Damn Tourists!
Ricky Ginsburg

Lt. Commander Brandon Shemanski's day had gone downhill from the moment Captain Blusko woke him with the news that the Space Station's plumbing had failed again. Add to that the scheduled 11:45am arrival and docking of the Shuttle WalMart with the Senator who mangled his budget, the sudden illness of the station's physician, and now this - Arvid Klophobian, their billionaire space tourist was on an unauthorized spacewalk with a golf club and four dozen brand new Titleists.

"Negative Houston, I have no idea how he got the balls up here." Shemanski stared out the viewport and watched as the world's wealthiest bagel manufacturer sent another white globe hurtling towards the moon. "And from what I can see, the club looks like one of those retractable ones, a driver, easy to conceal in his gear."

"Shemanski, Houston. Is he tethered?"

"Affirmative Houston. He's made his way to Canada Arm One and has locked his boots into the stirrups." The commander brushed several thin strands of graying brown hair out of his eyes and checked his Rolex - a gift from the billionaire baker, who had seemed overly interested in the workings of the main airlock yesterday. "Blusko was working on the solid waste system when the airlock alarm sounded. Mr. Klophobian's been out there for at least two hours."

"Shemanski, CapCom. Why isn't he responding to our hails?"

"CapCom, he's disabled all but the air-to-air commlink. And even that's only on when he wants to talk to me."

Out on the articulated arm's platform, nearly sixty feet from the orbiting Space Station, Arvid Klophobian pulled another golf ball from the white pouch on his hip and placed the ball on the raised grid. With a grin on his face, despite the itch that had recently developed on the tip of his nose, unreachable through the plexiglass helmet, he swung the three thousand dollar graphite retractable driver and sent ball number twelve off into the speckled blackness of space.

It had taken the diminutive Armenian over thirty years to grow his business from a single bagel shop on New York's Canal Street to a global enterprise with factories in seven countries turning out almost five million bagels daily. His coup d'grace, the one Wall Street investors spoke of over Cuban cigars and French champagne, was locking down the NFL franchise for his products in all thirty-four of its stadiums. Major League Baseball and the NBA signed on the following season and SportBagels LLC was listed on the New York Stock Exchange by Christmas, 2009. Now, three years later, Arvid had become the fifteenth space tourist to plunk down the requisite twenty million dollars for his week onboard the International Space Station.

Dino Blusko - Captain, US Marines - in his second month of a three-month tour of duty on the station, had made it to the airlock just in time to see their tourist open the outer door and pull the only five spacesuit helmets out with him. From Klophobian's last communication with Commander Shemanski, the two officers had learned that the wily traveler and devout golfer had strung the five helmets across the docking ring, thus preventing the soon to arrive shuttle from making a connection. He'd ended the one-sided transmission with a crackly, "This is sooo cool!"

"Houston, Shemanski."

"Go ahead, Commander."

Shemanski pursed his lips and considered the phrasing of his next query. "Has the WalMart been made aware of our situation?"

There a was pause, a bit beyond comfortable before Houston replied, "Negative."

The former Air Force fighter pilot blew out a breath and wiped an imaginary bead of sweat from his forehead. Below the space station, the west coast of Australia came into view; the sun quickly sinking past the Indian Ocean to his left. "They're less than six hours out. Still in sleep cycle?"

"All but the pilot. They'll get a wake up call at 0930 CST." There was the soft hiss of twenty-thousand miles and four satellites between the station and its earthly command post before the next words came over the console speaker. "Will you be able to resolve the situation prior to that?"

Lt. Commander Shemanski, who had nine confirmed kills to his credit and feared nothing besides a non-functioning toilet in space, shook his head as a golfball flew past the antenna array and out of his line of vision. "Standby Houston. Will advise when the docking ring is cleared."

