Maria woke to silence and darkness. She strained to hear the ship. The ventilation system was quiet. The water processing plant was quiet. The emergency lights were off. She slipped out of bed in a panic. The gravity system was still working somehow. How long had everything been turned off? The touchpad on the wall by the bed was dark. She tapped it to activate it. Nothing. She slapped at it harder and it fell from the wall. It hit the ground with a loud smack and glass shattered.
Behind her a light turned on. Maria turned to see Hailey turning on her bedside light. Hailey slid from bed and walked to her.
“Hey you’re home now. You’re not on the ship,” she said soothingly. She reached out and laid a hand on Maria’s shoulder.
Maria looked back at the “touchpad”. A picture frame broken on the floor. She looked around the room. Their bedroom in their house. Hailey’s house really but she always said their’s. Confusion gave way to memory and Maria pulled Hailey into a hug.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” Hailey said.
“I broke the picture frame,” Maria said, “Again.”
“We’ll find a better place for that picture. Come on let’s go back to bed.”
Log #123: To whom ever it may concern. It’s now ten days since the end of the mission. All comets sectioned and rendered harmless. It’s going to be a hell of a light show once they get closer to the sun. I’m coming up on my first braking maneuver. I don’t know if I’m going to make it home. The ship isn’t at a hundred percent. I’m down four rocket engines.
This may be the last recording I make. If it is I want to say a few things. First I don’t regret coming out here. I did it for the greater good and all that bullshit. Second, Mom, Dad I’m sorry I missed Christmas and Thanksgiving and New Years and your birthdays and father’s day and mother’s day but I know you understand why I had to come out here. Third …. Hailey I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before I left but I didn’t… I knew I might not come back so I didn’t say it. I should have said it but I was scared. I’m sorry and I love you. This is Maria Flores signing off.
“Hey I don’t care how big a star he is. He is not playing me in the movie. Find a trans woman for the role. … I know I can’t stop you from making the movie but I can roast the production on social media. Do you want to go against the ‘Savior of Earth’? … Good, also she better not be white.” Maria snapped her phone closed and shoved it into a pocket. “I can’t believe we’re still fighting to be seen as women.”
“There’s that independent film studio that offered to let you play yourself. Why not give them a call?” Hailey offered.
“I lived through it once I don’t want to pretend to do it again.”
“Hi, are you the astronaut that blew up the comets?” a child asked from behind the pair.
Maria stopped and knelt down, “Hey there, yeah that’s me. I didn’t blow them up through. I cut them up into little pieces with a laser.”
“Cool,” the kid smiled and asked, “Do you still have the laser?”
“No it stayed with the ship. What’s your name kiddo?”
“That’s my name too,” Maria smiled, “Did you see the comet fragments when they passed by?”
“Yeah, my school had a special night trip to see them. There were telescopes so we could see them better.”
“Maria,” a voice called out. Both Marias turned to look at the woman walking over to them. “I’m sorry if she was bothering you. Come on we have more shopping to do.”
“Mom it’s her,” little Maria said, “The astronaut that blew up the comets.”
“Who?” the woman looked at Maria and stared for a second. “Oh my goddess, it is you. Ms. Flores I… Thank you. I know you must get that all the time. I’m sorry again for bothering you.”
“No it’s alright,” she looked down at little Maria, “I like being reminded of why I went out there.”
Transcript of comms between DSEV (DS) and CAPCOM (CC)
CC: DSEV 1 Do you read?
CC: DSEV 1 Do you read?
DS: This is DSEV 1. I read you. Who am I talking to?
CC: This is CAPCOM in Houston. We have reacquired telemetry from DSEV 1.
DS: Good to hear from you Houston.
CC: Good to hear from you too Maria.
DS: I have a bit of problem Houston. I’m off course and unable to correct. I will miss Earth intercept.
DS: Repeat I will miss Earth intercept.
