And That, as They Say, Was That!
The escape capsule was just big enough for two. Elisa’s companion, Gerhard was strapped to the couch on her right. Standing, lying or falling, depended on your point of view. She avoided his eyes. Easy, as he glared almost hysterically at the enormity of space before him. His eyes darting from side to side. Hands clenched tight to the arm rests, ready to tear them off.
The tiny ship was shaped like a lozenge, or maybe a seed pod. Were they the seeds? It was long, wide and deep enough for them and a bit of machinery behind their backs. That was it. In a narrow band across the front the builders had stuck few controls, air temp, entertainment, nothing useful. The remainder of the capsule was completely transparent. A little like lying face down on the bottom of a fish bowel, in space.
If you suffered from vertigo this was not your ride.
But vertigo was not Gerhard’s problem.
Below was Earth, getting closer by the second. Behind it, a lot of stars.
Six hours, they had been hurtling back home after their ship had developed terminal issues, forcing their departure. Spat out on a trajectory which would take them into a comfortable orbit for rescue. They thought they had a solid plan.
“Almost there” Eliza said trying to brighten the mood.
Gerhard’s fingers tightened their grip, knuckles white. “Very funny!”
“Sorry.” She didn’t know Gerhard very well. For a first flight together, it wasn’t going well.
She tapped her fingers on the console before her. “Is the temperature ok? I can make it cooler. How about warmer?”
Gerhard dragged his eyes from the scene before him to Elisa’s. His expression was a mixture of terror and exhaustion.
“Sorry” he forced from between clenched teeth. “I’m not very good at this.”
Elisa smiled tightly “Who is? Lack of practise I guess.” She looked around the tiny pod, hoping to lighten the mood with conversation. “Why do you think they makes these windows so big?”
“Um” Gerhard’s said, clearly battling. “Maybe so rescuers can see if there is anything inside worth rescuing. You know, if it’s worth the effort.”
“Yeah,” said Eliza nodding. “They’re pretty efficient, those rescue people. No point chasing after an empty pod.”
She touched a button and loud jazz music played. Gerhard jumped, eyes pleading. She switched it off.
“Not a jazz fan?”
He stared at her desperately. She smiled back but wished she could move further away.
Finally he spoke, “Check again?”
Eliza sighed inwardly. “I’ve checked seven times.” Those pleading eyes, like a lamb going to… “Ok,” she said, “I’ll check again.” She ran her fingers over the small flight computer. “No change Gerhard. Right on course.”
Time passed, Elisa stretched as best she could in the small space, her head back and eyes closed. She tried not to think of home, Earth, her child waiting for her. Her brother and sister in law, her crazy sister. “What I would do for a hot bath right now?” she thought.
She looked over at him again. She didn’t think he wanted to talk, but the silence made her want to scream. “Family on earth?”
“No. No one.” Then he added, “My father.”
He turned to her, “No, Actually. A bit of an arsehole to be honest” He smiled and then rubbed his face. “I can say that can’t I?”
Elisa offered him a high five “Oh yeah! In fact you can say anything you like right now, you’re secret’s safe with me.”
He giggled, a little crazily.
They sat side by side for a while, thinking their thoughts. The capsule hurled itself towards the home planet with massive, silent speed. The view, was amazing.
“Elisa?” he said turning to her.
“Sorry I’m such a woos.”
“Aaah.” She waved his words away with her hands. “At least your sticking with me, better than some of the men I’ve met.”
“Elisa, I have to stick with you, there’s nothing outside but empty space.”
“Details. You’re here, that’s what I call commitment. Anyway-”
A light flashed at her elbow, she turned it off quickly, but he saw it.
“That’s it, isn’t it?”
She searched for a better answer but found none. “Yes.”
“What direction?” he said he was craning his neck frantically from side to side, trying to see all around the capsule at once.
“Um,” said Eliza, pointing off to the left, “it should come from over there.”
He stared hard the way she had pointed. She didn’t look herself. Instead, gazing down at the earth, moving closer all the time, more and more beautiful with each second, she thought again of her daughter. A tear left her eye and slipped down one cheek.
“I can’t see it.” he said, “Maybe it’s a mistake.”
“No, no mistake.”
She had promised herself she wouldn’t cry. No need to keep promises any more. She followed Gerhard’s gaze. Bearing down on them was a huge, newly launched satellite. It wasn’t on their charts because the emergency pod had old charts. The pod had made one burn to set its track back to Earth and lacking that one little bit of information had simply chosen the straightest route. Later the system had realised its error. Too late.
It was in sight now. In ten seconds it doubled in size, ten more and it filled their view, as it screamed towards then Gerhard took her hand, they didn’t speak, there was nothing to say. At the last second they could read the writing on its side “Global TV. Bringing the World Closer!”.
And that, as they say, was that.