By Lou Blodgett
Toward the end of my assignment, there was a lot of talk about workers who had ‘opted out’ involuntarily. There were rumors of people being tazed or zapped, or who had simply disappeared. Meetings toward the end of the week were a little thin.
When I left the apartment for the last time, I told Winthrop that he was my favorite android. He said that he’d pass that along.
Talk centered on who of the next few veteran classes would return. Camillia pretty much asked me if I would come back. I told her, in the bustle of a complex concerned with rotation, that, as tired as I was, I couldn’t decide.
“Your class was good for this phase,” she said.
“What phase is that?”
“Well, we have plans. Valians aren’t evil!”
“I’m not saying you’re evil.”
“Well, that’s usually where it goes when I mention phases. But this worked with the people who weren’t as spoiled.”
“You’re not spoiled.”
“I’m moderately spoiled.”
“I can’t say whether I would come back. You were right, telling me when I started that it would be rough. Right now, I feel like a tin can that they put in a vacuum. ‘Crunch!’ I can’t wait to get back to normal.”
“About ten-percent have come back for another tour. But it’s not for everybody.”
“But there are so many people on Earth!”
She wrinkled her brow.
She waved the question off a bit, but not disparagingly.
“I’ll just say it,” I said. “But, I may be burning bridges…”
She wrinkled her brow again.
“…It’s a metaphor.”
“Okay,” she said. “Because we don’t burn bridges on Vale. It’s counterproductive.”
“There are billions of people on Earth who would stay here longer than six weeks, and I don’t see them here.”
“A lot of them would clean a gutter simply because it needed cleaning. I think you have the wrong sample of Terrans.”
She nodded lightly. Looked down, then up.
“I know that was a question, but I can’t answer it. Not because it’s a bad question, or that it isn’t important. I just don’t have the credentials, authority or knowledge.”
I was much more lucid on the trip back to Earth. One thing is that I knew where I was going. And, I’d been through some very disconcerting events recently. That can actually help you get a handle on small things. I sat back in the red, puffy, form-fitting chair, and the pod- the entire cabin of the plane filled with something else. I breathed it. There were no in-flight meals, since the hurl factor was in play. Also, it rarely being 1 atmosphere, pressure changes served as an appetite-suppressor. The times that I accidentally swallowed the encasing mixture was eating enough. So, during the trip, one is riveted in place like on a roller coaster, and at the mercy of the Valian video playlist. Call it a soft ‘Ludovico Method’. On the screen before me the farm report played, but they weren’t going to put me to sleep that easily. The service android made his rounds along the pods, and I believe he shook his handle at me. This was while Earth Odyssey with Dylan Dreyer was on. So, I was paying close attention, but her voice nearly lulled me to sleep. After that, they played an episode of “Highway to Heaven”. I came out the other side an hour later awake, triumphant, and, of course, a better person. Then I laughed when a cheesy card came up on the screen after that, along with an instrumental version of “Stranger In Paradise”. The card read: “Our Feature Presentation”. Then- “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.” I enjoyed the show, but, at one point, the service android came into my pod and said:
“Adjusting to space travel is actually contra-indicated.”
Then, he was gone. Travel had its effect. But, I fought to remain conscious. Through a half-hour proto-infomercial soliciting investment in Arkansas Diamond mines, and a couple of episodes of ‘Speed Racer’. Call me tenacious. I felt the spin the pod makes when deceleration starts. Everything stayed in place, with the screen before me. It was like I was Speed Racer himself, actually.
Then, with a fanfare and point-of-view sparks glancing off the windshield of a spaceship, 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century' came up. That kind of jibed with the pain-in-the-back-of-the-head-from-lack-of-sleep-as-the-world-goes-on feeling I had, but, then I got hung up on the little robot who was the one-thing chorus in the show.
Who would go: “Beep beep beep. Whatta mess,” or something similar. Of course, voiced by the famous Mel Brooks.
Flight was having an effect on me. I was semi-delirious.
Mel Brooks? Not Mel Brooks.
“Beep beep beep…”
Millions of miles from home, inky darkness surrounding me, and I got hung up on who did the voice of that robot.
“Ungh!” I cried.
Perhaps I should have slept through everything and not caused so much trouble. I continued to burble exasperation at the screen. Frankly, I was causing a lot of commotion over a small thing. The service android drug himself along the horizontal ladder down the hallway, scrabbled into my pod, and told me as much.
“You’re waking people up! Please, be considerate.”
I apologized, and question-hummed sheepishly if Mel Brooks did the voice of the robot. The android told me that he didn’t know. What he did know was that I was disturbing the peace.
