Wednesday, July 15, 2139 | 18:36 UTC
Joshua Tree, California. 120 miles east of Numinous Park.
Clark enters the family’s kitchen to retrieve the two wooden cups of hot chaga for him and his wife, Hosanna, who reclines on the porch taking in the vast desert terrain with a blanket across her lap. At this moment, she prefers the views of a single Joshua tree in the distance, and her anthropomorphic machine doing astronomical surveys, to the harsh conditions of the Moon.
Hosanna, fifty-five, an inventive and towering figure in particle physics, reminisces on her time in space with her husband. Best known for her pioneering research on baryon asymmetry, she is more recently known as the brilliant, fearless (and gorgeous) woman, responsible for helping develop Operation Theia, with her research on chemical energy in certain near-Earth objects.
Clark, NASA’s first African-American engineer to land on Theia, and former Space X propulsion engineer (thermal and fluid analysis), fifty-four, is happy to be home. After a two-year program on the Moon building autonomous asteroid mining vehicles with his physicist wife, he is enjoying his legacy on a government-issued plot of land under a wide open sky. Clark and Hosanna St. Thomas are retired.
Clark is especially mellow, today. He drags his slippers across the hardwood floors in his ranch-style home in comfort. This is how he walks, now, in leisure apparel with a full black beard. Brief flashes of his time in space occasionally flicker across his mind with no regrets.
Clark returns to the porch where Hosanna, with her eyes closed, seems to be enjoying the music of the desert, a deafening silence accompanied by an orchestra of winds. He softly sets down the two steamy cups, as his wife opens her eyes and sits up.
“You have another five minutes before this cools. Enjoy it,” he says.
“No, no. I’m up. Oh yes, chaga! Wait? Did you add cacao?” she asks.
“What else? Your favorite.”
Hosanna, brown-skinned with a cumulus cloud-white smile, breathes a sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Clark. You’re the best husband on any planet,” she says, kissing him on his lips.
“You know, mathematicians have proven that?
“That’s right. It’s a statistical fact that I am thee best lover in the known universe.”
“Pretty sure I said husband,” Hosanna says, blowing on her chaga and having a sip.
“I don’t think you did,” Clark jests.
Clark receives a notification on his Collection, a discrete set of biotechnologies allowing humans to interface directly with remote quantum processors.
“Play it,” he says.
His Collection plays the latest stream, a multi-sensory modality of recorded images similar to a video, which Clark displays and views, through the surgically-enhanced lenses over his pupils.
“Hey, dad,” his only son, Maximus, a twenty-two year-old biochemist, greets him.
“Hey, Max. Son, a sea monster, look out, behind you!” Clark shouts to Maximus.
“Ahhhh!” Maximus jerks and screams, turning behind to see only his colleagues looking strangely at him.
Hosanna laughs, sipping her chaga. “Max, you can just hang up on him,” she says.
Maximus, wiry and smooth-skinned, brown as raw umber, clutches his beating heart.
“He can’t hear you?”
“That’s right,” Hosanna says.
“Hold on, Max. Your mother has some bad advice for you,” Clark says to Maximus.
“Merge me,” Hosanna insists.
Clark opens a secure space for a shared media stream, so that Hosanna may join the stream from a different Collection. The pleasant noise indicating that she has joined the stream chimes. Maximus sees her face appear in a view screen next to his father’s.
“Hey mom,” Maximus says.
“Hi, honey. Your father’s an idiot,” Hosanna replies.
“Well, they don’t think so up here,” Maximus says.
“They’re finally putting my face on the flag, son?” Clark asks, grinning.
“No, dad. They want you back. Oh, mom, the cacti around the property have artificial spines, now. They can grow fresh leaves without compromising their water storage. I upgraded them last week when I was there. Forgot to mention that,” his son answers.
“Good job, son!” Clark says.
“What do you mean they want him back?” Hosanna inquires.
“They want dad on Theia. And, uh… they want me to tell you, it’s a matter of national security,” Maximus responds.
“Why didn’t they come to me?” Clark asks.
