Thursday, December 23, 2010

Friday Fiction for December 24, 2010

This impromptu, unofficial Friday Fiction is hosted by Mari on her blog, A Mari Heart. We were all going to take the holiday weekend off, but decided we really had the urge to post some Christmasy fiction. After all, it’s Christmas Eve!

When I first started participating in the Faithwriters Weekly Writing Challenge, there were only a few weeks before the final quarter of 2008. At that time, the themes were all based on the Christmas Holiday. The third week of the quarter was my first placement in this theme, with this partly humorous take on the Holiday Meal.

Merry Christmas, and may your holiday meal be at least as fun as this was to write.

REAL Man Christmas Dinner

Topic: Christmas Cooking/Baking (not Recipes)

Challenge Entry, Week of October 16, 2008

2nd Place, Advanced Level; #3 in Editor’s Choice

We, the Responsible, Evangelical, America-Loving men of this country, do hereby promote the following directions for the REAL Man Christmas dinner preparation.

Whereas many might believe cooking to be “womanly”, we REAL Men recognize that the roasting of meat over flame is a very manly thing to do. Therefore, it stands to reason that REAL Men will cook the Christmas turkey over flames.

Real flames, fueled by charcoal; if you’re going to cook over gas flames, just cook it in the house. While this tends to work better in locations where you don’t need to tunnel through snow to get to your barbecue grill, many of the principles herein can still apply. Adapt; improvise; overcome. After all, we are REAL Men.

REAL Men also understand that our wives, whom God has given to us as precious gifts and helpmates, should not have to remain enslaved in the kitchen all day on Christmas while we play with all the cool toys we got that morning, like the ultra-spiffy radio controlled tank with laser sights and real shooting cannon and KA-BLAM! Take that, you mangy cat!

Ahem. Where was I? Ah, yes; our wives should not have to be enslaved in the kitchen all day while we play with our toys. They should have a chance to terrorize the cat with the radio controlled tank, too. What could be more fun than that?

The turkey should be cooked over indirect heat on the barbecue, with the coals banked to either side of the bird, and a drip-pan partially filled with water and aromatic herbs beneath it. The beauty of this, men, is we need only check on the barbecue infrequently, adding charcoal as necessary to maintain the heat. Using a spray bottle to bathe the turkey in apple juice during cooking will produce a crispy, golden-brown skin which will impress the daylights out of your guests, and also tastes mighty good. In the meantime, where’d that cat go? To a man with a tank, every cat looks like a target.

When the turkey is partially done, place foil-wrapped sweet potatoes on the grill over the coals.

No, don’t put the little marshmallows on the sweet potatoes before cooking. Yes, I know how much you like those crispy little marshmallows. Look; just trust me, okay? Bake the sweet potatoes on the grill, without additives. Open them hot, put real butter on them and some pumpkin pie spice, and they don’t need marshmallows. We’re already going to need weeks at the gym to work this feast off as it is, and, dude, that spare tire is starting to look like a full-sized 4 by 4 off-road knobby, know what I mean?

Now that the sweet potatoes are cooking we can (hey, put the tank away; we have work to do) get the rest of the side dishes cooking. This is where we will demonstrate our skills in the conventional kitchen, though it’s certainly not unmanly to invite your wife to help out if you so desire, so you don’t end up ruining the microwave by putting the metal saucepan into it.

Yeah, I know it looks real cool to nuke a saucepan in the microwave, but guys, it’s Christmas. Be serious for a moment, okay? Your wife will appreciate it, trust me. Bake some rolls (the kinds from the exploding cans are okay for this), heat some veggies, dish up some cranberry sauce, and you’re the Christmas hero.

Important note here, men; don’t make a point while saying grace of mentioning that you cooked the meal. Anybody who needs to know already does, including God. If you managed to finish everything up without reducing the turkey to an oversized, odd-shaped football, He was probably smiling down on you the whole time. Heck, if you managed to light the barbecue without removing your eyebrows, it’s clear He was watching over you.

Final secret: Always arrange to have someone else bring the pies. You’ve cooked the turkey, the sweet potatoes (would you forget about the marshmallows already?), and the other stuff. Most people are relieved when all they have to bring is a pie. They can buy them from the store, and not feel guilty that you did everything else.

Best of all, you made it look like the coal in your stocking was a good thing.

