It’s hanging behind us. Blue ball. White feathery clouds. It glows out of the black. Darkness crusted around it, spreading out everywhere. Thick black. But we penetrate, metal speeding through the opaque molasses of space.
There’s the curve of Africa’s horn! It’s dry and dusty, even from up here. I imagine them: sandals slapping, hands shading, children chasing through long grass.
The sun lays its hand on this side of Earth. We won’t get to see it set. How darkness moves light away, and that last flash of brilliance on the edge of it. Little round window: the ball is getting smaller out there.
2023. Finally. Eight years of waiting, training; hours running with tubes on my face; lifting weights; drinking green and orange mineral filled fluids; solitary training in a dark room; dismantling and repairing radios with Metallica at full-blast; meditating; trust exercises with the three other volunteers. Interviews, seeing my face on the skewed screen. The exercises were varied.
Look, there, the icy chunk of Greenland, Canada is sliding into view. It’s just a thumb-width out the window. I imagine her there: a book in her hand, not eating, not reading. I turn from the window.
I spend as much time as I can in the command center. One hundred extra outlets that Discoverydidn’t have. Cleaner looking too. Nothing grey or dull, pure white, everything gleams. Something about our living quarters makes my stomach shift, the hanging beds and how the contents in the small lockers are always floating.
Home is just a star now. Just a light in the sky. It could easily get lost, but there’s the vague blush of Venus, and so I know where to look. Her lips. Not much out here, but the black. It presses in, and we press through.
Being weightless is like being God. Or like being water and not knowing any better. Everything is easier when there’s no weight to it. I didn’t like to get on the bike and force my limbs to be heavy. I’d rather float with my eyes closed and pretend I wasn’t born yet.
I look forward now, into that inky place we press toward. It’s out there, the red planet. Just like California’s Death Valley, I know it well. It is hot, rocky, dusty, windy, waterless and red: red sky red land. The great vacant place. All hollow things need filling.
We are the first. Mars 1. CNN called us: ‘four brave heroes’. It’s a one way trip. The only way to make such an expedition cost effective, only six billion dollars this time around. But technology is improving every day. Who knows how fast the next will come. How many people does it take to make a home? Only a seven month trip, we could see friendly faces in a year—or two.
I can’t see it anymore. It’s faded into everything else.
We’ll need to build our bunkers underground. Radiation is high, sometimes peaking at two thousand millirads a day. That’s one thousand nine hundred and seventy nine more than the space station receives. Underneath martian soil we are protected from dust storms too, but two weeks of no sun will interfere with the solar panels. Extreme limits to consumption will be key. This is where meditation comes in, to slow down metabolism and body temperature: if the bears could do it, so can we.
She’s back there somewhere.
My skin is cracking, the no-air is so dry. I squirt lotion, floating strips. My fingers split them like webs. I haven’t been completely naked in three months. I wish I had a straw, all the way back, just to breathe a breath. We don’t talk much in here, it bounces against the constant hum and reminds us all.
I don’t think about her anymore. My un-thinking has become all consuming.
They talked about the honor, the unbelievable luck. It’s out of ten billion people, six thousand volunteers—think about that. They didn’t talk much about boredom. Or the emptiness of everything. I always wanted to be in space. The ongoing. The never ending. The ever-spreading outness. I thought we would see beauty, bursts, color blooming death and fast moving tails. It is black.
We are close now, and we are farther than we have ever been. It is the farthest anyone has ever gone. Is it? I wonder. I think I could travel further, after, when I’m dust, or the thought dust had. I could go back, or I could just go on, and on, and on.
Jade Hignett is a creative writing major at UBCO and recently came third in the 21st annual Okanagan Short Story Contest, finalist chosen by Erin Moure.