Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Land Leave: Alien Satellite 4/4

Cmdr Tam did not sleep that night.

For three years the satellite traveled to the outer reaches of the solar system. As the satellite approached the object, from miles away, it snapped a photograph. In the darkest corners of the solar system there is barely any light. What emerged was a grainy photo of a black square. All the sensors on the satellite started failing as it got closer though. At three thousand kilometers out, the earth satellite went dead and drifted aimlessly away.

Cmdr Tam did not sleep that night. After nearly eight years of work, the object at the edge of the solar system remained little more than the mysterious signal it had first been.

He had failed, and he would never get a shot at it again. The politics were changing. People didn't like space anymore. It was too empty. War came to another part of the world and money went to prop up a puppet government. The project died; the strange cube was not anyone's concern. It just faded away.

Late one night many years after he had retired, Cmdr Tam sat and had drinks in a dark and musty bar with Neil. It was a bar for the both of them, forgotten and dusty. A tv played a boxing match silently. The two fighters looked like mimes circling each other. Every hit seemed insignificant without the sound.

For a long time the two spoke of everything but the signal. Then they drank dark liquor and sat in silence.

Neil felt his bones ache and his sinews strain to keep his body together. He looked at his hand, full of veins and sunspots. There was little fight left in him. Cmdr Tam lifted his glass and let the last few drops of bourbon touch his lips. It burned slightly.

Neil spoke, “I'm sorry it never worked. I wanted to know too.”

“I'm sorry too. I fought for Gloria you know.”

“I know. I always wish I had been angrier. I wish I had fought harder. Now look where we are stuck in this bar and we both have everything; nice houses, good kids, and admirable records.”

“But we don't have RX4.”

“No. No we don't.” Neil pulled out a wad of cash. Tam smiled and put out his hand.

“Don't, I already paid.”

Neil smiled, “always a step ahead of me. Thanks.”

It was raining when they left the bar. When each one thought the other wasn't looking they both looked up at the sky, trying to peer beyond the clouds hoping to see something they'd never see. They shook hands and parted, feeling just as alien as that first day.