talonkarrde: (Default)
It is has been three months, six days, and fourteen hours, he records on the screen in front of him. The temperature is 75˚ Fahrenheit, and humidity is at 10%, and deviation from the planned flight-path is approximately .03%. Nothing further to report, he writes, and then watches as it saves to two different drives and the flight recorder.

In his personal log book, he simply writes, Day 97, and then he lets the pen go, watching as it floats in the air. Above it, there is Day 96, and Day 95, and on the pages before, an unbroken trail back to Day 1 — Launch Day. The first entry is three pages long, and has the details of the pre-launch sequence and readings, of course, but the majority of it is devoted to his thoughts and feelings about the journey. He trained for years and was selected among many other qualified candidates, and he writes about how his wife and son were so proud that he would be the first interplanetary explorer. It talks about pride, and duty, and sacrifice, all the things we think about at the beginning of long endeavours, and concludes: I need to think of my first line upon seeing the planet, need to leave history with something grand.

The second entry is only slightly shorter. It details the start of the slingshot maneuver into the the Hohmann Transfer, has all of the necessary recordings, and then drifts, again, into musings of being the first person to take such a journey. This is the extent of human exploration, he writes, the dawning of a new era, where man will no longer call only one world his home. His pride is almost tangible, rising from the neat, thin letters on the page.

By the end of the first week, the entries have become more technical; there simply isn’t that much to say about the automated operations of the systems around him, and he has exhausted the limits of his philosophy now. He still dutifully keeps both the digital logs and his own personal ones, but for the first time in his entries, the technical instrumentation recordings are longer than his personal comments, which end after half a page.

By the end of the first month, he barely comments at all — though when he does, it almost invariably references his wife and his eight year old son, and how much he misses them. He gets messages from them, a few emails here and there, and rarely, very rarely, he gets a chance to talk to them live. It doesn’t happen often, though, because of the multi-minute delay each way and the monopoly that real-time communications have on the low bandwidth of the craft, which mission control is loathe to give up. When he does talk to them, though, he writes down the conversations, word for word, in his personal log. The number of times his son has asked "How are you doing, Daddy?" is something he knows by heart, as are the times he’s said "I love you, sweetheart," and both of them together don’t use up all the fingers he has.

Day 97, and now he takes the pen out of the air and writes, Let tell ask you something. Do you know what it’s like to be the only human being within thirty million miles?

And then he stares at his words, shocked at the first actual line of writing across six pages of entries. At this point, he’s gone deeper in space than anyone before, and he realizes with a start that he’s about halfway between the two planets. The entirety of humanity is more then thirty million miles away, all clustered together on a blue and green globe that has long since shrunk into the same dot as all of the other stars and planets out there, and Mars is not yet visible, just another reddish dot somewhere in front and off to the side of him.

It’s been days since he’s looked for either of the planets; what was the point? He wonders, if war broke out and Houston was destroyed, what he would do. Keep drifting, probably, with the closest world millions of miles away, with a mission that would never make a difference.

The communications module pings, and he clicks the acknowledge button absentmindedly. Not an email, he wonders, staring at the buffering screen, and then a small boy waves at him, with his straight black hair done in spikes and his mother’s deep brown eyes.

“Hey, little boy,” he whispers, choking up, knowing that his son won’t hear anything but saying it anyway. In front of him, his son looks offscreen, and asks someone, “Is it on? I don’t see anything!” A voice — her voice — says “Yes, Jason, go on,” and then his boy turns back to the camera.

“Hi Daddy!” he says, beaming anyway. “I just wanted to tell you that I love you and that I know you’re thinking of me and Mommy and that she told me it’s about halfway and she wanted to give you a present and told the guys at the launch place to let me send you a message. So, um. I’ve grown a few more inches and I went bike riding to the park all by myself and I didn’t fall once, see!”

Jason pauses for a moment, expecting a response, and it’s all he can do not to start crying. He says, “That’s wonderful, Jason,” reaching out to touch the screen, and he hears his wife whisper for their little boy to keep going.

“Oh, well... I miss you, Daddy, and I wanted to give you a gift and we’re learning about Columbus in school, see? He was a discover-er! An explorer, just like you! And I sent you stories, and — oh, Mommy tells me we have to go now. Well, I love you, and Mommy loves you, and we’ll be waiting for news!” And he waves, one more time; just like that, and the camera stops.

He plays the video again, and then again, and then again, soaking in every detail of his little boy, watching with impatience as the stories are slowly sent over to the ship’s computer. And then he opens them, devouring the tales of Sir Francis Drake and Marco Polo and Magellan, and sends daily messages back to Jason, talking about how wonderful the stories are and how easy his journey is compared to theirs. As the days draw closer to the end, he starts reading Columbus’s diaries, and an entry catches his eye.

