WEP Dec 2021 – Narcissus

Finally, the last WEP post of the year, Dec 2021 challenge, Narcissus. This entry tells another story about a young Space Fleet Academy cadet, Neville. He serves on the spaceship Mariposa as the captain’s liaison with the passengers, refugees from a destroyed colony planet. Read about Neville’s previous adventures here:

Feb 2021 – The Kiss

Apr 2021 – Freedom Morning

Jun 2021 – Great Wave

Aug 2021 – Freedom of Speech

Oct 2021 – Scream

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Men want to be beautiful, too,” the old man told Neville in a quivering baritone. “And don’t smirk at me, young man. You do, deep inside your heart. Everyone does. That’s what I did with my life. I made men beautiful. I owned a salon for men only. Haircuts. Massages. Nails. You name it—I offered it. In the end, I owned 15 salons in four cities, all called Narcissus. That’s who I was. The Narcissus. And now…” He sighed and looked around at the passenger hold, where he shared his berth with a thousand other refugees.

The Mariposa’s trips to Simel were not long, eight to ten days only, depending on the traffic through the warp gates, but at the end of this journey, nothing waited for this old man. Neville felt sorry for him. Younger refugees would find new jobs, make new lives for themselves, but this old geezer had nothing to look forward to. Neville opened his mouth to deliver some bracing platitudes when the Narcissus’s next words floored him.

“They should’ve left me on the planet,” the oldster said. “My daughter died there, and my granddaughters. One of them was pregnant. With my great-grandchild. The shuttles couldn’t reach any of them in time, before it all exploded. But they saved me. Why? I’m no use to anyone anymore. I can’t even give you a haircut. My hands shake. Stupid old hands.” He stared into the distance only he could see. A slight tremor shook his wrinkled hands.

Neville desperately wanted to cheer up the old man, but how does one counter such despair? He scrambled his brain for anything positive. “Do you want to walk with me through the ship?” he asked finally. “Have you ever seen such a ship as Mariposa? It’s a military freighter, three kilometers long. It never landed on any planet, was built in space.”

“Heh?” The old Narcissus perked up. “Yes. Thank you, dear boy. Three kilometers? I don’t think I could walk that far.”

“We won’t go all the way,” Neville promised with a smile. “And we’ll stop for rest.” He offered his arm to the old man. “Lean on me, sir.”

“Wonderful.” Narcissus’s answering smile creased the old face. “What is your name again? I’m Peter.”

“Neville,” Neville said.

They walked slowly, and Neville explained each section and its functions to Peter. Twice, the old man rested: once in the mess hall, the next time perching on a huge loader’s arm in the D section. But he refused to return to his hold.

“This is a fascinating excursion, Neville, boy.” The old eyes sparkled. “I haven’t had such fun in ages.”

They were nearing the warp drive housing when the ship chimed a warning. Then the captain’s command, cold and sharp, cut through the intercom. “Officers to the bridge. Passengers, go to your holds and stay there.”   

Neville’s head snapped up.

“Trouble?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know.” Neville brought his wrist-comm to his lips and keyed the captain’s station. “Captain? Should I report to the bridge or stay with the passengers?” He was the passengers’ liaison after all. He was supposed to be available to them at all times.

“A moment, cadet.” She continued her conversation with someone else, but she didn’t turn off the audio, and the raised voices came through Neville’s comm-link.

“No, Tergio,” she said. “It’s a suicide mission. We might muddle through as is.”

“No, we won’t,” Tergio said. “The volanite leak means the shell’s cracked. When the leak reaches the critical volume, the engine will blow. You know that. I must go in and patch the shell. I should’ve checked before. I’m the chief engineer. It was my duty.”

“What is volanite?” Peter mouthed to Neville.

“Warp drive fuel. It powers starships,” Neville replied absently, his mind on the conversation he was overhearing.

The captain again: “We are four days out from the nearest station with a decent medical facility. Simel is even farther away. We can’t treat volanite burns onboard. You’ll die.”

“I know,” Tergio said. “But there is no one else. My assistant is twice younger than I am and has a toddler daughter. I can’t order her to do it.”

“Captain,” Peter spoke directly into Neville’s wrist-comm. “Can I do it?” His voice wobbled more than usual.

Startled, Neville glared at the old man.

“Who is that, cadet?” his comm demanded.

“One of the passengers, Captain. An old man. I was giving him a tour of the ship.”

“I’m almost a hundred,” Peter murmured into the comm. “I’ll die soon anyway. No reason to go to Simel for that. I can just as well die here. At least my death would mean something.”

“Are you an engineer?” the captain demanded.

“No. I was a barber. But I’m sure your engineer could talk me through whatever needs to be done. Couldn’t you, sir? In simple layman words?”

