Not Another Fish Planet by Margret A. Treiber

15-year-old Zunzheim has been rescued from a death camp by a spaceship from the future, with a skeleton crew that's barely holding it together; by Margret A. Treiber.

"I still don't understand how you became captain."

"Acting Captain," Day corrected.

"Acting Captain." Zunzheim rolled his eyes.

"Because after the accident I was the only one qualified. I tried to turn it down. When all the dust settled, it was me, a nurse practitioner, three marines and half of the maintenance department left onboard. Maintenance didn't want marines in charge, so it's me. Boucher was the ranking marine, so she is the first officer."

"Maintenance would rather have a suicidal, misanthropic captain, than a marine?"

"Maintenance is suspicious of authority figures," Day answered. "They have their own informal command structure. I don't pretend to understand it. After you're loose for a while, you'll see how they get. Things are a little different here."

"I've noticed." Zunzheim shook his head. "Every day I'm here, I find out something new and weird. What kind of ship is this, anyway?"

"The kind that saved you from the death camps," Day replied. "Can't be that bad."

"Except I'm millions of miles away from my home and family. I still barely know anything about computers or space travel. I was just an apprentice automotive mechanic. And now you have me running engineering."

"It beats dying. And you know much more than you did when you got here," Day said. "You have the basics. Nothing's blown up yet. You'll figure the rest out."

"How?" Zunzheim asked.

"The same way you got the rest of it. Keep reading. The ship has a huge technical library. Now go. Your insecurity is messing with my head. Go report that the captain is still alive."

Zunzheim made a noise that sounded like a grunt and a whimper mated. He left Day alone in the Electronic Modular Enclosure. Day locked the door behind him.

Zunzheim made his way back to the med lab. Lieutenant Lee and Doctor Wirth were engaged in their daily medical "catch-up" discussions, where Lee explained modern medical concepts to Wirth.

"Captain's in EME 1," Zunzheim announced. "She's still alive."

"How is she?" Lee asked.

"I think she is crazy," Zunzheim replied. "She told me about her problem."

"You mean about preferring machines to people, or about her bad childhood?"

"Both," Zunzheim answered.

"Yeah, she's complex," Lee said. "Was she dressed?"



"Is that normally a problem?" Zunzheim asked. "Her being dressed."

"She's been known to neglect her personal hygiene when she is communing with the ship's systems. This means the computers and the Captain are functioning normally."

"Communing with the ship's systems?"

"Yup," Lee responded. "How are you adjusting?"

"A lot better than the Captain," Zunzheim answered.

"Exactly," Lee said.

"That's why you sent me there? To use the Captain as some kind of measuring stick?"

"It worked." Lee smiled. "We needed to check on her, and you needed a morale boost. See, you'll be okay. You're young, you'll adjust. How are the dreams?"

"Better," Zunzheim responded. "No, not better. They're just as bad, only they happen less often."

"Good." Doctor Wirth looked up from his tablet. "That's progress. Remember, we were very fortunate."

"Yeah, but what about the others? They didn't get whisked away in a future ship. You think that once you remove my tattoo and give me a space job, I'd just forget? I remember them all, dying next to me."

Wirth turned to Lee. "He still has survivor's guilt."

Lee shrugged. "That's normal."

"Stop that," Zunzheim said. "Stop talking about me like I'm not here."

"We're doctors," Wirth replied. "We're here to care for you."

"You don't have to make me feel like a thing."

"He feels objectified," Wirth said to Lee.

"He needs to spend more time with people closer to his age," Lee responded.

"That's enough," Zunzheim yelled. He stormed out of the med lab, stumbling when he stepped down on his smaller leg.

"Kids," Wirth muttered. He picked up his tablet and continued reading.

Zunzheim went back to the engine room and started an auto-diagnostic scan on all the systems. While it was running, he decided to study more engine theory. He connected to the ship's library, only to have his connection drop moments later. He tried again and it failed.

"Scheisse!" Zunzheim cursed. He pushed the intercom to maintenance. "Could you please send one of the Joneses to engineering?"

"The Joneses are occupied," Bob Fussell replied. "There are only Fussells and Greens here now."

"Well, my library connection keeps stopping."

"I can have a Jones over there in two hours."

"Fine." Zunzheim got up and went to the mess hall.

Zunzheim arrived to find the place relatively empty. He stepped up to the counter next to Ensign Johnson. Johnson hung onto the counter like he would fall off the ship if he let go. He was wearing his EVA suit and carrying a sack.

"Are you alright?" Zunzheim asked.

"I'm alright as a man can be riding in a metal box, in the vacuum of space. You know, any tiny piece of debris could hit the hull, and we are all goners."

"You overreact." Chef Nakamora looked up from his cooking surface. "Nobody dies in this celestial home."

"Goners," Johnson repeated.

"It seems safe to me," Zunzheim shrugged.

"Don't let them fool you," Johnson stated. "It's a death trap."

Zunzheim watched as Nakamora prepared the meal. He was impressed by his focus and commitment to the task.

"He doesn't even try to disguise it anymore," Johnson complained. "It's bad enough we could die any second in this tin box, we should at least get something edible."

"It's food," Zunzheim replied.

"Yeah," Johnson said. "But man can't live on fish alone."

"It's not the camp," Zunzheim reminded himself. "Not the camp."

Johnson patted Zunzheim on the back. "It's okay Zunny, it's okay."

"Chicken," Zunzheim said, as he rubbed his stomach. "I really miss chicken."

"I would kill for a ham sandwich," Johnson replied. "Or a steak dinner, but mostly ham. My mother made the best honey ham."

"Your mother isn't here and I cook what I get," Chef Nakamora stated, from behind the counter. "Find me ham, you get ham." He cleaned his knives and put them away. "Your lunch," he said. "No shellfish for Zunny." He served the pair a beautifully prepared array of sushi. The plates were colorful and elegant.

Johnson looked at the plate and his face dropped. "I just can't take it. If I see any more seaweed, I'll just die." He sat at a nearby table and started forcing down the food. Zunzheim sat across from him.

"You love this stuff," Johnson said to Nakamora. "You Japanese eat this crap every day. This doesn't even faze you."

"Your comments expose your small mind and limited understanding of my rich culture," Nakamora replied. "No doubt, you have heard of Kobe beef or Shogayaki."

The door opened and a tall, uniformed woman walked in. Master Sergeant Boucher glanced at the group of men at the counter and shook her head. "Are we having the sushi argument again?"

