrified of flying. Both in atmosphere and outside it, even as a passenger. The only way he got on the ship that took him from Earth to the GF training facility in orbit was some pills given to him by the Docbot. Now, some of those space jocks took pills, but not ones that put you in a temporary coma and made you dream of hordes of man eating bananas trying to catch you and put you in a pudding bath.
So that’s how Iwan ended up in the front office, manning the complaints desk on Space Station Alpha. Yes, he was still on a station, but as long as he didn’t take a look out the window, he felt like he was back on Earth, inexplicably living in some kind of hybrid mall/condo complex where he also happened to work, but still Earth. He programmed the smart-windows in his apartment to display random pleasant landscapes, so he never had to see space and get gripped by anxiety all over again.
Today was supposed to be a typical day of manning the desk and daydreaming about being a dashing space pilot – who didn’t have a panic attack when on a plane or ship – but when he arrived, supervisor Marlene was at his desk, holding a cake, and surrounded by his fellow office workers. “Congratulations!” she said, flashing a toothy grin. She always seemed to have many more teeth than the average human, making him wonder if she was one of those body modders, but he’d never thought of a way to ask that wasn’t potentially insulting. “You won the big lottery!”
The GF had a regular lottery for all of its grounded employees, the ones behind the lines doing the unglamorous, tedious jobs. Just being an employee meant you were entered, and even though they gave away lots of random stuff, he’d never once won a damn thing. Iwan considered the possibility that this was a big joke, but then rejected it, because what would be the point? Also, there was cake. Most jokes didn’t include cake. “Really? What did I win?”
Marlene clapped her hands together eagerly. “An all expenses paid trip to Omicron Ceti Three!”
And that’s when Iwan wondered if his luck was good, or its usual crappy self. “The war zone?”
“It was never a war zone,” his office mate Vlad said. He was the office know-it-all, which made sense, since he manned the information desk. “It was a disputed zone for a little bit, but since the government and the rebels reached a détente, it’s been back open to GF traffic.”
“It’s really reaching out to tourists now,” Mallie, head of the PR desk, added. “They’re trying to re-establish themselves as a planetary getaway.”
“And not a disputed zone,” Vlad added pointlessly.
This was so much to take in Iwan absorbed it while barley hearing it, slumping down in his chair and eying the cake. He couldn’t read the alien symbols written in icing, but at least that told him OoOfffFf from the Alien Outreach desk had bought the cake. S/he was a nice hermaphrodite. “Is there any way I can give it back?” Iwan asked.
Marlene slapped his shoulder. “C’mon, lighten up! It’s not every day you win a free trip.”
“Have you ever even left the base?” Vlad asked. “I don’t think you’ve ever taken a vacation day.”
“I’m a homebody,” he said. His fear of flight was just too embarrassing, especially since there were pharmaceutical remedies for it. Also in this day and age, it was positively antiquated. It was like suddenly coming down with the clap.
“Life is adventure,” Mallie enthused. “Isn’t that why we’re in the Galactic Force?”
Iwan was tempted to point out that no, he was in the GF because Earth was boring and full of xenophobic rednecks, but he sensed that wouldn’t go down well.
So the cake was cut and served, and Iwan attempted to eat his fear away to no avail. It usually worked best when there was some kind of mind altering substance involved.
When he returned to his place at the end of his work shift, Hally, his automated home computer chirped, “Congratulations! I have you booked on the USS Sunrise for the tenth of -”
“Hally, do I still have a psych program?” he interrupted, throwing his coat on the couch.
There was a pause as she checked her system. He collapsed into the arm chair, and the automated drink cart rolled up, doffing its hood and showing him its ware. “Make me a Collodian Starbust,” he said, and tiny mechanical hands emeged from the cart and began mixing the beverage. “Extra bitter lystats, please.”
“As you wish,” the automated bartender replied. This month, Iwan had programmed it to sound like it had been breathing nothing but helium, just because it amused him.
“You asked me to delete that program,” Hally finally said.
“I know. But you didn’t, did you?”
“No. It’s part of the normal maintenance software for all higher bipedal organism. I simply hid it in a reserve file.”
“Could you pull it out and activate it? I think I need a visit.”
The bartender bot held out a long crystal looking glass, full of the burbling orange fluid that could only be a Collodian Starburst. Yes, they were an acquired taste, but the hint of opium usually hit the spot after a hard day listening to people complain. He sipped it, letting the citrus taste of it seemingly expand and explode in his mouth . “Hally is there any way to compress a Collodian Starburst into a pill form?”
“Fantastic. Can you make me a … half dozen for my trip? No, wait, how about a dozen?”
“That number seems excessive.”
“Better too many than not enough” he said as he felt the hint of opium start to sink in. He could feel his body relax, sag into the chair, and he began to wonder why he was so freaked out by the thought of going on a space cruiser. They were the homeliest, safest things outside of a baby sling. The number one injury anyone got on those was indigestion. He could do this. Why couldn’t he do this?
“Program recovered,” Hally said, and after a moment, a bland unisex voice said, ”Therapy program activated. How may I help you?”
“Why am I afraid to fly?” Iwan wondered.
“Why do you think you’re afraid to fly?” the program replied.
“Oh, goddamn it, end program,” Iwan said, suddenly aware of why he had attempted to throw away the thing. It was idiocy.
“It might help you if you actually went along with it,” Hally said.
“If I knew why I hated flying, I wouldn’t ask.”
“But if you don’t know, the program can’t know either.”
Maybe it was just the Starburst kicking in, but Iwan found it impossible to follow that logic. He drank the rest of his cocktail, and said to the bartender bot “Another one.”
Okay, so if he couldn’t figure out why he was so scared of flying, at least he could get loaded and forget about it.
Iwan woke up to Hally saying, “- get up get up get up –“
“You know how annoying that is?” he groaned, covering his face with his pillow.
“That’s why I do it,” she replied. “There is no other way to get you up.”
He sat up, groggy, and saw the time projection on the wall. He had forty minutes to get cleaned up, dressed, have breakfast, and make it to the launch platform. He’d had his closet bot pack his luggage for him, because he hated packing. He also hated unpacking. There was no point in any packing stage he enjoyed. He recalled his mother referring to him as a fussbudget, and wondered if that was true. Mainly he just figured he was lazy. Letting inertia carry you through life was never advised, but boy, was it easy.
He took a nice, long massage shower, had a breakfast burrito the cook bot made to perfection for him, and then shouldered his rucksack before grabbing his wheeled bag. “Keep everything ship shape for me, Hally,” he said, taking a final glance around his clean apartment. “No parties while I’m gone.”
“Jokes are wasted on computers,” Hally replied. “Especially ones as terrible as that.”
“Hey, where’s that friendly functionality promised in the brochures?” he replied, and left before he got another smart ass remark. Why did his computers always turn smart ass on him? Was it him? Did he drive them to it? He’d ask the therapy program, but it would only piss him off.
There were quite a few people waiting at the launch platform lobby, including many middle aged couples and quartets, either have new, second, or eighteenth honeymoons. There were few aliens, although he did spot a squidlike Latanic in a water filled bubble suit, chatting amiably with a reptiloid Collodian. Iwan wanted to join them but didn’t, because he didn’t want to intrude.
He just felt weird around his fellow humans. He felt better around aliens, whom he assumed hadn’t had enough experience with humans to know what an awkward weirdo he was. Was that normal? Again, he’d ask his therapy program, but that wasn’t better than useless.
Iwan retrieved a complimentary cup of Icodian spring water and washed down one of his Collodian Starbust pills to take the edge off … well, everything, and was still enjoying the fizzy coolness when a man behind him said, “Iwan Li?”