Silent Screams and Celestial Dreams
Space is Trying to Kill You
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.
But you can hear your own screams, and sometimes the silent ones are the loudest.
Astrophobia should have disqualified me from this job, but I kept quiet about it and muscled through the training. It was easier during earth-bound simulations. Harder in the real deal.
Space is vast and dark and cold. And everything about it is trying to kill you. We need air and water and food and warmth. None of that’s out here in the void unless we bring it. And it’s so easy to lose.
The food, while getting more and more nutritious, is…not great. Some of the packets taste okay, but the texture is never right, and often disgusting.
And despite countless dollars and hours of past missions and R&D, we still don’t quite have the bathroom stuff 100 percent figured out. Mistakes are made, and it’s gross when it happens.
Why do so many people want to go here so badly? There are tourist ships that take people into orbit and then back to land, where the point is the trip.
Yes, I suppose it’s cool seeing the planet from the outside. And weightlessness can be fun.
But to me it’s a reminder of the great big nothing outside the safety of the ship.
And I use the word ‘safety’ loosely. So many things can go wrong out here, and the smallest of them can domino into disaster. Oxygen spewing into space, ship exploding, life sustaining supplies running out while stranded, you name it.
I hate space.
But I love setting foot on unexplored moons and planets. More than anything else in the world. Or outside the world, rather.
The biologists and geologists and archaeologists and such are in the back where they can’t see the stars except over a monitor. Lucky bastards. I’m looking straight out the forward window wishing I was back there with them.
But here I am, strapped onto a seat in the cockpit with the rest of the flight crew. I’m a Mission Specialist. My work really kicks in after we land, or if something goes wrong during flight. The captain and pilot will handle everything until we get where we’re going.
Unless something goes wrong. Please don’t let anything go wrong. Not on the last jump of the trip.
Captain Gilles presses three virtual buttons in succession. “We all set, Sharma?” she asks the pilot.
“Watkins, you okay?” asked Gilles.
“What? Oh, yes captain,” I say.
“You don’t look so good,” she says.
“Probably something I ate,” I lie.
“Space food isn’t for the weak of stomach,” she laughs.
I nod and smile in mock agreement.
We’ll be going into hyperspace soon. Where the smallest miscalculation could smash us against a moon or asteroid and turn us into space debris. Or hurl us into a star that would turn us to vapor. At least that would be quick. Quicker than suffocation. And way quicker than starvation.
Stop thinking about ways to die. Breathe. Deep breaths. In…out…in….
“Everyone hold on,” says Gilles. “On my mark. Three, two, one.”
I grip the arms of my seat.
Sharma hits a button then presses her hand onto a scanner and says the old-fashioned phrase, “Blast off.”
The stars blur into a mass of light punctuated by dark. An unpleasant pressure pins me to the seat. I feel like I’m spinning and falling, despite the fact that the ship’s going mostly straight and I can’t move.
My brain levitates out of my skull. Not really, but that’s what it feels like. I close my eyes and see my brain careening through the cabin, bouncing off the hard surfaces of the cockpit, leaving bits of goo everywhere. I open my eyes.
No brain, thankfully. But now I can see out the window again. Flashes of black and white and colors and black again.
A scream builds at the back of my throat. I stifle the audible noise. The mental noise continues.
When I think I can’t hold it together any longer, the ship comes out of hyperdrive. We are moving at a more friendly speed. Fast, but not brain-meltingly so. The pressure eases. The stars are points of light once again.
We’re approaching a celestial body. Several, in fact.
Gliese 667C is coming into view, although this red dwarf is not our destination. We’re headed for one of the planets it holds in its gravitational embrace.
As we get closer, I see two of the several planets that orbit the star. They are getting larger. The nearby twin stars hover in the distance. We pass one of the planets, and Gliese 667C f begins to take up the majority of our view.
Almost there. Just one more unpleasant step left.
“Prepare for drop,” says Gilles.
“Aye, Captain,” says Sharma.
I just nod and white-knuckle my armrests again.
We slow considerably, but there is no pause to ogle the planet from orbit. The logistics of the launch, arrival, and landing were worked out ahead of time and are playing out like a well-choreographed ballet, if ballets were really fast, scary, and potentially deadly.
I feel the sensation of falling again, but this time it’s real. The planet’s gravitational field is pulling us downward, faster and faster. The ship’s thrusters kick off and slow the descent. If all goes well, we set down with a slight jolt. If not, we’re splatter on a rock. Or in an ocean. Oh, god, don’t let us crash into liquid. We might survive a few seconds.
The thrusters get louder and louder, and the falling slows. My stomach jumps upward and settles back down. There is a jolt. And we are still.
Once again, my nemesis, the vast cold darkness of space, hasn’t killed me.
I unbuckle my harness, stand up, and stumble toward the nearest side viewport as Gilles and Sharma check the sensor readings and perform their final landing procedures.
The surface is pale terra cotta with hints of green and blue. The sky is a wash of orange and magenta. The red dwarf and the more distant twin suns all glow in the sky.
Beautiful. This is what it’s all about. After seeing the fantastic vistas filmed by the early interstellar explorers as a child, I could think of doing nothing else with my life. It’s just too bad about the space in between every new beauty.
“Time to suit up and escort the eggheads out onto this rock,” said Gilles.
I grin, in earnest this time, ready for the fun part.
About the Creator
Bernadette “Berni” Johnson is the author of The Big Book of Spy Trivia, many tech articles, movie reviews, short stories, and two novels in perpetual editing.
You can find her blog, other work, and mailing list at bernijohnson.com.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
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