Return to Sender

a spastic sci-fi mushroom captacular

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Starting slow and softly, “zero hour nine a.m.

And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then

I miss the earth so much I miss my wife

It’s lonely out in space

On such a timeless flight

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

Till touch-down brings me round again to find

I’m not the man they think I am at home.”

Louder now, “Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket mannnnnnnnnnnnn

Rocket maaaaaaaaan —- burning out here, and something, something – aw, what does he say there?”

               Our hero sang out into the empty void of space.  The Captain loved to sing those Golden Oldies and did so with great frequency.  His concert hall was the S.S. Santa Maria, the technological wonder that captured the heart of the human race.  Behind it flew the S.S. Nina and the S.S. Pinta.  These caught the attention and dollar of all of mankind.  Mankind’s life and possible futures banked on the sturdiness of these three vessels.  The Nina was the fuel source, supplying both the transport there (the Santa Maria) and the return ship, for a possible trip home; the Pinta.  Steering these three pioneers deep into the unexplored corners of outer space was their sole member and captain, Dr. Elvis ‘the Buzzard King’ Aldrin.

The ‘Buzzard King’ had flown more missions than anyone in NASA’s celebrated history; very much to his wife’s displeasure.  566, is the exact number the way he tells the story, but there may have been even more.  After 380 years of flying one could get a little senile.

“You have a marvelous singing voice Doctor.” The computer was Elvis’ only companion on this solo flight.

“Thanks E.C. No one back home thought so, that’s for sure. I remember Shelly telling me how God awful it was.  Especially when my routine butchered a tune she liked.”

“Who originally sang that little number anyways?” The Dr.’s knowledge of music did not equal his competency for space flight.

“Sir Elton John, Dr. Aldrin.” E.C. knew every answer in the book.  He was built for such knowledge, as a supercomputer with infinite storage capacity.  Emotional Companion, was the machine’s full name but his friends, in fact his only friend preferred E.C.   After all, what is the good in creating a companion and naming it Emotional Companion?  This seemed like a strange reminder to the Doctor of just how far from home he was.

“I had a feeling you’d know that one. I wish just once you would get one wrong.  One of these days E.C., I’m going to stump you, old pal.” This was a strong desire, as it was very unnerving to travel with an absolute know-it-all.

“Perhaps, Doctor.”

“It’s a good thing you’re so darned monotone, or else I would have thought you were being a real smart ass.”  The Doctor had to tread lightly here, many arguments have transpired between this man and machine, and now was certainly not the time.  The Astronaut’s gut signaled to him that they were close.  He just didn’t know what he was getting closer to.

The modern day science of the 40th century could explain many things, but gut feelings remained a mystery.  300 hundred years of life can give a man much experience and vast knowledge.  Aldrin felt confident in his.  You see, life is very different nowadays, very different.  Men walk the Earth for hundreds of years.  This was made possible by solving and mastering our genetic blueprints.  Human beings, essentially never die of natural causes.  The words natural and causes no longer belong together in this time.  Population spiked around our 30th century as a result of this life extension.

To aid in population control the United Global States enacted the voluntary Dream Academy program.  This revolutionary program allowed for men and women to enter small rooms and never come out.  Inside of these rooms however, awaited a wonderland for seeking patrons.  At the age of 18 a person could choose any life to live.  Sports nuts could become Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.  Women seeking attention and worship could become actresses of the silver screen.  All a person had to do was simply select their chosen occupations, locations, and desired eras in which to live.  Here, they would live out several different lives, unaware of the choices they had provided for themselves.  This was the dream portion of the Academy.  Once in, one could never return to the ‘real world’.

Overcrowded prisons soon took notice of this program and developed their own version.   This of course had to be altered, as to not reward crime with great dreams.  Juries now chose acceptable ‘lifestyles’ for criminals to live out in the Academy.  Budget cuts forced the two worlds into one, which only helped the two worlds make sense to its participants.  Now “good” Dreamers could look down upon “bad” dreamers.  When one took another life, that dreamer was simply recast into a new role.  This was the solution the world needed; in order to control the infinitely long lives these healthy occupants were living.

