Copyright April 2011
Simon had successively stopped smoking many, many times; staying stopped proved to be something way beyond his control. Less than one percent of the population still smoked but even one percent of fourteen billion people had a lot of influence—and generated a lot of cash being taxed at 1000%. Both the sixty sixth amendment to the Constitution and his Unions’ current contract assured Simon that he could get a fix every four hours—or else. More often or not a smoker was accommodated without fanfare or gratitude.
His crew mates did not smoke and even on a good day did not care for Simon all that much, but not getting his smoke on time made him so surly his mates encouraged his puffing. Encouraging his addition was not sharing in it, so Simon was exiled to the official smoking area; a pod tethered to the side of the mother ship. It was small, cramped, and smelled like a public bathroom in the Tickie Republic. Simon could not stand in the tiny sphere, which mattered little since there was no dark ion streaming to simulate gravity, he would float and puff in relative comfort. Access was a semi flexible tube just big enough for the lanky Simon to access. The TitaniumLux23 pod was an obsolete escape pod probably meant to be re-used as a satellite or probe but it was Simon’s personal space now only to be shared by the ships mascot Zip, an Australian Cattle Dog mix breed. Zip was the only one who did not mind Simon’s smoking and actually enjoyed chasing smoke rings in zero gravity.
The hazards of smoking were well known, but most of the health problems could be repaired and or new parts grown in the lab, so except for the hassle of robot surgery every now and then smoking was not as hazardous as advertised—except for today!
Simon had been puffing away curled up and floating in his little kingdom watching Zip chase smoke rings when Simon felt a jolt. Simon took a long drag of his smoke and maneuvered to one of the small transparent titanium ports to see his mother ship rapidly veering away from him, which of course was just an optical illusion and Simon knew that he was doing the veering. Bits of access tube and other debris either stayed with the main ship or followed Simon. At first Simon suspected his crew mates of cutting him loose but he knew that even if they didn’t care about him they would never harm Zip. And besides if they had cut him loose he would still be next to the ship traveling at the same speed, time line, and direction.
TitaniumLux23 could take a huge amount of abuse but the access tube and tethers could not. Something must have hit the pod and broke it loose from the mother ship. The pod hatch had been closed and sealed or Simon and Zip would have imploded or exploded during decompression…he couldn’t remember which.
Now the big problem: specifically the Relativistic Doppler Shift effect or formula. When a star ship “warped” to light speed time stopped on board the ship and changed everywhere else. Time itself was different all over the universe so everything got all mixed up. It especially got mixed up when two or more ships left at the same time for the same place but arrived years or decades apart. It was discovered that just like light and sound waves, space time had waves and experienced a Doppler effect from whatever point they were observed or in this case detected.
Systematic Warp Modulation via the Fitzgerald-Lorentz contraction to compensate for the Relativistic Doppler Formula became the buzz phrase. Simon did not understand even a little bit of it but basically a star ship plotted a Time-Line to where they wanted to go and through careful modulation of their travel force, kept time, speed, and distance manageable.
Simon’s immediate problem was that if the mother ship knew he was missing they could turn and try to catch him as matched time lines, or at least keep him in sight. However, the longer he warped in his own direction the distance between them was increasing at an exponential rate—light years per second. This could be fixed if the both left warp at the exact time and reentered normal space at the same instant. If they were even micro seconds apart they would be years apart in normal time and space. Always ahead in time never behind…it could be a long wait. On top of that communication did not work in warp and was too slow in normal time and space.
Simon took the last drag of his smoke and lit another from the glowing butt. Simon was just a mechanic, he fixed toilets and generators and it was rapidly becoming apparent he could not fix this. “Grait,” he cursed.
Simon accessed the star charts for his region and saw a star system close by with indications of several planets. He popped a few plasma spurts to alter his direction and aimed for the solar system. With luck this is where they would look for him. Zip had no clue what was happening, everyday was just another party.
The TitaniumLux23 shell held up as Simon passed through a debris field just past the outer-most planet. Long range sensors showed the third planet to be Earth like so Simon aimed the pod towards the fourth planet that was a gas giant with lots of gravity.
