Explorer Program: We Left Our Futures on Earth Behind

launch-icon

Author Note: This is not a sequel to The Explorer Program. It’s more of an expansion or close-up look at part of that setting. I have a few more stories that will continue to explore this setting.


 

“Jolly started walking and is a terror. They bump into everything. We’ve had to move several lamps and put non-skid sheets under the deco-bowls.” My cousin laughed at herself. “There I go rambling on about boring domestic stuff.” We were sitting in her backyard while her child played nearby on a blanket. Pecan trees shaded the yard while we drank sweet iced tea.

“No, it’s nice. Go on,” I said.

“You don’t have to humor me. I know it must be exhaustively boring to hear me talk about lamps and deco-bowls after you’ve been across the galaxy.” She grinned at me. We had been closer when we were kids; I had been closer to a lot of family members back then.

“I haven’t been that far; just a few light-years.” I was silent as I thought about the first extra-solar mission I had been on. “I was only gone for a couple of months of my time but I missed years of Earth time. I wasn’t at your engagement party to Louisa or baby shower.”

“Would you have come?” she pressed for an answer.

“I… I would have sent a card or a message,” I said. Even before I had lost years to transit-space, I had kept my distance from the family. “That’s not the point. I don’t mind listening to you talking about ‘boring domestic stuff’ because I missed so much of it and I’m going to miss so much more.”

We lapsed into silence. Jolly threw a block an astounding three feet. The ice in my glass had nearly all melted.

“How long until the launch?” she asked.

“It’s not really a launch since the ship is already in orbit.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Three weeks. We have to report back in two weeks for final shake-down tests. Then we leave Earth.” I had been back on Earth for two months before I decided to check in with select Cousins.

“How long are you going to be gone?” I knew she had read the article about my mission. She had even commented on it, “we’ll miss u” which was why she made the short list of family I decided to say goodbye to.

“Three years of my time. A couple of centuries of Earth time. Jolly’s great-great-great-grandchildren will be here to greet me. Or not. They may not have children and I’ll return to Earth as an orphaned branch of the family tree.”

“If you’re afraid of being alone, stay.”

“I’m not afraid to be alone. I’ve been alone since I became a late bloomer. When I changed from he to she in high school, Mom and Dad didn’t really approve. It was easier to withdraw into myself.”

“Is that why you stopped coming to family holidays?”

“After I moved out, it was easier to not talk to them and they were always there.” She reached out and squeezed my hand. I smiled back at her. “If Mom and Dad hadn’t reacted badly, maybe I’d have more of a reason to stay. Also, I want to see something completely new. To boldly going where no one has gone before, as they say.”

“Do you still watch that ancient show?” she laughed. We had both watched it when we were younger.

“Just the good parts. I’m going to miss the revival next year.”

“You can’t download it when you arrive? I know you have FTL radio.”

“We won’t have a real-time network connection. After we exit transit-space and contact Earth, there’s a series of data uploads and downloads. We send ship status reports, data collected from the systems and planets we explore. From Mission Control we’ll receive a condensed history of the years we were in transit. They’ll also send us some popular culture touchstones, books, movies, music, whatever they deem relevant. Finally, the messages to our email accounts will be forwarded to the local ship network.”

“So, I can send you pictures and videos of Jolly growing up but you wouldn’t see them until you get to the next star system.”

“You had better send pictures of Jolly and you and Louisa and any other kids you have.”

“We’re not planning on anymore for now.”

“Ten years is long enough to change your mind.”

“Hmm. What about you? Are you ever going to have kids? Get married?” Jolly lifted themself off the ground.

“Not until the mission is over. Anyone we leave behind will be dead before we get back. Mission crew can’t have children and we can’t have significant others. We’re giving up our lives on Earth to explore the stars.”

Jolly ran on wobbly legs towards us, half falling but laughing the whole way.

Back-up Team – Introductions

I paced nervously in the main room of the hotel suite I had rented for the interview. I heard a beep as the door unlocked. It opened and closed so fast I never saw the hallway. From the door, a blur crossed the room in a second and popped into focus as the green and yellow clad speedster ironically called The Speedster. The door opened a second time at normal speed and a young man in a black suit walked in.
“You could have left the door open for me,” he said to the speedster. I recognized him as a local “psychic” who had helped the police with a few cases.

