Friday Night Story


The first astronauts, the Mercury Seven, were madmen riding bullets through the atmosphere. They were angry when they were told they would only be controlling the pitch, roll and yaw in orbit, and not truly piloting. They were livid when a monkey got the first ticket up. And they agreed to strap themselves to these supersonic orbital shells without a drop of liquor in them. The first astronauts were either the stupidest men to live or crazy brave with the narcissistic abandon it takes to die in a ball of fire.

“Trace intoxicants discovered in gaseous form.” “Eat me.” “Checking list of subroutines. Command not found. Scanning for intoxicant source.” “Don’t bother.”

Spaceflight never got much further than Mercury. Yeah, there was the lunar landing, then the shuttles, then the shuttle disasters, then reforms, then more disasters, but the idea behind it never became any more grand than riding a firecracker with paper skin through the a cosmos filled with razor-edged rocks.

“Source discovered. Gaseous intoxicant contaminant source located inside pilot. Regulations dictate inebriant blood test.” “No. No more needles. Last time you gave me a bone marrow biopsy.” “Protest logged. Alternate diagnostic search.”

Modern spaceships abuse the hell out of the idea that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed by reusing human waste products as energy and using the absorbed heat humans give off to power the process. The waste recycling uses bacterial processes to reenergize the waste, then feeds it back into the bloodstream through an IV. Over the years, the attrition rate has fallen to a 15% annual loss, which can easily be supplemented with a small frozen nutrient block.

The computer had been quiet for thirteen seconds, which I thought meant it had given up and gone back to sleep, until a small probe jabbed out of the control panel. “Blow.” “You blow.” “Without assurance you are not piloting while intoxicated, craft momentum will terminate.” “You’d kill half our reserves to stop us, then we wouldn’t have enough fuel to refire. We’d float dead in space.” “Automatic shutdown will commence in T-minus ten without sample for verification.” I blew.

Still, the mechanism of flight remains largely unchanged. The only true advance has been the orbital launch stations, designed like a floating rifle by an architect with a terrible sense of humor, even down to the observation deck resembling a rifle sight. The station realigns itself with thrusters for new targets. Launches are coordinated with astronomic charts by the same kinds of supercomputers that cracked the human genome- and I suspect that they may be the same model.

“Intoxicants verified in exhalation. Shutdown will commence.” “Wait. I have overly high acetone. Subsistence diets can result in several thousand times higher levels of acetone, which can test as ethanol.” “Verifying medical veracity. Data found. Blood test required to prevent momentum termination.” “Fine.” A panel by my left elbow flipped down, and a spindly arm snaked out with a shiny syringe. The needle still had my blood spattered on it from the last time. The arm jolted its head from side to side, then struck. “Christ almighty, you just stabbed an artery. You’re supposed to use venous blood.” “Correct. Realigning for venous insertion. Apply bandage and pressure to allow proper clotting.” “I hate you.” “System performance feedback logged.”

A good pilot launches with just enough fuel to correct a 10% trajectory error over a three year flight; any more than that costs you because of the increase in weight. For another three percent boost, you can cannibalize your nutrient block and any extraneous body fat you can spare. Crazier pilots have been said to bounce off orbiting bodies to achieve a larger degree change, called the ‘Hail Mary’ bounce.

“Processing blood. Ethanol presence detected. Momentum termination commences in T-minus ten, nine,” as long as he kept talking, he wasn’t paying attention to the new code I was inputting into the console. “Eight, seven, six,” he continued, as the code loaded. “Five, four, three,” I held my breath, wondering if the code would execute before he sentenced me to a floating death. “Two. Wh- why, I am an annoying little girl, and it is my bed time. Shutting down.”

Some pilots have learned to filter the ethanol primer out of their fuel. Some of these pilots then learned to power down the ship computer so they could have a drunk nap.

I took one last sip from a plastic reservoir attached to my catheter. It takes a certain kind of man to volunteer to be shot across the solar system in a glorified soda can- the same kind of man who would get drunk off liquor made of his own urine and fuel. In the 1800s they were pioneers, then cowboys. In the 1900s they were flyboys, then astronauts. This century, they call us spacemen.

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