Timing had to be perfect. Simon had to drop out of Warp at the right place or he would be caught too far away from a landing place and slowly run out of air and suffocate before arriving. Too late and he could slam into the planet at warp speed.
Simon ran some basic calculations, made some plasma pop corrections, and as the great blue and red ball came quickly into full view Simon cut his Warp Modulation Compensation for the Time and Speed Module control. Suddenly the great planet stopped growing in size as Simon entered normal time and space…there was no going back now, he thought, as he lit another smoke.
The plasma pop corrections were less effective now but Simon guided the pod into a tight orbit around the huge planet. As planned his speed slowed dramatically as he skimmed the world’s upper atmosphere. Anything other than TitaniumLux23 would have burned up; as it were the interior of the pod grew very warm. When their speed was cut enough Simon plasma popped away from the gas giant after plotting a course to intercept planet number three. Planet three was currently at the other side of the solar system but if Simon’s math—as entered into the pod’s computer—was close enough it would catch up to him and Zip in forty hours. Simon lit up another smoke and settled in for a long ride.
Simon had never been known for his superior personal hygiene, and what did it matter when you fixed toilets for a living, but conditions in the pod were disgusting even by Simon’s liberal standards.
Simon could eliminate his waste into the waste vacuum hose in the pod. Zip, on the other paw happily went whenever and wherever he wanted without a care in the universe, the pod never having been designed for a dog. Most of Simon’s time was spent chasing floating Zip gifts with the vacuum hose which Zip took to be a game and chased it too, subsequently making it worse. Clothing, hair, and fur were well soaked with you-know-what by the time planet number three came into view. Smoking actually helped in this case to control the odor, although, Simon was tempted to crack the door more than once for relief. Simon had to wipe a foul form of condensation with his sleeve to see the planet.
Power was down to ten percent and landing was going to be iffy. As calculated the pod and the planet were racing towards each other in an intercepting course. The plasma pops by now were very weak and just barely managed to direct the pod into a high orbit around planet number three. Simon attempted to observe the planet though one of the ports but couldn’t stand to touch the yellowish grime anymore. Dying would be preferable to another minute in the pod.
Simon and Zip made three orbits around the planet and selected some beach front property near the equator for a landing site and punched in the decent calculations and hit the solar sail release button.
Solar winds were slight at best but they slowed the pod enough for gravity to pull them down towards the surface of number three before the solar chute burned up in the atmosphere. Even with the TitaniumLux23 shell to protect them, the interior of the pod got very hot; 150 degrees Fahrenheit hot. Nothing but golden heat could be seen through the window ports and quickly gravity took them in contact with the very hot wall of the pod. Simon held Zip in his arms so he wouldn’t burn his feet while he hopped from foot to foot trying not to burn his own. Being bent over it was a little like doing the Earth based Russian folk dance. Reentry went as well as expected until a nervous Zip knocked Simon’s smoke out of his mouth and down his shirt front causing him to hop faster.
The pod’s computer started an impact countdown and at the two second mark Simon punched the inertia damper button. Simon and Zip were tossed around in slow motion as the dampers worked their magic in voodoo physics, they were shaken but not hurt as the pod splashed down into the ocean near the sandy beach Simon had picked.
The pod rolled up onto the beach and came to rest in the soft sand. There was a loud “boom” as the inertia dampers released the stored up inertia as a sound wave.
It took a few seconds for Simon and Zip to realize they had made it. Simon fished the smoke from his shirt and relit it squinting through the smoke at Zip.
There was still enough power to sample the outside atmosphere and it seemed fine—much better than in the pod. Simon equalized the inside and outside pressure and tried the hatch…nothing! Simon beat the hatch, kicked it, cursed it, and finally started to cry when he realized the hatch opened in and not out. Once he pulled inward it opened easily. “Just testing you, Zip,” he said.
Cool air flooded in as the hatch opened and swung to one side. The pod air was still hot enough that the incoming air felt cold but so welcome! Zip was outside in one leap and Simon crawled out.
Simon couldn’t stand just yet but stretched out full length on the warm sand and breathed in great big gulps of non-Zip-tainted air. Zip ran and barked with more joy than usual and chased waves as they broke on shore. Simon needed to crawl into the water and rinse some stink off but instead finished his smoke and went to sleep.
