A Mission to Venus
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Precisely why Jack thought that space could be her perfect new home. The majority of her relationships have all been ruined by her psychic abilities, or, as she prefers to call them, her "tormentors" anyways.
No lost souls, no problem, right?
Helping those who had croaked and those who were still pulsating became too much... But space? The less humanity Jack could interact with, the better. This first voyage would prove that there is a place in this world she can call home and feel it! To breathe freely, to think clearly, and to be genuinely alone once and for all...
Entering Earth’s orbit from the ground had been simple enough that morning, in the self-sustaining X3-777k shuttle, one which Jack had dubbed "Finally" after almost naming it "Home." The automated tech on board left no cause for directional or frankly any concern. For three space days, Jack would orbit Earth, then engage protocol to head for Venus. Since Jack was the only human aboard, she was granted permission to bring a few personal items. A weighted blanket. A nearly blank journal. A hand-made quartz bejeweled dreamcatcher. One mechanical pencil, and of course, her amethyst pendulum.
After running all the necessary tests and analytics of the environment and shuttle, Jack craved a nap in her new home. Home..... A home of peace, of freedom, of pure unadulterated silence.
Jack had called down to Marty back at base to inform them of her delectably drowsy plan, downed a warm mug of chamomile tea, and gracefully placed her eye mask over her already soft grey blanket-covered face. Alas... the pure silence said to haunt many an astronaut, infiltrated her slowly and deeply disconnecting presence... One had never dozed with such sublime serenity and peace, as in this moment...
'Serenity'...Jack thought, slipping out of consciousness...'i should have named y-'...
Nearly nine hours later, Jack awoke to the same silence she had melted into experiencing for the first time. "So, this is what peace feels like..." Jack murmured while stretching, breathing in a new sense of gratitude for her life. For the first time in her life, she had slept without earplugs…and fear of the deceased.
A sudden crescendoed scream echoed through the Finally, shocking Jack back under her covers; but not in time to miss a fully dressed astronaut spinning and violently hurdling thru one wall and out through the other side. Her freedom. Her illusion. Her silence...had ended.
'An entity in fucking space. Who the hell was he!?' Jack screamed internally. Saddened, she asked herself "What if he's not the only one... What if all of this... This job, this distance, this bullshit was for nothing!?" She sobbed into her pillow before attempting to fling it across the room violently, only to be defied by a lack of gravity.
"Fuck it! At least I'll be out of this orbit and away from another tormentor soon enough!" Jack yelled, collecting herself and preparing for the day ahead.
"Jack 317 to base, over..."
"Base to Jack 317, welcome back to the land of the living! Did you sleep that whole time?"
"Yea yea Marty, I promised you a full eight hours and gave you nine. I warned you, didn't I?"
"Well, congrats on setting that record. Most astronauts deal with sleep deprivation. Systems are all checking out a-okay... You're still on course for a perfect trip!" Marty sounded excited as usual. He and Jack had clicked pretty quickly when she entered the program. 'Just two orphans making our dreams come true!' He would say whenever he introduced her to a colleague. Marty admittedly dreamed of doing exactly what Jack was signed up for, but he had taken a different path and started his own family just before they met. Jane and the kids were nice and all, but Jack knew she might only miss Marty and the family dog, Diesel.
'Dare I ask about the astronaut that interrupted my peace?' Jack thought to herself, 'the mortality rate over the past two thousand years can't be too insane.' Alas, she decided that she'd rather not know more about the intruder.
"Listen. Marty, I know things move a little faster down there, but make sure you get in touch before that retirement party of yours, alright? We both know I wouldn't have made it this far without you."
"Ha! I knew you cared, kid. Don't worry, I'll find a way back on base the day you land."
"Roger. Over and out?"
"Back to sleep already Jack? We'll need you to check back soon."
"No, I'll stay up and catch that view you kept going on about. I'll check back. Jack 317 of the Finally, over a-" Jack gasped loudly as once more the rogue ghost of an astronaut pierced the silence of her shuttle. This time Jack made a mistake she couldn't turn back from. Their eyes met and the shock on his face, made Jack’s face instantly reflect fear, and then regret. For the first time in, who knows how long his scream changed from blood-curdling and pointless, into rushed and anguished, "PLEASE HEL-!"
