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STATE

A Collection of Short Stories

Dave Higgins

This collection is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Published November 2014.

Collection Copyright ©2014 Dave Higgins.

Shoulders of Giants ©2013 Dave Higgins. Originally published in Fauxpocalypse: a collection of short fiction about the end of the world that wasn’t.

Pig Boy ©2014 Dave Higgins. Originally published in an abridged version in Heresy-Online Expeditious Stories #13-03: Contempt.

Crest of a Wave ©2014 Dave Higgins.

Fair Shares ©2014 Dave Higgins. Originally published in an abridged version in Heresy-Online Expeditious Stories #12-06: Restitution.

State ©2014 Dave Higgins.

All Rights Reserved.

The moral right of Dave Higgins to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988.

Contents

Shoulders of Giants

Pig Boy

Crest of a Wave

Fair Shares

State

More by Dave Higgins

About Dave Higgins

Shoulders of Giants

0300 GMT 15 July 2015, The International Space Station, 400 km above the Earth

Commander Matej Tomasch floated into Node 3.

Morning, Nathan.

Good morning, matey! replied Flight Engineer Nathan Roberts.

Tomasch forced a smile. Roberts made the same joke everyday. At least, he thought it was a joke; maybe Roberts really couldn’t pronounce ‘Matej’.

So decided how to do it yet?

Take a walk. Take my helmet off.

What!

We stayed up here to gather unique data. It seems a shame not to make my last moments valuable by finding out how space actually smells. Watching Robert’s eyes gape wider, he couldn’t keep a straight face any longer. He burst out laughing. After catching his breath, he continued, Not a bad joke, eh? No, I am thinking of waiting until we get plenty of data, then suffering from stress.

The last consignment of supplies before a desperate crowd had swarmed Baikonur Cosmodrome had included several packets of sleeping pills ‘in case the unique stresses interfered with their sleep’. No one said anything openly, but both the astronauts and Mission Control knew what they were really for.

Yeah, you had me with that one. What do you fancy for breakfast? Doesn’t taste like chicken? Or beef that tastes like chicken?

With just the two of them left, supplies were plentiful, if generic. Tomasch took a pouch and ran through the day in his head. Leisurely breakfast. Man the telescope ready for when they crested the horizon. Depending on how accurate the calculations of Grijalva’s trajectory were, they might have to attempt a slight adjustment to ensure a good placement over the impact. Then watch as the world ended. If there were anywhere to go back to afterwards, it would produce the paper of a lifetime. As it was, if there were intelligent life out there then maybe some girl in a plastic dress would get the chance at a place in academic history.

There it is, right on schedule. Roberts toggled the radio nonchalantly. Control, confirming sight of Comet Grijalva, over

*Crackle*

Control, can you hear us, over?

*Crackle*

Just dead air.

Taking their last chance to have fun before the end maybe, said Tomasch. Theoretically Mission Control Houston would be manned until the last moment, but he couldn’t blame them for letting things slip.

Or sleeping it off. Well, we are bright and breezy, so we keep measuring and broadcast it down to them. Not as if anyone is going to want to watch it anyway.

Tomasch nodded absently. The telescope was not quite focused. But bits of the rock looked crisp, so why did it seem fuzzy? Roberts, someone might want to watch it after all.

You mean morbid types like us?

No. The trajectory is slightly off, and I can see what could be vapour.

Vapour. As in slight outgassing? Or as in significant volumes of ice boiling off?

It might just have rotated, but it is slightly smaller than expected. The spectroscopy looks different too. We lost the probe before it took samples so we assumed—

We had no reason to expect exotic ice, but if it had a lower boiling point… Roberts pulled himself quickly over to the monitor. It could actually be losing mass. But is it losing enough?

Can we raise anyone else? Try to get a confirmation from somewhere.

Roberts headed back to the radio and started trying to work out which observatories might be able to see, before just working his way through the dial. This is the International Space Station. We have line of sight on Comet Grijalva. We are detecting an alteration in trajectory and a possible increased loss of mass. Can you confirm?

Definitely breaking up, shouted Tomasch, forgoing both safety and decorum to pump his fist in the air. It is too early to tell for certain, but the pieces might burn up or miss completely. Has anyone provided confirmation?

Not even a whoop, in response to us blanketing the world with joy. Someone should have said something, even if it was only hang on.

I agree. It is unlikely no one is listening. First principles.

What?

Sorry. We start from first principles logically. If no one is answering a message sent to several places, logically the place to start is whether the message was sent.

Shame they decided not to send the Shuttle up to fetch Collins. Then we would still have the Soyuz. It would be so much easier to just use the radio there.

There is only so much luck for each man. A module or a breaking-up comet? I will take the comet.

No arguments here. So we take turns watching the comet. The other runs some diagnostics.

It will turn out to be shoddy Russian workmanship.

You guys still blaming them for the 1940’s?

1940’s? When my—

Grandmother left the old country, Roberts joined in.

Tomasch chuckled. I have told you before then.

In a way it was good that there might be a problem with the station mused Tomasch as he started a system test. Otherwise, he would have great difficulty tearing himself away from the telescope. Straining his eyes, willing the ice to run deeper, melt faster. Courting dry eyes, or even madness, by looking for definite alterations between each breath.

So, we have at least one loose wire in the VHF antenna. We can reach the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, but no-one is answering on Ku or S bands.

Shoddy American workmanship then.

Or maybe it was a Tzarist rock seeing its chance to strike against my family again. Whatever it was we need to check it properly. Good thing the SPDM is Canadian. Tomasch looked at the blank expression on Roberts’ face. Canadians speak English, so the maintenance platform can read American labels, but also French, which the Tzar’s court favoured…. Maybe it is funnier when not translated.

Roberts wiggled an eyebrow. We’ll lose sight of the comet in a few minutes anyway, so what do you say we keep taking data as long as possible, then work on fixing it?

0440 GMT

Tomasch gripped the back of the chair. Operating the SPDM had filled some of the time while they passed behind the Earth.

"Good to hear your voice too, Dinesh. We won’t have sight for another few minutes but hang in there and we should be able to give you the good