Jason and the Astronauts
Jason and the Astronauts
RED ANVIL PRESS
Copyright © 2008 John Heilman
All rights reserved.
The Trip South
Bruce called it their “junket.” It was spring break, and the two snowbirds from New
Jersey were migrating to the forests of Brazil. For Nick Casperson it could be a career
boost. His observations at the SETI Center two weeks previously might be earthshaking.
A more mundane explanation was probable. It may have been a piece of “space trash”
overcome by the earth’s gravity, causing it to depart the orbiting graveyard of senescent
satellites and plunge into the forest. More likely still it may have been a meteorite, a
chunk of rock stripped from a comet.
Nick was drawn to the dramatic when it came to long-shot expeditions. At heart, he was
an explorer. He had followed the Roswell story since childhood. The scientist in him
scoffed at the tale, but the dreamer in him tugged at his curiosity. Those in search of
extraterrestrial intelligence use science for their job, but like Verne, Bradbury, and
Asimov at times they stray into a fictional world, for the sake of self-preservation.
Bruce Bonner had been his friend since kindergarten. Like binary stars they were tethered
to each other, now teaching as colleagues at the same college. Nick asked Bruce to
accompany him on the junket. Bruce’s charm and easy manner were qualities that
complemented his more serious companion. Their relationship was free of the
encumbrance of competition or envy. They shared a wordless understanding and mutual
regard that was almost symbiotic.
Nick understood Bruce’s vulnerabilities, including his ongoing bout with discipline. He
also knew that the forest would attract Bruce like a bee. Where one might stop for the
sights, smell the roses, and dally in the excursion, the other was clearly serious, goal-
driven, and worked to a schedule. It was as if each needed these traits in the other, for
team balance. It had been this way from the point of memory, growing as boys into
classmates in the schools of anthracite Pennsylvania, then to fellowship, as men.
Physically, they weren’t at all close. Nick was the rounder of the two, from the face
down. He was of moderate height and medium build. He sported a sand-colored brush
haircut. His person in fact exhibited no distinguishing feature. He was average in
appearance and could easily pass unnoticed in a crowd, and usually did. He shunned
attention, as well. Bruce was half a foot taller than his expedition leader. His angular
attractiveness carried from his face, literally to his feet. His sleekly delineated muscles
enhanced a carriage that was both confident and flexible. He was athletic. His hair was