Author: Imo Scrimger
Imo Scrimger is a Canadian writer living in the UK completing an MFA in Creative Writing. By day they edit videos and by night they write short horror and speculative fiction stories. They are currently working on their first full length novel.
My mother loves to talk about her daughter, the astronaut. She will proudly say that her daughter is the commander of a ship and goes into space all the time. I have tried to explain to her that I’m really more like a bus driver. I’m also not going into space that much lately. Newer tour companies offer more extensive experiences now. If you have your suit license, they actually let you walk around out there. Nobody wants to just drive by the moon anymore. But my mother won’t hear it. Her daughter goes to space, and that’s still amazing to her.
I was standing beside the ship wearing my official company gear and my welcoming smile when my only party of the day emerged from the office. A middle aged man and woman with a kid, maybe ten, and an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I was surprised. We don’t get many senior citizens. With today’s technology, our trips aren’t that physically strenuous, but it’s still like going on a roller coaster at some points. I kept the surprise off my face as I wondered if I would have to do anything differently for a grandma. My company’s quick and simple moon viewing trip was cutting edge when it started but had dulled over time. It’s now more fit as a first voyage for children. Kids are usually pumped up. The old woman sat rigid in her wheelchair as her probably son pushed her along.
As the family got closer I reflexively gave the salute that I have had to give for the past ten years. The kid’s eyes widened with delight. Mom aww’d. Dad slowed down the chair. Grandma looked confused and sceptical. Great.
“Welcome to Hatfield Space Station! I am Commander Brindle and we will be traversing the stars in this Class H Wonder Cruiser. As we take off, we will reach a speed of 25,000 miles per hour. That’s ten times faster than a speeding bullet!”
I paused instinctively for children’s squealing. The kid did look excited. Though his mouth opened, he kept quiet. Well behaved, I guessed. I checked Grandma to see how she was taking it. Her mouth was shut tight.
“Uh, not that you’ll feel any of it, of course.” I had given the exact same speech for the last decade. Ad-libbing reassurance threw me off for a moment. “Once we break through the earth’s atmosphere, we will be at a cruising speed of 75,000 miles per hour. That will get us to our optimal moon viewing position in about fifteen minutes. We will be passing many human made and nature made wonders along the way.”
I motioned to the pamphlets that they had been given in the front office. There was a map of our route and things to note along the way. The kid opened his and followed along. His mom did the same. Dad read over mom’s shoulder. Grandma just kept staring from me to the ship. She didn’t even have a pamphlet.
“As you can see, we will be passing the International Space Station, Charter Station and the Branard Deck. We will then be near the moon’s orbit - ”
“For how long?” Grandma asked.
I was on autopilot and almost didn’t notice her voice. It was hoarse but still forceful. The dad reacted like a parent hushing a noisy child.
“I’m sure she’s getting to that, mom.” He gave me a sympathetic look. I ad-libbed for the second time.
“Yes! Great question. Well, the engines will be “off” in a sense at this point but thanks to the amount of force from earlier, we will still be moving at an impressive speed. We will be ‘floating with purpose’ past the moon for roughly 10 minutes. Plenty of time to take pictures. After about 10 minutes, I will turn the engines back up and we will safely curve back towards the earth.”
My customer service face had not changed and neither had Grandma’s. Mom was still reading the pamphlet but the kid was done and ready. He was eyeing the ship and moving around.
“Ok and with that it’s time to board the ship and prepare for take off!”
They usually love that phrase. And the kid did. The squeal was audible this time. I led the way over to the ship. It isn’t one of the advanced crafts that let you actually explore space if you have a suit, but it does have a wheelchair ramp. I hopped in and flicked a switch. A small ramp slowly and noisily extended from the open door. When the noise stopped, dad pushed Grandma up the slight incline. Mom and kid followed.
My company’s ships are not the biggest. Compared to some of the massive ones they have now, the inside is somewhat cramped. Four rows of three seats on either side of an aisle. The windows are big, but not huge. There is a washroom at the back and a small standing area up front. Behind a low partition, the cockpit. When I first started, I had asked why the cockpit was essentially open to the passengers. The owner himself had told me that the cockpit of a spaceship was almost as exciting as space itself. He was a head in the stars sort of guy.
The kid jumped into the first seat he could find that had a window. Mom tried to stop him while checking the little number on her ticket. She looked at the seat she was allocated and then at the empty seats and finally back to me.
“Should we sit…”
I shook my head.
“Don’t worry. It’s all yours today. Sit where you like.”
Of course, it could be all theirs for most of the week as well, but I didn’t mention that. Dad and Grandma were wrestling with the wheelchair.
“Which seat do you want, mom?”
They were near the middle rows and dad was getting ready to hoist her out.
“This one’s fine.”
