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Submitted to the 2011 Baen Memorial Writing Contest SCRIDB EDITION
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© 2011. Russell P. Mickler. All Rights Reserved. Written in the United States of America Between November 2010 and December 2010 Prepared using Oracle OpenOffice ® 3.2 on Ubuntu 10.10 Times Font 10 pt
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Russell Mickler is an author of several books concerning Information Technology and Information Security. When he’s not otherwise working on dull technology projects, he’s a big fan of dark science fiction the likes offered by Gibson, Moorcock, and Gaiman. Mickler is also a public speaker on matters concerning social media and technology and creates all types of media at micklerandassociates.com, simple-books.net, and reinventwork.com.Russell Mickler can be found on Facebook, on Twitter at @micklerr, and emailed directly at email@example.com. Keepsake is a short story that was submitted to the 2011 Baen Memorial Writing Contest. It explores a tween’s perspective of space and her conflict with the rather mature notion of “for the betterment of mankind”. The story also addresses an ethical dilemma concerning artificial intelligence and the problem of preserving relationships over extended duration spaceflight. But really it’s just a story about a mother and her daughter, and the vast distances of space, ambition, and selflessness between them. OTHER BOOKS AND PUBLICATIONS BY THE AUTHOR Simple Social Media
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Keepsake By RP Mickler Submitted to the 2011 Baen Memorial Writing Contest
“Ms. Fuller?” The attendant received no reply from the young lady in the seat. Her earphones were blaring and she was preoccupied with her tablet. Reaching across the girl, the attendant scooped up a plastic cup, napkin, and foil wrapper and deposited them in a rubbish bag. Politely, the attendant gently tapped the girl’s shoulder and - with a slight dramatic roll of annoyance - Kyra Desiree Fuller’s eyes met with the attendant’s. “Ms. Fuller. We’re about to go sub-orbital. I’m going to have to ask you to stow your electronic device now.” Kyra nodded and pressed a recessed button on the tablet that turned the unit off. She removed her earbuds then locked them both away in a net in front of her seat. Seizing an obvious opportunity, the attendant smiled. “It’s a pleasure to have you onboard today, Ms. Fuller. We’re all very proud of your mother.” Kyra nodded, smiled curtly, and appeared almost entirely disinterested. “Her mission starts tomorrow, no?” “Yes,” Kyra acknowledged. She slowly nodded and just stared at the back of the chair in front of her. “Yes.”
Keepsake / 6 Recognizing the awkward silence for what it was, the attendant straightened up. “When you see her, wish her the best from everyone here, would you?” Without looking back to the attendant, Kyra nodded and then closed her eyes. Servicing the remaining eleven passengers, Kyra could hear the attendant’s affable greeting over and over again. The repetitiveness of it irritated her. Kyra folded her arms and sunk back into her chair, and waited for what was going to happen next. This was Kyra’s seventh sub-orbital flight; her third to the Moondock. She had spent all of her life between her dad’s home in Denver and her mom’s training locations in space, whether those were at the E-ISS or on the Moon. No aspect of the travel was really fun for Kyra primarily because - she felt - there we no children in space. This was one critical flaw with space travel. It was a place for adults. Whenever she traveled, it was always just her and her mother in ultraclose proximity eating crappy food, in cramped places, doing dull things, and abiding by rules. Tons of rules. To Kyra, space was a place for confinement, isolation, and rules, and really, if you’re a kid, who’d want that? Other mission trainees that her mom worked with opted not to have children. Kyra thought that was pretty smart; she had frequently thought of herself as a monkey-wrench in her mom’s career. Her visits were only authorized by NASA and ESA so that she could spend time with her mother before the mission where her mother would then disappear from Kyra’s life for twelve years - fourteen counting rehabilitation. Kyra infrequently asked her mom what the point was: why do this when she’d be leaving for so long? Why go, knowing that you won’t be able to stand or sit upright for weeks after coming home? Her momma never had a good answer. None of it sounded fun to an eleven year-old girl.
