Hélène

Reads: 675  | Likes: 4  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 5

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Space flight: “Months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror."

Before the launch

"I was selected from a cast of thousands on the basis of technical excellence and a calm personality. In the abstract I had visualised the mission as challenging and exciting. In the concrete, in the week before launch, my viscera suddenly became aware of what I was doing: something - no pretence - something insanely dangerous.

Previously we had been dutiful, even friendly colleagues. Now I bonded with Hélène as a drowning man grasps at driftwood.

---

They visited us shortly before launch. They occupied the comfy armchairs while we sat on the couch like an old familiar couple, our laps covered by the fleece we would have said kept us warm.

They must have been proud.

I was smart in my dress uniform. She was alluring - the PR people had been quite influential that way. We talked of important matters: how long we'd be away (months, years!), the difficulties and dangers so carefully minimised in public (extreme!).

Beneath the blanket we held hands. I pressed my palm against her warm thigh. Her hand shifted to rest on mine. Comfort, the bonding of animals. Our faces were calm, engaged, attention focused on my parents. My mother, my father: were they really that oblivious?

Perhaps they knew from experience the intricate byways of fear.

Interplanetary

In transit, Mars Express maintains a spin-gravity recreational space. It takes the aspect of a summer park. Today there's a festival. Good for morale. Some of the participants are even real.

We rock up, hands encumbered with bags and with each other, find a clear space and raise our tent. It's mid-afternoon festival-time. Finally we're done, the mattress inflated, the duvet in place. Hélène sits on the bed as we listen to the chatter - just a few feet on the other side of the fabric.

We look at each other: a haunted look. I reach for her, we touch, our clothes abandoned in longing for contact. Our bodies merge .. coalesce .. and I forget.

Three feet away people walk, talk and erect their tents. They're in a different universe.

Terminal

The voyage has been quite tedious. The months went by and my terror subsided. It's the dental appointment distantly scheduled, the vital exam months away. You never quite forget but your viscera do not stir. Mostly.

We are, of course, not the first. It's almost - almost! - routine now. Many, most of the missions successfully land and deliver their cargo - people like me, us! - safely. Of course, some don't. Apparently there's a mission-fail probability of less than five percent. It's acceptable.

We'll shortly transition to Mars orbit, transfer to the shuttle and de-orbit. My body is now completely aware that the near future is lethally uncertain.

---

We visit the recreational space on our last day. We walk the simulated bridleway, colourful with summer flowers and quite deserted. To be frank, I have been chatting her up and holding her hand all the while. With intense urgency, actually.

We sit together in a wildflower meadow. There is a view of sorts - trees on the far side where the surface turns up. The simulated sun shines, there is a bee-ish hum and we link fingers, lie back and stare at the sky. She leans on one elbow and drinks from a water bottle, puts it down. I reach under her arm and pull her to me. Grass is remarkably cold on a shirtless back. The earth is far from flat.

An unclothed girl occludes the sun. For a timeless moment ..  I .. am .. not .. here .. ."

---

Extract from crew diary via store-and-forward from Mars Express. Shuttle lost on re-entry.


Submitted: March 09, 2019

© Copyright 2021 AdamCarlton. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:

Comments

hullabaloo22

The mind tries to distract itself in any way it can, I think, from fear. As always, exceptionally well-written.

Sat, March 9th, 2019 8:40pm

Author
Reply

Thank you. This one took a lot of attention and rewriting.

Sat, March 9th, 2019 1:27pm

HJ FURL

Oh, Adam,
You write so evocatively, taking us to your beautiful, faraway worlds, I love your writing!
Harriet-Jacqui Furl

Wed, March 13th, 2019 11:05am

Author
Reply

If you sample Aimée's world (qv) you won't be so sanguine!

Wed, March 13th, 2019 4:15am

Ryan K. Mallegni

I really enjoyed the way imagery was painted well without too much description. This handled the idea of fear in a way that wasn't blatant and left me thinking well after. Well done, Adam.

Thu, March 14th, 2019 4:04pm

Author
Reply

Thank you very much. The story was much revised, trying to get the balance right. Hard work!

Thu, March 14th, 2019 10:25am

Jobe Rubens

Good to see you exploring the fast-cut technique - I favour this approach to poetic prose myself. And the power of the ill-lip-siss was the icing on the cake. It's just a matter of finding your groove - then stylistically you've found your signature.

Wed, February 5th, 2020 9:03pm

Author
Reply

Hope you're getting some rewards for working through my back catalogue! These are stories I don't think are publishable in SF mags.

Wed, February 5th, 2020 1:26pm

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