Flight From Earth

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4

Leaning over, I peered down at the other two bunks that were empty. My parents had already gotten up and headed to work leaving me alone and only half-awake. I slid off my bed and stretched my long fingers towards the ceiling as I yawned. Then, I slowly trudged towards the bathroom.

“Good morning lonely girl,” I said to the sleepy, lanky girl in the mirror that stared back at me. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail and wrapped it in a band. Sleepily, I put on tights and a sweatshirt and then headed through the door out into the connector towards breakfast.

Arriving outside the entrance to the mess hall, I could hear the murmuring. It was much louder than usual.

The meeting!

Still waking up from a poor night of sleep, I shook my groggy head in disbelief that the announcement hadn’t been the first thing on my mind this morning.

Slowly, I slid inside the doorway and found myself amid a few of the colonists standing in the back against the plain white wall. The giant monitor hanging there was blank, not even the weather conditions or shifts were posted today.

The galley was as full as it had ever been. Everyone except Pablo seemed to be there, and the tables were packed with everyone wearing casual clothes. Jeans and sweatshirts mixed with indoor work suits, but no one had gear on for outdoor research. It wasn’t often that the whole colony came together at once and it had grown large enough now that it was bursting at the seams now that it did. Liu was among those standing in the back because they were out of seats. The short man with the round face nodded to me and smiled, and I smiled back nervously. Looking around, most of the tables seemed to be engaged in conversation. I could hear Ivan and Lydia to my right speculating about a malfunctioning panel in the bay. Next to them, Edwin, the pale, wiry creepy guy sat by himself staring ahead, this time at Layla.

“Over here.”

My attention turned to the table where I heard the sound of my father’s voice. Looking over, I saw the back of my mother’s head and my father waving to me. I headed over and slid in next to him where he had saved a seat. On the table was a plate with two pieces of toast framing scrambled eggs that were likely cold. “Sorry dad, didn’t mean to be late. I can’t believe that today of all days my brain turned off…”

My father shook his head slightly, “Don’t worry about it. It was better to let you get some rest.”

My mother nodded her head, “You were sound asleep.” She reached up her cup of coffee and took a drink.

My dad turned back to me, “Grab a bite while you can. So far…”

But dad never finished that thought. The room went quiet as the man wearing the navy blue suit of the Commander entered from the back. His chiseled face betrayed none of his thoughts. Pablo made his way in silence towards the counter where food was served. From there, the thin man with the bushy, black bangs hanging over his eyebrows faced the crowd.

“Thank you all for coming out today. I’m sorry to have had to interrupt the work schedule, but HB thought it was best to address the group as a whole. I’ve gathered you here to share about recent events that have taken place.” He nodded towards Roy who sat at the table nearest the front with his arms clad in his navy uniform neatly crossed. The large man nodded to the crowd, as eyes turned to him for a brief second. Pablo continued, bringing attention back to the front, “Roy and I decided that this was the best time to speak. Thank you for your understanding.”

I looked around the room to survey the sea of faces.

Robots.

So many of the adults were sitting perfectly upright and perfectly still. Robots of all sizes, shapes, and skin colors, but robots nonetheless. Whatever Pablo had to say, it was clear that they would all eat it up— almost all of them except for her parents, and possibly Liu. I looked towards Roy who was the only person in the room who appeared confident from his perch alone in the corner of the room. His eyes scanned the audience.

Was he actually smiling?

The Coms Link almost seemed smug as he surveyed the crowd. Everyone knew that whatever would be shared, he was the one calling all of the shots. After all, Pablo was only parroting out whatever the red haired puppeteer wanted heard today. The two had worked together a long time. They had arrived at the original colony created after the Pan, Firstpost, years ago and transferred over to Pangaea when things had gone wrong there with the spill. They were a team, and in charge of life around here. I moved my gaze on before he took notice that I lingered too long.

“First, it has been confirmed what became of Francois. He is dead.”

I looked around, but no one seemed to register surprise, after all we had all known this had to be the case. My attention returned to the speaker, wondering what else he had to share. There wasn’t a meeting like this the other times that the colony had lost someone.

“During the last few days, it has been discovered that Francois had committed several crimes against the colony before stealing a skiff and taking it into the desert. Because of his treacherous decisions, we lost a great deal of supplies and his actions jeopardized the safety of all of us.” Some heads nodded as Pablo paused. He paused and surveyed the room.

There’s something more coming, I could tell by his presentation that he was building to something. My skin began to crawl and my stomach churned in anticipation.

“HB has asked that any correspondence that Francois might have left behind be handed over to me immediately upon finding it. Unfortunately, it is clear that he became unbalanced. HB believes that he might have gone so far as to sabotage parts of the complexes that were not under surveillance.” There was some murmuring at this point. An undercurrent of fear bubbled to the surface. Like a king surveying his subjects, the clean-shaven, calm man waited for quiet before continuing. “As a result, HB will temporarily suspend parts of the Research Monitoring Act, specifically the Research and Advancement Privacy Policy, and Roy will be installing cameras in some new areas in the modules. Safety and vigilance must be our top priorities as we work to better understand the damage that he left behind. This is for the well-being of the colony.”

