I should warn you readers now that what you are about to read is not deep. It will not change your life and it might not even be good. If you’re expecting something that will one day be compared to the works of Philip K. Dick or Douglas Adams then I apologize in advance. Instead, what you are about to read will be shallow and cheap, but it will be fun. Collegiate English classes will never analyze the tale of Brick Neilson as they do the work of great authors, wondering about the symbolism behind any character’s name or the color of the curtains on the wall. This just isn’t that kind of book.
This book is designed for you to be read quickly on your lunch break or while you wait for your flight at an airport. It is designed to be fun, to kick up your imagination and to make you laugh. This book will not change your life, but I believe that you will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Thank you, and enjoy.
Fall was coming to an end on Earth, and far above the falling leaves and the city streets, a man stood watching the sunset from the window of a den in a high rise flat. His name was Brick Nielson, and he looked like the sort of man who would have a name like “Brick Nielson.” Or at least, he had when he was younger. He wasn’t terribly old yet, but even though he was only ninety-two years old his years of fighting made him look more like a ninety-two year old from the twentieth century rather than the thirtieth. He was retired now, and his fifteen years of retirement had taken a heavier toll on him than any shoot-out or fistfight if the truth were told.
He heard the door to his bedroom open and soft footsteps began walking toward the den. It was his wife, Kara. She stepped over beside him and put an arm around his waist.
“Watching the sunset again?” She asked, not because she needed an answer because the answer was obvious, but more as one of those half-hearted attempts at starting a conversation when you don’t have any other opener.
“Of course. Not much else to do in retirement.” He said with a warm smile.
“You only do this when we get into winter.” She pointed out.
“That’s when the sunset is prettiest. The only time it compares to you.”
“People always told me you’d stop being sweet after the first year or two.”
“I usually do.” His smile shifted into a grin, “there must be something special about you.”
“Are you about to talk me into something?”
“Well, I’m retired, we’ve got plenty of money and a lot of years of life left… “
“I was thinking we might want…”
Suddenly their house was filled with the sound of neo-ska music and a message flashed on their den TV saying “”INCOMING CALL: ROLAND ROCK”
“I guess we’ll have to finish this conversation later.” Kara said as Brick turned to face the screen.
“Fine.” He said as his wife stepped out of view of their Videochat cameras. Brick Neilson straightened himself up to try to look as dignified as possible before saying loudly “Answer.”
The screen changed to a view of Roland Rock, a rotund but strong looking man of around Brick’s age. He looked far more jolly, but his grey hair and ever-so-slightly sunken eyes gave away his life of stress. “Brick Neilson, you son of a bitch!” Roland shouted in greeting.
“You leave my mom out of this!” Brick called back, following it with “What’s going on, Rocky?”
“Well, to be frank, I need a favor.”
“Don’t be Frank, be Rocky.”
“Ok then, as Rocky I need a favor.”
“Alright then, what’s the favor?”
“My nephew, Slip, is joining with the New Adventures in Space Association.”
“He’s joining NASA? Do you need a letter of recommendation?”
“It’s not that, Brick. He’s going on his first space adventure, and I’d feel a lot more comfortable if someone I knew were with him.” The atmosphere on both sides of the screen seemed to get cooler. Brick let out a long, slow sigh before answering.
“So you want me to go on another space adventure? You know my last space adventure was supposed to be my last space adventure, right?”
“I know, Brick, I understand if you say no. I just don’t know who else to ask.”
“Why don’t you go? You’re every bit the hero I was.” It was true. Rocky has even saved his life once or twice, which is why he hoped his friend wouldn’t press this too hard. He did owe him. Instead, Roland backed up from his camera and it became clear that he was in no condition for any kind of adventuring.
“I doubt any potential gunfights are wheelchair accessible.” Rocky said, wheeling himself back and forth. “It’s going to be at least two months before my legs are fixed up, and physicals are in two weeks.”
“What about the kid’s parents?”
“Got a kid on the way, that rules out his mom. His dad’s with NASA, but he’s a white coat, not a jacket. He can’t even be on their ship.”
“Fine, let me talk it over with Kara and we’ll see. But Rocky…” he paused, more for dramatic effect than anything else since it was a Videochat conversation and he already has his friend’s full attention, “If I do this, we’re even. I don’t owe you any more favor.”
