‘DON’T LET HER IN’ by James Bamber, winner of the 2015-16 Frank Moran Young Writers’ Competition.
…the Drake spacecraft will take six months just to reach Mars and enter orbit around the planet, at which point the pilot will enter the landing module and attempt to land on the Martian surface for an 18-month period of exploration and research. Obviously this mammoth journey (two and a half years in total)) presents enormous technical challenges. It was determined early on, that having only one crew member would make the best use of limited resources. However, many psychologists have also suggested that spending three years confined to a handful of pods without any physical human contact or real-time conversation will place an incredible mental strain on Drake’s now famous pilot, Michael Kaluza.
…this magazine asked the celebrity of the solar system, Captain Kaluza, what had inspired him to become an astronaut and then volunteer for what is certain to be the most ambitions spaceflight since Apollo 11.
“It all began when I was a child, really. My grandfather, who was a passionate amateur astronomer, bought me a small refracting telescope on my 10th birthday. He was a very insightful man, much more so than I appreciated at the time, and I can remember that for an hour afterwards he sat and explained just how incomprehensibly vast the universe was! He pointed the telescope at Jupiter to get me started and, as he left, he joked that if looked hard enough, I might discover an alien spaceship soaring among the various moons.
“So that night I sneaked out of bed, in my pyjamas, and scanned the heavens for hours and hours, searching for his damn flying saucer. I fell asleep sometime around midnight and when my parents found me they had to explain that there wasn’t really any such thing as an alien, that it was just joke.
“But it resonated with me, you know. The idea of something, someone being out there really set my imagination on fire, and with the universe possessing such an immense collection of worlds, who’s to say that’s not the case? Anyway, that’s the night I started my romance with the cosmos – the night I decided to devote myself to discovering her hidden treasures.
“They all said it was a joke, but it changed my life.”
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 32
Another day in paradise passes smoothly and uneventfully. Now that the far side of the moon is firmly in the rear view mirror, my mission is very much a waiting game – unfortunately, spending most of my time answering questions for the press. I hoped they would have got most of that out of their systems at
No matter, Dr. Fontaine says it’s important to keep myself busy with mental stimulation and that writing these articles and my log will help achieve that. Then again, the other day I had to refuse, for the third time no less, to give a description of urination in microgravity.
Sometimes I wonder how we escaped the Stone Age.
DRAKE IX – PERSONAL LOG-Day 37
I had a bizarre dream last night. I don’t usually give more than a moment’s thoughts to such things, but this dream was particularly vivid. And it was also somewhat disturbing.
I was in the service module, checking some critical system or other when I heard a distinctly metallic knocking sound emanating from the hull. It wasn’t particularly loud, and it reminded me later of the sound that the ship makes as it rotates in and out of the sunlight, causing the titanium to expand and contact. But that sound is much more irregular. This sound was coherent and purposeful. I can’t rationalise it, but everything within me felt that someone was out there, yet I did not panic. With a smooth movement, I swung myself into and through the tunnel connecting to the Command module, so I could get a view of the port hole.
All the while the knocking continued, unhurried, four at a time. When I reached the small triangular window, I paused to roll down the radiation shield that ordinarily covers the 6-inch glass window.
It dimly occurred to me that a human visitor to my valiant spacecraft, however patient to gain my audience, was just ever so slightly out of place here, millions of kilometres from Earth in their airless vacuum of space. Who knows? Perhaps even here you can’t escape pollsters.
I think I then asked Mission Control for advice, still feeling perfectly calm at this point in the dream. No sooner had I finished delivering my report when the peace was shattered. The radio started (replied?) at once with a cacophony of static – and a voice, genderless and uniform, repeating the same four words over and over again.
DON’T LET HER IN.
Absolutely still, I floated there wondering, fearing my sea of calm giving way to a rising tide of dread. All the time the knocking grew louder, becoming an aggressive and rapturous banging.
I had to know what (who?) was outside. I just had to. I decided to disobey Mission Control.
