Theodore Sturgeon. Bulkhead. (Galaxy, March 1955)

Read in Judith Merril’s The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1956.

The story first appeared in Galaxy Magazine, March 1955, under the title ‘Who?’.

The two titles, ‘Who?’ and ‘Bulkhead’ get to the crux of the story. The protagonist is a space cadet who wants to be a starship captain, and this requires him to go on a solo Long Haul space trip to prove his mettle. Several months alone in space, with a range of items on board to help him pass the time. But also, on the other side of the bulkhead, a fellow cadet, whom he can communicate with by pressing a button to trigger the intercom.

The story is an intense psychological one, as we get right inside the protagonist’s mind over many pages, until he finally cannot resist the temptation and presses the intercom. We follow his relationship with his companion over the rest of the journey, and question his sanity and his mental wellbeing.

The final reveal is a doozy. There is no travelling companion. He has been subvocalizing his companion’s responses, all part of a cunning plan by spacefleet to avoid their pilot’s being encumbered by their inner child. And this protagonist very much surfaces his inner child during the journey.

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