All three men nodded.

"Give it a rest," she said. "We have work to do. We found another potential on the scanners."

"Does it look promising?" Zunzheim jumped out of his chair, dropping his chopsticks.

Boucher shrugged. "Don't know yet, Zunny. We're still two days out of full scanner range".

Johnson jumped to his feet and both men started for the door. Boucher held up an arm, stopping the pair before they got too far. "Deep breath, don't psych yourself up for a letdown."

"But there's a chance," Johnson said.

"There's always a chance, Johnny," Boucher replied. "However, we need to remain calm."

"Okay, Bouchy," Johnson replied. Boucher sneered at him. Johnson returned the look and continued. "Not every planet in the in the galaxy can be a fish planet. We exist. And you once picked up signals from other races. So maybe, just maybe, we will find a burger out here in this fishy space hell."

"Maybe Earth is the only place in the universe with cows and pigs," Nakamora suggested.

"Don't ever say that!" Johnson pleaded. "Don't even think it."

The intercom buzzed to life. "This is Acting Captain Day. We've arrived at the next candidate. We are investigating the details, but as you know, we are working on limited sensor functionality. So we will have to send a party to investigate. Volunteers can meet me in EME 2."

"Crap," Boucher muttered. "Not EME 2."

"Why is EME 2 bad?" Zunzheim asked.

"EME 2 smells like feet," Johnson answered.

"Kind of like your EVA suit," Boucher said.

Johnson sneered at Boucher.

"Don't give me the stink-eye, sailor," Boucher said. "Wash your butt."

Boucher, Johnson, and Zunzheim made their way to EME 2.

One of the Joneses was waiting at the door. He was the tall, wiry one with red hair. "You volunteering?" he asked.

"Yeah," Zunzheim answered.

"Ever ride in a shuttle before?"

"No," Zunzheim replied. "Why don't we just use the teleporters?"

"Only one teleporter works," Jones replied. "And they are only certified for cargo transport."

Boucher smacked Jones in the arm.

"I was teleported up," Zunzheim said.

"It was an extreme measure," Johnson said. "You were about to die anyway."

"Nice, Nakamora, too?"

"Yeah, and Wirth, and me. They wanted to get more, but they only had six orbits and one working teleporter. They lost a couple. They said it was ugly."

"Johnson, enough," Boucher was clearly displeased. "He's fifteen."

"Well, I'm eighteen, and you told me."

"You were already a soldier; he's just a boy."

"It's okay," Zunzheim said. "I would have found out anyway. Thanks for telling me the truth, Johnny."

The door to EME 2 opened. Boucher coughed and waved her hand in front of her nose. "Maybe an air freshener, when you are expecting company?"

"Bad for the machines," Captain Day replied. She was in her underwear, hanging from a harness, midway between the floor and ceiling. She was entangled in a web of cables, plugging them into various ports.

"We have four volunteers. Me, Johnson, a Jones, and Zunzheim"

"Zunny," Day said. "You think you're ready for a field trip?"

"A what?" Zunzheim asked.

"Do you think you are ready to go see a new planet?"

"Uh, yes."

"Great, okay off with you four. I order you all not to die."

"Die?" Zunzheim asked.

"Yeah, don't do it," Captain Day said. "Have fun!"

Johnson guided Zunzheim out the door behind the others.

"Don't freak out," Johnson said. "We'll get you in an EVA suit and you'll be fine."

"Have you done this before?" Zunzheim asked.

"A couple of times," Johnson answered. "The doc made me do it the first time, to get over my constant fear of sudden decompression. It's incredible, like being in a really well-built plane. And maybe I'll get a chance to put my feet on solid ground again."

Johnson led Zunzheim to the mudroom, to suit up.

"Why aren't the others wearing one?" Zunzheim inquired.

"Because," Johnson answered. "We'll be on the shuttle. Technically, we would only need the suit if we step outside of it into a hostile environment."

"Then why are you and I wearing one?"

"I wear it because I seem to be the only one here that realizes the cold grip of space is bearing down on us. You are because it will make you feel safer. All first-timers wear the suit. I sneak one on board, myself, just in case."

"Oh," Zunzheim said. "That makes sense."

After Zunzheim was suited up, the pair boarded the shuttle with Jones and Boucher.

Boucher was seated at the pilot's seat and Jones was seated in the back. Johnson took the co-pilot seat. They all strapped in and began launch procedures.

Zunzheim turned to the Jones. "Have you done this before?"

Jones nodded. "Yeah, all the Joneses have. All the Fussells have, too. And three of the Greens have. Two of them are too scared. They finally started catching you up, huh?"

"Yeah," Zunzheim said. "I was recovering in the med lab for months."

"Sorry," Jones said. "You got trapped in the most historically ugly screw over of all time."

"It was bad," Zunzheim said. "But Wirth seemed to be okay."

"From what I heard, Wirth wasn't in as long as you were. They just grabbed him when we got him. You got the bad deal, my friend. That's why the Captain ordered a smooth transition for you."

"The Captain is crazy."

"Nah," Jones stretched. "The Captain is just really sensitive. It's good for us. She won't let us get hurt."

"When I talk to her, I feel like she is hiding things from me."

"I'm sure she is," Jones replied. "She's spoon feeding you the future, you know what I mean?"

"I think so," Zunzheim said. "I would rather just know everything now. So why are all the maintenance crew named Jones, Fussell, and Green?"

"Tell you what, after this, come visit us in the slag. We'll fill you in."

"Okay," Zunzheim agreed.

The shuttle bay doors opened, and the shuttle launched. Zunzheim crooked his neck to see the view out of his visor and the shuttle's window. "Wow," he muttered. "It's so real."

"You forget we're in space, living in the ship," Jones said.

"It's beautiful."

"Yes," Jones replied. "It is."

The shuttle looped around the ship, making a check for any obvious damage to the hull. Once they were satisfied the ship was in one piece they followed the course to the target planet.

As they approached, they could see thick cloud cover surrounding the planet. Boucher frowned.

"Not looking positive," Johnson stated.

The ship descended into the atmosphere. Zunzheim unhooked his safety equipment and stood up. He stepped up in between Boucher and Johnson. Clouds flowed over the ship, in a white stream. The windows were opaque from moisture. Then suddenly, the sky cleared and the universe became a vast watery expanse.