The shield slid aside, revealing the magnificent firmament, more radiant than any earthly sky. But at that moment, I was seized by the thing in the foreground. The person. The woman.
My wife – Maria.
It was all I could do to hold her gaze. Locks of her red hair floating placidly between our eyes. Her face was a mask of utter despair. A single tear came from her eyelid and then froze in the frigid vacuum. Had she witnessed some great tragedy? Before I could contemplate the thought, I watched again, as her eyes blazed and became dead, all life departing from her features while a soft frost bloomed on her cheek. Her hands lost their tight grip on the craft’s structure and at once she fell away, wrenched out into the great void while my motionless form could only watch with horror.
I woke up sweating and clammy. It took 20 minutes to gather myself.
No gravity has strange effects on the brain.
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 63
Progress is steady and all systems are operating perfectly. All that talk about cabin fever seems to have been misguided. I’ve been utterly submerged in incessant communication from Mission Control. How many times does Dr. Fontaine have to ask about my stool consistency?
To make maters worse, the only person I really want to speak with seems to be doing so less and less. Is Maria all right? She seemed somewhat withdrawn the last time I spoke with her and I swear that even with the radio time delay she was paused every time before saying something to me.
I asked her what was wrong. But she quickly asserted that everything was fine. I didn’t feel comfortable pressing her further.
What’s going on?
DRAKE-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 78
Progress steady. Systems normal. Nearing the halfway point to Mars now. Mission Control has warned me that I’ve to record an address for the media. That’ll be fun.
I am becoming distinctly worried about Maria now. She hasn’t sent any messages in a week and although I’d rather not bring the Cape Canaveral worry-warts down on her head, I simply must know whether she is all right. I’ll ask Mission Control about her tomorrow.
DRAKE IX-PERONAL LOG-DAY 79
Why? Why, would they lie?
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 81
Maria is dead. Suicide.
I could have stopped it but they didn’t tell me. She was desperate for me to save her, but they kept her away from me.
And our child. Oh God, I never knew.
I never even knew!
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 81
It was Dr. Fontaine, that hateful physician. The callous toad was finally forced to lay it all bare. Maria realised she was pregnant about a month after the launch and was about to tell me, before she suffered a miscarriage. My poor Maria must have been devastated.
That might have been where the tragedy ended, were it not for that tunnel-visioned doctor. “The safety of the mission” trumps the misery of the human being it would seem. God forbid that the most devastating moment of her whole life should cause me “mental distress”.
To protect my psychological well-being and to guarantee that nothing interrupted Drake’s big moment, Dr. Fontaine ordered Maria to keep the whole thing secret, for all the two and a half years of my journey.
It’s a wonder she endured for as long as she did.
Oh God, Maria! You should have told me.
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 84
Interview be damned. If CNN wants to know how I’m doing, they can ask Dr. Fontaine. He seems to know everything before I do.
I’m 30 million kilometres from Earth. Who’s going to make me answer their damned questions?
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 89
I broke off contact with Mission Control today. They were starting to sound like a broken record, anyway. I want to be alone to mourn my love. I keep thinking about her, how utterly miserable she must have been. If she’d been allowed to talk, could things have ended up differently?
The image of her hanging, lifeless body is burned into my imagination. My mind reaches out to her, as is the force of memory and regret can bring her back. Curse this steel prison. Curse this whole mission!
I want to be with Maria.
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 112
Progress steady. Can’t sleep. Wish I were dead.
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 128
Maria, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I didn’t know. I DIDN’T KNOW.
DRAKE IX-PERSONAL LOG-DAY 367645695 (ERROR)
KnOcking woN’t stoPP. She’s outsiDe banging ONN the damn ship! ALL THE TIME! She neVer sTops aNd I nEEd to geT out of this meTal box. Can’t hiDe fOrever. Can’t kill hEr again.
Time to let her in.
(SYSTEM ERROR) (SAFETY SUB-ROUTINES DISENGAGED) (AIRLOCK OVERRIDE CONFIRMED) (WARNING !!! EXPLOSIVE HABITAT DECOMPRESSION IMMINENT)
(ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!)