R. G. Currell
Ó 1998, R. G. Currell, Science Fiction Theater
They had put a medal on his chest and slipped a certificate of promotion into his hand and still he felt like a coward. He had already told them that after he had let Jonathan die out there in Space, he could never return to active duty again. So now he was on compulsory leave until he worked things out.
Over the top of his whiskey glass, he could see his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. But it wasn't his own face he was seeing. It was Jonathan's face, contorted behind the plastic plate of his space helmet. His eyes were begging for just a few small breaths of oxygen. But Dave had refused his friend. And his friend had died. And the Service had given him a promotion and a medal.
"Hey! It's the new Lieutenant Commander. Congratulations," somebody said, as he slapped him on the shoulder. "A promotion, a medal, a leave. Pretty good, if you ask me, Dave." The Commander studied him for a moment. "I heard about Jonathan. Tough break."
The Commander watched as Dave drank down the bottom half of his whiskey. He frowned. "It can happen to any of us, Dave. Intelligence Recon is Hazardous Duty."
"Right," Dave said, as he stood. "If you'll excuse me, Bob." And then he walked out of the room.
Lieutenant Commander David Colburn was brooding, as he walked along the lengthy corridor of First World Space Dock, on his way to his own quarters. Out of sheer habit, he looked in through the door of the Rec Room, as he passed by. Floating in the pool face down was the figure of a woman, arms out, legs slightly lowered in the water. Dave broke into a run and dove in face first. He grabbed a hold of her, turned her over and the breathed color back into her blue face. Then, he hauled her out through the shallow end. He turned to the voice-activated intercom and yelled, "Medical Emergency! Rec Room Number One." The woman was coughing when the Med Team arrived.
Later, David was showered and changed and staring at a blank computer screen where his letter to Jonathan's widow was supposed to be, when the door chimes rang. "Come," he said.
The Commander walked in and said without preamble, "That was a good thing you did, Dave."
"Thanks, Bob." His eyes never looked up.
"Look, Dave. I don't know how to say this politely, so I'll just say it. If Jonathan had kept his head out there, he would still be alive. But he didn't. He panicked. And if things had been reversed, Dave -- well you know the Regulations. You just don't share oxygen in Space under Class One Critical Conditions. He would have done the same. He knew somebody had to get that report back. That's life in Space, Dave."
The Lieutenant Commander looked up and nodded. It was true.
"Intelligence Recon, assemble on the flight deck." a voice over the loud speaker said.
"Are you coming, Dave?"
Dave's face contorted with conflict. Then he nodded his head and stood. "I'm coming."
"That's the old Dave I know!"