You Can’t Go Out For A Cigarette In Space
By Justin H.K.
The man woke up to a gentle vibration from below, and a strange hissing from above. The sterile looking, clear top to his medical sarcophagus broke into two as he was slowly lifted from below. A heady mix of invigorating scents were pumped into the room from unseen vents. The man rubbed his eyes and pushed himself upwards with the palms of his hands. He felt surprisingly strong. He imagined he was waking from quite a long sleep, but he wasn’t sure. On a table he found a pair of red shoes, clean white undergarments, a blue jumpsuit, an ID lanyard for Eric Matthews, and an espresso machine spilling the final drops into a small white coffee cup. Eric took a long drink from the cup, stretched, and got dressed. The doors opened before him with a now familiar hissing and Eric left the room, rubbing his eyes once again with his free hand.
Eric remembered why he was here for the most part, but he didn’t remember much of how he had gotten here. He wasn’t surprised, he worked for a space pioneering company and this was a perfectly reasonable place for him to be, but he couldn’t recall the exact circumstances that had led him to standing on this very spaceship right now.
Eric headed up to the bridge, stopping in a small kitchen on the way for another cup of coffee, and making a brief search for his #1 Dad mug ( but figuring he hadn’t been allowed to bring it after seeing a shelf full of identical white mugs). He was greeted by a startlingly warm computer voice that reminded him vaguely of the third grade science teacher that he had harbored a small crush on. There were gigantic electronic displays lining the middle third of the half-moon shaped room. Most simulated a view outside the ship, which was found to bring great peace to pilots of the pioneer spacecraft, but did very little in aiding practical navigation. Instead, most critical information was found nearer the center of the room where a very large, plain flat screen monitor was crowded by instrument panels and auxiliary consoles. Eric wandered toward the main console and finding no suitable place to put his coffee cup, set it on an auxiliary console he remembered to be less than critical.
He found the spaceship was headed to an uninhabited planet in the Omicron Cluster. He searched for records of other ships headed to the same planet, as it was typical for the company to send a dozen or so colony ships at a time, but was unable to find anything. This made Eric incredibly anxious, but he couldn’t quite place what brought him this dread. He felt sick. Eric rushed to the nearest lavatory and nearly smashed his head in an urgent dive to expel his vomit into the waiting toilet.
Eric was slowly beginning to remember more. For example, Eric now remembered how easy it was to succumb to awakening indigestion. It was always recommended employees eat a plain ration within thirty minutes of waking for a shift. Instead, Eric had numerous cups of espresso. He hoped his overconsumption of caffeine was also the source of the previous unexplained dread. Eric got up, and drank water from the sink. He knew Edie would be giving him hell if he was home. He opened the cupboard below the sink and grabbed a new toothbrush.
As he cleansed his mouth of coffee breath and vomit he noticed there was already a toothbrush in the holder on the sink. Odd. He hadn’t found any records from the last shift in the briefing on the main console, so he supposed it wasn’t surprising that they weren’t great cleaners either. He tossed the old toothbrush, and then the one he just used because, well, vomit. He was finally starting to feel hungry, but more than anything, he really wanted a cigarette. He tried to quit a few times, but he still had a hidden stash he’d go out and smoke those nights he couldn’t sleep. He’d just go out and chain smoke while staring at the stars, never ending up sleeping. Eric went into the kitchen and prepared two plain rations.
After eating, Eric started to work on the daily checklist he found on the main console. He grabbed the janitorial cart from the main supply closet and began to clean any dirty spots he saw (and there were a frustrating amount, the last shift was a slob) while doing a survey of the BOA (Bridge Operating Area). He was disappointed, but not surprised, to find out all of the auxiliary wings were closed off at his clearance level. He honestly didn’t remember his title, but his quickly remembered acquisition of the janitorial cart led him to believe he wasn’t near the top of the totem pole. The work was satisfying, but menial, and Eric found some old Motown records in the digital archive to play on the PA system. Eric hummed along, occasionally singing an off-key note or two when he remembered the words. Every once in a while, as he swept, he would spin elegantly with the broom, imagining himself dancing with Edie in the kitchen. Unfortunately, in no time at all, the BOA was spotless and Eric headed to the main recreation area, sighing melodramatically as he flopped onto a stiff blue couch.
