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IML_42 t1_j658sd4 wrote

Twenty-eight of something is—depending on the thing—a lot of something. Take, for example, potato chips. Twenty-eight potato chips is a de minimis number of chips—it is just enough to rev your craving engines, but not enough to satiate your need for crispy-potatoey speed. It certainly isn’t even a large enough volume of chips for one to notice if they went missing. On the other hand, twenty-eight days of Christmas is altogether too many days of Christmas—let’s be honest, even twenty-five could be argued as too large a sum.

Similarly, twenty-eight dead crew members for a small courier ship strikes one as far too large of a number. At least that’s what went through the head of Replaceable Crew Member 29 as he stared at his new uniform.

“Sorry. ‘Replaceable Crew Member 29’?” Asked RCM 29 incredulously. “My name is David.”

“Not in here it isn’t,” replied Secondary Support Character 5. “It’s better for crew morale if they don’t get too attached; when you give a farm animal a name, it makes the slaughter needlessly difficult.”

“Farm animal?” Shouted RCM 29 indignantly, “I’m a fucking person!”

“Farm animal isn’t fair. Sure, they don’t eat you when you inevitably die—that’d be barbaric. But, I think you get the point. You’re fodder, just like the twenty-eight who came before you. Such is life.”

RCM 29 noticed a tall, blonde man who was wearing a crisply starched, silver space suit. The man had been standing nearby listening to the whole exchange.

“Don’t worry RCM 29,” Protagonist said, “we’re all replaceable in our own right. I’m not the first protagonist and I won’t be the last.”

Protagonist, was right. While no official records had been kept, the running estimate for protagonists on the crew was anywhere from 85-150 (depending on who you asked and their personal agenda/political alignment). We must—and do—however, disregard the conspiratorial crazies who insist that the standing number of protagonists is negative 33; theirs is a mindset best ignored. Regardless, while twenty-nine may, at first, strike one as a large number, surely 117.5 (the average estimated protagonist count) is a much larger number. Indeed, life as a protagonist, while carrying with it far more panache and praise, was incredibly dangerous.

“Well, sure. That’s easy enough for you to say,” replied RCM 29, “your replaceability is implied. Mine is plastered in bold-print on the back of my shirt.”

“Who among us is irreplaceable?” Said SSC 5 with the disinterested tone of a pseudo intellectual who, while feigning aloofness, is actually really interested in carrying on and involving themselves in the conversation at hand. “We all serve but a temporary purpose in this life. Our impact is but a fleeting whisper in the ever-growing cacophony that is the universe.”

Protagonist 118.5 and RCM 29 shared a look of confusion and burst into laughter at the expense of SSC 5. The laugher helped put RCM 29 at ease. Maybe things would be ok, perhaps the constant reminder of his replaceability would cause him to appreciate each day and live it to the fullest.

Protagonist 118.5 recovered from his laughter and put his arm around RCM 29. “Look. I don’t know what this guy is blabbering on about; leave it to the guy who’s only got four predecessors to wax poetic about the insignificance of life. You and I, we’re not so different. Each of us has a role to fulfill and a certain amount of danger that is ours to face. I like you, RCM 29. Come see me on the bridge when you get settled.”

As Protagonist 118.5 walked away, RCM 29 turned back to SSC 5 and have him an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that.”

“Not at all,” replied SSC 5, “it happens more than you think. Although, a word of caution, if may.”

“Shoot,” said RCM 25.

“Consider the plight of your predecessors and learn from their mistakes. For a history repeated is not an inevitability but a lack of learning,” SSC 5 said gnomically.

“You mind expanding on that, pal?”

“There is much danger surrounding the Protagonist, like an asteroid belt littered about a planet. Assume that you’re not the first RCM to have been pulled into his orbit.”

“So he’s dangerous?”

“You do the math, twenty-nine.”

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, please check out my other stories at r/InMyLife42Archive


SilasCrane t1_j66mtp6 wrote

"Something wrong, Crewman?" The Lieutenant asked. I straightened, and saluted. He chuckled, and waved it off. "No need for that-- the Soros is a merchant ship. We keep it pretty casual."

"Yes sir," I said, then amended, "Er...L.T.?"

"Either one's fine." he said, smiling, "But you look a little unsettled. Something the matter?"

"Well, to be honest, I was thinking about my uniform, LT." I admitted.

"What about it?"

"What it says on the back, sir."

"The ID number? Do you have a superstition about the number 29 or something, crewman?"

"No, I mean the smaller text above the '29'. The one that says, um...'replaceable crew member'?"

The Lieutenant blinked, then suddenly burst out laughing. " thought..."

"Sir?" I asked.

He shook his head, still chuckling. "Sorry, Crewman -- I see what you're saying." He tapped my shoulder. "This is a replaceable crew member uniform, not a uniform for replaceable crew members! Ha, no wonder you looked so worried!"

