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art by Liz Clarke

In the Unlikely Event

Ferrett Steinmetz has been published in Asimov's (three times!), Beneath Ceaseless Skies (twice!), GUD Magazine (twice!), and Redstone SF, among others. He spent twenty years locked in an ugly writer-hibernation, getting nowhere, until the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop provided the cheat code to his secret writer-power. Later on, he picked up a magic mushroom boost at the Viable Paradise Workshop. He lives in Cleveland with his wife, a game of Rock Band, and a friendly ghost. He blogs entirely too much about puns, polyamory, and politics at www.theferrett.com. His twitter handle is @ferretthimself.
The flight attendant speaks as though he will win an Olympic medal if he finishes this safety speech in record time.
"Today's interstellar flight to the Taurean cluster will take approximately seventy years external-time, racking up six hours on your biological clocks. To avoid unnecessary amputations, please keep all hands, feet, and other protuberances within the boundaries of your personal cryogenics chamber.
"In a few moments, the cocktails will be dispensed, at which point bright yellow injector-hoses will drop from the ceiling. Living within the end of each hoses is one of our friendly gene-patented autodocs, force-evolved from vole rats; simply press the hose-end to the base of your neck, and our autodoc will introduce the necessary mechanics into your circulatory system.
"Please remember that the autodoc will attempt to insert our patented vein-systems into the first piece of exposed flesh it sees. As such, we strongly recommend not making eye contact. Please fuse the autodoc to any small children first.
"As the cryodessicants take effect, you will experience a slight feeling of mouth-dryness, followed by full-body paralysis, followed by a refreshing coma. As you drift off, it is vital that you keep your eyes open and focused upon the psychic reflection screen in front of you. In the unlikely event that the coma-inducing drugs are not injected, staring at the screen and concentrating upon red unicorns--that's RED UNICORNS--will alert us to your predicament. One of us will pilot a friendly crewbot to rouse you, preventing you from spending the next seventy years trapped in living paralysis, a situation which our therapists have determined is unacceptably traumatic for the price-point of this flight. However, we can only assist you if your eyes remain open and focused upon the psychic reflection screen, so please. Help us to help you.
"Should you require assistance from myself or one of the other flight attendants--that's RED UNICORNS--we will connect to this flight via an ansible connection to take control of one of the three hydraulic crewbots located at the front of the vehicle. Keep in mind that due to light-years of intervening space between our headquarters and your physical location, there may be as much as a thirty-second delay between our actions and the time we receive the necessary feedback from your cabin. As such, should we need to cut you out of your cryogenic chamber, remain still. Very still.
"In lighter news, today's flight features an air-scoop to refuel your cabin's breathing materials, and forty years in we will be skimming atmosphere from Betaflua IV--one of the freshest, most natural planets about.
"In the unlikely event that the pressurized cabin becomes tainted with Betafluan drill-leeches, you will be force-woken in order that we may help you remove the foreign bodies before they fill your bones with their egg-cancers. The drill-leeches will look like gray, cigarette-sized worms, their tails twitching as they burrow deeper. No matter how intense the chewing sensation may become, please--for your safety and the integrity of the cabin, do not scratch the drill-leeches. Merely mark your violation points with one of the helpful leech-markers that will drop down from the ceiling, and one of us will pilot a helpful crewbot to safely extract the parasites before they reach marrow.
"When submitting to parasite-removal procedures, please recall the thirty-second gap between action and feedback when we are helming the crewbots. When we are surgically removing the drill-parasites from your veins, it is in your best interests to remain still. Very, very still.
"In any case, our captain informs me that the engines are properly warmed up, and your autodoc vole rats have been properly Skinner-boxed to serve you without incident. My name is Jansen, I'll be your flight attendant, and I wish you the best of luck back from headquarters. Happy flying, and remember: RED UNICORNS."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 26th, 2012


After boarding a plane and listening to the pre-flight announcement that cheerfully listed every terrible thing that could happen to us, I mused on how much worse a pre-SPACE-flight announcement would be. By the end of the flight, I had a 650-word story. I wish every tale came this easily.

- Ferrett Steinmetz

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