Way Out

Mission log: October 9th 2052, Captain David Borden recording. 

The rest of the crew are down in their bunks and NASA has asked me to record a final message to anyone back home. 

Home. When I left I felt like I didn’t really have one. The whole Earth was my home, which is to say nowhere was. I’m sure by now you’ve been given the salient details of my current situation, but the way the mission has gone… I think the technical term is fubar. We over-shot the point at which we were supposed to have main engine shutdown, burned through more fuel than we were supposed to, then through the reserve tank as we brought ourselves back under control. 

And now we’re here. We don’t even have a name for the planet we’ve arrived at, just a designation number. S/2043 S921. If you want to imagine it, it’s something like Saturn. It has two sets of rings, not as flat and neat as Saturn’s but from our point of view they form an X shape around the planet itself, which is predominantly dark yellow, with streaks of brown and gold. It doesn’t have any moons, and the star of this system is, for all it matters to you, the same as our sun.

Aside from that, everything is black. The planet is bright enough right now that we can’t even see any stars out of the front windows of the command capsule. But it is a beautiful sight. I’m sitting here looking at a view that only three human beings have ever seen, and all I can think about is how empty the experience is without someone to share it with. The black isn’t just the absence of colour, it’s the absence of light, and more than anything I’m feeling the absence of you. 

So this is my apology. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being so detached. I thought I had to be to be able to take this mission and be everything everyone down there needed me to be. I should have told you every day that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. All the awards and accolades and notoriety of being a pilot and an astronaut, isn’t really worth very much without someone to come home to. And now I never can come home, to you or anyone. 

I wanted to be a hero. The next Neil Armstrong. We’d never say it outside the crew but the weight of the world on our shoulders was more of a burden than we admit. If I’m remembered for nothing else from this failed mission it’s that you can’t fake it forever. You can’t carry on just saying the things you know you’re supposed to forever, at some point you have to reckon with the fact that inside your instincts can’t be ignored and they’re usually right. There’s a truth in them that can’t be denied. As much as I wanted to be the hero up here, there’s so much I still wanted to do down there. 

But don’t cry for me. I knew there were risks, I guess. You never think it’s going to happen to you. Even if something went wrong in the mission, chances are either NASA would be able to fix it, or we’d be killed instantly. No point sugar-coating that… It’s no fun knowing the end is coming, and you can’t do anything but make it sooner… 

We were issued with suicide pills. They may not even let me tell you this, relaying the transmission to you. We have a pill each, we swallow it, we go to sleep and never wake up. For this eventuality, I suppose, and others. We were all in favour of crashing the ship into the planet and going out in a blaze of glory, but NASA thinks we should leave ourselves in orbit, just in case anybody ever finds the ship, they can see where it came from and why. We only have sub-light propulsion systems now, can’t even make another jump to a planet that might be more hospitable. Not that we can find one from here either. 

It sounds like a great life, exploring the galaxy, visiting new worlds and far-off planets. And maybe had the mission been a success I’d think so too. But I sit here and think about all of the trips we took to Europe, and all the places on Earth we hadn’t been yet. I’d have like to see the Taj Mahal in person. Sydney Opera House. Turns out you can’t actually see the Great Wall of China from space, so you should add that one to the list too. You should go. But find someone to take with you, please. Isolation isn’t good for the soul. Believe me, there’s only four of us within five lightyears.

The pill is starting to take effect now. I can feel my eyelids getting heavy. But I want you to know, that when I drift off for this permanent sleep, I hope I dream of you. I’m not in pain. I mean, I am. I have been this whole week since I realised we’re not coming back to you. But you can lie, right? Tell everyone I was tough and joking around. 

I love you Jenn. Goodnight.


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