"Wow," was all that Zunzheim could say.

"Damn," Johnson buried his head in his hands.

"I told you not to raise your hopes," Boucher said. "Okay, I'll call it in." Boucher flipped the comm on. "Scout to Peabody."

"Acting Captain here."

"Captain, this is Boucher," she paused and took a breath. "We are fish positive."

"Damn," Captain Day sighed. "Survey for supplies."

"Yes, sir." Boucher brought the ship up to a higher orbit.

Johnson activated the sensors and launched a full planetary scan. "Cards?" he asked.

"Rummy?" Boucher asked.

"Poker," Johnson countered.

"Okay," Jones agreed. "Anyone want a swig?"

"What?" Boucher snapped. "I did not hear that, and that will never be repeated while on duty. Do you understand sailor?"

"Yes, sir," Jones replied. He sunk into his seat and moped.

"We're on a mission," Boucher stated. "Just because it's routine, doesn't mean this is a party. I know we're all under stress, but we need to remain professional."

"It's going to be like this forever," Johnson whined. "Fish every place we go."

"Okay, please explain all of this," Zunzheim said. "What exactly is the mission, and what does that have to do with eating fish all of the time?"

Boucher sighed. "Who wants to start?"

"I will," Johnson said. "Zunny and I are on the same page. Zunny, what do you know?"

"I know the spaceship is from the future and it came back in time," Zunzheim answered. "I know the Captain had me isolated to recover from malnutrition and stress until two weeks ago, and she has been training me to work on the engines. I know everyone is afraid to tell me anything."

"Okay," Johnson said. "A few hundred years in the future from 1942, the world finally developed the technology to build a spaceship to travel to distant worlds. For years, they collected data on planets that were sure to have living beings on them. They built the Peabody to travel to one of those worlds as the first interstellar voyage. It is the strongest, lightest, most advanced ship humanity built in their time. It runs on a prototype plasma engine, lined with dark hydrogen." Johnson shrugged. "I don't know what it means either, but they are very keen on it."

"I think the dark hydrogen helps contain the plasma," Zunzheim said. "Plasma is hard to contain. I've been reading about it so I can run the engines. I don't understand how it works, yet."

"That's some difficult stuff," Johnson replied.

"It is," Zunzheim answered. "But I have no choice, do I?"

"Guess you don't. Okay, besides that, does the rest make sense, so far?"

"Yes," Zunzheim nodded.

"Good," Johnson continued. "So when they planned the trip, they realized that it would take decades to get there. So the plan was to send the ship back in time eighty years, so when it arrived, it would be like it just left Earth. The crew was going to hibernate in shifts, so they would have four-hundred people aboard, but only twenty-five awake at a time. The ship was designed to run with a very small crew. There would be sixteen crews, each serving five years awake."

"Where were they keeping all those people?" Zunzheim asked. "The ship isn't that big."

"They were going to stay in the slag," Jones answered. "We were there setting up the sleeping cans when everything happened. You can stuff a lot of sleepers in a small space. They don't take up much room."

"So what happened?"

"From what we were able to determine," Boucher replied. "There was a crossed optical docking cable, and it started the time engines prematurely. Captain Day, who was not captain at the time, was onboard installing the computer systems. Half of the maintenance crew was setting up the hibernation bay. Lee was on board setting up the med lab. There were three marines, including me, providing security. Without warning, we were thrown back to your time, with our minimal crew."

"How did you survive that?" Zunzheim asked. "Weren't you terrified?"

"Of course we were terrified," Jones said. "We all cross-trained, but we don't have any of the science crew here. We had no idea how huge parts of this ship functions. And when we got to your time, we didn't know what to do first. The ship was preset to do six orbits before slingshotting out to our destination. None of us had a clue what would happen if we bypassed the proc, so we went with the preprogramming. Captain Day came up with the idea of using the transporter to grab as many people we could."

"How did you know who to grab?" Zunzheim inquired.

Boucher shrugged. "We guessed. We hoped we would get people with useful skills. Fortunately, the war made it easy to pull people who were about to die. We pulled you and the doc from the ovens. We pulled Nakamora from a kamikaze flight. Johnson was shot and dying in a foxhole. We tried to get two more, but they died in transport. We were lucky. We got a doctor, a mechanic, a chef and a farmer."

"I didn't know you were a farmer," Zunzheim said.

"Yes," Johnson replied. "I run the hydroponics lab. So whenever we get some seeds, I can grow us something other than seaweed. If we don't get crushed by the vacuum of space before then."

Boucher rolled her eyes.

"Why no seeds?" Zunzheim asked.

"They weren't loaded onto the ship yet," Boucher explained. "In fact, we would have starved if we had taken our original route. But we were lucky again. Since we went to the wrong spot in time, we lost our fix in space. So once the ship cleared the solar system, the nav system errored out and we had to find a new destination. In order to find food, Captain Day was able to change the parameters of the sensor search to find plant life. We found a living planet, very nearby Earth. But it was aquatic and non-sentient. So we loaded up supplies and continued on. We found five more planets with life since then. They all were fish worlds. This one makes the seventh. There, now you are caught up."

"Why not time travel back?" Zunzheim asked.

"Because none of us on board know how time travel really works," Jones answered. "We all have standing orders to study the procs whenever we can. We do, but no one has gotten a handle on it yet. We'll keep on trying."

Zunzheim didn't say anything at first. He just stared at the three faces around him.

"You okay, Zunny? Jones asked.

"Yes," Zunzheim answered. "This is better than a death camp. But not by much."

Johnson laughed. Zunzheim followed.

Johnson pulled out a deck of cards. "Poker!"

"I never played," Zunzheim said.

Jones grinned. "How much money do you have?"

After several hours, the crew completed the survey. Aside from two new sea plant species, there was nothing unusual. The Peabody pulled closer and fished the waters using the teleporter. Once food and water stores were filled to capacity, it was time to determine the next destination. The crew gathered in the mess hall.

Captain Day arrived, in uniform. "We need to decide our next course." The back wall of the mess lit up into a giant star map. Several planets of interest were circled, highlighted and labeled. "These planets all fit the criteria. They all have the ideal chemistry for life. We need to decide which one to go to next."

"How do we decide?" Zunzheim asked.

"Let's flip a coin," one of the Fussells said.

"No," Nakamora said. "Let's go to the closest one."

"Okay," Captain Day said. "All in favor of flipping a coin, raise your hand."

