The name says it all. This is our last season of regular stories. 😦 Thanks for the support all these years.
Written By Kevin Travers
The year 2030 was a time of total equality. The NBA was mostly Asian to reflect world demographics. Victoria’s Secret fashion shows represented all body sizes and genders. And after landmark ableism legislation, there was now no limitations stopping the deaf, dumb, or blind from reaching the highest positions in medicine and surgery.
With the rise of new foreign space powers, the United States was involved in another space race. NASA was committed to bringing their values of equity, inclusivity, and diversity to the outer reaches of orbit, and eventually to the rest of the solar system. They promised a brighter future, for the good of all peoplekind.
Athena Ferrari Constantina was born Jeremy Constantina, to an African-American/Latino father, and a Native-American/South Asian mother. Although biologically male, she had always felt like a girl. As a child, she would sneak into her mother’s closet and try on her clothes. When she came out as transgender as a teen, she had her family’s fully support. Her classmates offered the same, electing her valedictorian, though she had never actively campaigned or even signed up for the race.
Athena suffered from achondroplasia, commonly known as dwarfism. At 4-foot-7, she was much smaller than her peers. When people first met her, they usually appeared startled, followed by excessive niceties. It sometimes made Athena uncomfortable. All she really wanted was to be treated the same as everybody else. Still, high school wasn’t all bad- she had been named MVP of her varsity basketball team, despite averaging 1.3 points and 0.2 rebounds.
Athena had always loved fashion. She loved feeling beautiful, and making others feel the same. From a young age, she dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. Life had other plans for her, though, as she kept receiving offers she couldn’t pass up.
The 2020s had been a turbulent time in America. Voices across the internet- and increasingly loudly in the streets- called for representation, or revolution. They claimed the country’s institutions lacked sufficient women, minorities, and other marginalized groups, and threatened violence if this wasn’t rectified. Facts and figures could not dissuade them, only the total capitulation to their ever-increasing demands. Institutions rushed to fill quotas, to avoid any criticism or violence. Athena found herself in high demand, as she checked many boxes.
First was the prestigious private school. Then it was the scholarship to a top University, despite her less-than-stellar GPA. Finally, NASA came calling. The Space Agency had received much criticism for its history of being mostly white, mostly male, and exclusively ableist, and Athena was a counterpoint to all in a single body. Kill two birds with one stone, the saying once said, before PETA burned down the Webster Dictionary office in protest.
Her family and friends told her she must accept the offer. They told her she could serve as an inspiration to people like her, told her she’d have a place in history, and that it was important socially. Athena didn’t like to disappoint, and that’s how she found herself two-hundred-and-fifty-four miles above the Earth, hurtling through space at seventeen-thousand miles per hour.
She looked down at her spinning planet through the four-paned window, the barren black vacuum of space spreading on forever in all directions. It always freaked her out, the life support systems of the station being the only thing keeping her and the crew from an instant, terrifying death.
The newly constructed United American Orbital Research Laboratory (UAORL) was a stunning technological marvel by any standard. Seven-hundred feet in length and five-hundred in width, it was larger than two football fields, the biggest man-made object to ever maintain stable Earth orbit. A microgravity research station, it served both corporate and military interests.
The station consisted of a ring of sphere-shaped modules, or pods, connecting through air-tight sliding doors. These connected to an internal Central Pillar, the ‘brain’ of the station. Athena liked looking out from Pod A at the other modules. They shone bright, almost blindingly white, reflecting a sun unencumbered by any atmosphere. It reminded her of a pearl necklace she used to wear back home.
“I can see the Great Wall!” Karyn Johnson said, the braided Caribbean-American Diversity Inspector, pointing down at the Asian continent as it spun by.
“It’s beautiful…” Karen Masterson, the blonde-haired, broad-shouldered HR Chief, replied in awe.
