“This is Watchtower two-three-three. Please clearly state your appellation, current position, and the condition of your apparatus,” I recite fluently.
I wait and listen. Nearly twenty seconds go by before I hear a familiar voice buzz in. “Oi, Estevão! Dis es Ground Squad own-two-own. We’re at dah Feeth ‘ound Mark. Opparatus… Es, uh… goin’ fery good. Ferry good,” the man answeres with his thick Portuguese accent.
I lean back in my reclining chair and prop my feet up onto the expensive, fragile control panel. Holding down the two-way radio’s intercom button with my left hand, I respond, annoyed. “Steve. Call me Steve, not Estevão. And what do you mean by ‘Fifth Round Mark?’ You’re only to do three rotations today.”
“Eu sei, eu sei. But it’s our last call to dreell dis far! A heavy ‘ain is comin’ soon!” he bellows with his adventurous, jolly voice.
“Yeah, I can see your ‘heavy rain’ right here on my weather scanner for your region,” I snap in response with a glance at a monitor on the wall labelled 1-2-1,”but that doesn’t mean you can go and do five rounds in one day! You know H.B. will have my head if you all die from an earthquake caused by over drilling!”
“Oh, but meu amigo…”
“NO Luis. NOT YOUR FRIEND,” I correct, leaning forward now, red in the face.
“Meu squad is almost…”
“Earthquakes by over drilling...or you might catch the attention of the planet’s locals. Remember, we don’t even know if Acernis is inhabited with sentients yet… Do you want to find out?
“But Estev- But Steve! Dis es our last chance, our last call!”
“You’re pissing me off! Is a few tons of raw coal worth the risk?”
A few seconds of silence ticks by.
“Saa-ry Steve… I’ll tell meu crew to shut‘er down…”
“Yeah, you should have done that two rounds ago! I shouldn’t have to watch your butt.”
“Saa-ry Steve,” Luis apologizes, then the radio connection ends with a click.
I clench my fists. To myself, I scream, “It’s not fair! None of it is fair! I’m stuck in this freaking 150 square foot hell-hole while they get to explore an entire new world! I’m crammed into this floating space pantry and H.B. has me babysit thirty one Ground Squads while they adventure and go make history! NOTHING IS EVER FAIR!”
I start to feel claustrophobic. I grind my teeth with anger as my face blossoms with the color of boiling magma. Hopping out of my chair I charge to the miniature shuttle’s mini fridge. After grabbing a mini bottle of water and dousing my forehead with its contents, I slam my fist into the sheet-metal wall of my prison. I slouch down, curving my back and shoulders. My left hand begins to throb with pain.
Beginning to calm down, I stand up straight and gaze out of the Watchtower’s window- a window out into an endless abyss speckled with flecks of silvery light. I amble over into my chair and lean back once again. Right now, I am in orbit around the newly discovered planet, Acernis which has been found to not only have living plant life but also thousands of tons of raw coal beneath its surface. As soon as this fact was discovered, the company- Hefty Black- began to hire dozens of thousands of workers in order to study the planet, get to the planet, and explore the planet.
“I wanted to explore. That is what I signed up for, not this,” I whisper to myself.
I think of how far away from home I am, how far away from home we all are. I am alone. But, in a way, so are they. I have never thought about anyone other than myself. I never have, not during this mission, not during my life. I know that Luis always is just trying to be nice.
“I need to call him back; I need to apologize,” I mumble to myself with new found insight as I go to click the intercom. “Hey, Luis, I wan-”
Waaacraaaaash! I am abruptly cut of with a thunderclap of audio that shakes the walls of my Watchtower.
“Luis!?!? Luis!! What was that?” I am becoming ecstatic, “Are you there, Luis? Luis are you there?”
I let go of the intercom button and listen. Nothing- Nothing but the heart-stopping noise of static fills the emptiness of the Watchtower. My eyes widen and my mouth gapes open. I am frozen.
Ten seconds, thirty seconds, a minute goes by. My legs feel like pudding but my feet feel like concrete. With a feeling like my heart throbbing in my throat, I think I hear something.
I think I hear the simple click of the intercom button.
"Steve..." a familiar voice buzzes in weakly, "I... I don't... there'as a 'ock slide. It was our last call, our last chance. We're crushed. We’re gonna d..."
Then static cuts him off. My vision becomes blurry with the moisture of the oncoming tears.
"Luis... he was the only one who was ever nice to me during this journey of a lifetime..." I announce under my breath.
I think about his last words, the phrase that he mentioned twice today: last call. It is ironic. He said it was his last call for drilling during the very last call of his life.