Looking down at the black and white ball perched atop a tuft of grass on the perfectly manicured field, I lined up to take a shot. Unable to concentrate on the task at hand, the sound of Pablo’s voice over the intercom announcing the upcoming meeting echoed in my head when I should’ve been focusing on my aim. Bursting forward, I planted my right instep directly below the center of the ball as I kicked with all of my might. The ball sailed high over the left corner of the goalpost and the keeper in the neon green jersey made no attempt at the errant shot.
Placing my hands on my hips, I glanced towards the scoreboard. The score remained one to zero. A computer-generated teammate with a blonde ponytail came over to me. “It’s okay,” the girl in the amber and scarlet jersey said as she placed a hand on my back and gave a few taps.
I turned to look at the smiling avatar that looked as real as anyone in the complex. “Thanks,” I uttered while turning to watch the goalie going to retrieve the ball. The sun-drenched soccer field went dark as I reached up and pulled off the helmet at the simulator station. I stared ahead at the blank, white section of the wall in the workout room holding the bright, red headgear under my arm.
“Sorry about that Heather, or Gloria, or Buffy, or whatever your name is…” I stepped off the thick, black virtual mat onto the floor of the exercise area wishing that I had a friend that was not computer-generated to go talk to.
Walking over to the side of the fitness room, I snatched my thin, green water bottle off the shelf storing towels and took a drink. I then picked up one of the indigo microfiber towels and dabbed at my sweaty brow. Looking over to the mirror, I watched as I shook my head and the perfectly black ponytail wagged side to side on opposite sides of my neck.
I’m better than that. I’m not a quitter.
My rashness probably cost us the game and my team might not qualify for the playoffs now. Although it was all computer simulated, the competitive side of me did regret my decision. I had always hated losing, but now it was too late to re-enter the game. Rules were rules— even in the virtual world.
Wrapping the towel around my neck, I headed towards the exit of the exercise room. “I’ll be ready to play next time, I promise…” I muttered as I marched to the door and it swished open.
The dusky, night sky greeted me as I stepped into the tube lined with windows that connected the exercise room with the other parts of the complex. Staring up and out through the skylight, I thought about the supply ship sent by Home Base currently making its way across the galaxy towards us. We were only a few weeks away from Arrival. This year’s ship hurtled towards us and promised new supplies and colonists, but the contents remained a secret until landing because of the events from Cycle Three. Arrival served as kind of Christmas around here where even the most boring colonist couldn’t help but be interested in what and who Home Base might send.
“Please tell me that you sent someone my age,” I whispered as I stared at the early collection of stars in the evening sky. “Anyone…”
A tear formed and began to run down my cheek. I reached up and brushed it away.
Lowering my gaze, I noticed movement coming from the other end of the long tunnel. Once I recognized the tall, thin features of my dad, I relaxed thankful that I didn’t have to encounter another colonist alone at night, especially Edwin who seemed to leer at mom and now me sometimes.
The two of us met under the stars midway through the connector and I stopped to look up and face him.
“You okay?” The man with the thinning, grey hair offered a smile from above. I got my tall, lanky form from him while my brown complexion and dark hair thankfully came from my mother, giving me hope that I might one day be beautiful like her.
I turned away from him and towards the window to stare outside, “You were watching the game?”
“I was…” he turned and reached out to put an arm around my shoulders.
“Did we end up losing?” I felt my some of the tenseness leave my body as I looked up to see him smiling.
He nodded without judgement, “One to nil.”
“It was my fault. Did you see that shank? I think I ripped it about twenty feet over the goal.”
“Maybe even thirty,” he offered while raising an eyebrow peppered with grey hair. “But you do have a great right foot. Better than mine ever was.”
“Thanks. But I shouldn’t have left the game. Even though they’re not real, I let my teammates down. I know that they’re not sitting around crying in cyberspace, but I’m better than that— better than walking away like that.”
“You are… But we all have our moments of failure. It’s what we do after we fail that counts.”
I leaned into my father. “I’ll do better next time.”
“I know you will.” There was a brief pause as we looked out into the dark shadows playing among the dunes. “We all are thinking about the announcement and wondering what will happen tomorrow.”
I shook my head nestled against him. “Curiosity is one thing, but I couldn’t even make a penalty shot. I’m better than that... I can’t let things get to me like that, not here.” I turned to greet the kind face with wrinkles that were becoming more prominent under his eyes over the last year. “And this was just a stupid, computer simulated soccer game. People here depend on me for a lot more than that.”
“When I was thirteen, I made plenty of mistakes. You will too.”
“Maybe, but as long as we’re living in this complex— I need to do better. Mistakes are more dangerous here. You never had to worry about flushing someone out an airlock when you were a kid…”
“Mistakes can definitely be dangerous here. But there are dangers at home too…”
“I guess, but those always seem so much… smaller.”
“It has been a better of the last decade, but it hasn’t been that long since the Pan.”
A chill ran through me. My dad seldom even mentioned that period and I never asked about the virus that swept through the planet.
He continued. “When we go back to Earth, you’ll find a different set of challenges. After all, that’s one of the reasons that we’re here. This colony offers an opportunity for humankind.”
“But Earth is still our home… right?”
“It is. For better and for worse… we will definitely be returning.”
“Are you happy here dad?” I had wanted to ask him that for a long time.
There was a gleam in his eye as he couldn’t help but grin slightly. “Anywhere I go, I’ll be happy as long as I have you and your mother with me.”
“I knew that you’d say that, that’s such a dad answer.” I playfully punched his arm. “But really, can you tell me the truth?” I paused as I leaned back against his side. “Are you still happy here or are you ready to go home?”
He drew a deep breath and hugged me a little tighter with his right arm. “That is a complicated question. But what I can say is that I really enjoy my research and believe it holds meaning. It’s beautiful too, and I would never tire of the work here. We were gifted an opportunity unlike any ever offered to humankind. There always have to be pioneers to blaze trails. That being said, I think it’s time for our family to go home next year as scheduled. There are things I miss for both me and for you, despite the challenges our planet is facing.”
I remained leaning against him as we looked out the window. “I don’t hate it here.” I paused, “In fact, sometimes… I actually think that I’ll be less happy back at home doing what everyone else is doing.”
“It’s complicated, the grass will always be a little greener wherever you aren’t,” he offered.
I miss playing soccer on actual grass with actual friends, I thought but instead responded differently. “And I think things got more complicated around here with whatever happened with Francois.”
“Maybe… but we’ll be alright no matter what the announcement is tomorrow morning. I promise.”
The pair of us stood in silence for a minute as the night sky flooded with more stars.
“Let’s head back. You’re mom’s probably wondering where we are.”
“Did she see the penalty kick too?” I turned and looked up towards my father. I was catching up to him in height, but not close to matching him yet.
“No. Just me.”
“Great. Believe me, no one else needed to see that shank.”
“Again, it showed you have a great foot.” He stepped back into the middle of the connector as I pulled up alongside of him.
Although we usually didn’t show any signs of affection, I didn’t complain that dad kept his arm around my shoulders while we headed back to our dorm.