January 5th, 2021
Day 157Instinct, animal, told her he was wrong. Wrong in speech, in demeanour, in his over-enthusiastic face which, now she surreptitiously looked a little closer, was broader than it should have been. His eyes, nose, and mouth were all reasonably distanced from each other, but were collected in the centre of his face, as though his ears and chin had been eased outwards when his body was still clay. Five months in, she had learnt there was no point in arguing, that no amount of honest debate would be able to sway the stoic who now sat beside her, tapping obnoxiously. It was a habit he’d picked up from the woman who was lying just behind them, stiff and blue in a metal-plated box that was giving her a well deserved break, not to mention keeping her alive for the next twelve or so years. She had tapped, tap tap tap she went. When she was concerned she had tapped, when she was thoughtful she had tapped. When she laughed she tapped, when she cried she tapped, in the shower, in the bath, on the toilet, cooking meals, fixing modules, and staring mindlessly out of one of their star-studded portholes, she tapped. And yet, it never irritated until he started tapping too. He had snuck up on the habit like a virus, sliding insidiously into the quirk and inhabiting it as his own. With the captain in the cabinet, as they say, those left to numb through the rest of their time found themselves on a level footing, a fact that one member of the ship’s inhabitants found quite hilarious, and another found exceedingly frustrating. The absence of a leader could have been avoided, had some last minute arrangements not been made that were designed to intentionally cause disruption on board. A psychologist with peculiar notions on human relationships had caught wind of the operations and begged the opportunity to throw some extra logs onto the fire. Despite the objections of the singular senior crew member, the orders had been given, and the liberating, infuriating lack of structure was enforced from day 1. The whim that had become the funding for their one-way adventure had sprung from a pair of eccentrics with a twist. Unlike the usual rabble of the space-obsessed, Sir Livewell Allen and Lady Hannah Chapman had no desire to explore outside of their formidable wrought iron gates, let alone venture into the upper atmospheres and beyond. Jenna Chapman, her Ladyship’s estranged grand-niece was now very much beyond and, until a few days before, had been revelling in the adventure that would soon take them through the imaginary ring that marked the orbit of Earth’s little red brother. In the old stories of broken families, it was common for those who were deemed unworthy of the tribe’s protection to be cast out, banished from the house, estate, shire, county, or country, depending on the family’s class and the nature of the individual’s transgression. In this day and age, however, it is possible to be exiled not only from the land from whence you came, or even the very continent you may call home, but from the green-blue marble itself. Sir Livewell and Lady Hannah had discovered that there was no need to arrange complicated cover ups or hire mercenary assassins: if you wanted something taken of, you had only to exploit the ambitions of certain aero-space associations in certain aspirational countries, and your issues could be sent away. A great controversy was thrown up by the undertaking, which was thinly veiled under the guise of a scientific expedition. Governments around the world shivered at the power of such capricious wealth. The appeal of space-tourism had been growing in recent years but now it had been twisted, scrunched up and spread back out to reveal a hidden pattern that nobody had considered. Diplomats attempted to reason with the CEO who had agreed to send the first futile rocket as far as it could go, but whatever behind-closed-doors discussion had convinced them to agree to the arrangement in the first place had clearly been laced with plentiful promised funds, and they did not relent. Cases were brought to bear against the action, regulations drafted that would prohibit this form of Earth-retirement. Behind closed doors, however, Sir Livewell and Lady Hannah were protected by the secret powers behind the same aforementioned countries who saw the potential advantages of being able to eject their future unwanteds beyond the atmosphere. By the time Jenna and her motley crew were speeding past where the moon might have been, there were new laws being passed both to permit and to mitigate the process of sending society’s outcasts out beyond. Most people didn’t take much interest in the debate, and only engaged on the hypothetical ethical standpoints. It seemed implausible for the practice to be realistically enacted in any case, the costs would be astronomical. The more forward-thinking could see the implications, and the Free Jenna campaign was, for a couple of weeks, the only thing you could see on a screen. Jenna was free, of course, she wasn’t a criminal, and she was quite happy to go, given what she was leaving behind, or rather, wasn’t. Her life, though she tried to put it to the back of her mind, had been fine. Fine, in all its adequate banality. Fine, in its regularity, security, and moral ambiguity. Travel had been easy, relationships uninspiring. She had tried painting for a while, and pottery, and bought an expensive road bike that stayed in the garage for nine months of the year. If she had tried to throw herself from a bridge, and an angel had come down to show her how wrong she was, she would have marvelled at how exceedingly similar everyone’s lives would have been if she had never existed. All in all, the opportunity to cause a bit of chaos and find some excitement was too good to pass up. Add to that becoming one of the most famous astronauts in the world, nay, the solar system, and Jenna found herself, sixteen months after the incident, desperately trying to ignore the man beside her, as he tapped, and tapped, and tapped.
©2007-2021 Benedict Esdale