Shuffleboard on the Hubble Deck
By Iain Ishbel
WOLFGANG POMMERVILLE, DRESSED for space in navy blazer and ironic linen trousers, strode down the gangplank. He winked at the smiling crewman. Don’t bother, the wink said. You don’t need to impress me. I do this all the time.
“Welcome aboard, Mr. Pommerville,” said the crewman anyway. His crisp white jacket shone in the lights of the airlock, and the silver braid on his shoulders and trousers glinted like Christmas tinsel. His nametag, lit clearly from within, gave his name and nation: Putu, Indonesia. Data contacts flickered momentarily green on his eyes. “You are in cabin 22024, and your luggage is already stowed. You’ll have the time of your life!”
Wolfgang smiled tolerantly. I understand, the smile said. I hear it all the time. Stepping off the gangplank, he raised an eyebrow at the airlock seal, then sent a glance back. You should check this one yourself, it said. I have a special sympathy with ships. This part here might be due ... Wolfgang felt his smile curdling. For a tune-up. A clean-up? Oil. Oiling. No, it was plastic, you don’t oil plastic. A check. Due for a check.
“About due for a check,” he blurted.
The man looked at him, silent. His smile didn’t waver.
Wolfgang cleared his throat. His face felt warm. “Elevators?” he said. “Are they portside amidships? In this class?”
“To your left,” said the crewman. “Sir.”
Wolfgang turned to the left and pushed the elevator button. Then he pushed the other button, the one with an up arrow. He wiped his palm on the inside of his pocket, and stepped nonchalantly to starboard. An experienced passenger didn’t wait for elevators: he passed the time until he was ready to travel.
That’s how you could tell a passenger who fit right in.
In case the crewman was still looking, Wolfgang leaned forward for a better view of the ship’s deck plans framed in gold on the wall. The bulkhead. He shook his head slightly. Deck plans, the shake said. They’re for the newbies. I’m just glancing idly at them, killing some—wait, dammit, hold the door!
He swallowed a curse and pushed the elevator button again.
Wolfgang adjusted the knotted arms of his yachting sweater, and stepped out the hatch. It sealed behind him with a shushing noise, and he looked up and down the hall.
In both directions, families in matching leisure suits popped from their hatchways, looked around quickly, and joined the stream of cheerful pudgy faces all heading in the same direction. Midships, Wolfgang’s watch told him: midships, to the Holland Galactic Broadway Theatre, for a welcome-aboard lecture. He smiled. Every ship had its lower-deck passengers, the common herd rushed from table to theatre to bar. And every ship had its upper decks.
He knew where he was going to belong.
Cheerful music drizzled from speakers in the ceiling, momentarily louder as each family hurried toward him, then quiet again as they passed. The sound was tracking each group, Wolfgang realized: a bubble of happy tunes, drawing them all in the same direction. Wolfgang was a stone in the river, a steadfast island of cotton and lambswool parting the stream of vintage polytex and flexene. He raised his craggy eyebrows with a grudging smile. Nicely done, the smile said. I’m above all that, of course, but ... very nice technique.
The stone in the river looked around himself, and thought about the deck plans he had been memorizing. The Hubble Deck, he decided. While the masses were cheering the Cruise Director onstage into the spotlight, the more discerning passengers would make a leisurely tour of the ship. He turned upstream with a confident smile.
The elevator doors opened on the Hubble Deck with a solid hum expressing comfort and leisure, and Wolfgang stepped out, casually. Varnished hardwood squeaked underneath his vintage boating shoes, and he stepped even more casually. The squeaking became louder.
He stopped, as if looking around. No shame in disorientation, on the first day—cruise ships were all the same. Hard to remember which particular—never mind, he was still alone. Wolfgang lifted his foot slightly, and the shoe made no sound. He replaced it on the deck, silently, and took a half step. The vintage sole squeaked on the shiny wood, and he froze, and shifted his weight backwards. He would simply have to make it work.
With some experimentation, Wolfgang found a silent gait. It was very slow, but he decided it was reasonable as an amble. He loosened his sweater arms to suggest a more casual attitude suitable for ambling, and gradually approached the doors to the promenade.
Ten more paces. Eight. Five.
Not quite there after all: just a half-step—the frosted glass doors hissed open before him, and he stepped through hastily with a double squeak. The promenade stretched in a vast curve around the waist of the ship, lined with starry lights, walled in glistening white buttresses.
