Silentium tapped her foot nervously on the floor of the spaceship.
I hate this job. I hate this job. I hate this job.
She almost said these words aloud, but quickly caught herself—The Government’s many security cameras would catch every word she said against any of The Government’s “flawlessly” organized systems, including its job-selecting algorithm. Silentium knew perfectly well that if one word came out opposing The Government’s opinions, she would risk spending her next 20 birthdays behind bars.
Of course, there was no way for her to change her job as an astronaut, anyway; the algorithm was what The Government thought would be best for the people. The Government had also needed a way to feed the ever-growing consumerism culture of the world. That is where Silentium, the commander of Flight 23.26, came into the picture. Her mission: to find natural resources on the newly discovered planet, Kitog.
Silentium threw her hands up in frustration and then tried to appear as if she were just stretching. She felt trapped inside her body and her job, even though she was traveling through the largest and most complex setting in the universe: outer space. Right now, members of The Government were maneuvering her spaceship directly from their seats in a Mission Control Center on Earth, just as Silentium’s son, Astrid, enjoyed playing virtual reality games. The Government was in control of her every move.
2.9163 million miles away, 2.9154 million miles away, 2.914…
Almost there, Silentium thought. She pried her eyes away from the electronic map projected on the 11-inch screen in front of her.
Silentium could not stand the waiting and helplessness for what felt to her as an extended period of time, but, in reality, was 20 minutes since she had last sat down. Finally, she unbuckled her seatbelts and floated over to where all the Government-designated food, water, and supplies from Earth were kept. She opened the boxes to make sure every single can was there, and secured, for the 15th time during her shift this morning. Then, she instinctively checked her pressurized gloves, boots, and helmet, and tightened, loosened and tightened them again. She continued this routine throughout all of the other rooms. She had repeated this countless times throughout the week since she took off. Some people might have found this boring, but Silentium needed to have control over everything—all had to be well and in order. This mindset also distracted her from the constant fear that something on her journey would go wrong, which stemmed from the lack of her control.
What if The Government Mission Control workers forget about me? What if they make me crash? What if something horrible happens to my family while I am up here and I won’t be able to protect Astrid? What if all the supplies run out and I die, or worse, end up floating through the endless realm of space for all eternity and get sucked into a black hole? What if…?
Even though she had calculated, checked, and rechecked the number of supplies she would need, even after The Government had done so, too, Silentium still worried about not having enough. And, even though Planet Kitog was clearly shown on the map, a current distance of 0.32 million miles away from the spaceship, she was still concerned about traveling on the right path. Silentium sat back down in her seat at the front of the spaceship.
Suddenly, a voice that seemed to come from inside the spaceship’s walls, blared: “Flight/Mission 23.26 is about to land. All crew and commanders must report to their seats. Repeat: Flight/Mission 23.26 is about…” Silentium jumped, startled—she knew that The Government had designed this new, innovative voice-alerting system, but she had never been fond of its surprising nature.
Silentium came into contact with the Government members at Mission Control and informed them of the angle and coordinates of the landing. The shuttle gave a sudden lurch as it descended. The ship bumped and jostled across the uneven ground as it slowly skidded to a stop. Silentium and her crew floated outside, although Silentium stayed back to check that her tether was secured roughly 10 more times. Silentium looked down. Beneath her boots was an orange-red rocky surface accentuated by the light that seemed to originate from one of Kitog’s moons. Then, Silentium looked around and above her and was speechless.
Giant rock formations loomed over her, bigger than any mountain Silentium had ever seen. They watched her, silently tracking her every move. Silentium realized she was inside a crater as large as a school, and the rocks she had observed were merely pebbles in comparison. Silentium froze. She wanted to scream, but the darkness engulfed her, clenched its hands around her throat. Silentium did not like this planet one bit.
Finally, she found her voice. It was unrecognizable—a small, squeaky utterance.
“L-Let’s get back to the sh-ship and, uh, take a r-rest…” She coughed. “We’ll need it for tomorrow.” She immediately regretted that statement—she did not want to think about tomorrow.
