Not Being Michael Collins

It was a dream, or it was like a dream. Alone, on Intrepid, with Mars spinning below him and the immense cylinder of the alien ship hanging above him, everything in his field of view defied the understanding of the most primitive parts of his brain. It left Rothmeyer mildly and continuously unnerved.

Below, on the planet, Heinz and Meade were packed like sardines in the MEM – the Mars Lander – watching the Polixaci building their embassy. They were the first and second men to walk on Mars, respectively. Gerald Rothmeyer, on the other hand, stayed on Intrepid.

There was little to do besides sit and watch the comings and goings above. Smaller subsidiary vessels – freight landers, themselves larger than an oceangoing aircraft carrier – would approach from below and dock for loading, then detach and drop towards the planet. It had been going on for two days, since just after the MEM touched down and the invitation to join them had gone up.

Rothmeyer slept a lot. It was quiet, peaceful, on Intrepid. The only noise was the whine of the air system. Quite a change from the weeks in transit, bumping elbows and knees with the other two men. When they had slid down into the MEM and detached for their de-orbit burn, he'd been too relieved to be jealous.

There had been a handshake meeting down there, performed in suits on the open surface. They'd gotten up close and personal with the Polixaci, the first to do so besides the old ISS crew. They were talking. They were in the Rollabout driving around the periphery of the building site while aliens in mech-suits built the temporary facility they would live in while they built the main embassy dome. He was jealous now.

During the weeks in transit, with Earth shrinking behind them, Meade had taken to calling him 'Collins'. Good-natured ribbing between comrades. Friendly. Michael Collins had stayed behind in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, and become the answer to a trivia question. It didn't bother him. Not really.

He was asleep when Captain Heinz's voice erupted from the comm system. “Intrepid, Hellas Base.”

“Intrepid here, go ahead Hellas.”

Intrepid, we're going to try something here, we're hooked up our comms to the Polixaci communications system, we've been talking to Mission Control real-time. They want to talk to you, we're going to patch it through our system. You should hear Mission Control next, over.”

Real-time... instead of an half hour round-trip light-speed delay. “Roger, Hellas Base. Ready, over.”

There was nearly a minute of dead air, and then came, “Intrepid, this is Mission Control, do you read, over?”

“Mission Control, Intrepid. I read you five by five. Go ahead.”

Rothmeyer, Houseguest is asking if you want to visit Mother. You'd EVA, they'd come pick you up and then bring you back. What do you think, over.

'Houseguest' was the robotic Polixaci representative secretly observing the mission from NASA. 'Mother' was the liner; the immense alien ship hanging in orbit just above him. “Mission Control, Intrepid.” He couldn't formulate a response. “Mission Control... Intrepid. No one would be on duty on the flight deck, over.”

There was a pause, and then: “Intrepid, Mission Control. The consensus here is that it's acceptable under the circumstances. The P... Houseguest says Mother will bring you back to Intrepid if there's any problem. Bill's call is that it's up to you. Over.”

He studied the alien ship; it was more than a kilometer long, a series of cylinders – some overlapping – around a central spine, with a tapered spike at one end and a bulbous projection at the other. There were reportedly tens of thousands of beings aboard, from hundreds of different races. There was unimaginably advanced technology; Somewhere inside that cylinder was the secret to super-luminal travel.

How could he say no?

The Captain's voice replaced Mission Control. “Jerry, we're on private now: we're agreed down here, you should definitely go. The Polixaci guarantee a ride back if anything goes wrong with Intrepid. That was my condition. What do you think?”

He was exhilarated and terrified all at once. “I guess I'm game.”

I'll tell Mission Control, and Houseguest will tell Mother. I'd expect company pretty soon. Over.”

“Roger, Hellas, Intrepid out.”

By the time he had his suit on, an elongated black egg the size of a two-story house had appeared outside the viewport, close aboard. He made his way to the lock and cycled through.