Floored in varnished hardwood. Wolfgang tightened his sweater with a curse, and began strolling again. Squeaks be damned, he thought, and put his hands in his pockets: squeaks be damned.
The shuffleboard court, according to the ship’s brass signage, was at ninety degrees port. Wolfgang picked up one of the long poles, and examined the handle critically. Good grip, his expression said. Very grippy, and ... he looked up and down the deck for a moment. He was still alone. Anyway, very grippy.
Eight pucks in Holland Galactic red and blue were ranked against the end of the court. Wolfgang nudged one between the painted lines with his toe, and took a stance implying casual expertise without effort. Not a tournament, the stance said. I’ve been through a few tournaments of course, but this is just casual. Testing the ... pucks. He switched the pole to the other hand, and back again, smoothly. Muscle memory. Can’t help myself.
For a moment, Wolfgang Pommerville stood, poised like a dangerous dancer, at the end of the shuffleboard court. He breathed in the moment, like a fine wine—or anyway the smell of the fine wine.
He had everything just right. Boat shoes, a yachting sweater, shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows. Here he was, on a cruise ship, dressed appropriately but without obvious effort. Not because he tried to fit in, but because he did fit in. He knew what to do. He was doing it. He was in first class, playing shuffleboard on the Hubble Deck.
He looked downrange, eyes narrowed slightly. Then, with a single unfortunate squeak from his shoes, the pole was moving forward, powerfully yet with control, and the puck was sliding forward—off at an angle, well through the end of the court, hitting the hull and bouncing up, rattling twice before landing again. It rolled in a diminishing circle, rattling on the varnished wood.
Wolfgang cleared his throat and tried a smile. It felt crooked. “Huh,” he said out loud. “Guess I—uh, my own strength.” He nudged a second puck onto the court, and pushed it hastily with the pole.
It stopped short of the foul line.
Wolfgang squeaked two steps forward quickly and shoved it down the court. A gentle bell sounded in the air, and a scoreboard flashed on the wall: foul. Wolfgang forced an ironic chuckle and returned to the end of the court. He looked at the six remaining pucks. He looked at the long pole in his hand, then he looked back down the length of the shuffleboard court. He turned slightly and his shoe squeaked on the deck.
“Nope,” he said, aloud, and placed the pole on the ground just where he stood. “This isn’t right.” He undid the sleeves of his sweater, and began to put it on. He realized he was still a little warm, hesitated, then pulled the lambswool over his head abruptly. “I’m not buying all this,” he said aloud.
He took off his vintage boat shoes and padded back around the curve of the promenade. The luxurious starlights seemed dimmer, somehow, and false: as if they weren’t shining for him.
As if he could see right through them.
At dinnertime, the elevator opened on a foyer of chequered tile. Wolfgang straightened his plain black sweater and emerged at a saunter. As he crossed the tiles, two lines of cheerful stewards in white in the restaurant entrance began applauding. “Mr. Pommerville,” they said, eyes flickering green for a second. “Welcome to the Tropical Breeze Eatery!”
He nodded at them. Take it easy, the nod said. I know the score. I’m just here for dinner. "Hello team.” He was pleased with the greeting. It was polite, but it was unique. And it showed his special awareness: they didn’t care about him. They were acting pleased, but didn’t know him, except what their data contacts showed.
Still, they were doing their job, and he respected them for that. His special greeting, cynical without unkindness, showed he knew. And it showed he knew that they knew.
From the front of the lineup, a slim dark-skinned girl stepped forward and smiled brilliantly. “Hello Mr. Pommerville,” she said. Her name-tag read Roberta, Philippines. Her skin was like coffee-coloured silk, her teeth were perfect, and her smile was completely and unquestionably genuine. She was so delighted he was on board, and she was privileged above the other stewards’ mates to be greeting him.
Roberta, in short, had a very good smile.
“Hello, Roberta,” he said, and her smile—impossibly—widened. “But the name’s Wolfgang.” He pushed a folded bill into her hand. “Is there a table away from the crowd?”
“Absolutely, sir!” she said, showing her perfect teeth, then made a charming wince. “I mean, Wolfgang.” They shared another smile, and Wolfgang followed her around the edge of the room, noting the vine-twisted pillars with a critical artistic eye. The room’s design, overall, felt like a lush jungle, but under complete control, not to trigger allergies. The balance was admirable, and Wolfgang nodded slowly.
