This week’s prompt words are:
‘I do’ :: crockery :: surreal :: torch :: capsule
I used to call them ‘crystal time’ moments when I was a kid, you know, those events in your life which seem important, even as you’re living through them. The ones you’re sure you’ll keep in your mind, in their entirety, frozen. A capsule of your personal history, held in amber.
Mission Day had definitely been a capsule moment.
‘Lieutenant Owens,’ the voice of my Commander had boomed. ‘Do you understand the ramifications of the task to which you have committed yourself?’
‘Sir,’ I’d said. ‘I do, sir.’
The truth was, I’d had no idea. They’d wanted a man to fly, one-way, toward an anomaly our ‘scopes had barely been able to pick up, somewhere near the Cloud. It was the best part of a parsec away, and so I knew when I accepted the job that it was ‘Goodbye, Home Planet’. It didn’t really bum me out too much. Since Mireille, the girl I’d held a torch for since we were embryos in neighbouring tanks, had blown me off in favour of a moon-rock salesman (‘at least he has a stable income!’ she’d wailed), there hadn’t been much keeping me here.
Besides gravity, of course.
Just my little joke.
It wasn’t until I’d reached deep space before I could really check out what they’d sent up with me. I couldn’t believe it when I saw they’d kitted me out with old-fashioned crockery, linen tablecloths, actual knives and forks – Goddammit, even a wine carafe! It was almost surreal, this vision of domestic bliss as I hurtled through eternity. I was touched, actually. It was like a final farewell from my buddies on the base, a message to take care. Anyway, I knew I only had a week to enjoy all this stuff before it was time to put myself on ice for the rest of the trip, so I made sure to have a good time. I ate the steak they’d included in my rations (the last fresh meat I’d eat in the living history of my planet, I told myself, which was sort of mind-blowing), and drank the morsel of wine from my fancy carafe. I toasted my planet, Mireille, and the machine that would keep me alive until mission’s end.
And then, my last transmission home. My final orders received. It was time. I said goodbye. They wished me well, and told me I was a patriot. I felt like nothing of the sort.
I lay in the suspension chamber, my mind whirring faster than the mechanism beside my left arm, the one which would put me under. Everything looked fine; the buttons flashed in the correct sequence. The needle entered my vein as it had done in the run-through, back home. The first touch of the freezing liquid stole my breath, as I expected.
But the pain – now, that took me by surprise.
It entered my body at the wrist, and travelled up my forearm. Stupidly, I called for help. I called for help in space, can you believe it?
‘There’ll be no pain,’ the doctor had said back home, her dark eyes soothing. Those had been her exact words. I remembered. ‘The mechanism’s been tested rigorously. You’ll be just fine. It’ll be like falling asleep.’
So much for that. The pain was in my biceps now. My arm felt like it was aflame. I couldn’t undo my straps quickly enough to shut the machine off. On it pumped, my body failing a little more with every second.
My brain reeled. I felt like I’d been turned on my head and set right-side up again, like a doll in the hands of a huge, angry child.
Then, finally, the agony reached my heart.