Keepsake / 7 The Lockheed S310 began its pre-orbital acceleration and Kyra was gently forced by gravity into the snug contours of her seat. Its twin scramjet engines thrust the ship forward at an exponential speed, and its nose lifted only slightly above the horizon. On this flight, there were two passengers who were not as familiar with the ship as Kyra was and they marveled at how fast the ship was going. On-screen diagrams of the Lockheed’s thrust, angle of ascent, velocity, and geographic position above Earth could be watched on the vidscreen all the while a calming music was provided to convey the eventual sensation of weightlessness and an inspired-orbital-awe that the passengers will feel in about four minutes. Kyra grumbled. That’s space for you. Everything’s scripted. The ship raced across the stratosphere to mach sixteen, then seventeen, and then eighteen. Within a minute from acceleration, the sky faded giving way to a blue halo and an inky-black void. Kyra could feel the gravity pressing against her chest, making it harder for her to breathe. She wasn’t worried though. All of it was normal. But the newbies gulped on their giddy giggling when the ship accelerated to mach twenty and twenty-one, and the angle of the ship tilted just slightly so that the ship could meet its exit window. Beyond mach twenty-two, it was too difficult for anybody to talk, so the music did what its was supposed to do: it was comforting. Weightlessness started about ten or fifteen seconds after the ship reached its terminal velocity and cleared the stratopause, and Kyra could feel her body ease up from the seat; her belt held her securely. Some of the passengers with longer hair suddenly found their hair drifting uncontrollably in an odd manner. Outside, the ship had crossed into the mesosphere and its engines shut down as the craft was hurtled into space while its single ion engine - mounted on
Keepsake / 8 the dorsal of the craft - engaged its thrust. It didn’t make any noise but Kyra could feel the kick. The the cabin vibrated from the additional stress on the hull. But by then the show was on. The captain had rotated the craft for optimal viewing of the planet, and the music was a synthesized collage of ambient sound, and the newbies were predictably embracing the moment. They were weightless, pointing, amazed, astounded, and breathless. Those who’d been on sub-orbitals before were resting and still had their eyes closed. Others were just silently admiring the view of the Earth rolling slowly beneath them. The newbies were loud and obnoxious. Kyra knew it was time for the tour-guide to speak and - on queue - the captain’s face appeared on the vidscreens in front of all of the passengers. “Greetings,” he said, his eyes fixed on the camera. “We’ve climbed to one hundred and thirty-one kilometers and we’ve engaged our ion drive system. We’ve a sub-orbital platform rendezvous at the Husband Spacefield in seven minutes. In the meantime, please stay in your seat and enjoy the amazing view of … “, the captain paused and looked away from the camera, his voice muffled in the background as he asked a question of his copilot and then continued, “ … of Africa. Yes, South Africa. Thank you.” Reaching for her tablet, Kyra ignored the vidscreen’s broadcast of a weightlessness safety message and the canned announcement that electronic items could be used. Switching it on, her tablet reconnected to the network and downloaded new status updates from her friends. They popped up all over the screen. Although she couldn’t type very well in weightlessness, she could still scroll through the dozens of updates she missed. Entirely on its dorsal with its belly towards the sun, the ship climbed higher into orbit. On the horizon, other commercial crafts of similar composition could be seen. The Husband
Keepsake / 9 Spacefield was a designated staging area for passenger crafts entering and exiting Earth’s atmosphere, and soon, no less than half-a-dozen ships could be seen drifting about in a wellorchestrated dance of slow spiral as the crafts prepared for transit. In the background, the heavenly, soothing music continued playing as Kyra peered outside at the Spacefield, and she saw her ship approaching its booster. It had docking clamps between a span of two huge ion engines - each of which were larger than the ship itself. As the S310’s single ion thruster wouldn’t be practical for a trip to the Moon, the ship would need a supplemental set of engines with greater thrust. Boosters were common in commercial space flight: they were automated drive platforms which remained in low-Earth orbit and this one was branded with the name of the spaceline. The ship neared the booster and it matched the ship’s velocity until - with a gentle nudge - the S310 docked, nose-first, into the platform. Outside, other rendezvous were taking place as two ships acquired boosters while yet one ship shed a booster. And then it was time for the show to go on. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the captain casually reappeared on the vidscreen. It was now dark in the cockpit; his face was lit by the glow of instrumentation. “We’ve successfully docked with our booster. Estimated transit time to Moondock is three hours and seventeen minutes. During this time, you’re free to explore the cabin. Refreshments and break-room assistance are available from the attendant. Thanks.” Kyra felt a very slight pull from the front of the craft and their journey was underway. She turned off her tablet and secured it in the stowage net then braced her arms into cuffs built-in to the seat. Now came the really boring part and - like always - the transit vid would be really stupid. Exhilarated, the newbie couple in the back of the craft unbuckled their restraints and
Keepsake / 10 drifted to the ceiling of the cabin over their chairs, laughing and chortling, enjoying the newfound sensations of weightlessness. Kyra sighed with resigned apathy and closed her eyes.
After a solid nap, Kyra awoke to the newbie couple’s bemoans of discontent and unpleasant stomach discomfort. Frustrated, she retrieved her tablet and slipped it into a Velcro sheath whereas it was then affixed to her lap to keep it from drifting away. She was busily skimming through friends’ status updates when the face of her nanna appeared on the screen. “Ky, honey, can we talk?” “No, nanna,” she whispered at her tablet. Kyra continued digesting her status updates and cycled her grandmother to the background. The vid had another thirty minutes meaning they were still an hour from docking. Kyra hated it when she woke up early. Her nanna continued. “We should talk ... we should talk about what you’re going to say to your momma.” “Nanna I don’t want to talk.” Her grandmother was always persistent but Kyra continued skimming her updates. “There’s not gonna be anything to say. ‘Hi momma, enjoy Mars, grow lots of plants and don’t die. Catch’ya in twelve years. Bye.’ That’s what’s I’m gonna say. So we talked about it, okay? We’re done.” “Your momma cares the world about you, Ky,” her nanna scolded. “Whatever.” One of the newbies in the back of the cabin summoned the attendant for a barf bag. Kyra sincerely hoped it would arrive in time. It’d really be a mess otherwise.
