Check. Light. Ignition…
I will never forget those words. The steady finality of them – yet, the continual loop they played at the back of my mind when it all closed in. Like a broken record skipping and repeating --- Blast off!!! Those two words alone had sealed my fate. Encasing me in carbon fiber. Welcoming man to every single element that could kill him. Cold, desolate – yet, signifying the next frontier. Space was the new wave. As the planet underneath our very feet threatened to shrivel away, obviously the government had to force some poor bastard to ignite a fire under his ass and explore our options…. If you haven’t guessed already, that bastard is me.
Hey, look, I get it – it’s an honor. Really it is – to go find a new home planet for my doomed fellow homo sapiens. It’s a great honor for anybody – just not me.
I’d been a fighter pilot my whole life. A damn good one too. No wife, no kids, no family – I was the perfect soldier. I dreamt of the air force, I slept with the air force – the air force wasn’t simply my life – it was everything that I was. So, of course when the meteors started falling from the sky I was the first man on the job. I knew nothing else but the sky – there was no family to tether me here, hell I was their disposable front line man for all intensive purposes.
And so it began…
Climbing ever so steadily into the sky. Taking them out before they took us. A faithful protector up there in the big blue. The sky was our safety – as long as man could patrol it, we would survive. Space was the enemy. The jealous middle child between us and the rest of the universe – throwing stones in order to break and crumble our bones. And for some time, we’d succeeded in dodging every effort. We were always one step ahead until we weren’t anymore. Simple as that.
This wasn’t what I signed up for. I didn’t sign up to save the planet only to be forced into the heart of our very enemy. Space was evil, space was empty – it was a large gaping hole of absolute nothingness. It wasn’t going to hold our salvation. It was useless. Space was out to destroy us from the beginning of time… So whose smart idea was it to go shoot me off to find some safe haven that I very well know doesn’t exist? Space would swallow us. Now that it had won out we were only mere mortals and space was simply a God. He was going to wipe us off the face of the planet. If we were smart we would just hold our stance and grit our teeth until the fight finally killed us – to die with dignity, but obviously no one is listening to me. The government didn’t care about logic. They wanted to sell the desperate on hope and hell, I was a war hero, so of course, I would be wrestled into training. It wasn’t a matter of choice, there was no accept or deny check boxes – just an order.
I pulled my gloves over my fingertips as the very reality of it all settled in. The artificial gravity being gradually pulled away by mission control – my feet starting to dangle dangerously over the cabin floor. It didn’t matter how I felt. This was my reality now. Pulling my helmet over my war-torn features. I was no longer a fighter pilot, I was no longer on Earth, and I became something else entirely. My arms pulled my body out the hatch as mission control buzzed mechanically through my ears. Setting myself to the tether that held me prisoner to her body. I was now the smallest entity in the universe. Miniscule. Following orders as they buzzed in. Floating aimlessly outside her hatch.
This world of darkness held no night and day. It held emptiness and despair. It didn’t matter how many more areas we managed to explore – they always ended up like this one staring me right in the face. No planet, no oxygen, not one sign of life. All of their calculations continually proved wrong. The longer I travelled, the more wrong it all seemed. Hope – Fuck hope, I was simply a pawn.
There were never any real plans. Just false ones created to feed a dying race’s fantasies, using their hero as the dutiful centerpiece. I was never meant to find anything. I was never going to find anything. I was just meant to keep travelling. To keep up the illusion that somewhere out there could save us, to keep hope until they were slowly picked off by natural disasters and I was the only one left. Eventually left to be crushed by space’s forceful hand.
It was all simply a lie.
But the motions were the motions. I hooked up the receivers on her hull and slowly let the lack of gravity tether me along the perimeter of this sector. They had come up with some bullshit name for it to feed the media – ‘Sector Newfoundland’ - but it was just like the last. Empty. They were all fucking empty.
I should’ve been furious, screaming for justice. But, hell, they’d already dragged my sorry ass out here. It didn’t matter how much I spit in their faces, I was never going to be reeled back home.
So, it became repetition. A continual order. It was the only way my brain could maintain sanity… Turn it into normality.
Replace the satellites, set up the receivers, scour the perimeter, keep your eyes out for green alien species freaks, take a space walk, then only when you were sure that nothing (as there always was) was there hightail your ass back in old Betsy’s cockpit and fly off to the next destination.