“You don’t owe me any favors now, Brick. Don’t let that guide your decision. Just let me know.”
“Alright, I’ll talk it over with Kara. We’ll see what she thinks.”
There was some more conversation before they hung up, but honestly it was pretty boring. A bunch of “how’s the wife” and “are you enjoying retirement” and “so what happened to your legs” but honestly I doubt you care about any of it except for maybe how Roland ended up in a wheelchair. The answer is sharks. Roland decided, in the middle of a cruise on one of the oceans of Neptune to take a swim with the Neptunians sharks with a cut palm to drive them fighting mad. While he may have won, it wasn’t without some cost as he did have one of his legs bitten nearly clean off by one of the creatures. The point is that eventually the call ended and Brick Neilson was able to discuss the issue of going on another space adventure with his wife. I mean, as in she was the other party in the discussion, not that she would be coming along. Hell, what he really loved about her was that she wasn’t one of the types of ladies he would meet on a space adventure. She liked books, and reading, and was smart but quiet and… you probably don’t care about this either. Let’s move on.
“Do you want to go Brick?” She asked quietly as they both sat at the bar in their kitchen, him sipping on a glass of scotch whiskey and her drinking a mixed drink that is way too complicated to describe here.
“Of course I want to go! Retirement gets boring, and I’ve still got at least eighty more years in me, I can use one or two of them for another space adventure.”
“Then go. I’ll still be here when you get back.”
“Well, that was an unexpectedly short discussion on the issue.” He said, having been led to believe by many years of novels and movies that discussions about getting back into a life of adventure had with one’s spouse were always long, drawn out and dramatic. That’s really silly though, Brick Neilson is far too intelligent and emotionally sound to marry someone who wouldn’t support his decision to go do a thing that made him happy. I mean, she worried of course, but this wasn’t just any space adventurer, this was Brick Neilson. She was more worried about everyone else.
The next day, Brick Neilson made his way to the local NASA office. The drive was like any other boring commute, and while cars used a much more clean energy source and were capable of higher speeds of travel, there was nothing about them that readers are likely to find exceptionally interesting. The front room of the NASA office was much more exciting, Recruitment posters that looked like scenes out of early twentieth century science fiction, with men in jumpsuits and laser guns with blurbs like “HELP MANKIND SPREAD THROUGH THE COSMOS, JOIN NASA TODAY!”
The receptionist was a young man in his early twenties who looked like he wanted to be in his hippie phase but also wanted to have a job. His hair, clothing and everything else pushed firmly against the limits of what was acceptable for the NASA dress code and he seemed to be quite proud of that. Brick Neilson approached the young man’s desk and leaned close to the glass so as to be able to speak quietly, “I’d like to request a spot on NASA’s voyage for December 20th, should have a crew member named Slip Wilson on board.”
The receptionist looked up at him and there was an intense silence before he spoke, “I’m sorry, I just, you look a lot like the legendary space adventurer, Brick Neilson. It threw me off guard. What’s your name?”
Brick Neilson had to stifle his laughter as he said, as calmly as he could, “The name’s Brick Neilson, might be under ‘legendary’ if your reaction is any indication.” He passed his identification across the counter and watched the young man’s jaw drop. He punched the information into the computer and passed the data back. “I’m sure they’ll see you right away. Um… but… uh… could you…” The kid sheepishly passed a copy of Brick’s first memoir, Space Cadet Brick Neilson’s Adventures in Space across the desk. Brick signed it, making sure to include the boy’s name (read from his nametag) in the autograph. As Brick walked through the door he could feel the boy’s happiness, although it was bittersweet because the young man had forgotten his name tag that day and was wearing someone else’s. So his now priceless autograph was addressed to someone else.
Once you got past the reception area, the NASA office was as boring as a hospital. Not like a warzone hospital where everyone is rushing around, but the lobby of a local hospital where nobody is talking because you don’t know how stressed the people around you are. He had been given the name of the officer in charge of this expedition: Captain Roger Craig. He had never heard of Captain Craig, which made sense, a captain usually got their first command alongside fresh recruits. It was supposed to let them bond as they grew into their roles together, but more often than not it just led to wacky hijinks as nobody knew what the hell they were doing. That wasn’t Brick’s problem, though.
