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Enigma by Michael LaRocca
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Barry Drake returns. The starship CONUNDRUM is the first manned vessel to leave Earth's solar system using Weinberg Drive. It reaches the Pegasus system, 50 light years away, where the earthlike planet Sisyphus orbits a G-type star and may contain what we truly hope to find, proof that we are not alone.
Double Dragon Publishing; July 2012
ISBN 9781554049974
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Title: Enigma
Author: Michael LaRocca


"Okay, Barry, I’m calling it. Heads he’s dead, tails he’s alive."

"Derek," I said, "that won’t work."

Two weeks after we blew the hell out of Fugly, unless we didn’t, CONUNDRUM was flying through Weinberg Space on its way to the Pegasus star system, still stuck in radio silence because we just didn’t have the computer power to manage Comm systems from within this weird extra-dimensional space. That’s okay, apparently, because we’ve got a coin to toss.

Lieutenant Derek Nietzsche might have been the youngest guy on the ship, but he managed to look even younger than he was. He flipped the coin with his thumb, caught it with the same hand, and slapped it dramatically onto his forearm. He tried to catch my eye, but I wouldn’t throw it to him, so he exposed the coin instead.

"Heads," he stated. "Fugly’s dead."

"You’ve got a two-headed coin there."

"Afraid not." He showed me. "I’ll do it again. Heads he’s dead, tails he’s alive."

It was very difficult to have a serious conversation in a room with road signs on all the walls. Well, the conversation was bullshit anyway, but never mind. Signs, signs, everywhere signs, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind.



Children Crossing

Deer Crossing

Beer Crossing

Please keep off the grass

No parking on even days

No Passing Zone

Do Not Enter

Slippery When Wet

Double Left Turn

Emergency Parking Only

Do not feed the bears

"What is all this shit?" I asked.

"Just a reminder."

"Of what?"

"All we gave up by coming out here. I’m flipping the coin a second time. Heads, Fugly’s dead. Tails, Fugly’s alive. Got it? Here we go."

"This is ridiculous."

Derek flipped the coin, then showed it to me.

"Heads again," he said. "Fugly’s dead."

"Now that is freaky, but it doesn’t prove anything. Do you know why?"

"Because you’re a shmendrick?"

"No, because we haven’t seen the body. My brother’s funeral was closed casket. Well, it had to be. Bicycle versus truck. For years I kept thinking he’d just pop on my SpaceBook page one day. April Fool or some shit. Same thing with Fugly."

"What, Fugly uses SpaceBook?" Derek asked.

"Don’t make me frap you upside the head, boy."

"Barry, that’s redundant. The only place you can frap somebody is upside the head. It’s part of the definition of the word."

"I’ll remember that when I frap you, son."

I guess I hung out with Derek because he was so damn young. I’m 160, but I slept 101 of those years, making me about the same age as most crewmen. I always refer to the under-50 crowd as kids, but Derek is that rare animal known as an under-40 crewman. Back on Earth, I’d probably card him for beer. He worked back in the Second Wheel, growing muscle tissue on scaffolding. Make friends with the Foodies and you’ve got an unlimited source of meat.

I learned the same trick centuries ago, by the way, working in restaurants where employees were allowed to eat the cook’s mistakes. Make friends with the cook and you can tell him what mistake you’d like for him to make and when you’d like for him to make it.

"Third time’s the charm," he said, holding up his coin. "Heads means Fugly is dead, and tails means... shit. I’m not doing this anymore. Fugly is dead."

"You think?"

"I don’t know. Catch."

I wasn’t catching the damn thing. It landed on the floor of his cabin.



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