Keepsake / 11 “Being an astronaut and goin’ to Mars - that’s your momma’s greatest wish ever,” her nanna replied. On the tablet, digital pictures and video stored on her mother’s social network profile were cycled into the foreground. Kyra’s mom when she was just seven years old, dressed in a lab coat with a round plastic bubble on her head; video of her mom when she was training in water tanks at twelve; more video of her mother when she was fifteen being accepted to Mars Academy; then video of when her mother turned twenty-two and graduated as an exobotanist. It was a montage that she’d seen many times before. Her mother, Renita Fuller, the proud American hero. Ren, the adorable kid-space-explorer. Doctor Fuller, the brilliant scientist from the suburbs of Indianapolis. Blah-blah-blah. Then the tablet cleared, new images were displayed, and her grandmother said, “Space was always a big deal to her but you know what? So was being your momma. Look here.” A video library strip appeared. Images of Kyra’s birth; of her mom taking care of her at three years old; of the last time her mom was on Earth, on a picnic on a sunny day. “She made time where she could. Doin’ right by you was just as important to her.” “Right,” Kyra sulked and recalled her grandmother’s image to the foreground of her tablet so they could look at each other, “except nobody hands out awards for just being a mom.” Status updates began appearing in rapid succession on her tablet. Kyra’s friends were competing for her attention. They disliked being ignored. Kyra busily shuffled her nanna to the tablet’s background and began hastily replying. Abruptly, the Lockheed 310’s boosters cut off and the weight from Kyra’s body lifted very slightly from her chair. Again, this wasn’t out of the ordinary - the spacecraft had crossed the neutral gravity point between the Earth and Moon, and was now falling towards the Moon powered by its own inertia and the Moon’s gravity.
Keepsake / 12 “Now, you know that’s not how it was, Kyra Desere,” her nanna replied. Grandmother asserted itself to the foreground of the tablet; Kyra gave an exacerbated sigh. “Your momma didn’t give a darn about degrees or awards or medals. And I knew your momma. Nothin’ like that ever made her happy or proud, not like you and your papa. I’d never seen that girl so happy when she was on leave with ya’ll, and I ain’t never seen her so hurt as when she had to leave. All of it was just means to an end - for her big adventure - and she was lookin’ after you.” Kyra bit her lip and stared out into space. The Moon was so large that it consumed the whole view from her cabin window. “You’re a sim. What the Hell do you know?” Her grandmother’s face displayed dramatic shock. It was an unnatural expression for her. “Kyra!” “It’s true, nanna! You don’t know! It’s not the same, not after you left.” Kyra stripped the tablet off of her lap and slowly raised the tablet closer to her face. “After you died, she just disappeared, okay? She doesn’t vid with me like she used to when you were here. She doesn’t message. She even waived her last leave and didn’t come home to see us. It’s because she’s done better at the Academy, and she’s got more ‘promotions’ and stuff, and I don’t ever get a chance to see her!” “But Kyra, baby, your momma’s all hurt-” “-my momma’s all busy!”, Kyra harshly whispered into her tablet’s mic. “She’s busy workin’! Busy being a super-cool space-plant-person - whatever - but she’s not with me, on Earth, bein’ my momma!” “Ms. Fuller?”
Keepsake / 13 The pleasant face of the attendant snapped on the vidscreen on the chair in front of her. She had a look of constipated-courtesy on her face. “Some of our fellow passengers … they are concerned. Everything is all-right, no?” Kyra’s temper roiled. With a slow weightless motion, she re-strapped the tablet to her lap and disabled it - her grandmother’s sim winked out of existence to electronic suspension. “It’s fine. I’ll shut up.” The attendant smiled cheerfully again and then said, “So good then. We’ll be docking shortly. Not too much longer to go!” Then the vidscreen replaced the graphic transit image showing the spacecraft very close to the moon. Twenty minutes passed. Kyra stifled an irritated yawn and looked drearily across the Moon’s surface: a bone-dry, silent lunar desert exposed to the vacuum of space where nobody could hear you having fun. Visiting the Moon for Kyra was akin to an Earth-bound field-trip to a city museum: you travel forever to see stuff you can’t touch but could have easily learned about on a tablet, taking much less time and being much less boring. Kyra closed her eyes and wished she was dead. The newbies on the other hand were chattering with unbridled delight as the 310 descended closer to the Moon. It wasn’t long thereafter that the tour-guide returned to the screen to remind passengers about how the Moon was formed, where the Apollo missions landed, and how far Shepard’s golf ball actually travelled without an atmosphere and at one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity. That fetched a good laugh. Newbies always loved inane trivia. “Right,” the captain concluded with a well-rehearsed smugness. His attention was fixed on overhead displays and his left arm slowly drifted to toggle switches above his head. “It’s time to complete our Moondock approach. Crew, secure the cabin and cross-check, please.” The