“Because they know you would say no. They’re using me to get to you before they send officials to the house,” his son responds.
“You’re damn right he would say ‘no.’ We are very retired, thank you. Besides, there are plenty of people up there to work on the program,” Hosanna notes.
“None as good as dad.”
“Max. The Autoprobes are used by everyone. They’re outdated, now. Nano technicians are working on miniaturizing them.”
“Hey,” Clark turns to his wife and says.
“Yes, and, apparently, to little success. That’s why I’m calling. Dr. Solomon is no longer leading the program, and is returning to Earth next week.”
“What?” Clark says.
“And the news about General Hartford? You saw that, too, I’m assuming? He was here last night, and he’s out, too. It’s a mess, up here. Also, the Moon is really cold for some reason. Like, more than usual. Like -292 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m worried the dispersal vector of my spores are suffering,” Maximus continues, looking around.
“You’re kidding. Avery is out?” Hosanna asks, accessing a new view on her Collection to confirm the unwelcome news of Dr. Solomon.
“They need you, dad?” Maximus says.
Hosanna watches and reads the news of former acting commander, General William R. Hartford, defend the United States Space Force program, Operation Theia, specifically the mission to mine the novel asteroid’s potential new element.
“Isolate the stream, Ella,” Hosanna commands her Collection, marginalizing the view of Maximus and Clark to the corner of her perspective, as the view screen of the news story expands to fill the main view. She tunes in to the program, mid-segment.
“A polite, if intense, race between governments has begun, to be the first to secure the elusive energy mineral, Theianium. Dr. Avery Solomon, former chief scientist at NASA, founded the initial project in 2118,” General Hartford continues. “What this committee is proposing today by removing him from this position will not only negatively impact our mission, but will disgrace this great man’s reputation,” General Hartford read from a prepared statement.
“I can’t believe this,” Hosanna says.
“He is not responsible for the tragic deaths of the brave private citizens, Annabella Browning, and Nicole Leavenworth, two of America’s most exciting entrepreneurs, who died last night mounting the asteroid, known as Theia. We, the United States government, and their company, Interstellar Enterprises, accept full responsibility.
“Since mankind became a spacefaring civilization, this game of space has never been easy. But we all believe, as Annabella and Nicole believed, as we the American people believe, that it’s worth it. We now have the potential to create unlimited clean energy by synthesizing a single chemical element. It’s not theoretical anymore.
“Interstellar Enterprises came very, very close to mounting Theia before the untimely demise of their intrepid young founders. Let us not dishonor them, or their memories, today, with cowardice by giving up on this very critical mission. Thank you,” General Hartford concluded.
“Clark, are you seeing this?” Hosanna asks, turning to her husband.
The chair next to her was empty.
“Jasper! How we doing?” she calls out to the anthropomorphic machine in the desert.
“Finished, Hosanna,” the machine replies in human-digestible semantics.
“Good. Come inside, please.”
Hosanna raises from her chair and enters the couple’s spacious home. She finds Clark standing near the fireplace gazing into a few flames, arms crossed, apparently pensive.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“I have to go back,” Clark replies, his back turned to her, facing the fire.
“Hosanna, I have to. Avery…”
“Was your mentor for twenty-one years; is your mentor, and a friend of our family. He is indisputably the most important person to your career. To both of our careers. But, honey, we agreed, no matter what, we were done.”
“I can’t believe they’re getting rid of him. And for what?” Clarks turns to her and asks.
“They say his models of the asteroid were incorrect. That’s what caused the mounting vehicle, Annabella and Nicole, to crash into Theia. They died instantly.”
“How is that possible? The machine does the calculating. Not him.”
“I don’t know. I’m so sorry, Clark,” Hosanna says, approaching him.
“Something’s wrong. Something’s been wrong and it’s been bugging me for months. I don’t know what, but Avery hasn’t been himself. He doesn’t return my calls. They say he’s been erratic, talking about some secret project; pushing Joel, and Andrew, away.”
Hosanna hugs Clark.