Mostly for the log, he spoke. “This is Rothmeyer. I'm leaving the spacecraft for my rendezvous with the Polixaci support craft. If I'm not back in an hour, send Flash Gordon.”

It wasn't his first EVA. He'd been engineer on one of the first second-generation shuttle missions. The new suits were thinner, though, tighter, more form-fitting and. This was as naked to the vacuum of space as he'd ever felt. He willed his muscles to pull the rest of his body out into the speckled darkness.

There was an oddly-shaped figure standing on the hull of the alien craft. The Captain's description of their suits as 'mechas' was apt. Rothmeyer resisted the urge to wave.

It was waiting to see what he would do. Fine. “I'm moving away from Intrepid now. He activated his suit's maneuvering system and slowly, carefully, traversed the distance between the two vessels. When he was close enough, the alien reached out and grabbed him by a carabiner on his suit. Rothmeyer was passive as the alien pushed him with practiced ease down into his craft.

First human to set foot on an alien spacecraft. None of the ISS boys did that. “Aboard the alien support craft now. Roomy inside. Laid out pretty much like ours; form follows function, I guess. Chairs are different.”

The alien wasn't a Polixaci. It was a bit smaller than a man, and heavily furred, with a mouth and nose out of a horror film. Rothmeyer spent the last few minutes of the ride up to the liner trying to get a good high-def photo of its photo with his suit camera.

The unidentified alien never took off his suit, and so neither did Rothmeyer. They docked. The alien gestured towards the airlock, which was already in the process of opening to him when he looked over at it. His pilot stayed behind. “I'm moving from the support craft into the liner now.”

There was gravity without spin. He pulled himself awkwardly into it, and stood up. There were dozens of them, mostly Polixaci, but others also.

The compartment was large, and there were observation galleries above. Both spaces were brimming with aliens, all fixated on Rothmeyer. He was the only one wearing a pressure suit. He knew the Polixaci breathed a mix close enough to an Earth-normal atmosphere; he reached up and unfastened his helmet. “I'm inside. I'm on board the liner.” He allowed himself the luxury of wondering how jealous of him Heinz and Meade were right now, knowing that he'd always be the first human to board an alien starship.

What was walking on Mars next to that? Mars wasn't going anywhere...

Zombie Drabble #391 “Awareness”

It was just a head.

It sat there, leaning against the curb, the bloody jaw moving, tongue writing, eyes, darting back and forth. The body was still under the truck.

“Whadda you reckon it’s thinking?”

“I doubt it’s thinking anything at all. They appear to act on instinct. It might not even be aware that it’s been decapitated.”

“Betcha it does. I bet that head flew off that body right when the truck hit it. I bet that zombie’s eyes was wide open as the head rolled on the ground. I’d betcha anything. That sucker knows it’s just a head.”

Zombie Drabble #390 “Empowerment”

The scouts were lined up against the wall, talking, eating. She walked up purposefully, as if she wasn’t afraid, and pointed to Ching’s crossbow. “I want to learn.”

Ching didn’t even look at her. “Girls don’t have to stand guard duty. Go on now.”

“Mother says they should. And I wanna learn anyway.”

The others laughed, but Ching regarded her coolly. She couldn’t be more than twelve, and less than a hundred pounds. “I won’t take it easy on you just ‘cause you’re a girl.”

“I don’t want easy, I wanna learn to shoot.”

“All right then.”

“All right then.”

SF Drabble #390 “Monsters”

Kathlogroh knew the mirror-surface was a window behind which the natives watched his every more, studied him. He didn’t mind, not as long as they kept bringing him food.

The language barrier was formidable. He continuously tried to make them understand what components and materials he needed to build a transmitter that would bring rescue, but they seemed not to understand; certainly the components were not forthcoming.

Perhaps they were attempting to build it for him. Given their level of technology, the idea would have amused him had his desperation not been so great. He would have to keep trying.

