November 09, 2017

Home

The isolation was expected; the lonliness was not.

Even so, the work that now had to be done by a single person filled much of Daniil's time.  The solar collector had fallen out of true because of something getting into the gears - some of the perpetual dust in this place, no doubt - and the motor driving the contraption was reluctant to move correctly.

Everything they had moved slowly and gently: after all, if one broke it's not like they could simply order another.

The mission would take years to finish, and everything that could be planned for had been, as much as possible.  When Luis had died, there was a plan.  He was left, frozen in nearly the coldest temperatire that could be, and there he would remain until the ship returned home.

The vast shadow of the hundred-metre wide panel brought him back to the task at hand.  He messaged that Commander Osvaldo Luis Renato Sousa had suffered... a stroke?  Heart attack?  Daniil was unqualified to say, and less able to do anything to save him.  Medical gear available once they had built the base wasn't accessible in the rocket itself.  He had contemplated burying him on this distant moon, something the two of them had joked about during training; but that was obviously never going to happen.  Couldn't have Earthling bacteria disturbing whatever ecosystem might be discovered here.

At the stem of the rotation joint, he saw that indeed a small clip had broken, and there was a gap allowing dust to collect inside.  He removed it completely, squeezed a can of pressurized air at the dust until it was clear, then replaced the panel, taping it down before stepping back and trying the remote control.  The collector moved slowly into place, and he imagined the groaning of metal that the structure would have been made of in a thicker atmosphere and higher gravity.  It was noiseless here, of course; but if he concentrated, Daniil thought he could feel the vibration through his feet.

It was to be the two of them, sent out on a mission that could have been performed by robots, certainly; but it was very hard for robots to give interviews that would inspire the world.  This, in the end, is what decided the cause for sending humans into space at all, despite the far easier packing and launch of mechanical explorers.  It was also cheaper when there was no need to send an entire biosphere, or to worry about a return trip.

But without people, without pilots - without astronauts - interest faded in the general population.  A marvelous and frightening Catch-22 happened: it was harder to get funding for the cheaper automated flights than for the staggeringly expensive manned ones.

So here he was, in his oxygen-rich, pressurized, heated home-away-from-home for the next few years, unincluding the return.  In a space carefully designed for two that now couldn't have them both in it.  Luis' body was kept outside the station, perpetually in shadow but protected from the world's dust inside his suit.  Daniil didn't know what else to do for him.

They had brought along entertainment, of course: each had hundreds of books in lap-sized readers to go along with computer games and personal journals; but they also received messages from home.  It was nice to hear the voice of your family with a fresh message, outside from the pre-recorded videos they had brought.  And very soon the little moon would move out of the gas giant's shadow, and they would be receiving new messages.

Eventually, the Earth will be on one side of the Sun, and they the other.  The times when their moon would be blocked by the planet below were at least relatively short; much shorter than the long silence to come.  Everyone knew and planned for this, of course - anything as predictable as the movement of planets was easy - and they were going to take full advantage of it.

A small bell sounded, and he realized that the messages had downloaded while he was lost in thought.  He eagerly opened his mail, quickly looking over the titles of the things sent, trying to guess what story they told before looking further.  Half of them came with a warning to NOT BE OPENED UNTIL various dates days apart from each other.  He half-smiled: he'd try, but no promises.

There was also a message from Luis' mother.  He, Daniil, was to go ahead and open all the messages to her son, and use them to believe he was still there, in the base.  Daniil hadn't looked at his friend's mail, wanting to leave it unopened for their return.  He opened it now.

A television studio kitchen appeared, with a live audience clapping, and Daniil laughed out loud: Luis had talked about learning how to cook when he got back from this mission, so his mother must have sent this along to encourage him.

The announcer was speaking quickly, and Daniil couldn't follow, but when the camera panned over the ingredients on the counter, he saw that they were all pre-packaged meals that had come with them on the flight.  She must have talked a celebrity chef into doing special episodes just for Luis, recording them all before they had even left Earth!  The voice-over got faster and increased in pitch, and Daniil found himself laughing and clapping along with the audience as the camera zoomed in on the chef bursting forth from the curtains, through a big purple COZINHANDO COM AMOR!

It was Luis' mother.  She was going to teach her son to cook, even if it was from a billion kilometers away.

Daniil stopped the video and sat until he could see clearly again.  Then he looked at the ingredients, wrote down what they were, and gathered them in the small galley, bringing his tablet with him.

He hit play and concentrated.

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posted by Erin Butler at 6:08 pm 0 comments