Author: Rick Tobin

“Nobody makes choices carelessly about losing one of their senses, but you know the risk of blowing your neural nets outweighs keeping all your Earthly capacities.” Paloma Derth leaned towards her reluctant client. Behind her were rolling holographic images of her diplomas from medical schools throughout the solar system.

Erli August pushed his taught, strong form back against Derth’s floating visitor’s chair. It expanded and contracted to give him continued maximum comfort. “I never considered this in my dreams at the academy. This is a sacrifice they didn’t cover with plebes.”

“Surely not, Mr. August. We weren’t traveling that deep when you entered ten years ago. With technologies we found abandoned on Phobos, we are going beyond what we now call the Ring Pass Not. No one realized how protected we were until those poor souls on the Cambia were driven mad and ran their ship into asteroids. The rescue crews suffered the same fate, but now we know that electromagnetic fields outside our solar system’s protective barrier overwhelm humans with all five senses.”

“I realize. I’ve met my new crew members. It was quite an adjustment to work on board alongside blind and deaf people. Did they all have to make these choices?” August clenched his teeth as he considered how the Earth’s best could be disabled to fulfill dreams of deep-space missions.

“No, it was discovered early on that academy graduates could not adjust effectively with a sudden major removal of sight or sound and still be competent aboard. I still lose sleep over candidates we harmed needlessly. I later helped develop screening to find our best hopes in special needs communities. It was a pleasant surprise to find so many competent engineers and scientists were interested and available. Adjustments to your ship’s internal systems were not that difficult to support them, as well as sighted and hearing-capable staff. Trust me, you’ll find your crew highly qualified, but you still have to make your choice. With advancements in our medical skills we can now offer a less intrusive selection with fewer impacts: choose taste or smell.”

“Easy for you, Doc, but I’m still not happy about this. I realize we have to fly end of this week. I’ve delayed this as long as possible. So, if you want to help me take this next step, are you willing to help me for just a few minutes to make my selection?” August leaned forward, putting his hand over the advisor’s cupped hands on her desk.

“I’m not sure what you have in mind, Captain…but are you suggesting something inappropriate?”

“Hardly, Doc, but if you would humor me just this once…considering what I have to do. Either I’ll never taste food again or I’ll never smell a flower for eternity. That’s asking a lot.”

A light flush came over Paloma’s face. She did not move from her chair as August approached her from her right side. August stroked his hand lightly over the nape of her neck and then bent down as he lifted her thick hair to his face, bathing in her shampoo and perfume with one deep inhalation. She jolted back as the Captain’s large hands circled the back of her neck as he turned her face toward his. Looking deeply into her green eyes, he kissed her softly and then deeply, holding his lips completely over hers. She finally pushed him away.

“Captain August, I…that was unexpected. Why?”

He smiled, slowly. “I’ve made my decision. Now if you don’t mind, as you cut my wires, play ‘Crazy,’ by Patsy Cline in the background. Thanks.”