4 Rendezvous Initiated
It seemed that the saucer was complete and had even been tested. Was there another one to be built? Would someone show up and take the saucer away? Was it just a plaything for me to hang out in, some elaborate toy spaceship for a ten-year-old boy who was about to lose his dad to cancer? If this was the idea of the Kids’ Cancer Dream Network, they had certainly outdone themselves.
I found myself walking around the whole perimeter of the saucer checking for loose bolts, rivets, or welds but found everything to be ship-shape, tight, and ready for flight. I climbed in the cabin and turned on the latest in-dash monitors that had been installed. A warm glow filled the cabin and spaces beyond, as a series of checklists appeared on the screen. I watched as some of them asked me to answer yes or no about the readiness of the saucer. Other items were automatically checked with a small “GO” symbol. Each list was long and then gave way to another list and another after that. I am not sure how long I sat going through the seemingly endless series; perhaps it was hours. At the end of it all I felt extremely tired and went back into the residence portion of the saucer. I opened a refrigerator and was surprised to find it stocked with precooked meals. I pulled out a package marked spaghetti and meat sauce and pulled a string on the packaging. Immediately the meal puffed up slightly, giving off a marvellous aroma and I realised how hungry I was. The food was hot but not too hot and I wolfed it down. There was even a side dish of carrots with a light ginger flavour. I felt only a tinge of guilt as I thought of what my mother would be cooking for supper in the house on the other side of the hedge.
When I finished, I washed up the dishes in a sink and put them in a cupboard clearly marked for each spoon, bowl, and cup. I closed the cupboard door and felt an immediate exhaustion. Just a little further back in the residence was a bathroom and a small area designated as a bedroom. My eyes grew heavy, and I felt my limbs dragging me toward the narrow mattress. I remember thinking, “I just need five minutes,” as I fell into the wonderfully comfortable covers.
I awoke the next day just before dawn, with my first thought being, “Oh man, Mom is going to kill me.” I was sure she had been up all night wondering where I was. I raced toward the door of the saucer but just before I hit the exit handle, a message on the dash of the main control panel caught my eye. It was three words with a mysterious meaning: “GO for Rendezvous.” I tried to crank the door handle but found my hand was not taking messages from my brain. Instead, my hand was straying to the green button beside the message on the screen. My legs were sliding me into the seat, my arms were now strapping my body into the five-point harness, and my finger was on the button. I knew I had to think fast. This would be my only chance to say GO or STOP FOREVER. I couldn’t think about anything else. I knew that I loved my mom and dad. I knew I wanted to be home in my own kitchen, in my own room, or in the yard with my bike, but something would not let go of my hand until I pressed the button. My brain was completely at ease with the task before me. My mind gave consent and my voice screamed out, “GO!”
I hit the button with a little too much force but not enough to do damage and everything inside the saucer came to life. There was a squeaking of rubber seals, a hissing of air, a small tremble as conduits and wires found their proper resting place. Switches, motors, gears, and the metal shell all eased into working order and the lights in the cabin and on the dash became a serious light show before settling into solid states with only a few blinking on and off. A voice from deep in the dash spoke soothingly as it announced, “Rendezvous protocol initiated. Flight plan registered. You are cleared for atmospheric departure.” There was one more woosh, a rumble, a strange whine, and a gentle hum as a rocket came to life and the Gravity Amplification System came online. With a gentle shudder and a slight list to the left, the saucer lifted off the sand below it.
I saw the artificial horizon indicator in the dash and could look out the window/view screen to see that the ship’s nose was beginning to point up. But nothing in my body indicated that we were anything but level. The saucer had some sort of artificial gravity that always pointed toward the floor. I was pretty sure that a glass of water placed on the console beside me would stay perfectly level regardless of the orientation of the craft. Just the same, I decided never to test that theory in case I spilled water on electronic circuits.
I looked at the view screen again to see what was happening outside and realised I was already higher than birds fly. I had missed any chance to see how the workspace was related to the geography near my house. I was just able to pick out a few features that I thought looked like the launch complex at Cape Canaveral and then the most notable feature below me was the whole of the Florida peninsula. The ride was extremely smooth. It was like riding in a fast car on a freshly paved road. Now even the clouds were below the saucer. The sun would have been blinding had it not been for the fact that the view was mediated through a camera and window-sized screens. And just as I began to marvel at how bright it was, the sky went black. Now there was only the bright light of the sun in one direction and the blackness of space in all other directions. A few bright stars began to show themselves. And then more and more stars. But the monster that loomed in front of me next was what caught my eye. It was all encompassing. I had never seen the moon look so large. Harvest moon? No way. Supermoon? No chance. I had only been aloft for a couple of hours at most. How was it that the moon could be so close? I did a quick bit of math in my head. It was pretty rough math, but I realised I must be travelling at about one-hundred-thousand km/hr. Could this saucer really go that fast? Then I thought of the touch screen that showed the Automated Dynamic Hyper Drive and indicated the calculations for time dilation and my heart nearly stopped. I was really in a bad spot now. Why did I ever crawl through a hole in the hedge? I was likely going to end up a squashed bit of biology smashed on the surface of the moon. This would be my just reward for all of the deceit and half-truths told to my parents.