"Jack?! Jack, what's wrong? Your systems are all healthy. Is there something we're not picking up on our end?"
"No," Jack hyperventilated and recovered her breath…“No Marty. I thought I saw something but it was just a brief hallucination…”
“Sounds like we need to run the tests on you instead then Jack. Do you want me to walk you through the procedure?”
Jack’s health check all came back fine and gave her all the time needed to think. To remember. To decide… to save the mystery astronaut… ‘Out of all the souls I’ve met, I can’t imagine one more desperate than this one…’ Jack forlornly thought to herself. Many spirits haunted a chosen path, part or piece of their breathing life, but in her experience, their ends, last breaths, and moments always involved…gravity? Earth, and property and emotion… What could tie this rogue to this plane? Living on as a phantom, ghost, or preferably to them, as a spirit, has always seemed like their choice. Unless that is, the spirit becomes so terribly entrenched in their emotions that they end up more like a record on repeat than a fragment of a soul who is able to interact, watch and live on.
Trapping a spirit and eventually releasing them can be done in many ways. It’s honestly surprising he hadn’t managed to wrangle a tiny meteorite or cling to a smidge of Earth within the hardware of any previous passing shuttle. The hardest part will be asking him for silence. Jack could imagine that after even just a few years, a soul may go insane, especially given his tragic circumstance. Perhaps all of Jack’s good karma had been used to get her aboard the Finally… There was no time to speak privately to Marty, so Jack wrapped up her health, shuttle, and environment checks, and moved as quickly as she could back to her room. The simple, hand-made dreamcatcher would need to catch an astronaut today…
After some quick calculations and a lick of intuition, Jack determined that he should hurdle through the section she called Paradise at any second… Armed with her dreamcatcher, Jack did her best to breathe calmly.
“Come on Space Ghost… you better fly through here and not just the other side of Paradise…” Jack proclaimed… She had dubbed the Plant, Sustenance, and Rejuvenation room ‘Paradise’ rather than the semi-traditional and overbearingly religious name others chose: Eden. Her bed, of course, just so happened to be subsequently referred to as ‘Little Paradise.’ Looking out the window, she caught a glimmer of strange movement! Jack quickly aligned herself with the hurdling object, hoping it was the space ghost and not just some meteorite coming to ruin her equipment.
“PLEEEEEASE!” He screamed in torment, only to be silenced and captured simultaneously by a small quartz crystal on Jack’s dreamcatcher.
Still startled, Jack gazed into the dreamcatcher, deliberately determining which crystal had caught him… ‘Ah! There’s that special glimmer!’ Satisfied with the capture, Jack took a deep breath, and said aloud, “Now then, when you’re ready to come out, you may, but I have rules on my ship… do you understand?”
Silence… ‘He must be terrified of flying off again’ Jack thought.
“Look, this may be my first interaction with a space ghost, but I’ve had more experiences with spirits than anyone would wish for in a hundred lifetimes. You shouldn’t just go flying off now that I’ve caught you, ok?”
In the glint of his quartz, the astronaut emerged and shakily floated before Jack. “Ah! Now then, you’re safe and done screaming. Well, you’re as safe as a space ghost can be, I guess… I’m Jack. We’re headed for Venus in a few days, then back down to Earth. The year I launched was 3,969 and we will be landing in the ever-insane US of A. As I mentioned, there are rules aboard my ship, as it is my home. What is your name?”
After a brief pause, “It’s been nearly sixteen hundred years…” The astronaut said, grieving the loss of all he knew. Jack gave him some time to process and asked “I’m sorry, would you like some time to yourself? You just have to touch your quartz again… We can talk later?” She said, with deep empathy for the man behind the space suit.
“No, no…” he said, removing his helmet and wiping his tears. “I’m Ives Reginald Ripley, Knight of Her Majesty, Queen Loreigna…who has passed, along with everyone I’ve ever known…and hoped to…” Ives stated forlornly, in a British accent. His billowing, greying eyebrows drew further attention to his pale blue eyes. “It’s been nearly sixteen hundred years and I’m afraid I’m still new to this whole ghost thing, M’Lady.”