“Honey. That’s their problem, now. You did your part. This past year has been so good to us. This is our life, now. One day you will die a hero,” Hosanna says, smiling.
“And what am I until I die?”
“Retired,” Hosanna says, kissing him and walking towards a lingering Jasper, a few feet away near the entrance.
Wednesday, July 15, 2139 | 17:13 UTC
The Conservatory, Numinous Park. Palmdale, California.
Clark and Hosanna’s oldest child, Helena, stands facing a crowd in The Conservatory at Numinous Park. Anxious spectators watch her in suspense, standing there. Helena, twenty-four, lanky and sinewy, with long braided pigtails, intimidates the crowd with anticipation.
Her chocolate brown face begins to wrinkle as she communicates her emotions. She is a woman writhing in pain, or so one might think. She immediately begins to wail, as if experiencing pleasure. She collapses to the floor.
The crowd engages.
Helena twists and turns on the floor, fighting whatever poltergeist is possessing her. Her screams are uncomfortable to listen to and will be simply unbearable in under a minute. Without warning, she stops. The conservatory lights go out. A shade of light cracks the darkness from the northeast corner of the auditorium.
The crowd observes as the cracking shade of light widens its circumference, slowly but surely illuminating its subject. Helena twitches, sits up, faces the crowd, and smiles. A tranquility warms her face. She utters.
“Ha salo Helena sah.
Ah ha salano Helena.
Ha salo Helena sah.
Ah ha salano Helena.
Helena twists and spirals upward into a relevé and descends into a plié. She dances the neoclassical style of George Balanchine, an anachronistic ballet method, rhapsodizing the same unintelligible utterances. The shade of light from the north corner fills in the room, revealing different dancers in different states.
The diversity of dancers, who all favor Helena, sing in a broken unison. One dancer is doused in blood and seems incapable of forming the words, yet refuses to stop singing. Another dancer is merely flecked with blood in rent clothing, capable of singing along but incapable of maintaining Balanchine’s technique. She keeps falling over.
There are dozens of dancers, different Helenas, who are almost as perfect at the dance and the mantra as the woman we first saw on the floor. The four dancers flanking our Helena, two on either side, are elegant, but not beautiful. They sing:
“Ha salo Helena sah.
Ah ha salano Helena.
Ha salo Helena sah.
Ah ha salano Helena.
The crowd sings along with the Helenas. They rock from side to side, as they imagine the dancers intend. The light brightens, vanquishing the bloodier dancers and fading the less bloody ones into translucent ghosts. Helena’s song increases in volume as she raises her voice against the dying of her various selves.
The light becomes too bright to observe. The spectators turn and cover their faces. A luminous ball of white fills the center of the conservatory and adorns its edges with a sliver of solid matter. The sliver peeks out from the light, as if to say ‘I am a wall near the exit.’
As the number of chanting voices decreases, the volume of Helena’s chant increases. The light subsumes the conservatory, Helena’s voice, lonely, liberated and clamoring, remaining. Without warning, the light gives way. The crowd squinting and numinous, sees splashes of colors and patterns of the dancing Helenas, which their brains sketch for them. Helena herself is no where to be found.
The crowd looks around and sees flecks of computer-generated blood on their hands, faces, and clothing. Startled, they scream. They rush to try and wipe the blood away, to no avail. They continue screaming and, one by one, stand up and erupt into applauses. Several members of the audience descend to the floor and begin dancing and chanting versions of Helena’s mantra. Other members exit The Conservatory.
Outside, Helena is creeping through the gardens and talking with her mother on a private stream. She steals into a bushier section to avoid the soon-to-be oncoming crowd.
“Why are you beaming me at 15:17 in the afternoon?” she asks her mother.
“First of all, watch your tone, Helena,” Hosanna insists.
“I was in the middle of a show!”
“Secondly, I’m beaming you because I need you to come home, tomorrow. There’s been a development. Your brother’s flying home, tonight.”
“Are you okay? Is Dad okay? What is happening?”
“So what’s wrong?” Helena moves further through the bushy area to avoid the crowd she just entertained, who’s emptying into the gardens en route to The Emporium for dinner.
