Short story written for the Final Frontier competition.
|“Space travel is fucking boring! “
The thought came and went for the umpteenth time that day. No matter how hard he tried to ignore it, Howard Wassermann was bored out of his skull.
“Stix! Confirm trajectory vectors please.”
Wasserman cringed at the use of the nickname. He hated being called “Stix” almost as much as he hated the man who had saddled him with the offending epitaph.
“Vectors green across the board Skipper.” He answered flatly.
“Good! Let’s keep it that way.”
“We’re a projectile hurtling through space you idiot, light years from anything. What could possibly alter our trajectory?!” He thought.
In addition to being bored, he was irritated. Everything was getting on his nerves, especially Skip “The Skipper” Johnson. Wasserman hated everything about the man. He hated his stupid name. He hated his childish sense of humor, the ease with which he seemed to go through life, the way he spoke, even the way he combed his wavy blonde hair. But the thing he hated most was the indignity of having to subject himself to ridicule from someone so obviously inferior in every possible sense. The stupid nickname was only the tip of the iceberg.
He felt a familiar flair of rage as he watched the Skipper go through the motions of his routine systems checks. Howard Wasserman was close to committing murder. He felt the strangely comforting clench in his chest as his body released a glorious cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline in anticipation of some impending mayhem. He could feel his pulse quicken, his breathing reduced to shallow gasps as his mind began projecting one of his favorite mind-movies. He saw himself leap out of his chair, an agile predator quickly closing the short distance to the Captain’s console. He felt his excitement rise as his mind-movie-self grabbed the gold inlay Mont Blanc the Skipper always carried around with him and with one quick forceful jab, stabbed the Skipper in the eye. He gasped almost audibly as he imagined the cold metal shaft of the pen tearing through the Skipper’s cornea, sinking deep into the soft tissue of the eye, completely obliterating his ice-blue iris. His heart was beating so fast and hard he was sure the others would hear, but he couldn’t control himself. His little mind movie just kept rolling along, each second bringing new delightful horrors. He could feel the Skipper’s blood as it gushed from the gaping wound, bathing him in warmth. The terrified screams of the remaining crew members creating a symphony in perfect harmony with the delightful aroma of coppery arterial blood, driving the primitive part of his brain into a frenzy of murderous madness.
He gasped again, this time loud enough for the others to hear, as his excitement reached almost orgasmic proportions. The sound snapped him back to reality. He glanced around self-consciously, sure the others had heard, certain they would burst out laughing, pointing at the seemingly enormous bulge the fantasy had formed in his pants.
“Get a hold of yourself old boy! Now’s not the time to let the Genie out of the bottle! At least not yet…” The thought made him smile. It was a deep, dark smile, the sight of which would only serve to convince his fellow crewmembers that their suspicions about him were not quite as unfounded as the doctors back at mission control would have them believe. He would have to be careful. He knew the others suspected he was losing his mind. If they only knew.
Fooling the barrage of doctors and tests which were a standard entry requirement to the Genesis One project had been easy enough – he’d been fooling doctors all his life – but he had known it would be more difficult to hide his monster living in close quarters with the rest of the crew for so long. It was always only going to be a matter of time before they realized something was off. He couldn’t quite explain it, but people always instinctively gravitated away from him. Almost as if they subconsciously sensed the danger, the way a small animal could sense the presence of a predator. He had seen it the first time in his mother’s eyes, many years ago and long before she ever caught him with one of the many neighborhood pets that would offer up their little lives in his pursuit of entertainment. He swiveled his chair back, away from the holographic projection that constituted Genesis One’s navigational control panel and headed off towards the galley. He needed some time to think. He knew the galley would be deserted – the sheep were all gathered around the Skipper. His fantasies were getting more frequent and more vivid by the day. He knew this meant that his timeline would be moved up, whether he liked it or not.
The galley was deserted, as expected. The cold hard surfaces reflected the bluish white light from the overhead lighting in a manner that made him think of an ice sculpture he had once seen at an open air Christmas market in Berlin. In reality, the entire interior design of the ship reminded him of the seamless, shiny white Ipad 8 his mother had given him for Christmas that same year. He often found himself reminiscing about his childhood since coming onboard Genesis One. Perhaps it was these frequent trips down memory lane that was causing the increased urgency with which his monster was clawing at his resolve. More often than not, when he found himself thinking of that Christmas, he would end up reliving the night after, savoring each little detail, each meticulously filed nanosecond of the night he first let the monster out in all of its glory.
He grabbed a mug from one of the pigeonholes where all the breakables were stowed and selected black coffee from the drop down menu on the food synth’s control panel. The hot coffee filled the room with the unmistakable aroma of fine roasted java. He took a sip of his coffee and was immediately reminded of why he hated the food synth. No matter how hard the techs tried, they could never quite get it right. The coffee looked the part, smelled great and to most people would taste just like the real thing, but Wasserman thought it tasted fake, like something was missing. He sat down at one of the long dining tables and was again reminded of that boyhood Christmas…
The freezing cold December air burned his lungs. He was fit, but the exertion in the blistering cold was taking its toll. He contemplated breaking off his pursuit but he knew that he might not get another opportunity for weeks. He had waited so patiently he deserved a reward. He was concentrating so hard on catching up with his quarry that he almost didn’t notice the pretty young blonde girl that had just stepped off of the straßenbahn.