“No, Peter,” Neville said in dismay.

“I want to,” said Peter. “My family all died back home. Let me do it.”

“This is wrong,” Tergio said after a long pause.

“Yes, you can do it,” the captain said at the same time. “Thank you. Neville, bring him to the bridge. Tergio, prepare your equipment.”

Peter’s grin was incandescent. “This is the perfect last job for Narcissus,” he said happily, as Neville towed him to the bridge. “Don’t be so gloomy, my boy. Making life a better place was what I did all my life. I might as well die doing it.”

An hour later, Peter entered the warp engine housing under Tergio’s radio supervision and patched the drive shell to stop the leak. It might have taken a stronger and better trained man less than an hour. It took Peter, with his tremorous hands, thrice that long. He didn’t die from volanite burns after all. He collapsed right there, inside the drive compartment, as his old heart finally gave out after his job was completed.

Just after Tergio shouted in triumph: “Well done, old man!”   

The captain gave a moving eulogy at Peter’s wake the next day, her words transmitted through the intercom all over the ship. Afterwards, impromptu speeches started.  

“I had my haircuts at Narcissus all the time,” said one man. “They knew how to do man’s hair better than anyone else. Had I known we traveled with such a celebrity, the owner of Narcissus, I would’ve told the old guy.”

“Yeah.” Another man stood up. “They did my haircut for my wedding. The best barbers ever, that’s for sure. Who would’ve known a barber could be a hero.”

Neville didn’t talk, but he knew. The captain had already submitted a report. The next new Fleet ship coming out of the military docks would have an unexpected name – Narcissus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tagline: Even a barber could be a hero

This entry was posted in science fiction, Short Story, WEP and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to WEP Dec 2021 – Narcissus

  1. shilpa says:

    I loved reading this, Olga! A sad, but beautiful end to a very interesting story!

  2. Jemi Fraser says:

    LOVE!
    What a lovely twist on the theme – well done!

  3. Julia Quay says:

    Great story, Olga! I love an unexpected hero. And what an original take on the topic, too. Bravo!

  4. Hi Olga.
    Poor Peter, to die so. But I’m really glad he didn’t get burned.
    Nancy

  5. Yolanda Renee says:

    Thanks, Olga! What a truly lovely, yet sad, twist for this prompt! Love it!

  6. hilarymb says:

    Well done Olga – that was really clever … and just a happy end for Peter … he will be remembered – with his name on the next military fleet ship … lovely – cheers Hilary
    PS – also the tag line … ‘Even a barber can be a hero’ …

  7. soniadogra says:

    Heartbreaking! So well crafted Olga and a great twist too. I agree with Hilary about the tagline.

  8. Denise+Covey says:

    Hello Olga. This is my favorite so far of you ‘Neville’ saga. I like the personal touch in the dialogue. You’ve managed to fit so much into so few words. I loved the use of Narcissus. And so your serial continues…a new one next year?

  9. Debbie D. says:

    Peter saved the ship, and his legacy lives on! A fitting end for a true hero. ☺

  10. Olga- I agree with EA and Denise. A beautiful and touching story. Such a touching ending and now Peter is with his beloved family!

  11. lgkeltner says:

    This was such a moving story. Both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. That old man was a hero, and the new ship being named Narcissus is a perfect way to honor his legacy!

  12. 3mpodcast says:

    This was sweet, but sad. I’m glad he died saving the ship. (Shannon @thewarriormuse dot com)

  13. Rebecca Douglass says:

    Wonderful. Sweet and moving and just a nice story. Thank you.

  14. What a lovely snippet. I love how they honoured him at the end.
    Your tagline highlights something important – everybody has a significant role to play in the greater scheme of things and everyday heroes are all around us!

  15. A truly heartwarming story.

  16. Nilanjana Bose says:

    Poignant and enchanting at the same time, just lovely to read, Olga.

  17. What a wonderful, moving story! I enjoy all the stories, but if I were to be tasked with selecting a winner, it would be this one. I don’t usually play favorites this way.
    Sorry I’m late commenting. As always I’m chasing myself around like a headless chicken with my various tasks. I wish you happy holidays if you celebrate them.
    ~Ornery Owl~

  18. jlennidorner says:

    Beauty! Self-sacrifice! Breaking down barriers and expectations. You’ve got it all here. Excellent.

    I’m enjoying #WRiTECLUB2021 over at DL Hammons blog. The entries are fun to read and vote on with feedback.
    Plus, I’m currently reading Patricia Lynne’s Being Human. (The IWSG Goodread’s book club choice for December.)
    And I’m scheduling debut author interviews at Operation Awesome.
    I hope you have some fun plans for the rest of 2021. 🎆⛸🥁✉🥂⛄ May your days ahead be merry and filled with positive experiences.

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