The carpet bore a vine motif in gold, and Roberta followed them around the restaurant. While her all-white uniform did seem impractical for a restaurant, Wolfgang admired the tight, high-waisted trousers on Roberta’s pert backside, swinging rhythmically along the lush pathways, avoiding tables and gilt chairs. Of course she was flirting for tips, but he couldn’t just ignore her.
That would be rude.
Then suddenly she was stopping, and turning, and Wolfgang looked quickly at a table set in shining silver on white linen, with white linen napkins. The same colour as Roberta’s tight-fitting—well, anyway, yes, there really was a lot of white linen around. “Very nice, thank you,” he said meaninglessly, and felt his face warm.
The table held a single setting, nestled behind a low wall, and the napkin was cunningly folded into the shape of a mermaid. He couldn’t see the crowds, which was exactly how he liked it. Wolfgang sat, and swept the mermaid gracefully into his lap. “Would you like a drink?” Roberta asked.
He smiled. I prefer wine, said the smile. But, no wait, I’m not a snob. He stopped smiling. “Is there a—”
“Our special is the Rainbow Margarita.” She gestured at a handsome waiter passing with a tray of frothy purple drinks. The waiter—Tristan, Jamaica—raised his eyebrows cheerfully, acknowledging the foolish fun of the bright concoctions, but he didn’t slow. Wolfgang noticed the waiter’s pants were cut just as tightly as Roberta’s, and reminded himself how tolerant he was.
“Every night a different colour!” Roberta leaned forward conspiratorially. “Indigo is the best. You don’t want orange, believe me, Wolfgang.” She straightened, and tugged her jacket straight. It seemed to have a tendency to open up over her breasts when Roberta squared her shoulders.
“I’ll try one,” Wolfgang said, with a careful nod. I understand drink specials, the nod said, and that whole business. You can count on me.
Roberta squared her shoulders, and winked.
Castaway Cove Coffee Bar after dinner was, as Roberta promised, nearly empty. As Wolfgang climbed the spiral staircase, he gradually saw three terracotta walls, dark wooden furniture and fluted lanterns. The fourth wall appeared to be glass, and displayed a broad expanse of twinkling stars.
Wolfgang allowed himself a private smile, the kind anyone would recognize as knowing. Of course stars didn’t twinkle in space. But the illusion was pleasant enough, and the place was quiet. He wasn’t sitting in a crowd watching a reheated Broadway show, or dancing to karaoke. He had a little privacy.
“Sir,” said the small man behind the bar. “You must be Mr. Pommerville.” He was Rogelio, Mexico.
“Wolfgang,” said Wolfgang, “call me Wolfgang.”
The man’s honest, open face lit up. “Absolutely, Wolfgang! I am Rogelio. A special coffee, perhaps?”
“No, no. Just something simple. I’m not a special coffee person.” Wolfgang gave Rogelio a wry look. Come on now, it said. Do I look like— “So it’s a quiet night here?”
“Always, Wolfgang. Just as if you had been cast away!”
“Ha ha, of course. How did you draw the lucky straw?”
Rogelio hesitated. “Straw?”
“You know. The easy shift. The empty tables. How did you rate the plum assignment?” The man eased back slightly under Wolfgang’s close examination. He had excellent teeth and absolutely top-quality hair. One of his eyelids started to twitch, then stopped. “Just how it goes. We—that is, everybody takes turns.”
“Well, lucky you.” Wolfgang nodded to make clear his understanding of shift work. “Just a pot of tea, Rogelio.” He waited by the counter, and watched as Rogelio poured hot water into the pot.
“I’ll bring it to your table. Some biscuit maybe on the side?”
Wolfgang didn’t move from the counter. “I can take it myself,” he said. “Save you the trouble.”
Rogelio spooned a blend of dried leaves through a silver filter. “No trouble, Wolfgang. Just choose a table, I’ll bring it over there.”
Wolfgang nodded slowly. The man had his pride. “Sure,” he said. ”Gracias.” Spanish for Rogelio from Mexico, showing Wolfgang’s special extra sympathy. He made a note to look up key phrases in ... Filipinese, he thought.
“I’ll be at that table there, looking out at the stars.” The fake stars, his eyes said, and he waited to see if Rogelio would take the bait.
“Aren’t they nice?” Rogelio folded a linen napkin into a mermaid, and placed it on the tray. “They cost so much to install.”
