Morgue Ship (Bradbury)

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Morgue Ship
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: Two men working on a morgue ship collecting dead soldiers from space unexpectedly encounter a living enemy official, leading to a tense confrontation and a chance to end the war.

Sam Burnett and Rice were two men working on a morgue ship called the Constellation, tasked with retrieving the bodies of dead soldiers from space and bringing them back to Earth for burial. They had been doing this job for ten years, and Sam was growing increasingly weary of it, longing for the day when he could finally quit.

Sam Burnett — narrator; morgue ship worker; tall, thin, experienced, weary, and disillusioned.
Rice — morgue ship worker; young, sharp-faced, hot-tempered, and patriotic.

You never catch up with the war. All the color is ahead of you.

One day, they discovered a seemingly dead enemy official named Lethla floating in space. However, Lethla was actually alive, having used a thin glassite mask to survive in the void.

Lethla — enemy official; delicate, cunning, and dangerous; wears a glassite mask to survive in space.

He boarded the Constellation and held Sam and Rice at gunpoint, forcing them to help him rescue his ruler, Kriere, who was also floating in space with a limited supply of air.

We must rescue Kriere. …

Sam and Rice reluctantly agreed to help Lethla, but as they approached Kriere, Sam decided to take a risk and fight back. He activated the ship's claw mechanism, crushing Kriere to death, and then attacked Lethla. Rice joined in the fight, and together they managed to subdue Lethla.

Sam was severely injured in the struggle, and as he lay dying, he told Rice that they needed to fill the last empty shelf on the ship with a body. Rice looked at Sam and then at the empty shelf, and softly said, "One hundred."