The Royal Space Force
When The Universe Answers
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. For James Hogg, that was more than enough motivation to keep his boots on planet Earth. But it seemed like he was the only one in Forrest City who felt that way. Representatives from the newly established Royal Space Force were scheduled to discuss career opportunities on the intergalactic space station; all afternoon classes for H.B. High School were canceled for the event.
"God, I hate assemblies," he complained during lunch. "James, you cannot tell me you aren't the least bit excited," Marisa said, "We could be the generation that actually meets another intelligent race on their planet. How can you be so blasé about this?" "What are the odds they're the same kind of assholes as the people on our planet?" James asked sardonically. "Ugh" was her only response. Lately 'space talk' had been a powder keg in their relationship.
"Is your dad coming today?" James asked. "No. He said something about being needed on the base. He's sending two corporals instead." "So, no one will notice if we ditch then?" James asked and she sighed. "Ditch to do what, James?" She asked, "Last time we ditched we got caught, remember?" "No one will know, it's not like they take attendance at these things," James said, "We could go see a movie; we'll have the theater all to ourselves." She was reluctant but couldn't help mirroring his smile. "You, me, a bag of popcorn between us, and an afternoon in a dark room? Come on Mar, what do you say?" She smiled again and James knew he won her over. "Alright, you're on. But we better not get caught," she said.
While the school body began filing back inside after the lunch bell rang, James and Marisa climbed into his car. "I hope you realize I'm picking the movie," she said. "Oh, I already factored that into the plan," he smiled back as they drove out of the school parking lot. "Freedom," he thought; the shrinking school in the rear-view mirror filled him with excitement. "Watch out!" Marisa screamed and James slammed on the breaks. A flagged, olive-green g-wagon stopped as James nearly crashed into it while he was lost in his daydreams. CFB Stanton was painted on the driver's door. Out of the back stepped Colonel Russ Richter, and he did not look the least bit happy. "I thought you said-," James began. "Get your ass out here, Marisa," The Colonel yelled when his eyes fell on her. Without hesitation she exited and stood in front of her father. He had never been abusive to Marisa, at least not that James had seen, but he always had a commanding hold over her.
"I thought I could trust you this time," he said, "You promised me no more bullshit. Now you’re ditching school again with him." James, still in the car, wasn't worth a look from the Colonel, just a thumb jerk. "I thought you weren't going to be here today," Marisa said. "And that gives you permission to throw your life away? Get in the car, Marisa. This one," he said, indicating the g-wagon. With a long look at James, Marisa obeyed. But The Colonel wasn't done; He approached James' driver window. "And what's your excuse?" He asked. "I'm just no damn good?" James shrugged sarcastically. "Pathetic," The Colonel said, "how many more chances do you think you'll get before they lock you away. I don't give a rat’s ass if you want to drag your life down into the gutter, but don't drag her down with you. She has a future; you seem content pissing yours away."
The Colonel walked back to his g-wagon but had pulled out his cell phone and James had a bad feeling after they drove past him. Sure enough, his own phone chimed, and his fears were ratified. "James," his mother sounded quite angry, "I just got a call from Mr. Richter next door; he says your ditching class again?" "It's just a stupid assembly, mom, it's not a big deal," James said. She didn't answer right away; he hated when she did that. "James," she finally said, "you're seventeen now; I can't stop you from doing what you want to do. But if you get into trouble again, then that is it. I'm sorry that things have been rough lately, but I can't help you." "Mom," James said feeling guilty. "You keep saying you hate this town," she continued, "well, you’re throwing away the few remaining opportunities you have to get out of Forrest. But you do what you want; it's your life. I have to get back to work."
Ever since his dad left, James felt a part of his mother left too. But she worked two jobs and always managed to have food in the fridge, even if she wasn't always there to eat with him. "God damn it," he sighed, turning his car around. He could at least hear what the space nerds had to say.
"As you no doubt had heard on the news, three months ago NASA received direct communications from Veruvian 6, a planet located on the other side of the universe, which just so happens to have similar properties to Earth," Corporal Ellies spoke to the room. Images of the planet and its inhabitants flickered across the large projector overhead. "The Veruvian's share a similar build to the human body, in that they have two legs, two arms, and one head. However, their evolution path has given them wings, no doubt to navigate the rocky terrain of their world."
James listened from the very back but a tug on his shoulder and the stench of over-used cologne told him his friend Mike had found him. "What's up dip-shit, I thought you were planning on ditching with the space princess today. What happened?" He whispered. James pointed to the stage; Marisa sat front row, where her father could keep one eye on her. "Take a look at how that worked out," James said. "Oh," Mike said, "Daddy sniffed out your plan, huh. Probably for the best." "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" James asked loudly and indignantly. "Hogg, Richards, stop talking NOW!" It was Mr. Donnelly, their chemistry teacher. Only he could invoke such fury without raising his voice above a whisper. "Where did he come from?" Mike mouthed but James could only shrug. No one, not even the other teachers, liked Mr. Donnelly; there were no need for bullies at H.B. High when that angry man stalked the hallways.