Approaching the orbiting outpost at 17,000 miles an hour and soon to be their next short-term guest, was Senator Hiram Freshkin of Missouri - head of the Senate Finance Committee and the man responsible for the semi-privatization of the space fleet. It was said that Senator Freshkin could not only get water from a stone, but he could squeeze it hard enough to wash his hands. During the last months of 2008, he'd convinced Congress to allow several major corporations to buy into the space program, saving taxpayer monies for a bailout of the floundering education system. Thus, the three new shuttles constructed during 2009 and 2010 were named WalMart, Target, and Costco with both a Home Depot and a Lowes currently under construction.

The International Space Station, a title the senator loathed, as the last non-US citizen had left the floating laboratory more than eighteen months ago and the Russians had abandoned their monthly shuttles shortly thereafter, had become a tourist destination worthy of kings. The original price of ten million was doubled almost immediately as the list of Saudi oil barons, Chinese toy manufacturers, and a gaggle of lottery winners from a retirement community in Boca Raton, Florida scrambled for the chance to visit. Yet, even doubling the price to twenty million still produced a five-year waiting list. Once or twice a month, NASA would bus a paying customer up to the station and once or twice a month, Shemanski would put on his smile and play butler to the rich and foolish for their week in outer space.

Shemanski, in the eighth month of his thirteen-month stay above the Earth in the ISS, was the last of the longtimers - pilots, most of them - who'd spent more than a year in space without coming down. This was his fourth and last tour; he'd land at Cape Canaveral on his sixty-fifth birthday, trade in his Velcro boots for hip-waders, and retire along with his girlfriend to a houseboat in the Florida Keys.

If he made it through today.

Most of the tourists who came to the Space Station handled it well. Genevieve Zwill, daughter of the current CEO of General Ford Chrysler, never shook the chills during her week in the nine-thousand square foot station. She complained about everything being white so many times that Dr. Philcrest, the station's pill pusher, finally took to sedating her for the ten-hour sleep cycle.

And then there was Pinky. Shemanski rolled his eyes remembering the red and white spiked hairdo the kid glued into place an hour after arriving. Son of the president of Seoul-based Doors, the company that had put an end to both Windows and the Mac, he'd screwed up their onboard computers so badly it took four days after he'd left to reload all their software.

Shemanski had seen them whip out hidden cigars and fifths of whiskey, amazed that the guys in the Closeout Room at the Cape could be so easily bribed. But a golf club and four dozen balls were a first. And the capper of having their visitor hold the entire space program hostage was a bit more than any officer should be asked to handle, especially with the all the toilets clogged.

The intercom light glowed and Blusko's voice, layered with disgust, came through the speaker. "A whole roll of toilet paper. That moron used a whole friggin' roll of toilet paper. Jeezus Bran, I'm gonna need a gallon of Liquid Plumber and a snake to clear this thing. Unless you want to crap in plastic bags for the next four months."

Shemanski groaned, shaking his head in amazement. "Is it both sides of the station?"

"At the junction where they meet. Couldn't have picked a better spot."

The thought of using plastic bags and then storing them for at least fifteen days between shuttles was enough to draw the commander's attention away from the space-suited duffer. He recalled the bags he'd worn in fighter jets and had no desire to relieve himself that way again. "What if we seal one side and flush the pipes with a high-pressure oxygen line?"

There was a pause, as he assumed Blusko was considering the plan. "As long as it blows out the Y and not back to the other side. You wanna check with Houston first?"

"No. This is our shit and we've got to clean it up." Shemanski stood and waved as Mr. Klophobian raised his visor and smiled at him. "Get it done and then get up here. We've got less than three hours until the WalMart arrives." He toggled the radio to the air-to-air channel.

Klophobian's voice was tinged with giggles. "You should try this sometime. You know, Alan Shepard only hit two of them while on the moon and his are still there."

Shemanski nodded. "You going to hit all forty-eight of them, Mr. Klophobian?"

"Not from here, the Moon is moving away too quickly. You said we can see Mars every twenty orbits. Are we getting close?"