(No cats were harmed or harassed in the writing of this entry, though a few got fat on leftover turkey)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Friday Fiction for December 17, 2010

Merry Christmas! This final Friday Fiction of 2010 is hosted by Catrina Bradley, over at A Work in Progress. Head on over for some terrific Holiday reading!

I’m pleased this week to present a brand-spankin’-new-just-for-the-blog Pod Christmas Story. This one takes place the Christmas after the ending of Cardan’s Pod, and the event is alluded to in later Pod stories.

The Christmas Reading

By Rick Higginson

Just to one side of the door of the new Family Room, a brightly lit and beautifully decorated tree stood. It was larger and nicer than the tree that Josh had lowered to the old chamber the previous two years, and other decorations that would not have been practical in the stone cavern now adorned the walls of the room. Just as the song playing through the sound system said, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

After their years of hiding, the mood that first Christmas Josh shared with them had been hesitant and uncertain. While things were much improved over their hand-to-mouth existence in hiding, their experience with the holiday had been limited to some special music and food that Dr. Marcel had provided when he was still with them. With Josh, that had changed, and this year the mood was very different. Excitement and anticipation filled the air, and the Pod from the youngest to the eldest couldn’t seem to wait for the day to arrive. The first year in the old chamber had been a surprise to all of them. The second, they had been uncertain if the festivities would repeat. Now, they knew Christmas would never be just another day again.

For one, a large television monitor hung on one wall, providing an option for holiday entertainment that they had not had before. Josh waited while the Pod gathered around, in response to his announcement that he had something special for them that Christmas Eve.

“All right, Josh,” Eva said. “Everyone is here. What’s your surprise this year?”

“Well,” he said. “This is something I’ve enjoyed for many years, and I hope you all love it as much as I always have.” With a smile, he hit the ‘play’ button on the remote, and the screen faded from black to blue with a title in the center. He weaved through the audience to take a seat next to Marta, and reclined to watch the show.

The opening musical sequence finished, and the narration began. For a bit less than a half-hour, Josh was taken back to childhood Christmases, and being surrounded again by family simply heightened the nostalgic pleasure.

When the closing credits rolled up the screen, he stood up and pressed “stop” on the remote. “Well?” he asked. “What did you think?”

There was quiet for a moment, until Ophelia spoke up. “Aren’t you going to read the story to us this year, Josh?”

He shrugged. “You just had Boris Karloff read it to you, with Chuck Jones animation.”

Denise looked around at the other Pod members, and then pointedly didn’t look at Josh. “It was okay,” she said. “But I’m not sure I really care that much if I ever see it again.”

Other Pod members mumbled similar sentiments, and then drifted off to other activities. The atmosphere of anticipation had been replaced by an air of disappointment.

Josh watched them go, and then settled back to the floor. “I really thought they’d like it better,” he said.

Marta tapped his side, and gestured towards their room. She didn’t wait for his response, and crawled past the open curtain.

She was waiting in the back corner when he entered the room, and he slumped against the wall and slid to a seated position on the floor. “I don’t know why they didn’t like it,” he said.

Marta rolled onto her side, and rubbed his foot gently. “You still have a lot to learn about the Pod, Josh,” she said.

“I guess so.”

“I still remember many years ago, when we were still very young, and there wasn’t that many of us. Dr. Marcel would read to us – oh, nothing quite as whimsical as Dr. Seuss, but he did read to us. As we got older, and more Pod members were born, Dr. Marcel had less time to spend with us. Between taking care of the youngest of us, and continuing his research work, it wasn’t long before he focused his time with us on essential lessons. Eva and I became the ones who read to the younger children, but that was still limited to the books that Dr. Marcel provided.”

“I still don’t get why the cartoon was such a disappointment.”

“It wasn’t the cartoon, Josh. It was that it wasn’t you reading the story.”

“But it was so much better than my voice or my ability to tell a story.”

She took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Josh, you could read a boring textbook to the Pod in a monotone voice, and they would appreciate it, because you were taking the time to do so. It’s not the story, or the quality of the reading. It’s the fact that you love them and care enough to take the time. Boris Karloff has a wonderful voice, and his reading of the Grinch was beautiful, but he doesn’t know us and we don’t know him. I’m sure he loved the story, but you – ” She kissed his arm. “You love us, and that makes all the difference. Josh, if you want them to enjoy the cartoon with you, then don’t let it take the place of the reading.”

He chuckled, and met her eyes. “Okay. Let everyone know I’ll do the reading tomorrow morning.” He leaned down and kissed her. “Merry Christmas, Marta.”

