The Long Wait
A strange sci/Fi tale for your entertainment.
THE LONG WAIT
Four years of college to obtain my degree in Spatial Developments; two years in basic geo-space training school, learning supposedly everything known to man about space travel and getting physically fit of course. Then followed by another year in pre-flight testing and training. Seven years of hard mental, as well as physically demanding work. What for? To find myself sitting besides a monkey, all be it an amazing primate according to the head scientist Dr something or other. He had insisted for unknowable reasons of his own, that the creature accompany us on this trip. Why I did not know but he had been listened to.
An ape I thought, men caged up in a tiny metal capsule with an ape, no matter how clever it might be and it was both clever and well trained, it would still smell like an ape. Opposite to me rested an also inverted half-suited up astronaut; my training and flight partner John. He like me was also waiting expectantly for the four hundred thousand gallons of highly explosive liquid fuel stored beneath us to be ignited. That fuel would once ignited create over a million metric tonnes of thrust, which would push us out of the Earth’s atmosphere and away from its gravitational restraint, setting us free to roam amongst the stars.
Sadly I mused as I waited; there was a small but active group of religious anti- science zealots all determined to undermine our mission. They campaigned vociferously against our launch, claiming that it breached ‘God’s right to privacy.’ stupid really but potentially dangerous, hence the security and silence that surrounds this project.
John is my equal in every respect, there was no function of our tiny vessel that he, like I, could not analyse, dissect, repair and use. We have trained as a team, including the ape! The three of us locked together inside of the training capsule, just as we would be during the launch and flight. Prodded, probed, tested and re-tested continually. Sadistic instructors created more and more bizarre calamities for us to dissect and survive; we passed most tests easily, failed a few narrowly and then passed them later. We were perhaps over trained but science demands that of its participants, so no one listened to our vague complaints.
The thrust when it finally arrived, felt almost gentle, it started with a mild vibration that quickly accelerated into a full blown bowel lurching, face compressing, wall of G force. We were off, ignition through to lift off had been successfully completed, and all without the biggest bang I would ever have been likely to encounter having occurred. Control wished us well and then shut down, leaving us alone, masters of all that we commanded, but insignificant in the face of the universe. Pathetic man, forcing his way out into the unknown, brave but stupid I decided.
We un-strapped ourselves from our individual launch seats and secured the monkey into its own personal sleep capsule. Satisfied that the ape was secured, we crawled down the narrow access tube, slipping feet first into our own exclusive steel coffins! We, the human guinea pigs, applied the principals that those scientists had labored so hard to instill in us concerning the sleep tanks. To us, they were more coffins than sleep tank, but a coffin designed to prolong our humble lives, not to entomb us.
Oh well here goes, forty million dollars worth of government investment wasted if these needles don’t work. Liquid drugs flowed out of the monitoring computer feed box to my left, and with a gradual down hill slide, I slipped into my first ever, five years of well paid sleep.
“Soo faarr soo goo”…
Space time’s ten power drives, only the very best for this mission pulsed away. Our sun receded unseen; the Earth vanished behind us, also unseen; we slept, unaware, safely cocooned from time’s passing.
Waking up and moving had been a complex and a very unwelcome first action, having slept blissfully away for five years. Finally I gave into the computer’s incessant mental prodding and opened one eye, blinking against the bright light, the other eye followed shortly as life flowed unhampered through my veins once more, the sleep drugs were gone, their function completed successfully.
John and I were for the first time about to set our eyes on the source of all the time trouble and money. Beneath us waited the innocent little planet orbiting a different sun and so far from our home world, which was our intended target. Below us waited the recently drone discovered world, which had sent Earth’s scientists into fits of knowledge seeking hysteria and us across the distances of space, it now rotated below our capsule. A hysteria which had culminated in our expedition and at the sametime, was responsible for my standing gazing out of this tiny round port hole, accepting that the realization of mans endeavors was awesome to behold. I was looking eagerly down, seeing for the first time a barren, sandy coloured, landing site, one selected carefully by the scientists and now perfectly placed beneath us.