Captain Craig had his door wide open, but he wasn’t watchin it as his nose was buried in a computer screen. Brick Neilson peeked inside and knocked unobtrusively on the door. The captain looked up and, much like the receptionist, his jaw dropped. “I’ll be damned, Danny wasn’t joking. Brick Neilson has come back to NASA.”
“Danny? His name tag said Tyler!”
“He forgot his name tag today, had to borrow someone else’s.”
“Don’t worry about it. What’s bringing you back?”
“My friend’s nephew, Slip, is going on an expedition with you guys. Rocky asked me to come with, make sure there was an experienced hand on deck.”
“But didn’t you say that your last space adventure was going to be your last space adventure?”
“Things change Captain. So do I have a spot aboard your ship or not?”
“Of course. A legend like Brick Neilson is always welcome on my ship. This is my first voyage so I welcome any advice you might have.”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine. I plan to keep my head down unless there’s an emergency. Voyages with fresh crews are usually hilarious to watch.”
Between the end of that conversation and the actual journey there was a lot of red tape and paperwork, and that doesn’t make for an interesting story. You came here for Brick Neilson’s (Last) Space Adventure, not Brick Neilson’s Fourteen Innoculations or Brick Neilson Fills Out Forms in Triplicate. He did make a point to drop off a properly addressed and autographed copy of his memoir to Danny at the reception desk though, because Brick Neilson does not like any evidence that he has ever messed up anything to exist.
Brick Neilson had been on many ships in his lifetime, both during his time with the IPF (Interplanetary Fleet), the SAO (Space Adventure Organization) and, after the SAO was disbanded, with NASA in their early days. Adventurer ships had a similar layout to those used by the fleet: bunks where people slept, common areas where all the drama happened, engine rooms that only engineers went to (unless there was an emergency, then other people had to run down there for some reason), and the bridge.
Though the layout was similar, being on a NASA ship was a very different experience. The fleet had been all about etiquette: everyone looked the same, polished their boots and pressed their uniforms and got to their feet whenever the door opened in case someone who outranked them might walk in. On a NASA ship the only ranks that people cared about were “Captain” and “everyone else.” Sure, there was a loose chain of command, but it was more of a line of succession than anything else. Nonetheless, when Brick Neilson walked onto the bridge, everyone got to their feet. There were a lot of murmurings about his presence on the ship, and while in his younger days he would have revelled in the attention he had grown tired of the spotlight.
He looked at the photograph (a term still used even though it no longer really described the process of making the pictures at all) of his charge and scanned the room to see if he was there. No luck. Then he heard it. Someone calling for his attention. The voice was loud and boisterous and Brick saw that it came from a large bearded man near the back.
“Brick Neilson!” He called out, with an excitement that suddenly made him seem less intimidating. “I thought you were retired!”
Brick smiled, hiding the frustration that came from having to answer the crowd now, “I was. A friend of mine asked me to come out for one last space adventure.”
“But Mr. Neilson…”
“Brick is fine.” The man speaking beamed so intensely he could put a hole in something.
“B…Brick. Didn’t you say that your last space adventure would be your last space adventure?”
“How old are you son?” Brick asked. It was hard to tell the difference between a twenty year old and a forty year old with medical technology is as advanced as it was.
“Well, son, when you get to be my age you learn that things don’t always come out like you planned them. I wanted my last space adventure to be my last space adventure, but it just didn’t work out that way. Now, if anyone sees an adventurer named Slip Wilson let him know that I’m waiting for him in the food court.”
The food court was much like what you’d expect to see in a modern day mall, with various restaurants circling a central dining area. There was a NASA-run diner as well, but the food court was much more popular at lunch time. Food service had become a strange thing over the years as replicator technology made basic food products easy enough to acquire. You could, for example, have a slab of beef replicated from whatever the computer made it out of, but it wouldn’t be cooked for you. You could have it replicated at a higher temperature, effectively cooking it, but not nearly as well as a proper grilling. So people didn’t go to restaurants to get food, they went to get food that had been cooked well. This is literally what put McDonald’s out of business, well, that and the whole automated register thing they had been so dedicated to in the late twenty-first century, but you didn’t come here for a history of fast-food. You came here for a space adventure and damn it I’m going to give you one. Right after I introduce the next major character. Actually, you know what, screw it. We’re getting to the adventure now!
(TO BE CONTINUED)