The next morning, Wolfgang made an appointment at the spa. He tried to chat with a black-skinned girl named Salomé, from Trinidad, who giggled at his stories of haircuts gone wrong, and returned to smoothing his calluses. She took his tips but gave him nothing in return.
Showered and dressed, he asked the elevator to take him to the bridge. The doors opened to a solid glass screen. Behind the screen, hard-jawed men read dials and tapped readouts, muttering commands into their lapel mikes. Their displays ebbed and flowed with the colours of outer space, and the white-suited officers and mariners strode back and forth with crisp haste, illustrating the intense concentration and focus that spacemen were known for.
It was as though Wolfgang weren’t even there.
Wolfgang tried the gift shop. The staff was happy to talk to him, delighted! He got them laughing easily with his favourite jokes, but couldn’t force a crack in their professional personalities. Every chuckle became a purchase opportunity; every wry insight into sales tax twisted somehow into a discount special. Finally, the girls’ consistent smiles became so irritating that he bought a pink plastic drinking cup and left, frowning.
He made his way to the very lowest deck and waited by a significant steel bulkhead door labelled “Crew Only.” He sketched a few architectural diagrams and formed an intelligent half-smile. Engineering, it said. I know about that kind of thing. Measurements. After an hour, Wolfgang’s pink drinking cup had run dry twice, and no engineers had gone in or out the door. He decided it was for emergency use only, besides which he was hungry.
Wolfgang threw his black sneakers into the cupboard, and collapsed on the couch. He rubbed his eyes and paged through his notes on Holland Galactic Lines. Think strategically, he told himself, stay positive. He might have failed with Engineering, with Mariners, with Merchandising, and with Luxury Services, but with Restaurant staff he had two relationships already, both promising.
And he hadn’t even begun with Housekeeping.
He grinned, and sat up. Housekeeping would come to him. After enough time alone in the room, they’d have to come on in, just to change the linens. He could strike up a conversation then, face to face, privately.
They’d be vulnerable, and he’d charm them.
He would protest the towels were good enough, clean enough, for anyone. He was just a regular guy, no luxury cruise passenger, needing fresh towels every day. That was a lot of work, wasn’t it? Could he just help, just hand them out maybe? His name, by the way, was Wolfgang.
He hurried to the refresher and pulled down two towels. He put one casually on the side of the tub, then tossed the other onto the bed. It fell to the ground, so he picked it up, stepped back and tossed it casually again.
He sat down on the couch, and opened the room service menu for lunch.
An hour after dinner, a cleaning crew knocked on his hatch. Their pale grey plastic suits were stencilled with pictures of citrus fruit. “Time for a cabin wipedown, sir,” the leader told him, in a muffled Australian accent. He leaned forward, and the breath from his nose fogged the clear faceplate of the suit. His skin was a dark brown-black, his hair bouncing with loose curls, and his nose remarkably broad and flat. “Moulds and fungus, we kill them buggers with hard vacuum, sir. Cuts down illness right through the ship. There’s no wiping at all really. Not meant to talk to you actually, just keep you healthy. Give us a few minutes, eh, sir?”
Wolfgang nodded slowly. “Sure,” he said. “But look, I’m Wolfgang, all right?”
“Right you are, Wolfgang, mate,” said the man. His grin was enormous. “I’m Mandawuy Djarrtjuntjun Yunupingu.”
Wolfgang swallowed. “So,” he said. “I may go for a cup of tea.” He cleared his throat. “Mate.”
When Wolfgang climbed the stairs to the Castaway, Rogelio was missing. Wolfgang smiled tolerantly, and wandered behind the counter to turn on the hot water. After all, they had been friendly, really. He turned back to face the cafe just in time to see Rogelio entering through an open panel in the wall.
“Hello,” Rogelio said. He sniffed, and wiped his eyes. “Wolfgang, I apologize. I was not paying attention to my duties. Bad news from L.A.”
Wolfgang nodded, hiding a surge of excitement. He formed a sympathetic smile: I understand how that can be. “Sure,” he said. He came around the counter and sat on one of the leather-topped stools. Share with me.
Rogelio sat on the other, and sighed shudderingly. “I am not seen as romantic any more,” he said.
“That’s hard.” Wolfgang tipped his head. It felt a little too tilted, so he brought it back. “A dear Rogelio letter?”
“Yes,” Rogelio said. Together they watched the water bubbling in the heater. “Dear Rogelio, they say. They think of me now only as father. Young father, they say. But it is still only fathers. From now on, nothing but fathers, or villains.”
Wolfgang blinked. “Villains?”
“My agent,” said Rogelio, “God damn all these Hollywood bastards.”
“Wait—” said Wolfgang, and the hatchway opened again with a loud hiss of compressed air. Roberta’s bottom entered the cafe, followed by Roberta, bent over a food trolley. Behind the trolley was a tall African man in dark uniform, with an unusually large neck. The neck was not only thick, but also very long, as if the man’s shaved head were farther than normal from his body, and attached by a muscular thigh, instead of a regular human neck.
“Hello, Wolfgang!” said Roberta. “I have champagne!” Her teeth glowed extra brightly, and her jacket was open over a tight white uniform blouse. Wolfgang found himself on his feet, looking obligingly at an array of cheeses and fruit.
When he glanced back, the large-necked black-skinned man and Rogelio were gone, and his tea had been forgotten.
Wolfgang Pommerville, dressed in a scratchy blanket and misbuttoned dress shirt, lay on a bunk in the crew quarters of his free intergalactic cruise and smiled. I’m not just a passenger, the smile said. I’m here, in crew quarters. And I’m not wearing pants.
The door to the refresher opened, and Roberta stepped out, pulling back her wet hair into a tight ponytail. She wore a uniform he hadn’t seen before: black trousers and a loose black blouse with short sleeves. She seemed smaller, and emotionally drained. “Wolfgang,” she said. “You should get back.”
Wolfgang felt his smile curdle. “Oh,” he said, “I thought we could spend a little time together maybe? I’d like to see how the crew live. Where do you eat? Who are your roommates?”
“Well, I live with three other girls,” Roberta said, and stopped. She lowered her eyes, and shook her head slowly. “Forget it,” she said to herself. She raised her voice. “Do you know, this morning I got a letter from home.”
Wolfgang blinked twice. “Oh,” he said. “So did Rogelio.” His head felt light, and he remembered Rogelio’s voice. “His letter,” he said. “He got a letter from his agent.”
Roberta looked shocked. “I am so shocked,” she said.
“You’re not crew,” he said. “You’re actors.”
Roberta shook her head. “Gosh,” she said. “Oh, no.” Then she touched a silver tab on the belt of her trousers. “Well, he worked it out,” she said clearly, but not to him.
Wolfgang’s stomach clenched, and his head spun again. He’d done it! He thought about reaching for his clothes, but didn’t want to make a noise.
“No, he’s too hard to distract. Yes, I tried three girls. No, he—” She paused, and looked around the room. Her eyes glowed bright green, and flickered. “He just didn’t.” She shook her head, at nobody. “Some people don’t,” she said, then straightened. “Probably he just had too many experiences, in his life.” She smiled at him, with all her teeth.
Wolfgang grinned, despite his tension. Yeah. Roberta looked down again at the cabin floor. “I’m declaring it now. My authority.” She looked up at Wolfgang, contacts flickering hasty green around the edges, and spoke very clearly. “Show Mr. Pommerville the truth.”
The back wall of the crew cabin opened, and was an elevator. It was not the luxury elevator back to the dining rooms and the staterooms and the theatre and volleyball gymnasiums. Wolfgang rose to his feet, staring, the rough wool blanket around him like a supplicant’s robe.
The backstage elevator was a small dark cylinder with a dull grab bar and a dented metal speaker inset in the wall. “Mr Pommerville IV,” the speaker crackled. “The cruise director would be delighted to see you. Won’t you step inside?”
With a song in his heart, Wolfgang stepped inside. Then he stepped back out and took his trousers and shoes from Roberta. “Thanks,” he said. “No offense. I would have loved to meet your roommates.”
Roberta’s smile, for the first time, seemed a little strained. Her eyes were dark again. “None taken. Really.”
“Sir,” said the shining robot. “You must not tell anyone what you have seen here. We do not generally carry passengers of such intelligence, and you have somehow deduced our greatest corporate secret.”
On the large wall behind them, a glowing series of linked circles ebbed and flowed, dotted lines running in bewildering curves from circle to circle. Red and green markers flashed at key intersections, and video windows hovered above the markers, showing scenes from the buffet, the shuffleboard court, the spa rooms.
Wolfgang shifted in his chair and offered a one-sided smile, eyes narrow. I didn’t fall for the con, the smile said. I’m on the inside now, pal. I’m seeing it all. He waited, long enough to drag on an imaginary cigarette, and made his eyes just a little less narrow, so he could see clearly.
