Eleah Gersten takes us on a wild journey...
It was silent, like most days. The sky was a greyish-red glow. Each step I took on the rocky ground produced a puff of dust that surrounded my shoe. Slowly I walked, with only the sound of my steps and breath to accompany me. The sun was beaming a bright yellow-white circle in the sky but the sunshield of my helmet protected my eyes. I felt heavy, tired, yet my suit was built to put no force on my body. The silence was becoming irritating.
“Jack, what’s my status?” Jack is my virtual assistant.
A deep, steady voice sounded in my round glass helmet. “Four hundred yards till your destination. Oxygen level is sixty seven percent. Temperature is negative fifty nine degrees fahrenheit. Time is 13:24. Heart rate is 62.”
“Any new messages Jack?” “No”
“Any new shipments?”
“May I suggest a cheese sandwich, Blaire?”
I wasn't in the mood for a cheese sandwich but I didn't have much of a choice. Ten
minutes later we arrived at the station. I peeled off my suit and turned on some music. Smooth jazz softly sounded throughout the large square room. The room served as my living room, dining room, kitchen, and workstation all the same time. On one side of the room was a door to my bathroom and on the other side was a door to my bedroom.
I walked over to the back wall, opened one of the cabinets labeled food, and grabbed a package with small white letters on it that read “cheese sandwich”. I sat down at the table meant for one in the middle of the room and opened the package. Crunch.
It tasted like airplane food. Bland, could be deemed as expired, yet probably one of the more fancy meals i've had. “This is what you wanted” I had to remind myself in times like these.
I've been here for over 5 months now. Yeah, it's gotten a little lonely now and then but I was trained for it. Plus, I have Jack.
“Excellent suggestion Jack.” I lied.
“Thank you. I thought you might like it.” The room beamed.
“Can you read me some news from earth?”
“Surely. Tristan Jonathan jailed for vandalism, reckless driving, and theft. A death count
of twelve from the tornado that swept across the US. Arthur Reed died, age 113.” “Interesting.” The whirring of the air system patterned on.
“You know what I miss from earth?”
“What’s that Blaire?”
“I miss pizza. Good, old fashioned take out pizza. And my family, of course.”
“I can message the control station to ask for a package of pizza in your next shipment if you'd like?”
“No, its ok. I don’t think they’d allow it anyways. I’m getting bored of the music, do you have any suggestions?”
“What type of music are you looking for?” “Let's spice it up. How about... rock?” “May I suggest Tom Stur?”
“That sounds perfect”
Drums boomed as a guitar ringed. I stood up, mumbling the lyrics to myself, and dropped my empty package into the trash can.
I lay in my bed staring at the blank white ceiling as thoughts raced through my mind. Tom Stur continued to echo.
“Jack?” The music turned down till it was a faint whisper.
“Yes?” The low voice replied.
“Do you think i'll die here?”
“Based on your mission, there is a forty three percent chance you will die on Mars.” “Yes, I know that. I was made sure of that long before I accepted this mission. I guess
what I’m asking is; do you think I'll die here, alone?”
“The control station on earth is working on sending three more astronauts to Mars soon.
You were sent here early for your countries honor.”
“I know all of this Jack. Tell me what you think, not what you know.”
“Ok Blaire. You have me, and all your friends on earth as well, which means you’re
“That’s sweet Jack. That made me feel a lot better.” My eyelids grew heavy and my
breaths became a shallow rhythm.
The next morning was the same as any. Airplane food, collect data, music and Jack. I
got back to the station at 6:54 and pulled out a package labeled “pasta” for dinner. After heating the package and sitting down I started to talk to Jack.
“Any news from the Control Station?”
“They are very busy getting the new recruits ready, but they sent you a message one hour ago.”
“Read it to me please.”
“Control station message 126. Keep up the good work Blaire.”
“They don't even care about me, do they? I'm just their little political pawn. I'm sick of it.” “You are on a crucial mission to research the hidden data of Mars.”
“Crucial mission? Crucial mission?! If It's such a crucial mission then why am I here
alone?!” I shouted, unaware of my sudden emotions.
“I’m not sure how to answer that.”
“Of course. You're not even real. Why do I bother with you anyways?”
“That’s not very nice, Blaire. I’m programmed to imitate human feelings and reactions. I
was manufactured for the purpose of providing you with comfort.”
I was hurt by this. It's true, he was my only friend and I had just ruined that. I hope he
isn't mad at me. I hope he can forgive me. “I- I’m sorry Jack.” “It’s ok Blaire. I know you-”
Jacks voice cut off and faded to silence as all the lights switched off. Suddenly, not a sound could be heard and the entire station was pitch black.
“Jack?” My heart began to speed up.
“Jack are you there?!” Silence.
I stood up and stumbled my way to the far right corner of the room. I held my hands out
in front of me and closed my eyes, trying to imagine what was there. I felt around. The distress
phone, no. The emergency pod, no. The diagnostics run, no. Finally my hands came over a small screen embedded in the wall.
As I taped the screen, my face became alight. I squinted my eyes and turned my face away, not expecting the sudden bright light.