"Later this afternoon." Shemanski bit his lip and tried to sound friendly. "You don't have enough oxygen to stay out there very much longer. Why don't you let me bring you down to the airlock on the arm. It's a great ride."

Pointing at the main antenna array with the driver, Klophobian shook his head. "I told you, you move this arm from the bracket and I'll take out that long-range antenna with a golfball."

He'd already demonstrated his accuracy with the graphite driver, smashing a ball off viewports seven and nine dead center. Commander Shemanski had no doubts the man could destroy his link to NASA with a single well-placed shot to the array. Why hadn't one of these goddamn rocket scientists thought of a contingency for this situation? Freakin' experts wrote enough manuals to wallpaper this place six inches deep.

His anger stuttered for a moment as Dr. Philcrest floated into the communications module and grabbed a handhold next to the thick, glass viewport. The doctor swallowed hard and adjusted his glasses. "What the hell?"

"Your bridge partner went for a walk several hours ago and decided to hit some balls as long as he was out." Shemanski smiled at the doctor. "You know anything about this, Doctor P?"

"He's been talking about golf since he got here. But I didn't… I mean… well, how was I supposed to know?" Dr. Philcrest cupped his hands on the viewport and gazed in awe at the spacewalking golfer. "We've got to get him in here before Freshkin arrives."

"You needed a PhD to reach that conclusion?" Shemanski snorted. "You and Nostradamus."

The doctor pushed himself into the seat and tapped the air-to-air button, bending over to adjust the microphone before he calmly asked, "Arvid? Arvid can you hear me?"

"Nigel? How's your stomach?"

"Fine for now. I don't know who sold you those vitamins, but I'd get my money back if I were you." Resting his arms on the console, Philcrest paused as another rumble in his large intestine interrupted his thoughts. "Look, you've got to come in now."

"When I'm done."

"No, you don't understand. We're all in serious trouble here." The doctor held his hand up to the window and pointed at his watch. "You're running out of oxygen and we're running out of time to get you safely back inside."

Shemanski leaned in toward the mike. "Mr. Klophobian, we have a three-hour window to prepare for the docking of a space shuttle. If we don't get you inside before that and have to delay its arrival it will foul up our schedule something fierce."

"Your schedule? Are you kidding? I paid more money for this vacation than you and everyone else in your family will earn in their lifetimes. Do you honestly think I have much of an interest in your schedule?" Klophobian pointed at them with the driver. "How would you feel if you saved a year's pay and went to Hawaii and the lifeguard chased you off the beach because it was interfering with his schedule?"

Doctor Philcrest stifled a laugh.

"Mr. Klophobian, this is not a beach and I don't relish the thought of playing lifeguard, especially when you've trapped us inside with no way to help if you get into trouble." Shemanski reached for a zero gravity juice bag and sipped the last of its dregs through a straw.

"I'll tell you what, Commander, you stop bothering me and when I get home from this fairway in space, I'll write you a check to match every penny you've earned since you first put on a uniform."

"You know I can't accept that."

"Because it's not in your schedule?" And with that, the golfer dropped his visor and returned his attention to the ball waiting on the platform.

Shemanski rubbed his eyes and let himself float out of the chair, asking no one in particular, "Do we still have the bottle of wine confiscated from what's-her-name from McBurger King?"

Another half-hour passed, time in the space station only meaningful when there was work to be done, and with the slow depletion of the oxygen supply on his back, Arvid Klophobian was taking longer and longer with each swing. Sometimes he just simply missed the ball as his eyes lost focus or locked into the million-mile-gaze so prevalent in spacewalkers. A communications satellite, rushing across his view in an intersecting orbit below, a storm over the north Atlantic with its swirling center - a mass of whipped cream rushing down a drain, the moon - closer than he'd ever seen it before and despite now having gazed at it for almost a week at this size, still an image that stopped his thoughts, all demanded his limited attention.