“Merry Christmas, Josh.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Fiction for November 19, 2010

Our ever-enthusiastic NaNoWriMo Cheerleader, Joanne, returns as our Friday Fiction hostess this week, over at An Open Book. Take a break from your pre-Thanksgiving chores, and visit the story offerings you’ll find under the Linky tool.

“The Erikson Exigency” is over 43000 words, and the story is advancing quickly now. Since Friday Fiction is taking Thanksgiving Weekend off next week, this will be the final excerpt posted during NaNoWriMo. The Erikson, crippled by an explosion and pushed far off-course, has been brought back under control, though way beyond the limits of the current colonial explorations. The decision has been made to settle into orbit around the fourth planet of the nearest star system, and some of the scientists and engineers have been brought out of SusAn to begin evaluating the world for colonial development, since it looks as though they are going to be marooned here indefinitely. I like this chapter, because Georgia really started to come together as a character in this one, plus, despite a terrible situation, it brought a little humor into the story.

Chapter 10


Erikson was beginning to get crowded, at least by comparison. For much of the mission, Georgia could have gone for days without seeing another crewmember. Now, with many of the scientists and engineers out of SusAn, the ship was a flurry of activity.

Probes had been dropped to the surface, and the active galleys were often filled with the spirited discussions about the data being received from them. Ideas were proposed, dissected, revised, and sometimes rejected, and plans were being made. While some lamented the problems they faced, others were excited by them.

The Commander tried to stick to the business of keeping the direction of things positive, but she found herself more and more often being called to arbitrate heated disagreements. She was expected to understand all the mumbo-jumbo being quoted by both sides of the argument, and to recognize which position was the most tenable. When she was fortunate, she managed to ask just the right question to clarify something, and the answer to that would lead the disputing parties to find a solution. When she wasn’t fortunate, she managed to only order the two sides to separate compartments to cool off, and was left feeling stupid.

Now I understand why old time sailing ship captains would have men whipped or keel-hauled. If you can’t impress them with brilliance, subdue them with bullwhips. What was that quote attributed to Captain Bligh of the HMS Bounty? ‘A man will never disobey once he’s watched his mate’s backbone laid bare. He’ll see the flesh jump, hear the whistle of the whip for the rest of his life.’ I wonder if Bligh really said that? She chuckled at the thought of one of the engineers, stretched bare-back by ropes against one of the bulkheads. “Mr. Smythe, administer the lashes!”

“Aye aye, Cap’n.”

“A well-disciplined ship is an orderly and efficient ship, right Mr. Smythe?”

“Most certainly, Cap’n.”

Hanging didn’t present a threat in weightless conditions, and Erikson didn’t have any yardarms to hang anyone from, anyway. Keel-hauling, likewise, wasn’t much of an option, though tying a line around someone, and then pulling them up through one of the crawl-tubes could have much the same effect. Bouncing uncontrolled against the handholds and bulkheads would certainly make for a severe beating, without the abrasions from barnacles and the fear of trailing sharks.

Walking the plank – now there’s an idea. You want to argue and defy the Commander of this mission? Fine; we have a plank leading right to one of the airlocks. Let’s see how defiant you are right before that outer hatch slides open.

Duty aboard a modern Colony Vessel was supposed to be civilized, though. Civilized – root word is “civil,” and people need to remember that means to extend civility to others, not just expect it from them.

She was seeking respite more and more often in the quiet of the chapel. At first, it worked well to escape from the disputes, but then people figured out where she was going, and would seek her out.

It seemed sinful to entertain her pirate thoughts within the chapel, but with the two engineers nearly shouting at each other right beside her, and expecting her to take one side or the other, whatever peace there might have been was shattered, anyway. “Be quiet,” she finally said.

They didn’t seem to hear her, and continued their argument.

She raised her voice a bit more. “Both of you, be quiet NOW.”

They stopped and stared at her. “What did you just tell me?” one of them asked, clearly offended.

“I didn’t tell you anything. I just gave you a direct order to be quiet. If you wish to find out if I have the authority to enforce it, just try defying me and continue bickering.”

“Your lack of concern about this problem is most distressing, and sorely shakes my confidence in your ability to command.”

