Copyright (c) 2019 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
We said our goodbyes in The Kennedy Space Center’s visitor’s complex thirty-six hours before lift-off. James and Jill both hugged me tightly. I don’t think Doris would have even showed up if it wasn’t for the national press coverage but she kissed my cheek for the flashbulbs. Astronaut training is Hell on marriages. I was one of seven taking the space shuttle Endeavoure into orbit for sixteen weeks of zero gravity and extensive payload experiments. My mission, when I wasn’t docking with the International Space Station, was helping a botanist from Russia grow tomatoes in a weightless environment.
A piece of wood from Captain James Cook’s historic ship of discovery was integrated into the flight-deck’s massive control panel and I couldn’t help wondering as I touched the oak with my gloved hand what the famous explorer’s thoughts would be if he knew where at least part of his ship was now going. I closed my eyes at launch, took a deep breath and listened to the Beatles’ White Album as I gained about six-hundred G-force pounds. If anything went wrong on this critical part of the flight … there was nothing I could do.
The botanist’s name was Vladimir Krikalev and he spoke English better than I spoke Russian. We spent precious hours staring at space from inside the observation module and discussing everything from growing up on a communal farm near Kiev to me catching my wife cheating with her Yoga instructor two days after I was selected for this mission. “You worry psychology doctor say no to space flight?”
“I couldn’t take a chance,” I told him. “I’ve worked for three years and suffered through two near launches to get here. I promised Doris a generous divorce settlement when I got back if she’d just play the part of a good wife until this mission was over.”
“You think she fall in love … dance teacher?”
“No, she told me he didn’t mean anything at all to her,” I told him. “She wants to move to Hawaii and date young naval officers.”
“Children feel not good?”
“Jill and James don’t know yet.” I swallowed a lump in my throat. “How do I tell two pre-teens their mother is moving to Hawaii … and doesn’t want them coming with her?”
The Russian shook his head. “There are many worlds,” he said. Kikalev was also a systems control specialist and this was his third trip into space.
After Krikalev closed his eyes for a forty-three minute nap I took my children’s plastic coated photos from the back-pocket of my flight manual and let them float in the air around me. I would do anything to protect their precious smiles. A sliver of light showed the cloud covered east coast of North America as it appeared on the darkened Earth rotating below. “Good morning,” I said.
A week into the flight I received my first from-home video conference. James and Jill’s faces appeared on the computer screen. “Mom’s sick, so we’ve been staying with grandma and grandpa,” Jill explained.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked.
“Just a cold,” James replied. “But she doesn’t want us to catch it.”
I showed them the floating pencil trick and then got their photos to orbit around me. I’d been practicing. “That’s so cool!” Jill was ecstatic.
“Have you seen any little green men?” James was serious.
The precious fifteen minutes went by way too fast. Space flight was great, but why did I feel like a failure as a father?
For almost thirty years, official observations have linked numerous UFO sighting from space to a single possible spacecraft of extraterrestrial origin. I first heard about the Black Knight when I was learning to fly F/A-18 fighters just before the Iraq War. Like the rest of my squadron, I scoffed at the idea of anyone but Americans having air superiority in the skies.
Fourteen weeks, three days and seven hours into the mission I, and everyone else aboard the ISS, suddenly experienced a G-force gravitational pull that caused the tomato-plant I was holding for Krikalev to break in my fingers. The stem and three cherry-sized tomatoes went exploring the payload-bay. The Russian let go of a ten-thousand dollar micrometer and the precision instrument chased after the plant he’d been measuring.
A dark object the size of a Red London Bus appeared just beyond the solar panels and blocked out most of our view of Earth. The light-show that followed made the Aurora Borealis look like a child’s night-light. We were out of contact with Houston for seven minutes. “That didn’t happen,” Krikalev told me.
“What do you mean/” I gasped.
He told me to look in my flight manual under unusual observations and sure enough what we’d seen was classified as non-disclosure.
The mission was a complete success. Jill, James and a breathtaking woman I’d never seen before greeted me hours after the shuttle landed. The kids both hugged me … the woman kissed me passionately on the lips. I was stunned. They put it down to orbit fatigue. It turned out to be okay. The kids called Susan mom and, as I found out when we got home, we’d been happily married for fourteen wonderful years.
My wife is extremely busy with soccer practice, PTA meetings and school recitals but she still finds time for me each evening. James broke two of my office windows with a baseball and boy-crazy Jill is getting her driver’s license … but still … I’ve never been happier.
On the rare times that I’m alone, I often gaze up at the stars and remember the words of the Russian from my time in space. “There are many worlds!”
I used to think there was only one Earth but I was wrong … there is an infinite number of them … each with the smallest of differences … that can change everything!
THE END ???