Above The Pale Blue Dot
The greatest adventure of existence begins.
The message came through with its usual exuberant blip. Nothing incessant, just a single, almost celebratory sound before relying on the blinking green light to capture her attention. Robin watched the green light, deciding whether it was smart to listen to the message now or after the evening was over. If she left it, there was plausible deniability: there can’t be an “I told you so” if they hadn’t told her; but then again, Robin was never good at leaving things to the unknown.
Minutes passed and the ship may have traveled 900 miles, but the green light continued to wink at her. Robin was sure she noticed a shift and decided the light had become smug, and in a losing game of chicken, she pushed the adjacent button, and the light shut off. A nearby screen took a second before transmitting a grainy black and white video.
“Mission Control to Robin Kim, home message delivery,” radio from headquarters would rattle off the standard introductory message confirming privacy and the date of sending. The communications latency was expected, but the warning was as normal and as useless as “caution: contents hot” when ordering a cup of coffee.
By the time the video began, Robin's nerves tingled. She had mentioned the upcoming date almost by accident, in that it slipped out at the end having hesitated to share it sooner; therefore, guaranteeing its mention as the most memorable part of the call. She was sure this was why they were contacting her so soon after their last catch-up.
Her father sat in his thirty-some-year-old leather chair, while her mother bent her knees bobbing in and out of frame. The whole stance was unnerving as if she couldn’t decide whether to participate in the message or not. Robin took a deep breath, she regretted being so sensitive to the green light earlier. Her mother began, “So, you and Edgar Chui!”
Robin met Edgar at freshman year orientation over a decade ago. She remembered him being lanky and sociable. To be completely honest with herself, she remembers her first impression being an entirely likable one. But by the end of the first day of high school that impression had vanished completely, like bubbles in an abandoned soda. If anything, her feelings developed quite aggressively the other way with Edgar becoming a point of consistent tirade.
“It’s all too picturesque” she would tell her father. “Two Asians getting together … people wouldn’t understand we weren’t even from the same part of Asia. They just lump us into one big modern Pangea in their mind!”
“Has he expressed interest in dating you?” her father would ask.
“No no, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, that if he did, me saying yes would just seem narrow-minded.”
“Narrowed mind, eh?” her father would repeat nodding.
Robin’s mother would sigh and say, “Shouldn’t we all just stick together? Maybe don’t think so much, Robin, just focus on your studies and be nice”.
Robin didn’t understand why her mother couldn’t see that occasionally to focus on studying, someone had to be explicitly not nice, otherwise, threaten getting distracted. She believed that that one detail alone rendered the entire comment unsound. What did “sticking together” even mean, and from what? But before she could argue to the contrary, her father would gently put his hand up and the conversation would shift topic.
Robin cringed thinking back to it now. She had been incorrigible. She made a mental note to thank her father later for saving her from her own verbal tower of Babel.
“So, you and Edgar Chui! You were always so funny about him, your father and I always knew-”
Her father placed a hand on her mother’s knee and she stopped herself. Mr. Kim had been an officer in the army, and with his retirement came a way of speaking volumes in small gestures. He shifted slightly in his chair and took his wife’s hand.
“The voyage of love will only continue on, whether we acknowledge it or not. It is one of the greatest adventures of existence, and no man which expects to live a full life can expect to enjoy it without giving in to love - eventually.”
Her mother straightened her legs, her right arm and face suddenly dipping out of frame. Robin could swear her father’s eyes were twinkling, but the quality was too textured to say for sure. The video seemed frozen for a moment, then cut out.
Robin was in a daze, she wished she could sit down. There must have been some sort of disconnect from their last conversation, she thought. She and Edgar hadn’t even been on the date yet, so how could there be anything to acknowledge? She played it again while getting dressed.
Her eyes rolled listening to her mother’s misplaced enthusiasm. She looked at herself in the mirror, this was the first date in a while and she was going in shorts and a t-shirt. She sighed and put her hair up, microgravity would only make her look like Mrs. Frankenstein.
Her eyes shot back at the screen. Rarely did she find her father so suggestive but how stubborn did he think she was. “Don’t answer that” she whispered to herself and left her cabin.
Though Robin found her mother’s harp over studying vexing, she had always - silently - agreed. She wasn’t an academic shrew, but had discovered early on her obsession with information and unearthing the unknown. For a long time, she dreamed of becoming Indiana Jones. But Archaeology was eventually replaced by Space; the sands of time bygone overshadowed by the cosmos and the stars of a time to come.