Eric spent a few hours on the couch flipping through the large archive of television shows. He found a couple of decent cooking shows, but the verve in them dissipated after a quick look inside the pantry of the ship kitchen. After that he watched a bit of some old hockey and boxing matches, but found himself unable to commit to anything for longer than fifteen minutes or so. Deciding he’d probably been sitting around too long anyways, Eric put some old rock music onto the PA and started to jog around the BOA, occasionally shadow boxing to the more motivational choruses, until he exhausted himself. He was able to bypass the screen in the shower so he could watch certain “documentary films.” He found one with a brunette that reminded him of Edie, and lonely and bored, had a private moment with himself in the shower before rinsing off the sweat, the sleep, and the sadness.
Eric was in a paradoxical state of exhaustion and anxiety that drove him to spend an hour in his bed, determined to sleep, before rising and making his way to the kitchen, naked save a blanket. He knew he wouldn’t be able to find anything too potent, but located some light beer in the reserve pantry and began to drink with determination. After chugging a few over the kitchen sink, he threw some beers into the refrigerator and bundled the rest with him in his blanket. He made his way to the bridge, and sat down on a stiff swivel chair, tossing his feet with abandon onto the main console. Unsure what else to do, he drank, and stared at the simulated stars.
There was a knock at the door. The doors were automatic. Eric felt weightless. Eric drifted over to the door. He forgot his blanket. No one was at the door. The door stayed open as Eric walked away. Eric went down the hallway instinctively. The hallways twisted as Eric walked. Eric walked to the room where he woke up. He heard a familiar hissing sound and the top of the medical sarcophagus split in two. Someone pushed themselves upwards with the palms of their hands and waved. They stood up. They wore red shoes and a blue jumpsuit. The name tag was blank. They had a face, but Eric couldn’t see it.
“I feel overdressed,” said an atonal voice. It reverberated through the room. The ceilings were much higher than Eric remembered. The figure took off their face. It looked like Eric. It looked like Edie. It took off its shoes, and unzipped its jumpsuit while walking towards Eric. It took Eric’s hand, and he followed it, entranced, and aroused. The door to the auxiliary wing opened. Inside there was a bright light. Eric followed it into the light, where they embraced. What happened was warm, and thoughtless. It slipped from his memory before it had even happened.
He lay naked next to himself. He closed his eyes.
“Here, I know you’ve got a hidden pack.” Said Edie, leaning over to Eric and kissing him softly. She handed him a pack of cigarettes. Eric began to put on the red pair of shoes.
“Where are you going?” It said in Eric’s voice.
“To smoke.” Asserted Eric.
“You can’t go out for a cigarette in space.” it sneered atonally.
Eric woke up sweaty, and sticky from the night before. What a strange dream, he thought. Eric began to lift himself from the chair to find a pack of cigarettes in his left hand.
Eric showered quickly, staring at the pack of cigarettes on the sink as he washed himself off. He dried quickly and got dressed while still slightly damp. He broke off the leg of the nightstand by his bed and brought it with him as he walked carefully over to the room where he woke. As he approached he could see a bright light shining from the open door of the auxiliary wing . Eric slowly walked through the door, the leg of the nightstand held high. Eric stood near the entrance to the auxiliary section for a moment, afraid to move on while blinded by the intense lighting. He brought up his other hand to shield his eyes, and slowly made out a wall full of sterile medical ephemera and large clear glass vats. On the other side of the room was a medical sarcophagus similar to the one he had woken from, a large computer console, and a separate console attached to a giant steel device which thrummed and poured out heat and foul odor. As Eric approached the consoles flickered on. Eric looked to the screen attached to the large device. It said “Shift End Clone Disposal Incinerator” followed by a user ID and password prompt. On the floor next to the console were a pair of red shoes and a discarded blue jumpsuit. Eric looked closer at the nametag on the jumpsuit. It said “Edie,” but it was clear someone had used a marker to simply add some lines to the original name, “Eric.” Eric felt dread. He felt sick. He threw up unto the red shoes, and wiped his mouth off with his sleeve. He looked over to the main console. It said “Clone Programming Console” followed by a user ID and password prompt. On a sticky note next the main console was written
“User ID: EverythingIsEric
Eric tried to throw up again, but he was empty.
“Alert! Critical Navigational Error.” said Edie from the bridge.
Eric stared at the note for a while, especially conscious of his breathing. Sometimes it said something else. Sometimes it did not.
“Alert! Critical Navigational Error.”
Eric ran to the bridge. He could see, simulated among the stars, was movement. Jagged little things. Eric approached the main console. It had already found the solution, it just needed authorization.
Eric walked back to the room with the bright lights. He opened the hatch to the incinerator and lit a cigarette.