“We’re having a family meeting. We’re deliberating a very important issue and we need you all here. End of story.”
“You need us there, or it would be nice to have us? Wait, Max is flying home for this?”
“16:00 sharp. Don’t be late. I’m making burnt banana cream cupcakes. Goodbye, loser,” Hosanna says before swiping out of the interface.
“Oh my G-,” Helena attempts before being cutoff by her mother. “My favorite thing in the whole world. Cupcakes. That woman is wicked,” she says, before escaping into the residential section of the Park.
Helena arrives at the residential section called The Village, passing by a few friends at whom she waves, who are building solar sails to move payloads between asteroids. It’s one of the planet’s most pressing issues: transporting newly-mined resources in space.
Helena makes her way to the residences of Numinous Park. An older European couple calls out to her from maybe twenty yards away.
“Hello? Excuse me?” the husband says.
“Hi!” Helena says aloud.
The couple approaches.
“Sorry to bother you. We traveled from Latvia to see you. Took almost five hours, but it was totally worth it,” the husband begins.
“Oh, wow. Yes. I love Latvia. Very pretty. I performed a version of The Rose of Turaida at Gutman’s Cave there, at Sigulda, when I thirteen,” Helena responds.
“Yes! We were there. That’s where we first saw you,” the wife confirms.
“You played Victor, Jakubovsky, and Skudritis; and your boyfriend, at the time, played Maija,” the husband adds. “Very clever.”
“That’s right. Wow. You remember that,” Helena says.
“Tonight’s show was outstanding. I love the contrasts,” the wife continues, grinning.
“Wow. Thank you for saying that. I would invite you to dinner, but I have to prepare for a family meeting, tomorrow. Are you staying the night?” Helena asks.
“Yes. We are visiting Numinous Park 1 through the week. We leave on Saturday,” the husband says.
“Let’s do dinner Friday before you leave, if you want?”
“That would be sensational,” the husband responds. “We’re holidaying in The Village.”
“Righteous. Let’s do the Greenhouse in The Public Square. 18:00. Beam me on Social, if you change your minds. My mailbox is open. I’ll find you.”
“Oh my God, thank you, Helena. Oh, this is so wonderful,” the wife says, hugging her.
“Thank you. We would love to join you. No changes. We’ll see you there,” the husband says, shaking Helena’s hand.
“Great. Talk, soon. Build the future.”
Helena turns and exits.
“Build the future,” the couple says.
The couple turns and leaves, hugging each other as they stroll the Park.
Thursday, July 16, 2139 | 16:05 UTC
Joshua Tree, California. 120 miles east of Numinous Park.
Hosanna sets out burnt banana cream cupcakes at the center of the family’s kitchen table. She turns to her husband, who has been emotionally distant ever since hearing the news of Dr. Solomon.
“Clark, honey, you want a cupcake?” she hollers from a distance.
“No. Yes,” he replies.
Clark enters the kitchen fashionably dressed for dinner in driving loungers and family attire, not too dissimilar from modern traditional and blended family set ups. A family owning distinct stylistic apparel as a form of polite social signaling is the norm. Clark and Hosanna rhyme in pink and periwinkle microfibers, Hosanna with matching hair and wrist ornaments.
The table is set for five. A wooden board of burnt banana cream cupcakes whitens the center of the table. Smaller plates of soursop, guava, extra cream, and tiny saucers for spiced chai, orbit the main event. Clark has a seat at the table and pours a cup of chai. The family black and white Alaskan Malamute, Fermi, follows Clark into the kitchen, and sits next to him on the floor. Clark pets Fermi.
“Are you having cupcakes?” Hosanna asks.
“I’m afraid if I touch one. Helena,” he says.
“So, solar radiation, Martian dust storms, spontaneous combustion on rogue satellites? Fine. Our twenty-four year-old daughter, who weighs one hundred twenty pounds in a spacesuit…”
The front door opens and closes, the sound of bags and other accoutrements fumbling onto the floor a familiar one. The detoxifying machine efficiently removes particulates from Maximus as he passes through the main entrance.