All the Fussells and two Greens raised their hands.

"Everyone in favor of going to the nearest one, raise your hands."

Everyone else raised their hands.

"Okay, the closest one it is. Set a course." Captain Day ordered.

"That's it?" Zunzheim asked. "No scientific analysis? Just choose one at random?

"We used to select them carefully," Day replied. "But after the fourth one, we stopped bothering."

"That seems irresponsible," Zunzheim said. "This is an important decision."

"Do you think you could do any better?" Day asked.

"I would at least try. Leaving it to chance is madness."

"Well, you pick the next one then," Captain Day said. "This one is close, so you only have four months to decide. I'll be in EME 1."

"Zunny picks the next planet!" Johnson announced. The room burst into cheers. The redheaded Jones mussed Zunzheim's hair.

"Come on," Redhead Jones said. "Come on down to the slag."

"Why do you call it the slag?" Zunzheim asked.

"Because it's where the trash is dumped."

Jones led Zunzheim through the Peabody, down to the underbelly of the ship.

"It's bigger than I expected," Zunzheim said.

"It was built to hold four-hundred people," Jones replied. "Now it holds us fifteen, and a really big party."

Zunzheim looked around; the place was filled with varying recreational apparatus. This included everything from exercise equipment to stills. It was packed with activity, like an adult playground. Zunzheim was impressed with how much life just fifteen people could bring to a place.

"Want a drink?" Jones asked.

"Sure," Zunzheim said. "But how?"

Jones handed Zunzheim a bottle. Zunzheim took a sip and nearly vomited.

"Seagrass booze," Jones said. "We call it seashine. Tastes like ass, but does the job."

"This is awful," Zunzheim said, and then took another swig. "Like my grandfather's slivovitz."

"Yes, it is," Jones agreed. He took the bottle from Zunzheim and drank. "Come on, I'll show you the shrine, and tell you about the Joneses, Fussells, and Greens."

Jones led Zunzheim to a quiet corner of the bay. A shelf held three pictures, illuminated by artificial candles.

"These are Jones, Fussell, and Green," Jones motioned to the three pictures, Zunzheim noticed that all three were women. "They died sealing the rest of us in when the ship went off. When we realized the ship was about to launch, they went EVA and closed the door from the outside. They were killed in the wake of the launch. Nobody asked them to do it. They just acted. And now, we all live."

"So you all named yourselves after them?"

"Yes," Jones said. "They deserved no less. But there was more. We knew that we were too shorthanded to handle our jobs in ideal conditions, never mind extreme ones. We realized we could handle it, if we could work in conjunction with each other, seamlessly. We needed to be synchronized. So we split ourselves into three groups. Computer systems, the Joneses. Life support and sanitation, the Fussells. Miscellaneous systems, the Greens. Then each group implanted neurological connectors between each other, so we could coordinate over the entire ship. So if we need to time things across different ends of the ship simultaneously, we can."

"So you are linked to all the Joneses? All the time?" Zunzheim asked.

"We do have a little privacy time, where we can disconnect. But even then, we can signal through to each other in an emergency. So we are never completely disconnected. For the most part, we are always linked."

"That's crazy," Zunzheim said. What if you don't like someone you are linked to?"

"You learn to like them, real quick."

"I have another question," Zunzheim said. "It may seem dumb."

"There are no stupid questions."

"Alright," Zunzheim replied. "Why is the ship run by women?"

Jones grinned. "Why not?"

"Well, men were in charge where I am from."

"That was okay with you?" Jones asked. "The men who decided to torture you, and treat you worse than an animal. That was okay?"

"No, it was... I never thought about it. We were used to it; it was the way it always was."

Jones shrugged. "Things changed. Now whoever is the best at the job is in charge. And on this ship, the best people to be in command are women."

"It's strange," Zunzheim said. "That's all."

"No stranger than only men being in charge," Jones replied. "Besides, the doctor is a man."

"But Lee still outranks him."

"Oh yeah, guess it's because she's been in the service longer. It's fair. And Jones, Fussell, and Green proved that we can count on them to save us. They can make the hard decisions."

"I thought the hard decisions were about sacrificing others," Zunzheim said.

"How can you ask others to sacrifice something you're not willing to sacrifice yourself?"


"Just think about it," Jones said. "Here, drink more of this." Jones handed Zunzheim the bottle.

Zunzheim took the bottle and another swig.

"Now that they let you out of the med lab, you should come down here more often. If you want, we could set up a bunk for you."

"Let me think about it," Zunzheim gulped another mouthful of seashine. "Captain's got me in quarters near her. I think she's watching me, because of the nightmares."

"Nightmares?" Jones asked.

"I dream about it," Zunzheim answered. "It was worse before, almost every night. Now, it's only once in a while. I can wake myself up from it now."

"What exactly do you dream about?"

"Nothing specific. It's mostly flashes of people and places, the things that terrified me the most. Sometimes I dream about my family, being separated. I dream about my broken leg and the pain of hard labor. I feel the hunger and isolation. It's strange, the isolation was almost the worst of it."

"Even more reason to stay with us, Zunny." Jones smacked Zunzheim on the back.

"Come to the engine room later and fix my terminal later?

"You got it!" Jones gave Zunzheim a thumbs up.

Zunzheim went back to his quarters to sleep off the seashine before going back to work.

When Zunzheim arrived at the engine room, Jones was already working on his computer systems.

"Hey, Zunny!" Jones said. "Almost got this fixed."

"What was it?"

"Your firmware needed an upgrade," Jones explained.

"Whatever that means."

"It means you have another thing on your list to study."

"I'll die of old age before I learn everything."

"Nah," Jones replied. "You'll just be really old."

"You have a lot of faith in me."

"How far have you gotten?"

"I completed my twentieth and twenty-first-century world history review. I'm up to the nineteen-seventies in my science and technology studies. When that's done, I hit the next century."

"Ah, firmware is coming soon," Jones explained. "You're getting there."

"I think my head is going to break, stuffing all this information into it."

"Eh, keep at it, you'll be fine. Come down to the slag and get polluted later. It'll help."

"Polluted?" Zunzheim asked.

Jones made a motion like he was drinking from a bottle.

"Ah, sauced."

Jones grinned. "Exactly."

"My grandfather said drinking is no escape for life."

"Didn't you say your grandfather made that silver bits?"

"Slivovitz," Zunzheim corrected Jones. "And that was for holidays when the family got together."