He knew who did the voice.
“My android would know!”
“Your android told us you were easy. But now you’re not cooperating,” the stick-vac told me. “Besides,” he said, pointing to the screen with his umbrella-ribbed arm, “we androids resent such depictions.”
I tried to raise my arm to point at him, but for the force. I tugged my arms together and, holding one with the other, and was able to point at him and say, “You know!”
“On Vale, you point like that when someone has a bloody nose. Or something.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“You have to sleep,” he told me. “We’re past Neptune, but we still have hours to go. This isn’t a roller-coaster, you know. Would you like a Xanax?”
I said “No, thank you. There’ll be a lot more peace if you tell me whether the robot’s voice is Mel Brooks!”
“Okay, it’s not Mel Brooks, it’s Mel Blanc. Satisfied? You should be asleep by now! Here comes Mister Xanax!”
He popped one onto my tongue without my seeing it coming. It went down like a jelly bean. He told me to swallow air to chase the pill, which I did, but not without a cry defending my rights.
“That doesn’t really apply until we’re inside moon orbit,” the android said, on wry.
I thanked him for telling me that it wasn’t Mel Brooks, but Mel Blanc, but that he could have told me sooner.
“Listen,” he said, “If Mel Brooks was in any way involved in that show, it would be better.”
“Yeah. Sorry.” I felt the multiplication effect of long-distance travel, and the pill he had lobbed down my gullet.
“From what Winthrop told us, I thought you’d be the least trouble of the five…”
I sheepishly went- “Heh.”
“Now, get some sleep, Teddy Bear. ‘The Waltons’ is on next, and you don’t wanna be awake for that...”
The pod spun again, and I awoke, looking for the screen. It was beside me on the wall. Then my chair moved toward the door.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!”
That was Cheetah Charlie in the pod next to mine. But others, including myself were more shocked.
“What’s going on here!” I cried. Others were saying similar things. The wall of the ship, across the aisle, turned black. More commotion. Was it time for the buzz saw? We were strapped in like a roller coaster.
Then, amongst stars, a disc slid into view. The Moon.
That was the one thing that defies description. Not only the view, but our reaction to it. Imagine the starters left on the court after winning the tough last game of a basketball tournament. I was hoping whoever was flying the thing was wearing earplugs. During my assignment, the upcoming moon tour had faded in importance. But, we all, as we screamed joyous nonsense, needed this type of closure. It had been a very strange, fairly grueling six weeks. Then came the moon. I guess the moon has always had great timing.
The edges nearly overlapped the wall, then, the moon stopped growing and we curved around it. I clicked my tongue a bit, understanding at that point that I was the one in the middle. I was the one whose view was obscured by the wing. But only by, like, five percent. Professions of love were shouted between different pods. Our service android crawled past and looked in, I’m sure, just to make sure that I was awake. The sweetie. I loved him and I told him so. As Earth came into view, over the gasps and shouts, I think I heard him say: “Beep beep beep. Wel-come home, Ted-dy Bear.”
We slid behind the moon, and the ship swung closer, showing the bright side as it appeared again from starboard. What we were in, of course, wasn’t just a plane. We were closer now, and ‘oohed’ and ‘aaahed’. Then, we could see the Earth swing back into view, getting larger and larger, over the course of a few hours. So, it hadn't been an orbit of the moon, technically speaking. But, I won’t sue.
Our chairs slid back, and space travel themed music videos played on the screens beside our doors as the gibbous Earth became larger and larger. Positive videos of space travel. Major Tom wasn’t brought up. So, for our benefit, the ship flew sideways for 200,000 miles. Then, finally, when the Earth filled the wall, it became beige again, to some moans. The Valians wouldn’t show us what they felt we couldn’t handle or shouldn’t know, whichever it was.
Next thing I knew, we five were laughing as we tripped off the jet. A few of us had already checked their accounts and found more slots filled to the left of the decimal. We chuckled and chattered as we descended, hugging our bright red, form-fitting pads. The Valians let us keep them. They told us that we could use them to lie on the ground and look at the clouds.
I’ve already told you about some of the theories we had about why we were on Vale. Anywhere from a prelude to invasion to an Earth utopia. Through design, I was never exposed to details of Valian technology. After six weeks, I only know, perhaps, a little more about their intentions. Our seemingly new relationship with the Valians could be the best thing for humanity, or it could be the end of us. Or somewhere in between. I myself was on their planet for six weeks, and I still can’t figure it out. When I tell people about my experience, they can’t either. But, no one fully believes me anyway. They think that I was actually in jail, or something.