I read once that you had to accept everything life offered you with thankfulness.
I was thankful for the gift of camaraderie I had received during preparation for the space mission.
As I looked right from my tiny plastic seat, I saw a smile of excitement dancing on the lips of Big Brother. He was the oldest of us, forty-two, with fair soft hair I had wanted to ruffle from day one. His patronal tone left no doubt how he felt about us, the second generation of the space explorers. We all called him Big Brother. Yet, thoughts of the warmth of his body under the tight-fitting dark-blue uniform, my fingers tracing his jawline, haunted me at night when I couldn't control myself. My heart dropped, cheeks exploded in colors when our hands accidentally touched over the control panel.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Lissie's fingers pirouetting in unison with mine: movements honed by months of training on a stimulator. We were the ones to save humankind.
'Right fuel pumps,' Big Brother was going through the final checklist.
'Check,' Lissie's voice trembled from restrained anxiety. If Big Brother had chosen somebody to fall in love with, it would have been her, I thought. Lissie with her fragility and softness that hid strong will. As a child, she had survived a long journey from ill-stricken Africa to Europe and had made it through years of quarantine and misery. Her eyes right now shone with a premonition of something extraordinary ahead. Sweat on her forehead was salty as the seawater that had flooded the deck of a little boat years ago and baptized Lissie with its unstoppable power.
We were much more than friends.
'Left fuel pumps,' Big Brother had to raise his voice to gain my attention.
'Check,' I answered.
'Right fuel gauges,' Big Brother continued.
'Left fuel gauges.'
'Outer door sealed.'
'Inner doors sealed.'
'Right propellers,' - and with that words, we heard the increasing hum of the two engines on the right, and the ship started to vibrate slightly.
'Left propellers,' - and the vibration sent shivers down my spine. For us, the roar of the engines seemed almost like a lullaby. For a minute, the people on the control tower, being a kilometer away and wearing an ear-protecting gear, were deafened by the sound.
The giant of a ship, the black metal glistening in the rising sun rays, came to life to take us to Mars.
Four propellers swirled underneath the ship's belly.
I read once that there was a purpose in life for every one of us.
I often dreamed of a boy born with the mutated rubella virus. I knew everything about his life as if I were him: pains of unclenching fists and strengthening legs during massages, the too-bright sun waking him up in the morning, and tears after watching other children play on the street. I knew his best memories: the smell of the fresh bakery from the kitchen, mother's embrace after he could say his first words at age five. A neighbour girl who came to visit him almost every day.
When he looked into the large mirror near the entrance door, he saw my boyish short hair and muscular body, more suitable for fights than love. He must have seen a labyrinth of bleached corridors behind my back, walls of the same hue of blue as my uniform. When I wiped a small misted mirror in a shared dressing room, I could see what was hidden in his brown eyes, one covered by a cataract. I saw my purpose in life: acceptance and privacy in a two-story wooden building in the suburbs with a neat lawn and two lush bushes of violet rhododendrons.
Sometimes I wondered whether the boy was a dream or reality. With my eyes, I had searched for the boy amidst personnel and reporters at the control tower before getting into the ship. He dreamed of being an astronaut, one of the brave men and women who were about to change the course of human history. I was about to make his - our - dream come true.
I read once that we humans were interconnected into an invisible, all-encompassing field that protected Earth from destruction.
We were in the air for less than five minutes, adjusting course and preparing to jump into the interspace, when the warning messages started to run across the main screen.
'Problem with a pipe pumping the coolant into the reactor,' Big Brother voiced the warning, irritated but not confused.
'We'll turn off the reactor and engage the standard fuel system. We have enough fuel to last us back to the spacedrom,' Lissie replayed.
Big Brother's fingers jumped on the control panel, switching on and off the different ship's systems. The ship hesitantly trembled, unwilling to turn back.
A woman rolled a stroller with her disabled son into the front yard.
'I can't turn the reactor off,' Big Brother acknowledged with certainty. 'It's heating and fast.'
We didn't need to say the thought aloud. We had to move away into the uninhabited area. If we had returned to the spacedrom and the ship had exploded there, it would have destroyed years of preparation and delayed the much-needed expedition to Mars.
The new rubella virus was breathing down our backs.
The city we were flying high above was a conglomerate of skyscrapers connected by glass tunnels and decorated with tiny roof forests. I felt disdain for the people who rats-alike had to move through the glass mazes in the pursuit of profits. They would never find out how we saved them.
As if reading my thoughts - as if we were genuinely wired into one empathetic field - Big Brother laid his hand on mine and said, 'Don't.'
Lissie encouragingly smiled at me through tears.
Big Brother notified the control tower of our situation.
The screens were shouting at us in red lights.
'Ink, ink,' the boy with brown eyes, one covered by a cataract, asked his mother.
'Do you want a soda or water?'
'Oa,' the boy said.
'Okay, one soda to go,' the woman put the stroller on the brake and went back into the house.
A black silhouette with the grey smoke bursting out of its backside appeared on the horizon. The boy couldn't lift his hand to his eyes to hide from the sun and get a better look at the flying object. The object became larger, larger, and larger...