“Mom? Dad?” Maximus inquires.
“They stepped out!” Clark jokes.
“Hi, Maxi,” Hosanna responds, setting out serviettes.
Maximus enters the kitchen and gives his mother a big hug. Hosanna hugs and kisses him on the cheek. Maximus rushes over to hug Clark, who squeezes and kisses him on the cheek, then smacks him on the head.
“Why? Just why?” Maximus asks, taking a seat.
“It was there,” Clark answers.
“Where’s Cassie?” Maximus asks. “I know she’s seeing that boy. What was his name?”
“She’s not seeing anyone. She’s thirteen,” Clark responds.
“His name is Amon and he is just my friend,” Clark and Hosanna’s youngest daughter, Cassandra, interjects, appearing from the corner in the kitchen frightening her family.
“Ahhh! What are you doing!” Clark, Hosanna, and Maximus, shout, recoiling in terror.
“How long have you been standing there?” Hosanna questions Cassandra, hot hickory brown with light cinnamon eyes and coarse, natural hair. Cassandra’s big hair was her distinctive feature. A svelte and pensive thirteen, Cassandra’s afro is big as she is, curly and unwieldy.
“Forty-nine minutes. I’m testing the invisibility cloak. Apparently it works,” she grins.
“Don’t eavesdrop on people without their permission. It’s a violation of privacy,” Clark course corrects.
“Understood,” his youngest daughter said.
“Good. Now tell us how it works, honey,” Hosanna smiles.
“Hello, Maximus,” Cassandra says. She shuffles over to her big brother, hugs him, and quickly pulls away to demonstrate her prototype.
Maximus glances at his father in hopes of finding a shared connection, in response to his sister’s reliably cold reception. Clarks glances back at Maximus and shrugs.
“The device uses simple projection mapping and light to reflect what your brain wants to see versus what is actually there. It’s quite simple, really,” Cassandra says, vanishing again, before her family’s eyes. “Amon and I wrote some source files for the Collection at the Park. Took us a few hours to get it right. Now we need to test real time tracking, so we don’t have to stand still to be invisible.
“Hey, Cassie, can you make your mother’s thirty bean soup disappear?” Clark inquires.
“Yes,” Cassandra says.
Hosanna turns and squints at Clark.
“Did you all print the battery, or did you buy it at the Park,” Maximus asks Cassandra.
“We printed it this morning. Took almost thirty minutes. It’s super slow,” she answers, reappearing, fiddling with her prototype.
The front door unlocks, opens, and closes. Someone exhales a vocal sigh of relief as the detoxifying machine washes the day away.
“That’s Helena. Okay, everyone, we have news. Cassie, come sit down,” Hosanna says to Cassandra.
Cassandra sits down at the table next to Maximus. Helena enters the kitchen and sees Maximus eating a cupcake. She stares at him, Maximus freezing mid-bite. Helena sits down, pours her family cups of spiced chai before pouring herself a cup, and reaching for a cupcake.
“Okay. So, we need to talk to you all…”
“Dad, you’re not going back to the Moon. You and mom just came home, you’re both retired; you have at least another century of traveling Earth, and not having anymore idiot children,” Helena interrupts.
“You’re going back to space?” Cassandra asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” Clark answers, gravely.
“He has to go back. Dr. Solomon was fired for something he didn’t do, but apparently there’s more to it than that,” Maximus says.
“How is that Dad’s problem?” Helena asks.
“Because he’s the only one that can see this through. The government is serious about this project, and so are we. My research into terraforming Theia is also contingent on its success as a potentially habitable body,” Maximus answers.
“I agree,” Cassandra says.
“You do, honey?” Hosanna inquires.
“I do. Dad was the leader on the project and it’s very close to being the fourth asteroid we can call a satellite. That matters. It shouldn’t be discontinued because Dr. Solomon was dismissed, or because he believes the government is secretly breaking the Treaty.”
“What?” Clark asks, setting down his cup.
