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Science Fiction

“CONKLIN!” Havaderr wailed. His face was the brightest red and steaming with heat. The veins in his neck throbbed noticeably, but he waited as still as he could for Conklin to answer. A buzz came in over the intercom above Havaderr’s head.

     “Hey, was that you shouting, Havaderr?” Conklin’s voice crackled with static and attitude. Havaderr shut his eyes and repeated his Zen mantra in his head.

     “Havaderr? What’s your problem?”

     Havaderr’s eyes opened, and in the most even tone he could manage; he said his mantra out loud.

     “I am calm. I am calm. I can overcome this. I am strong. I am strong. I can overcome anything.” Havaderr spoke through gritted teeth, spittle flying across the room as he focused on keeping his anger inside rather than shouting and blowing the place up with Conklin inside.

     “Hey guy, are you going to answer me or what?” Conklin’s voice implied his own rising impatience. Havaderr moved to the button on the wall nearest him to respond.

     “Yes, Conklin, I was shouting,” Havaderr said as evenly as his rage would allow. “Get your ass to 4A NOW!” As he trailed off, he clenched his teeth together so hard he felt a grinding that might as well have been a tooth chipping. Before Conklin’s reply came, Havaderr heard an irritated sigh over the intercom.

     “Yeah, be right ther-.” Conklin barely finished his sentence before releasing the button, cutting himself off at the end.

     

     Moments later, a door slid open down the hall, several yards away from Havaderr. Conklin came into the hall, looking both ways before spotting Havaderr.

     “What the hell, why are you shouting and-“ Havaderr cut Conklin off with a finger to his mouth to silence him.

     “I’m going to show you something in this room behind me, and it’s best if your mouth is shut when I do.” Havaderr’s voice wavered, he was still trying to control his anger. Conklin looked confused as ever but kept his mouth shut. With a worried expression, Conklin followed Havaderr to another door. Havaderr stood aside and opened the door for Conklin to enter alone. Conklin stood in the doorway staring, then Havaderr shoved him wholly into the room from behind and closed the door.

     “Havaderr, what’s going on? What the fu-ahhhh!” The intercom inside the restroom was unnecessary, but Havaderr appreciated it right now. He would have heard Conklin screaming from quite a distance, but hearing Conklin’s disgust and horror in surround sound was more pleasing. A slice of anger slid off his shoulders and a small smile appeared on his face.

     The door rattled, clearly Conklin on the other side trying to burst through, but Havaderr held the lock button, keeping Conklin trapped inside.

     “What kind of game is this Havaderr? Let me out, for Christ's sake!” Conklin was panicking, releasing more anger from Havaderr’s shoulders and filling his belly with laughter.

     “This is no game, friend. This is you coming face to face with your own incompetence,” Havaderr said over the intercom, still smiling.

     “Havaderr! Let me out of here!” Conklin screamed and started ramming the door again.

     “I don’t think so, Conklin. If you look to the left of the door, I’ve been kind enough to set you up with plenty of cleaning supplies for the job, which is a lot more than you did for me. I’d suggest you start tackling that shit before it starts tackling you.” Havaderr exploded with laughter, letting go of the intercom and floating backward as he held onto his stomach. He laughed so hard he couldn’t breathe. Conklin kept banging on the door and pleading to be released, but Havaderr couldn’t hear anything over the roar of his own hysteria.

     Curled up in fetal position, floating in the hallway, Havaderr worked himself out of his fits of laughter. He wiped the joyful tears from his eyes and started breathing normally again. He moved back to the intercom.

     “Look mate, this restroom was in your sector to clean. Obviously, you did a piss poor job,” Havaderr grabbed his side, holding the laughter in after such a quality pun. “I told you, cleaning the restrooms would be the most important job, because if it isn’t done right, this happens. Floating excrement!” Conklin didn’t say anything, but Havaderr heard him kick or punch the door.

     “I’ll take your silence as admitting you did a sloppy job the first time. You know, I needed to do some business, and I walk into the restroom greeted with a turd to the face, which I’m assuming belonged to you, so I have no sympathy for you right now. Clean the damn restroom like you were supposed to, and I’ll let you out.” Havaderr waited for a response. He was eager to shower off the stench and stain of human waste from himself before finishing his day.

     “Yeah, alright,” Conklin said over the intercom, sounding defeated and guilty. Havaderr nodded his head and left Conklin to figure out how to clean a restroom with feces floating freely throughout.

 

     “Like I said, not a drop of sympathy for you. Do it right the first time, and we won’t run into stupid problems like that,” Havaderr said coolly, scrubbing at the built-up muck in the corners of the glass.

     Conklin was still cranky from cleaning the restroom the day before, and he meant to let Havaderr know just how little he appreciated the tactless way he was pushed into the situation without warning.

     “Chin up, Conklin. We have one more day before our shift is over, and we can get the hell off this floating heap of death,” Havaderr motioned toward the clear chambers that housed the comatose bodies of several crew members, one of which whose glass he was scrubbing.

     “Remind me, what’s up with these bodies? They’re dead, yeah?” Conklin asked.

     “No, they’re alive, they’re the crew, dumbass,” Havaderr grunted at Conklin. He looked over to see Conklin hovering around the main dashboard, not a rag or mop near him. “And I wouldn’t mind if you got to work while you asked your questions,” he barked. Conklin jumped and reached for a rag tucked into a closed bucket tethered nearby. He started mindlessly wiping at the dashboard without paying close attention.

     “Okay, but how come they’re asleep?” Conklin asked. Havaderr sighed as he paused and rolled his eyes.