"We're family now, and we're getting together."

"You always a have a reason for everything."

"I'm a thinking man," Jones pointed at his head. "Full of reason."

"How do you do it?" Zunzheim asked.

"What, think?"

"No, stay so chipper," Zunzheim said. "You're also stuck far from your family."

"I was already at peace with that," Jones explained. "When I signed up, I knew I would probably never see anyone I knew on Earth again. They told us it would be a one-way trip. The accident didn't change that. It only made things cozier."

"How could you do that? How could you leave everything so easily?"

"It wasn't easy. I thought about it hard. But it was an adventure I couldn't pass on. I was lucky just to be selected for the program."

"How many people applied?" Zunzheim asked.

"Hundreds of thousands," Jones answered. "And that was the people who met the prerequisites. Every person in maintenance has at least a master's degree in engineering. Then, once we were picked as candidates, we had to make it through the military training."

"So this is a military vessel?"

"Yes and no," Jones replied. "We have military training and structure, but we represent all of planet Earth and belong to no country's military. It was done that way to maintain order. The real military people like Boucher are on loan to the mission on special assignment. They are supposed to be the best of the best."

"And here I am, no credentials, no skills, not even in top physical shape."

"Are you kidding?" Jones asked. "You are the toughest one out of all of us. And you have the potential to be whatever you want to be. You survived the unsurvivable, to go to the stars. That is pretty amazing. You deserve to be here. Never doubt that. The universe put you here for a reason."

"Yes, God did put me here for a reason. And according to the Captain, it is to study engines."

Jones laughed. "Acting Captain."

Zunzheim grinned and nodded. "Acting Captain."

The following weeks were routine. The crew continued to tighten up the ship's systems, and automate what they could. Zunzheim spent his recreational time down in the slag with maintenance.

"How are you feeling?" Day asked Zunzheim.

"I think I am going to be ill," he responded.

"Why is that?" Day appeared concerned.

"Because Bouchy is right, this EME smells like feet. How do you stand it?"

Day shrugged. "I'm used to it." She grinned. "I hear you're learning to have fun again."

"Jones is a good friend," Zunzheim said. "He is so alive."

"Yes," Day agreed. "Maintenance as a whole has a light about them. They're the glue that binds this crew. I told you it would make sense after some time."

"How are you feeling?" Zunzheim asked.

"Me? I'm doing well, considering. The crew is stable, so I'm fine."

"Good," Zunzheim nodded. "You should remember that they all value you."

Day raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yes, everyone on the ship respects you. They all appreciate that you do your best in a tough situation."

"You seem to have found your voice."

"I'm still getting used to things, but I'm starting to feel like I belong."

"Good," Day replied. "Maybe we'll both get through this."

"Only if you do something about the air in here."

"Get out." Day pointed at the door.

Zunzheim grinned as he exited. The door locked behind him.

"She's in EME foot stench," Zunzheim announced as he entered the med lab. "But she seems almost happy."

"Good," Lee smiled. "The supplements are working."

"What are you giving her?"

"A vitamin cocktail. But it's been helping her with the stress."

"Just vitamins?"

"Yes," Wirth replied. "It is amazing what good nutrition can accomplish. You've been doing extremely well."

"Fish must agree with me," Zunzheim said.

"Apparently so," Wirth agreed. "You're not hitting the seashine too hard, are you?"

"No," Zunzheim answered. "It's pretty disgusting going down. And the day after is even worse. But it was worth trying."

Lee laughed. "The first few batches of that stuff sent most of maintenance here. I'm afraid to go near it."

"It's safe," Zunzheim explained. "Except the flavor, and maybe the strength. A little goes a long way. As long as you know when to stop, you're okay."

Lee shook her head. "Spoken like a true teenager."

"He seems a lot better," Wirth observed.

"Yes," Lee agreed. "Reckless and full of energy." She addressed Zunzheim again. "Thank you for checking on the Captain."

"Acting Captain." Zunzheim corrected Lee.

"Go, before we examine you." Wirth picked up his tablet.

Zunzheim headed for the mess. He found himself standing next to Johnson at the counter. Johnson's EVA suit looked like it was recently cleaned.

"Deja vu," Johnson said. "We always end up here at the same time, even when we're on different schedules."

"Our stomachs are best friends," Zunzheim replied.

"They're definitely in sync." Johnson's legs wobbled and he grabbed the counter.

"I don't understand," Zunzheim said. "You have no problem on the shuttle, but on this giant, solid, ship, you cling on for dear life."

"This is a big box in a vacuum," Johnson answered. "The shuttle feels more like an airplane. It feels safer."

"Don't talk to me about airplanes and safety," Nakamora said.

Zunzheim laughed. "I think you chose the wrong plane, my friend."

Nakamora shook his head.

"Let's see what's for lunch," Johnson said. "Ham sandwich? Chicken soup? "No wait, let's see. It's sushi! What a huge surprise! Raw fish in this death bucket. So much fun."

"You can all bite me," Nakamora barked. He handed the pair each a plate that showed incredible artistry.

"I'm getting tired of fish," Zunzheim stated. "But you do make it look beautiful. You are an artist."

Nakamora bowed to Zunzheim. "Finally someone understands. In my last life, my family status precluded me from following my dream of becoming a culinary master. In this heavenly life, I finally can follow my dream. Even if I only have one ingredient, I can make it shine."

"Is that why you agreed to do it?" Johnson asked. "Because you couldn't follow your dreams."

Nakamora nodded. "Sometimes the only honorable way to live is to die. But my sacrifice was rewarded."

"You do know you are not dead," Johnson stated. "This isn't some afterlife."

"How can you be sure?" Nakamora asked. "You should thank the Gods for bringing you to this paradise. You should prove yourselves worthy of the gift."

"We're not dead," Johnson restated. "This is not heaven."

"Say what you want," Nakamora replied. "This is a new life. A life where I can strive for perfection. It is heaven."

Johnson looked down at his plate and back at Nakamora. "I hate sushi, but I agree you make it perfect."

Nakamora bowed to Johnson. "Thank you."

Boucher arrived. "What? No sushi argument?"

"Not today," Johnson replied.

"Maybe we broke the hex," Boucher said.

"We're still a few days out," Zunzheim said. "I've been watching our course."

"Glad someone is," Johnson said.