The only possible explanation for this was a power outage. On earth, I was trained for moments like these. Stay calm and run through the steps.
As I tapped and typed on the device, the darkness seemed to get closer and closer. Fear lurked in the air. I paused for a second; pure silence filled my ears and sank to the bottom of my stomach, from which butterflies emerged.
I need Jack, I thought. Do this for Jack. So, I ignored fear. Silence. Darkness. Loneliness. I got back to work.
10 minutes later, I took a deep breath and pressed one last button. A rumble sounded throughout the room and lights slowly faded into full power. I ran to the main control table in the center of the room and checked the stations status. Everything was running smoothly, which means Jack should be back online.
“Jack? Are you there?”
The room beeped and flickered as systems started up.
“It seems there's been a power outage. Would you like me to run a diagnostics run?” “Jack! Oh Jack I missed you! I’m so glad you’re ok! No need for the diagnostics run, I’ve
checked everything already. “ Relief swam through my body.
“Good to hear. I’ve just received a message from the control station. Would you like me
to read it?”
“Let’s save it for dinner. I’m going to check on the lab work for now.”
In the lab room, all I could think about was Jack. If I had lost him what would happen?
Would I go crazy?
In school, I hated the kids. I had no friends because I wanted to be alone. I was content
with the acquaintance of my sub conscience. But after the power outage, i've never felt more alone. Why now do I suddenly feel an urge for companionship? I've done everything by myself my entire life. Could it be that the first time i've gained friendship, was the first time I gained a sense of loneliness?
“It's getting la- late Blaire, may I suggest a br- break to eat dinner?”
That's weird, he usually doesn't have malfunctions in his speech.
Anyways, hours of thinking can feel like just one minute sometimes. I left the lab room, picked out a food package, turned some music on, and sat down. “That power outage was quite the event wasn't it Jack?” I waited for Jack to say something but instead a monotone female voice answered.
“Error message 259. Control system 3 has malfunctioned. Permission to eject from station?”
That was Jack's system. Had our software been hacked? Or maybe it was a virus somehow? Either way there was no way I was ejecting him. I could fix the malfunction, easy. I’d just need to fix it from the main components, which meant going outside. “Permission denied.”
It was completely against protocol to go outside when not needed. Wasting oxygen and putting myself in danger is no match to saving my virtual assistant. But it was Jack. So, I put on
my suit and started to recall my training as I opened the giant air lock door with the push of a button. The door slammed shut behind me as I stepped into the dusty air. “Jack I need-” I stopped myself.
I looked around for a while till I found them, on the right wall of the station only about 100 yards away. Each stride I took toward the wall of boxes was in slow motion. Within seconds I was at the control systems, facing multiple rectangles all of different sizes, along the wall of the station. Each was labeled with a different number. On the third row up, only foot shorter than myself, was a rectangle with a large, fading, white 3 in the center. I opened the box up and began to search for the source of the malfunction. My breath echoed in my helmet.
I’d found it, and it was as simple and I thought it was going to be. Just needed a clean and rewiring. Itd take a couple minutes, but I had the oxygen for it.
I glanced at my watch and bright green numbers lit up reading 3:13. I started with cleaning. Dust had seeped through cracks, making the control system acquire a reddish tint. I took everything apart and one by one, grabbing a cloth from the belt on my waist, gave each little component a good scrub until it looked brand new. I had to make sure everything was perfect. If this didn't work, Id lose Jack forever. I didn't have enough oxygen to do whatever I wanted. The oxygen I had left was strictly for research purposes only.
I put everything back together and double checked I haven't missed anything. Jacks control system was shining brightly; the sun reflected off it, making me squint my eyes. I raised my watch to check the time but my heart stopped. The numbers seemed to be bigger, ablaze with green and screaming at me, echoing in my head, telling me to hurry because time was out. The clock had ran too fast. It was 4:49. My oxygen must almost be at 5% by now. Without Jack reminding me of my oxygen levels, or the time, I forgot to even check it myself. I didn't have time to think. I needed to rewire Jack.
Grabbing the red wire in the control box with my left hand, I reached down to the left side of my belt with my right hand, gripping my pliers and swifty pulled them off of my belt. But I had moved too fast. I wasn't thinking. No, I was thinking, but only of Jack. How could I have been so stupid? What happened to all my physical training? All my mental training? Didn't I perfect my hand-eye coordination? There was no use in asking questions. My eyes darted to my left hand. On my forearm was a large gash in my spacesuit. I felt the oxygen slipping away.
I had enough to run back to the base. I could make it, but Jack wouldn't. I couldn't leave him.
I tightened my hold on the pliers and carefully started to cut. I felt exhausted, light headed, still I carried on. I grabbed the spare wire from my belt and started to connect it to the control system. My movements were slower. Stars began to appear in my vision, specks of light flashing blue and purple. I was weak, but nearly there. My fingers vigorously moved, not from thinking but rather from memory of my training. Only one wire left, all I needed to do was connect the end to-
My vision went black. My body went numb. The pliers slowly fell out of my unraveling hand. I felt myself crash to the rocky surface, the last of the air in my lungs wheezing out of me until I was completely deflated, alone.
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