Silentium wished she could be back home with her family. Because many times her job at the Astronaut Training Center kept her until late hours, even at home she cherished the limited moments she spent with her husband and her son.
One night, just a few days before leaving on her mission, she came home particularly late, as Astrid was already in his bed, ready to go to sleep. Silentium had given her husband a kiss goodnight and then slowly stepped into Astrid’s room. The light was turned off and glow-in-the-dark constellations and planets illuminated the ceiling. Since he was very young, Astrid had been captivated by outer space and Silentium had tried to tell him all she had learned, although she preferred exploring space from the ground.
Astrid lay on his bed, observing the stars, seemingly deep in thought. Silentium smiled as she entered the room and sat down softly next to Astrid.
“What are you thinking about?” she had asked.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if another world existed with people like us, except different? And we could visit them and see how their houses and schools looked like?” he had answered.
“Now, you know you shouldn’t be talking like that…” Silentium carefully eyed The Government sound tracker in the corner of the room. “I’m just glad I have you in this world.” She gave him a hug. Astrid lay back down and turned towards her on his side.
“But, maybe in that world, parents wouldn’t have to go on missions and could stay with their children all the time,” he whispered. Silentium closed her eyes and was silent for a moment.
“Astrid, you know I would wish nothing more than that, but I have no choice. And, you will be with Dad.”
“I know; I’m sorry.”
Silentium changed the subject. “Why don’t you tell me about your day at school?”
In a few minutes, Astrid had closed his dark green eyes, and the only sound was his deep breathing. Silentium looked down at his serene face and softly stroked his short, wavy light brown hair. She wanted to stay next to him forever and not have to think about anything else. Just holding him close would be enough, as the stars gazed at them from above.
Now, Silentium was forced to focus on her mission.
Throughout the next few days, as Silentium and her crew continued to search carefully through Kitog for any resources for The Government, they discovered that the planet was a kaleidoscope, littered with rocks of colors ranging from the basics of a rainbow to all the overlapping shades in between. But, no amount of beauty could produce The Government’s objectives—the planet was sapped of all water and life; the only comfort was the endless supply of worthless, multicolored rocks.
Silentium was furious that The Government had sent her on a pointless mission fueled by its greed and the infinite desires of the materialistic society it had created. What was even worse was that she knew she had been a part of this society and had continually allowed herself to fall into The Government’s clutches by keeping within its overpowering restraints. She had even had to limit her increasingly inquisitive son from asking so many questions about the society in which they lived because it could endanger her family. She could not go back to the horrible world she called “home,” where she had no control, but neither could she stay in the planet that offered her nothing.
When she was younger, Silentium had once read in a textbook about life when such thing as a “democracy” existed and the world was split up into countries each with their own Governments. It was a place where people chose their own jobs, their own destinies. She had remembered the word “democracy,” because she had had to look it up; no one would answer when she, as intrigued as her son was now, asked the definition. Since then, she noticed that no one discussed this “rebellious, disgraceful” topic. People seemed to live by the phrase, “The Government will solve everything.”
Silentium did not want to anymore. She could not let The Government feel that she thought its methods were perfectly fine. No one had ever disagreed with or resisted against The Government, but change requires an inspiration. She would be the person to lead the fight; even if she would not be present to do so, her memory would light the spark of rebellion.
Silentium realized what she needed to do, not only for herself, but for the others of future generations. For her people, her son—
“Astrid.” She let out a strangled breath as she whispered the word. She would never see him again.
She felt as if hot, fiery coals were piercing her heart and tearing it into millions of pieces. But, deep down, she knew she had no choice.
* * *
The Government at Mission Control contacted Silentium and her crew on the day of return. Silentium gave the angle, direction, and coordinates to their point of landing.
“Are you sure?” one Mission Control member checked.
“Yes,” she answered confidently, as inside, the word sucked out her soul.
The ship rose a few hundred feet and suddenly took a sharp turn downward. An ear-splitting shriek filled the room. The spaceship collided with the solid rock ground and exploded.
Sophie Malki, Age 13, Grade 8, The Anderson School, Gold Key