Three solid steel legs contacted a firm planet surface, and we the intrepid landing party all suited up ready and trained for almost anything, opened the only exit hatch. We were eager to greet and walk upon the surface of the newest conquest for man’s technology, but also keen to share in the glory of its first contact, our names would be set in stone forever, glory and fame awaited us out there. We carefully climbed out of the ship and one by one with the ape placed between us, we descended to the landing plate, linking hands.
There were to be no glorifying radio communications, no explosion of personal opinion, this trip was to be different to the first and only previous space exploration of the Earth’s Moon. This time there was to be no communicating with home world until we returned as heroes, communication was impossible, any radio signal would have taken millennia in transit, hence no direct contact. A com-pod had automatically been dispatched from our ship once we were successfully awakened, confirming our injection into orbit.
Disaster struck with a totally unpredictable form. The ape, the doctor’s pet project, panicked! It pulled its arms backwards, flipping us forwards in the low gravity; casting John and I out into the sands. The damn creature then pulled itself back up the landing ladder taking one last look down at us; I watched it enter the capsule even as I tumbled towards an impact. The hatch shut, leaving John and I outside.
Sand approached, I tumbled one last time, landing feet first to sink into the sandy grains of the planet’s surface, initially up to my waist, but as seconds passed I felt the ground swallowing me still deeper. To my right I felt John land beside me, he too was now imbedded in the planet’s grainy strata, only the ape remained unrestrained and it was aboard our vessel and alone.
My O2 recycler had failed on impact and already the thirty minute reserve air in my space suit has turned stale, it won’t be long now! They of course back home, would always wonder what had happened to us, but would they wonder enough to re-visit this inhospitable dust world; if they did would fate deal them a hand much like it has dealt us?
The ground above me shuddered, my suit heated up; above my head, out of sight obliterated by the grains of sand, the single launch thruster of our craft ignited. I could imagine the slow ponderous lift off as the ship launched itself up from the thin gravity. The craft, our craft was headed no doubt for the stars, whilst flying under the sole control of our remaining companion, the ape.
There would be no evidence of our landing to remain visible should any investigation of our disappearance ever be carried out. The ape had been skilled enough to operate the very basic controls and in its panic it had! Our craft was gone, there were no tracks to find just smooth inviting sand. Ready, eager and having swallowed up all sign of our landing; any investigator foolish enough to walk on this part of the terrain, if he survived, would find exactly nothing!
There was one nagging question that floated around in my dying brain, one question that refused to go away. Why had I sunk, when the craft hadn’t? I weighed less than the landing pod, despite its weight being dispersed by its plate-like, landing struts. Why had we sunk from sight but our craft had not?
My air warning activated a little red flashing light set-in the front of my space suits helmet. I had only a minute or two of breathable air left, but still the question buzzed my thoughts, demanding my concentration. We had tumbled from the craft, thrust out by the ape. Accepting that creature aboard had been a mistake, our mistake. Without it, we would have stepped on the firm sands on which our craft stood, instead we had tumbled and been swallowed up by what on Earth, I would call a small patch of quicksand.
Why had the ape been sent with us? It made no sense. A revelation; I remembered the doctor wishing us ‘God’s speed’ as we had entered the ship. He even patted the ape, blessing it I now realised!
The planned for futility of our deaths caused me to laugh hysterically, I entered the next world hysterically, a victim of ‘God’s peace and quiet.’ My life ended at the whim of one of the few that opposed science at every turn he who had remained undetected, and I don’t mean the ape, I mean the man that placed it onboard…
Expectations, expectations, expectations, with all the best will in all the worlds our expectations just might not turn out to be exactly what we might have hoped for, life is always full of surprises, and remember this, the fates have a wicked sense of humour so guard your expectations well.
All the best, David Stevens.