OUTER SPACE | 2055
Major sat reclined and strapped back into his gravity chair lost in thought. He supposed he was as physically comfortable as one could expect to be as the leader of an existence-critical mission on the verge of going into the vacuum-assisted shitter.
As worried as he was on a personal level, Bjoern’s accident may have put the ultimate success of the journey in jeopardy. Astrogeologists were not a dime a dozen, Major knew, especially with Bjoern’s experience. If they had to return him to Earth and wait for a replacement—if one could even be found—they might miss the slim window in which they could intercept the comet.
A distant crashing of metal cans broke Major’s reverie. The sounds were Zhang’s idea. The command pod was warm and his measured exhalations and those of the crew circulated through enough filters as to not become stagnant, fetid, and toxic.
The environmental engineers back on Earth added a chemically derived hint of ocean salt spray to the air return to help impart a feeling of calm, but it took Zhang to realize that it wasn’t the smell of home that they all would miss most, but the noise. Just the random, sometimes annoying sounds of other forces, other creatures, other … something.
Inside what he had come to consider as his flying fishbowl—his sealed souvenir snow globe from home—was life, or a reasonable approximation; outside was the howling void.
No, that’s not right, Major corrected himself. The void didn’t even howl. It was a soul-sucking absence of everything that would take a primal wail and make a meal of it, scattering even elemental need to the four corners.
That wasn’t right either, he thought. There were no corners in space, and perhaps that was the hardest thing to deal with. Space was the definition of nothing; you can’t train for nothing, although Major and his crew had trained.
There was the mission, and every one of them knew their part backwards and forwards. They had planned and practiced for almost every contingency, every disaster, and every opportunity. What they hadn’t, or couldn’t, understand until faced with it, was the utter lack between their ship and its goal.
The environmental recordings that Zhang uploaded to the craft’s systems before they left Earth followed the flow of an average day back at Mission Control, starting with the songs of ‘i‘iwi and palila honeycreepers as well as the transplanted shama thrush greeting the sun as it rises over the Pacific to warm the ancient volcanic cliffs of Kaua‘i, a melody contrasted and strengthened by a counterpoint of mechanical growl and lurch supplied by the morning collection of recyclables in the compound where the scientists had been housed.
The engineers had made a token attempt to have the craft echo the warp and woof of a normal Earth day. Environmental lighting dimmed down for what would be night back home and gradually worked its way back to full strength for a simulated morning. It didn’t fool Major, however, and gave more of an impression of being on the longest red eye flight in history, which, he came to admit, was pretty much the case.
To make things worse, when Zhang’s recordings first began playing back, a technical glitch made it difficult to sync the sounds with the lighting. All the banging and warbling would usually start as soon as Major had drifted off to sleep, which, he also had to admit, was pretty much the case back home.