“It’s called making an entrance,” her voice was modulated and filtered by her helmet to be unrecognizable. She turned back toward me, “Are you, George Gregory? The reporter?” I nodded. She turned back to the suit clad psychic, “You got a lock on his brainwaves?”

The psychic rolled his eyes at her, “I’m filtering his perceptions and editing out any identifying info.”

“Great,” she said and took off her helmet. A halo of black ringlets sprung out from The Speedster’s head. The face of a young black woman smiled at me. “It gets a little stuffy in there.”

“Aren’t you worried about me identifying you? Spoiling your secret identity?” I asked.

“Not as long as Mind Reader is here,” she said loading a few chunks of cantaloupe from one of the food trays requested for the interview onto a plate. “Close your eyes and try to remember what I look like.” I did so and only the most general descriptors came to mind. Her face was like an out of focus picture. I opened my eyes and her face was back in focus.

“I’m editing your memories as they’re being formed. You get the experience but not the memory,” Mind Reader told me. He walked across to room and took up station in the corner. “Just pretend I’m not here.”

A gentle knock sounded from the glass door leading to the balcony. “That’s Brick. I’ll get it.” Again she disappeared in a blur of green and yellow and reappeared at the glass sliding door. She unlocked and opened the door. A large man wearing a gray t-shirt and blue jeans walked in. He stopped just inside the door and surveyed the room.

“Is the room secure?” he asked. His voice was quiet almost a whisper.

“Um, let me check,” Speedster said disappearing and reappearing briefly at the bedroom doors and the main door to the suite. “All doors secure.” The man’s shoulders dropped slightly and his hands fell loosely to his sides. “Grab some grub. We’re still waiting on the rest.”

“Bedrooms are clear,” a voice said behind me. I turned just in time to see a young woman finish walking through the door to one of the bedrooms. She was dressed in black yoga pants and a black band shirt I couldn’t quite place.

“You walk through walls?” I asked.

“Yeah. Hi. I’m Ghost. It’s kind of my thing,” she said walking through a chair to get to the buffet.

“Are you actually a ghost?”

“No, I’m not a ghost,” she looked to Speedster, “I thought we picked this guy cause he was smart.”

“I am smart but I don’t have any info about you. You aren’t mentioned in any of the after-action reports about the mother-ship assault.”

“None of the reports were written by anyone who was there. That’s why we want to talk to you. To set the record straight.”

The hallway door beeped and opened at a normal pace this time. A third woman entered with a young man following behind her. I recognized her as The Baton a vigilant from a nearby city. The young man was a complete unknown like Ghost. He walked around the perimeter of the room with a handheld device waving it at the corners.

“Room is clear,” he said.

“Good,” The Baton said, “Mr. Gregory, it’s nice to meet you. I’m The Baton. The young man who walked in with me is called The Kid –”

“Only until I come up with something better,” The Kid interjected.

“Has everyone else introduced themselves?” she asked looking around at her fellow superheroes. Speedster nodded, Ghost shrugged, and Mind Read gave a small two finger salute.

“I’m … uh The Flying Brick,” the large man said, “They usually just call me Brick.”

“Well, now that introductions are out of the way; let’s get down to business,” Baton said, “We want to tell our stories and his story.”

“Whose story?” I asked.

“None of us knew his name. I called him the spook,” Ghost said

“I called him the man in black,” Mind Reader said.

“Mostly we called him That Guy. As in who was that guy?” Speedster said.

“He was the one who brought us together as a team. He had another team, too. First Strike Team. The strongest powered people he could find and organize into a team,” Baton said.

“I wasn’t aware there was another superhero team,” I said.

“They died assaulting the alien mother-ship,” Brick said, “We were the backup team.”

“We’ll get to that but first we should tell our stories. Who wants to go first?” Baton asked.

The others looked back and forth among themselves. After a minute Speedster stepped forward, “I’ll go first.”

To be continued in “Backup Team – The Speedster”

Lisa’s Story: Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter Eighteen

Over the next couple of days I helped Andy move into his new apartment. After cleaning out the refrigerator and letting the apartment air out, I convinced him to move the former occupants’ personal items to a bedroom.

“You really care about your neighbor’s stuff?” he asked while taking a picture off the walls.

I shrugged. “Kind of. Maybe. They might come back.” I hadn’t really known them or most of my neighbors to be honest. A week ago I had broken into every apartment and taken all the food and drinks I could find but I hadn’t touched their personal belongings.

“It doesn’t seem likely.”

“Yeah but you got to have hope or why the hell are we surviving?”

