Author : Kevin Crisp

The judge gave Rick several choices, of which the young men’s wilderness therapy program on an uncolonized but certified habitable world seemed the most palatable. He learned to pitch an atmosphere tent, tie a tourniquet and find cover from acid rain. He was light years away from his pregnant ex-girlfriend and any means to procure nervous system stimulants.

Rick stuck a forked stick in a hole in the ground until he felt a soft resistance and twisted it. It tangled firmly in the fur of a plump, rat-like thing, which he pulled squawking out of its burrow. He hit it on the head with a convenient rock, deftly skinned and gutted it, packed it in mud and lay it on the coals to bake until the flesh was tender and free of parasites.

Shawn, his assigned “buddy”, sat down on the rock beside him. “OK, your turn, the doc’s on the screen for you.”

Rick trudged between several tents and campfires to the therapy tent and sat in the folding chair in front of the over-sized two-way video monitor that made the tent feel cramped and claustrophobic. The jitter in the image and the echo in the sound reminded Rick just how much space separated him from his therapist.

“Ricky, my man! How ya’ doing?” the young doc said with overbearing enthusiasm. “How ya’ settling in?”

“Well, I feel more like a kid at summer camp than a juvenile delinquent undergoing state-mandated therapy.”

There was a pause during which the image was frozen. “And how’s your buddy working out?”

“Shawn? He’s okay. He snores. Say, doc, what’s the plan here?”

Pause. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, when do we get started with the therapy business? It’s been three weeks already, and we still haven’t–”

“I know, and you’ve already come a long ways! You’re learning to be self-sufficient, and you’re building confidence and making healthy friendships–”

“But shouldn’t I be lying on a couch and talking about my cold mother and my relationship problems and my anti-social acting out?”

Pause. “Absolutely! Talking is very important. What’s on your mind?”

“I — I don’t know. Shouldn’t you ask questions or something? I mean, that’s what all the other shrinks did.”

Pause. “And did that help?”

“No, but–”

Outside the tent, the camp rocked as a sonic boom split the air. Rick was familiar enough with the sound at this point to know that a supply rocket had just broken through the atmosphere and was streaking across the alien sky in a blazing arc of fire. Outside the tent, the other boys were hastily digging out their field glasses and compasses and estimating where the next week’s supplies would land.

“Sounds like we’re breaking camp again, doc.”

Pause. “Is that rocket landing already? Seems early; sorry we got cut short. We’ll touch base next week. I wanna hear all about that mother of yours, okay?”

Rick walked back over to the campfire and checked his dinner. “Looks like two days marches due east,” Shawn said watching the rocket.

“They really keep us on the move, don’t they?” Rick dragged the mud-caked rat-like thing off the coals with a stick, and began chipping away the baked mud with a knife. The meat looked tender and moist, but the smell was characteristically sour. “Shawn, are you getting better here?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, are you feeling — I don’t know — less depressed, angry, whatever since you got here?”

“Yeah, I think so. Don’t you?”

“Think things’ll be any different back at home?” The rat-like thing tasted better than it smelled.

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