She brought her face right up to the other woman’s. “Your lack of couth and courtesy is appalling, and the fact that you brought your disagreement in here sorely shakes my confidence in your ability to read. The door to this compartment is clearly labeled ‘Chapel.’ This is a sanctuary, which means it is supposed to be a place of safety and peace, and yet you came right through that door without one consideration for any occupants herein.”

“It’s just you in here,” the engineer objected.

“Yes, it is, and I hold to my previous statement. You burst in here, dragging your turmoil, without any consideration for what I might be doing in here. You are both educated adults, but you are acting like spoiled toddlers. If the two of you, with all your training and your experience, cannot figure out how to work together like the adults you’re supposed to be, what makes you think I’m going to be able to solve your problems for you?”

The woman’s face was turning red, and she looked ready to burst.

“At this point, I should remind you that you do have the right to file a complaint with the Colonial Council. You can record your complaint securely with the system aboard Erikson, and per Colonial Charter, I will not be able to access it, or in any way tamper with it. I will not have any idea what your complaint contains, until it is brought up in the investigative hearing by the duly appointed arbiters of the Council. I assure you, the Council will act on any and all complaints, just as soon as they receive them. In the meantime, though, I don’t even know why you two are arguing. We are in the investigative phase, and we aren’t even ready to render any decisions on how we will proceed yet. Instead of wasting your time trying to convince each other of who’s right, just go and file your opinions, your findings, and your recommendations into your reports, and let it all get considered by the Lead Officers.”

The other engineer seemed sufficiently cowed. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and looked away in discomfort.

“System,” Georgia prompted. “Command Media for immediate distribution: The ship’s Chapel is to be used strictly for traditional Chapel activities, such as meditation, prayer, faith observances, and so on. Discussions concerning the conditions and procedures related to terraforming and colonizing Foray – or any other planet – are off-limits within the Chapel. Those found in violation of this limitation will be subject to sanctions, such as reduction of rations or restriction to berth. Distribute and record confirmation from all active crew, and to all others as they are brought out of SusAn. Anyone refusing to provide confirmation will lose all systems access, until they acknowledge receipt of Command Media. Confirm.”

“Command Media confirmed,” the ship said. “Distribution to commence immediately.”

The woman engineer was so angry, she was starting to shake. “You – you can’t just hide in here whenever you feel like it!”

Georgia gave her a confident smile. “Yes, I can, and if you are not willing to comply with my orders voluntarily, I can also summon remotes to take you to an isolation berth, where you can remain until you decide you’re ready to act like a member of this crew, instead of like a brat in need of discipline. Do I make myself clear?”

The woman opened her mouth to reply, and then closed it with a tight-lipped expression. With a nasal huff, she left the compartment. The other engineer muttered a meek apology, and then left the Commander alone again.

Georgia turned back towards the front of the Chapel and closed her eyes. We still have nearly four hundred people to bring out of SusAn, and we’re just starting to correlate the data on what we’re facing on the planet. How are we ever going to make a go of it on Foray, if we can’t even manage basic team work in getting the process started?

A short while later, the door opened and Violet entered the Chapel, and drew up next to her. The younger woman said nothing, but gave Georgia a slight smile.

I should have guessed that if anyone would understand, you would. She returned the smile, and then went back to the quiet reflection.

After a few minutes, Violet started to softly sing, the lyrics a modern adaptation of one of the Psalms about crying out in distress. She had a pleasant singing voice, bolstered by the genuine emotions she poured into her words.

If it was in my power, Violet, I would send you home to your family, and spare you all the hardships we’re going to face out here. Since I can’t do that, though, I’m going to thank God that someone like you is here. Brunfeld and Smythe were completely wrong. Your value to this mission is far greater than either of those two could have ever imagined.

Even Tom Davis wouldn’t have been a better choice for the Erikson.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Fiction for November 12, 2010

Friday Fiction finds its home this week at Dancin’ on Rainbows, with Sharlyn as our hostess. Dance on over for a rainbow of great reading.

“The Erikson Exigency” is now up to about 28000 words, and fifteen chapters completed. I’m ahead of the target pace needed to win NaNoWriMo, and I think the story is coming along nicely. It will need revising and editing, for certain, but part of NaNoWriMo is accepting that the first draft is NOT going to be perfect. This week, the incident leading to the need for the Exigency.

Incidentally, our Municipal Liaison for Tucson issued the challenge to include “The Paper Bag of Destiny” in all of our novels. Chapter 2 includes my answer to this challenge, so if that little tidbit strikes you as a bit odd, you’ll understand why it’s there.