Eventually my brain had turned it into a casual game of tag. The faster I could catch all these things, the faster I could digest my powdered astronaut food ice cream. So worth it!
From the receivers comes the satellite sweeps. Crossing deafly through the quiet wormhole that space inhabited. Nothing traveled correctly through space. Not sound, not time, not light, nothing – except for me.
The lone traveller of all of ---
Frozen in place. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There was just suddenly blinding noise and then absolutely nothing. Maybe it was my PTSD settling in, burying itself under my fingernails as a form of homesickness. But, it just didn’t seem right - that something could blind and cut through the empty expanse and then just stealthily disappear. Sounding like a hot air balloon releasing air and then – nothing.
Ah hell, I’m looking too much into this. All this time in space isn’t necessarily great on the brain. Wouldn’t be surprised if the lack of gravitational pull turned it into clumpy strands of brain tissue. I just had to finish my sweep then I could….
It came again whistling louder through my helmet. Nearly sending me backward. Cutting like a knife through my vision. Like a bright light had been shone over the whole of the empty darkness.
Flashing white. Nothing else left in sight – not the satellite, not Betsy… But, simply an extended hand.
Sweat slowly started to seep down my brow as my teeth chattered in anxious forthcoming. My heart had suddenly burst with life. Beating a million miles a minute, making up for the lack of vocal strain – screaming from within.
“Major Tom…” The little mechanical voice tonelessly informed, “—Radio in Major Tom… We have sensed a ---“
The calloused fingers reached right through my mask and pulled the receiver right out of my ear with ease. No broken glass, no oxygen seeping out. Just phasing right through and right out.
“—They’re dismissingly rude, aren’t they?” the light simply stated, calling into question in order to inherit a response. All that was visible was that steady silvery, gray hand. All was light except for that hand. No face to place, no name to peg. A voice that held no recognition, let alone age. It didn’t sound old, yet it didn’t sound young. It sounded wise, yet deceivingly naïve. It sounded all knowing, yet still learning. It was simply anything and everything all at once.
I stammered under the weight of words. I had no idea how to speak to something I couldn’t see, let alone believe in something my own eyes couldn’t trust. For all I knew this could be another test, another mental challenge – still lost in hyper sleep as they tampered with my very fragile memories of the air. A guinea pig finally losing out to the induced insanity. This had to be a dream. This couldn’t be real. Real funny Missions Control, wake me the fuck up!
“Don’t be alarmed---“ the voice cooed again, “—I’m very much here. I was sent. Delivered, really.”
That’s when the gloves finally couldn’t pull me completely under wraps. They began to shake ferociously. Eyes darting right out of the sockets. Daring to speak, yet the shock kept me mute. There were no coherent words distinguishable. They were trapped in some pocket space, destroying my vocal chords with the pressure, yet living harmlessly to the outside. Letting my body do the work. Letting it cripple all on its own. This thing would surely kill me. Might as well not hasten it with my pig-headed profanity.
“A hesitant alien, are you?”
Finally, a word slipped itself out of my lips in breathless contempt, “Alien?”
“You are Major Tom, are you not?”
Those silvery fingers slowly traced over the name tag stitched to the outside of my suit. Unsettling, yet so mercilessly comforting.
“You poor, poor creature… Tethered by a leash to that buzzing tyrant. We saw you – so long ago.”
That’s when the sweat finally soaked my entire face. Those ghostly fingers traveling up my body. Every moment I had feared I was being watched – I really was. Being observed from the very corner between space and reality. Stalking me, long enough until they could pull the switch on and blind me to their whim. Letting fingers travel my suit like a piece of experimentation.
The fingers eventually fell off as if reading my mind. Twitching back.
What could I possibly do? I didn’t even know where I was – I couldn’t run. Wait – I hadn’t even realized that my legs were no longer dangling, but planted firmly upon invisible ground. Hidden in the blinding light that morphed everything into one another, except that one solemn hand.
Speechless, motionless…. My body had become an empty shell at the whim of disbelief.
“I am here to take you home. A place you truly belong.”
My body lost all ability to react. Frozen in space. Frozen in time. Frozen here. Eyes bulging as the silvery fingers clasped about my gloved one with one final coo.
“Go to sleep, Major Tom…”
And I did. Suddenly blanketed in complete darkness. Darker than space and darker than the chains that left me victim to his vastness.
But, when my eyes were opened I heard those all too familiar words…
Check. Light. Ignition…