One Small Paw

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As they approached the squat building, they left behind a faint trail of footprints in the gray dust.  The storefront was equally pale and unremarkable, as was just about everything in their prefab world.  Mark often felt like he lived in a lifeless, 3D printed diorama.  And he grew weary of the lack of color, of the minimalism he felt deep in his soul.  The jazz that drove him was long gone.  

After months of pleading, Luka had convinced him to make the trip.  Luka had a knack for searching for needles in the digital haystack. He’d been cradled by the technology that kept them all alive in such an inherently cold and isolated place.  But this time, Luka had topped himself.  A pet store?  On the moon?  Mark could hardly believe it was true.

A tinge of regret swelled up inside of him, making the artificial gravity seem heavier with each step.  The mere idea of pets seemed so foreign, so frivolous.  Borderline irresponsible.

His grandfather’s stories about the early days played on loop in Mark’s head as they entered the store.  The Moon’s modest history was filled with tales of hardship and perseverance.  The pioneering spirit followed by the reality of conservation and survival.  Even as small colonies grew to small cities and generations stubbornly took root, Mark could never quite shake that there was an underlying fragility to their existence.  The old whispers in his subconscious were always the same.  Stay modest.  Stay paranoid even, because it could save your life.

As Luka pulled Mark through the door, they were greeted with stacks of empty cages and a pervasive silence.  A desolate clerk looked up from the corner of the room, his eyelids weighed down by the profound staleness of the air.  The clerk gave them an effort-filled nod of acknowledgement as Luka and Mark took separate paths into the cluttered maze.

Mark’s thoughts turned to all the practical reasons they could never own a pet.  It was sure to cost way too many credits.  What kind of strain would this put on their aging air purification system?  And worst of all, what would the neighbors think?  One thing the Earth and the Moon would always have in common is the vanity and insecurity of its inhabitants.

He was startled when Luka shouted, “Dad! Over here!”  Mark turned the corner, and from the distance he immediately noticed a vivid swirl of orange and scarlet, like hot coals doused with cinnamon.  Luka was standing next to a cage, transfixed with wonder at the red tabby cat before him.

The cat unfurled and pranced around playfully.  It was full of life.  A resounding splash of color in a monochromatic world.

Luka hesitated as he looked up at his dad, and then pleaded, “Can we get her?  Can we?  Can we take her home?”  Mark’s thoughts sped through the list of cons once more.  He frowned, as this made him acutely aware of his “tell me the bad news first” programming.

“What should we name her?” Mark said defiantly.

Luka smiled and responded with conviction, “Mars…”

A Gentle Shove

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Mick drove their grey Porsche Carrera with a sullen look on his face and dreary eyes. He followed the usual, winding route mostly from muscle memory, functioning as little more than a beleaguered auto-pilot.

He had been itching to get out of that pretentious party.  These kinds of insufferable events were always the same.  He’d be off in one corner, drinking with his astronaut buddies.  And Loretta would be off in another, dutifully socializing with some of the other wives.  What followed was hours of inane banter, some nerd-speak with the Squints, and the requisite glad-handing of generals and senators.  As soon as he left the party, Mick had loosened his tie emphatically.  But now it just hung there, like a limp noose waiting to be cinched.

After years of research, preparation, and missed opportunities, this had been Mick’s maiden voyage.  For years he had been like a child’s balloon on a string, just yearning to be let go.  And ever since coming back, all he could think of was how it had felt to be un-tied to the world.  To finally soar to the heavens and float amongst the stars. The sense of freedom and release was profound, but it was soon met with lingering dread.  The escape was temporary.  The bubble would soon burst.  And everything that was ordinary and unsatisfying about his life was doomed to be even more so upon his return.

As they trudged on in silence, Loretta sat slumped in the passenger seat and stared blankly out her window.  Her uncomfortable heels were off and she had pulled back her long, blonde hair in slapdash fashion.  The darkness hung over them like a heavy cloak, and the headlights struggled to push through the weight.  It was bitter cold outside, but a similar harsh chill resonated inside.  Although she sat next to Mick, they might as well be lightyears away.

As they rounded another sleepy bend in the road, a loud “Bang!” shattered their funk, and the nimble car lurched violently.  Mick’s eyes widened, and Loretta’s hair was shaken loose from her lazy ponytail.  Springing to action, Mick regained control of the off-kilter vehicle and came to a stop at the side of the road.

“What the hell was that!”  Loretta cried out.  “What did you do?!”

“I didn’t do anything,”  Mick protested.  “I was just driving…”

“You can go to space and back, and yet you can’t just drive us home already.  How many shots did you kick-back with those fucking flyboy friends of yours?”

“No more than you did, that’s for sure. I’m not even close to drunk, alright?”