-

Wednesday, 10 October. Steered west-southwest and sailed at times ten miles an hour, at
others twelve, and at others, seven; day and night made fifty-nine leagues' progress; reckoned to
the crew but forty-four. Here the men lost all patience, and complained of the length of the
voyage, but the Admiral [Columbus] encouraged them in the best manner he could, representing
the profits they were about to acquire, and adding that it was to no purpose to complain, having
come so far, they had nothing to do but continue on to the Indies, till with the help of our Lord,
they should arrive there.

-

He finishes the last page and sits up a bit straighter. The pen drifts above him, and he reaches for it without looking, writing in his journal one more time.

We explorers gamble for our discoveries; we must leave everything we had behind, and may not find anything at all. There is always doubt, when everything we’ve ever found familiar is no longer in sight. I have had many moments of doubt, and there will be no profits like Columbus found. And yet...

He looks up at the screen, at the blinking cursor, at the latest message from his son: Mommy told me you’re arriving on Mars soon. Tell me how it is! And I hope you enjoyed the stories, Daddy!

He smiles, looking out the viewport at the growing red sphere in the distance, and writes one last entry in his journal: My first line will be this: Mars is beautiful, Jason. Some day I’ll take you.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Logs: NASA Oasis Flight 698

Crew:
Jeffrey McAdams — Commander
Ashley Lu — Pilot
Thomas Kent — Engineer
Susan Kovacs — Mission Specialist
Teresa Browning — Mission Specialist
George Perrault — Psychologist


February 10th, 2023 0941 UTC:

Mission Command, this is Thomas Kent, and I am activating protocol DA-991. I hope you get this in time to do something about it.

It was three days ago, Mission Day Thirty, when the cracks began to show.

The beginning was when Jeff, our fearless leader, completely lost it and screamed at Susan for "harming the mission by messing up the soil samples". Even though it would only delay us for a day and he apologized immediately after — probably realizing that we could all hear him from the living quarters — the damage had been done.

Before the outburst, though I wouldn't describe us as happy, we were at least disciplined, doing our jobs as if the confined quarters and lack of communication with any other human beings wasn't seriously affecting our mental health. Afterwards though... well, I think that we would have made it if any of the others were the first to crack, even George, whose job was to keep us sane. But it was Jeff who had never raised his voice, who commanded the utmost respect from all of us for his decades of service. When we heard the sounds of things shattering in the lab, his voice screaming over Susan's apologies and explanation, I think we all came a bit unhinged.

The previous month has gone by without incident; our mission reports have been upbeat, though hindsight makes me wonder if that was simply a defense mechanism. As you know, we touched down on the Red Planet successfully, next to the Hutton Crater, and Ashley brought down the lander just like it was a training sequence. From there, the six of us expanded the brick — the small, rectangular box that was to be our living quarters — and the dome of the science lab in a record thirteen hours. Everyone was in a hurry to take their suits off, and there was some gleeful joy when we shared our first meal down on the surface, even though it was more or less just a MRE. We sent our first signals back to you, and even though it was going to be about fifteen minutes before you responded, we were content at that time, because the first stage had gone as smoothly as possible.

In the next few weeks, we fell into the regular pattern of work that we have been training for, all these years. You can see that there have been no deviations from the plans. We slept in cycles to make sure that someone was awake to monitor everything in case of the dust storms, performed surveys on our surroundings, and ran analysis on growth in one-third Earth gravity. We talked frequently, we ate, we slept — sometimes together, something that George had briefly brought up with us. It was inevitable, he said, and it would help ease the tensions we would no doubt be feeling. It wasn't monogamy, but no one seemed to mind. I don't think it hurt, and would suggest it as protocol for the next mission.

But even with occasional fun romps in bed to take our mind off of our complete isolation, the tension still built. We are, inherently, social creatures — distracting ourselves with books and music from the computers has diminishing returns. And even though George tried to get us to interact whenever possible, there are only so many words that can be said to people that you've been training together for years, only so many observations on the science, or the weather, or the food before it stops being worthwhile.

Our tempers have been getting shorter, but everyone had it under control until Jeff broke down. These last three days have been hell, with whatever interpersonal relationships we had shattering one by one. We have been eating solitarily, sleeping facing the wall, and never trade more than the absolute minimum of words to each other.

Ten minutes ago, Jeff and George got into an altercation. George was left on the ground of the science lab, suffering from a concussion and multiple blunt-force injuries; Jeffrey has left the base, and may breech the holographic barrier.

As per protocol DA-991, I am informing you that this simulation has been a failure and you need to end it immediately. The others will be unhappy that you have misled them, but they may yet be salvageable — with the exception of Mister McAdams, who I fear may not take the news well in his already fragile state. Restraining him may be necessary for his own safety.

Again, this is a request for termination of the procedure, due to Jeffrey McAdams' current instability. Restore atmosphere inside the biodome, drop the holographic projections, and be ready with tranquilizers. I understand that I may be tranquilized as well to keep up with appearances.

-

Addendum: February 10th, 2023 0943 UTC: 

(Warning: Not transmitted)

Oh my god, restore it now, he's cutting open the —

End Addendum

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