Science Fiction & Fantasy

THE CALL

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Fiction

The Whole Crew Hates Me

They hate me. They have told me this, again and again, starting from almost the first day of the mission, and continuing every day since then, carrying their hostility well outside the confines of the solar system and into the realm of bentspace. Their hatred does not quite extend to the realm of murder, at least not yet; but it does include telling me every day, in every possible way, that they find my presence intolerable and that they wish I would just do something considerate, like die. I’ve given up on asking them why. They just tell me it’s obvious. They say I’m stupid for not being able to figure it out for myself. They say it’s all they can do to not smash my face. I ask if they have any specific complaints, if there are any specific transgressions I can work on. They just look disgusted. This is universal; all thirty members of the waking shift, all saying the same thing, all making the same points. They hate me, all of them. Every single one.

The various facilities the ship has for crew recreation have all been shut down to me. I am not allowed anywhere near the game room. I am not permitted to access the library, audio or video or neurec or text. Even the ship’s mess is forbidden to me. I cannot sit and enjoy my meals at leisure, listening to and participating in the give-and-take of shipboard life, the way they do, but must collect a weekly allotment of reconstituted foodstuffs from the galley, and take it down to the guts of the ship where, they assure me, I belong, because otherwise I’d be among them, ruining their appetite, making them sick. I’ve protested it in the strongest possible terms, both in the last list of grievances transmitted to Earth and with the Captain herself. But Earth has not responded and the Captain merely rolls her eyes and says, “What do you expect me to do about it? I can’t force them to socialize with you if they don’t want to.” I ask, “And that’s it, then? I’m supposed to just lock myself away and not talk to anybody for another ten years?” She rolls her eyes again—a great eye-roller, is our Captain—and tells me that it’s not her fault; it’s not anybody’s fault; it’s not even my fault, because I was born the prick I am. But she can’t help it if everybody hates me. She can’t even help it that she hates me too, as, she takes pains to assure me, anybody would.

Zieglitz has made up songs about me. Lenniman’s cornered me in one alcove or another, to poke me with his index finger while haranguing me with a long list of all my faults, actual or imagined. Pithule’s torn up all my uniforms but for one, which he’s infused with some kind of chemical agent that makes my skin itch. They’ve doubled my shifts and annotated my messages from home with rude commentary about my friends and family. They refuse to explain why they’re doing this to me except in generalities about how disgusting I am and how revolting it is to be around me and how life would be so much better if I just jettisoned myself out an airlock. I keep telling them that this is not the way to run a mission.

They shouldn’t hate me. I mean, scientifically, they shouldn’t. It’s against all we know of personality mapping. Mission Control knew that we would all be confined together for almost twelve years, one way, that we would need to operate as cogs in a well-oiled machine, and therefore that, by all known measurements, we would get along. We were all subjected to the usual exhaustive battery of psychological tests to determine compatibility and the capacity to compromise, and I scored 97.2 out of a possible one hundred, which is as good as any of them except for Raffin, who scored 97.5, rendering him by that one smidgen the most likeable of any of us, by a hair. We’re all amiable sorts, all endearing sorts, all paragons of physical fitness and sexual attractiveness, all wholly qualified in our respective specialties, all socially compatible in multiple gender combinations, and all willing to forego the normal societal mores regarding monogamy and gender preference. In training, we were placed under instructions to indulge whatever makes us comfortable, to accept and indulge all sexual overtures from our comrades, and to eliminate all tendencies toward jealousy or possessiveness. The computer simulations suggested and recorded some possibilities that we never even considered and therefore choreographed groupings of not just twos and threes but fours and fives; and never in all the resulting animatics, rendered with cinematically realistic precision down to every last ooh and aah, did all that poking about and mucking about and acrobating about and the like ever wind up with the result that one of us ended up an outcast, unable to arrange so much as a single day without being abused. But that’s the way it’s worked out, and as it happens I find myself the guy the others don’t talk to, don’t make eye contact with, don’t even respond to unless it’s mission business. When it’s mission business, like the status conferences we hold every Thursday, the others glare at me as if I’m some slimy ball of undigested hair puked out by the ship’s cat, if we had a ship’s cat. I cough and tell them everything that’s been going on in cryo-section. It’s a lot of data to get through, but no less than any of the others have to share during the same meeting, and none of them get what I get: scowls, eye-rolling, the sense that it’s all they can do to tolerate me, for the length of time it takes me to get through it; the clear message that they wish I was dead.

Early in the voyage the Captain kicked me out of my quarters. Everybody in the waking crew is supposed to have their own private space, not a big one, you understand, but a little cubicle about the size of a respectable prison cell with a retractable bed, a storage bin with 100 kilo of personal belongings, and a display wall that constantly cycles through images from home, from nature photography to pictures of Mom and Dad. In prisons, murderers get that much. We are supposed to get that much. We weren’t ten days outside the solar system before somebody hacked the system wall, deleted all my wall art, and replaced it with pornographic images of assholes: thousands of them, an impressive treasure trove of them, in fact, testifying to either a powerful search engine or an energetic feat of compiling this imagery by hand. I couldn’t retire to my quarters without those images scrolling by on my wall, refusing even the simple command to shut down in favor of a simple single shade wallpaper. Whoever did it also blanked my personal library of preferred pleasure reading and replaced it all with endless pages of the same two words, You Suck, repeated ad infinitum, at length far greater than the collected works of Proust. I complained to the Captain about that, too, prompting her reply that since I happened to be so ungrateful for the quarters I’d been provided, I would no doubt prefer a cot down by the bluegel crypts where I work; and I was still sputtering when she arranged just that, a new assigned berth made up of jury-rigged cargo netting, in a dank alcove under tubes that rattle and get uncomfortably hot in the late hours when I’m trying to sleep. I’m the only member of the crew who has to sleep under such industrial conditions, while my old assigned quarters stay sealed, a space forbidden even to me.

I’ve read back everything I’ve written so far, and I can’t help thinking that this all sounds paranoid. What needs to be acknowledged is that I know. I recognize paranoia when I see it. The thing is, one workable definition of insanity is the inability to forge appropriate reactions to stimuli, and one reason the common persecution complex tends to be listed as a symptom of mental illness is that, when applicable, the sufferer is not actually being persecuted. There’s no conspiracy of silence, no instant vibe that makes everybody hate him. It’s just a creation of faulty wiring. In my particular case, I happen to know that I’m not making this up. They dump sewage down by my berth. They play Sousa marches over the ship’s intercom when I try to sleep. They send me memos about what a gigantic piece of crap I am. They concoct a demerit system named after me, Morgan Points, that by the new ship’s Constitution can only be awarded to me and can never be wiped off my record, but can only be punished with revocation of more privileges. My communiqués to Mission Control beg them to go back over their calculations to determine just what, if anything, has gone wrong. But I have received no reply. Instead I get a memo from Hurwitz, the ship’s Psychologist. It is her duty to make sure that every member of the crew bears up under the stresses of interstellar travel and remains capable of continuing to fulfill the duties for which we were trained. I have frequently asked her to intervene with my fellow crew members. She has always been as evasive about this as the Captain. But today her memo gives me a firm reply. I reproduce it here only because it’s vitally important to document every manifestation of the way they’ve been treating me. Die, Morgan. Seriously, just die. Kill yourself or something. There are industrial accidents waiting to happen all over the ship. You can toodle out an airlock, you can jump from the catwalk over Sector Nine, you can let your fingernails grow long and rip out your own throat. Any of these things would be preferable to turning down another whiny attempt to help you avoid what should be obvious by now. Understand this. I have no intention of intervening. I will not lift one finger to make one heartbeat out of one minute out of any one of your days even incrementally more bearable for you, and will in fact do anything I can to make your stupid pointless life aboard this ship even more unpleasant than it is now. Do you get it now, you prick? Do you have even the scintilla of a ghost of a clue? Nobody likes you. Nobody has ever liked you. Even your parents hated you. Any moment in your past where you thought you were tolerable to your fellow human beings was just a pretense, which the world indulged out of awareness that it would someday get to exile you into an environment like this mission where you would be unable to escape the treatment you so richly deserve. I can’t believe I’m even wasting my breath on you. I hereby state for the record that this is the last time any communication from you will receive the dignity of a reply. Don’t you get it, Morgan? You’re an irritant; you were born an irritant; you will always be an irritant. Die Die Die Die Die.

I’ve begun giving serious consideration to the possibility that this madness, or whatever it is, will eventually result in attempts on my life. Unused space is at a premium on a starship, even one as vast and as sprawling as this one, but in every industrial facility there are places where machinery abuts against other machinery in inelegant interfaces that create alcoves, crawlspaces, even cooling shafts, accessible to human beings who might have a need to hide. In my copious time alone, I have identified four, well outside the flow of crew traffic, where a sufficiently determined outcast can hide and venture forth only in conditions of absolute secrecy, to scavenge the food he needs to survive. One of our colonists died in stasis, his body jettisoned into the void as per regulations; actually, a number of our colonists have died, the expected number, but this is one particular fellow I’m talking about, and I’ve made a little project of disassembling his bluegel crypt and creating a little cubbyhole, which from the front still looks like it’s holding a body in suspension. Decontamination was a tough and nasty job, but one of the advantages of nobody wanting anything to do with me is having plenty of free time that would normally be spent socializing, and I’ve spent it making sure that I could be quite comfortable in there for a long time, even arranging a nutrient drip and sewage line in case I’m ever in for a long siege. This is what they’ve reduced to me: the paranoia of the despised minority.

I have even engaged myself in long debates about what I’ll do if circumstances ever force me to have to kill in self-defense—a prospect that that once filled me with horror but has in recent months become more and more a deeply craved consummation. Right or wrong, I want to smash some faces. At night, alone, I imagine the satisfying crunch of the Captain’s cheekbones shattering as I smash her with a wrench; I imagine the screams of terror as Denham and Schwartz are sucked out into the cold of interstellar space; I crave the gasps as I kick the already helpless O’Hearn in the ribs, all while shouting epithets as awful as the ones they’ve chanted at me. But as much as I’ve dreamt about that, I’ve also fantasized about the other resolution, the tearful apologies, the offered hands of friendship, the sudden sexual interest by one or another who’ve cursed my name but in this reverie find me as irresistible as they now find me loathsome. I am a social being. I want my fellow human beings. I have also pictured waking some of the colonists, not all of them but just a few, explaining as they sit shivering on the cold deck that something has gone terribly wrong with the mission and that they’re desperately needed to help keep things from getting worse. I imagine creating a second country down here in the guts of the ship, a country I’ll somehow manage to hide from the internal sensors and from the resource depletion logs and therefore from those who have declared me outcast, a country comprised of dozens of thawed colonists who will embrace me as friend and grant me the acceptance I cannot have from those I trained with. I tell myself that if I recruit my friends wisely, I can even lead a little rebellion, storming the upper corridors and seizing control from those who have been so cruel to me . . . and there my fantasies return to reprisals. More and more, I seem to want that more than love. More and more, I think I’m losing my mind. But I am brought back to reality to the awareness that I have also not broken. Isn’t that funny? How can that be, that I have not broken?

But I keep coming back to the tests: the assurances we kept receiving from all the doctors and analysts and group dynamic specialists, that we had been selected to fit together, to work together, to function as a family with an absolute minimum of conflict. And I keep coming up against the one thing that frightens me most of all. In the early days of mission planning, all the predictive models based on perfect crew harmony resulted in catastrophic failure, of one sort or another, before we reached the new planet. In all those models, cliques formed; onboard society crumbled; suicides and homicides multiplied. Then the models were classified and in short order the number crunchers announced that they had licked the problem. It’s occurred to me that nothing as aberrant as a universal outcast could have gone without prediction, that it might indeed be part of the plan, that the specific dynamics of this crew might have been designed to produce one, a poor schmuck who had always known popularity under natural circumstances but who they could count on to be loathed and ostracized when faced with a particular grouping of human beings, selected not just because of their qualifications but because they would fit together in a manner that would inevitably exclude him. What, I wonder, possesses more unity than a crowd with someone to hate? If true, this would explain why Mission Control has never answered me, why the Captain has always rolled her eyes at my official protests, why the rest of the crew has always seemed more than just the tightly-knit family I expected, but a single organism, united with a purpose that goes beyond seeding the stars. If so, I just might be the most important person on the ship.