It was a big deal- the Great Wall was one of the few Wonders of the World still remaining. In the 2020s, the world made efforts to destroy all symbols connected to historical slavery. After tearing down statues, they realized they had a lot more work to do. They set about destroying the Great Pyramids, the Colosseum, every church, mosque, or synagogue, and a large chunk of art and literature. Afterwards, realizing how bland their world had become, they tried to rebuild all they had destroyed with a third world labor force. Unfortunately, due to the economic hit from the loss of tourist income, they were forced to work for only room and board.
“I can see it, too!” Alexander “Alex” Bodager, the crew’s Communication Director said, leaning over their shoulders. “The view’s even better from my sleep pod, you girls should come check it out sometime.” The girls instinctively recoiled.
Alex was a lanky six-four with a beard, soft eyes, and softer hands. Athena felt he always tried too hard to get people to like him. He had a permanent slouch, a postural apology for his stature.
The doors slid open, Commander Chad Chaderson entering.
“All right, crew gather round!” he commanded. Karyn shot Karen a look.
Jerome and William returned from their stations, rounding out the crew. Jerome Smart was the African-American Chief Science Officer, a former basketball star who excelled in biology. He was onboard overseeing experiments studying mice and flatworms in zero gravity. Willian Chen was the Flight Engineer of the crew, a physics whiz who exceled in calculus. Chad took the lead, a role he was born for.
Athena blushed as she watched. She had a bit of a secret crush on her Commander. A square-jawed, corn-fed hunk from Nebraska, he was a farm boy and former high school quarterback hero. He excelled in the Airforce and was recruited for his leadership skills. He had the depth of the cosmos in his eyes, and the power of a lion in his pecs. He was the only one who ever bossed her around, and she liked it.
“Who does this guy think he is,” she heard Karen whisper to Alex, who nodded vigorously in agreement.
“The European team is loaded into the shuttle. I want to do an orbital check before they go.”
The UAORL had been hosting a European repair team over the past seventy-two hours. Congress had banned all protectionist trade practices in 2025, calling them inherently racist. This allowed China to step up their military and corporate espionage, closing the advancement gaps in both. Some of their spyware had made it onto components in the station’s mainframe and needed to be replaced.
Hiring an American repair crew would have violated Congressional mandate, so they had to wait for a European crew to make the trip. There would probably be new Telecom spyware installed in the repairs, but he lesser of two evils, the Head of NASA always said.
The Europeans were done with their repairs and ready to fly home. Space stations in orbit naturally lost altitude over time and needed boosts to avoid falling back to Earth. This was most easily done when there was a shuttle attached, so Chad wanted to check if any adjustments were needed while there was a visiting shuttle.
“These guys want to get back to their families, so…” Chad started.
“Um, not every astronaut has a family,” Karen said, wrinkling her nose.
“Sure Karen, not everyone does,” Chad said, trying to quickly move on, “Let’s do a quick check and send them on their way. William, you do the honors as usual.”
“No problem, Commander,” William nodded, moving for the door.
“Actually, I think we should let someone else do it for a change,” Karyn said.
“William always does our orbital calculations,” Chad said, confused.
“If you don’t give anyone else a chance, how can you expect them to grow?” Karyn asked, taking on a cross tone, “William had all kinds of advantages, rich parents, a nice school… he had a head start in life, and now he gets all the important assignments on the station, allowing him to pad his resume and climb the ranks at the agency. You should give someone else the opportunity to move forward.”
“I don’t think this is the time or place…” Chad protested.
“I think it should be Jerome.”
“Really, that’s not necessary,” Jerome said, not looking for any trouble, “My math’s all right, but William’s a genius. We should let him do it.”
“Jerome,” Karyn shook her head in pity, “All this prejudice and self-hatred you’ve internalized.”
“Come on guys, we have to get moving…” Chad said, trying not to lose his patience.
“I’m sorry, guys?!” Karen stomped, crossing her arms, “Gendered language!”
Chad had been written up and scolded over this before by the NASA Head.