“Amon and I were at The Emporium getting our blood drawn this morning. When we left the clinic, once we were outside, we turned the cloaks back on. We needed to test how we look in daylight…
“Focus…” Clark lightly raises his voice.
“We heard some of the leadership who were at the clinic discuss why Dr. Solomon was dismissed. Some man from the Home Office outside the clinic mentioned Dr. Solomon believed in a weird conspiracy theory about our government violating the Outer Space Treaty with China. I would infer Dr. Solomon, right or wrong, shared his weird theory with the wrong person,” Cassandra replies.
“Thank you, honey, but just the facts. Keep your inferences to yourself,” Hosanna says.
“Understood,” Cassandra replies, fiddling with her device.
“I’m having another cupcake,” Helena says, reaching for a cupcake and shoving it into her mouth.
“Clark, is this what I think it is,” Hosanna asks.
“I don’t know. Honey? Kids, will you excuse me? I need to beam a friend,” Clark says, rising from the kitchen table. His children stand, as Clark stands and exits. Hosanna remains seated with her left cheek nestled in the left palm of her hand. Her children return to their seats.
“Fine. Dad’s going back to the Moon. We don’t see you all anymore anyway, which was sort of the point of this now failed retirement experiment. You know, Cassie, Max, and I, continue living at the Park? You two live here in obscurity?” Helena reaffirms.
“They have Fermi,” Cassandra notes.
“Helena, please,” Hosanna implores.
“Mom, I just want you to be happy.”
“What about duty?” Maximus asks.
“Max, they did their duty. They’re heroes. They don’t owe anyone anything.”
“Duty is not about what you owe. It’s about who you are,” Maximus replies.
“You sound like a lapel pin.”
“Enough,” Hosanna insists.
Clark enters the kitchen wearing an expression of concern on his face. He smiles at his loving family and addresses them.
“It’s true. About Dr. Solomon. And I am going back. Hosanna, I need you to come with me. Thirty days. Maybe fewer. It’s the only way to help him understand…”
“Of course, Clark,” Hosanna smiles. “We’ll fix it like we always do, and then we’ll come home and retire,” she says, definitively, her eyes uncertain.
Clark nods. Hosanna smiles back at him.
“Yay, Fermi’s coming back to the Park,” Cassandra exclaims, waving the family dog to come to her. Fermi yields to her beckoning.
Friday, July 17, 2139 | 13:27 UTC
The Village, Numinous Park. Palmdale, California.
The Family St. Thomas assembles at Helena and Cassandra’s home at Numinous Park in Palmdale, California. Maximus, who lives not far from his sisters on the grounds at the Park, gathers with them to see their parents off.
Clark is excited to be meeting, again, with Dr. Solomon, evident in his discussion with the good doctor’s wife, experimental physicist, Dr. Vyvyan Solomon. Helena winces at how animated her father is in conversation, from a distance, and turns away.
Despite the ill rumors of Dr. Solomon’s questionable mental health, or in the very least his going rogue, Avery Solomon is an American hero and Clark’s esteemed mentor. He nominated the young charming Space X engineer to NASA’s New Hope Team, in 2118, despite Clark having no interest in the job. Clark was selected as the institution’s lead mechanical engineer with the mission of establishing a playbook for terraforming the red planet.
Clark instead developed the Autoprobe for NASA, the autonomous no-contact mining robot for near-Earth objects, for which he has become known. He and his team landed their vehicle on the carbonaceous asteroid known as Theia, not long after Dr. Solomon discovered it, namely the energy molecule within it, suggesting said asteroid might be habitable. Clark still went to Mars with Dr. Solomon, and NASA’s New Hope Team, in 2120. Nominating him has been one of Dr. Solomon’s biggest career successes.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” Cassandra asks Helena, the two of them twenty or so yards away, looking at their father laughing and chatting it up with Dr. Solomon’s wife.
“Pulsars, or something,” Helena replies. “Are you okay?”
“I am okay. It’s only thirty days. Besides, they’re the best at what they do. You seem preoccupied, Helena. Mom and Dad will be fine. Promise,” Cassandra answers, her eyes wide and confident.