Chapter 2


Lionel leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms up over his head, before finishing the last of his coffee.

“You know,” Rich Smythe said. “With the scrub safely isolated in SusAn sleep, these past few months have been more like old times. It’s going to be a shame to wake her up when you go under.”

Lionel grimaced. “I tried to convince Arabatsis to let me stay on duty until we reached the plateau, but she keeps citing policies.”

“Like anyone out here is going to report a slight bending of the rules, for the good of the mission. So, how’re we going to keep track of the mistake pool score?”

“I’ve thought about that, and I’ve got an idea.” He pulled one of the emesis bags from the Lander/Transport Percheron out of his uniform pocket. “Behold the Paper Bag of Destiny, ready for souvenirs and notes of her failures.”


“Of course; she’s destined to fail, isn’t she?”

“Good point; I like it.”

“Whenever she messes something up, we put either a note or a piece of scrap from the job into this bag, and when we get back to Earthrise, we can tally the score and see who wins the final bet.” He handed the bag to Rich. “Since Arabatsis is reluctant to let us record the scrub’s deficiencies in the log files, we’re forced to keep our records in this primitive manner. Keep the bag locked out of sight in your personal storage, and I’ll retrieve it when my next duty cycle comes up.” He cut a sly smile at the younger man. “Unless, of course, you find the intimacy and isolation of duty forms a romantic bond between you two, in which case, forget the mistakes, and just fill me in on the details.”

Rich wrinkled his face. “Romantic bond with her? I like the blonde, Scandinavian look, not that dark hair, overly tanned Mediterranean look she has.”

“Perhaps, but it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when all you’re beholding for several months is one woman, you may find yourself appreciating the beauty of availability.” He laughed. “Give yourself enough time alone, and you’d even find Arabatsis attractive.”

“That’s disgusting. She’s old enough to be my mother.”

“Versak is young enough to be my daughter, too, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see a few positive attributes worth admiring, and maybe even enjoying. Nothing wrong with a little cross-generational padding; the Commander might just teach you a thing or two.”

The ship’s voice came over the ‘com system. “Oxygen pressure sensor indicates error in Enviromental Processing Center three. Please acknowledge.”

“Acknowledged and responding, system,” Lionel said. “Well, I guess that means break’s over, and it’s time to get back on our heads.”

“I suppose so,” Rich said. “Need any help, or should I go take care of the scheduled maintenance on the food synthesizer on Deck One?”

“Go take care of the synthesizer. I’m betting the sensor just needs recalibrated, and that shouldn’t take too long to finish.” He dropped the coffee cup into the waste processor, where its basic elements would be broken down and cycled back into one of the synthesizer systems, and then grabbed his tool kit from the rack.

He walked first to the lift system that would carry him up to Deck Three. He was starting to get a noticeable limp, and the pain in his right knee was getting worse each day. Arabatsis didn’t say so, but I’ll bet that was part of her refusal to let me stay on duty. The old joints just aren’t handling the two-gee load like they used to. That SusAn chamber is going to feel quite good, especially since we should be weightless again for my next duty cycle.

The lift opened onto Deck Three, and he followed the corridors to the Environmental Processing Center. The system opened the door to the compartment as he approached, and he stopped just inside.

“System, seal Environmental Processing Center three,” he ordered.

“Sealing compartment is not advisable,” the ship replied.

“Advice acknowledged. Override advisement and seal compartment.”

The door slid shut, and the clamps extended to make the seal.

The Environmental Processing Center handled the life support functions and temperature controls for Deck Three. The oxygen line and atmosphere scrubbers were behind the large thermal control unit, and he slipped around the bulky device to reach the discrepant sensor.

His first step was to verify the sensor, and he extracted a standard from his tool kit. He attached it to the calibration port on the oxygen line, and compared the reading to the sensor in question. Both read within a close tolerance of each other. Okay, it’s not the sensor. The pressure in the line is low for some reason. “System, latest diagnostic report on Deck Three oxygen system compressor,” he said.

“Compressor diagnostics report no abnormalities. Diagnostic sequence performed twenty-five minutes, fourteen seconds ago.”

“Repeat diagnostic sequence and report.”

“Acknowledged.” There was a few moments of silence, and then, “Compressor diagnostics report no abnormalities.”

“Error duration?”

