This is the first time in nineteen months that the station and the Earth have been close enough for a real-time conversation. I adjust the camera to give the best view of my face. I will be talking to carefully selected members of the press during this transmission.
I look over at the others. Jake gives me the thumbs up sign. Marissa gives me a suggestive wink. We both know what she means.
I think of them as family now. Two years we’ve been together. Laughing, working, talking. I had not expected to find such a home away from home on the station. When mission control prepared me for isolation – just long stretches with nothing but my thoughts – I expected to be operating on my own. We make it work. Regular contact. That’s the key. That and getting used to the odd noises the hull makes.
The first part of my report is routine. Just non-specific chat with the Generals while data streams under the communication channel.
“What’s life like on board?” The most poignant question the press could have asked.
“To be honest it’s unnerving,” I say. I know I can be honest, anything the Generals don’t want to be released will be redacted anyway. “The tapping noise on the hull of the station never stops. It was Jason who first worked out that it was Morse Code. It’s the same every day – please let us in, we can save you – tapped on our hull, non-stop. If not for the others that alone might have driven me mad.”
There is silence on the other end. The Generals are giving each other worried looks.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “Marissa soon worked out it was a loose camera. The pattern’s just a fluke.”
I glance over to the others. They grin at me. Thumbs up. I am doing well.
“Major Adel, this is a solo mission. Who are you talking about?” Asks a General.
There’s obviously been some sort of colossal cock-up. What kind of amateur hour operation are they running back there?
I look at the others, grins growing. The tapping seems more urgent, insistent almost, but the ever-increasing grins on the faces of the others are disquieting now. Surely a smile cannot be so wide or show that many teeth?
The transmission cuts out.
I look to the others for some technical support. I thought that when people say “grinning ear to ear” it was just a saying.
I cannot suppress a shudder when the tapping stops.