Dad got his arms around her and moved backwards into the row of seats. With a little fidgeting, she was out of her worn chair and into one of our worn chairs. Dad was pretty much stuck where he was, so I moved swiftly to get the wheelchair stowed. All about that customer service. I pushed it to the back and locked it in place. Grandma was in the second row behind her grandson and daughter in law. She sat in the middle seat and her son had the window seat beside her. I moved up to the front and faced my passengers.
“You all watched the safety video in the office. Please adjust your harnesses now.”
Mom helped her son and dad helped his mom. Then they put on their own. The belts made an X across the torso.
I took my seat a few feet away and did up my own safety belt. Now came the easy part. It took very little thinking. It was the exact same sequence I had done a thousand times over the past ten years. Power on, engine one, engine two, over flaps down, adjust to 45 degrees, pre burn… My mind was blank as my fingers moved on their own. There was a monitor that showed me a view of the cabin. The kid was excited and already bouncing around. Dad seemed to be patting his mother’s tightly clasped hands. At least he was there to keep her calm.
I spun the heavy yoke and we moved along the runway. I was the only flight today, so I didn’t have to wait for much. I spoke into my headset that was linked to speakers in the cabin.
“Alright crew, prepare for take off.”
I pushed a button and a countdown sequence began to play on the screen on the partition behind my seat. It is, of course, not really hooked up to anything. It’s just a video of large numbers counting down from 10 to 0 with a little animation that says “Blast Off!” at the end. I thought it was exciting when I first started. Now, it was like every other part of my job. Luster worn and simply a piece of routine. But the kids like it, so we still do it.
10, 9, 8, 7…
The kid was practically yelling. His mom counted along with him. Dad was smiling. Grandma had her eyes shut.
...3, 2, 1...Blast Off!
I positioned the yoke and pushed the second to last button and the engines did their thing. I then pushed the last button in my sequence which turned off the countdown video.
Up, up, up. Rumbling power. You can feel the force, but not really any G’s. Technology has come a long way. We passed through white clouds to blinding sunshine and eventually to black space. We continued forward at speed until it was time for me to push buttons again. Turning off burners and engines and turning on support systems. Like a dance routine. I could do it blindfolded.
I checked the cabin monitor to see how everyone had done with our ascent. We do provide barf bags, naturally. But everyone seemed to be ok. The kid had his hands and nose pressed against his window. Mom seemed a little shaky but was laughing. I was more focused on how Grandma had fared. She had her eyes open now and was looking out the window beside her son. He was checking in on his wife. It was at this point that they noticed the gravity, or slight lack thereof.
The kid’s pamphlet floated loose and he watched it, spellbound. They all did. Even Grandma. It floated back and dad swatted it like a volleyball. The safety belts kept them in place, but arms and legs were starting to be experimented with. Mom let her legs float up with little resistance. The kid took it a step further and kicked his legs wildly, a shoe coming off in the process. Mom looked alarmed and tried to grab it, but it was coming towards me. I undid my belt and got out of my seat. My pony tail floated behind me as I grabbed the shoe. I smiled and used the small hand holds along the ceiling to climb to the cabin. I tossed the shoe to the kid who looked embarrassed but also amazed.
With the engines essentially off, it was much quieter. I took off my headset.
“Welcome to space everyone,” I said, still holding onto a hand hold at the front of the ship. “We are a few minutes away from optimal moon viewing, but if you look out your windows, you should be able to see it a ways off.”
Everyone looked out a window to try and see. Even Grandma leaned closer to the window nearest to her. The kid began naming off a lot of the stars and structures nearby. I told him I was impressed.
“Don’t forget Aldebaran,” Grandma added. She was pointing out the window at something very far away. The kid put his hands over his face and thrashed around in over exaggerated kid anguish.
“Awww! I always forget that one!”
I was surprised at Grandma’s space knowledge. Her voice sounded different than it had back on Earth. There was a spark.
“Don’t feel too bad,” I told the boy. “That one’s not too well known.” Honestly, I had barely heard of it.
“You and Grandma were going over that part yesterday, right?” mom asked. The kid nodded and pointed out a few more.
I looked at Grandma, hoping to catch her eye. I wanted her to elaborate on the study session, but she was glued to the window. I tried the kid instead.
“So you and your Grandma were getting ready for your trip?”
He nodded again.
“Me and Grandma always talk about space,” he said while still looking out the window. “She knows everything. She’s gonna teach me to be an astronaut. I’m gonna be the first one out of our solar system.”
It was not the answer I was expecting. The kid seemed so enthusiastic. And Grandma was helping to keep the passion alive. I was surprised at how happy that made me.
“That’s fantastic. It’s nice that you’ve got people to help you.”
Again I looked to see if Grandma wanted to contribute, but she was leaning evening closer to the window beside her son. I tried the mom instead.
