Bewildering Stories

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The Inane Voyage

by John Thiel

The planners and master organizers of the space program had decided that it needed more entertainment value. They determined to have more personable mission personnel.

To this end they advertised among the affluent and the well-to-do, keeping to a social status criterion that was good but within reason in order not to lose the appeal of commonality. They wanted talented people, minor philosophers, daredevils, and above all people with whom large quantities of the public could identify, and they found this at last in a complete family unit who had show-business affiliations. The family group, known as the Ragoons, had the custom of putting their family affairs before the public on the living stage. Considering that space flights were now being monitored for broadcast on video stations around the world, whereby an expectant and space-conscious public could follow the flights as they occurred, this stage background was a plus, and it seemed to the spaceflight planners that this was exactly what people would want to watch.

The family liftoff went well. After Papa Consona had boasted to the viewers that he would not fly in a craft whose systems he had not checked out personally, and had switched from his coveralls with rolled-up sleeves to what he deemed “proper space attire” (a combination of uniform and quality clothing with regalia suggesting unusual importance), the ramps were pulled on a grand family presentation waving its farewell from a hatchway, and the hatch closed, and everyone knew they were settling down safely and comfortably inside, because Lenona, the mother, had said they would do that and Consona assured everyone that she had spoken correctly.

That was all for the morning, and those who chose to stay tuned watched systems being gone through and listened to spaceflight commentaries by spokesmen for numerous concerned groups. Systems were “Go” by three in the afternoon and the starting jets were ignited. It was a perfect takeoff, straight up as usual (who was not remembering teenage Manfran’s comments about the use of this flight-descriptive phrase?). Again there was an interval, for the interior departure mode was not all that interesting or televisable, but they would later see the teenage son and the nine-year-old one mimicking it. At eight o’clock they were tuned in to the family fully established in orbit.

“That takeoff was a Christopher,” Randolph, the youngster, was saying, and they all laughed because the 20-year-old son, who was out on his own now but had returned to the family assemblage for the purpose of the space flight, was named Christopher. They said he was being compared to Columbus now among family members and elsewhere.

“I could take two spaceships to the Moon alone,” Christopher told them, and everybody else.

“How would you do it?” Randolph asked.

“The lesser ship would be in a harness rig, and would contain tools and components, including those for the establishment of a moon base,” Christopher said.

“Would the rig work?”

“An inertia field would be used.”

Papa Consona spoke up. “Maybe I should put one into effect around here.”

They chatted about outer space for a long time. Every once in awhile the view of Earth was outstanding and a lot of the family, or sometimes all of it, would rush to see it. There were two daughters, twelve and seventeen. The teenager, Rennie, had been voted Miss Terran Teenager for the year, but by the family, not by general consensus. Belle, the younger, was the most enthusiastic about the sights. She kept thinking she was seeing the Grand Canyon, even when they were over Russia.

“You can’t see the Grand Canyon from here,” Manfran said. “We’re way too high up.”

“Are you sure? A whole lot down there looks like it might be the Grand Canyon.”

“Those are the Urals.”

“I suppose that might be a shoe-print where Father Nature stepped, over there beside them,” Belle said. “But it still looks like the Grand Canyon to me.”

“You’ve just always wanted to see the Grand Canyon,” Lenona said.

“Some day maybe she’ll see it,” said Consona.

They continued being very effusive about all they were seeing, until at last the monitor cameras shut off, with a promise that the audience would see some more of them around midnight. At eleven o’clock another broadcast started, less successful than the earlier one. Consona was sitting with his back to the camera, talking about something obscure. Someone seemed to call his attention to the broadcast, and he half turned, saying “Oh, are we broadcasting again? I hadn’t been informed we were going to be on at this time.” He grumbled a bit, then stood up and faced the cameras. “Most of the rest have gone to bed,” he said. “We’re going by Earth time where we live.”

But it was audience-question answering time. Messages were coming in and being printed. “A whole lot of viewers are asking, is that your real family?” a crewman informed him.

Consona looked distressed for a moment about how to answer them, then came up with something. He sang:

Oh, yes, I’ve got six children, six children, six children,
Oh, yes, I’ve got six children,
Tim, Joe, John, Jim, Sally and the Baby.

This accomplished, he admitted he’d been fooling them a bit. “Five, actually,” he said. “It’s just a song. The Baby would have to be Randolph, if it were real, and he’s nine. Sure, it’s my family. I think you know what their real names are.”

The broadcast shut down again shortly before twelve. Back near the pad, several of the earlier astronauts were considering the matter.

“At least we know they’re not genetically bred,” said a seasoned spaceman.

“I just don’t know the benefit of it,” said another. “What are they going to do, fly something like that to Mars?”

“They might want a series out of them when they get back.”

The Colonel attending to the get-together had it all summed up for them, though. “That’s supposed to be the original of a colony-building project,” he said. “But upon my career, I’d say that now I know for sure why they call our projects a ‘Space Program.’”

Copyright © 2003 by John Thiel

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