Closing Time

T. M. Thomas

June 15, 2023

“The bay needs to be closed, Captain,” I said for the third time. 

Ry Sobchak smiled that infamous charmer’s white smile down from the top of the bird. The big triangle of a ship was too large to crawl up after him, unless I wanted to chase him around the turrets for a half hour. He had a rag in one hand and a bottle of metal cleaner in the other as he sat astride the gun mount just forward of  the cockpit. Two empty liquor bottles were on the ground beside the cruiser, one smashed and the other just empty. 

“You married, Airman?”

“No, sir. Now please come down. The techs need to do postflight checks on these ships.”

He leaned back. He was lanky and lean, perfectly shaped for fitting in the cockpits of the A-23. Rumor was they’d even built the newest ones around him, as the prototype build. His leathery face and curly hair, lighter in streaks and at the tips, looked like a man who spent his days ranching, like my dad, and not aboard a carrier past Io. 

“Son, one thing to learn. Rules don’t apply. You do what she wants, she’ll be mad you didn’t do more. You do what you want, she’ll be twice as mad.”

“Sir, I’ll remember that. Now if you’ll come down? It’s 0145 and we need to secure this bay.”

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He stood, weaving a little as he swung his long legs over the gunmount. He slipped a little and the metal cleaner clanked against the long barrel. 

“Son, I’ve done fifty-eight missions on this tour alone. I’ve rained death and destruction down on the enemies of the Confederation. I got scrubbed from today’s flight because she told them I was a drunk. I’m not crawling home to her on your say so!”

He slammed his hand down on the barrel, again. There was a little click as the metal can fell away, then clanks as it bounced off the armored hull and onto the corrugated metal floor. “Damn it,” he muttered, slamming his empty hands down on the metal so it rang through the empty bay. 

“You don’t need to go home,” I started to say, when there were five more clicks. 

“What?” he started, but I was already running. It was only a few yards to the emergency blast doors, already grinding shut, but it felt like an hour of running in cold Terran mud before I put the three feet of metal between me and the bay. 

The nanotech shell in the barrel didn’t do anything as dramatic as explode. Captain Sobchak didn’t have time to do anything before the little cone of clicking metal extended a few feet from the barrel. The techs would have found the misfired shell and cleaned it out properly, if he’d listened.  

The skeleton fell on the floor, breaking into hundreds of pieces and mixing into the broken pieces of the liquor bottles. The metal swarm fell to dust, coating the few feet it had covered with a silver snow that reflected all the pale emergency lights back at me. 

I sucked in air, terrified I’d feel my lungs starting to dissolve with any nanotech bugs I’d inhaled, then reached for my radio.

T. M. Thomas is a lawyer and writer son of an enlisted U.S. Air Force dad and three enlisted U.S. Army combat uncles, living the middle-aged life in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York.

“Closing Time” is original to Bullet Points.