“Over there with his colleague.”
“Go stand next to mom. I’ll be there in a moment.”
Cassandra goes to stand next to her mother, who is in conversation. Hosanna hugs her daughter while continuing her discussion. Helena approaches Maximus and his friend, Paola, a biochemist and botanist.
“Hey, Paola. Long time,” she says.
“You’ve been busy. Sorry I missed your show. I’m sure it was spectacular,” Paolo greets.
“Mind if I steal this chunk of dirt, for a second?”
“No, please. Take this chunk of dirt with you.”
Paola pats Maximus on the back and walks off.
“Time to stream,” Helena says to her brother.
Clark, Hosanna, Helena, Maximus, Cassandra, and Fermi, gather round for a reelsty, or augmented reality stream, a collection of visual and auditory displays similar to a GIF, taken by friends and family at the Park. The St. Thomas’ wave their goodbyes, as Clark and Hosanna prepare to take a shuttle from the Park to Mojave Air and Space Port.
“Wait, everyone. I almost forgot,” Maximus interrupts.
“Oh, no,” “Max,” “Please, stop, no,” his family jangles.
Paola laughs and approaches a beleaguered Maximus.
“This is important. Routine trip or not, you need protection. We know there are plant gods, not vegetation deities, that watch over hominidae. This is science, not religion. We discovered it. Animate matter…”
“Get on with it, Max,” Hosanna says.
Maximus and Paola hold hands and repeat solemn words of protection against forces that might cause Maximus’ parents bodily harm, such as radiation poisoning. After a brief prayer, Paola reaches into Maximus’ beige satchel and smears primrose oil, and mud, on his mother’s face and hands. Helena shakes her head. Observing friends and family watch in suspense, as Helena rolls her eyes and Cassandra squints in disbelief.
Maximus reaches into his satchel and attempts to smear primrose oil on his father’s face. Clark smacks Maximus’ hand away.
“Maxi, we have to go. Thank you and Paola for your kind words, and prayers. We will definitely need them.”
“You’re welcome, Dr. St. Thomas,” Paola responds.
“Thanks, mom,” Maximus says.
Clark hugs Paola. He then hugs Maximus, and kisses him on the cheek, and whispers in his ear. “Take care of Cassandra and Helena. She acts like she doesn’t need you, but she does. Understand?” Clark asks his son.
“I know. Love you, Dad. Take care of mom and have a good mission,” Maximus replies.
Clark looks his only son in the eyes for a moment, and places his right hand on his left shoulder. “Stop putting mud on people.”
“I will never stop doing that.”
Clark picks up Cassandra and swings her around inside a warm hug. He kisses her on her shiny red cheek. “Hey. Look at me. You’re the smart one. Take care of my house.”
“Understood,” she replies. Cassandra continues standing there, awaiting instructions.
Clark shakes his head at Cassandra and turns to Helena. “Honey. You’re beautiful and perfect and very, very strange. I love you.”
“Dad, I was wrong last night. I shouldn’t have said not to go. This is who you and mom are, and I wasn’t being a member of our family. I apologize for being selfish and weak,” she confesses.
“Helena come here,” Clark says to his oldest child. She approaches him, her head held in shame. “You are the strongest member of this family. More than me and your mom. Your concern for us is why I almost said no. But I need to go. My friend may be in real trouble. And we always taught you to be a good friend, even when that means pushing them away. Helena, I might need to push one of my best friends away, my mentor, and I want a good god damn reason why, if I do.”
“Affirmative,” Helena replies in jest.
“Please don’t start saying that. You’re the heart of this family. Your mother and I are really worried about Cassandra,” Clark says, hugging and kissing Helena.
Helena laughs. “Yeah me, too.”
Hosanna hugs and kisses her children. “Okay, bye kids. See you in a month. Be good.”
“Bye mom,” they respond.
Clark and Hosanna turn to exit and see a NASA envoy greeting them with smiles. “Mr. and Dr. St. Thomas?”