“I’m sorry… come on, fellow Astronauts…”
“Don’t think we don’t see the prejudice in your decision making, Commander,” Karyn said, her tome threatening, “your bias is telling.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but we have to get moving. William, if you don’t mind…”
“I think we should vote,” Karen said.
Chad sighed, steeling his resolve. Space missions used to follow a strict, military-like hierarchical structure. The HR department complained in 2026 that hierarchies were patriarchal, and now all decisions were made by vote.
“I vote Jerome,” Karyn said.
“I also vote Jerome,” Karen said.
“How about you, Athena?” Karyn looked at her sternly, “You’re not a self-hating racist, are you?”
Athena didn’t believe so, and Karyn intimidated her. She raised her hand.
“Well, I vote William,” Chad said, raising his hand.
“So do I,” William said, doing the same.
“So do I!” Jerome said, throwing up his arm.
Chad, Jerome and William also shared a secret. They believed that people should be judged on their merit alone, and not on external characteristics. They believed you should select the best person for the job, and that a lot of the policies promoted by Karen and Karyn were silly. They dared not share these beliefs with anyone, for fear of the outrage and career damage it would cause.
It reached Alex, the tie breaker. He raised his hand.
“I think the girls are right!” he said with a sheepish smile, “we should let Jerome do it!”
“So brave,” Karyn said.
“So brave,” Karen repeated.
“You can do it Jerome!” Alex said.
Jerome lowered himself into the Central Pillar, careful to grip each step of the ladder. The station’s artificial gravity came from its rotating centrifugal force system, and a drop straight down through the Central Pillar’s ten-story height would be a painful one. He navigated through the crisscross of pipes, reaching the bottom. There was a sliding door, the entrance to the Control Center.
This one wasn’t automated, requiring Jerome to press against the wall and use his back to pull it forward in a row-like fashion. Not difficult for an athlete like himself, but still annoying on a day that was supposed to be for relaxed observation of his mice and worms. He squeezed through the narrow doorway and dropped himself down into the Control Center.
It was the size of a closet, eight feet high and walls packed to the inch with buttons, switches, and complex analytics. It beeped and hummed, doing the work that kept the station functioning.
Jerome found the orbital readout section. While the data was extensive, it still took some advanced math to understand what it all meant. Jerome ran through the numbers, checking altitude and speed. He went over the equation, then a second time, then a third time. The orbit appeared stable, with minimal loss. It was the outcome they got about eighty percent of the time they checked, a relief to Jerome. They appeared on course, with no need for alteration.
Jerome input his findings. All he had to do was press the Enter button to complete the process. To keep it safe from any possible radiation or debris damage, the button was located at the top of the wall, right below the roof door. Jerome reached up and pressed it, getting onto his toes. The red button turned green, and he was good to go. He lifted himself out and climbed back up the ladder.
On deck, the crew got the flashing green light.
“We’re good to go, Sven!” Chad said over the intercom.
“Framstående!” the pilot responded.
Athena pressed a button, releasing the hatch. There was a loud screech.
”What the hell is that?” Alex jumped, startled.
Chad walked over to Athena’s post, reading over the monitors. She liked the way he smelled.
”Ahh,” he said, ”I see the problem. When they updated the software, they reboot the system,” he said, pointing to one of the monitors. ”When you do that, all the moving parts of the station go back to their default position. The software thought the hatch was open when it was locked, so you got to press it twice.”
He pressed the button again. There was the sound of the hatch opening. Through the window they saw the flash of the thrusters, the shuttle beginning its journey home.
”I’m sorry,” Athena blushed.
”No problem,” Chad said with a wink, ”easy mistake to make.”
A week later, the crew were engaging in their daily routines. Jerome tended to his flatworms in Pod B. A few had died, but a few were thriving and procreating, a discovery that would surely help the understanding of evolution in zero gravity. William ran through triangulation calculations for future missions, Karen and Karyn discussed the intricacies of Critical Race Theory in Pod C, and Athena processed images through the telescopic photography instruments in Pod D. The door slid open, Chad entering.
”Hey Athena, I’m just making the rounds,” he leaned over her shoulder, looking at the images. ”Wow, look at that dense region of color!” he said, pointing to a spiral of yellow and red surrounding a black circle. ”It’s swallowing a star!”
In the 2020s, NASA received complaints that some astronomical terms were offensive, and changed many in response. Black Holes were now called Dense Regions of Color, the Sombrero Galaxy was now the Wide-Brimmed Culturally Appropriated Headwear Galaxy, and White Dwarf Stars were now called Privileged Little-People Stars.
“It’s stunning…” Chad said, hypnotized by the image. She looked up at him. He looked down at her, their eyes meeting. She felt her own irresistible pull of gravity towards an irresistible object.
“I call a meeting!” they heard Karyn shrill over the intercom, breaking the mood. Chad sighed.
“All right… let’s go see what she has to complain about this time.”
In Pod A, the crew met to discuss Karyn’s pressing issue.
“We need to do something about all the gendered language I keep hearing!” she began, “Many of us feel…”
Their meeting was interrupted by flashing red lights, and the loud blaring of the alarm system.
“Oh my God, what is that?!” Karen shouted.
“My ears!” Alex cried, “Make it stop! I’m sensitive to loud noises!”
Chad leaped into action.
“We’ve entered a high debris zone,” he said, checking the monitor. He pulled a switch shutting off the alarm, the lights going from red back to their usual pale yellow.
“A high debris zone, how can that be?” William asked, scanning the monitor.
Due to the increased spaceflight in the 2020s, a large amount of debris had collected in low-Earth orbit. The space station avoided it by staying above the danger zone.
“We’ve been slowly descending for a week,” William finally sighed.
“How?” Jerome shook his head, “I triple checked my calculations!”
William studied the numbers.
“You didn’t calculate for drag,” William said.
“Transphobic!” Karyn shouted.
“There’s still a thin layer of atmospheric molecules, even up here,” William continued, “It gradually slows orbit and reduces altitude. You have to account for that.”
“Damn it…” Jerome lowered his head in disappointment. He had failed his crew.
“It’s an easy mistake to make,” William said, resting his hand on his shoulder in consolation.
“Don’t shame him!” Karen shouted.
“Bitch, this is your fault!” Jerome snapped.
“Don’t talk to me like that!” Karen snapped back.
“Karen,” Karyn said, “don’t shout, he’s expressing the rage from centuries of oppression.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry Jerome, I feel your pain!”
“These bitches are crazy,” Jerome whispered to himself, shaking his head.
“Every hour we descend, we increase the risk of a deadly collision,” Chad said, taking a stoic stance, “we need to activate our backup power and auxiliary thrusters to regain altitude. We need a spacewalk.”
Chad raised his hand.
Jerome and William raised their hands.
Athena did the same, creating a majority vote.
There were three spacesuits, and the mission required three people to get it done the fastest. The three with the most spacewalk experience were chosen- William, Jerome, and Alex, in that order. The fact that there was an overrepresentation of men on this dangerous mission was not brought up.
The trio spent the next four hours in airlock, adjusting to low pressure to avoid the bends and possible blackout. They spent the time in uncomfortable oxygen masks, purging their bodies of nitrogen. There was no bathroom in the airlock, and Alex really had to pee.
After a quick bathroom break, they donned their spacesuits, making sure their batteries were charged and CO2 scrubbing cannisters were fresh. Outer space was not where you wanted to discover that a piece of equipment was malfunctioning- it was cold and unforgiving, a place where everything had to go right to live and one thing going wrong could mean certain doom.
They hooked the retractable eighty-five-foot braided steel tether cable to the floor, and then to each other. When they were ready, Chad pressed the button and the air was sucked out of the chamber. It was loud, then as the sound-carrying oxygen molecules disappeared, silent. The airlock slid noiselessly open, revealing the sterile darkness of space.
