Big Earth Journals
You should write more. (A Giant Leap story.)
Author's note: Big Earth Journals features characters that were introduced in Space Diner Proposal and featured in Alien Honeymoon. You are invited to acquaint yourself with them by reading those stories here on Vocal:
Big Earth Journals
"Babe, you're shaking so hard you're rattling my bones." Dermond pulled the rough, gray wool blanket he had brought from the lodge tight around his new wife and himself. "Come inside. You've been standing out here for hours."
"I—I can't stop loo-loo-looking at it." Larissa's teeth chattered as she gazed up at the undulating curtain of green light. "It's so beautiful."
"So, have you gotten over being frightened of not having a titanium hull protecting you?"
Larissa tore her eyes away from the glowing sky just long enough to glance into her husband's eyes. "I'm still kind of terrified. I had no idea how huge the Earth is. And there's no ceiling! But all of this—the mountains, the forest, the snow, and now, seeing the aurora—I'm too overwhelmed by all of it to remember how scared it makes me. I never imagined the aurora would be so big when you're looking up from below it. And I'm seeing all these things while standing on a frozen pond. I'm standing on ice! How cool is that?"
"Extremely cool. In fact, cold. You need to go inside and sit next to the fire."
Larissa pouted even as she trembled.
"I'm serious," said Dermond. "You could get frostbite and lose some toes."
She twisted to look back up the slope toward the inviting lodge. "I don't know if I can walk that far," she said, teeth chattering.
Dermond shook his head. "Girl, I told you you've been out here too long. Okay, up we go."
Larissa gasped as he swung her into his arms. "Oops!"
She grimaced and tried to gather the blanket. "Don't squeeze me."
"Don't—" He looked at her suspiciously. "Did you just pee?"
Planting her face against his chest, Larissa squeaked, "A little."
Dermond snorted and grinned. "Everyone inside's going to get a chuckle out of this."
"No! You can't tell anyone—and don't make me laugh!"
"Okay, I won't. I also have something important to tell you. I didn't just come out to get you because I thought you were getting too cold. Even though that's a pretty important reason."
"We have to go home early because we're running out of money? I know this has turned into an expensive honeymoon."
"Not exactly. I got a message from the office of Egan Oxby. If we're willing, he'd like us to stay on Earth for a while longer and—well, become part of his entourage, basically. You'll join him on stage at some promotional events where he intends to foster more international support for The Giant Leap project."
"Me? With the Egan Oxby?"
"Both of us, but mostly you. He thinks people will flock to meet the first baby born in space. That is, if you're interested at all in flying to London on the world's richest man's private jet. And Paris. And Stockholm, Berlin, Madrid, Athens …"
Larissa's jaw dropped. "If I'm interested? Yes, yes, yes!"
As soon as Larissa emerged from the restroom, the other lodge guests waved for her to join them in front of the large fireplace. She shot a grateful smile at Millie, the hostess, who pointed her to the empty seat nearest the fire.
"It's just another one of their bogus publicity stunts," sneered Big Dan. "They're just trying to get in the news again with some event that didn't actually happen so the rich guy can get government contracts. Then he launders the money and puts it into politicians' reelection coffers, and they approve more contracts. It's a vicious, corrupt cycle."
"What didn't happen?" asked Larissa.
"Evidently there's been a collision," said Dermond.
"Yeah, nothing collided with nothing, and taxpayers are going to have to pay to have some oversized wallets replenished," Big Dan scoffed.
Millie chimed in. "Tyler said he saw a report on the Internet that one of those shuttles crashed into the space station they've been building."
Larissa gripped the arm of her chair. "No," she whispered. "When? How?"
"A few minutes ago. But he said he's having problems staying connected, so he didn't give us many details."
"They'll make up the details later, after they decide how they're going to bilk the taxpayers," said Big Dan.
"What's your problem, Big Dan?" asked Dermond. "Don't you care that people might've been injured in this?"
"Nobody's been injured, because there's nothing up there. This supposed space colonization project is all a scam."
After staring at Big Dan with her mouth agape for several seconds, Larissa said, "Nothing up there? You don't think The Giant Leap is real? That's where I live. I was born there!"
"Yeah, right." Big Dan rolled his eyes.
A lean, wiry teenager appeared at the top of the basement steps with a piece of paper in his hand. "Nothing else seems to be loading, but I was able to print the first half of this story from—oh, hi Larissa, did you decide to come in?"
"You can print whatever you want, kid, you're not going to convince me it's anything but a boondoggle." Big Dan tossed another log onto the fire and positioned it with the poker.