"Oh! So...but why do they say that, sir?"

"Eh, I know it's confusing, but what it really means is that you can re-use them. Crewmen we take on in one spaceport may only be with us until they cash out at the next one, so we get the uniform back from them and replace it in storage for the next guy that signs on." he explained. "The numbers are for identification if we have to call you over the open comms channel -- sometimes you might have to wear safety gear for loading and unloading certain hazardous cargo, and from a distance you can't tell who's who under the respirator masks."

I nodded, that made sense. "Heh, I see. Thanks for clearing that up, sir."

"No problem, Crewman." the Lt. said, and clapped me on the back. "Oh! And here's your bunkmate."

Another man in a similar uniform to mine stepped into our small quarters. He nodded to the Lieutenant, who nodded back.

"As you were, Crewman." the LT said, stepping past him and out into the corridor.

I nodded to my bunkmate, and stepped aside as he started unloading his gear on the bottom bunk. I'd already claimed the top. When he bent down, I noticed the back of his uniform.

Replaceable Crew Member #29, read the text on the back.

"Sir?" I called back to the lieutenant.

He turned, "Crewman?"

"My bunkmate and I have the same number. Won't be that be a problem, if they're for visual identification over the comms?"

"Huh," he said, stroking his chin and frowning thoughtfully. "Yeah. Weird. Well, don't worry Crewman. I'll mention it to the Captain. It won't be a problem for long."

My bunkmate said something, but I wasn't listening. I was staring after the LT. He frowned.

"Hey you okay?" my bunkmate said, following my gaze. "It is the uniform thing? It'll be fine -- he said he'd talk to the captain and get one of us a new one, right?"

I swallowed hard, and felt even more uneasy than I had before.

Because that wasn't what the LT had said.


ArbitrationMage t1_j67ur6y wrote

I stood hunched over the sink. 0400 hours and I should be sleeping but I can’t sleep yet. Five.

The back of my uniform said “Replaceable Crew Member #29” but it was wrong. I wasn’t replaceable. I was disposable. We all were.

Twenty-nine of us so far and I’d been aboard for three months.

My eyes sought themselves in the mirror. Normal, brown eyes. A folding shaving-razor clinks against the sink as I bumped it.

Most days were simple. Repetitive, routine. But often the ship would find a strange planet or asteroid or anomaly and a team would be sent down. Sent to their deaths.

The Officers never had worse than a scratch. They’ll saunter and soldier on and mourn our deaths and do it again next week.

Few of us live past the first expedition. We are lost in sudden ambushes and tragic betrayals and dramatic battles. Some of the lucky ones make it to two and three but I’ve never seen an expedition return with the same number of crew as it set out.

There were patterns, patterns, patterns to who lived and who died. I had noticed and so had the others. We saw the patterns but the patterns saw us.

The razor opens quietly in the empty room.

Five, that was the key. The ones who survived were the ones who got noticed were the ones who were memorable. Stand out and you’re not disposable. Stand out and you survive.

I don’t know where I got the idea. Maybe I came up with it myself or maybe it built on the knowledge passed from the old hands or maybe it was one of the twenty-nine before me who thought of it. But we knew it was five.

Five adjectives makes a major character.

Mostly we’re normal, standard. Within a standard deviation. One, two adjectives come naturally, tall or dark or female. Just enough to tell who died. Just barely enough to care.

Officers all have five, brave or foolish or loyal. Visiting dignitaries, capable enemies, rescued princesses manage at least three.

Five immediately obvious adjectives. The patterns don’t see everything. Not unless they’re already looking.

The patterns don’t care if Raoul, may he dance forever, told dirty jokes at mess hall. If Jared, may his journey be sped, made chili so strong half of us had to call out sick. If Kiera, dust to soil, always had a shoulder when someone was crying. If Leslie—If L—

The razor draws a thin red line across my fingertip.

I can’t even remember all of them. I lived with them, worked with them— Twenty-nine. The further back I go the more the memories fade.


So far I’ve been lucky. No expedition has sent my number crackling through the comms. But I can feel it catching up to me

.Few of us live past the first expedition. Some of us make it to two or three but not further. The fortunate ones, an Officer says their name. The fortunate few.

I don’t want to go but I’m going to be called. Can’t modify the uniform, can’t run or I’ll be shot for deserting. Soon they’ll call me and I’ll have to go and go and see the patterns see me and ignore me and I’ll go and I don’t want to die.

The razor’s glint is reflected in the tears.

I adopted Paul’s thick accent and Abdullah’s shaved head and it’s not enough and it won’t be enough and I don’t want to die.

Paul and Hector and Sahra and Abdullah and Raoul and Todd and Jared and Kiera and more whose faces are gone and— and Leslie.

I don’t want to die.

My hands shake but my resolve doesn’t as I raise the blade to my face

Very different style from my previous two stories. Constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated!