Yeah, I was a bitch that night.
Not getting my hands on the lifeforms that were so obviously thriving on Trappy was beyond irritating. I mean come on, those plants, which yes, I know, not what I should call them but that’s what I’m going to do, were incredible. They shouldn’t have been able to live under the volatile eye of the red dwarf. Nothing should have been able to live. The radiation of the star should have stripped Trappy bare but instead we landed in a verdant- no, wait. Not verdant, fairly sure that means green. Err, we landed in a thriving sable forest.
Sable because the darker the leaf the more light it absorbs. On Earth plants are mostly green because that’s the colour of the chlorophyll in the plants cells reflects into our eyes. Plants on Earth use the red end of the spectrum. Trappy’s plants used all of it because they needed too.
Somehow these plants were able to live and boy, did they live. We weren’t on Trappy for long but in the small section of the planet we were able to survey the foliage was as dense as the thickest rainforest on Earth.
Look, I think I was just tired and worn out. The excitement of the day, travelling down to an exoplanet, being the first to put a foot on it! Yeah, I was a bitch and grumpy that night.
We were sitting in what passed for an entertainment room. Which means it had a screen in it about the size of two A4 pieces of paper and a lounge chair that only two people could sit on at once. I’m sure there’s an argument to be made about saving space and weight on a spaceship but also, you know, a little bit of consideration into comfort would have been nice.
Because of the lack of space, I was perched on one of the arms of the couch, Paran was next to me on the seat, then Gozi, and then Ellesk, who was perched on the other arm.
We were watching footage from one of the drones Mother controls on board the lander. At the request of Ellesk as soon as she was done with our nanites she took one of the four out and surveyed our immediate area.
‘You must be loving this.’ Paran said to me, his eyes glued to the screen as it showed the expanse of life that surrounded us.
‘Hmph.’ I responded. My arms were crossed, and I was sitting with the flexibility of a wooden board. Everything about my posture said ‘don’t fuck with me’ which of course Paran realised and decided to ignore.
‘Come on, look at all that life. You must feel like a child.’
I distinctly remember the pressure of my fingernails on the inside of my palms as I squeezed them to restrain myself from slapping him. He called me a child. There was no mix up or mistake to his words. Paran knew what he said, and he knew how it would make me feel.
‘Something like that.’ I managed to squeeze out through gritted teeth.
‘Now, now, be honest. We’ll—’
I stood up, cutting him off, and tucked the tablet I was taking notes on underneath my arm.
‘Hey,’ Ellesk said, ‘You’ve got to stay till the end, Karla. We’re okay with this stuff but you’re the specialist.’
I paused on my way to the door and had to forcibly relax my shoulders. I turned to Ellesk and saw pity and compassion writ across her face.
The obvious emotion stunned me into silence and the retort I had ready died on my tongue.
‘Yeah, don’t listen to him. He can’t help himself, the child.’ Gozi said and prodded Paran with her elbow.
‘Ow!’ He yelped. Paran shot her a glare and then turned his attention back to me.
‘Yeah, I’m the child.’
That did it.
I screamed my frustration. Literally screamed. Let loose a roar that felt like it was ripped out of my body by some force I didn’t control.
My face was turned up and my eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. I don’t know what I was looking for up there but all I saw were white lights shining down on me. Not in any religious sense. Literally white light from the bulbs in the ceiling. There was nothing looking back at me. No greater force that could ease the strain I felt.
It’s the same right now as I stare at the pinpricks of light that surround me.
The vastness of space still astounds me. And I’m someone who had years staring at it through the observation room of the Syrinx.
But stars aren’t a message from heaven; some place we go to after we die. They are balls of gas, burning in nothingness; there’s no message there. No grand purpose.
I stormed out of the room and as soon as the door closed behind me I wept. I think it was exhaustion, mostly, that had me strung out. I don’t want to excuse it but yeah, I was exhausted and frayed. A piece of string a millimetre from snapping, the two ends coming apart, whatever bit that was me in between slowly losing integrity.
But I didn’t break, not like that, I stood up and walked to my room. I took note of the green blinking eye that followed me from camera to camera, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone, even Mother.
It turns out that Mother wanted to talk to me.
‘Karla, I’m sorry that Paran was rude to you. I understand your frustration and you must be exhausted?’ She asked, her tone filled to the brim with metallic warmth.
I was sobbing by then and couldn’t do anything but nod.
It was true. I felt drained, not only emotionally but physically. I hadn’t done anything that day to warrant the ache in my calves and my arms, but it was there anyway. Every shuddering sob sent pain throughout my body, and I couldn’t stop.
Wave after wave of agony and frustration smashed into me, tossing me upon a shore like so much flotsam.
It didn’t last forever; I’m here aren’t I? And boy, just how lucky I am to be here.
The pain died down and I fell asleep if you can believe it. Not the first time I’ve cried myself into unconsciousness, but it was the first time in a while.
It wasn’t awkward the next day. Okay, I’ll correct that, the crew wasn’t awkward the next day. Paran apologised and everything. I sure was though. I couldn’t believe I’d acted that like, so childish and petulant.
I vowed to myself to not ever get that way again and I haven’t. And with just over two hours left to live, I don’t think I’ll really have the chance.
This has been good for me. Talking like this, I mean. It’s something to focus on, even if it is a pretty depressing story that I’m failing to tell. There’s probably something to that, as well. Taking all these breaks from the story itself, it’s almost like I don’t want to talk about it.
Geez, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to figure that one out I bet.
But what good is there in avoiding it? Actually, what good is there in talking about it? I can talk about anything, can’t I? No one is here to stop me, this recording is my own, to say whatever I want to as I slowly run out of oxygen and asphyxiate.
Why am I telling you this? I don’t come off in this story any shinier than my crew. Except maybe Mother. Though, I think I have mentioned already that I don’t really blame her.
I do and I don’t.
If someone is doing what they think is right, what they believe in, I find it hard to fault them. Yeah, even when what they believe in might be wrong because, well, how did they come to believe that? You know?
It doesn’t matter. I’ll change the track of that train of thought before it derails me completely.
I have too much time to think up here. Down here. Sideways here? Space is weird. See what I mean by too much time to think?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, oh patient listener who probably is no longer listening, I’m avoiding telling you what happened. Could be because I don’t want to relive it, or maybe it’s more like me protecting myself from admitting to the mistakes I made. Not sure which, but instead of telling you what happened on Trappy, here I am, waffling on and wasting my air.
Mother nursed me through the night. Wait, did I already cover this? Whatever. The next morning it was awkward. I could tell from the way everyone was looking at me that they were judging me.
It was in the way Gozi forced herself to be cheery. In Ellesk’s knowing look. And Paran’s insistence on acting like nothing happened.
We were lined up in the airlock, Mother had finished going through our nanites when she asked to join us.
‘How?’ Paran responded before Ellesk could.
‘By piggyback or through a drone. I have no preference either way if you are uncomfortable with the idea of me sitting on your shoulder, so to speak.’
And we were uncomfortable. You could tell in the way Gozi looked down and Paran shifted his feet. Ellesk was the only one who betrayed no discomfort at the idea of having Mother sit behind her eyes.
But she wasn’t the one who volunteered.
Misplaced and stupid bravery? Or a sense of owing her for the past night in which she babysat me? I don’t know which it was but I stepped forward and smiled past my discomfort.
‘Come on, Mother. You can hitch a ride with me. Plenty of space up here.’ I said and tapped the side of my helmet. It broke the tension of the moment and Paran laughed louder than necessary.
‘You sure?’ Ellesk asked.
I nodded and stepped up to the terminal on the side of the airlock. I placed my arm against it and a voice filled my head.
Thank you, Karla, for being willing to do this. There is nothing like seeing the outside world from the eyes of a person, instead of a machine.
No problem, Mother, happy to do it.
And there was no sense of disquiet. No sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. No sweat breaking out on my skin.
Because she wouldn’t let there be.