Keepsake / 14 vidscreen then demonstrated Moondock’s layout and the small ship as an icon approached it rapidly. Kyra obediently put her tablet away and rested her arms against the Velcro of her chair to keep them from drifting. The 310 was still pointed in its cruise orientation which meant the rear of the spacecraft was closing on Moondock. Once again the massive ion engines fired, burned for three minutes to slow the craft’s velocity, then simply detached while providing thrust to inch the platform away from the craft. Slipping away, the drone engines would return to a spacefield above the Moon for other ships’ use in transit back to Earth. Under its own power, the Lockheed 310 applied maneuvering thrust to execute a very slow, controlled, 180-degree spin to re-orient the craft for docking. And the newbies gave a disquieted moan as their bodies adjusted again to the awkward motion and increasing lunar gravity. “Two-minutes, eight-seconds to clamp,” the Captain reported. The Moon’s surface was speeding by now at a more moderate speed, and thrust was being applied to slow the craft down as it approached Moondock. Moondock resembled an enormous octopus whose architecture would look completely alien on Earth. A central round dome of biosphere surrounded by nine giant columns of plastic and steel that shot at 50-degree-angles six hundred meters into space. Other crafts of various size were moored against the spires, and within them, Kyra could see people and cargo moving up and down on hydraulic lifts. Ships bearing Indian, Chinese, EU, Japanese, Russian Commonwealth, and US flags, and a number of dingy mining crafts - maybe thirty or forty years old that were fitted with dirty chemical tanks. One thing did catch Kyra’s attention because she’d never seen it before and not even on a tablet. It was docked against two of the spires to support its thin, massive hull spanning three
Keepsake / 15 hundred meters in length. It was the biggest spacecraft Kyra had ever seen. It looked like a thick, sleek white needle with a fifteen meter diameter and four disproportionately large drive platforms anchored at its tail. Its markings were clearly visible. “Right. The United States’ Prometheus 3,” the captain announced over the vidscreen. It was the ship that would ferry Kyra’s mother to Mars. Everyone on Kyra’s side of the Lockheed 310 gave little gasps of awe and started taking pictures with their phones. “She’s the fastest ship in fleet; the latest in a proud tradition of intersolar explorers. Take a good look at her, folks. She’ll leave tomorrow and be back in three months after the Mars mission.” Kyra cringed. The Prometheus would be back, alright. Just without her momma.
Renita Fuller couldn’t remain still. Kyra watched as her mother paced about the small living quarters. Well, not really so much as ‘pace’ as ‘bounce’ and ‘float’. Her mother kept leaving her chair - in small bounds - to stand near the door to her apartment, to look out a rectangular glass into the adjacent hall. Her mother seemed unusually agitated. “He’s late,” her mom said, glancing at a watch on her wrist. She peered outside through the glass screen again, maybe hoping her visitor would suddenly come around the corner. Kyra was wearing a yellow polyester jumper that was extremely efficient at sticking to Velcro-lined furniture on the moon. So was her mom except hers was blue. Extremely unfashionable mono-colored jumpers helped Moon-people keep straight who you were and where you’re allowed to be. A yellow meant you were a civilian visitor. Her mom’s denoted a mission specialist. On Moondock, you can’t go anywhere without your jumper. Kyra kept her arms to her side and said nothing.
Keepsake / 16 Renita turned and looked at her daughter, feigning a weak smile. “Ky, it’s going to be okay. It won’t take very long. I promise.” “What else am I going to do?”, Kyra asked sarcastically. “I don’t have anywhere to go. It’s not like I have any friends up here, momma.” Renita crossed her arms. She was hurt. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.” She was on the verge of tears. “I know how much you hate seeing me.” “It’s not you, momma,” Kyra signed. She looked right into her mom’s face. “It’s here. I don’t like bein’ here. I don’t like space. I wish you could have come home.” “There wasn’t enough time for leave. MISCOM pushed us a month ahead of schedule to shorten the time it takes to get to Mars. We have to leave right away. I’m sorry - I didn’t have a choice, sugar.” Kyra rolled her eyes. Renita turned and stared out into the hallway; moisture dampened her check; her bottom lip quivered. “He should be here soon. It won’t take much time, I promise.” There was an awkward silence. “Ky,” Renita asked, still looking into the hallway. “What are … are you afraid of? And I mean ‘really’ afraid of? What scares the crap out of you?” Giving an exacerbated sigh, Kyra thrust her arms between her legs and looked around the room, as if the answer to her mom’s question was written on the ceiling or the wall. “I dunno.” Renita swiftly wiped her face and nodded as if in confirmation of a suspicion. “Yeah? Nothin’? The dark? Being stalked or trapped? Drowning? Something you saw in a vid?” Kyra shrugged. She felt very uncomfortable and wanted desperately to change the subject. “Momma, who’re we waiting for?”
Keepsake / 17 “There’s nothin’ to be afraid of at home, on Earth, is there?”, Renita said. “The sun rises. It sets. You live, eat, sleep. Watch a vid. Message your friends. Go to school. You wake up and it starts all over again, doesn’t it? It’s so predictable-” “-normal,” Kyra snapped. “It’s called normal, momma.” Renita smiled. “Yeah, normal. That’s right.” “Who’re we waiting for, momma?” “Who?”, Renita asked. Kyra could see tiny beads of sweat on her mom’s forehead now. Renita sniffed. “Oh - yeah, yeah, sugar, um, his name’s Tyler. He’s a friend. He’ll be here in a second. Tyler’s a technician and his schedule can be erratic.” Kyra leaned her back against the chair and her jumper’s backside stuck there. She closed her eyes in total resignation. She was trapped, on the Moon, in a super-confined apartment, with her mom, teetering on the brink of an emotional freak-out. Not cool. Nine hours, Kyra reminded herself. The Prometheus leaves in nine hours. A few more minutes passed in uncomfortable silence. Renita’s room was nothing more than two boxes comprising of plastic things. Living quarters weren’t exposed to space - rather they were positioned in the center layers of the Moondock to protect inhabitants from radiation so there were no windows of any kind. Two plastic chairs and a twin-sized bed that was really just a cot with thin mattress of memory foam. One pillow. Blankets. A comforter. Three pictures were framed and affixed to the wall: a picture of the family, another of Renita’s parents, and one of Kyra when she was seven. The kitchenette, sink, refrigerator, and washing station were built into the same unit mounted against a wall. Cabinetry consisted of modular cubbies that also fastened to the wall and they held towels, wash rags, clothing, and a hamper. A vidscreen and
Keepsake / 18 entertainment console was built into the wall in the main room. Kyra’s mother rarely left her room and never watched vids. It was always so eerily quiet in her room. So lame. “In the past,” her mom said, abruptly, “you’ve asked me why. Why do this, why leave you and your father.” Kyra acknowledged her mother with a brief grunt. Renita crossed her arms and wiped her face. “Why. Well, I think you expect me to say, ‘Because it’s a chance of a lifetime’ and ‘nobody else has done it before’? That the ‘why’ is all wrapped-up in my ambition. Is that what you think, Kyra?” Kyra squinted angrily. This was painful and obnoxious. “Yeah, I think that’s part of it. Mars is just another medal to hang around your neck.” “No, baby,” Renita said, trying to comfort her daughter. “Out there, on Mars and other places, are ways to help people. Human experience on Mars will translate into new biomedical cures, strong, super-fertile plants, better colonization methods, and a greater understanding of life everywhere. So, why? Why leave you, and your dad, why be … scared out of my wits - pullin’ out my hair scared - and come back to Earth to live a wheelchair for years afterwards? Well, it’s not for me. It’s for you. You and your generation, and the generation after that. That’s why, sugar.” Kyra tensed up and brought her knees closer to chest. She glared at her mother. “Why do you have to leave, I mean, why does my momma - my momma, and not somebody elses’ momma - have to leave and give up so much?” “That seems really unfair to you? Sacrifice for the good of others is unfair?”, Renita asked, and Kyra abruptly rested her chin on her knees.
Keepsake / 19 “Yeah, momma. that seems really unfair to me. It’s great for everybody else and for everybody ain’t be born yet. It ain’t that great for me though, okay?” Renita shook her head. “Risks are worthwhile, Ky. There’s value in doing something that’s bigger than yourself.” “Whatever,” Kyra retorted. “Ky, he’s here,” her mom said and pressed a button on the wall to open the door; it slid to the left with a loud ‘woosh’. “Well, I … recognize that it’s hard to see things in that way at your age. I hope you see things differently as you get older.” “Sure, momma.” A young man of Chinese descent was at the door, maybe in his mid-twenties. His straight black hair was cut just right above his eyes. He was her mom’s height. He apologized to Renita. “They’re working us double-shifts.” Tyler wore the red jumper of a Moondock staff member. “Tyler, this is Kyra,” her mom said, and invited Tyler inside the apartment. Renita closed the door swiftly behind him. Tyler smirked, nodded, and waved; Kyra barely lifted her head from her knees and flashed a sardonic sneer. “Um, we don’t have much time,” Tyler admitted, confirming the time on his watch and removing a small tablet from the side of his hip. He unlocked the tablet and began accessing it. “Okay, Kyra, listen to me,” her mom said very nervously. “Hold out your hands.” Kyra suddenly felt very cold, like, all of the blood just drained out of her. “Momma-” “-Kyra, please, hold out your hands,” Renita asked a bit more sternly. And Kyra held both of her wrists out to Tyler.
Keepsake / 20 “Thanks,” Tyler acknowledged flatly as his attention was mostly on his tablet. “Okay. We’ll reverse this when we get back. And ... Shazam!” Kyra looked at Tyler expectantly. Nothing happened. “We’re done,” he said. “You can put your hands down now.” “Momma, what’d he just do?” “I reset your jumper to a ‘null’ state,” Tyler admitted and re-strapped his tablet to a position on his hip. “It’ll help us get you where we’re going.” Kyra grew increasingly concerned. “Momma?” Renita didn’t answer. She was still near the door and looking into the hallway. “Okay, it’s clear.” Cold anxiety washed over Kyra. “‘Where we’re going?’”, and she stood a bit too fast and too hard as her momentum sent her drifting into the ceiling. “Momma, please tell me where are we going!” “Ky, listen to me.” Her mom’s voice was hushed and uncertain. Renita moved closer to Kyra and helped her balance and return to the floor where her socks found traction again. She looked directly into Kyra’s eyes. “I need you to be quiet right now. And I need you to hear what I’m sayin’ to you and to trust me. I need your help. Okay?” Kyra didn’t understand but the pleading in her mom’s voice compelled her to be silent. Her heart pounded. Kyra had never seen her mother uncertain and afraid about anything. “Ren, we should move,” Tyler reminded Renita and opened the door. “C’mon, let’s go.” All three of them moved into the hallway. The apartment door closed behind them, and a wave of warmth and enthusiasm overcame Kyra. Her face lit up happily and she blurted, “Does that mean you’re not goin’, momma?”
Keepsake / 21 “Ky, Shh!”, Renita hissed. “Quiet!” In that moment, Kyra was elated. Excitement welled up within her. She’d never, ever thought this could happen! Maybe her mom wasn’t going to go to Mars? Maybe she was trying to escape and get back to Earth! All kinds of thoughts flooded her mind - about how they’d go back home, and how she’d find a place to live, and her momma would be there after school days, and how they could go hiking together again on the weekends. Could that happen? All three of them took small almost hopping steps down the narrow hall, often using their hands against the wall for balance and to help push their momentum into the right direction. It wasn’t a way that Kyra was familiar with though - the elevators to the Moondock were another direction. After a minute, they came to a utility hatch. Tyler entered a code into a keypad and the hatch unlocked with a clank. He gripped two handles on the door, turned them counterclockwise, and pulled, revealing a vertical shaft and two opposing sets of ladders. A black number was painted on the wall behind the door, “9”. Renita urged Kyra inside the maintenance shaft and to grip the right-most ladder. “Go to deck 17. We’re right behind you.” And as Kyra mounted the ladder and started up, Tyler and Renita entered the small compartment and he shut the door behind them. It locked again but this time much louder, with a scary heavy echo. Small florescent lights flickered and lit the shaft so Kyra could see where she was going, but below her, the light was very faint and she could just make out the dark silhouettes of her mom and Tyler. “Tyler,” Renita whispered but this time sounding stronger, more in control. Kyra could tell. Her mother’s confidence was coming back because she was executing; she was doing. Renita was carrying out a plan. “How much time?”
Keepsake / 22 “Three or four minutes,” Tyler called back. “SecOps recorded my code when I opened the airlock. Right now, they will see both of us in this tube. That won’t be weird.” Climbing a ladder on the Moon wasn’t any work at all - little pushes from one rung allowed Kyra to launch over three or four rungs at a time - and it wasn’t long before Kyra reached the number 17 printed against the wall of the shaft. How fantastic, Kyra thought! Her mom’s chickened-out, or better: she’s come to her senses and saw how important her daughter was. They’re going to leave Moondock and she’ll go back home. Her momma doesn’t want to leave Earth or her family. She wants to stay! “What will be weird,” Tyler continued, lightly leaping the chasm to the ladder on the other side of the shaft so that he could position himself near a keypad adjacent to the door, “is when we access the lab deck off-shift. I got it handled though. Ready?” “Why? What did you do?”, Renita asked and suspended on the ladder right below Kyra. Tyler shrugged. “Nah, nothing. I told the shift supervisor that I’d some last-minute restorations to attend to - data requests by the Prometheus’ crew and mission specialists.” Renita smiled. “Oh, that’s perfect!” “Yeah,” he replied smugly, “and, if he asks, you were with me to help get the right botanical files. We used the tubes. They’ll have no vid on us coming or going between the lab and the residence decks.” “What’re you all talking about?”, Kyra whispered just a bit too angrily. She really hated being left out of the loop. Why weren’t they heading to the Moondock? “How’re we going to get out of here, momma?” Renita then said, “Hush, Ky. Just wait. There’s no vid in the lab?”
Keepsake / 23 “Nope,” Tyler replied. His hand closed in on the keypad. “System admin’s are the good guys, but we can’t stay in here much longer. It’ll look suspicious to SecOps. It’s really been too long as it is. Ready?” “Ready!”, Renita affirmed. Tyler punched in an access code, straddled rungs on both ladders, and turned two handles on the hatch clock-wise. Another loud clank and a slight hiss, and the hatch opened. All three of them left the tube and bounded into 360-room with a center console and a black chair with large instrumentation above it. Tyler turned and immediately secured the hatch. A 360-room is a modular ball where most of its walls and surface area can be used. Without Earth gravity, ceilings and floors can be usable space, particularly for computer systems, and that’s exactly what this room was. Large sections of computer systems, vidscreens, even keyboards were anchored to nearly every space imaginable. The large black chair in the center of the room was the only level object at the orientation of the hatch they entered from. Grasping at stainless-steel handles placed strategically around the room, Tyler expertly climbed to a set of control panels located on the ceiling. “Kyra, please sit in the chair.” Kyra’s heart was pounding fiercely and that cold sensation came back, smothering all of the warmth and excitement of the last five minutes. Kyra suddenly started thinking that she had it all wrong and that this wasn’t an escape plan. She looked incredulously at her mother. “Momma,” Kyra protested. She took an unconscious step backwards towards the hatch. “What’re we doin’? When do we get to go?” Tyler slipped his feet into a set of mounts and ordered three vidscreens to come to life. Immediately began typing commands on a keyboard. In the center of the room, the chair whirred and tiny LED’s blinked to life. Above the chair, instruments clicked and powered-on.
Keepsake / 24 “Kyra,” Renita cautiously held out her hands towards her daughter. Reluctantly, Kyra reached out to her mom and they held hands. Renita paused for just a moment, savoring it, and then her face got very soft and vulnerable again. “Mars is a long way away. Communications isn’t the same out there as it is in Earth’s orbit. We won’t be able to vid, message, or stay intouch. I’m … I’m scared to be so far away, and in a place so different, and I’m really going to miss you. I need to do this. I’ve trained for Mars all of my life, but I … I need your help.” Kyra’s anger was boiling to the surface. Her mom was still talking like she was going to leave! She couldn’t believe it. “Momma, we need to go! We need to get out of here! We’re going back home, right? We’re going to go home?” “No, Kyra,” her mom whispered, tears welling in her eyes. Renita squeezed her daughter’s hands tightly. “You’re coming with me.” At that instant, Kyra felt like somebody kicked her right in the stomach. Her hands flew away from her mother and to cover a half-scream. “Wow,” Tyler instructed the chair to spin 180-degrees to face them. “A little loud-” “NO!”, Kyra gasped and she tried to push herself away from her mom. “Kyra, baby, wait,” her mother pleaded. Tyler looked back to the drama unfolding below him. “Okay, Ren, I’m ready.” Kyra was sobbing and barely heard her mother. “No, Ky, please. Listen to what I’m telling you. I’m just asking for a favor.” “No! I hate space!”, Kyra wailed. “I hate leaving Earth! You can’t force me! I don’t want to go! No!” Renita almost seemed to laugh. “No - okay, wait. That’s not it at all, Ky. Calm down, sugar. Calm down.”
Keepsake / 25 Tyler entered more commands into the computer. A flash of instructions cleared the screen and created a progress meter. On another screen, a listing of files scrolled by, all of them with the names of people. “Um, she really doesn’t understand, does she?” “There wasn’t any time,” Renita snapped. “They upped the schedule - I never got around to explaining it to her.” Kyra shrieked, turned, pushed herself over to the hatch door and tried to open it, yanking furiously on both handles. She wanted to get out, get away from her mother. The door didn’t budge. “Listen!”, her mom shouted, leaped ten feet, and twisted Kyra’s shoulders to face her away from the hatch - demanding Kyra’s attention. “You - that is, you you - you’re not going to Mars. You’re staying on Earth with your papa. You’re not gong anywhere. I want you - a sim of you - to come with me to Mars!” Kyra stared at her mother dumbfounded and stopped resisting. Confused, she then asked, “But, momma, sims are dead people-” Her mom shook her head. “No, Kyra-” “Actually, yeah: same tech but a different application,” Tyler interjected from his perch above them. “Sims are used on the Mars mission as a form of artificial intelligence. When they need an egghead on a topic that they’re clueless about they can recall a sim from the computer to help answer a question. Physicists, engineers, computer specialists, medical doctors, even physical therapists. There’s a whole bunch of them in here. It doesn’t cost that much to bring along two-hundred virtual people on a hard drive, you see?” Tyler tapped his vidscreen. “And, er, most of these people are still alive, I think?”
Keepsake / 26 Renita took her daughter’s hands again. “I’m the only specialist on the mission with a child. Nobody else really knows what its like, to leave a kid for so long. Nobody around here really gets it. But I know my duty. I know its for a bigger cause. I don’t want to be away from you for that long.” A sick feeling rumbled in Kyra’s belly. She felt nauseated and then stared at the floor, avoiding eye contact with her mother, and replied in a shallow voice, “Seriously? You want to … copy me? Momma, that’s creepy-” “Well, it’s not really a copy,” Tyler interrupted again. “It’s more of a reconstruction of the neural pathways in your brain. Then that map works like a model that can be re-played by a computer. It isn’t you - it simulates you.” Renita weakly smiled and tears began to stream down her face. “Tyler’s a good friend. He’s going to hide your sim in the computer’s archive. I’d be able to talk to you when I’m lonely … when I really need you.” Kyra flinched. She never heard her mother say she needed her. “It’s a keepsake,” her mom continued, “like a picture and a picture’s not that creepy, is it? It’d be a snapshot of who you are. I’m going to miss you so much, and it’s a way to stay connected to the things I love and appreciate about you.” Kyra thought about this for a time and Renita waited patiently for her request to sink in. Tyler issued a command into the computer system and the vidscreens flashed but the progress meter remained. “Well, here’s the thing: creating sim’s out of kids and hiding them in the computer system of a spaceship isn’t exactly reg’, you know? I told your mom that I wouldn’t do this unless you were completely okay with it. You have to be totally willing. I won’t
Keepsake / 27 do it otherwise. That’s what I said,” Tyler affirmed. “We’ve got a limited amount of time here. Are you okay with it?” Kyra looked over at the chair then back up at Tyler. “Does it hurt?” Tyler chuckled and shook his head. “Nope. It does take twenty minutes though. We must hurry before the next shift change.” Kyra looked deeply at her mother. Now, she saw her as a woman - a normal person, scared, afraid, and insecure, yet every bit committed to her life’s work - ready to sacrifice so much yet asking for so little; and not the ambitious academic or champion space explorer. Renita Fuller was, simply, her momma, asking only for a digital memory. Still holding on to her mom’s hands, Kyra took small steps backwards towards the chair and managed a clever smile. “Okay. But on one condition, momma.”