After the wave of voluntary participants exhausted, the United Global States set into place a type of draft, or “lottery” as the Prime Minister lovingly labeled it.  This was the Dream Academy Draft or Global Legislation 667 to the politicians. Now, the only way to opt out of the draft was talent and intelligence.  Two tests were conducted to reach these results.  One was done pre-birth to determine the percentages that certain traits would be expressed from a given gene set, and another test was given at age 13 as a sort of follow-up to the first test.  Once a candidate fit the bill, they would be shipped into a training program and set into a needed niche.  Dr. Aldrin’s test results were astounding and his follow up only confirmed the initial suspicion.  Elvis Aldrin’s DNA read almost as impressive as his training transcripts.  He was not only top in his class, but the global leader of intelligence and knowledge.  He truly was the prize of our species.

Because families did not stick together in this new system, Birth- Right winners, (Real World Walkers to stay current with today’s eloquence) had the opportunity to choose any name they wished.  Clearly Dr. Elvis Aldrin was a fan of the King and space exploration.   His nickname just came naturally I guess.

The latest Census figures came in ‘real-time’ and showed the Real World Walkers to number at 10,001.  This was the total amount of human beings that physically moved around on a daily basis.  These were the people who worked towards something.  That something, agreed to be the only thing.  The movement had started all due to the findings of more and more planets popping into our neighborhood as technology grew.  Light years needed to be possible figures to reach, so humans stretched out the time available to them.  Now routine trips to other planets became possible.  Truly this is the amazement and awesome wonder of technology.

This particular journey was however, the very first of its kind.  No man or women had ever ventured this far, and our Doctor was first in line to receive this prize.  Life outside of our own, had never been detected; until now.

A beacon just outside of our Kiper Belt was picked up by the Space Program at exactly 0900 hours Greenwich-Meantime to awake our sleepy world.  The mysterious beacon captured the attention of all 10,001 members of the beautiful blue marble.  Who would have thought that music tones would be the first alien voices that we would hear?  First an A minor, a long pause, than a B flat, C, D, G, and then back to the initial A minor.  This was the symphony of the cosmos, and our Doctor had booked his seat to the star show.

The Exact venue remains unknown, but our science’s latest efforts have pin-pointed what seemed to them as a fairly accurate estimate.

             “Well then, there is only one way to be sure.  Ponce DeLeon didn’t let a little thing like the unknown stand in his way, did he?”  This was our hero’s initial reaction to the news and this finds us aboard the Santa Maria; flying into the unknown, hoping for the best.  The good Doctor and his electronic friend have been diving ahead into the unknown together for many, many years now.

“Signal 10-71 strength is increasing Doctor.”  The machine companion noted.

“Got any E.T.A. at all for me buddy?” his brow secretly hoping for a very long answer.  The Doctor’s curiosity soon began to yield to a new emotion; fear.  One of the few drawbacks of endless knowledge was the utter lack of surprise in his life.  But no computer built by man, could tell him what was lurking up ahead.

“Closer…Closer…Stronger…Stronger…Closer…Stronger…” This was the best advice the super computer could offer.

“Not words pal, I need measurements.  How far is the beacon?”  Aldrin interrupted.

“Regarding Signal 10-71. Closer…Stronger…Stronger…”

“Okay, enough.  Let me take a look.  You are becoming very useless my friend.”  Frustration came to the forefront of the Doctor’s speech, even an added ‘my friend’ could not mask this.  The Doctor stroked his newly grown beard, to stop his hand from shaking.   He was the only owner of such a thing in the entire race.  Most men would get yearly treatments to stop the follicle growth and irritation.  Not the Doctor, he was far from any kind of barber, electronic or otherwise.

The view from the Santa Maria was a real site to see.  Along the way he passed numbers of unnamed planets and stars.  The scrapbook he kept for his wife cataloged these wonders in great detail.  Probably more than she would have needed, but this galactic ride had been beautiful so far and he couldn’t wait to share it with her.  Now, sadly, he could see nothing.  The glass windows of the ship’s hull showed nothing but empty darkness to our traveler’s eyes.  Even the once proud stars dimmed into absolute blackness.  Dr. Aldrin walked over to inspect his 5 senses tracker.  This was a technological wonder that tracked the ships’ surrounding readable 5 basic measurements.

The Santa Maria’s viewer confirmed what the Flexi-glass had; blackness.

Turning the speaker system up only made the beacon louder, but the song remained the same.

The billion dollar honing system sent vibrations out into the surrounding space, and returned to the ship empty handed.

“Finally something, but wait, when was the last system scan E.C.?”  A look at his temperature gauge begged this question.

“Last system scan……………23 seconds ago, Doctor.  Results of last system scan…Green lights, Doctor.”

“That’s impossible, do another scan.” Worry crept back into the good Doctor’s tone.

