Monday 16 March 2020

500 Words a Day - Launching

This one went a little dark, I'm afraid, but I guess that's where we are right now. Stay safe!

I wake up at 06:00 like I do every day, even without any sunlight. The stars beyond the porthole look just the same, always the same. Just the cycle of the light-strips in the ceiling tell me that ‘dawn’ is on its way. Still, I can’t complain. Life on the ship is alright, you know?
I wake up the same, stretch the same and get out of bed. I put on my slippers, my bath-robe, and switch on the coffee machine. While the machine begins its morning hum, I turn on my tablet and scan through my messages. Six notifications, but most of them are from the rest of the crew. One catches my eye - it’s a video message from back home.
This one should be savoured.
I wait for the coffee to brew, add the creamer, and take a seat on my sofa. I start feeling a buzz of excitement - videos from back home were a rare treat, as normally we couldn’t spare the bandwidth. There was a strict rationing of one message a week, and only a few GB at a time. We’d been out of port for six months and I was beginning to feel it - a kind of weight pulling down at me, a black hole beginning to grow.
I took a sip, and pressed play.

“Hi Daddy!” said the smiling face of Eli, my six year old, “we miss you and I can’t wait for you to come home.”
“Hi!” said Jo, my eight year old, looking too cool to be in the shot.
My partner, Toni, turned the camera on himself - “hey,” he said, “you look after yourself out there! We’ve got it all covered. And send us another message when you can, we loved the last one. Bye, love!”
The message stopped, pausing on his smiling, unshaven face. God, I missed them all.
But something didn’t feel right, I had the strangest feeling of deja vu.
I watched it again. Something about Jo… I went back through my old messages. I watched last week’s, the one from two weeks ago, three, four… When I rewatched the video from 7 weeks earlier my heart sank. Jo looked exactly the same - same facial expression, same turn of the head, same intonation. The clothes had changed but everything else was identical. It didn’t make sense.
I called the tech support team.
“Hey, Sue, sorry to bother you.”
“No problem, what’s up?”
“Just… Probably nothing but I had this weird sense of deja vu when I watched the latest message from back home. Are you getting anything on your end?”
“I’ll just check, hang on.” Her microphone muted and the screen went dark for a moment, before it flashed back to life. “All good here, but a flag came up - the sarge wants a word. Hold the line, please.”
I groaned, and tried to straighten my bath-robe to make a good impression, before the screen switched. I had expected to see the sergeant’s steely jaw but instead it was the captain herself. I stood to a salute.
“At ease, soldier,” she said, and I tried to relax. “Heard you had a problem with your video.”
“Yes sir,” I muttered, wondering what the hell I had done wrong, “nothing major, sir, just a feeling of deja vu.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s my daughter, sir, she was acting the same as in a video from a few weeks back, sir.”
“Was she just acting the same?”
“No sir, it was like an exact copy.”
The captain seemed to think for a moment, before resolve settled over her face.
“You’re a fine worker, son, and I hate to be the one to tell you this. But… I’m afraid to tell you that home is gone.”
“What do you mean?” I forgot to add ‘sir’ and bit my lip. She didn’t seem to notice.
“I mean it’s gone. Two months after we headed into space there was a disaster, we don’t know the details, everyone’s gone. The last message we received was a warning - they told us to keep going, to not come back under any circumstances. I’m sorry, son.”
“But, but… the messages, my kids!”
“We had to fake them, remix them, couldn’t afford the truth getting out. Sorry about that, there was too much on the line, and the panic could ruin everything.”
I was dumbstruck, my life was falling down around me.
“Unfortunately, we can’t let you tell anyone else. You are relieved from duty, soldier, effective immediately. All communication between you and the others is suspended. The bots will deliver you meals until we arrive.” She moved to shut down the machine. “I’m sorry, son.”
“Wait!” I called, not knowing what I was going to say, “the messages…”
“Yes?” she said.
“Please, carry on sending them.”
“Alright, son. You’ll get one every week.”

I wake up at 06:00 just like I do every day, hoping to see a notification - a message from back home.

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