There are always reasons for contemplating the simple act of disappearing, of going away. Some are more benign than others; let’s say those bullies from ages past, warriors of parental neglect and spurned affection who always called you this or that and always made sure to wait for you at the end of class “just for a chat.” Those little tyrants are now either balding with a crappy job and depressed, having never really done anything with their lives, and they just bump into you whenever you’re back home visiting your folks, coming from one of your many trips. They’ll most often fall upon the familiar “yeah man those were the times” and you can almost hear their silent whimpers as they retreat further inside themselves.
Meanwhile you’re thinking about that damned seat, finally getting that damned seat on that damned shuttle leaving at the beginning of next year and just hoping it won’t burst into flames the moment you step on it.
“Candidate 36-8-B, please report to Mental Inspection in Wing Beta, Kane Office.” The immaculate fake leather couch creaks just a bit as you get up and map your path to Beta Wing. Your butt-mark recalls your presence there until the next the person decides to make another reverse-effigy using their asses.
Getting around in government testing facilities always feels like a test in itself, the mouse can sniff the tasty cheesy morsel but has to navigate through dead ends and door that never lead anywhere and ask people whose responses range from “I’m not allowed to disclose that type of information.” to “Hey man got a cig?” So you’re left with patience and obscure wall signs which you tend to believe are just gibberish, put there to mess with you.
“Sit down, you’re late.” Saying that Kane Office is sparsely decorated would be an understatement: one single wooden chair waits empty in the center of a milky white-tiled floor.
The only other presence is a tall thin man, equally dressed in milky-white pants and shirt and those slippers doctors are always fussing about during their shifts.
The Examiner has a face which would normally be instantly forgotten if not for the odd pair of red-rimmed glasses that tend to make you focus on his cold leaden eyes.
“You are given a large umbrella but it’s sunny outside and you even feel yourself starting to sweat a little. An ominous cloud formation can be seen at the horizon, but that won’t reach you much, much later. A family of 3 is there as well waiting at the nearest bus stop. What do you do with the umbrella until then?”
“I’m sorry, is this the right room?”…”I wasn’t exactly sure what this was about but…”
“I am afraid that type of answer does not award you any points. Moving on to the next question: in the aftermath of a giant explosion on the orbital space station, your mission is in grave danger; several crew members are caught in their personal pods. Dave, your best friend since childhood who has been looking up to you, has also managed to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut alongside you. Dr. Schneller, who is a world leading pioneer in applied quantum physics who has single-handedly spearheaded the research efforts that made your mission possible. And lastly, Cpt. Deckard, your team leader and also the one who has navigated the far reaches of space, mapping vast amount of space on his many expeditions, thus becoming a hero of the new space age to mankind. Who do you save?”
“Well, can it be only one?” you ask.
“At the rate at which your hull is depressurizing you can barely save yourself and one other,” the examiner responds poker-faced.
“I’d save the physicist even if he would be tough to handle. Humanity as a whole would stand a better chance in space with him further investigating quantum physics.”
“Wrong answer: Dr. Schneller becomes increasingly erratic after the event which nearly killed him. His moods grows worse and soon he is unable to function as a crew mate and just stays in his personal quarter most of the time mumbling to himself. The last time you see him, he is bare-chested and with tribal paint all over his face, chanting “All praise Belphegore”. He later kills you and all of the crew by causing an explosion in the main life support station, which eventually burns out all remaining oxygen and everyone else in the process. Your charred lifeless bodies are then ejected into space as you slowly approach the atmosphere of the planet only to be turned to ashes. Next question: You encounter two bunnies who appear to be sentien….”
“What was the right answer?”
“Who should have been saved first?”
“The collected data.”
“But that’s not a person.”
“No, but it is more valuable.” The examiner’s eyes have a strange glint to them as he says this, and he might almost be smiling, but his milky features show not even the slightest of changes.
“Was there any way to know when Dr. Schneller would go nuts?”
"No, but if you were to really know your crew mates you would be aware that he is the most susceptible to emotional instability regardless of his shining mind."
"So what you’re saying is, it was going to happen eventually."
"That is correct."
"So what’s a “Belphegore”?"
"That would be a deity, Dr. Schneller’s addled mind came up with as he feared the vastness of space."
"You’re being oddly specific about all of this. All of this sounds like it may have happened before."
The Examiner simply stares, his eyes betraying nothing.
"Next question: how many uses does a shoelace hold? Time of answer: 30 seconds."
Once again you remember the many stars strewn across the sky, littered by some vague deity or again, some kind of cosmic happenstance. You feel a slight chill, as the roof tiles of your grandparents’ hut fill up with the night-time cold. All those tiny dots, worlds far different from anything mankind could comprehend.
And you would draw the most outlandish and overly complicated contraptions that surely you could not do without on your many perilous space adventures. Like a clockwork canine with added licking and fetching functions, just in case you got a boo-boo and it needed to get you things when your motorized spacesuit would run out of battery. In those adventures you would reach far beyond any known stars, limitless in the barren solitude of space.
And yet here you are, your mind racing from one point to another much like a pinball, darting without much choice, between shoelace versatility and rose-tinted childhood dreams, trying desperately to get that just that one spot on the Hyperion ZHD (short for Zero Hyper Drive). The one ship able to finally escape the termination shock, to go past the Oort Cloud. Where among all the frozen mountains and chunks of rock, the secret of life could finally be uncovered and how it came to us, to Terra.
Hell… If nothing too important blows up, mankind may even reach the nearest twinkling in the neighborhood: Proxima Centauri, the smaller, less important sibling of the Alpha.
“I must remind you that this is an examination and I like to remind you that a clear focus is paramount at this very moment, as this is just one of the many things which will be required of you as you hurl yourself through space in a confined metal enclosure filled with some of the best minds and bodies humanity has to offer.”
“I apologize,” you hear yourself say, “I merely drifted off for a bit, please continue…”