As Dr. Baskin strapped me in, her face was twisted uncharacteristically, but I couldn’t tell what emotion it conveyed. Was she holding back tears or just concentrating on getting the tension right? When she was done she paused, which in itself was strange in the midst of the efficient, hyper-kinetic whirlwind of preparations that were underway. A smile flickered across her face. “Little monkey,” she breathed, before looking at her watch and turning away suddenly as if sucked back into the machinery of launch preparation.
I had prepared 3 years for this. Not for the launch so much, during which I had little to do other than grip my seat and feel the unbidden terror as it rose through my guts. The terror rose and expanded while everything else fell and compressed.
Eventually, I could breathe normally again. From my window I could see the edge of the earth until I rotated away and was confronted with an expanse of stars. I know my duties–I am a smart little monkey. I even understand the reasons for what I am doing, the scientific knowledge I am here to accrue for the good of mankind. And yet…
It is different now, out in space, by myself. When I was with Dr. Baskin practicing my duties I had a greater sense of purpose than I do now. This shouldn’t be. Now is when doing my duties really matters, when there is no one else here to make corrections. No hand to squeeze in congratulations, no disappointment to register if I momentarily forget the next step. Down on earth, I was a monkey. Up here, I am a machine.
I was a smart monkey, though, and now I am a smart machine. Dr. Baskin taught me that the laws of physics work the same whether you’re down on earth or hurtling towards a rendezvous with Jupiter. That’s the principle of relativity. I can close my eyes and imagine that I’m back in the lab, and often I do. I have not changed, so why do I feel so different? Why do I feel like a part of me got caught on my way out, and I’m slowly turning into a bit of unraveled yarn?
I am approaching Jupiter now. The idea is to use Jupiter’s gravity to whip me out into space faster and farther than any living thing has ever gone. Our engines are much more efficient and powerful than they used to be, but every little bit helps. I strap myself in and hold on, knowing that the terror will return. I am a brave little monkey. I am disappointed that my window is turned away from the planet, but stop to wonder again at the field of stars in front of me, a cathedral of lights that is my new home, my new comfort, and my new friend.
[Written for the Mash Stories competition. The three required words were monkey, relativity and cathedral.]