It was dark when Simon awoke; two small moons cast a silver glow over the landing site. The night sky was filled with pops, clicks, and whistles of the indigenous wildlife. Simon lit a smoke and crawled on all fours to the waters’ edge and took a drink. The water was slightly salty but otherwise fresh and satisfying. Zip was sleeping soundly near the pod, all four legs pointed up to the night sky. The water was bathtub warm so while Simon finished his smoke he emptied his pockets. One last drag and Simon slid into the water. Stink and tension washed away in the warm water as Simon soaked in the gently lapping water. Bird like things with long tails flew above him and larger things crashed through the thick tree-like brush.
It occurred to Simon that they might be eaten by a local predator but he was still too tired to move. He finally got to his feet and took a few tentative steps…”all systems go,” he said to no one. It felt good to stand and celebrated with a smoke.
Simon gathered up brush and limbs and got a fire going. This planet was slightly more oxygen rich than Earth and the fire burned brightly and warm and hopefully would keep people and dog eaters at bay. It would be better to be eaten than to go back into the pod he decided, and besides Simon was pretty sure Zip would issue a warning if something came near. Simon went back to sleep.
The morning sun and a growing hunger woke Simon up. The fire had long gone out and Zip had caught a local squirrel like thing and was happily disassembling and eating it. Simon lit up and got some protein blocks from the pod and munched and puffed.
He walked down the beach and surveyed his new world. It was actually pretty nice. The breeze was gentile and warm, the sky a gentle mix of pink and blue. The local foliage was green and red with numerous hanging fruits which hopefully were edible.
Simon knew that he was on a small continent on the equator but little else. The pod’s solar panels had deployed automatically so the computer would soon have power again. He would be able to determine where he was but when might be impossible. He was in the future—his future—for sure but time travel was a mish mash with no sure way to calculate outcome. He could be ten minutes (doubtful) or ten thousand years (more likely) in the future or anything else in between. Anything he came up would only be a guess. It occurred to him that the human race might be extinct and he might be the last person alive. Simon shivered.
Zip barked as a dear like animal walked out of the trees and got a drink. It was 150 or 200 lbs with four legs, split toed hooves, two straight horns, orange and red tiger striped hide, and had two prehensile appendages attached to its jaw which were very much like monkeys tails. It ignored Simon and Zip as something not yet identified as dangerous and got a drink and left. At least he might find food, Simon thought.
Simon went back to the pod and pulled out the emergency gear ruck sack from its mount. It smelled to high heaven so Simon dunked it in the ocean.
Simon spread out its contents on the sand. There was a small hatchet, folding saw, folding shovel/pick, waterproof matches, toilet paper, first aid kit, short machete, muli-tool folding knife thing, sun glasses, silver metallic looking jump suit, radio beacon with flashing light, radiation detector, UV light detector, a spool of thin but tough line, fish hooks, flash light, compass, chem. lights, floppy hat, heavy duty sandals with thick socks, gauntlet style gloves, a bright orange sleeping bag sized plastic bag with fleece liner, lean-to tent, bug net, hammock, inflatable raft, inflatable escape bag with five minute oxygen bottle, inflatable head bag with five minute oxygen bottle, red star pop flares, spool of bare wire, a bar of soap, sun screen, tooth brush and tooth paste, no-beard gel, two one-liter plastic canteens (empty), and some protein bars. The most interesting item was a foil packet with two poison pills? Pretty much everything you might need—even an outlet for despair, suicide! No smokes, however.
Simon checked his smoke supply and if he slowed down a little he could by for a while, without re-supply he would have to slow down a lot. “Grait,” he cursed. Why didn’t he pack more smokes? The situation was getting critical now.
There was the official issue survival book, so Simon sat down lit up and started to read.
1. STAY CALM.
2. Attend to the sick or injured as soon as possible.
3. Check for radiation and high levels of UV light. If radiation is above 16d or UV light exceeds 39bbs don the protective one piece suit from the survival kit.
4. Establish a leader for your group.
5. Make sure your radio beacon in on and if possible light a signal fire after checking oxygen content of your surroundings. Oxygen levels above thirty percent represent an uncontrolled burn hazard.
