2952-03-19 – Tales from the Inbox: The Prodigy’s Interview 

Elliott Deadman slid into the chair opposite Sadek Sherburn, a look of nervous relief on his youthful face. “Well...” He stared hard at the elegant floral-patterned tablecloth for a long moment before continuing. “Jakeman’s not exactly bad at what he does. But I’m better.” 

“That’s a bold claim.” Sadek reached into the menu to order another round of fried mushrooms. “Especially since he’s got twenty years of experience you don’t.” 

“Oh, that he does, Mr. Sherburn.” Deadman nodded. “Being his shipmate for six months, I heard all his stories. Some of them twice over. But I won’t be so much trouble, and I’m a better tech. Especially on newer machinery.” 

Sadek smiled. “It’s easier to be a better tech on newer machinery, because it doesn’t break down as much.” 

“Sure, as long as you don’t think you’re smarter than the operator manual.” Deadman scowled. “From what he told me, I think Jakeman spent so long hitting cranky Navy atmospherics with a hammer until they stopped making funny noises that he tries to do that to everything.” He sighed. “The only reason I got a chance on DeMario was because they needed someone to read the manuals and do the regular maintenance that kept things from becoming his problem.” 

Sadek knew that this story was entirely unfalsifiable, of course. Deadman seemed earnest, but that was no guarantee of anything. “Did you?” 

“Most of the time.” The boy sighed. “The only things he ever got working again the same shift it broke were the common food-fabs. He does fix everything, eventually, but he never asks for help, and never consults the manual.” 

Sadek cringed, imagining Jakeman disassembling all the factory-new components aboard Traveler every time something failed due to lack of proper maintenance. “What about you? Could you fix things if they broke in a way the manual didn’t explain?” 

“I haven’t run into a breakdown I can’t fix yet.” Deadman straightened, his voice reflecting the pride he took in this statistic. "Those might take me a bit longer than they’d take someone like Jakeman, but the rest, I can do five times faster." 

Sadek’s mushrooms arrived, and he gestured to the plate. “Try one of these, kid. Oh, do you want a drink?” 

Deadman gingerly picked up one of the mushrooms, rolling it between his palms to let it cool. “Do they have ACF?” 

Sadek flicked his way through the menu until he spotted Ashkelon Cardamom Fizz in the specialty drinks section. He was passingly familiar with the drink, mostly from advertisements and product placement in holo-dramas; it was a sweet, spiced and carbonated beverage popular with the youth whose flavor came from a fruit grown on the world of Ashkelon and an Earth-native spice which took well to the soil on that world with little gene-tweaking. “ACF coming right up.” He jabbed the indicator twice. “Hells, I’ll try one too.” 

Deadman brightened. “Thanks, Mr. Sherburn.” He examined the fried mushroom in his hand for a moment before biting off a small piece and chewing thoughtfully before swallowing. “This is a vegetable?” 

Sadek picked up one himself and waved it in the air for a moment to let it cool. “Technically mushrooms are fungi.” 

“Fungi like mold?” Deadman made a horrified expression, but gamely dropped the rest of the mushroom into his mouth and made a show of chewing and swallowing, clearly feeling wretched the whole time. “I guess they’re...” He hiccupped. “They’re all right.” 

“No edible fungi on your home-world eh?” Sadek smiled. “I suppose that would make it hard to stomach.” 

The attendant arrived with two bright orange bottles, which he unsealed and set down along with a pair of ice-filled glasses. 

Sadek gingerly sniffed the effervescent liquid within It smelled sweet, fruity, and slightly spicy, but nothing like the eye-watering odor of Jakeman’s meal. When he poured it into the glass, he was surprised to see that the orange bottle’s contents were a rather drab olive-green color; all the ACF advertisements he’d seen had featured people drinking directly from the bottle, and had used orange splashes of color to suggest that the drink itself was in fact orange. 

“Oh, yeah, it used to be orange.” Deadman shrugged and took a swig directly from his bottle. “It switched a couple years ago, just before I left home. Supposedly the coloring agent they used wasn’t all that safe.” 

Sadek shrugged and took a sip of the drink. It wasn’t quite as sweet as he was expecting, with a complex, tart, spicy flavor that reminded him of the spiced (and heavily spiked) punch he’d once had at a shipboard Emmanuel Feast celebration. “Hey, that’s not bad.” He took another sip. 

Deadman brightened. "Must be weird having it for the first time. Are you really considering me, sir?" 

Sadek shrugged. “Sure. No decisions today though.” He liked the kid, he had to admit, but he had to meet all the other applicants. Perhaps there was even something he could do to check out Deadman’s story in the six days he had remaining before Kel arrived. 

“Right, of course.” Deadman pushed back his chair, as if to stand up. 

“Hold on.” Sadek held up a hand. “Stay here until you've finished that drink. And while you’re here, you can tell me why you’re so keen on getting aboard Kel’s ship. It’s not just getting one over on Jakeman, is it?” 

Deadman looked surprised for a moment. “It’s... It’s kind of dumb.” 

Sadek arched an eyebrow, but said nothing. 

“At first I was coming here to warn you about Jakeman, and that’s it.” Deadman shrugged. “But then I looked into it, and it seems like aboard Traveler, I’d get a chance to see more than the Gap run or a few mining stations.” 

“You want more adventure than the gap freighters?” Sadek chuckled; the Gap run was notoriously stressful work for most crews, as a navigation or powerplant failure out there in the middle of all that empty space between galactic arms meant certain death.  

Deadman nodded, then took a long swig of his drink. 

Sadek opened his mouth to say that this was unlikely aboard a little ship like Traveler, but closed it again, remembering how apparent the trouble surrounding Kel’s vessel had been to Alicia Powers. “Well, you're young.” Sadek drained the rest of his own Ashkelon Cardamom Fizz, and was surprised to find that he wanted more. “Hopefully you’re nothing like me, so when you’re my age, you’ll have some sense.” 

This will be the last excerpt from this lengthy account for a little while; we have other items that we have been approved to publish, plus a few other items from the inbox that are worth review in this space. I will say that, in my experience, Jakeman and Deadman are depicted as very archetypal varieties of spacecraft technician, suggesting that their characters are not quite portrayed accurately in this account.