Fiction Fragment Friday
I’m wrapping up the year with another one of the holiday stories based on a mission to Mars. I’m reaching the end of these missions with probably only one more left to go. You can find the previous ones linked below.
If you want to see this story expanded, told from a different perspective, and covering the complete mission let me know and maybe I will add it to my project list.
I used to describe the week between Christmas and New Year as Limbo. Every day would blend together, and it became so difficult to even tell what day of the week it was. Without the regular schedule it becomes hard to track time. Now I find myself staring out the window at the stars and realizing that is nothing compared to trying to track time in space. I floated in my cabin waiting for word from home, but knowing the message was still hours away.
I hadn’t even realized it was New Year’s Eve back on Earth until halfway through my shift. On this mission there are no days off and every day in space is basically the same. It makes any semblance of tracking time without looking at a calendar impossible. It still feels strange even talking about days without sunrise and sunset. When we were on the surface of Mars, we at least had day and night again. I realize I’m just stalling because I’m bored and anxious. This will be the last New Year I spend away from Earth.
I float out of my cabin and head to the galley. I need a change of scenery and with any luck someone else will be there as well. As much as I like my fellow crew, I could really use someone else to talk to, but I’ll take what I can get. As I float into the galley, I can’t help but smile. There sucking a coffee through a straw is commander Genevieve Norton. She has become my best friend, closest confidant, and at this point I consider her family. She is always there when I need to talk.
I can tell right away that something is wrong. Commander Norton looks upset. This mission has certainly had its share of complications and things to be concerned about. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be the commander of it. I know she is the type of person to blame herself for every single thing that went wrong. I’m sure she has spent sleepless nights thinking about what she would have done differently.
“Making any New Year’s Resolutions Commander?”
“I’m always said that if you wait for New Years to decide to make changes you’ve already waited too long. Besides the average life of a resolution is about a week.”
I laugh, but don’t really find it funny. It is more a laugh to try to avoid awkwardness and move the conversation along. I make myself a pouch of coffee to buy time while I think of what to say next. I’ve never been good at comforting others. I just can’t find the right words to say. Finally, as I turn to face her and take a sip of my coffee I decide to go with the direct approach. “So, what’s bothering you?”
“What makes you think anything is bothering me?” It comes out defensive and I can tell that she regrets her tone immediately.
I decide to drop the professional tone and just talk to my friend. “It’s me Genevieve. I know when something is bothering you. I’m here to listen if you need to talk, but if you can’t I can just start telling dad jokes to distract you.”
“Don’t you dare. I swear if you make one more pun, I’m dumping you out the airlock.” I immediately feel better seeing the smile come to her face. I see the moment she decides to open up come across her face. “News has leaked out about Jamison snapping on Mars and trying to kill us all. I’ve been reading all the comments from people back home.”
“Screw them. They don’t have any idea what it’s like out here. It’s easy to sit back and judge from a couch.”
“Assuming the comments are bad I see?”
“Would you be here brooding if they weren’t?”
She chuckled a bit. “Ok, fair enough. Yeah, there are a lot of accusations out there and the rumors are pretty wild. You can’t imagine how many people claim we ran into hostile aliens and are trying to cover it up.”
“More or less than the claims that we are all really hidden away in a bunker recording all the footage in a sound stage?”
She does a literal spit take. That might sound funny, but without gravity it meant hot coffee bubbles were floating around the room. I grabbed a towel and started scooping the coffee up into it.
“Don’t say things like that when I take a drink.” I watch as she composes herself again. “The conspiracy theory people don’t get to me too much. I honestly don’t even mind my name being dragged through the mud. I just hate that the mission has been tainted by this and that Jamison’s reputation is being destroyed.”
“Well, he did try to kill us. I don’t think that’s a good move for a positive reputation. Kinda on him.”
“Yeah, but still. Like you said these people don’t know what it’s like out here. How hard this has been. What you all sacrificed.”
“Don’t leave yourself out of that.” I can’t help but remember last New Year’s Eve when her fiancée decided she didn’t want to wait and broke up with her. That had hit her pretty hard. Her life had been put on hold just like ours had, but she didn’t have anything to go back to. The apartment had been in her fiancée’s name, and she had taken all her belonging and put them into storage. The commander didn’t even have a home to return to. Now instead of coming home to a hero’s worship she likely had inquires to look forward to.
“I’m just so tired and we have six more months to go.”
I float over and give her a hug. I can’t help but think about how weird it is to hug my boss, but like I said she is family. “We all are, but just think about it. We’re going to be coming home on the Fourth of July. There has never been a spectacle like the one waiting for us. Giant parties, fireworks, and everyone focused on what we accomplished. All while we are whisked away to quarantine to not actually take part in any of it.”
“That’s supposed to cheer me up?”
“Well, I know how much you hate parties.”
Her laughter makes me feel better. “Any resolutions for you?”
I think about it for a moment. “Never spend another holiday away from my family.”
She lifted her coffee up. “I’ll drink to that. Really wish we had some alcohol left.”
Doctor Samuels chooses that moment to speak from the door startling me to the point I almost go into a spin. “Well then I am prescribing a strong dose of Vodka all around.” She held up a bottle.
Now the smile really grew wide on Genevieve’s face. “Well, I never ignore a doctor’s orders.”
“Bullshit. This might be the first time you’ve ever listened to me.”
We all start laughing. Again, it really isn’t that funny, but sometimes when you are with family it really doesn’t need to be.