My entry in the September short story contest on the SF writers group on LinkedIn. The theme for the month was humor. Deliberately trying to write something funny is hard work. The result, a return to the Wodehouse-ian world of Wilbur and Fox, feels slightly forced to me.
“Was that a mouse?” asked Wilbur. He levered himself into a sitting position on the floating, inflatable chair, which subsided somewhat into the water.
“I didn’t see anything,” said Fox. He stood, towel over his arm, beside the small swimming pool.
“It was about this big,” Wilbur gestured expansively, almost upsetting his chair, “and it was chasing Pelly.”
“That cat is afraid of his own shadow,” said Fox. He and the cat had a long-standing mutual dislike for each other.
They, or rather primarily Wilbur, were hiding from his mother in a moth-balled former military command center, dug deeply into a bland, mid-sized rock, in an obscure sector of the asteroid belt. One of his family’s multitudinous corporate sub-divisions had been the primary contractor responsible for building the base, and an industrious Fox had somehow obtained the entry codes.
Thankfully, the previous occupants had left the gravity turned on.
“That really was a rather large mouse,” said Wilbur, toweling himself off.
“Are you sure it wasn’t a rat?”
“Do they make white rats?”
“I don’t know,” Fox shrugged. “Should I message someone and ask?”
“Goodness, no!” Wilbur replied. “My mother might figure out where we are. Or worse, one of my aunts.”
“Very well then,” said Fox, eager to let the matter slide.
Wilbur suddenly tilted his head to one side. “Did you hear something?”
“No. When would you like your dinner?”
They ate in the officer’s mess, which was comfortably appointed, although Fox had insisted on using the yacht’s kitchen, instead of the one attached to the mess.
“What was that?” said Wilbur, pausing, his fork halfway between his plate and his mouth.
“What was what?” asked Fox.
“I heard a noise again.”
“Probably the cat,” said Fox.
“Oh my dear sweet…” Wilbur yelped, sitting bolt-upright in his plush leather chair, and spraying a mouthful of quiche across the room.
The normally unflappable Fox looked around wildly, seeing nothing. “Are you all right? What is the matter?”
“Oh hello, Mother,” said Wilbur, rising shakily to his feet.
“Have you gone mad?” asked Fox, seeing nothing in particular.
“Aren’t you going to greet her?” Wilbur hissed under his breath to Fox.
“There’s absolutely nobody there,” said Fox.
Wilbur stepped clear of the table, minced forward carefully, his hands held out in front of him as if he were blindfolded. Presently, shaking his head, he turned back to Fox.
“What is going on here?” he asked, plaintively.
Fox, regaining his usual composure, thought for a few seconds before responding. “It could be a holographic projection of some kind.”
“What sort of idiot would play such a horrid prank?”
“Here’s the cause of all the trouble,” Fox said, indicating a table-sized metal box. They’d spent the previous hour searching the base.
“That’s rather large,” Wilbur said.
“It must be old. Look what is attached to it though.”
“What on Earth is that?”
“Some kind of brainwave detector,” Fox replied. “It must be reading your subconscious thoughts and then projecting them.”
“That must have been what was troubling Pelly as well,” said Wilbur.
Fox made a non-committal noise.
“Why would anyone do something like this?”
“I imagine it is intended to deter intruders,” said Fox. “It must decipher your deepest, most abiding fears, and then turn them into projections.”
“Look at this,” Wilbur said, indicating the wall. An ancient, yellowed movie poster hung there. It featured a bulky, old-fashioned robot, carrying an unconscious woman.
“I wonder if it is valuable,” mused Fox.