I consider the matter further and reflect that if this is true, even my failure to commit suicide in response to all this social isolation must have been a factor in the calculations. If Mission Control wanted this to happen, then perhaps they knew that Guilfoyle would slit his wrists within a year; that Tanaka would bash in her own brains within two; that Vernon would murder somebody in a fit of rage within three. Maybe they crunched the numbers and picked the one of us who would bear up under all this persecution with the lowest loss of efficiency. If so, then I could doom the mission by injecting myself with coolant, dying, and forcing the group dynamics to recalculate, until it’s someone like Schwartzhill or Dennehy the group mind decides to hate next; maybe someone whose specialty is so critical to the mission that the crew won’t be able to survive a single day of their helpless hostility toward him. That would be nice, I think. That would strike me as poetic justice.

The crew hates me. They hate me without being able to explain why they hate me. They hate me with a helpless, single-minded determination that compels them to blight every minute of every day. They hate me so much they’ve taken to waylaying me in the corridors and pummeling me bloody with sacks that they’ve filled with spanners and wrenches. They know exactly how much damage they can do to me and leave me still able to do my job. They don’t know that their abuse has changed my attitude toward my job. They believe me when I assure them at every meeting that the colonists are still doing well in stasis, with no more than the normal, expected number of deaths. They don’t know that from time to time I’ve been so filled with rage by their latest mistreatment of me that I’ve popped some random seal and let a corpus thaw out while it sat. I’ve disposed of more than a hundred this way; hardly any compared to the thousands we have in storage, but enough to qualify me as one of the most prolific serial killers in human history. I haven’t really done it, because the numbers were right when they declared me incapable of violence. I just tell myself I have. But do I take such pleasure fantasizing about it because they hate me, or do they hate me because they sense that it’s something I might be capable of doing? I find I don’t care.

What they don’t know and what I suspect the number-crunchers underestimated is just how much I hate them in return. I hate them I hate them I hate them. I want them dead so much it makes me weep. I want them dead so much I can feel it eating away every other piece of me. I want them dead so much I would stab the world in the heart just for the chance of seeing it happen. I want them dead so much that there’s nothing else in the universe I care about. I want them dead because I know that if they came to their senses and offered me their friendship, I would fall to my knees and break down weeping, foolishly grateful for the chance to be one of them again. I want them dead so much I wake up every day shattered that they haven’t forgiven me, at long last, for whatever it is they believe I’ve done; for whatever mistake I’ve made; for whatever planned or random quirk of chemistry makes them want to treat me this way. I want them dead because I hate them, more than I’ve ever hated anyone or anything. I want them dead because the numbers were right about something else, too: how helplessly and without reservation I love them.

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Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro made his first non-fiction sale to SPY magazine in 1987. His 26 books to date include four Spider-Man novels, 3 novels about his profoundly damaged far-future murder investigator Andrea Cort, and 6 middle-grade novels about the dimension-spanning adventures of young Gustav Gloom. The penultimate installment in the series, Gustav Gloom and the Inn of Shadows (Grosset and Dunlap) came out in August 2015. The finale will appear in August 2016. Adam’s darker short fiction for grownups is highlighted by his most recent collection, Her Husband’s Hands And Other Stories (Prime Books). Adam’s works have won the Philip K. Dick Award and the Seiun (Japan), and have been nominated for eight Nebulas, three Stokers, two Hugos, and, internationally, the Ignotus (Spain), the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France), and the Kurd-Laßwitz Preis (Germany). He lives in Florida with his wife Judi and either three or four cats, depending on what day you’re counting and whether Gilbert’s escaped this week.