The boys pushed out into nothingness.
“Goodluck Gentlemen,” Chad said over the intercom, “We’re here if you need us.”
They grabbed the ladder running down the Central Pillar and began climbing. Moving in a space suit was exhausting, every motion like trying to tie your shoelace in a suit of armor. It puffed out like a balloon, and every step took effort. Even simple tasks took hours, and astronauts’ forearms were usually sore for days after a walk.
William took the lead, the sun peeking from behind the Earth to reflect off his helmet. Behind it, in all directions, was an unsettling darkness. Space was black, an inky blackness darker than anything seen on Earth. William never told anyone, but it freaked him out.
Jerome followed close behind. Below was night on Earth, the station speeding over the planet towards daylight at seventeen-thousand kilometers per hour. It made him feel far, far away. He missed home.
Alex always felt disoriented on spacewalks. There was no up or down, just an emptiness that could drag you away for eternity. The heavy tether cable yanked him forward, urging him to keep up with the others.
They crawled down the pillar to the bottom section. There was a panel, and another ladder that ran around the circumference.
William crawled around to the other side, setting up at an extended section about the size of a refrigerator, with panels on either side.
Jerome set up halfway around, underneath the auxiliary thruster.
Alex stayed in place.
“Alex you’re on solar duty,” William said through the intercom, pulling his wrench from his belt and opening his panels, “I’ll need you to extend the solar cells to ninety degrees, then stop so I can get back.”
“Okay,” Alex said nervously, opening his panel. His breath fogged the inside of his helmet, sweat dripping down his forehead despite the fan system that was built into his suit.
“Jerome, you’ll set the thruster at exactly twenty-one-point-two degrees. That should optimize our power and fuel.”
“Good to have you doing the math this time,” Jerome joked. He swore he heard Karyn tsk-ing over the intercom.
Jerome opened his panel, then used his torque wrench to unlock the motor, a two-step security feature to avoid any accidents. He set the input, and the thruster moved into position.
“Alex, your turn,” William said.
Alex had trouble hearing. Although there was no sound in space, inside their suits it was actually quite loud, with all the fans and pumps.
“Unfold the cells, Alex.”
Alex went to work, pulling his torque wrench and cranking the bolt. The space between his thumb and forefinger burned, his visor fogging up as he breathed heavily. He unlocked the cells, and the motor spurred into action.
On William’s side, the solar cells began extending outwards, glimmering in the sun. He always enjoyed the sight, like a giant mechanical blue-and-gold butterfly. His job was to make sure they unfolded correctly, fixing any tangles before the sensitive technology ripped or was damaged. Once they hit 90 degrees, they could all head back home. He watched them open in their full glory.
“Okay Alex, we’re good,” he said over the intercom.
He didn’t get a response, the cells continuing to push out towards him.
“Alex, let’s turn those off, huh?”
Alex’s fans were at full power, trying to cool his overheating body. He didn’t hear the first message, and this one was choppy. He couldn’t tell if William said, “turn those off,” or “don’t turn those off”.
“What was that, William?”
“Stop the motor!” William shouted over the intercom.
The solar cells had reached his suit and were now pushing him out.
“Alex, what the hell is going on?!” Jerome shouted, watching William getting swallowed by silicone, “Stop the damn motor!”
Alex furiously cranked the torque wrench, trying to turn the motor off. He cranked a little too furiously. The wrench slipped across his bloated palm and out of his hand. It bounced against the pillar. He reached for it and missed. He reached for it again, his thumb hitting the tip and pushing it off faster into space.
Alex watched as it floated out of his reach, beginning and endless journey through the cosmos.
“Alex, the motor!” William shouted, his voice panicked as he was pushed further from the station, pulling Jerome with him.
“Uh, yeah, just a sec!” Alex said, freezing. He didn’t know what to do. He pulled out his regular wrench, desperately trying to use that.