“That’s understandable, you’ve had no one to show you the ropes, or well, no one at all.” Jack couldn’t understand why she felt shy but reminded herself that this was her home now, and she needed to lay down the law. “Ives, welcome aboard the “Finally.” I named her as such because this shuttle is the first place I knew I would feel alone, and at home. This is going to be a few months’ trip if, no, when, it all goes well. So! Are you willing to be a comrade, or will you spend the entirety of our voyage in your quartz?”
Without much hesitation, Ives agreed, “Yes! Yes, I will be the utmost gentleman. What are your terms Captain?”
“Right. Firstly, if I ask for space and silence, you must enter your crystal without hesitation. Secondly, you are allotted ten questions per visit. Thirdly,… well, if I decide on more rules from there, you’ll be the first to know about it.” Jack said with a slight smile while rolling her eyes.
“Right-o, M’Lady! I thank you deeply for my capture and your camaraderie!” Ives’ vision trailed off behind Jack as if tracking the view of something.
“Please don’t tell me there’s about to be another spirit hurdling through my window.”
“No, no, none that would reach us, sadly. According to history, the Russians sent a few dogs into space well before humans. I’ve sworn I’ve heard a rousing bark or two in my time up here.”
Jack peered behind them and through the windows of the shuttle, out into the void of space. “Should we encounter a dog’s spirit, we will welcome it aboard with open arms, ok Ives?”
“Thank you, Captain.” He said with a less forlorn, but still toothless smile. Ives had an experienced demeanor, one that seemed to almost show all the time he had spent spinning in space. “Might I save my questions for our next visit? It has been so long since my world wasn’t spinning before me.”
“Yes, of course. I have more tasks to attend to, so feel free to roam the ship for now. I will request you stay out of my quarters though, unless you hear barking, that is…”
“Indeed. I am greatly indebted to you, Captain, I shall retire.” Ives said, exhausted, and evaporating into his quartz. Jack hung the dreamcatcher in the center of the room, so Ives could manifest when ready without fear of touching the windows.
‘Peace…silence once more…’ Jack thought while breathing deeply. ‘Silence…with a shuttle-mate… This may be the last thing I expected. Shit, space is making you soft Jack… Maybe Marty slipped something into my tea before take-off.’ Jack jokingly thought to herself.
Ives seemed to be enjoying the peace and stability of his new home. Jack left him alone until it was almost time for their departure from Earth’s atmosphere. Even after all of her extensive training, Jack didn’t want to be entirely alone. She brought the dreamcatcher up to the cockpit and tapped lightly on his crystal. Ives appeared beside her, looking younger and in a striped navy suit and tie.
“Looks like you’re getting the hang of being a spirit, Ives! I appreciate your respect for my rules. We’re due to leave Earth’s orbit and shoot for Venus today, so I thought you might want one last glimpse of Earth while we’re still this close… aaaaand maybe you wouldn’t mind staying with me as I initiate our atmospheric departure?”
“I...uh…may be a bit accustomed to a different millennia’s set of technology, but I’ve got you for emotional support!” Ives boasted with an almost worried hesitation.
“I’ll be calling base in a moment. Please remember I won’t be able to talk to you or anything while on the call.”
“Right, right, Earth, yes, of course, Captain. I shall be the epitome of politeness! The embodiment of—!”
“Jack 317 to base, over…”
“Base to Jack 317, ready for your big day Jack?”
“All systems in the green… Finally’s trajectory is perfectly timed to assimilate with Venus’ atmosphere… All fuel and other gauges are-“
The faintest bark was cause for pause, and Jack locked eyes with Ives immediately! Ives reached for the dreamcatcher only to be denied the ability to hold it. His physical capabilities had yet to be practiced, and now was no time for a lesson!
“Marty! How long do I have until I need to press buttons!?”