Inside the Space Station, Captain Blusko, unsuccessful in his mission to restore proper sanitation, as the drying effects of the high-pressure oxygen had hardened the soggy mass of waste and paper into a solid lump, had realized the error and was now boiling water in all four of the microwave ovens. His report, via intercom, brought groans from both Shemanski and Philcrest.

Ninety minutes away, the space shuttle WalMart and its passengers were approaching, unaware of the multitude of annoyances ruining Lt. Commander Shemanski's day.

"Shemanski, Houston."

Dr. Philcrest, hovering upside down to Shemanski, who was currently in contact with Gilbert Banks, the shuttle's pilot, keyed the mike. "Go ahead, Houston. Doctor Philcrest here."

"We've got Mrs. Klophobian here, can you patch us through?"

"Standby, Houston." Turning to the station's commander, Philcrest waited while Shemanski finished transmitting his version of the calamity to the shuttle.

Pilot Banks whistled and then laughed. His slapped knee, loud enough to be heard over the speaker, prefaced his question. "You think that sombitch gonna swing at us?"

"Nah. He's down below ten percent. I give him fifteen, maybe twenty minutes before he nods out." Shemanski rolled in midair and looked out the viewport as Mr. Klophobian twirled his golf club as if it were a baton. "He's got another ten minutes after that before his tanks run dry. Get Ophelia into the airlock and I'll send Arm Two to get her." The commander paused, closed his eyes, and turned his head toward wherever Heaven might be in zero gravity. "Gordon, you can get the Senator now. I'll fill him in."

"Bronze star when you get home, boy."

Shemanski nodded. "Better be the goddamn Congressional Medal of Honor with President Schwartz personally hanging it around my neck."

Philcrest handed the air-to-ground radio to the commander. "Houston has Klophobian's wife ready to speak to him."

"Where the hell was she three hours ago?" Shemanski shook his head. "No. Tell them we're underway with his recovery and she can talk to him all she wants when he's belted into a seat on the WalMart."

Senator Hiram Freshkin, uncle, twice removed (by divorce) on his mother's side, to Pilot Gordon Banks, had argued away his seat on a space shuttle for nineteen years - just long enough for his nephew to finish college and earn his way through NASA's shuttle pilot program. It was rumored that his trip to the soon to be renamed International Space Station was funded by lobbyists from AT&Sprint and that their logo would shortly adorn the station's most visible modules.

Shemanski was certain that if Purina threw enough money on the Senator's desk, they'd be branding astronauts' foreheads in checkerboard.

"Brandon? You there, boy?"

"Good morning, Senator. How's the elbow? Don't plan on any tennis for the next week." Shemanski grinned, remembering the last time he and the Senator had battled through a somewhat less than friendly game, the Senator bailing out when his elbow froze after losing two sets in a row.

"Ah hear golf is the game of choice in this neck of the woods."

"Stranger things have happened in space, Senator."

"Ah'm sure you have a list of them." Several hacking coughs came through the speaker and Shemanski lowered the volume as the senator cleared his throat. "How long's the delay?"

"We're hoping to have the docking ring secured in two orbits." Shemanski grabbed the clipboard, floating just above his head. "Ophelia, sorry, Captain Lommadillo is going to retrieve Mr. Klophobian with the second Canada Arm and bring him in through the airlock. Once he's inside, she'll again go EVA, get the helmets, and make a full inspection of the docking ring."

"Arvid's gonna be okay, then?"

Shemanski shrugged and covered the microphone. "Unfortunately." Removing his hand, he slipped into his "official" voice, "Mr. Klophobian has enough oxygen for at least another 30 minutes. Captain Lommadillo will piggyback a one-hour tank to his backpack as soon as she reaches him. Once the shuttle docks, he'll be immediately transferred off the ISS." Covering the mike again, "And then he'll be Gordon's problem."