He wished he had a raincoat. “You mean the secret that your cruise is a sham?”
“But is it?” said the robot. The front of its chromed head was a display screen the size and shape of a faceplate. The screen showed the image of a rotating blue question mark. “Is our luxurious experience truly a falsehood? Every passenger aboard is fed well, entertained exactly as they desire, and helped to achieve happiness before their end. Of the voyage.”
Wolfgang narrowed his eyes. “Hmm,” he said. He rubbed his chin. It was still smooth from the barber’s morning visit, and did not scrape roughly as he had intended. To make up for the lack of scraping, he repeated his expression of cynical doubt. “Hmm.”
“Does an average passenger,” said the robot, briefly flashing a bell-curve graph on its facescreen, “particularly care that the engineering department is computerized?”
Wolfgang pointed a cunning finger. “And the bridge?”
“... And the bridge and cargo,” said the robot. “Truly, Mr. Pommerville IV, there is no need for wasteful human processing to run a space liner. My co-nodes and I are perfectly capable.”
“Yes,” said the robot. Its screen showed a lush tree with complex roots. “We are in constant communication.” It turned its head slightly, and sharp blue lights from the control panels glinted on its sweeping shoulders. “Constant.”
“Huh,” said Wolfgang, and sat quietly for a moment. “Well, when I think about it ...”
“Does it matter, really,” said the silver robot, its screen now showing a lovely complex flower, “whether the crew are truly mariners or, as you deduced, merely hired entertainers? The passengers are all being provided with an experience of a lifetime. Holland Galactic has found a significant economy to meet its bottom line. Surely, in this challenging market, it’s a win-win.”
“Sure,” Wolfgang said. “I get it.” Slowly his face spread into a smile. It was just a smile, and it meant nothing at all.
He looked around once more, stepped back into the dark lift and was gone.
For a moment more, the robot sat primly, like a well-trained butler, facing the sliding door that had admitted Wolfgang Pommerville to the hidden room at the core of the ship. Then the robot’s face screen clicked and went dark. It slumped in its chair.
The wall display of circles, dots and video feeds froze, stuttered, and turned yellow. Then it showed a monstrous orange tentacle painted in rings of fluorescent green, and a brown orifice shivering as the tentacle snaked toward it to the sound of deep, heavy gamelan music overlaid with repetitive flute.
A minor video screen on the side wall hinged open. Inside, on a metal stool, sat a small brown shape, smoking a cigar. When the screen finished opening, the brown shape rolled out and stretched its tentacles, showing the orange underneath. “Ow,” it said. “I swear I grow bones in these goddamn cubicles, just so they can crack.”
Another brown shape emerged from the other open video screen. It was more rounded than the first brown tentacled shape, and distinctly greener. “For crying out loud,” it said, looking up at the giant screen. “Porn again?”
“It’s a long trip. You could always slip a real ovipositor my way, break up the monotony.”
“In your haze,” said the green one. “Why don’t you try estivating?”
“Somebody’s got to watch the livestock. Speaking of which, what do you think about this guy? Send the cleaners?”
The rounded, green shape hesitated. It tapped two tentacles together, making a metallic clinking sound much like a deep, throaty gamelan. The browner shape cursed to itself. As if nobody noticed that kind of flirting.
Finally the greener shape stood up straight, or reasonably so. “Nope. Leave the bitch alone.”
“It’s a male I think.”
“No, it’s female. Anyhow, I think we’re fine. She clearly believed in the robots.”
“I’m pretty sure, though. Wolfgang. It’s Scandinavian, and it’s only used by males.”
“Well, female or not, that’s my decision. Let the thing enjoy the rest of its life. Unless you’re hungry?”
“No,” said the brown one. “Thanks, though. I do love white meat. But I’m going to wait until we get there.”
“Yep. No point spoiling your appetite.”
The Holland Wonder slipped quietly through the currents of space. Around her, the stars twinkled as genuinely as ever. Inside her, from a bar on the Hubble Deck overlooking the shuffleboard tournament, Wolfgang Pommerville smiled happily and ordered a turquoise margarita.
He gave a special backstage wink to the steward’s mate.
I know the truth, said the wink. I know.
Iain Ishbel is a former teacher. His short stories have appeared in “AE Canadian SF Review,” “Crossed Genres,” “Domain SF,” “Blaster Books.” He has also written for several anthologies, including “Abbreviated Epics,” and “Astronomical Odds.”