"In addition to giving us a plethora of information about space travel that we did not have before, The Veruvians are working closely with our scientists to produce the first ever space shuttle capable of venturing through a wormhole, soon to be christened 'The Sisyphus'," Corporal Spaz continued from Ellies, "which, when passed through, will bring the shuttle, and its crew, within travel distance to Veruvian 6. Once contact is made in the Veruvian capital city, pronounced in English as Tashkelloth, the crew will report back their findings. The whole voyage is expected to last two years Earth time. I'll pass it off to Colonel Richter." "Thank you, Corporals Spaz, Ellies," The Colonel said, "The Government of Canada, in joint effort with international cooperation, has created one of the most expensive military operations since World War Two, The Royal Space Force. Now I know the name isn't very exciting, but we are looking to recruit as many hands as possible. Many of the trades available will be technical in nature. All recruits will be placed where we find them most useful, but all training will be hands on. Each member will also have training in combat, both in and out of zero gravity."
"So, what the hell do you mean, 'probably for the best?'" James whispered to Mike when he was sure Donnelly was out of ear shot. "Come on, James," Mike said, "Do you even pay attention to your girlfriend. She's daddy's girl. I bet you she'll be the first person in line to enlist." James looked down at Marisa; she certainly didn't look unhappy to be where she was. "She can do what she wants," James said coolly, "What about you, are you signing up?" "Me?" Mike laughed, "Can you see my tubby butt floating around a space shuttle. No sir, I'll be taking over my dad's restaurant. Good enough for me. And we both know you won't be enlisting. That requires you to give damn-ah ah ahh," Mike stammered. James winced too; old man Donnelly had secured a vice grip on their earlobes so tight James thought his was going to tear off. "I've had it with you two disrespectful bastards," he growled, "out you go."
There was no hiding from the crowd, as heads turned to see who Donnelly was chucking out. James caught the Colonel's disapproving eye before being tossed into the hallway. "It goes without saying, there are limited spaces on The Sisyphus; only those who prove themselves to be the best will secure a spot. Unfortunately, not everyone is cut out for this kind of adventure. Those who lack the aptitude need not apply."
It was getting late when the rest of the student body left the auditorium. James spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in his car, finishing off a pack of cigarettes. His phone chimed and it was Marisa. "We need to talk," was all the text said. He replied, and when he saw her approaching in the rear-view mirror he exited and leaned against the door. She had a stoic look to her that he found damning. "You signed up, didn't you," he said. She nodded. "James, this has been fun," she said, "but it's time to look to the future. I don't think it's worth it to continue with...us. I'll be leaving for space training at the end of the school year and you'll...well I just don't know where you'll be." "So that's it huh," James said, "Daddy speaks, and you listen?" "Christ," Marisa rolled her eyes, "This isn't about him, James, why can't you see that? This is a tremendous opportunity to see the universe; to unravel the mysteries that have stumped humans since we became self-aware."
Neither of them talked for a moment. "What?" Marisa finally said. "Nothing," James responded. "I know that look, James; you've got something to say, now's the time." "I just don't think that the universe provides any answers, only more questions. In the end, you'll be in the same place you were when you left," James said, "we all will be." Marisa sighed deeply. "Maybe you're right, but I can't pass up the opportunity to try. I hope you find something worth living for James, I really do." She began to walk back towards the school. "Mar, wait," he called, "I can be more than just nothing. Please, I can be more than what your dad thinks of me; what everyone thinks of me." She smiled back at him. "Actions speak louder than words. Goodbye James." And with that, she was gone.
The next few days were not good to James. He hardly ate and didn't even bother going to school. If he wasn't spending his time driving around town, he was walking around the mall, or sitting in front of his computer. It was a cycle he just couldn’t break. "Hey you! Aren't you the guy that got kicked out of the assembly at H. B. High? The one dating the Colonel's daughter, right?" James was mildly annoyed to see Corporal Ellies at the mall, sitting at a recruitment booth. The last thing he wanted to think about was Marisa, or space for that matter. "What are you doing here?" James asked. "The R.S.F. thought the mall would be a great place to recruit some more lost souls," Ellies said, "So what's up kid, you got a taste for space?"
"Have you even been up there?" James asked, pointing his eyes up towards the sky. "Sure have," Ellies said, "Basic training is conducted at Stanton; your average army know how. But the rest of your training will be on the intergalactic space station. Here," he handed James a pamphlet. "Is it worth it?" James asked as he vaguely looked at the images of troops in training. "Hell yeah, it's worth it. This job is what you make of it, kid. If you've got the drive, you can go far. But I'll promise you this: it's like nothing you've ever done before. The first time I saw Earth from space I cried. I'm not even ashamed to admit it," Ellies said, "And the pay is not bad either."
On the poster behind the booth was The Royal Space Force logo, a silhouette of a shuttle against the moon, with a tiny space man walking on top of the shuttle. "Come on, James," Ellies urged, "I've watched you walking around here for the last three days, looking like the end of the world is coming. Why not do something with your life?" "Ah, is this the 'what have you got to lose' speech?" James asked sarcastically, tossing the pamphlet back down. Ellies just laughed. "How about the 'think about all you have to gain speech'," he said, "I know the Colonel; yeah, I heard about your girl problems. If you want his respect, this is the first step in the right direction. And it won't just be him that starts respecting you."
James stared at that poster; suddenly visions of himself walking along the Sisyphus danced in his mind. No longer were people sneering at him, or talking down to him, but cheering him instead. It was a good feeling; the best one he had all week. "So, what do you say?" Ellies asked with a smile. "What the hell, sign me up," James said confidently, "Actions speak louder than words, after all."
About the author
From London, Ontario.
I like to believe the world is theatre, and I'm in the audience. I laugh, sometimes I cry, but mostly I just enjoy the show. But there is no doubt in my mind that life is a comedy.