Culture

The Angry Astronaut Affair

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Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 27 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

See Liberty Island’s new contest: Enter Liberty Island’s Non-Traditional Holiday Fiction Writing Contest

Check out this new release at Liberty Island:

By the time Reginald Waite returned home, the darkness of night covered the Houston metropolitan area, a perfect close for a perfectly rotten day. It was supposed to be a routine trip to Pasadena to discuss the specifics of a new model of satellite Antares was taking up next month, but he’d no more than started preflight checks on his T-38 Talon when he started finding maintenance errors. By the time he got everything corrected and in the air, he was running late enough that he’d had to use every trick to eke enough speed out of the plane to arrive on time.

Ten minutes after he walked through the door at JPL, some idiot made a crack about Shepard clones always being hot to trot in more ways than one. God, but he’d wanted to punch that jerk, and wouldn’t that be a scene, a scheduled shuttle commander decking an engineer. It’d be as bad as the Great Astronaut Catfight a couple of years ago, when Melinda Bates came home after a six-month hitch at Luna Station to discover this little payload specialist hooking up with her husband and had driven cross-country to confront the Other Woman.

No, it’d be worse, thanks to a certain former senator pulling in all his markers to get one of his own clones installed as NASA Administrator. No way could Aiden McAllister look the other way about a disciplinary infraction by a clone of the man his own ur-brother had condemned as insubordinate, insouciant and immoral.

It had taken all the discipline of a career naval aviator to force the anger aside enough to get business done and fly back to Ellington. Now Reggie was finally home, sitting at his own computer, and he could let that icy wall of control melt away. Go on the Lovecraft Country game and burn off his anger dispelling shoggoths and Cthulhu-spawn, imagine they were everyone at JPL that he’d overheard making snarky remarks about clones taking over the astronaut corps.

As he woke his computer, he noticed that the forum window was in front of the gameplay window. A new post caught his attention:

From: Weeping_Willow

Subj: My Culture is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 1508 MST (GMT+7) 

I don’t want to get into identity policing, but it really bothers me to see Native American characters being played by people who are obviously white. The sheer level of ignorance being displayed is offensive, especially when you consider what your ancestors did to us. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Show some respect and keep your games to your own cultures.

Reggie could feel his blood pressure rising, just like back at JPL. Except this time he didn’t have to take it in silence, not now that he was using his own Internet connection, his own computer, and a screen name that would disconnect his online persona from his official identity as an astronaut.

From: Major_Tom

Subj: Re: My Culture Is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009, 2249 CST(GMT+6)

I get sick and tired of this “your ancestors did my ancestors wrong, so you owe me” song and dance. That’s just a license for perpetual bellyaching instead of actually solving the problems you’re having. I’m not responsible for my ur-brother’s failings, and I share 100% of my nuclear DNA with him, so neither are Naturals who only have a fraction of any given forebears’ genes.

Most people around here play to get away from our daily lives, not extend them into gamespace. When I first started playing I created a white male character. He was even an astronaut, although he was based more on Scott Carpenter than my actual ur-brother. Man, did that got old fast — I felt like I was working all day and coming home to work some more. So I created a new character who was completely different — not because I wanted to diss your culture, but because I want to have a game life that doesn’t remind me of my real one of hand-me-down genes and the reputation of a man a decade dead that follows me everywhere I go.

Reggie became acutely aware of moonlight shining into the room. The Moon was a few days past opposition, enough that the terminator had moved beyond Mare Tranquillitatis and the landing lights of Slayton Field blazed bright as an impossible star.

Good God, but he wished he were back up there, where your competence was the only thing that mattered, not who you were a clone of or who your ancestors were. But no, as long as the third-generation orbiters were new he was stuck on shuttle duty, up to Freedom Station and back down, no further. He’d even gone to the Chief Astronaut, saying, “Shelly, can’t you get me back to the Moon?” Michelle Grimwald had told him until those problems were resolved, NASA needed him here.

Might as well play Jerry Ironeagle until he wound down enough to get to sleep. Tomorrow he had meetings and he didn’t want the flight directors to think he wasn’t up to the job.

*

The meetings turned out better than Reggie had expected. But at Johnson Space Center anybody who couldn’t deal with clones didn’t last very long.

No, they head out west to hang out with all the other soreheads.

So he was in a markedly better mood when he got home that evening, more inclined to hang out with some of the other Lovecraft Country players instead of splatting eldritch nasties into thin sheets of slime. It’d be almost as fun as late-night bull sessions with his fellow lander pilots at the Roosa Barracks back on Slayton Field, or weekend liberties in Grissom City. God, I wish I were back up there.

Might as well wish Trofim Lysenko had outmaneuvered Andrei Zhdanov and killed Soviet genetics in its cradle so that human cloning would proceed slowly and publicly instead of in super-secret Cold War projects, without oversight or restraint on either side of the former Iron Curtain. Secrets that became all too public when the Soviet Union imploded in the 80’s and President Reagan went on national TV to announce that yes, the US had its own cloning program as well.

Reggie had no more than gotten online when he found a private message from a friend, Stephanie Roderick, screen name Sailor_Yuggoth: Looks like you’ve kicked a hornets’ nest down in the forum.

Steffi was right. In a single day he’d gotten over fifty responses, variations on the theme of You’re Rude and Need to Apologize, adorned with the politically correct jargon he’d had to endure at that sensitivity training workshop NASA had required everybody attend a few months ago.

OK, you want an apology so damn bad, I’ll give you one. I hope you choke on it.

From: Major_Tom

Subj: Re: My Culture Is NOT Your Cool Character

Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009, 1922 CST(GMT+6)

Sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings. I’ll admit it was a mistake posting when I was still steamed after a very bad visit to JPL, but this stuff hit some sore spots of mine that got rubbed real tender.

Still, some people need to lighten up. I don’t go bitching about how most of the people playing astronaut characters must’ve learned their astrodynamics out of a bad movie, and don’t know Max Q from Solar Max, or translunar injection from orbital insertion. It’s not like they’re going to auger in an actual spacecraft and get people killed, so I just stay away from where they’re playing. That way we all have fun.

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