Once again, I looked around to take a look at my comrades.

Maybe they weren’t all robots…

Despite the apparent concern on the faces of the colonists about additional surveillance though, no one spoke up. The white benches lined with colonists remained silent.

Pablo paused as he looked out into the sea of faces. He stood with his face perfectly spaced to match his shoulders and his hands held behind his back. His was a soothing voice that was meant to lead. The image of a grinning gator with a mouth full of sharp teeth filled my mind as he spoke again.

“Unfortunately, we have also called this meeting because of the disappointing news that we received from Home Base. Recently, we were notified by Home Base that Arrival 14 will not be able to complete their journey here and land here next month. The supply ship encountered mechanical failures that would have prevented a successful entry and landing on Mars. The ship has been re-routed back home and hopefully the International Space Station can support with repairs to ensure a safe landing on Earth.”

My eyes went wide.

There won’t be an Arrival this year?

I gulped and tried to calm my building nerves.

It can’t be true.

I felt a knot form in the pit of my stomach as I clenched my fists.

“I’m so sorry to be the bearer of such news on the heels of a loss of one of our own.”

I looked around the room. This time, there was more of a shift in the air. Liu hung his head, Reynard pursed his lips, Koharu dabbed at her eyes.

We needed this Arrival.

My own hands began to shake in my lap.

I needed this Arrival.

“As Commander,” he continued. “I also recognize that this loss impacts us all in a variety of ways. Without Arrival, all of us will feel an empty space in this cycle.” He hung his head for the briefest of seconds as a sign of respect before picking it back up. “We are the best that humanity has to offer, and we are humanity’s best hope in ensuring our survival beyond our home planet. For all of these reasons, I know that we will rise during this moment to persevere once again in the face of challenge.” He looked to his right and Roy nodded solemnly.

In the background, I heard a few murmurs. Looking up, I examined my parents who still betrayed no emotion as they stared at the Commander.

“Difficult times do require that we look out for each other. Our sessions with Beatriz are a necessity and we encourage everyone to seek her out in the days ahead. HB hopes that a new ship can be loaded within the next month so an Arrival within the next eight months is possible. We will keep you updated on the progress of the next ship.” He brought his hands together before his chest and clasped them in a sign of gratitude. “Thank you all and I wish you a goodnight.”

He gave a polite nod and turned as if to go.

“What exactly happened to the ship?” A voice from the far corner quivered. It was Angelo.

Pablo froze and turned back to the colony. “Yes, well, I’m not sure that today’s the time for questions. I’m happy to answer your questions as they come up in the days ahead individually.”

There were some murmurs.

“There was a malfunction with one of the blasters.” the gruff voice of Roy called out and the whispers went silent. “It would have been impossible to safely enter the atmosphere here without breaking apart. As you all know, the ships carry extra fuel to ensure a return journey. I’m sure that some of you are disappointed, but most importantly, they are safe and Home Base is sending parts to the Space Station.” He barked out from his seated position as the colonists listened. “Home Base is investigating it thoroughly. Rest assured, it will be addressed.”

“Yes,” nodded Pablo as he continued. “As you can imagine, there’s much to discuss with Home Base and we need to return to the Coms desk immediately.”

He quickly stepped away and out the door before facing another question. Roy stood up and appeared stone-faced as he looked out at the crowd. No one spoke or moved as he surveyed the group. He then turned and followed Pablo out the door.

There’s not going to be an Arrival.

No one stood up to leave. The galley quickly filled with voices in the background as I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach. My head dropped as I stared at the floor.

No one new is coming. No one my age will be coming… I will remain alone… again.
The tears were building. Quickly, I stood up from the table. Navigating my way through the crowd with my head down, I made my way out into the connector where I then began to run. My face was streaked with tears as I let them flow now that I was safely away. Turning the corner, I heard the whoosh of the door as I tore through unit six, past the lab spaces and through another airlock into another connector. Arriving in the middle of the tube, I fell to my knees and stared out at the red dunes.

I’m tired of being alone.

I felt my chest heave. Trying to take a few breaths, I worked to fight off the heavy sobs.

Keep it together Diya.

But I was tired of keeping it together. Tired of the outpost and adults and work shifts and virtual teammates. Although it had been a long shot that HB would’ve sent anyone my age anyway, the Arrival had promised some hope. And now, that hope was gone.

“I will continue to be alone.”

I reached up and wiped my face clean as I regained some composure while breathing deeply. The sands beyond the plexiglass tubing said nothing as they sat underneath the perfectly blue sky.

The endless sea of dunes stretched out before me. Nothing was out there beyond our complex to comfort me. Placing a hand on the window, I shook my head in defeat.

I will have to serve out my sentence here alone.

I gathered up my courage and steadied myself.

I will not let this break me.

“I’m better than that,” I whispered to the shifting red desert as I stood up. “Thirteen more months. I just have to finish out my time here.”

Striding forward, I headed down the connector determined that I would not let this news break me.

Thirteen months.

The words echoed in my mind as I began the countdown anew.

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