CC: Rodger on off course. We’ll get some people on it. Anything else.
DS: Yeah, I want a hamburger when I get back.
CC: Rodger on hamburger. You want fries want that?
“Hello,” Maria said.
“Hello. It’s nice to see you again,” the psychologist said while getting up from her desk and walking over to a couple of chairs off to one side.
“Wish I could say the same. Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.” Maria sat down opposite the doctor.
“Well, I am on call for you,” the doctor said.
“On call?” Maria asked.
“The space agency has me on a retainer. I have other patients, also mostly from the agency, but none of them are in crisis so I can juggle them around if you need to talk to me.”
“The agency set that up?”
“Yes, didn’t they tell you?”
“They gave me your contact info and said to call you if I needed to. No one said you were waiting around just for me.”
“I’m not. Like I said I have other patients and I have a couple of partners who handle patients in crisis that I consult on. But I am always available for you.”
“Why me?” Maria asked.
“You saved the Earth. It would be pretty shitty if we let you breakdown afterwards. So, what seems to be the problem?”
Maria hesitated, unsure if she should be bothering with this after all. Hailey would ask how the meeting had gone, so she pressed on, “I’m having problems sleeping.”
“Are you having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?” she scribbled a note with a stylus on her notebook.
“No, I… Some days when I wake up I forget I’m back on Earth. I think I’m still on the ship and I freak out,” she paused, “I broke a picture frame.”
“You broke the picture frame because you were panicking?” the doctor asked.
“No. Yes,” she stumbled with embarrassment, “I was confused and thought it was the touchpad on the ship. I tried to activate it and knocked it off the wall.”
“What made you panic?”
“It was too quiet when I woke up. I couldn’t hear the ventilation fans or the generators making noise. It sounded like the ship was dead in space.” It had been her worst fear after the accident and it had somehow followed her home.
They sat in silence for a moment before the doctor spoke, “Have you tried a sound machine? If you aren’t worried about the ship when you wake up it might be easier to remember that you aren’t on the ship any more.”
“That sounds like a cheat.”
The doctor laughed, “Of course it’s a cheat. If it keeps you from waking up in a panic, then why wouldn’t you do it. Let me remind you again that you saved the whole Earth. If anyone deserves a cheat, it’s you,” she paused letting that idea sink in before continuing, “Now this isn’t meant to be a permanent fix. It’s just to help you get by. If you want we can meet once a week and talk about the mission or anything else?”
Maria considered the offer and said, “I think I would like that.”
Log #124: One last message. In about two hours ,the shuttle from Earth will recover me from the DSEV. I’m going home. We’re abandoning the DSEV. It’s out of fuel and headed sunward. If the computer’s simulation is correct, the ship enter a long orbit around the sun. We may get a chance to recover the ship later but no guarantees. I download a copy of the data collected about the comets and my logs. I’m shutting down the gravity system and venting the living area and flight deck in a few minutes. The reactor is going into long term shut down.
This ship may not be recovered for many years, decades or centuries even. These logs might not be readable by that time but in any case I’m leaving this last message as a final goodbye to this ship. This ship saved the Earth and I hope future any space archaeologists that find it appreciate it’s value.
“Um, I got this sound machine. The doctor said it might help if the room wasn’t so quiet when I woke up.”
“Ok,” Hailey said getting into bed.
Maria played with the settings until she found some sounds that were close enough. White noise with a rhythmic low hum underneath. She laid down, closed her eyes and listened to it.
“Is that what the ship sounded like?” Hailey asked.
“Mostly. You could hear water moving through the reclamation system sometimes,” Maria said.
“Do you miss it?”
Maria opened her eyes and turned to look at Hailey, “No. Never. I missed you too much to ever want to go back,” Maria reached over and pulled her closer, “I love you.”
Hailey returned the embrace, “I love you, too.”
The two of them listened to the sounds of ‘not quite the ship’, while they fell asleep.