“Alex, stop fucking around!” William shouted, now floating out into nothingness, the tether the only thing connecting him.
“Alex!” Jerome screamed, as he was yanked from position and pulled out with William. The tether caught under the thruster, pulling it too out of position.
“Almost there!” Alex said, frantically jamming at the panel. The wrench slipped from his hands, floating down past his feet and headed for the Earth.
“Damn it!” he cursed, pounding the panel with his fist.
The solar cells, now at full extension, brought the thruster to life. A burst of orange ignited, firing flames into the tether cable and lurching the station into motion.
“Stop the engines!” Jerome shouted over the intercom.
“What the hell is going on out there!” Chad said, stopping the thruster.
It was too late. The tether cable was singed straight through. It split in half, the force sending it upward and yanking at Alex’s suit. It was so strong it tore his outer fabric. He could feel the suit losing pressure, his flesh swelling.
“Alex, help us!” he heard Jerome shout.
“Please…” William cried as they moved out of range and their voices faded away.
Alex looked out at William and Jerome, floating off into space. There was nothing he could do. They would continue on endlessly, their life support systems running out within the day and putting them out of their misery. He rushed back up the ladder to safety.
Alex returned to the crew and told them the news. There were cries of sorrow and gnashing of teeth.
“My brother Jerome!” Karyn wailed.
Poor William!” Karen cried, “I miss that little guy so much…”
Chad checked the monitors. His face turned a pale shade of white. He tried his best to compose himself before addressing the crew.
“The good news is, we’ve passed completely through the debris region. The bad news is… that’s because we’re now below it. The blast from the thruster sent us directly down towards the Earth. If our orbit isn’t adjusted in the next six hours, we’ll reach the point of no return. We’ll descend into the atmosphere and burn up there. We don’t even have a functioning spacesuit to go out and fix it. There’s nothing we can do.”
Chad hung his head in shame. He had failed the mission. He walked off, disappearing through the sliding door.
Athena spent the next hour tolerating the remaining crew. Imminent death had shifted something inside them, a disturbing zealotry taking over.
“Two POCs on a spacewalk, and the one whiteboy survives!” Karyn said shooting daggers at Alex, who was applying a cooling pad to his swollen gut. “White supremacy is real, even in space!”
“You survived because of your white privilege!” Karen shouted, firing an accusatory finger at him, her blond hair flopping.
“This space station was punished for its systemic bigotry!” Karyn said, sounding like a Pentecostal preacher.
“The Patriarchy!” Karen shouted, the clergy.
“We must atone for our prejudice!”
“Alex, take off your shirt!”
“…Huh?” Alex asked, confused and scared.
“Take off your shirt!” Karyn demanded.
Alex reluctantly obliged.
Karen lifted Jerome’s worm-filled aquarium and dropped it on the floor. It smashed into a dozen pieces, worms scattering. Karen picked up one of the larger shards, and whipped Alex across the back.
“Ow!” Alex cried.
“Quiet!” she whipped him again, “We must… atone… for your privilege!”
The pain was too much for Alex. His eyes glazed over, a delirious smile stretching across his face.
Athena had enough. She wandered off to find Chad. If she was going to die, she’d rather spend her last few hours with him.
Athena found Chad in Pod C, looking solemnly down at the Earth. She cozied up beside him. There was nothing left to lose now.
“It’s not your fault, you know,” Athena said, trying to offer condolence. He shook his head.
“My fault or not, doesn’t matter. I failed the mission. I let my crew down.”
“Well… it could be worse. At least we have a nice view for our extinction.”
There was a pause, as they both gazed out at the planet they would never set foot on again.
“What are you thinking about?” Athena asked.
“I’m thinking about my family. Thinking about my hometown, my old grade school. You?”
“I’m thinking about how I’ll never have the chance to see Europe.”
“Really?” Chad chuckled, “That’s what’s on your mind?”