“Did she work for NASA or SINTO or one of those?” I asked in a lower voice.
Mom gave a social laugh and shook her head to dismiss the conversation. I nodded politely. Curiosity was getting the better of me, though. I started to move along the handrails towards Grandma’s row. Before I could get there, though, she let out a little gasp followed by her grandson’s louder one.
“I can see it! I can see it!” the kid squealed. He turned around as much as he could to let his grandmother know about his discovery.
“I know! I see it too!” she practically yelled.
The spark that the stars had ignited in Grandma was growing. She was different up here. Animated, excited, curious. The energy was a nice change from that of my usual passengers. Hyperactive children that screamed at the zero gravity, bored teenagers who complained that their friends had gotten to go to Mars, parents that were just here to take pictures of their kids. But this was a genuine passion. And all it had needed was the moon.
Grandma craned and stretched against the seat belt and her son’s body. I thought for a moment. Turning around, I saw that indicators and checks were all normal. Lights were green and everything was as it always was at this moment in my life. The moon would be on our right in about 60 seconds. I continued moving along the handrail down the aisle. I stopped in front of dad and Grandma’s row.
“Um, did you want to move closer?” I asked the old woman with a love for space.
She looked at me and, after a moment, nodded. I quickly moved to the cockpit and pushed a button I had never pushed before. It turned off the seatbelt alarm system. I moved back to her row and me and her son helped her out of the harness. She was weightless and floating slightly out of her seat. The dad started to undo his. It was going to get complicated doing it that way and I told him so.
“Put your legs in front of you,” I instructed Grandma. “Yup, like that. Now just hold on tight and I’ll get you to the moon.”
“Ok,” she whispered.
Grandma gripped my arm very tightly and pushed off from her seat. I maneuvered us out of the row and up to the cockpit. I got her into the pilot’s chair and did up the belt. Her eyes goggled and moved over all the buttons and dials. As soon as she looked out the large window, though, she never looked back. She was still clutching my arm, so I just crouched down beside her. The moon came up beside us.
Mom took pictures and so did dad. The kid squealed and started naming all the craters and valleys he could see.
“You taught him all that?” I asked Grandma.
She nodded, just like her grandson, and never took her eyes off of earth’s only natural satellite.
“That’s really amazing. Did you want to be an astronaut?”
Eventually, she nodded again. She spoke softly, either to me, herself, or the moon.
“...born too late to explore the earth and too early to explore the stars. His generation gets to go out there and discover things.” She paused. “The insurance is too much for me to get one of those suit licenses. This is as close as I can get.” She gripped my arm a little tighter.
“Have you been to Mars?” she asked me.
“No not yet,” I told her. “I don’t actually have my suit license either.” I was suddenly embarrassed by that fact.
“We can’t go down, even if we just stay in the ship?”
“Sorry. I’m...not trained to do that.” It was the truth.
The ship moved slowly along and I looked at the moon more closely than I had in a while, trying to see it through this old woman’s eyes. I saw the craters the kid was naming and could just make out an old lunar base, long abandoned for farther, more exciting destinations. There would have been a time, though, when its existence was unfathomable. Normal people walking on the moon. But it had happened. We got there. It was proof that there was more out there. More than just routine and the everyday. We could go farther. I could go farther.
Maybe this was how my mom felt. For me and millions of tourists, space was just another destination. But for my mom’s generation and the one’s before, it was more of a concept. They grew up only being able to imagine space, and they imagined it as magnificent.
My well developed inner clock told me I had to start sequences soon. I stood up and Grandma released my arm. I told the family that we would be beginning our re-entry soon.
“But we haven’t even passed it yet. There’s still more to see,” Grandma pleaded. Her grandson protested as well.
“Sorry everyone.” And I was.
I got Grandma out of my seat and back into hers. I got back to the cockpit and started pushing my buttons. I was just about to start up the engines when I stopped myself. I flicked the seat alarm system back on. All were tight and secure. It was time for the second movement. Engines start up, wait for power to reach 8.5, yoke towards earth, and ease into full power.
Down, down, down. The black turned to white turned to blue and green. Things came back into focus and the runway got larger. We landed with a bump. My fingers recognized that bump and did the last few motions for a trip to the moon. Turning loud and powerful things off, mostly.
As everyone disembarked, I stood beside the door and gave the same little salute that I’m supposed to use at the beginning and the end. The parents made the kid say thank you. He gave a loud and bouncy thank you while saluting back. Mom and dad laughed and saluted too. Even Grandma raised her hand before being wheeled back towards the car park.
With my only trip of the day over, I would be clocking out soon. I decided that when I got home, I would sign up for a suit certificate course. I would go to Mars and see the colonies and the ice. Yes, it was a little pricey, but it would be a business expense. I was an astronaut after all.