Author: Ken Carlson

Ensign McDonald, a young officer and recent addition to the spaceship SS Artillery’s crew, stood across from Doc in the galley. Doc suggested they meet there, late, away from prying eyes to take pressure off the kid. Doc poured some coffee.

“It was Dawson who talked, right?” McDonald said. “He probably thought it was hilarious.”

“Nonsense,” Doc said, sipping his own. “You’re new, Ensign. Recently graduated. First time from home.”

McDonald nodded.

“You haven’t been sleeping,” Doc said. “If you’re worried about your file…That’s why we’re meeting here. No charts, nothing recorded, just two men talking.”

McDonald was tall and lanky. He stooped out of habit, leaning against the counter, wiping his fatigued eyes.

McDonald said, “I was in the engine room after my shift working on an efficiency report. Sunday, 22:30.”

“During the Captain’s mission update to the crew?” Doc asked. “All personnel were called to attend.”

McDonald replied, “I was isolated and without my communicator.” Doc nodded.

“I was running diagnostics, and looked out the observation portal. I’m sure looking at space is dull for you, but I find it beautiful.”

“Nothing strange about that,” Doc said, “God made the heavens and Earth. It doesn’t say in the regulations you can’t admire his work.”

“That’s when I saw…her.”

Doc put down his mug. Twenty-seven years since the academy, space coffee hadn’t changed.

“First Officer Donnelly,” Doc said quietly, “you saw her, floating in space.”

McDonald said, “It was her.”

“The same Felicia Donnelly serving on our bridge.”

“Her face, her uniform. Then, flash, she was gone.”

Doc walked to the other end of the room, dimly lit, and clicked the intercom.

“Bridge,” Doc said.

“Please, Doc,” McDonald said, “you’ve got to believe me.”

“Bridge, this is Donnelly.”

“First Officer Donnelly, this is Chief Medical Officer Parker.”

“Yes, Doc?”

Doc paused. McDonald noticed a change in Doc’s expression, a hard look from years in authority. This was when young ensign must decide whether he was cut out for this life, or go home and play it safe. McDonald felt a build-up of sweat.

“Doc, are you there?”

Doc’s expression returned to its genial self, the trusted family doctor. He clicked the button to respond.

“I’ve got the medical logs and supplies request for your signature—and a reminder from last night—never go all in with pocket twos.”

The First Officer laughed gently, “It was twos and sevens. I thought you were coasting on a pair of kings.”

“When will your generation learn,” Doc smiled, “old doctors never bluff. Chief Medical Officer out.”

He walked back to the ensign from the shadows and into the light.

“Son,” Doc said, “you have accomplished more than most in this galaxy ever will. You’ll experience more wonder in the coming years than storytellers at any library could dream. But, it comes with a cost.”

McDonald brought his eyes up, nodding.

“Passing tests doesn’t make an officer out here, being tough does. Sometimes when you’re working hard in a new surrounding your mind sees something to create excitement. You’ll learn the difference between the two.”

Doc tapped the young man on the shoulder and gave a light smile. “You’re fine. Get back to work, Ensign.”

McDonald smiled and left.

Doc returned to his quarters and poured two drinks. First Officer Donnelly took one.

“Doc,” she said, “what did the kid see?”

“Enough. Like your predecessor, he couldn’t keep quiet. I’ll bring him in for the same procedure. A shot in the arm, collect data for a clone, and send him out the airlock to experience outer space.”