thumbleweed news [short story #a]

If you read the previous thumbleweed news, you may remember me launching a short story competition on the theme of losing a thumb. I already received a short story, called #a for the time being, that I find quite funny. (And before you start asking question, the author is not Dutch!) Here it is:

Xi’an sat impatiently while the pilot double-checked his harness. He understood the need for safety, but he was eager to begin his first trip into space. His mission was to debug the quantum computer aboard the International Space Station, and to reset it in the unlikely event that it went mad and tried to kill the crew. He anticipated that he would have plenty of time on his hands to work on the ninth edition of his treatise on solutions to multi-dimensional Sudoku. Finally the pilot, Lottie Yeager, gave him the “thumbs up” sign and began preparations for takeoff. Seated on the opposite side of the capsule was the only other passenger, Yevgeny Chekhov, a gifted young evolutionary biologist. It would also be Yevgeny’s first spaceflight. He had been nominated by his research group to conduct experiments with fruit flies in the multi-purpose laboratory module. Xi’an thought that the countdown would never end, but at last the prolonged waiting was supplanted by several intense minutes of sturm und drang. As they passed the Kármán line the nose fairing was jettisoned and the spacecraft rotated towards the horizon to pick up speed. Through the small viewport, Xi’an glimpsed the Earth from space for the first time.

It would still be several hours until their rendezvous with the ISS and space sickness was beginning to kick in. They were able to remove their helmets and gloves and get out of their seats. Xi’an moved towards the viewport for a closer look, while Yevgeny made his way gingerly to the cargo compartment in the rear.

Xi’an was still gazing, transfixed, into space when he heard Lottie shouting. He glanced back to see Yevgeny standing at the hatch with what looked like a pistol in his hand. “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded,” Yevgeny said, just before a loud bang was followed by a high-pitched whistling noise. Xi’an saw that there was now a small hole in the side of the spacecraft, mere centimetres from his head. He grabbed his glove and attempted to block the hole before it vented all of their air into space. Somehow his thumb got sucked into the hole, which caused him excruciating pain.

He had little memory of what happened next, but afterwards he was told that Lottie had confiscated the weapon and ordered Yevgeny to resume his seat. The young scientist apologized profusely. The gun had been his grandfather’s. He had smuggled it aboard amongst his scientific equipment as a memento of home. He hadn’t meant any harm, although it was clear that he had come very close to killing them all.

Lottie was able to patch the hole in the ship, but Xi’an’s thumb had to be amputated in the process. Venting all of that air had put them way off course. However, ground control had received the telemetry data and were able to recalculate a flight path so that they could still make their rendezvous.

Yevgeny would be put on the next flight back to Earth, where he would have to account for his actions. Xi’an would still be able to complete his mission, even though he was now one digit short.

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