by Stephen L. Moss
We were all there, crowded around the door to sick bay, when the stowaway came to.
"Where am I?" he asked with a thick Russian accent. The urge to strangle him came over
me, but I quashed it. The war was over. We were all friends now, right?
"You're safe," Doc Obel told him, though that couldn't be farther from the truth. "What's
"Grovnik," he answered. "What ship am I on?"
Obel hesitated, the way docs do when they're about to tell a patient the disease is
terminal, hoping God will strike them down before they have a chance to deliver the bad news.
"There's no easy way to say this," Obel finally said. "You're on the Second Chance, a
Global CDC quarantine ship. Everyone here is infected with influx, a space born pathogen with
no cure. I don't know how you got here, but I'm afraid you can never leave."
How he'd gotten here was by getting himself sealed into our latest food shipment from
the International Space Station. Roberts had found him, zipped up in an emergency enviro-suit,
nearly out of air.
"I just about took his leg off with my saw before I noticed him!" I'd heard Roberts say
when we'd all gathered to see what was going on.
I had pushed my way to the door by this point. I wanted to see Grovnik's face in the
window when the doc gave him the news. He put on a good show, tried to look appropriately
terrified. He even clamped his hand over his nose and mouth defensively. I expect most of the
guys believed him. But I didn't, because I was watching his eyes.
He was exactly where he wanted to be.
"Captain on deck," someone snapped, and we all came to attention. Grovnik, too, I
noticed. Ex-military, obviously. Maybe I'd fought against him in the war.
The Captain skipped in like a child, picking his nose with one hand and exploring his
unzipped fly with the other.
"As you is," he said, his words slurred as if he'd been drinking for three days. Then he
laughed, a giddy, hysterical sound that I still hadn't gotten used to. I glanced Grovnik's way
again. His jaw dropped open in shock. I figured somebody should explain, but it was considered
rude to talk about the Captain in his presence. I would just have to fill the newcomer in later.
We supposedly have a mission on the Second Chance. A command structure, the whole
nine yards. The computer gives us the illusion that we're in control. It was the Captain--we
called him Cyrus back then, back when he still had some of his marbles--who charted our true
course and compared it to the one we'd programmed. They were about as similar as kerosene and
rat meat. Our "mission" is monitoring global cloud patterns. We were trained to push buttons and
turn calibration dials on a whole array of electronic gizmos on the observation deck. But we
stopped showing up for work and no one down on the surface complained. So now we just do
what we please.
The flux--that's what we call it--takes your mind from you piece by piece. They say by
the end you're just like a big baby, mewling and pissing on yourself. It wasn't hard to see that the
Cap would end up just like that before too many more months went by. There were others just
behind him, who couldn't remember words all of a sudden, or found themselves suddenly trying
to take a dump on an easy chair instead of in the head. The rest of us felt more or less normal, but
were forced to watch the daily decline of the worst cases, and wait for it to happen to us.
So partly for fun, partly to piss off the bastards on the ground, we took to promoting the
sickest of us to the highest positions of authority. We figured out how to reprogram the
computer's crew command spreadsheet--we've been able to outsmart it on the small stuff, but
not on anything important. Now, Captain Cyrus handles the weekly briefings with our planet-side
liaisons while we all listen in. It's so funny it almost makes being here worth it.
We waited a beat to see if the Cap would have more to say, but he kept walking down the
corridor. A loud fart escaped him before he turned the corner toward the officers' quarters. He
giggled gleefully at that.
I looked back at Grovnik. He was still staring after our fearless leader like he'd seen a
ghost. I suppose that in a way he had.