“Well you must have hit something! Jesus, Mick…”

“I didn’t hit anything! I don’t know what that was about. As much as I enjoy being berated like this, again, let’s just go outside and assess the situation.”

“Yes sir,” muttered Loretta. “Why don’t we assess the situation then,” she repeated mockingly.

They quickly exchange a mutual glance of disgust before gingerly stepping out of the car. It feels like entering into a murky vacuum, and their nervous breath is visible in the frigid night air. The thought crosses Mick’s mind that this is somewhat reminiscent of space, but he is also painfully aware of being grounded by gravity’s clutches.

They spend a few nervous moments scanning the surroundings, and are perplexed to find nothing strange about the road.  Mick then runs to the front of the car, and is equally surprised that nothing has damaged his early onset of mid-life crisis.

Scratching his head, Mick then takes a broader look, and slowly starts to realize something.  Loretta notices the change in his expression, and, wrinkling her brow, follows Mick’s eyes to where he is now staring.  It hits them both at the same time.  

While lost in their his & hers malaise, neither of them had noticed where they were. As fate would have it, they were standing in what used to be one of their favorite spots on the planet. A unique little overhang where you could park and get a view of the glimmering cruise ships in the distance, and, if you strained hard enough, the launch site that encompassed so many of his dreams. Their dreams. And the location where Mick had proposed to Loretta.

They looked at each other expressionless, words not coming to their mouths. As someone who lived to explore the universe, Mick was wondering if it was now trying to tell them something. When they had turned that last corner, it was like someone had given them a shove, and now they inexplicably found themselves back where it had all started.

They stood still for a few agonizing seconds before quietly getting back into the car and driving away…

Window of Opportunity

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Laying down.  Strapped in.  I crane my neck to look out the meager window of the capsule.  Earth looms large like an incandescent, turquoise marble, afloat in a sea of twinkling darkness.  There’s not much for me to do on re-entry, so I just soak it in.  Most astronauts will tell you that they never get tired of the view.  I’m frankly sick of it…

I remember the exhilarating freedom from gravity I used to feel.  The thrill of the escape.  The rhapsody from being one of the privileged few to be unbound from the world and all its conceit.  But I’ve discovered that magnetism is a far more powerful force than gravity.  And I am hopelessly caught in its pull.

Now, I’m not talking about the kind of magnetism you learn in school.  The stuff that pulls your refrigerator door closed or keeps your out-of-date iPad in its case.  This is entirely different, and infinitely more powerful.  I only discovered it when I met her.  Chris.  The person I didn’t know I was always searching for until I miraculously found her.  

For a man of science, this should all be too new-agey to accept.  But the bond between us is so deep, so pure, just so sacrosanct.  It can’t be measured or surpassed.  Our unexpected connection came about effortlessly, and brought with it an innate synchronicity of mind, body, and soul.  It made me realize that I was simply going through the motions of life without her.  A sub-routine dutifully running its programming, on infinite loop, until its eventual deprecation.

It was like this from day one, and it hasn’t changed since.  A magnetic tether connected our hearts, and the more that time and space tried to intervene, the stronger the pull could be felt.  As I was biding my time on the orbital station, it was like each rotation of the Earth spooled that tether further.  Wrapping it around and around like a big ball of yarn, making the chord that much tighter, the yearn that much stronger.

As I turn my head away from Earth, I see the stars streaking by at impossible speeds.  It’s a spastic dance of neon, like a comically fast time-lapse of a highway at night.  I guess you could call this breath-taking too, but it simply reminds me of how fast we’re going.  Roughly 17,000 mph, yet not quite fast enough.  Cabbie, could you step on it please?!

It also reminds me of how, as her star was inexplicably crossing mine, I was brave enough to reach out and grab a ride.  Of how lucky I was to catch that proverbial shooting star before it quickly faded away, granting me the ultimate wish.  It took all of my courage to change my life’s pre-set trajectory, to finally follow my heart, and I haven’t regretted it since.

Lift-off and re-entry have often been described as a series of small car crashes.  It’s not the most pleasant experience, to put it mildly.  But as I refocus my gaze on Mother Earth, everything feels smooth as silk.  I’m buffeted by a newfound swell of emotion.  I don’t notice much of anything quite honestly, since my full attention is on one precious spot of the globe.  I must be the only one smiling inside their claustrophobic bubble of a helmet, but the stale air never smelled so sweet.

As we start punching through atmospheric layers, and a glow appears around the edge of my window, my eyes do not waver.  No glow could ever burn brighter than the energy we share.  Everything else, including the sun, will always pale in comparison.  I know this, and I am grateful.  And I am even more impatient.  Because as I leave the heavens, I know I will soon be back to my own heaven on Earth…