"It's part of my job," Zunzheim said. "I have to make sure that the navigation computers are calibrated with the engines. If not, we never get anywhere."

"What happens if you find out we're off?" Johnson asked.

"I work with the Joneses to fix it."

"He's got to keep up with the Joneses," Johnson said.

Zunzheim and Johnson laughed, nobody else did.

"I don't get it," Boucher said.

"You know," Johnson said. "Keeping up with the Joneses."

"No," Boucher shook her head.

"Seriously, Bouchy?" Johnson asked.

"Seriously, Johnny," Boucher replied.

"Well, that's a joke that didn't survive history," Johnson shook his head.

"Guess not," Boucher said. "See you cleaned your suit. You don't stink for a change."

"I didn't stink before," Johnson replied. "I do bathe."

"You have to disrobe to bathe," Boucher turned to Zunzheim. "You know he sleeps in that thing."

"So what?" Johnson replied. "You wear pajamas."

"Yeah, pajamas, not an EVA suit."

"Same difference," Johnson stated.

"No, it's not." Boucher disagreed. "So Zunny, how's it going picking the next planet?"

"Eh," Zunzheim replied. "They are all nearly identical. And they all seem to be just like the others we already looked at. I don't know if my choice will make a difference."

"Doesn't matter," Boucher said. "Just make a choice. People won't hold anything against you either way."

"But I want my choice to mean something. Not be just some random selection. With my luck, I'll pick the one place that has nothing edible on it."

"We have enough stores to last us eighteen months," Boucher replied. "Even if there's nothing there, it doesn't matter."

"Yeah," Johnson added. "You may get mocked a little, but nothing a little seashine couldn't take care of."

Boucher laughed. "The last thing anyone needs to do is get polluted with that crap. Do yourself a favor, and stay away from it."

"That's it!" Zunzheim jumped up out of his seat. "I know what to look for." Zunzheim ran down to the engine room.

When he arrived, he called maintenance.

"Maintenance, Fussell here."

"Hey, this is Zunny, could you send Redhead Jones down to the engine room?"

"Depends," Fussell replied. "Business or slacking off?"

"Business," Zunzheim answered. "But tell him slacking off, so he comes down."

"Got it," Fussell replied. "Give me ten."

"Thank you," Zunzheim said.

Sure enough, Jones arrived at the engine room ten minutes later.

"Are we working, slacking, pretending to work, or pretending to slack?" Jones asked.

"You are showing me how to set up a sensor scan."


"Because I want to change the parameters for the next planet we go to."

"Again, I ask why?"

"Because I have an idea," Zunzheim answered. "Will you help me?"

"Of course," Jones replied. "Let me show you how to adjust the scanners."

"Fish planet number eight," Boucher slumped into a seat at a table in the mess. "This is getting tiring."

A Jones and a Fussell followed behind looking dejected, frowning with their heads slumped.

"That's okay," Redhead Jones said. "Zunny has a plan!"

"Do you?" Boucher asked.

"He's going to pick the next planet, and it will have non-fish food."

"Jones," Boucher said. "You know better than to start raising people's hopes. It's a bad idea."

"True, but Zunny is very excited about this," Jones replied.

Nobody noticed that the Captain arrived until she spoke. "Jones, calm down. Everyone calm down. No moping, no hope-mongering, just calm down and use your facts."

"Okay," Zunzheim said. "Bring up the map."

A map lit up the wall. It showed the next handful of life-supporting planets.

"Which one and why?" Captain Day asked.

"None of these," Zunzheim replied. "Bring up the other map," he instructed the computer.

A different map of the regions appeared. These included the ones in the previous map, but also contained several other worlds that were somewhat less pristine.

"What's with those death traps?" Johnson asked.

"They're still inhabitable," Zunzheim stated. "They're just not clean. Our parameters were too strict. When the Captain set them, they were set for the safest places that would have food."

"Why would we go to any of those?" Boucher asked. "We're looking for safe planets with life for a reason."

"These are safe-ish," Zunzheim said. "They should have life, and best of all, they may have livestock."

"You're making assumptions." Captain Day asked. "How can you make that leap in logic?"

"Because they have methane," Zunzheim answered. "Elevated methane levels can be a byproduct of keeping large quantities of livestock, and crops like rice. I learned that in my history studies. It happened on Earth for a while."

"Even so," Day replied. "Let's not get excited. We can check one of them out. We have enough fish to last us a while. But let's not get our hopes up. Okay, which one?"

"Well, the closest one has extremely high levels of methane, and could actually be dangerous. The furthest one has moderate levels but is out of the way. The one here," Zunzheim pointed at the map to the planet in the middle. "It has moderate levels of methane, and it's close to the other clean planets, just in case we find nothing there. So, I think that's the winner."

"Okay," Day nodded. "Set the course."

The mess burst into applause.

"Calm down," Captain Day ordered. "I just told you. We have months until we arrive. Everyone just relax."

The room quieted down.

"I'll be in EME 2 if anyone needs me." The Captain left, shaking her head.

There was a buzz of excitement in the room. It would still be months until the ship reached the planet, but the sense of anticipation permeated every crew member's thoughts.

It took some time for the mess to empty out. It seemed like everyone was making an excuse not to disperse, grabbing an extra class of kelp juice, or asking just one more question to a colleague. Eventually, Boucher had to intervene.

"Don't you all have work to do?" she shouted.

The mess fell silent. The crew shuffled out, scurrying back to their individual corners of the ship, to do whatever it was they normally did.

Zunzheim followed behind, off to mind the engines.

Boucher grabbed him by the arm. "Wait right there, Zunny."

"Yes, sir?"

"Nice job."

Zunzheim grinned. "Thank you. But shouldn't we wait to see what we find before you congratulate me?"

"No," Boucher replied. "You tried something, something different. You thought outside the box. That is a rare and coveted skill. You should be pleased with yourself. But don't let it go to your head."

"Yes, sir," Zunzheim replied.

"Now get back to work," Boucher pointed out the door.

Zunzheim nodded and sprinted out the door.

Jones was in the engine room, running some tests, when Jones meandered in.

"How's it going Zunny?"

"Okay," Zunzheim replied. "How are you Jonesie?"

Jones grinned. "No, that's brown-haired Jones. I'm just Jones."

Zunzheim grinned. "Thought I would try it out."

"No problem." Jones sat in the chair next to Zunzheim's. "How's the land of engines?"