Even from a hundred yards away she was gorgeous. He slowed his frantic pedaling, giving his aching legs a welcome rest. It was getting dark fast. The rising gloom provided the perfect cover for his advance. She was walking with a group of friends. They were chatting excitedly about something he couldn’t quite make out, paying little attention to anything else. He inched ever closer. Soon he could smell her. He had always believed that his monster was somehow related to a deeper animal instinct and she was the proof. It was her scent that first piqued his interest all those many months ago. Like the scent of a buck draws a lion, so her scent had drawn him in, got his very being trembling with unbearable excitement. He didn’t know if it was perfume or some natural endorphin she secreted, but it was magnificent!
She walked with her friends for another couple of blocks and then dashed across the street to her apartment building. Once he was sure she’d gone inside, he carefully maneuvered his bicycle through the line of cars parked in front of the old brownstone apartments and firmly secured it to one of the bicycle racks that lined the streets. He was glad to find an open space so close to her building. He knew that within a few hours, hundreds of bicycles would clutter up the sidewalks, a stark reminder that the age of fossil fuels was quickly drawing to an end, most people no longer being able to afford fuel for their once beloved cars. He gave the reinforced titanium chain lock a couple of hard tugs to make sure it was secure and then made his way over to the door through which Anna Baumgartner had disappeared a few minutes earlier.
Once inside her apartment building, he quickly made his way up to the 3rd floor apartment she shared with her grandmother. He knew that by now the old woman would be fast asleep, if sleep was what you called the alcohol induced coma he had witnessed on his previous “visits”. He took the last few stairs two at a time and quickly found the right door even in the gloom of the sparsely lit corridor. A minute later, he felt his heart leap excitedly at the sound of the tumblers of the old Yale lock falling into position. The electronic lock pick had been a good investment.
He carefully pushed the door open. He’d never actually been inside the apartment before. For an agonizing fraction of a second he was sure the front door would squeak loudly, betraying his presence before he even got inside, but his fears were unfounded. Any noise it did make, was drowned out by the cacophonous laughter of some studio audience on whatever sitcom the grandmother had been watching before she had finally passed out for the night. Anna, he knew, would be sitting in her favorite spot in front if the fireplace doing needlework, or perhaps reading the book she had been struggling to finish ever since he began watching her all those months ago.
Mindful not to make any noise, he slowly made his way through the small apartment. He knew the layout off by heart and was sure he’d be able to get within a few feet of her without being seen, but he was having a hard time concentrating. Here in the close confines of the apartment, her scent was overpowering. It was as if everything had been saturated in it. He felt dizzy. He had to steady himself. The last thing he wanted was to get careless now, to make some stupid mistake because he couldn’t control himself.
He stood in the hallway for a few seconds, waiting, listening. The house seemed oblivious to his presence. From the grandmother’s bedroom, the laughter of the studio audience had given way to the “Friends” theme song. From the lounge, the rhythmic ticking of the big cuckoo clock above the fireplace was barely audible. He began moving forward again, the thick hallway carpet masking any sound of his advance. He ran his gloved fingers along the wall, tracing the flow of the old-fashioned floral patterned wallpaper. The hall was devoid of photographs. He was half expecting it to be lined with rows of family snaps from happier times but, like the rest of the house, there was nothing.
At the door to the lounge he paused again. She was sitting with her back towards him, in her usual spot, facing the large windows overlooking the street. She was reading – she had her reading lamp on. He couldn’t see the massive old leather bound book, but he knew it was nestled on her lap. He had long wondered what she was reading. Whatever it was, it was a chore she seemed determined to soldier through. She never managed more than a few pages a night though. He knew he had to move quickly. His heart started racing again. Cold perspiration covered his brow. He realized he was shaking in anticipation, like a racehorse chomping at the bit, waiting for the starting gate to open, his muscles twitching and tweaking. He couldn’t contain himself any more. He sprung forward, grabbing a large Eifel tower snow globe from the coffee table as he went. She saw him approaching from the corner of her eye and half turned towards him before the first blow hit. It would be the first of many, but it would have been enough. The heavy snow globe fractured her skull, sending shards of bone shooting through her brain. She fell forward, knocking over the little reading lamp, her blonde hair already colored deep red from the oxygen rich blood spilling from the gaping wound above her temple. He sprung onto her, straddling her, raining down blows with the bloodied snow globe, sending sprays of blood and clumps of hairy scalp and brain tissue flying. Soon, he was covered in her. He licked sticky arterial blood from his lips. He was breathing heavily. He wasn’t sure how long the attack had lasted, but it had been devastating. Her beautiful soft features had been completely obliterated. The little reading lamp lay on the floor next to her broken head, bathing her in stark white light.
Wasserman licked his lips, half expecting the sweet, sickly taste of Anna’s blood. She had been his first – the first of many. He got up and deposited his cup in the dishwashing unit. He had work to do. In a few weeks they would be entering the final phase of their mission. Mars would be a new beginning for him. There would be a lot involved in getting the living quarters rigged up and all the systems fully functional. He couldn’t do everything by himself. He needed the others. For now…
Word Count - 2296