Author: Rick Tobin

Ranson picked at a sharp raspberry seed wedged tightly between canine and incisor, stubbornly poking a nerve in his aging gums, distracting attention from a therapist’s droning.

“Your weight is ignored by some on this ship, but as the assigned analyst I must help you reduce your girth. Your heart can barely tolerate navigating to a chair. Don’t you consider your condition self-destructive?” Pandora continued recording her patient’s response, facing him from her comfortable cabin divan across from Ranson’s overstuffed medical gurney.

“I hardly consider my fruit diet an issue. My weight was a risk from my former trade. This voyage to Mars was reward for patriotic services. Lower gravity will protect me.” Ranson halted, wheezing while adjusting his oxygen line and nose cannula within reticulated, swollen nostrils. He pushed aside plastic tubing to allow insertion of a fresh banana into his sagging jowls.

“My task is to balance desires and anxieties of crew and passengers. I don’t believe a damn thing about you, Mr. Ranson. You are, in my professional assessment, a profligate scam artist perpetuating mythology to fill your plate, while those receiving arduous psychiatric training and testing became marginalized by the elite. Your guarantee to assuage eternal damnation holds no more weight than belief in a flat Earth, even as we develop space settlements.”

“Mmm,” Ranson replied through the filter of his half-chewed banana. “Dhatsa whoondrufu concep.”

“I have no idea what you said, but no matter, I must finish my checklist so you can leave. You must have been ‘normal’ once…before your avocation in Washington.”

“Uhm,” Ranson cleared his mouth with a fast swallow, but continued to pick at the offending seed. “Normal…now isn’t that enough to choke on? I suppose you papered professionals all swear you’ve attained that pedestal. Such a joke.”
Ranson opened his fresh fruit bag to extract a Ribston Pippin to scrape away his raspberry pestilence.

“The Vatican charged proprietary rights; claiming only their confessionals worked, but hell, they let that practice erode for centuries. Now take myself–expert sin eater–a real problem solver. You think it’s comedic, but you’ve never bloated after a politician’s twenty-minute session. Far worse were slimy lobbyists. A mere snack of that dark chocolate could hospitalize. My bud working Wall Street brokers passed in diabetic shock after the last market correction.” Ranson took a fresh bite from a half-green apple, slicing against his gums, clawing the lodged seed like fine grit sandpaper.

“Hogwash!” Pandora interrupted. “It’s all in your imagination. There’s no study to prove anything you ever did had any effect on troubled psyches.” Pandora tapped her sharpened index fingernail against a computer pad while glaring at her grazing patient.

“No problem there, dearie. There were only six sin eaters on Earth. That’s too small a sample for a sound study. We don’t allow you headhunters into our skulls…no following us around with our clients. Our clients don’t reveal our meetings or our purpose. That would be a skunk spraying itself. Privileged sinners enjoy tossing their stink onto someone else while they profess sanctity.”

“I can’t help you…you’re disgusting!” Pandora’s neck flushed pink lines above her tight collar.

“I think we’re done here, oh wise Officer Pandora. Yes, I overate inequities at the D.C. smorgasbord, but on Mars, I can diet in relative isolation, for they have no fresh fruit there or fatuous bureaucrats. That will help dissolve away my mass. You can work on pioneer sins, honey. I’m happily retired.” Ranson held up his supply of fruit to her. “Care for some raspberries? I’m cutting back.”