I walked into my house through the sliding glass doors from the backyard into the kitchen. I had to tell Samantha, my wife, my son Joshua and my daughter McKay the good new I had received from my boss moments earlier. I'd received a hologram on my cellular phone while exercising at the local gym. See, astronauts need to keep in shape.
"Love, I'm home!" I called through our semi-luxury house, then tossed my sweaty gym bag next to the door I'd come in.
"I'm upstairs!" I heard a faint shout echo through the rooms separating me from the stairs. With a sudden rush of adrenaline to discover my wife's response to the news I raced up the stairs.
Once she'd tried to convince me to install an escalator in our house rather than stairs, but I didn't want any of us getting lazy like our neighbours so I kept our ugly old-fashioned stairs in. I also gave McKay a peddling bike for her 16th birthday a few months back rather than her dream cherry-red, roofless, hybrid hovercraft. I'm not going to lie, I have a fairly great income, but the hovercraft had only been out for a few years, so it was still extremely expensive, and it would never be healthier to drive to school than ride a bike. It didn't do much good because she ended up carpooling with friends instead.
"Good news!" I burst out when I found the right room Sam was in. She was cleaning Joshua's pigsty again because she had nothing better to do as a stay at home mother. He was only 12, it was expected of him, but he'd never learn to clean up after himself with her doing it for him.
"What is it?" she asked, her eyes lighting up with excitement.
"Okay, know how ever since the space shuttle that could travel light years in a matter of minutes was invented only about six or seven take-offs held six or seven real astronauts?" I spat out excitedly in a jumble of words. Her excited face dropped for the slightest second but then returned in a much less real manner to keep me satisfied. I'd seen enough though, she wasn't happy for me, she was worried.
"You're going? Where? For how long?" she questioned, her fake smile still holding strong. It ripped at my heart to see the heartbreak behind her pale blue eyes.
"Just a few weeks because it won't take nearly as long to travel in space as it used to. We're going all over the place. The universe is a huge place; you never know what we could find. Another life form, even!" I attempted to make her smile real, but instead her false one collapsed and she burst into tears. She never did handle my job well; she was too concerned I wouldn't return. Of course, she loved my job when I was safe on the ground and collecting my pay check. Our love was real though, I could see it in her eyes everyday, every time I came home from work, especially.
"You'd better be careful, then," she sobbed, then approached me and looked up. Her worried eyes pierced my heart, but as much as I loved her, I knew I would be fine. I had a love for space since I was just entering middle school and I needed to keep my love for space alive, too.
"Of course! I have a loving family I have to return to!" I smiled, and before I knew it we were in a passionate I'll-miss-you kiss that we always had before my extended work periods.
Our groping was interrupted a long while later by Joshua's gagging of disapproval.
"Do you need to do that in my room?" he snapped, pushing us into the hallway, in front of McKay, who was listening to her Mp6 Slim. Ridiculous how small music players are getting these days I thought to myself.
"Uhg that's nasty," she walked around us, as we were still kissing.
"I've seen you swapping spit with Kenneth on his front porch before so you can't complain!" Joshua teased out his door to her. She sped up the slightest bit and entered her room at the end of the hall.
"Excuse me?" I tore myself from Sam realizing what I'd just heard and stormed into McKay's room to give her a long lecture about kissing boys before she was 80, especially about having boyfriends.
Dinner was quiet because McKay was mad at me for disapproving her 'Boyfriend' Kenneth, Sam was upset I was leaving for a week or two, and Josh brought his dinner into his room so he could play on his computer.
"I'm going to tell the kids about my leaving before bed tonight, even though I'm not physically leaving for another week," I told Sam as she piled the dishes into the dishwasher. She said nothing, but looked at me as if to say "Good luck". I didn't know why she'd think I needed luck, because McKay hated me, therefore she wouldn't care I was leaving, and all I needed to do was tell Josh no, he couldn't come with me, for the billionth time.
The week before I needed to officially leave dragged on. Everyone was mad now for some reason or another. I still loved them, but by the time my co-worker and friend pulled up to my house to pick me up for our adventure I was relieved. McKay grunted when she saw her dream hovercraft in the driveway belonging to my co-worker Jeremy Strong. I didn't know why she glared at me because it wasn't like I bought it for him. Joshua grunted because he wasn't coming with me... again, and Sam sighed at my leaving altogether.
"I left our bank card on the counter," I told her, but before I knew it Josh and McKay were out of the doorway and deep in the house, fighting over which of the two had gotten it first. I didn't want to deal with it by then, so I kissed Sam and climbed into the craft with my luggage.
"Hey Dylan," my co-worker chirped as we pulled out of the driveway. The second we were out of earshot I responded, "Jeremy, you don't know how lucky you are to not have to put up with that side of having a family," and I wasn't lying. Some parts of having a family really did suck, but the good parts made up for it completely. I didn't know if Jeremy would ever know or understand that, but I was glad I did.
We had a very chatty four hour drive between my house and the launch station. We were both equally excited to be travelling light years away from our homes. What the 2 weeks here were could be 2 years, or 2 days, for us.
"Well here we are!" Jeremy cheered as we pulled into our parking spot. We'd been here before, it was where we came to work during space duties, but astronauts don't always work in space so when we weren't working in space we'd be working in a building closer to home, "Just think, in less than 48 hours we'll be back in space!"
I did think about it, too. The more I thought about it the more excited I got. This is what I've always wanted I told myself during the space preparations.