“Sensor error has repeated on last four check cycles, occurring over one standard hour. New errors: compartment pressure has risen to one point two five standard atmospheres. Compartment atmosphere composition is now thirty-two percent oxygen, sixty-eight percent nitrogen. Unsealing of compartment advised; confirm instructions.”

“Negative, system; compartment is to remain sealed.” A little extra oxygen isn’t going to hurt, and maybe it’ll help the aggravated knee to heal. Compartment pressure and oxygen concentration rising – that means there’s a leak in the line.

He moved first towards his right, looking and listening for the tell-tale signs of the high-pressure oxygen flowing from the pipe. When he reached the bulkhead, he wrapped his hand loosely around the pipe, and headed back towards the sensor. If he couldn’t hear the leak, he should be able to feel it, either as a blast against his skin, or as a chill where the expanding high pressure gas absorbed heat from the surrounding matter.

“Error,” the system reported. “Compartment pressure has risen to one point five standard atmospheres. Compartment atmosphere composition is now fifty-four percent oxygen, forty-six percent nitrogen. Unsealing of compartment and use of breathing apparatus advised; confirm instructions.”

“Advisement acknowledged. Retain compartment seal.” Stupid system is as bad as the scrub. It must be a pretty significant leak, to be rising this fast. He moved off to his left from the sensor. Near the far bulkhead, the pipes turned ninety degrees to pass through the ceiling, up to the surge tank fed by the compressor. The fitting on one of the elbows was covered with frost. There you are; now, let’s see what we’ve got.

With the frost brushed away, the cracked flange on the pipe was obvious. The section of pipe would need to be replaced, and he considered the best way to proceed.

“Error; compartment pressure has risen to one point seven five standard atmospheres. Compartment atmosphere composition is now seventy eight percent oxygen, twenty two percent nitrogen. Risk of oxygen toxicity is present under these conditions. Breathing apparatus strongly advised.”

“System, mute all further error messages.” Oxygen toxicity? What a stupid thing to warn him about. He went and retrieved his toolkit from beside the sensor, and brought it back by the broken fitting. My knee doesn’t hurt anymore. That’s a nice change. Wonderful oxygen – what would we do without it?

Die, I suppose. Now, what was I doing?

Pipe – that’s right. I have a leaky pipe. He started laughing. Sounds like a personal problem. He inhaled deeply. Sweet, sweet oxygen. Maybe I’ll just sit here and enjoy this for a while.

Nope. I need to fix the pipe. I need a piece of pipe to fix the pipe.

Which pipe? What pipe was I working on?

He looked around, confused. The compartment was filled with pipes, some going to the various pieces of environmental equipment, and some just passing through the compartment, en route to somewhere else.

His eyes settled on one pipe, and he stared at the word written on the wrap-around label. “HYDROGEN.” The word made no sense to him, and he continued to stare at it for several minutes.

I need to fix the pipe. Which pipe was it again? It must be that pipe that I need to fix. He selected a wrench, and twisted at a fitting on the gas line with the confusing label. It started whistling, and he paused to listen. Why is it making that noise? I need more coffee – I think. Is there any coffee in here? I think I have some in the toolkit. Every toolkit should include coffee. He stumbled about the compartment, until he fell behind the thermal unit.

I think I’ll just rest here for a few minutes. He drifted out, and woke up to the sound of alarms blaring in the compartment. Alarms? What’s going on? Wait – wasn’t I doing something? There was a leaky pipe, wasn’t there? That must be why the alarm is going off. I just need to fix the pipe. Rolling onto his hands and knees, he tried a couple of times to stand. I must be more tired than I thought. I just can’t seem to catch my breath. He crawled over to the toolkit instead and regarded the tools with a blank expression.

What was it I needed again? The pipe – I need to seal the pipe. What can I use to seal the pipe and silence these infernal alarms? His eyes settled on a small metallic cylinder with an angled fixture on top. He picked it up, and flopped back onto his behind, leaning against the bulkhead.

I know what this is. It’s a – it’s a – uh – it’s a, torch? It’s a torch, for, um, for welding? Yeah, it’s a welding torch, for welding pipe.

I need to seal a pipe.

The torch welds pipe.

Welds seal.

It seemed he couldn’t get his eyes to focus right, and each breath seemed to be more effort than the previous had been. Gotta fix the pipe. Don’t want the scrub thinking I can’t do my job. Just weld the pipe and be done.

Holding the torch in both hands, he mustered all his concentration on bringing his thumb to the igniter switch on the back, and pressed it.