“Negative Dr.  Protocol 3-56 prohibits unnecessary system scan immediately following a 100% green lights result Dr.”

“I know the regulations, E.C. I made the darn program!”  Aldrin’s voice reached a lifetime high with this statement.  His hands began to shake again.  His beard seemed to offer little comfort this time.

“E.C. you just told me total green lights for the scan right?”

“Correct, Doctor.”

“What I am telling you is that this is impossible.  Look at the Kelvin gauge.  You see that number there?  You can’t because you are a machine, it says 2.4 Kelvin.”  Clearly the Doctor’s vast knowledge is coming in handy, as nothingness cannot get cold.  Science teaches us that space is a vacuum.  A vacuum has no matter; therefore, nothingness is not capable of holding any temperature.  Recorded temperatures in space only decrease or increase with mass and matter.  The “Buzzard King” could see signs of neither.

“You are telling me that molecules must be occupying the space around us a greater amount, because the temperature is dropping?”  As the words came from his lips, another new sensation overcame the Doctor; chills.  He could feel the sensation of cold surrounding him.  This only excited his uneasiness.

“Negative, Doctor.  I am telling you that we have green lights.  Thermo check…….2.1 Kelvin, Doctor.”

“It’s getting colder?”  Science had no pills in the cabinet for the fear now overtaking our hero.  His lips contracted and compacted together rapidly.   Raising the internal temperature only added to his frustration as the outside climate seemed to match it.  The cool breeze now mocked the Doctor cruelly from outside the Santa Maria.

Condensation started decorating the windows, and obscured the Captain’s vision from the dark void ahead even more.  Dr. Aldrin dropped to the Hull’s floor.  New thoughts flooded through his scientific mind for the first time.  The sensation of mortality crept into his skull, bouncing around amongst the logic.  His fingers quickly fumbled through his belongings at his feet, and stopped when they found their destination.  He produced a photograph.  It was a stunning picture of him and his loving wife in front of the Grand Canyon.  This was the Captain’s favorite picture, and the personalization from his love on it, only added to its value.  There sat the mighty Doctor, down on the ground, holding and reading his wife’s sentiments from what seemed to be a life time ago.

  ‘To my darling Elvis, this was our first trip to the Canyon. I will remember it and treasure it as I will       always you.  Let our love fill this canyon and last twice as long’

Bad  (both in spiritual & physical senses) Vibrations began to slowly echo throughout the metal bird.  Vibrations then quickly gave way to full blown space turbulence, of which the Captain could feel inside of his rigid bones.  Rising quickly to his feet, the driver did all he could to attempt some sort of stabilization.  Neither his hands nor his steering wheel could level out the mighty freighter.  The universe outside began to toss the ship around without regard for its 90 billion dollar price tag.  He released his hands of their grasp and returned to his spot on the ships’ floor.

“What the hell is happening E.C?”  Somehow the Captain managed to form the words from his shaking teeth.

“What do you mean, Doctor? System check….……Green lights, Doctor.”  The super computer confirmed.

His voice now at a constant yell, over the noise of the shaking ship, “What do you mean, we are being thrown around like crazy man! This isn’t right. None of this feels right!” The Captains eye’s matched the gaping hole between his lips.

“Everything reads green lights, Doctor.  Turbulence has been known to happen on space flight, Doctor.  Please try to remain calm.” This offered no comfort to the human.

“Are we getting near our destination yet?” Again the Captain did not truly want an answer; he wanted to fly forever in the safety of his ship.  But his purpose was to reach a destination, and in the back of his mind, he knew this all too well.

“Closer…Closer…Stronger…Stronger…Closer…Stronger…”was all the companion instrument could produce for the Doctor.

“NO! I WANT TO KNOW A DISTANCE!!! And for fuck’s sake, quit calling me Doctor after every damn statement from your metal mouth! “

Great surprise, now overcame all aboard the ship, human and non human alike. Obscenity was strictly prohibited in our society and this was a first for our Captain.

“Regarding Signal 10-71…. Closer…Stronger…Stronger…”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” The human’s agony filled the empty space of the hull and quickly silenced the computer’s response.  The ship’s shaking now intensified and raised in volume, fuelling the Doctor’s fears to a full boil.

“Jesus, please. God, something please help me.  I have to see her again.  I can’t die. “

Tears now made their ugly appearance into the good Doctor’s dark eyes.  The pride of humanity cradled himself there on the ever cooling chilly confines of the mighty Santa Maria floor.  His arms were no comfort to the dark thoughts running through his head.  Words like death, unknown, and end, overcame the thoughts he once owned; excitement, curious, immortal.  A new picture flooded the scientist’s extraordinary mind; a path lead toward a road he had never traveled.  He could now picture, with absolute clarity, his own tomb, and the world around it without his presence.

