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Collection III (in progress)
Volume II, Unit 1
by Emily Hockaday

SciFi in Verse

Being an Astronaut (Volume II. Unit 1)
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Being an Astronaut

The neighborhood boys of New Paris Commune
always played by the trash incinerators.
By now everyone was immune
to the acrid air and buzz of the generators.
The trash plants huge and remote, formidable"By now everyone was immune
to the acrid air and buzz of the generators.
The trash plants huge and remote, formidable and far, the boys
could play with no interruption..."
and far, the boys
could play with no interruption, and they
were used to the pungent odors and discordant noise
and shrieks of trash compacting.
                                                   Today
they played their usual game of Astronaut
versus Alien, but the mood was strange —
Billy’s brother Tom had followed and caught
up with them;
                       usually Bill would prearrange
some way of avoiding him, but not this time.

The boys found Tom amiable enough,
but Bill was in charge and they knew his mind
was set against Tom, so they had to act tough.
Tom begged to be astronaut, and Bill
finally agreed, but changed the game,
so the rest were aliens.
                                     “You will
have to catch me, and the rest, not to be lame!”

Tom, eager to ingratiate himself
so they could finally be friends, scampered
over the metal machines in practiced stealth;
but the aliens, who should have run, instead hampered
his progress by throwing old trash
in his way. They turned on him, and pinned
his arms and legs. Bill stood above, said,
                                                               “Net-flash
Weiner, you’re not smart enough.”
                                                       He grinned
and continued, “Astronauts know everything.”
The boys let Tom go, but only to ostracize
him, making him play alone.
                                            ”Someday I’ll be ferrying
people from here to Mars!” yelled Tom. “I’ll capitalize
on shuttle tourism, and you’ll all beg
to come on my ship.” The boys all laughed,
and Bill pointed out, “They only take meg-
geniuses, your marks are too low—don’t be daft.”

Tom didn’t have the fortitude to handle
the bullying, so he left. Even though
Bill’s grades couldn’t hold a candle
to Tom’s, what Bill said made him think, and so,
when Bill got home he had questions prepared.
“Is it such a delusion                    " 'Someday I'll be ferrying
people from here to Mars!' yelled Tom...
                                The boys all laughed,
and Bill pointed out, 'They only take meg-
geniuses, your marks are too low...'
'Is it such a delusion to want to work in space?'
'Yeah, Tom, it is....' "
to want to work in space?”
“Yeah, Tom, it is. I wanted you spared
from knowing the truth, but in this case
I think it’s best to be honest,” Bill said,
gleeful with his ability to damage
Tom’s feelings.
                        “To be an astronaut, you must be ahead:
information’s so changeable; you must manage
to get info before it’s out, or you’ll be obsolete.”
Tom knew it was true, all the ‘nauts were “meg-genius.”
Being “reg” wasn’t enough. “How can I compete?”

Bill saw an opportunity, and his meanness
was the arbitrary"Bill saw an opportunity, and his meanness
was the arbitrary cruelty of rivalry."
cruelty of rivalry.
He had such avarice"[Bill] had such avarice for praise
from his parents that his primary
concern was getting Tom in trouble, making him pay..."
for praise
from his parents that his primary
concern was getting Tom in trouble, making him pay
for always being ‘the ‘smart one.’ He didn’t
give thought to the dangers of the plan;
risk was merely a side effect. The imminent                                              "He didn't
give thought to the dangers of the plan;
risk was merely a side effect. The imminent
triumph – almost there! – overtook his attention span."

triumph – almost there! – overtook his attention span.

“I heard about something where you instantly
upload information straight to your brain.
You get it from the computer, through an implant.
It’d be painful, and it’s not for the mundane,”
here he was baiting, “You’d have to be brave.
It’s for people ahead of the curve.”
He bolstered Tom’s ego with the compliments Tom craved,
saying, “Someone like you: smart with lots of nerve.”

Bill knew that this new implant’s success
was only conjecture. It was based on new science,
and still being tested. But this was less
about it, more about Tom’s defiance
of his parents’ rules and advice concerning
safety. “We will have to be covert,” Bill said,
“no telling Mom and Dad, no complaining
if it hurts. They want to keep you from being
an astronaut, to keep you on Earth with them.”

Tom had no reason to suspect Bill of duplicity,
and he was excited to have him as friend.
Little did he know this dream was illusory:
the transference of data was still in
its test phase.
                      He went down to the “doctor”
to get his implant, with Bill in
the waiting room, acting as proctor.

* * *

When Tom’s parents found him, drawn and white, plugged
Into the computer, his body a defunct
shell with no function, they thought he was drugged.
And — what an anomaly!— he’d never flunked
their expectations before.
He was judicious; cautious and smart.
On closer inspection, though, they saw the cord
stretched from his neck, the angle of the body part
drawing their attention right to the implant.
Hysterically they asked Bill, “What is this?”
He denied all knowledge, but his instant
Intractable behavior made them suspicious.

He’d always been wild, and Tom would emulate.
Looking from the doorway into the room, Bill saw
his parents—they would never exculpate
him; it was his fault. He clenched his jaw
and fought back the bile rising in his throat.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,
someone should have caught him first. He would never promote
something so seriously dangerous.

Before Bill could speak, the computer screen changed:
Words were forming, and web pages holding
footage from satellites were arranged
across the screen.
                             “BILL, YOU WERE RIGHT,” the words were unfolding,
“I KNOW EVERYTHING NOW, EVEN BEFORE
IT IS FINISHED EVOLVING. I CAN SEE
DATA FROM INSIDE SPACE-SHIPS, I’M SURE
I CAN BE AN ASTRONAUT NOW. EVENTUALLY.”