"You know, Ah've been sayin' for months, you boys need to have someone in the station full time to cater to these folks. You just don't have the proper training… or background. And once again, Ah've been proven to be correct."

Lt. Commander Shemanski lowered his head. Here it comes.

"This station was never supposed to be a military outpost. Hell, the military is for fightin' wars and keepin' the peace. Dinosaurs y'all are. Creatures that belong on the ground and not mannin' what could be the most profitable venture the U-nited States of America has ever invested taxpayer dollars in. Hell, son, we could easily double the visitor rate if we move you non-paying customers out."

With his eyes now closed and the combination speaker/microphone box spinning slowly between his legs, Shemanski was more than happy to let the Senator pontificate for another few minutes until Ophelia Lommadillo radioed that she was ready. He let his memories of her close-cropped black hair and luxurious, long nails drift into his consciousness. However, the pungent odor of rotting meat that invaded his nostrils nailed his attention to the white-faced Dr. Philcrest, struggling to loosen his belt. "For the love of God, Nigel!"

Dr. Philcrest punched the intercom button, as the anxiety in his voice brought his voice up at least an octave, "Blusko, I need a toilet…NOW!"


Out on Canada Arm One, Arvid Klophobian made a desperate attempt to focus his eyes on the largest pumpernickel bagel he'd ever seen. The three thousand dollar graphite retractable driver did a constant pirouette several yards beyond his outstretched hand, never to meet it again. His wife's shrieks were nothing but garble now, he having reconnected the air-to-ground radio in the hope of broadcasting his universal achievement to the world and then not having enough strength to turn it off with her first screeching yowl of "Arvid! You schmuck!"

The bagel - a large weather satellite in a close to parallel orbit with the Space Station - would be the last image his eyes would capture with such a stellar backdrop. To his delight, the picture was frozen in his mind, even with the soft tug from behind that slowly pulled his feet out of the stirrups.

"Got him."

Shemanski started to breathe again. "Nicely done. How's he look?"

Ophelia Lommadillo, one-tour submarine captain and multi-tour bedmate of the now much relieved Lt. Commander, lifted her visor and effortlessly spun the unconscious tourist around. "Color's good. He's breathing. Rotate and transport."

Though she was little more than half Shemanski's age, it was his no nonsense approach to their relationship that kept it going while he was in space. Ophelia was free to do as she pleased during these extended tours as long she was there when he returned. It had been almost nine months since they'd spent the night together - a beachfront resort in the Grand Caymans - and as much as she was excited to see him again, there was the issue of his wrecked sports car hanging over her head.

"Brandon, go secure."


"Not out here."

Switching the radio to the secure, private frequency, Shemanski looked back out the viewport at the arm, now crossing below one of the large solar arrays on its computer-assisted journey to the airlock. "We're secure, go ahead."

"I'm not so sure this is the best time to tell you this."

The image of a pregnant Ophelia, instantly replaced by one of a baby in a highchair, blitzed across his thoughts. Shemanski relaxed his grip on the Canada Arm's joystick, seeing his knuckles pale. "When?"

"Yesterday." She raised her eyebrows. "How did you find out so fast?"

Shemanski's hands slid off the joystick and onto his lap. "Yesterday? Ophelia, yesterday you lifted off from the Cape. You went from the delivery room to the ready room? And who's watching the baby?"

"What on Earth are you talking about? What baby?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Your Porsche. Bobby wrecked your Porsche."

Shemanski's breath froze in his throat. What was her brother doing driving his car? He'd left the '76 Turbo Carrera in her garage so she could start it up once a week while he was in space. Bobby, her older brother by a couple of years, couldn't pass a tavern unless the door was locked. Shemanski had put the kid on the floor of the garage just for leaning up against the vintage car. He grit his teeth and grabbed the joystick; she was right - this was not the time to discuss it. "Let's get you and Mr. Klophobian inside. We'll talk about this later. Go air-to-air."