After high school Robin and Edgar moved to opposite coasts, only reuniting again three years ago at the institution’s informal barbeque, a tradition welcoming recruits to training. Robin had been introduced as “one of this generation's young remarkables”. She rolled her eyes as if to say “what does that even mean anyway” but the impression of her dimples seemed to unmask any aloofness for something far more pleased.
She couldn’t remember Edgar’s introduction anymore but decided it was probably inadequate. Edgar was two days older than her and as ridiculous as that was, she felt embarrassed for feeling so flattered that evening. Edgar was, in a word, impressive. For one, he spoke six languages; where Robin only knew three - four on the days she attempted to stretch her select phrases of German. And two, he was effervescently nice, bordering on utterly charming.
She could feel her memory stretching trying to recall their interaction that evening when the doors wooshed open to the canteen. Edgar was already there.
“Coffee, fruit punch, or lemonade?” Edgar held up the pouches offering the options like a father at a picnic, his cargo shorts, and polo shirt completing the look.
“What, no Cheval-Blanc, a glass of Merlot maybe?” Robin quipped.
“Well, if you’re looking for a red we’ve got this lovely black currant, it comes in this pouch - you can even get the purple straw!” he presented the pouch like a sommelier, holding it by the neck and balancing it on his palm.
“Yes, I think that’ll do,” Robin giggled.
The meal consisted of Beef Stroganoff with Noodles and Chicken Teriyaki. Preparing the food felt a bit like middle school science, in that a little water needed to be injected into the package before the meal could be squeezed out. Silver containers and velcro hooks kept everything from flying away and Robin couldn’t help but feel young. She teased Edgar for his orange-pineapple drink, his fringe floating static above his head, while Edgar unpeeled her velcroed packet of carrot sticks and apples, making Orion’s belt out of flying fruit and veg. Robin’s dimples deepened as the two talked science and silliness.
They were debating the criteria of “being a foodie”, which Edgar posited was not yet achievable while residing in Space. Robin vehemently disagreed.
“I’d say any enthusiasm in food, the willingness to try new dishes and general opinionatedness is borderless”
“I’m not sure much enthusiasm can come from rehydrated Chicken Teriyaki,” Edgar said holding up his now empty tin.
“I mean, (a) you’ve eaten it all and (b) that’s an opinion! I’d even go so far as to say, you might be the biggest foodie out here. I mean, you’re showing major signs of enthusiasm to get back and have what you clearly deem superior food”
Edgar beamed, like a good ribbing he had always traded the typical locker room talk for a good mental spar. Robin had never disappointed.
“I’ll have to get back to you on my rebuttal. Clearly my AP language and culture class is not up to snuff against a background in scholastic debate teams.” Edgar held his hands up, “Your head deep in books, mine in the clouds - funny how that led to the same place.”
“Is that a put-down?” Robin asked, searching for sarcasm.
“No no no! Not intentionally” Edgar laughed, “but it’s definitely a compliment to me”
Robin twinged inside thinking of how much she must have missed dismissing him in school.
“Want to go for a swim?”
Robin shook her thoughts away, bringing her mind back down to Space. Her “yes” shooting out like a cork out of a wine bottle: suddenly and slightly explosive.
The two slipped into their white spacesuits and floated out by the ship. Edgar joked that gravity was the only thing holding him back from a career in breakdancing, while Robin offered stunning attempts at beatboxing. They both agreed that David Bowie was the only artist you could play in Space who sang about Space.
It was a smooth interaction, effortless. The date was going down like a fine wine.
Edgar was butchering the lyrics to “Space Oddity” when suddenly gravity seemed to take hold of Robin’s heart. A quarter of a million miles away from Earth and prying ears, and all she could muster was “look at that” as love landed firmly upon her chest.
“How silly,” she thought to herself, desperately trying to be pragmatic about this great new feeling.
“Look at what?” Edgar had stopped singing.
But as Robin looked back up hoping to refocus herself she noticed that everything had changed. From different angles Edgar’s helmet was reflective, but at this moment she could see his goofy smile, the way he floated there like the most glorious galactic Michelin man.
Robin couldn’t help but challenge her father’s earlier claim. This feeling was undeniable. Eventually was now and completely impossible to ignore.
They say when you look up at the stars, that many people find themselves small - shrinking even - against an ever-expanding universe. But up amongst the stars, Robin looked down at the little pale blue dot and knew that this feeling was larger than any universe could hold.
A year could have passed since Edgar asked his question, but Robin finally stretched out her hand setting her glove into his.
“Taking in the great unknown,” she said as they floated on across the stars.