The Only Way Home

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If NASA is ever given the go-ahead to plan and execute a manned (womaned?) trip to Mars, I will make sure I am the pilot and get to pick my own crew, because as soon as we reach the red planet, rather than falling into orbit, we’ll slingshot around and launch ourselves into the speechless nowhere.

We’ll shut off the radios, unblock the windows, set up a table in whatever largest room is available and play cards and make jokes about preserving humanity at the cost of our humanity. We would have spiked the packed fruit juices with cheep vodka, swapped dehydrated brownies with dehydrated edibles. We will laugh and express our excitement at our new course correction.

Some of us will sleep more than others. Some will want more time alone in the cockpit or in their bunks to enjoy the simple sounds of the craft, and project their thoughts forward or backward through space. Some will miss Earth a little. I will miss it. The way I missed China and Germany where I’d lived for a time and learned their language for two or three years and then left for what they said was my own “motherland.”

Of course, it wasn’t a “motherland.” Just a land with a strange people. I will miss them and their planet, but I miss my own people and planet more. Wherever they are. The whole crew will imagine their own homes out there in the feral fields of space. We’ll never make it alive, but at least we’re on our way. At least we have each other, fellow aliens going home the only way we know how.

Eventually we’ll drink the last cocktail, empty the cupboards and make our last ceremonial waste dump. Then we’ll lie down on our beds and insert the IV into our hands to start the slow drip into sleep.

And once the drip is done, the airlocks will release. The stale atmosphere will be like a storm that tears through the ship and out into space. The engines will be silent. Our bodies will instantly freeze. The distance between planets won’t matter anymore.

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