6. If help is not immediately available secure shelter and look for a source of water. You will need fresh water within the first twenty four hours waiting for rescue, while food will not be needed for up to thirty days.
7. If you are the chosen leader you will be expected to remain calm, confident, and professional to maintain morale. Assure one and all that help is on the way. Maintain a professional appearance and decisive manner.
Simon looked over to Zip who was chasing some butterfly looking bird creature and tossed the book as far out to sea as he could. “I guess I’m your leader, Zip, how’s your morale?” Simon said.
Zip was in high spirits and ignored Simon. Simon thought to himself that he was doing a good job so far.
High winds and waves would strike the beach every so often so Simon had moved camp to higher ground further into the woods next to a pleasant little trickle of water. Food was abundant and using Zip to test new sources, nothing was found to be harmful, although, one skunk like animal Zip refused to even try so it was removed from the menu.
Simon had a pleasant little raised shelter and with a great deal of free time he was pleasantly surprised to see his craftsmanship growing with every project. There was an abundant type of tree that had a very straight grain and split easily into exceptional building materials. Simon was able to make planks and beams for his hut so his raised floor was smooth and flat. Some long narrow palm fronds created a dry roof and he found some tough, flat vine things to lash it all securely together.
The wood from this tree was tough and springy and Simon made a quite nice bent wood rocking chair and a raised sleeping bed for both Zip and him. For a castaway Simon had not suffered much and except for the day when he would run out of smokes life was OK.
Despite a fairly rigorous ration program his smoke supply was nearing an end. This was the proverbial two edge sword since once exposed to the bio hazard of the pod they were pretty contaminated with Zip waste and not as satisfying as they were pre-pod, however, they still had the chemical fix or chemicals his body craved. Each smoke was a test to light up or not…Simon always lit up and once past the first puff or two seemed to manage with the aftertaste. After many years Simon finally had to admit that smoke was disgusting.
Simons’ favorite meal was a medium sized flightless bird that he could run down and club. It was just like white meat chicken. With a few fruits on the side it made a decent meal.
Simon was feeling the need for red meat and the tiger striped deer things might suffice. But they were too swift to run down so Simon was contemplating building a spear or bow and arrow. Deciding he needed both he had started with the spear, made a decent proto-type first try, and was working on bow number three when Zip went on alert and started to growl and face the woods.
This was the first time Zip had indicated danger. Simon grabbed his new spear and lit a smoke—if he was going to die it would be smoking.
As if on que people of some kind stepped out of the trees. They were humanoid, five and a half feet tall, golden copper skin, really skinny, and all over hairless, obvious since they were as naked as Simon was at the moment. Their hips were wide and boney; their shoulders narrow and just as boney, long ropy muscles, four long toes and fingers. No one exceeded a hundred pounds. They had pointed chins that rapidly tapered upwards to high cheek bones and a broad fore head. Eyes were oval set wide apart, small mouths with thin lips near the chin, and an almost human nose except the nostrils faced forward. They were actually nice human looking creatures, certainly much easier to look at than some of the humanoids Simon had seen.
There were fourteen of them, male and female; the males’ genitals were small, and the females’ breasts being mostly nipple and little breast. They carried no weapons and seemed as nervous as Simon was at the moment.
Zip took it as long as he could and let out a menacing bark and lunged at the visitors. Simon called him back but without effect. Zip stopped short of closest male. The humanoid seemed frozen in fear and started urinating and shaking, his eyes wide looking to Simon to save his life.
Zip sniffed the humanoids leg, sniffed the urine, urinated himself and started to wag his tail in delight at finding a new friend. The humanoid seemed to realize that he was out of danger and relaxed and did something with his face that may have been a smile.
Simon and Zip were never alone now that the indigenous people of the planet were always coming and going. Simon enjoyed their company but clearly not half as much as they did his. Zip was even more popular, especially with the children who were fascinated with his ability to retrieve thrown sticks.