"Not bad," Zunzheim replied. "Everything is running optimally. I've been cramming in everything I can find on managing the propulsion systems. I have procedures now."

"Yeah?" Jones asked. "How's it work?"

"I have a daily, weekly and monthly checklist of things to do. I also have the systems set to alert me if anything falls even the slightest bit out of tolerances. So no surprises."

"That's outstanding," Jones nodded. "You became an expert."

"No, not even close," Zunzheim replied. "There are major gaps in my knowledge. I don't know any theory or design. Just how to keep things running. It'll take years before I am an expert."

"Still, it's better than anyone could have expected. You should be pleased with yourself."

"I'm more relieved than anything. I thought I was going to break the engines."

"The Captain wouldn't have given you the task if you couldn't handle it."

"She's not a mind reader, or a deity," Zunzheim stated. "She's fallible and could have been wrong."

"She's never been wrong," Jones said.

"That's yet to be seen."

Jones smirked. "Oh, you mean about the fish worlds. You're pretty smug about that."

"I still could be wrong."

"Yes," Jones replied. "But you don't think you are."

"I don't."

"Okay, so the Captain could have been wrong about that. What does that mean to you?"

"Nothing," Zunzheim said. "Except, I was right and she was wrong."

"Maybe you should make a wager with her."

"Would she be interested in something so petty?"

"Go ask her."

"She is in EME foot stench. I don't know."

"Just go. Have a little fun with her. She can take it."

"She already hates most people. Why would I want to make her add me to the list?"

Jones started laughing. "Scaredy cat."

"Meow," Zunzheim replied.

Lunch was a treat. Nakamora found a way to make fish burgers that almost passed as meat. Johnson was thrilled.

"Even without a bun, it's okay!" Johnson ate his fish burger enthusiastically and even had seconds.

Zunzheim sat across from Johnson and joined him in the meal. "This isn't bad," he agreed.

"If only I could get some kind of grain, I could make some bread."

"Even rice?" Zunzheim asked.

"Even potatoes."


"Yes, beans, too."

Zunzheim grinned. "That would be so great."

"I know!" Johnson went and got thirds. Nakamora was thrilled.

"I know the trick, make it ugly and greasy and you like it. Make it artistic and subtle and you hate it. Barbarians."

Zunzheim laughed. "Us barbarians thank you."

"You are welcome," Nakamora replied.

"So what is this I hear about a challenge?" Acting Captain Day stepped into the mess with purpose.

"Oh no." Zunzheim buried his head in his hands.

"Oh, yes," Captain Day replied. She sat in the seat next to Zunzheim.

"Jones opened his big mouth."

"He did."

"I told him I didn't want to challenge you."

"Ah, but you did. You just didn't man up to it and tell me to my face. So how much do you want to bet?"

"I have nothing," Zunzheim stated. "Nothing to bet."

"How about this? If I win you spend two weeks in EME 2, during your off time, learning the ship's computer systems."

"You've put a lot of thought into this."

"I have."

"And what if I win?" Zunzheim asked.

"What do you want?"

"To help Johnson plant his crops in the greenhouse."

"Nice choice." Captain Day nodded. "You got a bet." She held out her hand, and Zunzheim shook it.

Captain Day stood up. "Well, now that that's settled, you can find me in EME 1."

"Thank you, sir," Zunzheim said.

"You're welcome, Ensign." She zipped out of the mess.

"Wait," Zunzheim turned to Johnson. "I have a rank?"

"Guess you do now," Johnson replied. "I was field promoted a month after I got here. Surprised she waited that long for you."

Zunzheim shrugged. "I had a lot to learn."

"Apparently you learned it. You better win that bet though. EME 2 for two weeks." Johnson grimaced. "That's rough."

"Maybe after a few hours, I'll get used to it."

"There is no getting used to it," Johnson replied. "Enjoy your olfactory senses for the next nine weeks. Because you may not have them after that."


Zunzheim lay on the bed in his quarters. It was late, he should have been asleep, but he wasn't. It didn't help that his comm kept going off.

"Yes," Zunzheim responded.

"You sleeping?" Jones' voice sounded through the comm.

"Not now."

"Sorry," Jones said. "I couldn't sleep. Wanna come down to the slag and play some bumper squash?"

"No, I need to get some rest."

"Can you sleep?"

"No," Zunzheim admitted. "It doesn't help that you and Johnson keep calling me."

"Can you blame us? We'll be there any second."

"Yeah, but calling me won't make it go any quicker."

"Okay, I'll leave you alone. But if you don't fall asleep in the next hour, call me."

"Alright. Go to sleep."

Zunzheim closed his eyes again. He just started to drift off asleep when the comm went off again.

"What?" he yelled into the comm.

"Ensign?" Boucher replied through the speaker.

"Oh, sorry, Sir. The calls have been coming in non-stop."

"I understand," Boucher said. "I wanted to advise you that you need to select the other two crew members who will be exploring the planet."

"Oh, so it's you me and whoever I pick?"

"No," Boucher replied. "It's you, the Captain and whoever you pick. She wants to be there for your bet."

Zunzheim moaned.

"You made your bed," Boucher said.

"Yeah," Zunzheim replied. "I forgot that Jones has a huge mouth. Will you come, too?"

"Thanks for the invitation, but one of us has to stay on the ship. You'll have to pick someone else."

"Yes, Sir."

"Get some rest," Boucher advised. "You're going to need your strength."

Zunzheim tried again. It took some time, but he finally got comfortable enough to fall asleep.

The comms burst to life. Captain Day spoke. "Ensign Zunzheim and party please report to the shuttle bay."

"Ugh," Zunzheim sat up. First, he called Jones. "You coming?" he asked.

"Yup," Jones replied. "Meet you there."

Next, Zunzheim called Johnson. "Johnson, want to go?"


"See you there."

The four met in the shuttle bay. Since none were first-timers, they walked straight to the shuttle. Johnson was in his EVA suit as usual. The anticipation was palpable. Nobody spoke a word.

Captain Day took the pilot's seat and Johnson took the seat next to her. Zunzheim and Jones sat in the seats in the back.

"You okay?" Day asked Johnson. "You're shaking."

"I'm very excited," Johnson said. "Real food."

"Calm down," she said. "What's in the bag?"

"Oh, something for Zunny," Johnson answered. "Depending on how it goes."

"I don't want to know."

