The Galactic Enterprise sailed smoothly through the great void. After Mars they passed through the asteroid belt and went on to Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Almost a whole year had gone by and it was just after they left Neptune's orbit that they began to have trouble. The ship itself functioned flawlessly but some of the people began to slowly unravel. No amount of testing and training can prepare someone for being isolated for more than a year. Even with nearly 3000 other people with you, you begin to feel cramped and the place you once called home becomes your prison.
John ducked under the pool cue meant for his head. Even as the pool cue sailed over his head John stood up firing off a flurry of quick jabs with his left hand into the face of his assailant before decking him with a hard right cross. His opponent was spun completely around by the punch before collapsing into a heap on the floor of the recreation room. The fight was over a girl who was now trying to tend the blood gushing from John's lip after the initial sucker punch that started the fight.
Within moments of the guy hitting the floor 6 Starfighters stormed into the room followed by Colonel Kessler and Decker. “What happened?” Decker asked as a couple of Starfighter carried the unconscious man off.
“It’s my fault,” Sharon said. “He kept asking if I wanted to play a game of pool with him and I kept telling him no.”
“Sharon don’t, it’s not your fault,” John said. “I told the guy to back off and leave her alone. The next thing I know he blind-
“I’m impressed, you took the first hit and didn’t go down,” Kessler said.
“Don’t be too impressed Colonel, I went down, but I’ve been hit a lot harder so I bounced back up pretty quick,” John replied. “A couple of jabs and some left right combinations and I think he realized he was in trouble so he tried to hit me with the pool cue. That’s when it stopped being a game.”
“Where did you learn to fight?” Decker asked.
“I have an uncle who did some boxing while he was in the Navy. He taught me a few things,” John said.
“Your last name is Thomas isn’t it?” the Colonel asked.
“Yes sir,” John replied.
“If your uncle is the man I think he is, I’ve heard of him. Navy champion 5 years in a row and Armed Forces Champion twice, wasn’t he?”
“Yes sir I believe he was.”
“Iron Mike Thomas, I never saw him fight but they say he was one solid piece of metal,” Kessler said. “I was surprised to hear he didn’t turn professional.”
“Uncle Mike was a career officer. He retired from the Navy a couple of years ago,” John said.
“Sharon take John up to the medical center. That lip looks like it may need stitches,” Decker said.
“I’ll be fine Captain,” John said.
“Of that I’m sure,” Decker replied. “Go get checked out anyway.”
Kessler watched as Decker interviewed the witnesses before the room was finally emptied. “This is the first real fight we’ve had so far,” he said after the last person was allowed to leave the recreation center.
“This was not unexpected and I’m surprised we have not had some sort of trouble before now,” Decker said. “How are your people holding up?”
“We have a different kind of mindset,” Kessler replied. “We’re doing ok so far.”
“We have enough drugs to put us all out for the trip home but I’d rather not have to resort to drugs,” Decker said.
“I think you will find that this is just a phase people go through as they adjust to long term spaceflight,” Kessler said. “You’ve got shrinks onboard, what do they tell you?”
“They are just here to study the effects of long term spaceflight on humans,” Decker replied. “They’d rather I hold off on using the drugs for as long as possible just to see if we all go nuts. However, there are a few of them that would agree with you Colonel and I am inclined to agree with you too. I’ve been thinking that if we break up the routine a bit that will help take our minds off the situation.”
The Galactic Enterprise’s trip around the solar system was one for the text books, the psychology text books. It was a fairly broad spectrum of human society: paying passengers, mostly the super rich just along for the ride, students, many of which were the brightest minds on the planet, teachers and crew, and a small military group with their families made up the rats in a cage from which there was no chance of escape. It was a text book case study of almost 3000 people as they all slowly go insane. There was a collective sigh of relief when they parked the big ship in orbit around Pluto.
The party lasted for two days and the thought of going home buoyed the spirits of everyone onboard. The trip home would not take as much time as the outbound journey but they were still looking at nearly a year to get back to Earth.
“We could cut the time in half,” Andy said. “It may be possible to boost a little longer and get our speed up to a million miles per hour before we cut the anti-
Decker had already listened to his department heads as they outlined the problems because of the impact of the extended stay in space was having on the passengers and crew. “I’ve read John’s report on the anti-
“Then let’s do 2 burns to bring us up to speed and reverse it when we slow this tub down. I know the engines can handle that,” Andy said. “We are all going to go nuts if we have to spend another year in this tub.”
“Colonel what do you think? Your people seem to be handling the stress better than most,” Decker asked.
“My people are use to living in a closed community for extended periods of time. So I have an advantage,” Kessler replied. “It would be nice if we could get home a little faster but at this point I think we should stay with what we know. To double our speed could also double our chances of something going wrong. We would almost be flying faster than our headlights can see. If we run into another group of meteors we’ll hit them within minutes of detecting them.”
“April what do you think?” Decker asked.
“I’m going to have to go with the Colonel,” April replied. “We’ve made some improvements with our ability to detect objects in our path. However, if we double our speed it will cut our response to objects detected in half.”
“Tony from a medical perspective, what do you think?” Decker asked the doctor.
“Certainly it would be better if we could get back as fast as we can,” Tony replied. “From a psychological point of view I think we are on the downhill side and our overall mental health will improve the closer we get to Earth.”
“Is there anything we can do to keep from going nuts before we get there?”
“Do you have any paint?”
Decker looked over at Andy for the answer. “Some,” he said.
“Enough to repaint key areas of the ship,” Tony asked.
“Probably,” Andy replied.
“What kind of colors?”
“Prime colors, so we can mix just about anything you want.”
“What do you have in mind Tony?” Decker asked.
“We repaint the ship and the personal spaces with some really bright colors and take away the institutional look and feel of the ship,” Tony replied. “That is the main problem that everyone is suffering from, that look of sameness. Everything has become too familiar and under normal circumstances I’d recommend a vacation but that is out of the question here. So the next best thing is to rearrange our environment so that it seems new to us. Not only should we repaint with brighter colors we should encourage artistic expression.”
“So you want the students and crew to paint murals all over the ship?” Kessler grumbled.
“Your people too Colonel,” Tony said. “I can appreciate the fact that the military contingent here is reacting better to long term confinement better than the rest of us but your people could use the diversion too.”
“I like it,” Decker said. “I think the good doctor’s prescription is just what we need and it will take our minds off things for at least a month. Andy let’s stick with a single boost up to our normal running speed but for curiosity’s sake run a simulation and see if the ship could handle the extra speed.
See how the simulation went.
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