"Mind if I have a look, Tyler?" asked Dermond. He scanned the page, checked the back, and rescanned it before his eyes met Larissa's.
"What's it say?" Her voice quavered.
"Docking procedure gone wrong. At least one fatality. No names."
"Where's the phone? I have to call Dad!" Larissa panted. "I have to make sure he and Mom are okay."
Big Dan leaned against the mantle and cast a disdainful look at her. "Good Lord. These people are crisis actors. Listen, you don't have to put on a show for just us out in the wilderness."
"What show? People I care about are in danger, and—"
"Let it go, babe." Dermond laid a hand on Larissa's shoulder and glared at the bulky man. "But I'm not going to. Big Dan, if there's anything you can be doing right now other than insulting my wife, I suggest you go do it."
"Or what, little man? Nevermind, I'm done watching this sideshow. Millie, do you mind if I make myself a sandwich in the kitchen?"
"Help yourself," Millie said tersely. "And you can eat it in there, too. Remember, being a regular guest at my lodge doesn't grant you license to be rude to newer guests." She pursed her lips and watched him disappear down the hallway.
The fire crackled, and the new log fell against the back wall of the fireplace, sending up sparks.
"I believe you," Tyler said. "I want to go to space camp next summer, or maybe the summer after that. I'm saving up for it."
Millie's smile didn't conceal her concern. "That's our goal. He split a lot of firewood this year, for us and for most of our neighbors."
Larissa stood up. "Can I use your phone?"
"Phone's out," said Tyler. "That's probably why I lost Internet connection."
"But we still have electric," said Larissa, glancing at the lights in the room.
Tyler shrugged. "My guess is that a branch fell and snapped the data service cable, but it wasn't heavy enough to—" As he spoke, the lodge's great room went dark except for the firelight. "Then again, I could be wrong."
"Do you have a cell phone I could use?"
"We don't get service out here at the lodge," said Millie. "Edward will drive you into town first thing in the morning."
Larissa sighed and retrieved the blanket Dermond had draped over the end of the banister. "I'm going back outside for little while. Come with me?"
"You won't see The Giant Leap from here," Dermond said. "Even if we weren't too far north, the trees would probably still block the view." He grabbed his heavy coat from the rack by the entry.
She bobbled her head, and a single tear traced down her cheek. "I know. I need to see the stars. And I'm gonna have a little talk with the maker of those stars and tell him I need for my daddy and my mama to be safe right now."
"That—I can do with you."
The pair crunched through the snow to stand on the frozen pond. With the remnants of the green glow dissipating, the stars twinkled more brightly.
"Like diamonds thrown across black velvet," murmured Larissa.
"Is this the kind of thing you write in your journal?"
"Everything. I want our grandchildren to know what it was like to experience Earth. I feel like I would have missed so much if I hadn't been able to tell them about this. You should be keeping a journal, too."
"I write stuff down. Sometimes."
"More. You should write more." Larissa ducked under Dermond's arm and rested her head against his chest. "With a world this beautiful, how do some people get to be so—weird, and hostile? I mean, Big Dan tonight and those people down in Houston who called me alien freak just because I was born in space?"
"I don't know, Riss. That's just how some people are."
"How do you deal with them?"
"You just live your life with all the integrity you can muster, I guess. Stand for the truth. Do what's right rather than what's easy, even if it costs you. And if other people are crazy, I don't really have any control over that. My main responsibility is with how sane I am, not with how insane they are. That's what Dad taught me, in a nutshell. Oh, and be kind to alien freaks. Oof. Hey, those were my ribs."
"Call me alien freak again, and I'll break more than just your ribs, Buster," Larissa mock-growled.
Dermond squeezed her shoulder and kissed the top of her head.
"What are we going to tell people if we go on tour with Egan Oxby to promote the colonization project?" asked Larissa. "Somebody died today. Everyone will be scared to go, because they'll think it's so dangerous."
"Not Tyler in there. He still wants to go to space camp." Dermond pointed upward. "Look, falling star." After a pause, he continued. "People die on Earth every day, for lots of different reasons. We take calculated risks, and—well, even if we beat all the odds when we're doing dangerous activities, we all die in the end. This is the first fatality we've had on The Giant Leap project in around fifteen years. Sure, some people will become paranoid and hide in their basements, but I think most people will recognize the track record and not let one accident keep them grounded."
Larissa inhaled a deep breath of the crisp winter air and let it out slowly. "You're probably right. And I'm ready to go inside. I don't want to get chilled like I did earlier."
"I don't want you to, either. It's my job now to keep my alien freak safe and warm," Dermond said with a low chuckle.