The shuttle approached the planet. It was a beautiful world of blue and green, there were obvious signs of land. Two moons orbited the globe. They gently hovered, quietly watching the expanse beneath.

"I thought you said there were high methane levels here," Jones said.

Zunzheim got up and checked the sensor readings. "There is, look." He pointed at the readout.

Jones came over and looked at over Zunzheim's shoulder. "Look at that. No kidding."

The closer the shuttle got to the planet, signs of civilization became apparent. Satellites surrounded the world, and artificial structures were visible on the surface to the naked eye.

"There are people here," Johnson said. "People, with food."

"Don't get too excited, Johnson," Captain Day said. "We don't even know if they are friendly."

"Shouldn't we say 'hello' or something?" Zunzheim asked.

"Good thinking, Ensign." Captain Day initiated a communications sweep. The computers found several frequencies in use from the planet below. "Let's be friendly, and tell them why we are here." Day started the linguistics systems, to analyze the planets predominant dialects and send an appropriate greeting. "What should we say?"

"Oh, oh," Jones jumped up. "We come in peace, please bring us some beer."

"Anything intelligible?" Day asked.

"How about the peace part, and a message saying that we are lost travelers looking to replenish our food stores," Zunzheim suggested. "If they look peaceful, offer a technology swap."

"I see no evidence of weapons proliferation," Captain Day said. "So if everyone agrees, we'll send the message. Any objections?"

Nobody replied.

"I will send the message then." Captain Day programmed the linguistics systems to convey the message in the inhabitant's native languages. "It's going to take some time, so everyone hang loose."

"Can we scan the planet while we're waiting?" Zunzheim asked.

"No," Day explained. "I dedicated the non-essential computers to the linguistic systems. We can only wait."

"Poker?" Johnson asked.

"Nap." Jones yawned and closed his eyes.

"I'll monitor the computer," Captain Day replied. "There's nothing going on yet, so you three rest."

Zunzheim and Johnson played Gin for an hour before Zunzheim took Jones' cue and took a nap. Johnson played solitaire for another thirty minutes before dozing off himself.

A loud shrill emanated from the computer speakers. Zunzheim almost fell out of his seat. Johnson screamed. Jones slept through the noise.

"Jones!" Captain Day yelled.

Jones slowly opened his eyes and stretched. "Yes, sir."

Captain Day shook her head. "You should get a medal for slacking."

"You're the one to issue it, Sir," Jones grinned.

"I suppose I am," she replied. "We have a response to our greetings. Are you all ready?"

All three men scrambled to their feet.

"Play it," Johnson said. "Play it!"

"Deep breath," Day replied. "Everyone calm." She looked around at the crewmen. None appeared any calmer. "Okay, here we go."

Captain Day started the playback and leaned back in her chair.

An alien voice spoke. It sounded different from a human voice, but familiar enough to not be disconcerting. It seemed to be male, by human standards. It was gravelly and low.

"This is Muk Sandine, of the People, from the planet Soil. We received your message and welcome you to our world. We would be happy to participate in a cultural and scientific exchange with you. We have plenty of resources; we would be glad to share them with you. Please send us a list of the foodstuffs you lack, and we will gather them."

Johnson was visibly shaking again. "Ham sandwich, tell him we want ham."

"Johnson," Captain Day said. "Relax. Here. 'Thank you very much for your kind offer. Our crew would be thrilled if you could provide us some grains, vegetables and animal proteins.' How's that?"

"Perfect," Jones replied.

"Yes," Zunzheim agreed.

Johnson just nodded.

Captain Day sent the message, and the four waited in anticipation. After some time a new message was received. Day played it without any hesitation.

It was Muk again. "We have four varieties of grains and vegetables stored in our seed libraries that you are welcome to. It is not much, but we lost all but these during our environmental crisis, several centuries ago. We now rely on our oceans to provide us our fill of its fruits. You are welcome to the seeds and all the aquatic riches we have."

Captain Day sighed.

Jones laughed.

Johnson whimpered, reached into his bag, and pulled out a gas mask. He handed it to Zunzheim, who shook his head. "Two weeks," he sobbed.

The message continued. "We've developed a kind of aquatic swine you may enjoy. It satisfies our craving for something other than seafood without depleting our resources. We'll provide you a tank and full instructions."

Zunzheim handed the mask back to Johnson. "Looks like you're having ham for dinner tonight."

"It's really fish," Johnson pointed out. "You can eat it, Zunny."

"Oh yeah." Zunzheim grinned. "Looks like we're having ham for dinner tonight!"

"Nice job, Zunzheim," Captain Day said. "Nice job."

"How's the hydroponics lab?" Jones asked.

"Excellent, we'll be able to grow everything we need." Johnson's nose was buried in a tab detailing approaches to cultivating food in tight spaces.

"It's too bad they didn't know anything about space or time travel," Jones said.

Zunzheim shrugged. "Maybe Beti can help us figure it out."

"Who would have thought," Johnson said. "An astrophysicist, cat-person."

"She's really nice," Jones said. "So is Jole. He's barely left the slag since he got here."

"He's an anthropologist." Boucher sat at the table with the others. "He's studying you primitives. Aren't you eating, Zunny?"

"Yeah," Zunzheim said. "I was waiting for the crowd of piranhas to finish swarming. Be right back." Zunzheim stepped up the counter where Nakamora was preparing lunch.

"What would you like?" Nakamora asked. "Split pea and ham soup, ham sandwich or ham cutlet."

"Actually," Zunzheim leaned in and dropped his voice. "You think you could make me some sushi?"


  1. Very entertaining story. Great use of dialogue to fill in backstory and create the world. I liked the story arch even though I don't particularly like fish. Well done.

    1. Thank you! I tend to be heavy in the dialogue. Some people don't dig it. Glad you liked it. :)

  2. The way dialog is used to carry the bulk of the narrative would make it a good candidate for a screen play. Plenty happens, but all in reminiscences. Hard to be funny and credible as SF, yet it manages. It has all the tropes: time travel, FTL, suspended animation, a touch of the apocalyptic. Love the time ship's name: Peabody! Wonder how many today will get the allusion.

    1. Thanks! I try to pull off funny. It doesn't always work. :)

  3. A hilarious, well-adjusted bunch of misfits. I love how each and every one dedicates themselves to their tasks despite the unfortunate circumstances that brought them all together. There's an unspoken devotion to the common good and a sense of hope that permeates the entire ship. Fun read, brought a smile to my face.