“Ha…Ha…Ha… But I don’t believe now is the time for humor, Doctor.” E.C. responded to the plea.

“I’m not joking, what do you mean?” The frightened Captain raised his head to ask.

“You are referring to ancient deities that we now know to be superstition and magic.  Protocol is to answer irrational statements with laughter. Your statements are illogical and filled with nonsense Doctor.  Now is the hour for logic and proper brain processing, Doctor.”

“Proper brain processing?” The Doctor knew his companion was correct.  This did little to stop the man’s mind from wandering into his own abyss.  “I’m just becoming a little fatigued, time has just been dragging along my friend.” His own lie could not return him to the moment.   The Captain had been floating along for quite some time indeed, but no amount of sleep could shake him from the fear.  He had lost control of his wheel as well as the ships’.  That mental image continued to tug his soul to return to that grave marker, once again, sending water beads down his haunted spinal cord.

“God please.  I will ne……….” His prayer turned silent. The metal eyes of his companion could not observe such fear in our mighty Captain, or at least in our hero’s mind.  Silence was met with silence, except for the increased rumbling of the Santa Maria.  Panic pierced through the Doctor’s space suit to connect the tombstone and his heart.

“We have to turn around E.C.  We need more training, better planning, and much better equipment.  Initiate reversal sequence.” His space suit could not withstand the downpour of fear and panic any longer. It had crippled him.

“Ha…Ha…HA…Doctor”

“I’m serious pal.  We can’t make it.”

“Green lights, negative on reversal sequence.  Abortion is illegal…impossible…illogical…”  The computer’s voice now changed slightly, or it would have seemed to the ears receiving the message – and why no ‘Doctor’ at the end of his friend’s last statement?  Our Captain quickly devised an explanation for this:  ‘The old metal bastard must have finally listened to one request I guess. But why does his voice seem more human than usual?’   This did not bring the comfort that, years of hoping thought it would bring our driver.

“Please old friend. Let’s just turn this thing around.  We can hop right into the Pinta and tell everybody we found nothing.  We have lost communications for many years now – they will never know.  Just do this for me, could you do that please?” He could not catch the words as they fleeted away from his frightened mouth.  That last plea seemed to escape any filtering process our hero’s mind owned.  Like a scolded child, he already knew the answer to his query.

“Regarding Signal 10-71…Negative. Green lights…All systems green lights… Routing to return denial protocol….”

The only monitor that the Captain had never used flickered on.  On the screen appeared his Colonel.

    Greetings Dr. Aldrin, I would have thought things would have gone perfectly

out there with the pride of our Fleet, but with this message it appears now,

we have hit some rocky news.  This video was recorded prior to the launching of

the Santa Maria in the event of a disaster.  Unfortunately the disaster has been you.

 In order to be watching, you must have requested an abortion of our project.

This is impossible.  Please remember sir, that you are humanity’s last hope. 

We have poured our entire batch of eggs into your basket.  Please proceed with

Pride and properly execute you orders.  Return is impossible and negates the hard

Work of our entire society. Carry on Doctor.  Colonel Conrad, signing out….

The video failed to serve its intention.  Colonel Conrad’s sight only begged at Dr. Aldrin to return home to familiarity and comfort.  He was determined to erase the markings he had made on his own grave.  The specter of death brought new emotions to our Captain’s mind, and with them, new and unexplored thoughts.  He could simply exit the Santa Maria and climb aboard the Pinta and turn around.  No one would ever have to know about his escape.  ‘I could just fly away, or until I find somewhere safe to call home – anything but continuing into this mess alone.’ The new plan had been devised.  Escape was the title, as he finally surrendered to his new crippling disease.

Without muttering a word, the Captain ran back toward his return vessel.  All that stood before him was a few meters of empty space between the two ships.  His space suit was impervious, and with this knowledge the Doctor confidently made his way to the exit of the Santa Maria.  Food was an ancient technology, now disregarded as time consuming and wasteful.  Another benefit of our hero’s suit allowed for 100% efficient waste and nutrition recycling.  Food was for pleasure seekers now.  He knew he was equipped with all the sustenance he would ever need.