But then I looked at the rear-view screen and realised that this punishment might be too much for my sins. For there, stretched out behind me was the home of everyone I knew and everyone who had ever lived and died on earth. The blue green orb hanging in nothing was already spun far enough that I could not see Florida. Yet, without a doubt, that was where my house would be. What was truly odd was seeing something that I knew was tremendously large that had no supports to hold it up. Why wasn’t it falling? Of course, I knew the answer. The earth is indeed always falling. It is just falling toward the sun at the same speed as centrifugal force is pushing it away from the sun in its constant elliptical orbit around our star, in a perpetual dance with the moon and the other planets circling the sun. Knowing that did not help my sense of squeamishness at seeing the earth in this position. It was worse than the time I stepped out on the glass floor of that tower somewhere in Canada and felt like I would fall to the street below. Everything in my experience had taught my mind to scream out if I saw a risk of falling to my death. Now, the evidence before my eyes suggested that the entire sphere in front of me would crash to some unseen floor far below. My stomach did a flip and I thought I might throw up right there on the console. I quickly looked forward and my stomach did one more twist before it settled. There I saw the moon once again and marvelled at how much closer it had gotten in a short period of time. This was the more comfortable view and so knowing that the ominous view of the earth was right behind me staring me down like an old-time gunfighter, I kept my gaze focussed firmly on the console in front of me with an occasional glance at the moon looming ever nearer.
Realizing that I had set this spaceship in motion, I began to scroll through every menu in the system. I looked for something I could toggle to return to earth, or reverse course, or abort mission. But no such prompt appeared anywhere. Every menu, every switch, every item that appeared on screen was geared for one direction: forward. I began to realise that perhaps the moon was not the final destination, but a stopping point along the way. The words Trappist system and Trappist-1 appeared with regular frequency in all of the screens I saw. I wished I had some books or a database of some sort that would help me learn more about these terms. Everything on board seemed designed to give me just enough information while still keeping me quite in the dark about what was going on. A glimmer of light on another dashboard caught my eye, and once again my heart nearly stopped. Words flashed on and off: PREPARE FOR LUNAR ORBIT. I could not have been travelling for more than three or four hours. How could we possibly be that close to the moon? But, sure enough, as I had been preoccupied by looking for a way out of this voyage, the moon had drawn ever closer until it looked like we were barely skimming over the surface. Once I had reconciled myself to the fact that I was on a strange and dangerous journey, the panic seemed to abate. Whatever was coming, I was now helpless to undo the events I had set in motion.
I had no idea how to PREPARE for lunar orbit, but as I looked at the viewscreens showing what was going on outside, the nausea returned. It wasn’t that my body was being slung by excessive g-forces, but rather that I had the distinct impression that I should be feeling incredible g-forces, but I was not. As the spaceship swung around the right edge of the moon (was that the eastern edge?), I could see that my speed was rapidly decelerating, but my body felt nothing. Somehow, this ship’s ability to overcome gravity also pertained to its ability to overcome deceleration. Of course, that made sense since gravity is just acceleration and is measured in the same units as acceleration. What did not make sense was the visual perception of deceleration without the feeling of deceleration. It was the same feeling as the one that generates carsickness when we see the ground speeding past but don’t sense that our body is moving. I swallowed hard and went back to the resident area to see if I could find Gravol, the medicine my mom had sometimes given me on long trips. I did find some, but by the time I found it the nausea had passed anyway and I found that I was hungry again. I grabbed another meal and pondered what might happen next.
I didn’t have to wait long. The next thing I knew a new message was up on the screens throughout the ship: PREPARE FOR LANDING. We had made only two or three orbits around the moon and now we were headed for the surface of the far side of the moon. As I looked down at the surface, I could see something there. It looked like another ship just like the one in which I was travelling. Yet, as I drew closer, I could see that it was much larger. It had to be the size of a football field and right on the top of it was a small indentation perfectly fitted to my own spaceship. There was some sort of automatic docking system that allowed the two to mate perfectly and soon the two vessels sat together there on the moon.
I was losing track of time and I did not know how long ago I had left earth. Was it ten hours? Was it more? Right then, all I felt was tired. I looked out the windows at the strange alien environment of the moon. I should have felt excited. But instead I felt exhausted. I found my way back to the bunk and crashed hard into a deep sleep.