“Ms. Fuller?” Kyra was startled. She was sitting, watching the Promethus through the transparent dome of Moondock as it drifted slowly away. Kyra had been watching the decoupling procedure for the last ten minutes. She hadn’t noticed the young American woman had joined her in the seat beside hers. “Oh, sorry,” the woman apologized and she extended her hand. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m Gloria Pearson from spacetek-dot-com. You are Kyra Fuller, right? Specialist Fuller’s daughter?” Kyra nodded her head, shook Gloria Pearson’s hand, and smiled faintly. “Forgive me for asking but it looks like you’ve had a long night! I’d bet you spent all that time with your mom, eh?”
Keepsake / 28 “Yeah, I didn’t sleep at all. We looked at pictures and talked a lot with my nanna.” “That’s awesome,” Gloria agreed. She handed Kyra a business card. “I’m a blogger. You’re probably too tired right now but when you get planet-side, maybe we can message a bit? I’d like to ask you a few questions about your mom. How you’re doing and so on? Would that be okay?” Kyra thought Gloria seemed very friendly. “Yeah, sure - that’d be okay.” “Great!”, Gloria said and stood up. “We’ll do that. You’re the only kid who has a parent on the mission. That’s a great angle. Say, one thing though? If I may ask, what’s the last thing your mom said before she left? Really, what does one say to a daughter that one wouldn’t see for another ten or twelve years?” “She said to do good in school,” Kyra grinned and scratched at her right ear. “That’s my momma: she doesn’t want to see any bad report card while she’s, like, out camping a zillion kilometers away. That’d just make her seriously mad. And she said to take care of my papa.” Gloria laughed. “Of course. Thanks, Kyra. I’ll be in touch. Get some sleep, okay?” After Gloria left and Kyra was alone again, she looked up through the dome and could see the shining blue light of the Prometheus heading away from the Moon. She watched it get smaller and smaller. Kyra’s own flight back to Earth wouldn’t be available for another hour. Kyra was really tired and was looking forward to sleeping on the transit back. Nearby, a couple was also watching the ship leave the Moon’s orbit. It was the newbies who traveled on Kyra’s earlier flight. They must have known someone on the mission, too. They were embracing, and their faces were lit with happiness, pride, and enthusiasm. “Hey, sugar!” Her mother’s sim appeared on her tablet. “Miss me yet?” Kyra shook her head and smiled, still staring into the stars. “Not yet, momma.”
Keepsake / 29 “Well I assumed as much,” her mom replied sarcastically, “and I’d think I would’ve said something differently to you than ‘get good grades’.” “Uh-huh,” Kyra confirmed and looked back into the tablet. Her mother’s face consumed the entirety of the foreground. “You did. You wouldn’t shut up.” Renita looked puzzled. “I did? What’d I say? I don’t remember ...” “Yeah,” Kyra said with a saucy grin. “I know.” “All right, Ky. I’m going to tell you what I think I would have said.” “Go for it, momma.” The sim appeared to straighten-up. “Kyra Desiree Fuller, I want you to live your life the way you want to. No more trips to come and see me out in space. You can keep your feet on the Earth if that’s what you want, but remember that risking and sacrificing for others is in itself a great reward. I want you to be safe and treat everybody if your life with kindness and respect. Succeed only in what makes you happy. I want you to fall in love, and I want you to be brokenhearted, too, so you know their differences. And no matter what happens while I’m away, I will always love you.” “And no kids,” Kyra added. “What?” “That was about it,” Kyra explained, “except you said ‘no kids’ ‘cause you said you wanted to be a nanna when you got back home.” The sim appeared unsure. “I wouldn’t have said that-” “A ‘full-time nanna’ and not a ‘part-time, on-another-planet nanna’. That’s what you said. You got the whole-name-thing right, too, and the part about not coming out and visiting you any more.”
Keepsake / 30 “Did I?”, Renita’s sim seemed very pleased with itself. “Yeah, you did. No more boring trips. I hate space, momma.” And Renita smiled affectionately. “I know you do, sugar. I know.”
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