Darkness sat in the majority of the cockpit, from the window Alioth looked out to see the curved horizon of the earth as it drew slowly closer and closer. He had always dreamed of seeing the scene before him as a little child, like all children it was one of his dreams to be an astronaut, 31 years into his life however he had managed to make it come true. It was all worth it, all of the stress, the training, and the mountains of books he milled through in college all became minimal compared to what was before him. He had seen the same image countless time back on earth all through his life, and six times before in person. "It never gets old." He said to himself. As the image began to become more and more blue he truly appreciated life, not just his, but that of the entire planet; he saw no nations, no borders or territories to be fought over. For just the next few minutes, in his shuttles fleeting descent into the atmosphere, there was only two things: the human race, and its mother planet. The ocean and all of its glory sprawled across the surface, as the clouds danced and swirled above them in an endless dance that had been repeated day in and day out since the beginning of time.
"Commander Villi sir we are descending at optimum conditions, all statuses are green with no signs of electrical or structural malfunctions." Frasier jones a first time astronaut spoke calmly. He had previously been on the International Space Station with Alioth as a chemical technician to install new oxygen filters to enhance the moisture recycling process aboard the entire facility.
"Tell me Jones. What do you see right now? What do you think makes this anymore majestic or normal than the scenes we see on television or in video games?"
"Well I know that for me, the magic comes from knowing that right now, almost everyone else below me will never get to see it in person, that I can die with this moment engraved in my brain and look back on it as much as I want, knowing that I was actually here."
"You prepare yourself for that answer?" Chuckled Alioth
"Yes sir. Everyone I spoke with about reentry told me you always ask the same questions time after time."
"And who all told you that?"
"Commander Erwin before he passed away last year. In training he was my instructor for all of the reentry procedures."
"Did he say anything else about me jones?" Alioth raised his brow from inside of his helmet, as if making a facial gesture all of the crew could see.
"Tons sir. I know you two were very close, my condolences, he was a great man."
"Yeah in between the two of us we would always claim we were the most astronomical astronauts on the planet; it was a joke his son made one day…..and it just kind of stuck I guess." A small tear began to roll down Alioth's left cheek.
"I'm sorry sir."
"Don't be. We loved reentry, and all of the times I got to share this moment with him make it impossible to feel as if he were not here with us right now."
"I guess space really does free those whose souls are weighed down by earth's gravity." A woman's voice slowly crept from the back of the cabin; it was Loretta Vist, a senior flight operations commander with the navy, who upon applying to the NASA program was quickly admitted under her impressive flight time and credentials alone.
"You slay me commander Vist." Lightly chuckling Alioth gave a minor grin as if to be an expression no one would see from their respective helmets. "You slay me." He looked again to see the shuttle fully engulfed in the blue of the earth's sky; as it mixed with the orange of the shuttles exterior heating up from reentry. Demise seemed to be at bay; on the outside of the shuttle there lay the two great forces of existence, life and death entangled with one another, as the flames of heat and friction melded with the great expanse of the blue sky and its clouds of pure white. Alioth surly reminded himself that there was no sight so desolately foreign to the human mind than the one before him. Looking back at his left hand he swayed his good luck charm; a small gundam keychain consisting of nothing more than the head of the legendary cartoon figure, into the palm of his massive gloved hand, and squeezed. "Space is hope." He thought to himself "Space is hope." He remembered the days of his childhood when he would be so captivated by the mysterious tales of astronauts and their daring cosmic adventures. All the times he would lay in his bed at home from the early age of 7 and stare out into the night's sky at the moon till he fell asleep. For Alioth space was not some job that would render fame, or guaranteed success upon publishing a book; for Alioth space was simply where he felt he belonged. Sitting in his seat halfway ensnared in gravity's clutches he could still feel the feint sensation of zero gravity. In the dark cabin of the now quiet shuttle he radiated an appreciation and happiness that if allowed to be visible would shine as bright as the sun. "I never thought I would make it here" he somberly stated.
"Sir?" Questioned Jones
"As a kid my hopes to get here were filled with doubts and worries. This was honestly supposed to be impossible for me; to be sitting in this seat right now." He was right, Alioth's memories snapped back to when he was a child, and used to cry himself to sleep at night upon being told by his parents that he would be too tall to be an astronaut. Alioth remembered the sleepless nights of his high school years spent trying to decipher and solve math problems as simple as Algebra II. The tear stained notebook paper that would be the result of a dyslexic child refusing to come to grips with mathematical deficiencies. "There was no taste so bitter," he began "as being told over and over again all of the reasons why I would probably not be in this suit."
