I believe this one is a very old story, possibly even from the "Golden Age" of science fiction.

The premise is this: a new crewman, who doesn't seem to be cut out for life aboard a spaceship, continually makes mistakes and/or goofs up from lack of attentiveness to duty. The rule in the story is that a crewman who makes three serious errors on a mission is kicked out of the service. I can remember two of the three screw-ups.

The first one I remember deals with the airlock on the ship. The ship is on the surface on an alien world, and the environment is a toxic one. Decontamination before entering the ship is therefore essential. When the captain and another crewman return from collecting samples, the realize the decontamination tanks are empty, because the rookie forgot to refill them with fluid. Disaster is averted due to some quick thinking by another crewman, but the kid picks up a strike against him.

The other one I can remember, and IIRC this was his third strike/demerit, was the kid forgot to properly seal a specimen case or something like that. The samples react badly to an oxygen atmosphere and I think catch on fire, nearly asphyxiating a sleeping crew. The kid is devastated to know he's going to be booted out when they get home, because of his third mistake.

The story ends with the captain taking the disgraced young crewman with him on a final sample collection trip. Almost immediately, the kid cries out, and dies a violent death the moment they exit the airlock. The captain discovers that one of the attaching screws on the crewman's helmet hadn't sealed properly and, in a freak accident, the poisonous atmosphere of the planet had gotten inside the other man's suit.

That's all I remember. I couldn't find anything in search, so hopefully this is not a duplicate of a previous question (apologies if it is).

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    Heh. If the next scene was the crewman in hell that could be the plot of a future chick tract on the sin of sloth. Aug 4, 2016 at 21:47
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    The style of the story reminds me of the work of Fredric Brown for ANALOG in the "Golden Age" but no specific story comes to mind. I'm interested in it though :) Aug 13, 2016 at 22:02

1 Answer 1


It is Unto My Manifold Dooms by Harry Harrison – anthologised in Two Tales and Eight Tomorrows.

The exploring party return, and go into the shower to wash off all contamination from the alien environment. But it dies to a trickle because the rookie forgot to fill the tank. They have to scrub themselves down and almost run out of oxygen while doing it. The Captain hits the roof

"Will you get this through your thick head. Being sorry won’t help me if I’m dead. What happens in the bloody Gobi Desert - - if you forget to fill the shower? - - Someone maybe says dirty for a while. - - but what happens here if you forget - - Two men can die, that is what can happen. - - Two strikes and you are out - - - When I send in the weekly report tomorrow I am going to give you a negative efficiency mark. It is not good but it is nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of men have had them. [but] If you make one more blunder I send for your replacement.”

The rookie protests in vain

”Have a heart, Cap’n. - - - I’ll try doubly hard if you don’t report this.” - - “You’ll try doubly hard because I do report it. If I had any brains I’d have sent in the first report when you didn’t check the bleed valve. Then this would be you r second mark and you would be out – which is where you belong. I don’t think you have it in you to be a good spacer.”

For a time, all is well, but then

With sudden panic he inhaled deeply and broke into spasmodic coughing. Smoke! There could be no smoke here. - - very few things in the dome were combustible - - -. The ore case with the samples! - - - Who sealed that case?” - - - “I did - - then, grimly, “But Sonny opened it again to put in a last piece of ore”.

Another crewman attacks Sonny and has to be pulled off him, getting injured in the scuffle.

“Arkady can’t get into a suit, so you will have to go out with me once to get some more samples. After that you will be relieved of duty. - - You will touch none of the controls or equipment.” - -


Hogg turned the limp body until the Sun shone directly into the mouth of the valve.It was jammed half open by a particle of metal.- - When the pressure dropped the outside atmosphere would leak in. Had leaked in: because Sunny Greer was completely and finally dead. - - - “I’m sorry, Sonny - - You just shouldn’t have been out here I wish for all our sakes we had found that out earlier - - -Mostly for your sake though - - -. “I’d better get back to the dome, straighten this mess out - -." Beginning the long process of forgetting.

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