Swish!

Swish! is another old story that was published originally in 1990 by a SF Fan Club newsletter. The club and newsletter are long gone now, but the story lives on.

This is a humorous short story that's only 2,250 words long. I think you'll get a few laughs out of it!


Copyright 1990-2011
All rights Reserved


Lieutenant Commander Napoleon Hughes and his team had beamed aboard the ship they'd found drifting through space. Sensors showed there was power and that life support still functioned, but there'd been no response to their hails and the ship wasn't underway, just drifting. The sensors detected no life signs on the drifting ship.

The ship's design wasn't familiar to anyone onboard Gonaru. Captain Welty, with nearly two hundred years in space, had never seen anything even close to this drifting behemoth of a ship. It was more than ten kilometers long, had a beam of just over seven kilometers and, if sitting on the ground, would have stood just a little less than five kilometers tall. While not a solid block, the ship was still huge and Napoleon estimated there were probably a hundred cubic kilometers of actual ship there. The ship bristled with protrusions that were either sensor arrays or weapon emplacements. The ambiguity might be important.

Napoleon wandered about the bridge of the ghost ship as the Marines secured the area. He noted there were always certain things you needed to have—helm, navigation, communications, engineering, and fire control stations were all there, even if their layout was unfamiliar and the controls weren't marked. There were also no chairs on the bridge. Captain Welty had the habit of having meetings with no chairs in the room. He claimed it kept the meetings short and to the point and prevented people from chatting when they should be working. While the idea clearly worked for meetings the concept seemed to have several serious flaws when applied to a bridge crew.

Napoleon tapped his communicator after the Marine sergeant reported the bridge was secured. "We have the bridge secured, but I'll be damned if we know how to work it."

Welty's voice came across clear as a bell through the radio link. "Well done. Any signs of life?"

"Negative, Skipper. There are a few odd things, though."

"Like what, Nap?"

"To start with, there are no chairs on the bridge, like everyone stood up while they were on duty. Secondly, there aren't any markings on the controls and indicators."

Welty paused. "That's odd." He hesitated again. "OK, Mr. Hughes, have a look around and see what else you can find. Check in with communications every thirty minutes. I have a hundred Marines ready should you need help."

"Aye, aye, Sir. Hughes out." He closed the communication link and thought for a moment. "Sergeant, let's have a look around this tub and see what else there is."

Leaving two Marines on the bridge, Napoleon and the remaining ten Marines left the bridge by the only door. The door obediently swished open as they approached and swished closed behind them. As they walked down the twenty-meter long corridor, the Marines kept a watchful eye in all directions. At the far end of the hallway was another door swishing its desire to please.

The men found themselves in an empty room. No chairs and nothing but a soft off-white color to the walls. There were no other doors than the one they had entered through. The sergeant frowned as he tapped at his systems monitor. "Sir, I've lost telemetry on the men on the bridge."

"Let's get back, double time!"

The group of Marines, with the sergeant and Napoleon in the lead, ran to the door and it swished open again, directly to the bridge.

The two Marines were alert and had pointed their weapons at the door when it opened, but now aimed them elsewhere. The sergeant frowned again. Nap thought that Marines all frowned too much. "What the hell?"

Napoleon blinked several times. "Where have you men been?"

The two Marines exchanged a glance before the corporal swallowed hard. "Sir, we've been right here. You, the Gunny, and the others all left and were gone maybe two or three minutes, and now you're back."

Nap and the sergeant looked at each other. Nap shrugged. "Well, let's try this again."

This time, when the door swished open, the eleven men were looking into an elevator. The sergeant frowned. "Sir? Wasn't this elevator either a corridor or a room a minute ago?"

"Yeah, it was." Nap just stared into the empty elevator for a minute. He tapped his communicator. "Hughes to Gonaru." There was no reply.

The sergeant scratched at his head but only fingered the heavy helmet he wore. "Now what, Sir?"

"I think we go for an elevator ride, Sergeant. Maybe we can find something that'll help us." The men entered the elevator and as soon as the door swished closed, the car began to move downward. The car changed directions several times, but it seemed to be moving always down or sideways. Nap leaned close to the sergeant. "Do you still have the telemetry from your men on the bridge?"

He looked at his scanner. "Yes, Sir. I..." The sergeant frowned. "Sir, they just disappeared again."

"Great." The car stopped and the door swished open, directly onto the empty bridge. The men stepped out of the elevator and the door swished closed. "Did anyone feel the car move up?" The Marines all indicated they hadn't. "What's going on here?"

The sergeant shook his head and said, "Damned if I know, Mr. Hughes."

There was a flicker of light in the corner of his eye that Nap wasn't sure was even there before it was gone again. "Did you see that, Gunny?"

"See what, Sir?"

"Never mind." The hair on Nap's neck tried to stand up, and he felt like someone was watching him. He casually glanced around the empty bridge and saw no cameras.

The gunnery sergeant seemed to have a permanent frown now. "Now what?"

Nap thought for a moment. To kill time, he tried his communicator again, but there was no answer. "Let's leave a few men here and try having another look around, Gunny."

"Yes, Sir." The sergeant quickly assigned four men to stay behind. Nap, along with the sergeant and remaining five Marines moved for the door again.

Nap walked to the door and it sang out its swishing sound. It didn't open. Nap wondered that his nose wasn't bleeding from when he ran into the closed door.

As Nap stood fifteen centimeters from the door, rubbing his nose, it slid jerkily open without swishing. The corridor was back. "Let's go." Nap's voice was a little nasal.

As before, there was another door at the far end of the corridor. The door to the bridge swished closed behind them. When the group reached the other door, it swished open to show them an elevator. The sergeant blinked. "I don't remember having anything to drink today."

Nap nodded. "You three men stay here and don't let the door close. Gunny, you and the private come with me." Nap, the sergeant, and private walked back to the door to the bridge. It opened halfway, then swished, and finished opening. There was an elevator there.

A faint swishing sound caused the three men to look behind them up the corridor. The far door had closed and the three men watching it were gone. Nap led the Gunny and private running back to the door. It swished open, the motion and sound synchronized, and they saw an empty room. The private stopped. "No disrespect, Gunny, but I ain't going in there."

Nap nodded. "I don't blame you, son."

"Sir, we need to get back to the bridge."

"Yeah, we do, Gunny." Nap stared into the empty room. "Any suggestions on how to do that?"

"No, Sir."

Nap glanced from the room to the closed door at the far end of the corridor. "Let's try the other door again." They walked back to the door and it swished smoothly open. The empty bridge greeted them. Resigned to the fact they were now alone, the three men entered.

Nap walked to the console he assumed to be the helm and took off his helmet, setting it down among the unmarked dials and knobs. He casually fingered a knob and it wouldn't turn. He tried a few more and found none of them moved. Half to himself, Nap muttered, "What the hell..." He moved his helmet and when it hit the console, it made a hollow sound.

The Gunny had come to stand next to Nap and he rapped on the console with his fist. Again, there was a hollow sound, like a shipping crate. "Sir, this is made from wood."

"Yeah, I think so." Nap pulled his laser from its holster and pointed it at the corner of the console. When he pulled the trigger, nothing happened. The trigger didn't even move.

The sergeant stared at the nonfunctional laser Nap held. "Private, check your weapon."

When the private didn't answer Nap and the Gunny turned to the door where they had left him. They were alone on the bridge. When the sergeant looked at him, Nap just shrugged. He went to the navigation station and watched the lights blinking on the console for a moment. He tried the controls, but none of the knobs turned and none of the switches moved. The lights were blinking in a short pattern, repeating about every fifteen seconds. Nothing was marked.

Nap still felt like someone was watching him and he caught the fleeting flicker of light again in his eye. "There it was again, Gunny. Did you see it?"

Nap was alone on the bridge.

He knew he must be in shock because he felt no fear. Actually, Nap felt almost numb. He went from console to console on the bridge and they were all made of wood. None of the controls moved. None of the lights blinked in anything other than a set pattern. Nap tried his communicator again, but there was no reply.

He went to the door several times and it would sometimes open on the corridor, sometimes on the elevator, and other times it opened directly into the empty room. Nap didn't go through the door.

Nap caught the flicker of light in the corner of his eye again several times, but he ignored it. Once, he thought he heard voices coming from the overhead of the bridge. He ignored those, too.

He'd lost all track of time and only casually wondered if he'd starve or go mad first. Maybe, he thought, he'd already gone mad. Nap imagined some alien race on the ship Gonaru had found that, through some kind of weird mind control, had driven him mad. He was, Nap thought, in sickbay, sedated, while the doctors tried to bring back the far-flung bits of his sanity.

Nap wondered what happened to his team and if they were also mad. He hoped not. The privates weren't much more than boys. The Gunny had a wife and two kids at home.

He smiled at the fact he at least hadn't started talking to himself yet. Nap wondered if that mattered. Mad was mad, no matter if you talked to yourself or not. There was no other explanation for the events of the day. Twelve men didn't just vanish. Doors couldn't change what was on the other side of them, at least not unless it was an elevator door.

Nap smiled suddenly. That was it! The bridge of this ship was itself an elevator! It was moving and changing what was on the other side of the door. That explained the changing door, but not where the men had gone. The smile faded.

Nap tossed his useless laser on the helm console and it rattled hollowly where it landed. He paused, staring at the console for a moment. Nap slowly pulled the combat knife from its sheath and hefted it in his hand a few times. He turned the knife around and slammed the pommel of the knife into the center of the console. It shattered and Nap saw it was just thin wood, painted to look metallic, and the console was empty other than a few wires for the lights.

A voice, from above Nap, yelled, "Cut! What the hell are you doing, Ed?"

The lighting changed and Nap saw a lot of people and equipment on catwalks above the bridge, where the overhead of the bridge had been a few moments ago. A man sitting in a tall chair yelled. "OK, people, let's get lunch. Be back in an hour!"

Nap screamed at the man in the chair. "Who are you and where are my men?"

The man looked down at Nap. "Cut the funny business, Ed. Everyone else is done for the morning, so they went on to the roach coach for a bite." The man checked a clipboard he held in his lap. "Ed, what was that all about? The property master is going to have a fit and we'll lose an hour of shooting to fix that!"

"What?"

"Well, we need to shoot the background for the animators to put in the CG alien monsters anyway." The man stood from his chair and climbed down a ladder someone had moved to reach from the bridge to the catwalk. He came to Nap and put his arm around Nap's shoulder. "Ed, baby, getting into character is great, but you've got to stop improvising! The producer will have an absolute cow! Let's grab some lunch."

Nap allowed the man to lead him to the roach coach, still wondering about his sanity.