“Of course! Paris, the City of Light, seeing the New Eiffel Tower… it’s all I’ve been thinking about since those Swedish guys came and reboot the system.”
Chad’s eyes lit up. Maybe he liked Paris, too.
“That’s it!” Chad cried.
“Reboot the system!”
“What do you mean?”
“If we reboot the system, the station resets to its default position!”
“That means… the thruster will move back in place!”
“Damn right!… Sorry, darn right.”
“You did it!”
It was a moment of euphoria. There was a beautiful view, high oxygen content, and a general atmosphere of “Fuck It” in the air. There was nothing to stop them now, protocols be damned. Chad squared up, grabbing her arms and meeting her eyes. They were pulled together by primal, irresistible forces. Athena put up no resistance as their lips met.
The door slid open, interrupting their moment. Alex entered, shirtless and bleeding, collapsing on his knees in a state of religious euphoria. Karen and Karyn followed, the former holding her bloody glass shard, the latter now carrying a fire extinguisher.
“We have the solution!” Karyn said, “so many lives in the past have been sacrificed because of racism, sexism, and bigotry!”
“We must restore balance to the Universe!” Karen shouted.
“We need a sacrifice in the opposite direction! It’s the only way to make things right!”
“I’m ready to be the sacrifice,” Alex cried, raising his hands to the heavens in fervor, “Punish me, space Mama!”
Karyn finally took notice of the proximity between Athena and Chad.
“Wait… what’s going on in here?” she asked, suspicious.
“Oh my God!” Karen shouted, “are you taking advantage of your position of power to sexually exploit a subordinate?”
“Unbelievable!” Karyn shouted. “This is definitely going in my report!”
“You’re a jerk, Dude,” Alex shook his head.
“What? No, I was just congratulating her…” Chad protested.
“Lies!” Karen shouted, pointing her bloody shard at Chad.
“No! I mean, Athena? Come on guys…” he scratched his head. Athena was hurt. Chad looked at her, his eyes saying sorry. “She figured out how to save us.”
Chad explained the plan. The information seemed to take the crew out of their religious zealotry for the moment, returning them to a somewhat logical head space. He explained how rebooting the system would move the thrusters back into position, and the solar cells would supply them with the power needed to return to a stable orbit.
“All we have to do is send someone down to the Control Center,” Chad said, his eyes filled with purpose and determination, “I’ll go. I’m the Commander. It’s on me to salvage this mission.”
There was a moment where Chad thought he was getting through to them. A moment when the clouds parted, and it seemed they could unite on a mission and all behave like grownups for the good of the whole. The moment did not last.
“Oh, I’m sure you’d like that,” Karyn said, crossing her arms.
“Typical,” Karyn said, tapping her foot.
“What?” Chad asked. “What’s the problem now?”
“White male in a position of power, trying to save the day and take all the credit!” Karyn said.
“Aren’t all the pages of history books enough? Can’t you share the glory once?” Karen added.
“Greedy,” Alex shook his head, his blood still dripping on the floor.
“What the hell are you saying?!” Chad snapped, his patience finally lost. “Always talking about white/black, man/woman… you’re obsessed, that’s all you see! Maybe you’re the bigot!”
There were outraged gasps.
“The mask finally slips,” Karen said smugly.
“Someone else should have the chance to save this station,” Karyn said, “Someone who doesn’t look like you. Someone who represents other, marginalized groups. The answer is simple. It should be Athena.”
“What?!” Chad and Athena exclaimed in unison.
“Look, no offense Athena… but this is important! Getting down to the Control Center requires size, physical strength…”
“I agree!” Athena insisted.
“God what an ableist!” Karyn shook her head in disgust. “My report will not be flattering.”
“As if we need some big, strong man to save us!” Karen mocked her Commander.
“I’m not saying that! It’s just…”
Karyn extended her finger, pressing it into Chad’s lips to silence him.
“Shhh. No more.”
