Old Man's Time, p.1William S. Fletcher
Old Man’s Time
A short story by William S. Fletcher
Old Man’s Time
William S. Fletcher
Copyright 2014 by William S. Fletcher
The old man put his tools away, closed the console, gritted his teeth and in one not so fluent motion got up from his squatting position. An old man he was alright, it had been many years since he had last seen a young man’s face when he looked in the mirror or saw himself in a shiny panel when walking past. Now, a pale face with deeply furrowed wrinkles and several days’ worth of white stubble greeted him on its hollow cheeks.
An old man alright. An old man and his dog. Where had that infernal beast run off to now? He cleared his throat and surprised himself with the rasp in his voice: “Dog, come here, time to move on.”
The lack of a name for his dog was not a lack of affection. The vigorous head scratch and muttered “good dog”, once the Border collie came bounding around the corner of the corridor, showed that. There had just been too many. The old man would tell himself that it was just more convenient this way. However, he knew that it was a mere deception on his part. He wouldn’t admit this to himself but somehow his brain had argued that this way, he would be less attached to the animal. A foolish idea, considering that it was just he and his dog roaming the corridors of this spaceship.
Not all his dogs had been nameless. His first dog, an Australian sheepdog, a Kelpie, had been called ‘Mud’ by the old man. ‘Mud’ for the reddish brown colour in his scraggy fur; tones of colours that reminded him of Earth. Mud’s name might have been in stark contrast to the sterile metallic walls, floors and ceilings that surrounded them now but the old man thought it all the more fitting. Mud had been a loyal friend for many years, the most years of all the dogs he had known but towards the end of his life the arthritis had caused him such amounts of suffering that the man, only in his late thirties then, had decided to put him back in his cryolocker. There he was now, as the old man and his dog walked past the numerous animals stored away in their cryolockers. His dog would bark and growl occasionally as he would sniff or catch a glimpse of the cows, pigs, chickens and sheep. He would be the most animated in the sheep section of the cryovault. “He is a sheep dog after all”, the old man told himself.
Mud was the only dog that the old man had ever returned to cryostorage. He had realized his folly only afterwards. What had the dog gained? Nothing at all really. He was trapped somewhere between life and death. It wasn’t like anyone could cure him once reawoken, so it had really only been for the benefit of the old man. The coward’s choice; the old man felt a pang of guilt every time he walked past Mud’s cryolocker. For some time after refreezing ‘Mud’, he had not been able to look at his locker and had noticeably averted his eyes to the opposite side of the hold. Within a year or two after putting ‘Mud’ away, he had started to consciously force himself to look at Mud on his daily inspection rounds and to promise himself, as much as his current dog, to never take the coward’s way out again. Living things should have a beginning and an end; it was the only way to ensure any chance of dignity in life at all.
“Anyway”, the old man said to himself, “‘Dog’ is as good a name as any.”
Having finished the routine inspection of the animal holds and having found everything in order, it was now time to look into the bridge. His dog had run ahead already and was waiting for the old man to push the panel on the doorway that would see the door slide aside with a satisfying ‘humm’.
The bridge was a rather roomy affair with several work stations arranged in front of a large screen that was turned off for the moment. There were five stations in a line a few metres from the screen and behind them was the captain’s chair. The old man could have easily chosen to sit in the captain’s chair and no one would have been the wiser, but there had been a deeply located respect, even a need to maintain a sense of natural hierarchy. He was the interstellar pilot and nothing more and as such he seated himself in the pilot’s chair, the most central of the five in front of the screen. Times had moved on from the distant past that he had only ever been able to read about in his beloved novels about the golden age of sail. Back then, a ship had to be driven forward by setting and hauling down a large variety of sails; an effort that required a tremendous number of men and skills. It was only once they reached harbour that most men could be stood down from active duty. Now it was the opposite, everyone but him asleep while the ship was moving; as far away from its home harbour as it could be.
Old Man's Time by William S. Fletcher / Science Fiction have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes