It's What's Within

by Kevin Delaney

The small sack full of rocks moved up down forty times in a smooth rhythmic secession. Brad Pilsner preferred doing multiple reps with smaller weights to the bulk building crunches with heavy stones, as was popular on earth.

Charlene Wilcox waited patiently as Brad finished his morning ritual.

"Enjoying the scenery." Brad chortled. He was proud of his physique and his homemade universal machine. Brad was nothing compared to pictures of male models that came through the Internet, but his 180 lb frame was definitely the healthiest specimen of male life on the Gamma Interstellar probe.

"Sorry, Brad but it's not the pecs, it's what's within," the young lady retorted.

From Brad's perspective the retorts seemed to have grown colder in recent years. Brad and Char were the class of '81. They had grown up together and, since they were to the only boy and girl in their generation, it seemed obvious to everyone that they would one day become more than just friends.

Most of the ship's crew were earth born. The youngest turned twenty-one during the week of the launch. Brad and Char were born in the first year of the voyage. The next batch of kids did not arrive until a full eight years into the trip. Brad and Char were the control group. The crew did not want to risk bringing more children into the mission until they were sure they could handle the challenge.

Whether they chose each other or not, Brad and Char were the sum total of their generation. The crew unanimously voted the couple the king and queen of the senior prom, but even by graduation, it was clear to most the crew of the distaste Char felt for her classmate.

It began gradually. Brad was not the best student from the start. When he made his way into high school, he found that he was completely incapable of grasping the logic and definitions used in the computer curriculum. 

"If I could just get my hands on it." He would mutter as he stared at the pages of text. "If I could just touch it, or feel it..." Abstract concepts swirled through his brain, then popped out the right ear.

Brad wasn't dense. He would have made a decent engineer--if he had the chance to tear things apart. He just didn't fit into the way he had to learn. Let him tear down old Toyota Corolla in his dad's garage, and he could learn mechanics, but this learning from words alone.

Unfortunately, on the spaceship all the parts were mission critical and the reserves scarce. There were no spare parts for a student to tear down and rebuild.

Charlene, on the other hand, had the innate ability to do what the teacher wanted. She would watch the teacher and just figure out what the teacher wanted and do it. Even on earth she would have been a straight A student.

According to the tests, Brad had a IQ equal if not slightly higher than hers, but Brad began to flunk the classes while Charlene excelled.

"Here, do it the way the teacher says."

"I'm sorry, Char, I just don't see it, I don't see why ex is the answer."

"No Brad, think about what the teacher said, he wants you to integrate this equation."

"I don't see why I should use integration here."

Char would shake her head and shoot Brad a disapproving glance. He would give in and get the answer right.

They played this game for several years. Brad even became dependent on Charlene sharp comments, until, unknown to each other, the disapproving glances turned into a disapproval of Brad himself.


Brad finished his exercises. This little universal machine was an example of what he could do if he had the chance. It was made from a broken handle, a discarded plastic strip from the booster and rocks from the asteroid their crushed to serve as a base for the the ship's garden. 

He turned toward Char. "Done, I wanted to make sure I am buffed for the new host." He tossed her the towel. "Time for the transfer room."

Mass can travel at only a fraction the speed of information. It took only twenty minutes for light to travel from the ship to earth, and it was logically impossible to transport men to the deep space vessel. The most they could hope for was to shoot a small pods full of the most critical supplies at a speed of five times the ship's velocity. Even then, it was an iffy proposition that the interstellar ship could catch the package. 

Information was the major trading commodity for the small operation. They took pictures of the planets, moons, and asteroids they passed. Their greatest need, however, wasn't information, but skill. The ship occasionally required the physical presence of a specialized doctor, engineer or scientist.

The ship and crew made good use of a technology invented a  two years before launch. It was a small chip that you could place in the spine, just under the brain.

The technology could do more than transmit information from one person to another. The people who used the devise claimed that it had the ability to actually transmit the soul.

Transmission over such a great distance had a substantial risk. Certainly, a ship with a minimal crew would not want to risk any of its lead personnel for such a voyage. Having a passenger who didn't pass his school's examines proved providential.

"On my last trip." Brad explained. "We took a trip north from Phoenix to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It would take two days, but the guide said you could walk all the way down to the bottom of the canyon to the Colorado River. I am hoping..."

Char had heard this stories of the different adventures Brad planned. "You know they aren't going to let you run off on your adventures. It's not your body Brad." She shot the affectionate rebuke.

"No, No, the way I see it: They keep sending us these doctors and engineers who have not done a lick of exercise in the last twenty years. So I figure we should do a fair trade. They come up here to fix our ship. While I'm on earth, I'll fix their bodies and live a little."

"And do you think any of the bodies they sent us would be fit enough for your 35 mile death march?"

They entered the infirmary. Dr Jensen was adjusting the operation chair.

"So who will I be this time?"

"It looks like we are in for a treat. The base is sending us up a musician--a guy named 'Emperor Fez'--he does something called Ska-Reggae."

"Well, I've heard Ska, and I've heard Reggae, though I never though the two would meet. What gives? Why a musician?"

"Apparently, the earth forces like both the taste of money and publicity."

"Any problems with the host?" 

The scandalous truth behind host transplants: A certain number of celebrities would farm out their addictions and alcohol abuse to unwitting transplant subjects. More than one of the inmates in the Beverly Hills detox contained a person other than the owner of the body interred.

"Looks like your new host smokes and has a history of alcoholism and freebasing."

"Great, Looks like I will spend the next two weeks in the throws. Char, I am leaving it to you to make sure this Emperor Fez treats me well." 

"I don't know a rock star sounds intriguing."

The two vixens pulled Brad toward the hot tub. "You don't want to get this swimsuit wet, now, would you?"

"I haven't been with a white boy since high school," the second model giggled.

Brad was in the body of Emperor Fez--the Ska-Reggae star from Jamaica-man. Each host seemed to face different challenges. His last host was an overweight physicist fighting the onset of diabetes. Brad had been wanting to sample cheesecake from the local bakery, and all the different donuts at the Krispy-Kreme. It took some will power, but Brad persevered and gave the host a 15 pound weight loss.

The doctor was in better shape. Apparently the brisk morning walks on the fairway paid off. He had a rather strange wife who, for three days in a row, followed Brad around and stared at him silently. Without speaking a word, he could feel her suspicious eyes running up and down each limb. Brad was jumping at shadows before the end of the tour.

This hot tub scene was definitely the least expected, yet most interesting tale of all his stories. A full half hour hadn't passed after the transport before the young women had whisked him in the Limo with a glass of champagne in hand. 

Most hosts want you to leave their bodies alone. This crowd didn't think that the sudden change ownership of a the hosts body should stop the party.

"I can see you are out of your element." A deep voice resonated as a young man entered the room. "The name's Johnny T. Sounds, like you had a long voyage. What would you like to do while you are in town?"

Isn't it everybody's dream to be a rock star for the day? 

When confronted with the reality. Brad found no desire to run around with abandon in another man's body. Instead his thoughts focused even harder on his dreams. He wanted to see this world. He wanted to feel the wide open spaces of the west. He wanted to be outdoors and to feel the sun.

He thought of his trip to the Grand Canyon, and the inexorable pull of the Bright Angel Trail.

The young groupies dressed like cowgirls. They had a terrific time riding mules along the long canyon trail. Brad walked. The whole point of this trip was the mental challenge.

Several people stopped to have their pictures taken with the famous MTV star. A group of Japanese tourist, however, were more impressed to have met someone who traveled from the edge of the solar system. They didn't even notice the celebrity buzz, and wrote in their travel log: "This is Brad Pilsner--an adventurer from the stars." 

Brad's legs were wobbly after the 8 mile 4460 foot drop to the Colorado River. The real challenge would come with hike home the next day.

The water in the river was a frigid 47. The guide explained that Glenn Canyon dam pulled the water from the bottom of the reservoir. The hot desert sun wasn't enough to warm the water to a swim able temperature. Brad watched one of the passing tour groups on the river. Although it was 95 in the sun, all the people on the raft wore full body wet suits and coats.

An entrepreneur at the Phantom Ranch took pictures and sold personalized postcards. "The rocks you see around you all called the Vishnu Schist. The Colorado dug through miles of sediment to expose these ancient rocks which are over two billion years old."

Brad and the models posed for a picture.

"The post office carries the mail from the Phantom Ranch by mule." the photographer boasted, "The postmark is worth a lot to collectors..."

"You don't know the half of it." Brad smiled. He wrote the words: Char, I made it! and the address The Gamma Station, with the Tucson address of mission headquarters.


The overall mission was a resounding success. The interview on the Today Show went without a hitch. He sang an out-of-tune song country western tune at a karaoke bar in a hilarious parody of the Emperor Fez. He even had pictures taken for Rolling Stones and Scientific America.

The week as a rock star was a resounding success. His mind rushed forward to the months he could spend with Char recapping every minute of the trip. He knew she would turn red when he described the temptation of the hot tub. 

"The feed is in," Johnny T announced. They had a full six hours of video from the station. The Fez played a funky remake of Elton John's Rocket Man, and a new cut in his patented style called Space Gal.

The video seemed unreal. Brad watched in rapture. On the screen his body danced and spun. It was his lips moving, but the voice had a deeper resonant tone. It had had a studied control, and kept perfect rhythm.

In the footage for Space Gals, Char was the star. She was always a good learner, and took no time to learn the dance moves. Brad watched as she twirled in beat with the music and the movements of her stunningly handsome partner. The lights dimmed and the two dancers came together in a passionate embrace.

How many times had Brad hoped that they could finally become lovers that he saw before his eyes?

Char clung to his strong steady arms, and she gazed lovingly into his eyes. His hand dipped behind her head, and he brought her trembling lips toward his in a deep passionate kiss. They danced closer to each other, and the camera faded as the Emperor gently removed the space uniform from her soft waiting shoulders.

At the end of the transmission. The Emperor left Brad a note: "Thanks for keeping yourself in tune. All the parts worked as designed."

Brad stared in dismay at the hands of his host. Was he as awkward in this body as the one he wore on the ship? His head fell into the cupped hands. "It's what's within" he heard Charlene's voice chide.

A pod catch was always a momentous event on the Gamma Station. It was extremely expensive to throw a pod of supplies from the earth into deep space. NASA threw no more than two per year. Even so, the ship missed one out of three throws.

"These supplies came from earth even before you were born." Char explained to her six-year-old son.

Jarred Sutton, her son, jumped up and down in excitement. There was always a small amount of candy and toys, along with the electrical equipment and medical supplies.

Char married Captain Wilbert Sutton when she found out she was pregnant. He was 26 years her senior, but he seemed like the best choice for the baby's father. A year later, she bore Wilbert a daughter. Her third child was a in vitro implant. NASA wanted to maintain the genetic diversity of their interstellar exploits.

The crew celebrated as they pulled the different items from the shipment. There were nutritional supplements and new memory chips for the computers. There were chemicals and seeds for the greenhouse. Best of all there was candy and protein drinks.

From the bottom of the pod. Captain Wilbert pulled a miniaturized model of the HipHop award Char won for her role in the Space Gal video. He also found a small card. "It's addressed to you Char. It looks like the Emperor Fez."

Char had never received mail before. She stared at the picture. The Emperor Fez was surrounded by two drop dead gorgeous models. He dipped his toes in slimy green water. The rocks around the scene were a combination of red sandstone and black granite. She flipped over the card, and saw the words: "Char, I made it!" followed by the smile heart that Brad Pilsner liked to draw.

Brad, you were always such a nimrod, her mind began to chide. If Brad had made to the bottom of the Grand Canyon he would have told her! He could never keep his mouth shut.

Charlene thought back to the trip. Brad seemed more distant after that voyage. She was a star in the video, then there was the marriage and the baby. She was so nervous when Brad first met her son. He held the baby's little hand, and said "Hi, I'm your uncle Brad." He made an awkward truth comfortable.

She examined the postcard in greater detail. It had the postmark from the Phantom Ranch on the correct date. The postmark showed a mule carrying sacks of mail.

Did he simply never tell me of this? It was his dream...

It had been two years since the accident. Brad died in transport to the earth. They were just too far from home for the signal to carry cleanly. If NASA hadn't worked quickly, they would have also lost a good surgeon.

Char thought of her night with the Emperor. He knew all the right moves and words, but it was the calm steady strength of Brad's body that made her give in. It was a warmth she had never felt with Captain Sutton. Why had she and Brad drifted apart?

She carefully tucked the picture in her shirt. This picture of three figures she had never seen suddenly became the most precious of all her belongings.

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