They seemed bright but had no tools or even housing. They would eat meat but only what they found already dead and long dried by the sun. They did seem to know every fruit, vegetable, or edible green (or sometimes red) plant there was. Simon would provide the meat and they would bring everything else. Fire frightened them at first but cooked meat became an instant success and minor fights (more like disagreements) would break out at serving time on whom would eat first. Simon had to enact some table manners to keep the peace. They communicated with whistles and clicks, and although Simon could understand most of what they meant he was not able to duplicate the sounds nor could they learn to speak his language.
The universe offered a strange mystery from the very first outside contact with a life away from Earth. No matter how far away life always followed a basic genetic pattern. Especially humanoids; always two hands, two feet, one head, eyes, mouth, etcetera. The Bible thumpers took this to be proof of a God and science took it to be evidence of some great civilization seeding the universe. No matter what all living things shared a basic DNA. When Simon did a DNA sample on his new friends they came out 99.9999% human as he was. Theoretically they could have his children.
Simon’s ability to make useful things was something so huge to them it was clear they did not know how to deal with it. They grasped the practical application of the spear and soon everyone was carrying a spear. Simon expanded the basic concept and taught them how to build and use an Attala (spear throwing stick) and it was as if he had taught them to walk on water.
It took some effort and bunches of trial and error but Simon finally managed to make a decent bow and some really good arrows. He made arrowheads from salvaged pod metal and ground them razor sharp on smooth stones. It took a lot of practice to master shooting the bow and arrows but after hundreds of tries he started to get pretty good. First on the menu was one of those tiger striped deer. He missed the first time but made a clean kill the second. His people, as he called them, were amazed and had never seen so much meat before. There was a feast that night and Simon taught his people how to dance by fire light.
The next day Simon was teaching them to shoot a bow and arrow. It seemed to Simon that as smart as his people were they had limited innovation skill. To be fully human this was a biggie. In his opinion to be human was to look a pile of nothing and see some potential and to build what the mind conceived. This had always been easy for Simon and the reason he had become a mechanic slash handyman. He had to stay busy or he felt frustrated, his mind was forever active and always thinking up some future project. His people simply existed until something wonderful was presented to them. Something in their evolution had stifled their creativity. It was clear that when Simon stopped teaching they would stop leaning.
Simon had to drop down to just one smoke per day and it was killing him. He was irritable and impatient. Suddenly Zip sounded the alarm. Some of his people were practicing archery when something big and mean sounding came crashing through the brush. His people stopped what they were doing and broke into a panicky run away from the sound. Simon started to follow when a large lizard-like thing burst into the clearing. It was at least twenty feet long, shiny black, resembling a long legged Earth based Komodo dragon except for the two prehensile jaw appendages peculiar for this world. It was fast and made for a slower running child overtaking it in two bounds. It would have gotten the child if not for the heroic Zip who slammed into its head before it could grab the child. The creature spun its head into the dog knocking Zip end over end through the air by several feet. Zip landed hard and was clearly stunned and could not get up and run. The monster bounded after the hapless pooch intent on an easy meal.
Simon did not think—he reacted. He scooped up a discarded bow and some arrows and started shooting the beast. The arrows found their mark in the meaty area between its shoulder and long neck. Once wounded it turned on Simon and presented him a frontal target. There was no use trying to outrun the beast so Simon stood his ground and launched arrow after arrow into its chest. Each arrow slowed it down a little more but did not stop it. Simon retreated slowly picking up arrows and shooting them into the monster. Just when it seemed that Simon would be next on the menu the beast fell just three feet from Simon’s feet. Simon grabbed up a spear and stabbed the thing over and over again…it seemed like the right thing to do.
Once sure the lizard was dead Simon ran to Zip. Zip was on his feet but clearly hurt. Simon comforted the loyal dog and Zip licked his face and hand. Zip seemed badly bruised and shaken but Simon was pretty sure he could recover.
In the mean time the people had returned and stood in what was clearly awe at the dead monster. They whistled and clicked away pointing at Zip and Simon with what seemed like fear and respect. In their mind there was no limit to what Simon could do. They had once been the main food source for this beast and in an instant that had all changed.
Simon was coming down off his adrenaline high and felt a tickle in his chest. When he stood up and coughed into his hand and saw blood. “Grait,” he cursed.