She calmly took center stage.
“This is an historic moment, a chance to do something different. We can inspire a generation of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, show them that they can do it, too. History has been mostly white, mostly male, and let’s be honest… mostly tall.”
She gestured to Athena.
“The history of our country has been one of exclusion,” Karyn continued, “No more. No. More. We need equity, inclusivity, and diversity in the history of our space program. I vote for the person that offers us that. A rare, historical opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. I vote Athena.”
Karyn raised her hand.
“I vote Athena,” Karen raised her hand.
“No. I’m going,” Chad said, defiantly raising his hand.
“Chad should go,” Athena said, raising her hand.
It was tied, and all came down to Alex. Shirtless and caked in blood, he raised his hand.
“I vote Athena,” he said. “Let’s make history.”
“No. Fuck the vote,” Chad said, “I’m going.”
He stormed for the door. Karyn lifted the fire extinguisher into the air and slammed it into Chad’s skull. He crumpled onto the floor in a heap. Athena cried out in horror. The crew looked at her with glazed over eyes.
“All right, Athena,” Karyn said, extending her hands, “Save us.”
They knelt, then bowed, in a state of messianic reverence.
“You can do it,” Alex whispered.
For a moment, Athena believed him. She had to. She raced for the door, determined to save her crew and the station.
“So brave,” Karyn whispered.
“So brave,” Karen repeated.
Athena lowered herself into the Central Pillar, careful to grip each step of the ladder. She navigated through the crisscross of pipes, her palms sweaty, her heart pounding. She climbed down ten stories, reaching the Control Center door. She tried to pull it open but couldn’t. It was too heavy.
She crouched down, pressing her feet onto the other side of the narrow chamber. She pushed her back into the wall and pulled. With all her might and every muscle fiber she had, she pulled and pulled. There was a creak as it slowly inched open. Exhausted, sweat dripping from her forehead, she opened a gap large enough to squeeze in. She dropped inside.
Athena looked over the walls of confusing buttons and analytic equipment. She hadn’t spent a lot of time here, and it took a while to figure it out. She found it on the back wall, about halfway up. The reboot button series.
She pressed them all in the correct order, priming the station for a reboot. It would put the thruster back in the right place, allowing them to increase their orbit and get back to safety. All she had to do was hit the Enter button and set the sequence in motion.
She scanned, looking for it. She found it at the top of the wall, the bright red Enter button flashing, beckoning her.
It was high.
Athena jumped, trying to reach it.
She missed by a solid foot.
She tried again and missed.
She tried jumping off the wall to gain altitude. She came up short, falling and hitting the back of her head against the wall. Athena crashed to the floor, her head throbbing, her world spinning. She wanted to give up. She wanted to cry.
Athena pulled herself together. She had a job to do. She had to save the station. Had to save Chad. Had to save herself.
She took a deep breath and tried again, giving it her best.
She missed by a solid foot.
She jumped, and she jumped, and she jumped, but Athena just couldn’t reach the button.
She collapsed into a heap on the floor, exhausted.
At 3:15 am Eastern Standard Time, the UAORL descended into the upper atmosphere. A cone-like shock front formed around it, heating the station by three-thousand degrees. The solar cells were the first to disintegrate, followed by the aluminum sections, and then the steel.
The station broke apart by the force of reentry, and by 120,000 feet, only the large modules remained. They scattered across the planet, most landing in the ocean, a few in mountains or deserts, and one smashing at subsonic speed into a village in Katmandu.
NASA issued a statement the next morning. It proclaimed that the inaugural mission of the UAORL had ended in tragedy, and that they were mourning the loss. They admitted the choice of Chad Chaderson as Commander might have been proof of their own inherent misogyny and white supremacy, and that this may have contributed to the disaster. They made a commitment to more equity, inclusivity, and diversity in the future, lamenting their ways and promising a brighter future, for the good of all peoplekind.
Special Thanks to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”.
Fuck you, 2020.