A lighthearted, flash fiction, science fiction short story published
in the Jan-Feb-March 2011 issue of Golden Visions Magazine by C. E. McLean
Pha-funk, whump, rumble-rumble.
Captain Eli Frazier looked up from the well where holographic views of space hovered and morphed over an oval plot table. Listening intently, he pinpointed the odd sound moving along the ceiling bulkhead at the back of the bridge. He glanced around, at the spaceship's crew. None paid attention to the odd sounds, not even his XO.
A second later the sound traveled diagonally behind the communications station, descending in the opposite direction. Another whump-thump. Silence.
He shifted his gaze to the helm, momentarily eying the welded patches attesting to the Galoubet's battles and three-quarters of a century of service protecting Earth's largest space colony.
The light cruiser was a legend. For him, this was his first time aboard her--and his last. He would deliver her to the Niak Ship Yards to be decommissioned and stripped for salvage. Then he would take command of a brand-new, class-one, heavy cruiser.
The sound began again.
Definitely the noise originated overhead--in the vicinity of the scanner dishes. The morning reports said nothing about a problem with the scanners. Inertial compensators kept sufficient gravity in all compartments, but minimal gravity existed between the bulkhead and the outer hull. Nothing under those scanner arrays either, except honeycombed insulation and conduit runs. If something had broken free up there, it could ricochet in any direction, not go downward, not follow a specific path like that sound indicated.
So why hadn't he heard the sound before? He'd been on the bridge every day for the past week--and at this time of day. Why did no one react to the noise? Maybe because they knew what it was and that it didn't portend disaster. That had to be it.
Then why fixate on that noise? Because he was enduring a routine passage and routine equaled boring? No, because he prided himself on having a worthy warship and crew. Trouble was, the Galoubet was an old ship--a very old ship.
Maybe that's what bothered him. This ship reminded him of his advancing years. His own bones creaked when he got out of his sleep-chamber this morning, and his hands had stiffly flipped the buckles on his spacer's boots. On days like this, retirement loomed like the event horizon of a black hole.
The XO crossed the deck toward him. Libby Waterhouse had cropped brown hair that curled forward from behind her ears, with never a strand out of place. Like most of the ship's present crew, she had come up the ranks on this ship. She knew the vessel from bow to stern. One last voyage on the Old Girl for her--and for the rest of them.
"Captain," Libby said when she reached his side. "We're clear of the dust cloud and making good time."
A farting noise issued from the other side of the deck. He looked in that direction. No one stood there.
"Is something the matter, Captain?"
He lowered his voice. "There are some unusually obnoxious noises on this bridge today."
"Obnoxious? Oh--the farting bio tubes! That's okay, sir. It happens regularly. If you think that's bad, don't go down to number two shuttle bay when we're orbiting a sun."
"When the expansion girders stretch, they shriek with banshee gusto."
The rumbling sounds began again at the back of the bridge.
Waterhouse had to have heard that. "XO, are there any other noises this ship makes that I should be aware of?"
"Well, sir, the support girders for the bow turrets tend to crack their knuckles from time to time. The outer hull shielding on deck eight's starboard viewports open and close with a ghoulish groan." She paused in thought. "Maintenance swears a poltergeist pops panels every time we go through a galactic portal--" Her gaze met his and her voice softened. "Sorry, sir, she's an old ship. Nothing we can do about any of it."
"Sounds more like she's haunted."
Libby chuckled softly. "Most of the crew delight in creating tales--" Her smile faded. "Despite the souls who fought and died on her decks, sir, I assure you there are no ghosts aboard."
The sound issued anew.
"It's nearly lunch time, sir. Want me to have a meal sent up for you?"
"No. The helm is yours. I'll eat in the mess." He strode to the lift at the back of the bridge.
During lunch in the officer's mess, an alcove set off from the crew's mess, he heard the muted thump and rumbling sounds repeat twice more.
He was decks down from the bridge and, as much as he pondered it, he could not find any logical explanation for the sound--or why it seemed to stop at this deck. For the time being, he would chalk the noise up to an idiosyncrasy of the ship.
He tabbed the button on the table's com panel, signaling the cook to bring the dessert of the day.
Half an hour after the captain returned to the bridge, XO Libby Waterhouse went to lunch. She took a seat in the officer's mess and pressed the button to get a meal.
Sam came in with a tray.
"What pray tell, good chef, put that big ol' grin on your face?"
"The captain, ma'am. He raved about his dessert."
"We all do."
"I know, but I never figured him as a cream de mint kind of guy. I'm real grateful you told me it was his favorite. Speaking of which, yours is on its way. Your favorite."
Sam had no sooner left when she heard the soft thump-rumbling.
Incoming . . . As she envisioned the one-liter can of chocolate-mocha-cherry liquid wedged inside a sensor probe's sphere and packed with salted ice, her mouth watered. The sealed container had been tossed down an old missile hole in the insulation above the bridge, free-falling, rolling, zigzagging from deck to deck like a cue ball, freezing the contents into the best ice cream this side of heaven.
"Just Desserts" is part of the ADRADA TO ZOOL anthology.
Click on the book cover for more information.
Click on the book cover for more information.