     “Do I look like the Captain of this ship? All I know is, this crew is traveling some number of lightyears, so the ship has been programed for regular stops near inhabited planets for maintenance and cleaning. We drew the short straw, so we get to hop from the ship we were on previously, to this one, and then another one before heading back home. Nobody else was this far out into deep space to do the job, so we get a long shift before our break. At least they’re paying us over time, eh?” Havaderr smiled at the thought of a paycheck double its usual amount. He looked in on the half-naked man inside the tube he was cleaning, tapping on the glass with his knuckle and laughing at how strange the sight was.

     Air escaped the edges of the door, and it hissed loudly. The smile fell from Havaderr’s face as he scanned the chamber looking for an explanation. The door swung open and the half-naked man floated out as if to follow. Thankfully, he was attached to a few tubes that kept him reigned in and asleep, but the color left Havaderr’s face once he realized that would only last for so long.

     Havaderr turned to Conklin, who looked just as confused.

     “He just-just-he-“ Havaderr stuttered, unable to decide what he was trying to say. The man’s feet flew upward so his back was parallel to the floor and his right side dipped down. Slowly, he started to spin, so he was upside down. All the while, Havaderr and Conklin stared without any clue how to fix it.

     “Did you touch something?” Havaderr shouted at Conklin, who shook his head wordlessly.

     “I didn’t touch anything!” Havaderr went back to staring at the half-naked man, perplexed. After a minute, Havaderr decided they couldn’t leave the man like that.

     “Get over here and help me with this!” He yelled at Conklin. Still silent, Conklin moved toward Havaderr and the unconscious man. Havaderr and Conklin wore their gravity belts at 85% power to keep from floating off like the man from the tube, but it allowed them a bit more mobility too. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any extras to strap to the man, so he continued to spin and flip through the air.

     One of the wires connecting the man to his casket snapped, leaving only one left to keep him from flying down the corridor and into every other part of the ship. Havaderr and Conklin shared a look of fear but said nothing.

     Havaderr grabbed the man’s knees and tried to pull them down so the man was right side up, but as he pulled, the man’s whole body moved toward Havaderr. Conklin remained motionless, watching the unconscious body float into Havaderr. Havaderr struggled and groped, trying his very best to wrangle the helpless man, but even his best efforts left him with the man’s body bumping into him clumsily. He accidentally grabbed the man’s buttocks, and the man’s armpit swung around and slapped him in the face. All in all, it reminded Conklin of two young people at their first school dance, trying not to step on each other.

     Conklin covered the smile on his face, but the more Havaderr fought with the floating man and lost, the more the urge to laugh rose in his belly. When the man launched a foot directly into Havaderr’s eye, Conklin lost it. With one hand on the man’s shoulder and his other arm wrapped around the man’s torso, Havaderr stopped to see what was so funny to Conklin. He didn’t have to ask; he knew how he looked.

     “Would you knock it off and help me! I don’t know what we disconnected, but that could be vital to this man’s life!” Havaderr tried to repeat his mantra in his head, but he couldn’t hear anything over Conklin’s laughter. Havaderr grumbled as he kept spinning the man back into position, with no help from Conklin, who was tumbling in circles on the other side of the room.

     Finally, Havaderr got the man into his up-right position and back into the tube. As best as he could, he reattached the disconnected wires, but he couldn’t pull the door shut.

     “Conklin! Find the button to close this door, hurry, before he tries to escape again!” Havaderr pleaded.

     Conklin straightened up and moved to the dashboard he had been cleaning. On the first try, he hit a button, and the door closed, sealing itself. Havaderr wiped the sweat from his brow and looked at Conklin, a little puzzled. Conklin’s laughter died down, but when he saw Havaderr near collapse and panting, his laughter boiled over.

     “What is wrong with you? Were you too busy finding this hilarious to help me save that man’s life?” Havaderr demanded, huffing and puffing.

     “Calm down, he’s fine,” Conklin squeaked. “The buttons are clearly labeled on the dash here, see?” Conklin pointed to the dashboard. Havaderr saw buttons marked to open doors, close doors, start specific mechanisms, stop the same mechanisms, and a bunch of other things Havaderr didn’t understand. What he did think he understood, was how the door opened in the first place.

     “Did you open his door on me?” Havaderr asked Conklin, the anger rising again.

     “Yeah, mate, you should have seen the look on your face!” Conklin rolled over laughing.

     “You idiot! You could have killed the man, we could be fired, what the hell is wrong with you?” Havaderr bellowed.

     “Relax Havaderr, you’ll give yourself a stroke!” Conklin pulled himself together for a second, setting his feet back on the floor and pointing to the dashboard again.

     “This here, that indicates their vital signs. You can see they’re all perfectly healthy, no harm done,” Conklin said matter-of-factly. Havaderr was flustered. He could only trust Conklin’s word, he had no idea what any of the lights or buttons meant on the dash.

     “You couldn’t have known it would be okay, though. What if the tube that detached from his arm was something that kept him alive?” Havaderr exclaimed. Conklin rolled his eyes, irritated that Havaderr wasn’t figuring it out as easily as he was.

     “All that tube did was give him pleasant dreams; it wasn’t important. He’ll live, and nobody need ever know you almost killed a man,” Conklin started to giggle again. Havaderr’s face turned tomato red and he clenched his fist, trying to fight the overwhelming desire to punch Conklin in the face.

     “You did this on purpose?” Havaderr said, strained.

     “Well, maybe don’t lock me in a room with floating shit again, and we’ll be fine,” Conklin smiled, feeling pleased with himself.


January 10, 2020 20:06

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