The good folks at Machine of Death have all sorts of fun stuff going on. Just for asking, you can get your very own certified M.O.D. prediction, no blood test required. All that they ask is that you send them something - anything - in exchange. I decided to send them my own home-made M.O.D. predictions for all of the methods of death featured in DUCK, as well as a printout of the 1969 MAD Magazine bit that inspired the title.
I waited eagerly by the mailbox for days after I sent in my request, along with my self-addressed stamped envelope. During that time I decided that my second story would be based on the prediction I received, whatever that prediction might be. Within a week I received a piece of mail with familiar handwriting on it. I carefully opened it and pulled out the prediction card. In my trembling hands I held the card with my ultimate fate: ABANDONED IN SPACE.
What the hell could I do with that?
I thought of various scenarios involving 1950's-style spacemen facing perils in space, but nothing felt appealing. If you knew that your fate was to not simply die in space, but to be abandoned there, why go there in the first place? Maybe you had to? Maybe you had no choice? Maybe some heroic choice led you to this inevitable but seemingly avoidable end?
And what is "space," anyway? It's not just the realm of asteroids and stars and rocket ships. It's everything and everywhere. Abandoned in space? Which space where?
Then I had a breakthrough: I would simply sidestep these difficulties. I would write a story not about the end of this journey, but the beginning. What if some parents found that their child was fated to die by being abandoned in space? Would it be possible to turn that into a positive?
I think this preface is already longer than the story itself, which fell below the recommended minimum length of 1200 words. But I could not find a way to increase the story length by nearly 50% without adding something inessential.
Machine of Death: ABANDONED IN SPACE
Like DUCK, this story is basically a conversation, but I think I managed to convey something more about the characters and their situation. I decided to project the current economy into something slightly worse: to crushing unemployment and underemployment I added the issue of electricity rationing. I wrote this on the day of the final Space Shuttle launch, so the thought of a future where nobody traveled into space anymore was very much on my mind. Economically speaking, we may already be at a point where it is no longer possible to construct a rational argument for manned spaceflight. So a death prediction of ABANDONED IN SPACE becomes an expression of hope for the future: hope that someday this little baby may travel into space, even if he is fated to die there, abandoned.
The notion of a death prediction as a bright and hopeful light is not original. It was explored wonderfully in the Machine of Death (Volume I) story TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS, in which a simple nebbish in an unexciting job is reinvigorated by the prospect of someday finding himself in the exotic circumstances that will lead to such a death. But in ABANDONED IN SPACE I have tried to use the death as a sign of hope for not only the individual but for society as a whole.
A note on the language: I wasn't trying to capture the dialect of any particular racial or ethnic group. As in my previous stories, I left the characters mostly undescribed, for the reader to fill in and he or she sees fit. I replayed this story dozens of times with various racial and ethnic identities for the characters, and tried to use a language that would be suitable in a broad range of circumstances.