After the Wreck of the Stellar Queen

A short story by Bruce Barnes. First published in The Altered I, a 1976 anthology from a workshop with Ursula K LeGuin


 
Uh ... we're making this recording just before re-entering Earth's atmosphere. Our lifeboat has no radio, so we're using the flight log ... just in case anything goes wrong. Not that I expect anything will go wrong, honey.
I don't see how anything could go wrong, darling. This craft belongs to your father's company, doesn't it?
A Uh ... yeah. But so did the Stellar Queen.
B Oh, don't be so gloomy, darling. Let's cheer ourselves up and announce our engagement...formally?
A
 
 
Well, I would rather wait until we're sure how we both feel. Remember the story I told you, the one about the sailor on the old-time sailing ship who fell in love with the first female face he saw, after a year at sea? Now I know it's only been three months since the Queen blew up ... but, well, you know what I mean.
B I think three months is quite long enough for two people to get to know each other as well as we do, darling. Don't you?
A It isn't the same for me. I'm twice as old as you and ... I've never been married before.
B Not even once?
A No.
B Well, I can assure you it's nothing to be afraid of, dearest, I've been married six times ...
A Look, do you mind if we change the subject? At least while this machine is running. You're making my ears go –
B Listen! Do you hear that?
A Oh, that – that's air friction. We're entering the atmosphere.
B
 
 
Oh, don't look so glum, darling. Were almost home! Isn't it exciting! There will be so many things for us to see and do – please don't look so glum. Just think of all the places we can visit ... together. So many places I'm dying to show you, so many wonderful people I want you to meet ...
A Uh-oh!
B Uh-oh?
A
 
There's... something I forgot to mention. The Stellar Queen had only six lifeboats. All the time I've been wondering if we picked that one. Now I know we did: Those flashing red lights on the control panel prove it.
B I don't quite understand, darling.
A Those hot-cold separator thingamies: the ones that stop a ship burning up when it enters the atmosphere...
B The Maxwell Demons?
A
 
 
Yeah, them. This boat doesn't have any. A few days before the explosion I, well, you know, how curious I am about mechanical things – and seeing as how my father's company makes them and all I figured I should try and learn a little more about them. You know how it is. I ... I'm really sorry I got us into this mess, honey. It's my fault that we won't –
B Why, you stupid bloody fool! You knew all this lime? Why, you feeble-minded, grong-brained –
A But honey! Look, wait a mo–
B You moron! It's all your fault. Oh, why did I ever have to get mixed up with you? You fat old –
A
 
Can it, honey. Hear that buzzing? That's the Demons coming on. The reason the red lights were flashing is because I changed the wiring around a few weeks ago.
B You...what?
A
 
Changed the wiring. After all, a guy likes to make sure how his partner really feels before he commits himself to matrimony. If you know what I mean.

Author's note:
This was my first-ever professionally published story. It is far from anything I consider my best, but it is the first one to sell, and thus is forever so.

This was one of The Dialogues. Write a story involving two characters, male and female, and do not use names to identify who is who. After I got to think about it, I rewrote this story, phrasing the last line so it till did not make clear who was what. Lee used the first version.

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