“Evelyn, nice to see you. Let’s get on with it. We have work to do,” Hosanna says, back in the swing of things.
“Yes, ma’am,” the envoy replies.
Clark, Hosanna, and Evelyn, exit the Park and board an autonomous shuttle provided by Numinous Park, to escort them to the launch complex in Mojave. The couple holds hands while on en route, Hosanna appreciating the sprawling views, Clark reading the updated mission manifest.
They arrive at the complex minutes later and disembark the shuttle. They press on the manicured grounds at Mojave Air and Space Port, authenticating passed security, and towards section 2a., a sub-complex from where they are scheduled to launch. The Port itself is beautiful with inspiring displays of the history of American aerospace. It has become the commercial space flight destination for itinerant Los Angeles youth, who holiday on the Moon.
“Have a safe flight, sir; Dr. St. Thomas,” Evelyn says, bowing her head to them.
“Thank you, Evelyn,” the couple replies.
Clark and Hosanna board a Starship with adjoining passengers. The pilot is a familiar ex-colleague. The passengers whisper among themselves, and shake hands with Clark and Dr. St. Thomas, who insists you call her Hosanna. They are among officials on the commercial flight as dignitaries hosted by NASA.
Passengers strap into their seats. The ship announces preflight checks, as Clark looks over at Hosanna.
“Thirty days,” he says smiling.
“Thirty days,” Hosanna replies.
“I miss the smell of cactus flowers already,” Clark adds.
“You don’t need to make it weird. I’m here. Let’s just do this and make it back home.”
“What do you think this thing is with Avery?”
“I think you know.”
“I think I want you to tell me.”
Hosanna takes a deep breath.
“I think Avery lost his mind years ago, not disabling, but unfit for serious government work…”
“Oh, come on…”
“And I think even if he’s right about our people breaking the Outer Space Treaty with China, I think he had something to do with it. He’s wily and you know it. That’s where you get it.”
“Honey, that’s ridiculous. I was wily long before I started working for the government.”
“I’m serious, Clark. He’s up to something. You’ve been saying it since we left and now we’re back on this ship, going back up there…”
“He’s my friend, Hosanna,” Clark asserts a little too loudly. He responds, this time in a whisper.
“He might be crazy, but if he’s not wrong, the system that we gave our lives to, the one we believe in, the one I almost died for, owes us an explanation. How can we live with ourselves knowing what we know. We believe in duty.”
“We also believe in violating our duties, if it put us, or our government, in harm’s way. Do you disagree with that, now?”
“No. No, I don’t. That’s why we’re going. I need to know if I’m turning my back on my government, if we’re turning our backs on our government, it’s for a good reason.”
The Starship counts down to launch, and launches, achieving a speed of roughly 37,000 mph. Hosanna holds Clarks hand, as he settles in for a nap. Hosanna watches old crew streams from the NASA archives. She tears up, and laughs, at a stream of Dr. Solomon, Clark, and the New Hope Team, celebrating their arrival on Mars. She swipes to Clark laying one of the Terra Tracks for citizen dwelling at the Octavia E. Butler Landing, in 2120.
Back at Numinous Park, Cassandra stands with Amon, and their friends, and watches the rocket reach escape velocity from the observatory. Back at his home, one hundred or so yards away from Cassandra, Maximus and Paola have sex in Maximus’ bedroom, which overlooks the Park. The room is bountiful with plants and new organisms from their research, diverse in species and genus, and colorful.
Thirty yards away from Maximus, Helena is also home. She is having dinner with the European couple she encountered two days ago. The dinner party watches the rocket ascending on a holographic display Helena is projecting against her living room wall, from a tiny device. The European couple chews their dinner and enjoys the stream. A disturbed Helena, her head down, picks at her food, and speaks.
“I think I just sent my parents into serious danger.”
David Oliver Doswell
Written and Directed by
David Oliver Doswell
Art Director & Illustrator
Alexis Ffrench, Ludovico Einaudi, and Greg Dombrowski
David Oliver Doswell
© 2021 Numinous Park, Inc. All rights reserved.