By Lee Widener
"Why don't we shut off the radio and the signal beam?"
"Can we do that?"
"Yah, I've been researching it for a while now, and it's pretty simple. They would freak out in Mission Control."
"Yes, they would. Let's do it."
Rogers tapped away on the shipboard computer for a few minutes and then smiled at Simmons.
"We're totally cut off from Mission Control. They have no idea if we're still out here, if we're dead, or what."
"That should cause a bit of panic."
The astronauts smiled at each other. Their pulses raced a little quicker thinking of the disturbance they were causing millions of miles away. Boredom had become quite a problem for them. They had read everything the computer could offer them, watched all the available video feeds, listened to all the music and played all the video games until they knew every move. They had talked about every possible subject until they were exhausted. They had stared into space until they knew every inch of what they could see. They had taken turns zapping space debris until that held no interest any more. Even the recreational drugs they had been provided offered no more interest.
Their mission had years left, and keeping themselves occupied had become a challenge. The computer handled almost every job needed and the men had come to feel they were superfluous. Throwing a little scare into Mission Control seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to pass the time.
“How long should we wait?” Simmons pondered.
“At least a day or two. Let them sweat for a while. The press will get wind of the fact they've lost contact with us and they'll have to come up with some bullshit excuse.”
Simmons laughed at this thought. For the next few days they went about what few tasks they had with a renewed sense of joy. Their rations tasted better and they even did their exercise routines again. The panorama in front of them held a rejuvenated beauty. Even taking a shit seemed more interesting.
“What spin do you think they'll put on this?” Simmons asked. “Technical glitch?”
“No, that would mean the program's not perfect. My money says they'll claim it was a planned exercise.”
After the novelty of their prank began to wear off they decided to turn the radio and the signal beam back on. Rogers tapped on the computer again.
“And here we go,” he announced, pressing the enter key with a sense of satisfaction.
Immediately an alarm started sounding. The radio lit up and blinked frantically.
“Jesus! What's the alarm for?” Simmons complained.
Rogers tapped a key and the radio announced, “You have seventeen messages, all marked urgent. To listen to the first message, press enter.”
After he killed the alarm, Rogers pressed the key and the monitor lit up with an image of a worried looking man in a suit and tie. He began talking.
“Calling Mission Alpha 12. We seem to have lost contact. Is everything okay? Please respond.”
Rogers and Simmons both burst out laughing. They cycled through the next several messages, each of them getting more and more frantic. The last few were from Clarke himself, the Mission Coordinator. The two astronauts were beside themselves with laughter. They were laughing so hard they were in tears.
“I think they really believe we're dead,” Rogers gasped. “This is hilarious!”
He pressed enter one more time for the very last message. It was from Clarke, and for a long moment the man just stared into the monitor. He gulped visibly, and glanced away for a moment. Finally he took a deep breathe of air and began talking.
“Rogers and Simmons... if you're still out there... we have something we need to let you know about. You haven't responded to any of our previous messages, so we have no idea if you're still alive, or what. If you are, I pray this message reaches you in time. We've been tracking a massive family of meteors for the last few days, and as crazy as it sounds, it's headed on a collision course for your ship. This anomaly is thousands of miles across. You must begin evasive maneuvers immediately. Repeat- you must begin evasive maneuvers IMMEDIATELY. If you receive this message, please reply.”
“What the hell?” Rogers looked over at Simmons. He wasn't laughing any more.
Just then the men heard a sharp ping, and then another, and then dozens of them as tiny meteors deflected from the ship's shield. Rogers flipped the switch that turned on the external cam just in time to see a huge meteor coming straight for the ship. In less than a few seconds the chunk of rock made contact with the ship and reduced it to miniscule rubble.
The astronauts had been cured of their boredom.
- - -
Until recently Lee Widener was known primarily as a playwright. He is now moving into the realm of fiction and has had recent acceptances at Yesteryear Fiction and the print zine Signals.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
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