The Medicap in the pod told Simon what he already knew; lung cancer. Back on the ship they could grow new lungs and have robot surgeons replace them. It was not going to happen here. Simon had only one smoke left so he would have had to quit anyway but old Mr. Tobacco had saved him one last surprise and Simon would die. When? Not even the Medicap could say. The cancer was the aggressive kind so Simon guessed it might be a few months but certainly not even a year before the agonizing end.
More of his people came from miles around to see Simon, Zip, and the dead beast.
Simon was great before but after killing the beast he was treated like a newly discovered deity.
The beast was inedible and the meat had to be dragged away. The hide was thick and rubbery and Simon used it to cover a kayak he was making. The teeth made superb arrowheads and the claws were not quite a knife but certainly made a useful tool once a handle was fixed. The long eye teeth were near perfect spear points.
Simon worked day and night teaching and making things. At some point Simon realized that everything he was trying to do for his people would be gone again in a generation.
It was Zip that provided a possible solution. Zip had found a fox-like animal desirable and had had his way with several of the gentile females he had romanced. Their pups were smart, friendly, and as happy and smart as Zip was. His people could convert them into useful companions to be used for hunting and guard duty. Zip and the Fox-like thing’s DNA combined made a better offspring.
What his people needed was fresh gene stock—gene stock with creativity and innovation. By this time Simon found the women attractive and they certainly were enamored with him. His people had no sexual hang ups and freely engaged in this activity anywhere, anytime, and often. Up to this point Simon had felt overwhelming guilt and shame at even thinking such thoughts but his resolve was fading when it occurred to him he might be helping them in the long run. Engaging in sexual activity again before he died did not seem like such a bad idea, too.
That night Simon went to work—which was not to be confused with real work. Word soon got out and every night two or more ladies would spend the night in his hut. Getting them pregnant was no longer a theory and soon numerous baby bumps could be noticed.
Simon got weaker and weaker as he got sicker and sicker. It was very clear he would never meet his children. His people knew something was wrong but also knew there was nothing they could do to help him. It was going to be close race to see his first born birthday but a race Simon would not win.
Simon was in bad shape, really bad shape. He was so weak he could hardly move from his hut to his rocking chair. His amorous night time escapades has stopped a while back and it was unlikely they would return. He could no longer teach or build so one morning when the wind was blowing off the coast and out to sea he decided it was time to go.
He had carefully planned this morning and had everything prepared. He had his people help him down to the beach. After closing the pod hatch he had his people roll the pod out into the sea. The wind and a little tide caught it and it started to slowly leave the shore. When the wind came up like this it would blow for many days so the pod would keep going away from shore.
No use saying goodbye since his people could not understand. Zip had figured it all out and wanted nothing to do with it. Simon had anticipated this and had made a leash to keep him from following Simon, it was best if Zip stayed with his people. Simon popped the inflation ring on the rubber raft and it quickly filled out to form a little one man emergency boat just big enough to sit in.
Simon turned to see hundreds of his people standing on the beach. They probably did not know what was going to happen but they knew something big would transpire. Simon was crying like a little kid and could not stop. No use prolonging what had to be done, Simon waved goodbye and got into the little rubber boat. He used the spare double ended paddle he had made for the kayak to paddle after the pod. Zip was going crazy and whined and barked like a crazy dog but Simon never looked back and kept paddling. He always hated goodbyes. The wind and tide helped him make good time and soon shore was well behind him.
Simon had little strength so when he reached the pod he grabbed hold of a handle and let the wind carry them out to sea. Simon must have fallen asleep because he woke up with a start to find he was out in the middle of nowhere—no land in sight—and it was a little past mid day.
With some difficulty Simon managed to get into the pod along with quite a bit of sea water. He had weighted the bottom of the pod with rocks so the open hatch stayed above water but would still be accessible. He coughed up some blood and was really out of breath before he got settled into the pod. With his added weight the sea was very close to coming in the open pod hatch.
Simon tried to catch his breath but clearly it was not going to happen. He found the foil packet with the “pills” and quickly swallowed them least he lose his nerve. He had one last misshapen, oddly stained smoke and lit it up. It tasted like Zip piss. “Grait,” he cursed, and shifted his weight to let the sea pour in the hatch.
“Smoking sucks,” Simon thought as the pills and the sea quickly went to work.