"You made it through," Vist replied "I may not be a veteran, but I can see how reentry would make you all mushy gushy, I envy you right now Alioth. In the navy an emotional woman was seen as a week commander if she had the rank. I thought I could come to space to just be myself you know? And here I am with this beautiful view right in front of my eyes…and I cant even shed a tear."
"You guys are a bunch of tear jerkers you know?" Jones questioned. "But if we're going around the cabin about why we're here," his voice lifted; "then I guess that makes me next."
"Not formally, but if gravity is just ripping the words right out of you, don't hold back on our accord." Vist mocked lightly.
"I came here just because it was my last resort."
"A program that gets tens of thousands of applicants a year, and you sit there because it was your last resort?" Vist's voice began to take a cutting tone.
"For me I was back and forth all throughout my life." Jones's voice settled. "I was here and there in all of my decisions, I didn't know what college I wanted to go to, what major I should chose, or even what job I wanted. I was stuck in the system for so long I was always told things like 'you have plenty of time to decide', or that 'doing what you love is the best job you can ask for. Just do what interest you.' Eventually," Jones now having his voice settle to a tone as if he were about to cry. "I began to run out of time. My pops got sick one day, I mean the man had always had heart problems but I thought nothing of It you know? I mean to me it was just dad taking a pill or two every day, then the next thing I see is him on a hospital bed discussing heart failure probability with a doctor." Alioth cut the ground control communication switch.
"Alioth we can-"
"I know. Houston will understand." He said calmly, "You can continue if you want jones. Nobody is listening except the people you can see in front of you."
"I was in my senior year of highschool," Jones continued slowly "and the man didn't even know what I wanted to be." Jones's voice cracked up from emotion. "One day when I got in my mom gave me the news….One week…One week for me to decide what I wanted to be, or it was too late." Jones gave a sniffle quickly. "I stayed up all night looking on the internet for something that would make me tons of money, or something that was hard to be, so I could go to my pops and say 'I'm going to do this. This is what im doing with my life.' You know? I couldn't find anything that I could really see myself doing for the rest of my life and then…" Jones sniffed again "And then I just looked up, I looked up and saw Orion's Belt, and I felt calm. I was going to tell my dad I was going into space. I was going to tell him I would soar up in a rocket all the way to the moon. I was going to tell him he could even go with me one day if he promised to wait on it." Jones fell silent for about half a minute. All that was present was silence, and the faint glow of the cabin as its hull heated from reentry. Sniffles came from the cabin as the rest of the crew sat in silence. No one knew what to say, and amidst all the great minds present, not a solution or single word of comfort could be found among them. "He died while I was sleeping." Jones said calmly and without emotion. "5:38 AM, two minutes after the time I was born."
"Jones I'm –" Vist began
"I took him with me." Jones cut her off. "Through college, through training he was always right here." The zipper of a utility pocket sounded as it went down its tracks, followed by the rustling of gloves within the enclosure. "He's always been right here. Its funny," Jones chuckled lightly through his tear filed voice. "The man wouldn't be able to come up here under any circumstances, but Houston lets me take his wallet and his picture…" The cabin felt silent once again, the blue hue of earth and its oceans grew more and more bright. White clouds rolled over the skies, backlit by the expansive seas. Alioth cut the switch back on to ground control.
"He has nothing to regret Jones." Alioth spoke heartedly. "He raised a hell of an astronaut."
"Saturn this is Houston do you copy?"
"We copy Houston" Vist snapped.
"We seemed to have has a problem on our end with our transmissions equipment that caused you all to go silent for a few minutes. We apologize and hope all statuses are green."
"Houston there wasn't an error we ha –" Vist tried to explain
"I already told them you would understand Houston, we hope the transmission equipment can see us the rest of the way through reentry."
"Final stage parameters are ready to commence, standing by for your approval Saturn."
"Beginning final parameters for reentry; beacon is lit for the recovery stage and we have confirmation on the delivery of coordinates to ground control. Estimated arrival time is currently three minutes and fifty six seconds." Jones spouted the information as if it were all routine; and it was, space was a game of repletion for first timers; a game that Jones had won ten times over before he went up.
"We are all good for contact then everyone. Congratulations on a successful reentry, and welcome back to earth!" Alioth himself spouted the line he had just said as if it were a game of repetition, and it was, it would forever be a repetitious statement as long as he would have to say it without Erwin in the cabin with him. Sitting in his seat Alioth continued to look as the earth continued to grow, eventually he was snapped from his internalization by the slow rocking of the ocean; he was once again back on earth.