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Risks of Being Human

by Steve Davis

part 1

Adjusting his uniform’s red top in the bright light of the passenger corridor, Dariush paused a moment before the cabin door. Forcing a reasonably believable smile on, he straightened up and touched the door’s surface. A faint sound chimed inside. Leisurely, minutes later, the door slid open.

The uniformed crewman instinctively jerked back, then caught himself. “Sorry to interrupt. Our captain sent me to personally invite you and your companions to this afternoon’s party on the social deck,” he got out in a practiced professional tone.

The short alien in the doorway — “Kas, mining robotics mechanic” — windowed on the crewman’s optics and peered up at him through coal-black eyes.

The orange-tinged passenger spoke slowly, long gravelly sounds translating into words from a tiny disk clipped to its clothes. “Yes, we saw the notice over the ship’s channel. But thanks for also coming in person. Tell the captain we would enjoy joining the other passengers but can’t make it this time. We’ve already starting eating. Perhaps next party.” The alien’s leathery face pulled tighter, needle-sharp teeth mimicking a smile.

Dariush nervously glanced over the passenger’s hairless head into the large living room, saw what the occupants were eating, and how: hanging from the ceiling, still moving.

“Uh, understood. I’ll relay your unavailability to the captain. Well, then, have a good evening.” Dariush hurriedly exited the conversation. Turned and walked. Didn’t stop until he was in elevator. Leaned against the side and tried to breathe normally.

Safely back in the little concierge kitchen, he silently tried to ignore his frowning co-worker’s disgust.

“Dariush, you amaze me. They’re passengers. We’re supposed to wow them with service, not avoid them. Get adult about it.” The lean other concierge lectured him in a stern voice.

Dariush immediately pushed back. “When they smell like that? I can barely keep from throwing up around them. Stupid zombies,” he cursed with feeling. The taller other man — ID tag “Jeff” — stared coldly down at him.

“That’s a hate name. And like all hate talk, inaccurate. The Onn are a perfectly normal species. I’m surprised you—” Jeff started another scold.

Dariush defiantly turned away. “Well close enough. Smell half dead,” he mumbled under his breath.

A flash on both their optics stopped the conflict. A request blinked, and a route to a cabin was diagrammed. Dariush groaned pain. “Just did my turn. And I don’t feel like going back there right now.”

Jeff wearily shook his head. He picked up a serving tray and began filling it with glasses. Expertly turning the tray around under the drinks station, he filled them with ship’s cola, white instead of black. Then stepped past Dariush as if the man wasn’t there.

At the cabin door he didn’t step back when it opened.

“Ah, guest Kas. Your drinks, as requested, sir,” Jeff offered with an appropriately relaxed smile, bending slightly to bring the tray down to the passenger’s easy reach. The figure in the doorway touched the first glass lightly with a thin finger. His face beamed up a twisted but recognizably pleased smile.

“Room temperature, not cooled, very nice. Thank you. The other server never got that right. I don’t know why,” Kas wondered idly. Then he took the tray.

Jeff stood patiently at the doorway as if he didn’t have any other duties to get to. “If there’s anything else I can get you, just ask. We’re on call at all times,” the towering concierge offered sincerely. Then, with a slight nod, he politely exited.

Two decks higher, in the luxury spaceliner’s social room, a much wider range of people were loudly enjoying the evening. Drinks in hand, several stood by a long horizontal window bright with the glorious green and orange curves of Sidespace sliding by.

One large orange curve seemed to hang on, reluctant to slide out of view. At the window, a goateed young man in a tourist tee smiled nervously. “That’s new,” he remarked to the couple beside him.

A few people seated on sofas along the middle of the room looked up, mildly curious. Out the long window the orangeness almost halted, seemed to fade a bit.

Suddenly another tourist at the window stepped back in shock. “Something’s wrong. We’re slowing!” he cried out.

A breath later, the young woman on his left also went wide-eyed. “We’re losing Sidespace!” she shouted louder to the rest of the room. “Vista is falling out!”

Panic hit; people yelled, some rushing to the window. A drink server in a party-themed uniform pushed past a middle-aged couple to a wall hardcomm. Then everyone and everything in the long room started going chaotic.

The woman by the window looked around, stunned. Over on a sofa, one guy, planetary origin unclear, appeared somehow both terrified and calm. She realized he was almost silently praying. Rushing over, she grabbed his hand and did the same. The two managed to repeat the brief words twice before the window exploded.

Two decks below, halfway to the elevator, Jeff froze in mid-step as the corridor floor seemed to tremble. He stood for a moment, frowning attention. A second later, “NO SIGNAL” popped up on his optics. His expression changed to complete confusion.

Then the hallway in front of him visibly buckled. Several seconds more went by before he registered the flashing emergency evacuation lights on the floor insistently pointing down the corridor. They red-arrowed toward the hallway intersection and around a corner.

Just as he started to unfreeze into action, the lights went down, too. For the first time fear edged onto his face. “That can’t be... Every system on ship has self-repair,” he told himself out loud in disbelief.

“What is happening?” a voice urgently asked from behind. He snapped around.

Two Onn were standing in the middle of the corridor; others shuffling up behind them. Jeff blanked, then clicked back into almost normal. “Nothing to worry. I’m sure this is just a local deck problem. Probably get everything stabilized shortly,” Jeff assured the small aliens in a nearly even voice.

A third tremor buckled the corridor so hard that Jeff stumbled in place. He instinctively dropped into a crouch.

“Lead us to safety, server Jeff. Please.”

Jeff looked up. Eight trembling Onn stood gazing at him helplessly. His eyes wavered between them. Then a strange sound like a giant sheet of paper being ripped apart shot down the corridor.

He spun and ran.

Breathing hard he reached the deck’s evac sphere, bent low to enter its round hatchway, then stopped. From the crammed compartment, a half-dozen frightened faces met his. He guiltily looked behind him, body half-turning to go back. But his hands seemed locked on the edge of the hatch. At the next blink, a huge vibration shook the whole deck. With a high-pitched cry, he threw himself inside.

For the briefest moment a thick white cushioning foam sprayed high pressure into the tight compartment. Then everything seemed to explode.

Jeff came to. The foam was gone.

He struggled to re-orientate. Across from him the evac’s tiny window looked out on a planetary surface.

Beside him the compartment hatch was cracked half open and hot air blowing in. Around the cabin other people were also opening eyes and shaking off shock. One by one they all staggered outside, stopped. Mere meters in front of them, the evac’s skycrane lay crashed in the sand. Two other spheres sat nearby, a half dozen figures shakily coming out of each. The three groups gazed around.

Desert orange stretched horizon to horizon. Far off, rocky hills dotted the sandy landscape. Overhead a red sun beat down from an almost ordinary blue sky. Already everyone was sweating.

“Where...?” a silver-haired passenger in a crumpled summer dress asked. Out of the open hatch of the nearest sphere, the onboard computer quietly spoke a world name. Blank faces looked at each other.

A burly twenty-something man in business-casual denim grimaced. “We were arcing to our next destination. Out of contact in Sidespace. They’ll know something’s wrong when we don’t arrive on time but... They won’t know where to look. We could be anywhere between the last stop and them,” he growled. More blank faces.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2015 by Steve Davis

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