The sudden echo of voices, an argument between the doctor and the plumber, grew steadily closer; Shemanski pulled himself around just as the conflict tumbled in the communications module.

Captain Blusko, furiously wiping his hands on a lanolin towel, kicked off from the hatchway, around Dr. Philcrest, and spun to a stop in front of the commander. "He flushed the goddamn toilet." Turning toward the doctor, frozen in the doorway, Blusko tossed the towel, which drifted under the doctor's feet. "You're going to clean it now. I told you to use the SWES, but no, you with the fancy degrees can't demean himself to shove a funnel up his Ivy League ass and drain it into a waste bag."

"The Solid Waste Evac System is designed for emergencies, not for when a simple clogged drain puts the station's janitor into a tizzy." Philcrest kicked the towel and ended up embedding it in the velco on the bottom of his boot.

"Enough!" Shemanski's voice boomed through the corridors. "I have an unconscious golf pro and the woman responsible for wrecking my car sixty feet out on a piece of hardware that should have been retired two years ago. The man who approves my paycheck is sitting in the shuttle, trying to decide if I'm worthy of the concierge position in this floating Holiday Inn, and you two need to get your shit together before I strangle you both with this microphone cord." He swung the mike around his head as if it were a lasso twice before slapping it onto a hook and pulling himself up from the chair. "Blusko, I'm going to need a working toilet myself before this day gets much worse. See if you can jury-rig the outflow of the toilets to the SWES and bypass the drainage system."

"Pump it into space?" Blusko laughed. "You know the drain is alongside the docking ring, right?"

Shemanski pushed out his cheek with his tongue and nodded, a sly smile filling his face. "No shit." He pointed to the doctor. "I need you at the airlock, now. Get Mr. Klophobian out of his spacesuit and sedate him. The next time I see him awake, I want it to be on a video feed from the WalMart."

Blusko paused in the hatchway next to Dr. Philcrest and in unison the two asked, "She wrecked the Porsche?"


Arvid Klophobian, sedated and strapped into his bunk, lay there dreaming of Oreo cookie bagels, the sweet white filling replaced by cream cheese. Standing alongside, Ophelia, still suited, shook her head. "This job just doesn't pay enough."

"You've only been here for an hour." Dr. Philcrest checked the unconscious bagel maker's pulse. "I've got another month of this."

Ophelia gazed down the long corridor leading to the communications module. "I thought he was in a pretty good mood yesterday."

The doctor shrugged. "Yesterday everything was normal." Closing his medical bag, he smiled at Ophelia. "He seemed to take the news about his car fairly well."

"You missed the part about garnisheeing my flight pay for the next ten years." She looked at the three empty bunks. "I think I'm sleeping on the WalMart tonight."


Pulling himself down from the recently installed Serta module, the new larger living quarters, Captain Blusko wrapped his legs around one of the mounted chairs and watched as Shemanski guided Arm One. The radio floating next to him whispered the tirades and rants of the Missouri Senator who'd been watching the globular discharges from the ISS bobble past his viewport on the WalMart for over an hour. Lt. Commander Shemanski had pulled all of his rank from his back pocket and explained to the Senator that they couldn't safely dock a space shuttle with either of the Canada Arms in use. The Senator, now in dire need of a restroom, was insisting they suit him and let him fly over to the ISS, threatening to not only cut off their funding but to leave them all stranded until hell froze over.

Shemanski told him to keep his legs crossed and think pleasant thoughts, then dropped the volume down to minimum.

With Ophelia Lommadillo waiting outside by the airlock with five NASA issued helmets in tow, Shemanski brought the robotic arm around to where she could snatch its cargo, the successful result of twenty minutes of maneuvering - the three thousand dollar graphite retractable driver Arvid Klophobian had left spinning in space. Shemanski was certain he could find someone to smuggle a dozen balls up to him on the Shuttle Costco next month.

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