The cryptosand beneath my feet glows with bioluminescent algae, the windows dynamically created to form paths beneath the swirling white waves of the Interstellar Inc Headquarters. It’s a bit ambitious of a name, when we haven’t even cracked our solar system’s shell, but give us time. The paths to the star aren’t as clearly marked as the glowing patches that lead me step by step to the launch prep room.
I shouldn’t have snuck out last night, but I had to say goodbye. I owed her that much. It’s not like we ever had a future together, with my leaving the planet for the next nine years and all. That’s assuming nothing goes wrong and I even survive. Even now, with all the safety protocols and fancy devices we have, people still die in space. Radiation, collisions, equipment malfunctions, even sabotage and terrorism are always possibilities. I knew the risk when I signed up, but I had as many stars in my eyes back then as there are out there, and no one had laid a finger, much less anything else, on my heart.
Would I change my mind?
She’d asked me, and I’d hesitated. That hesitation was all the answer she really needed, not hearing my stammered explanations. I couldn’t. I have no other options, even now.
I belong there, as I’ve never belonged here. The ice fields of Europa, while bitter and hostile and deadly, sing their siren song far louder than anything on old Earth. It’s stronger than the lure of her kisses, of her touches, of her breath on my neck, of our hair twining together against the sheets. It’s stronger even than the cracks through my heart at leaving her.
I strap myself into the life support gear, the helmet shifting to fit just so. It’s quiet, beneath the senseless banter we throw around like a beach ball at a bonfire. The words are meaningless, coating the real thoughts with sugar to make them palatable.
What we say: I shouldn’t have had those burritos last night. My suit had to go up three sizes.
What we mean: I’m starting to regret this already.
What we say: We’ll be the ones regretting it when you start off gassing.
What we mean: We’re all frightened.
What we say: It still smells better than your momma.
What we mean: I’m going to miss it here.
My jumpsuit and built in life support clings to me as I enter the capsule. As I leave her behind, the only words on my mind are the flight checklist and “all systems go”.
If she is still here, if she still calls my name when I return… Then maybe.
The launch goes as smoothly as launches ever do; that is to say, two minutes of hell, 6 minutes of holding our breath, and then the release of utter joy.
Still, it will take 2 years, 6 months, and 25 days for us to get there, spend 3 years researching, and another 2 years, 6 months, and 29 days to return. The few extra days are for prelanding checks before we reenter the atmosphere. Just to make sure we don’t explode after traveling 1,256.6 million kilometers and waste all that fresh water.
There’s nothing like it left here. The chemically synthed water just doesn’t do it for the elite, and they wouldn’t lower themselves to drink water from the chemical sludge once called oceans.
It’s good enough for me, and for her.
I have to get her out of my mind.
There isn’t enough space in the galaxy to run from the ache inside me.
Still, I see her face in my every dream. And still, all those years later, when I land, her gravity will pull me back again. It always does.