Duck Blind

This book is now available here.

Things aren’t always as they seem. Neither was Charlie Branson.

Outwardly, Charlie appeared to be the successful, respected, somewhat over-paid Captain of a commercial space liner. Charlie loved his job, and not just because being a semi-silent partner in Interstellar Vacations LLC paid well – but also because the uniform was a babe-magnet!

In truth, it was 2025 – space liners did not yet exist, Charlie was just a roleplayer after bumming out as an aspiring porno flick extra – and the space liner Freedom was really just a very expensive set – a fancy simulator for wealthy clients! For 3 years, the company had taken passengers on simulated cruises into deep space to forget the real world for a while, to get away from it all – and they loved them for it!

Trouble was, in an atmosphere where people were locked away from reality for weeks at a time, and cos-playing and roleplaying redefined ‘normal’, telling fact and fantasy apart became more complicated than expected… For those who preferred the pleasant escape from the harsh realities of life outside, like Charlie, wishing it could all just be real became something almost like a prayer.

As it turned out, someone heard him.

The answer wasn’t quite what he expected.

“Duck Blind” (and “The Next Room”, the companion-story to this novella) tells part of the same larger story of opposites from the perspective of a different set of characters in different dimensions and times!

“Duck Blind” and it’s companion “The Next Room” are now available together as “Mirror, Mirror“.


  • Published: February 01, 2020
  • Words: 21,882
  • Pages: 102 (6×9 Paperback)

Synopsis: [Spoiler Alert]

Charlie Branson is a silent partner in a business venture called Interstellar Vacations, and for all intents and purposes, a highly paid employee. His job is to pose as the Captain of a space liner called Freedom, which is really part of a huge interactive sound-stage – a giant earth-bound simulator designed to convince paying clients that they’re really entering a space port, and leaving the Earth to go on a variety of different holiday cruises.

Before this highly successful gig, Charlie had a diverse life – but he always came out scraping the bottom of the barrel. He’s done it all, from waiting tables, to working on an actual ocean liner as a deck-hand – to a brief stint as a porn star… or, more honestly, a porn extra. Financially, his partnership with the other founders of IV was a godsend – financially at least, he’ll never want for anything again… or so the theory goes.

The reality is somewhat different – Charlie is unhappy. Yes, he loves his job – pretending to be the Captain of a space-liner and entertaining wealthy socialites paying the company (and his paycheck) for the illusion of voyaging through space and visiting a string of small sets simulating alien worlds along the way. The chicks really dig his crisp white uniform – it’s a real babe magnet! He knows every inch of the Freedom, every passage, every room, every deck, every fake, simulated control panel, instrument and feature. He loves the bridge most of all – and together with his crew, he maintains the illusion. But deep down, he wants more. He wants it to be real.

But it’s not – it’s 2025, and starships like the Freedom are still only make believe.

Then one day, the Freedom starts another voyage, and the crew and passengers embark on a week-long simulated voyage. Everywhere on the ship, Charlie is surrounded by excited passengers dressed up as their favorite aliens from their favorite TV shows. That night at the Captain’s table, Charlie meets a man – of sorts – who claims to be a galactic traveler, for real – and at first, Charlie fobs him off as another cos-playing nut… but the very next morning, Charlie finds himself decidedly out of his element.

After waking up, he begins to notice little things that are different – the news content on the TV in his cabin, the fact that his cabin door slides open instead of opening in the usual way – and suddenly everyone’s calling him ‘Andy’ and ‘Captain Niksn’. The confusion continues on the bridge of the Freedom, where Charlie notices new faces among the old – and some missing. His Exo, for one – and in his place, Francine McCain, the ship’s pretend navigator and 2nd officer sat, wearing the Exo’s bars on her shoulder!

Francine strongly insists her name isn’t Francine – it’s Mandy… Mandy Fringle – and his name’s not Charlie Branson, it’s Andy Niksn… much to his surprise, it even says so on the nameplate on his uniform! Francine insists he’s suffering from stress after the death of his best friend Jim Sykes – and his former Exo! Mandy escorts the confused Charlie – who’s now on the verge of hysteria, to the ship’s sickbay – where a doctor he doesn’t know firmly places him on sick leave for a week to get his shit in order.

Charlie decides to play along until he figures out exactly what’s going on – and once Francine escorts him back to his cabin, he realizes it’s actually their cabin… noticing things he hadn’t spotted that morning, like her clothes on one side of the closet, cosmetics on the dresser and so on. Charlie learns, much to his surprise that whoever this Andy Niksn is, he and Mandy Fringle – who is a dead-ringer for Francine McCain – have been in a relationship for some time… and furthermore, Mandy reveals to him that he’s in the 27th century!

The next morning – the first day of his enforced time off – Charlie sets out to expose this whole affair as some kind of farce or prank – or a conspiracy to gas-light him into believing he’s crazy. Motives he suspects vary – but right at the top of the list, he suspects his partners are trying to get their hands on his shares of IV!

To his surprise, every little thing he refers to, to expose the charade – secret doors that led from the Freedom set to adjoining sets are missing like they’d never existed – just like the little guiderails in the deck of the shuttle bay that the shuttle simulator rode on from the space port set! It actually seems to prove to him that it’s all true – he really is aboard a cruise ship in space! The Freedom calls in at a paradise planet and pulls into orbit. On a whim, Charlie boards a shuttle bound for the surface – after all, he reasons, this is his first time in space – his first time beyond the solar system, out among the stars – “you only live once, right?”

The History of “Duck Blind”

“Duck Blind” is a completely original work written through December 2019 and January 2020, and released in eBook form in February 2020. A companion title “The Next Room“, which was written immediately afterwards, was released on the same day – in keeping with the synchronous theme of both stories.

Both these tales tells part of the same story from the perspective of a different set of the same group of characters in different dimensions and times! Together, or read in sequence, they’re pretty much a story of opposites – and it’s the first time Christina attempted this sort of project, and she’s truly excited about how it turned out!


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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2021.

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