Continue Reading

Lisa’s Story: Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter Seventeen

I walked inside my apartment and Andy followed me. I gestured to the sofa as I walked past it to the kitchen area, “Take a seat. You want a drink?”

“Uh, sure what do have?” Andy asked from the sofa.

“Bottled water, sodas.” The water had mostly come from the superstore while the sodas I had scavenged from my neighbors. I had seen beer and other alcoholic beverages in a few apartments but had left them.

“Root beer?” he asked.

“Sure.” I pulled two cans out of a box and walked around to the living room. I handed one to Andy and sat in my watch chair with the other. We sat in silence for a minute drinking our warm sodas.

“What’s with the couch?” Andy asked pointing to the short sofa standing on end by the door.

“I use it to block the door.”

“Ah, ok. So, today was a lot of fun. What are we going to do tomorrow?”

I couldn’t help myself and launched into my best mad scientist mouse voice, “The same thing we do everyday. Try to take over the world!” Andy stared at me blankly for a second while I broke down laughing for the first time in weeks.

Continue Reading

Lisa’s Story: Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter Sixteen

We made it back to Andy’s store without incident. I stopped in front of the store and looked south toward my apartment. Andy stopped along side me.

“So, if you want I could go with you. Just to make sure they aren’t hanging around. It’s up to you,” Andy said.

The three zombies I saw might not have wandered into my apartment complex. They probably just ran off before I made it back around those few blocks. But what if they hadn’t? What if they were hanging out waiting for me to go home? Not like a planned trap but just on accident. Could I take three zombies? Probably not. Going alone was a risk. On the other hand, letting Andy know where I lived was a risk. He didn’t seem like a bad guy but he was still a guy, a cis guy. I trusted him to watch my back out here but I didn’t want him thinking it was more than that. Go alone or take Andy with me. Either decision could bite me in the ass.

Continue Reading

Serial Story: Odyssey 3011: One Woman’s Tale

The following story is based on my experiences in the game Odyssey 3011, an Xbox Live Indie game. The story is a mix of my play through and added fictional encounters in the form of a log kept by my player character.

An astronaut finds herself thrown across space to an unknown part of the universe.

Lisa’s Story: Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter Fifteen

I woke up early to the beeping of my watch alarm. My head felt clear but my migraines sometimes came back the next day. I mixed a can of evaporated milk with water and poured some into a bowl with cereal. I ate standing in the kitchen listening for twinges of pain from my head. There didn’t appear to be any so I decided to continue with the day’s plan.

After getting dressed, I grabbed my backpack and added my bottle of migraine medicine to a side pocket just in case. I strapped on my machete and grabbed my bat. The apartment complex was empty of zombies when I checked through the windows. At the edge of the fence, I looked up the street toward Andy’s store and spotted some zombies shuffling down street. I stepped back behind the fence and listened. No pounding footsteps came my way. They hadn’t seen me. I peeked one eye out around the fence.

Continue Reading

Lisa’s Story: Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter Fourteen

Once we got back to Andy’s store we took turns pumping air into his new mattress.

“Why didn’t you go home went the store got looted?” I asked while stepping on the pump.

“I live on the other side of the city. South of Rio Grande street. I was too scared to walk. No one would come get me so I just hunkered down and hoped it blew over.”

“No one would come get you?” he shook his head, “No came for me either. Facebook, text messages, phone calls and no one answered. Were your parents in the city?”

Continue Reading

Lisa’s Story: Zombie Apocalypse – Chapter Thirteen

I honestly didn’t want to have to deal with Andy again but to keep from running out of estrogen I probably would have to. Maybe I could just ignore him? We would run into each other eventually in the superstore. So go talk to him at his store in the open or randomly bump into him at the superstore in the dark? Not much of a choice.

My new watch said it was Tuesday the ninth day of the month. Long enough for my ankle to be mostly healed. It still ached a little in the morning but that passed quickly. After gearing up with backpack, baseball bat, and machete, I headed out. I took the direct route to his store; scanning cross streets for zombies before dashing across.

I stopped across the street from Andy’s store watching for a minute. No zombies around the store. No zombies up or down the street. Wait there was one. Far enough away that it blended in until it moved. I watched it shuffle a couple of time before deciding it was far enough away to not see me. I crossed to the the store and walked to the front door. One door was still broken but Andy had tied a wooden pallet to cover the opening. I looked around inside.

Continue Reading