"Countdown initiated. 60, 59, 58..." the speakers of the shuttle blared as I buckled up in my seat. Jeremy and another astronaut we were going to be working with, named Robin were on the controls for that trip, thank goodness. I never would have been able to remember how to work the shuttle with all the butterflies I was having.
"47, 46..." I was still listening intently. I'd never travelled so quickly in my life, in fact very few had altogether. It was going to be an intense experience.
"23, 22..." Light years in minutes my thoughts rang in my ears like bells in 15 minutes we could possibly be out of our galaxy!
"2, 1!" Blast off! My thoughts screamed and despite the extreme, unexpected force that slammed into my chest, I laughed and cheered, as did Jeremy and Robin.
"Are we out of our galaxy yet?" I unbuckled the second we slowed to a safe enough speed. It felt like we took off a mere second or two ago and already I recognized nothing outside the shuttle.
"Yes we are," Robin stated matter-of-factly and I had to sit down from the amazement. We were actually out of our own galaxy and into another.
"Now what?" I asked, breathing heavily with excitement and astonishment. Robin explained how a few years ago one of the first light-year-travelling shuttles that had no passengers had crash-landed in the very galaxy we were in at that moment. It crashed on a planet that, after some digital samples, was determined to be able to sustain our life form. The space station temporarily called the planet "Planet X". She also explained that shortly after collecting the data it broke down because of the damage from the crash. I didn't want to believe her though, I wanted to see aliens.
"So we're going to this planet to see if it can sustain life?" Jeremy spoke my thoughts. Robin nodded very subtly and then it occurred to me that we hadn't been told any of this.
As if to read my mind, Robin clarified, "Nobody told you because you might have told someone. This is a Top Secret Mission, as lame as that sounds," I was going to argue to her that we had a right to know and that she was crazy to have not told us, but I realized that knowing me, I would have told someone.
"Top Secret Mission, eh... Sounds quite epic," I tried to make small talk, but instead of striking up a conversation she just nodded in agreement. There was an awkward moment until Jeremy grunted, "So where is this Planet X?"
"There," Robin casually pointed ahead to a small blue spec ahead and I grasped the fact that it was getting closer quite fast. From there, everything happened very quickly.
As we stopped to stare at Planet X, a shuttle similar to our pulled up to us. I nearly threw up all the butterflies torturing my stomach. Was I excited or nervous? I looked at Robin whose eyes were wide with either wide with horror or shock.
"Did someone follow us that you didn't tell us about?" Jeremy choked out.
"No..." Robin whispered so quietly I had to strain to hear her, "Nobody followed us," Then, the ship spat out an alien. Seriously, it was wearing full white, a space suit, just like we were. I noticed I was shaking and without thinking I bounded to the front window, where the three of us saw the thing in white drifting towards us. In a moment the white shield had its helmet against our shuttle windshield and was peering in. All of our breaths stopped simultaneously.
"What do we do?" Jeremy squeaked. Robin was still frozen. I wondered if the alien could see us as crystal clear as we could see it.
"I'm going out," I found myself saying without control, and ten minutes later I was in the air tight chamber with my helmet on.
"Don't do this, man!" Jeremy pleaded to me through the headset I was wearing, but I ignored him. I double checked the cord attaching me to our shuttle, double checked my suit then I was opening the shuttle door. My life flashed before my eyes, I swear, I felt a twinge of guilty for leaving the ship when I'd promised Sam I'd be careful, but still I drifted to the front of the shuttle where the alien had been. It was still there, peering in the window. Yes, it saw us as well as we had seen it in from within.
Unexpectedly the alien spun around to see me and we both stopped in fear. What now? My head screamed. I drifted closer, my hands held up as if to surrender. It sat there, not moving back but not moving forward. Through the window I saw Robin still sitting like a statue and Jeremy quivering outrageously. Then, we were helmet to helmet, both curious of one another. I'd say face to face but I wasn't sure if it had a face under the helmet. Forever, it seemed, that we sat there taking each other in. How frighteningly similar we looked. I noticed how it had legs and arms, fingers and a head. Memories of my wife claiming that she believed aliens like us had to be out there somewhere rang in my ears. The universe is a huge place I remembered saying.
It tugged its cord and began being drawn back to its own ship, slowly but surely. Panicked that we would lose the discovery I pushed myself toward it and latched my fingers tightly around its arm, but I must have startled it because it began to flail hectically and it started being pulled into its shuttle much more rapidly. I wouldn't let go, I couldn't. I was being pulled along with it, though. Jeremy, I saw from the corner of my eye, stood up and went to pull me back in but it was too late. Just as I felt my cord begin to tighten, the door to the alien's shuttle slammed shut, and I was on the inside. Everything went into slow motion when it took off its helmet. Every alien movie I'd ever seen raced through my mind: E.T., Independence Day, and Close Encounters. Then it was off and it scared me more than anything. I scrambled against the closed door I had entered in and it rubbed its arm where I'd been gripping, then two others of the same species entered the room. My head span; I knew what I needed to do, even if it killed me; I had to take off my helmet. I remembered how Robin said that Planet X had the materials to sustain life, and if these creatures needed the same things to live as we did, then I would be able to take off my helmet too. Going on a whim, I did. We all floated around looking at each other in astonishment. Using hand gestures, they spoke.
"You," they pointed to me. I pointed to me to show them that I understood. Impossible I thought they couldn't possibly speak the same language as us.
"I..." I paused awkwardly, "...Come in peace...?" then there was silence. Long, frightening silence that made me fear my life. The thing that scared me about their faces was that it was like something I would see at home. So similar... Then, in the same language I had spoken to them in, they responded, "Welcome to Earth."