               “Where do you think you are going?  Didn’t you hear the Colonel, Elvis? Return to your place at the wheel and steer us into the answer we have all worked to find.  Do this NOW!”  His old friend the Electronic Companion raised tone and inflection.  It was as serious as a robot could ever be.

“Too late, I need to get out of this hell hole.  It stinks and it’s cold.  I am finished with your orders.  I have some new orders of my own to follow, and it involves me living!”  The sound of his voice echoed throughout until disappearing into the newly opened exit door, and poured out into space.

The Doctor stepped outside of the Santa Maria for the first time since his initial entrance.  Freedom now flooded into his eyes, and his destination was just a few meters ahead.  The outstretched arms of our Captain did not let up until his body slowly floated into his new ship.  The S.S. Pinta was his return ship, and that’s what he was going to use it for.  Return to anywhere but forward was his new idea.

Behind the Doctor two holding structures released their grip of the return vessel.  The Santa Maria had let go of its unwanted baggage.

“That bastard must have initiated the release of the Pinta.  Oh well, too late, I made it over here!  Now I am done with you and the Santa!”  There stood the Captain at the entrance, just outside of his new home.  His heart now erased the thoughts of peril, as his new ship slowly floated away from the other, with him holding onto the front door.  Silence now released his ears of the relentless, violent pounding of the thrusters ahead, now growing fainter by the moment.  The Santa Maria, within seconds flew out of sight, and into the distance.

Doctor Aldrin stood outside of the door, hanging on to the handle and showered in new silence and safety.  One final scan of the space around him was sufficient and the Doctor was now ready to proceed inside, to his return vessel.

“Oh Jesus, where did I put the keys to this thing?  I have to turn it on quickly to start the fuel flow. I have to find these damn keys.”  He frantically searched his cargo pockets.  “Why do these things have so many damn pockets?” Every pocket on his suit had been thoroughly inspected.  The search did not yield a reward.  The Captain sank down onto the steps in front of his locked door.

“Oh! That’s where! You stupid, stupid old man!”  The new revelation sent his hands sharply to necklace he had worn around his neck for many years.  On his necklace, his key hung, waiting patiently.  The new discovery shot the Captain to his feet, and without a moment of hesitation he plunged the key into its female counter part.  Frozen million dollar metal doors were very heavy, and this became apparent as the Captain had to muster every bit of strength his bones and muscles could muster.  Everything the Captain had in his body was utilized to gain power that had never been needed before.  The veins above his tightly closed eyes sent every available blood cell to any muscle in need.  Pain flooded his sensory receptors as muscles slowly churned out and pumped Lactic Acid into his system. After one last push, the ice released the prisoner from its hold, and the door opened.

The inside of the Pinta revealed nothing at first.  Darkness was our hero’s only greeting.  Dr. Aldrin took two steps inside slowly as the door behind him quickly sealed.  Pitch black now echoed inside of his new home, as he failed to find any kind of lighting apparatus.  In fact he failed to find anything at all.  Three laps around the giant ship produced absolutely nothing.  It was completely empty.  No dials or buttons sat on any shelves, no video screen monitors decorated these walls; this ship was vacant in every sense.  Worst of all, no power button was there to turn on the engine, which was non-existent.  Our hero had walked into an empty shell; a very cold, hollow, dark, empty shell.  His hope now became a mirror image of the S.S. Pinta.

The Captain unfortunately, was now in for a very long and dark trip, wandering aimlessly into the cosmos.  He signaled his own foreknowledge of this by slumping down to the bare floor of the vessel.  Our Captain curled up as he had not done since his birth, and covered his receivers of the grim news with their lids.  Sleep was the only asset our mighty Captain now had to call his own.  The ‘Buzzard King’ knew that with sleep, came the possibility of dream and dreams held the escape from his now futile situation.  Dr. Aldrin accepted this invitation, by falling into a deep sleep, to the gentle rocking of his drifting prison out in space.

By now the Santa Maria had reached almost a solar systems length ahead of its old commander.  Thrusters were burning at top speed drawing closer toward the targeted beacon signal.  The only crew member aboard offered new direction from its robotic computations of the situation,

“Minus one crew member…Assessing target reach probability…Probability has risen to…99.8 percent…Proceed ahead with mission as planned…”  Fuel reacted to the order by spilling faster into the Santa Maria’s engine, firing it faster into the distance, and even further from our slumbering rocket man.

I miss the earth so much I miss my wife

It’s lonely out in space

On such a timeless flight

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

Till touch-down brings me round again to find

I’m not the man they think I am at home.

the end

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