I looked out into deep space. It was so vast! It was overwhelming! The darkness went on and on, stars sparkled like little diamond tacks holding up a black curtain.
The earth looked so tiny, like a model globe from school. It was hard to imagine life down there being anything but grand. Surely such a beautiful planet was inhabited by beautiful beings. NASA radioed some news to me every evening. It was all so grotesque, the way we fought, polluted, or otherwise destroyed things down there.
I thought about my friends and family a lot. How they will have grown, changed, aged. How I will have not, not so much. How life will be different when I get back, especially after the missions completed out here begin affecting life down there.
“You alright?” a voice crackled in my helmet.
“Yeah.” I paused, gazing at the Earth, lost in thought. “Just finishing up.”
“Hurry up, you’ve only got 15 minutes more oxygen!”
“I’m done. I’m coming. Reel me in.”
As I slowly floated toward the ship, the Earth slipped out of sight.
The final pieces of the space station were in place.
We pressurized it, started the oxygen and filtration systems, and crossed our fingers.
After several hours we entered the giant bubble and flipped on the generators and powered the gravity simulator.
We still had on our helmets, and measured the oxygen level inside each structure, each room. I gave a thumbs up to my team and we took off our gear.
It was odd to be walking around in a jumpsuit, a starry sky for miles around, no blue sky, no spacesuits, and a space shuttle parked outside.
Our voices echoed. The sound was startling. We were used to hearing voices from tiny speakers. Somehow the larger sound and the echo was a surprise. It felt good.
We walked from the control room to the lab. It was time for the experiments to begin. If successful, life on earth as we knew it, would never be the same again.
Something About Duty by THX 0477
The Colonel’s voice crackled over the intercom, “People, check and cross-check.”
We looked at one another, a look of befuddled acquiescence on our faces, a look familiar to any civilians such as ourselves so fortunate as to work with the military.
His throat clearing echoed over the com, “Duty, then, is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all…” He stopped. The station went silent, well, as silent as that many tons of floating metal and machines ever is.
It’s not that we wanted to hear how yet another of his speeches ended. We’d heard enough all through training. Frankly, this sounded kind of familiar. But we wanted to know why he stopped.
Instead of knowing, we floated, like the station in which our fragile lives were cradled, halfway between the known and the expanse of possibility. The gravity of curiosity drew our eyes to the speakers set in the ceiling, foolish as it was to look for sound. But we had to look for something.
Something had to be out there.
It was not uncommon to lose a signal from Earth out here in space. It happened a couple of times during flight as we moved too fast for the satellites to keep up with us.
But we were stationary, on a brand-new space station, floating in space. It would be much more difficult to lose a signal when we were moving slowly. But we were using the equipment for the first time.
It must be a glitch we’ll have to work out. Just one of those things.
Still it was very eerie to lose contact with home. The Colonel had been a constant during this trip. He was ALWAYS there. He would be furious we were missing his lecture.
We went in the control room seemingly to find the problem. We tried this and that, calling out, “Colonel, can you hear us now?” sounding like an old commercial. We traced circuits and flipped breakers and pushed buttons, to no avail.
We finally concluded it wasn’t us.
We gazed at the Earth. Asia was barely visible through the swirling clouds. Earth wouldn’t console us with a view of North America.
Since it is always a night sky in outer space, it’s hard to know when to sleep and when to rise. With the sun illuminating Asia below, we decided that it was best if we went to our sleeping quarters.
We should have been ecstatic, to be actually inhabiting the space station, sleeping in space for the first time. But we went soberly. And quietly, each with their own thoughts playing out on our faces. Some wore looks of concern, others worry, and some truly tired and worn.
I stretched out on my thin foam mattress, but I didn’t relax. I was thinking about my family, as I always did before resting. Were they okay? Was Earth okay?
I felt foolish for having come here. I should have stayed behind to be with them. If something catastrophic has occurred, like we all feared before this mission, I would rather be there.
A tear slid down my cheek. Stupid fake gravity! Holding me here while my loved ones might be suffering!
After I got control of my emotions, I sighed. The best I can do now is complete this mission.
As the Colonel was there every day to bark orders and share embellished war stories, so the wonderful Peggy was there to provide us with daily news. Why she did it was partly sentimental, but mostly because our mission was closely linked to the events going on at home. Sometimes she would throw in a personal tidbit, like a happy birthday or an ace report card brought home by one of our kids.
But now they both were gone. The last we heard was that U.N. were behind closed doors negotiating the release of prisoners and the containment of nuclear missiles. This was all spurred by who had control of the oil. And that was purely financial.
When tempers flared, bombs were thrown, which not only destroyed the land and people, but threw huge amounts of dust into the atmosphere, altering the weather and decimating ecosystems.
Humans are too selfish to realize we are killing ourselves by killing our planet.
So my team is supposed to prove A) we can live out here, and B) experiment with ways to save Earth.
We had anticipated this moment for hours. Soon the Earth would give us a view of the North America. We could check to see if it looked normal; wispy clouds, greenish land, shaped the same.
We checked and re-checked our calculations, we should be able to see the whole continent. What we could see was sickening. An odd colored cloud covered the whole land area, sort of gray, and yellow; matching the pallid faces of my compatriots.
There was nothing for us to do but work. We planted seeds and monitored growth in the greenhouse, amused ourselves by dropping food from the tower under the presumption of testing the gravity simulator. But we were all drawn to the swirling clouds and quiet speakers.
At dinnertime the hypothesizing began.
“Well, I guess Korea did it, unleashed the big one.”
“No, that’s an ash cloud. It’s Pompei and Mount Vesuvius all over again! That super volcano near Yellowstone erupted!”
“Maybe they bombed Yellowstone and set off an eruption.”
“It’s Armageddon down there.”
We were silent.