Short Story – Ducks in Space
A short story a week is my goal and that is the best explanation as to why I wrote what I’m posting today.
A few weeks ago, I was at an improv show and a suggestion was made (by my son) for the performers to act out a horror movie about ducks in space.
For whatever reason, I used “Ducks in Space” as the inspiration for this story. It is literally nothing like the improv sketch that inspired the title, which is probably for the best.
Instead, it is a story about what would most likely happen were ducks to pilot spacecraft.
“Picwicket! Picwicket! Do you read me?”
A familiar voice caught Picwicket’s attention and he waddled over to a speaker that appeared to be the source. Not that Picwicket knew it was a speaker. Nor did he really understand what the voice was saying. But the voice was familiar to him and that made him curious.
“Picwicket! We need your help!”
This voice was higher pitched. If he understood the difference between a man’s and a woman’s voice, he would have thought this second voice was a woman’s voice. It, too was familiar to him.
Picwicket looked at the speaker for a moment but soon found himself distracted by his continuing search for a pond. There must, he supposed, be a pond around here somewhere.
“I told you this was a bad idea.”
“Well what other choice do we have?”
The entire situation that would, most likely, lead both to the demise of Picwicket and a complete failure to locate a pond, had begun many months before.
In a far off corner of a forgotten space program, a researcher had suggested super intelligent animals could help pilot advanced interstellar craft, thus reducing the number of human crew required. The cost savings, he calculated, would be well worth the risk.
Picwicket was, indeed, a highly intelligent duck. So the experiment had worked to that extent.
The issue lay in the assumption that a highly intelligent Duck would actually be capable of piloting an interstellar craft. For all his advanced reasoning skills, Picwicket still lacked the basic understanding of mechanics, math, or the human language.
He was, sad to say, still very much a duck.
So when Astronaut Steve and Astronaut Carrie – which is what they called themselves on the assumption Picwicket would eventually remember their names although that never happened – locked themselves out of the command module, the only creature capable of opening the door was Picwicket. And Picwicket was far more concerned about finding a pond.
The pond was on the other side of the door with Astronaut Steve and Astronaut Carrie. Picwicket, being a duck, had never noticed the door because the door had always been open.
It was only through an unfortunate accident involving a bowl of cereal and an alan wrench that the door had been closed. That same accident was the reason the atmosphere in the habitat module (along with the water that had been in Picwicket’s pond) had been sucked out into space and Steve and Carrie were in their space suits slowly running out of oxygen.
Picwicket had been prepared for just such an emergency. It was part of his job. Should he be left alone for too long, he was to simply peck on the system reset button. That would have opened the door, restored the atmosphere, and the ship would no longer be in a course that would result in the ship melting as it passed too close to a star five days from this moment.
The good news for Carrie and Steve is that they would be long dead at that point. Picwicket had more than enough food to survive for another five days.
“How did we end up with a duck? The other team got a monkey.”
“Look, Steve, this was not supposed to be a difficult mission. The duck should be able to handle it.”
Picwicket heard the voices again. He missed the voices and wished they would come back. They made him comfortable. A red light flashed on a console built to accommodate his special duck requirements. Mostly, that meant it was built on the floor and had exactly one button that would flash red when a life threatening emergency put the crew at risk.
All he had to do was peck that button to reset the system.
It would also make the light stop flashing. And the flashing light annoyed him.
He knew none of this. His training had been forgotten days before he’d ever been launched into space with Astronaut Steve and Astronaut Carrie.
Sometimes in drills, he would peck the button correctly because it annoyed him and he wanted it to stop. Pecking the button would make it stop flashing and he would get a treat.
Other times – such as now – he would simply waddle to another part of the command module because he wasn’t all that hungry and he also didn’t remember that the flashing red light gave him a treat if he pecked at it.
Besides, he really wanted to find a pond.
Several hours later, Astronauts Steve and Carrie stopped talking. Picwicket didn’t wonder where the voices went because he no longer recalled their existence.
Five days later, Picwicket died when the ship crashed into a small star that was small only in comparison to other stars. Compared to Picwicket, it was quite large.
Steve and Carrie might have been happy to discover that two months later, the ship carrying the prototype monkey pilot exploded after the highly intelligent monkey tried to masturbate using the ship’s controls.
After seven more disastrous missions, the experimental program was declared a failure. A plaque commemorating Astronaut Steve, Astronaut Carrie, and Pickwicket was placed on the wall of honor a few months before the company went out of business and the building was demolished to make way for a park with a wading pond.
Picwicket would have been happy.