“Uh two minutes Jack, but now really isn’t the time to leave-“
“I’ll float right back!” Jack yelled while snagging the dreamcatcher. Ives had already left the cockpit in search of the dog and called back to her, “Quickly! You must make it back to the garden! Where you caught me!”
Jack rushed to set a timer for forty-five seconds and climbed Finally’s through-ways. This took a full twenty seconds, as the barking grew louder, echoing back towards her.
“Hurry! It’s almost in the garden!” Ives yelled with a view from a throughway window.
“I’m almost there!” Jack yelled back, turning into Paradise in time to see a fur-covered, skimpy body start to fade through the wall. Jack forced herself at the wall as hard as possible, reaching the dreamcatcher towards a tiny back paw…reaching it just in time!
A different quartz crystal, close to the center of the dreamcatcher, glinted brightly among the empties, just as Jack’s alarm blared from her watch. Marty’s voice, too, blared through its speaker…
“Jack! The calculations were off! You’ve less time than we thought. We need you to get back now!” Marty sounded too serious. Serious enough to lead Jack to believe that her mission was up on the big screen, being watched by dozens of directors and scientists. ‘Fuck, I’m sorry Marty!’ Jack thought to herself.
“Yes, sir, we had a brief impact on the sustenance area’s weak point that I couldn’t leave unchecked. I’m almost ready to initiate departure. Please begin the countdown.” Jack was climbing fast enough to give herself a rush of adrenaline. Ives stared intensely at the screen, clearly wishing he could find any way to assist.
“Ten…nine…” Marty counted for all, doing his best to keep others focused on logistics, rather than the fact that Jack was just buckling now and clearly behind in her required procedure. “Eight…seven…” Jack closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began initiating the steps required to leave Earth’s atmosphere. “Six…five…” Ives looked on agape as Jack took the helm at full focused speed, clearly trying to catch up with Marty’s countdown. “Four… three…” The entire shuttle began to come to life as the next stage of rockets and propellants slowly turned the Finally towards her gaseous pale blue target. “Two… one…” Marty had been glued to Jack’s camera and nearly teared up as her actions synced perfectly with his final count. While a cheer and clapping came over the mic, Marty clearly sighed in relief.
“Well done, kid… You’re off to Venus now.”
“Comms are only good every how often on your end, Marty?” Jack sighed in relief, hoping her prior calculations were off…
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that now kid. You know how fast things move down here. Hey! While I have you on! Let me introduce you to a few new kids, huh? I’ve got Millie and Vic here, they’re both going to be working with you for a while too!” Jack could hear the slight heartache in Marty’s voice and started to tear up.
“You better be there when I land Marty. That’s an order from an orphan astronaut!” Jack yelled back through the mic. ‘He’ll be there…Marty’s always there…’ Jack thought, trying to comfort herself… “That view was as beautiful as you said, Marty. I’m going to have a lot to tell you in a few months…” Marty was one of the few people that stayed in her life despite the consistent awkwardness of her abilities… He knew more about her past, how she lived, and everything than she thought anyone ever would.
“Alright kid, we’re back to you and me on the comms. What the hell were you thinking back there?”
“Marty, I don’t know if you would believe the coincidences I’ve been dealing with…” Jack’s tired eyes met Ives’ who took this glance as his queue to high-tail it back into his crystal.
“I doubt I could, Jack. Comms will be down for a while, I’ll be down here waiting so don’t you dare miss a chance to fill me in! You’ll still journal it all for me, right?”
“Ha! Yea, I’ll have to get back on that after my next nap.” Jack smiled as she gazed up at the twinkling dreamcatcher, with two dazzling quartz that shimmered like diamonds… Jack’s daydream of this new home had been shattered so quickly, and yet, she still felt at peace about what Venus and this adventure had in store for her… ‘An old Brit and a dog…ghosts at that…in fucking space…my space! Ugh.’ She thought to herself and smiled.
“What’s that smile for?”
“Oh, nothing I could explain now… I’m ready to doze again Marty, any last words?” Jack smiled at him, tilted her head back, and breathed in the ship's oxygen slowly.
“Yea!” Marty said, then looked around to see if anyone was paying attention…
“How’s it feel to finally be alone?”