SF Drabble #389 “Hoover”

“We poked a hole in the Universe.” The disheveled man in the lab coat said, beaming proudly.

“Where does it go?” The general frowned, watching the otherworldly shimmer hanging in mid-air.

“Outside… outside the Universe.”

“As in you have no idea. As in anything might come pouring out of that hole and—”

“Actually, the prevailing water-cooler theory around here is that it’s much more likely that our Universe will start pouring into the hole. Sucking everything in like a v—”

The general had grabbed the man by the collar of his lab coat. “Close it. Now.”

“But we don’t—”


SF Drabble #388 “Methuselahs”

When they made it illegal, I didn’t really mind it: I figured they’d ‘grandfather in’ those of us who’d done it while it was legal. For a while that held true. But then they passed all those discriminatory laws, and then finally, the General Assembly made kill-on-sight laws constitutional. Most of us went on the run then. Those that didn’t, well, I’m sure you know how that went. Of course, you can’t exactly tell us on sight, so it’s pretty easy to pass with forged documents.

I paid good money for immortality, and I mean to get my money’s worth.

Zombie Drabble #389 “Differently Abled”

They walked over, serious looks on their faces. “JIm…”

“Just spit it out, Reggie, I can take it.”

“Well,” he started, “It’s just, we don’t think you can keep up in the chair. And nobody wants to have to push you.”

“I can make better time on pavement than any of you, carrying more weight. This isn’t your grandma’s wheelchair, Reggie.” They wouldn’t make eye contact. “Fine. I’m taking my .32 with me.”

“Fair enough.”

A week later, sailing down Highway 3 at twenty miles an hour, Jim passed Reggie’s zombie. He yelled, “Asshole!” He didn’t bother to shoot him.

Zombie Drabble #388 “Sniper”

The zombie was almost to him, mouth agape, arms outstretched, when its head disintegrated, spattering him with blood and bits of rotten flesh. He sat, dumbstruck, with the gore dripping off of his face, while two more zombies were felled. Only then did he hear the distant crack of a rifle shot, and it came after the bullets found their mark. Whoever he was, his benefactor was far away.

Too far to tell the difference between a zombie and a blood-spattered man? He crawled on all fours, as quickly as he could, towards shelter. Best to not take the chance.

SF Drabble #387 “Still On Vacation”

We went from Friktik to Ri’ on the mail-runner, not wanting to wait three weeks for the next liner.

I guess something about the Liner, maybe its size, minimizes the physiological effects of the Polixaci drive, because when the mail-runner left normal space, we both got dizzy and fell out of our chairs. The crew apologized: they thought we knew. They wouldn’t say why it doesn’t happen on the liners, though. We got the impression they weren’t supposed to.

Ri’ is beautiful. Mostly forest, these immense trees that sing in the wind. Worth it, so glad for those extra weeks.

SF Drabble #386 “Not Monster”

It had a name. Kathlogroh. The little boy told them the name, told them it was a he, that he was friendly.

On closer inspection: they should have known he was no monster: he wore clothes, had tools attached to the clothes. He was injured, though not severely. He could talk after a fashion, in single words, in simple concepts. Not learned from the boy. Maybe he’d been monitoring communications before crashing.

He agreed to come back to the army base; he wanted electronics to build a transmitter. And: "Stay away crash. Invisible death." We’re assuming he means the radiation.

SF Drabble #385 “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”

He was staring down at his Pad, like he did in most of his free time, when suddenly he laughed.


“I accidentally switched this thing to Earth time. It changed the calendar, too.”


“So, guess what today is.”

“John, I really don’t—”

“Merry Christmas.”

She stared at him for a minute. “John, what does it matter if it’s Christmas or Easter or Boxing Day? That’s Earth. This isn’t.”

He scowled. “I just thought you’d get a kick out of it, that’s all.”

She sighed, shook her head. “Oh, fine. Merry Christmas, John. Happy?”

He grinned. “Yeah, I am.”