[Short Story Science Fiction for Children: Maggie – Return to The Earth]
Maggie pressed her small round face against the thick oval window, flattening her tiny nose on the cool glass of the spacecraft, and cried out with joy.
She could see a tiny blue dot, lying suspended in the blackness of the space far away.
She knew it was Earth. Her home.
She couldn’t believe she was almost there.
She rubbed the tears out of her eyes with the back of her hand and went to the next chamber of the spacecraft Vanilla (named after her favorite ice cream flavor), flying through a round pneumatic door.
Though this chamber was named as the control room, there was hardly anything to control or operate in the spacecraft. Vanilla was fully automatic. She picked up the radio, which had been dead for a long time. Now that she was so near Earth, she was hoping she would hear the familiar voice of John crackling out of the radio receiver.
“Hello Maggie. Congratulation on your success in the incredible interstellar voyage you have taken. You have made us proud today”
But no such voice came out from the radio. It has been dead for a long time. Maggie wasn’t sure how long. She impatiently flicked the radio switches several times before giving up.
Maggie had lost the track of time a long ago and never bothered to check it in the computer, which flashed the time and the number of days like a stopwatch counting time, for the fear of finding an incredibly high figure on the screen.
Most of the time she slept; because that was what she was told to do. She would strap herself in her bed so that she didn’t float away, and then inject the blood-red liquid in her arm and fall asleep for an uncertainly long period of time.
Every time she woke up, she went to the window only to see the vast enveloping blankness of the space, dotted with tiny white lights of distant stars. They didn’t twinkle like they did in the Earth.
The dose of the medicine she took after lying down was very important. The scientists had told her that, one month prior to her departure.
The medicine would keep her young and alive. Without that, she would just age up and die, or even starve to death. With that, she would remain 13 for a very long time. Maggie needed to give the shots within fifteen minutes after waking up every time.
The medicine bottles were kept in a small refrigerator in the chamber where she slept. There were perhaps a hundred of them when she had left the Earth.
Now, there was only one tiny red bottle left.
There were several things the little girl did not know.
Project Maggie was a Top Secret. A classified project which only a team of twelve scientists and an anonymous funder was a part.
Maggie was more or less, a laboratory specimen created in their lab from a fertilized egg. It was something that the word had only seen in sci-fi movies.
Maggie spent thirteen years of her life locked up in the lab before she was sent away to outer space to carry out their project. In the thirteen years she spent in their underground top-secret laboratory, they never took her out to show her the world. Not once. They only showed her pictures and videos of the Earth and the world outside. In her free time, when she wasn’t being trained, they allowed her to watch TV. Of course, the channels were censored and filtered so she saw only what they wanted her to see and therefore she didn’t raise any questions regarding her parents or other questions of the same ilk.
They told her she had to go on a small journey and when she came back, they would take her to all the places she had seen on TV.
Maggie was obedient. She loved them- especially John-and trusted them and did whatever they told her to do.
By the age of thirteen she was ready to execute their project.
One year later, she boarded the spacecraft Vanilla alone. To their surprise, the scientists found the girl to be strong and confident instead of being apprehensive.
They were happy for that. Thirteen years of training, thirteen years of lies they had told her were paying off. On the other hand, the poor girl only knew she was going on a short journey and when she comes back, she could go to all the beautiful places on the Earth that she had only seen on TV.
When the spacecraft finally took off successfully and left the Earth on one cold night, the scientists cheered with joy and celebrated. They knew they had done something unique and when the world comes to know, they would become celebrities. Then the money would flow.
One of the twelve scientists who was a part of the group was named John. John cried the night Maggie left. He did not cry out with joy at their accomplishment neither did he celebrate with his mates.
John loved Maggie like his own daughter. The others just saw her as a laboratory specimen.
John felt he had selfishly betrayed the little girl. He had told her she would be back in days. He later wished he hadn’t. He knew, when she comes back they will not be here. They would long be dead.
It was a long voyage.
The creation of the RL35 was a miracle. It was a priceless boon to the project, created by two of the twelve scientists. It was what fueled the idea of the project in the first place.
Countless tests proved that the medicine, which was to be injected in blood periodically, increased the lifespan of a human by severely slowing down his metabolism. The catch was that it worked only in zero gravity.
This made the scientists think of far and long space travels, beginning with Project Maggie.
Maggie had spent the first day aboard the starship speaking on radio with the only people she knew.
The scientist whom she called John asked her through the radio, his voice interrupted only by the statics ‘my Maggie how do you feel?’
‘lonely’ she was already sobbing ‘I feel so lonely John.’
John tried to console her. He told her to be strong like she always was. It was only a matter of few days before she comes back.
Then another scientist spoke with her. His name was Milton. ‘what do you see outside sugar?’
‘I can’t see from here. But a little while ago I saw the Earth. I was going farther away from it’
‘Soon. Very soon you will be here with us again’
The conversation went on.
When it was time, John spoke to her once again. They exchanged goodbyes. John reminded her to take her medicine like a good girl at the right time. He told her he loved her. She said she loved him too.
Five minutes later, she took her medicine, after strapping herself to her bed because she needed to lie down while taking it. Then she injected the first bottle of the liquid in her arm. Within a few seconds, she fell asleep. Actually, she slipped into a temporary coma.
When she woke up after a long time, she found the radio irresponsive.
She had never heard from them again.
The Earth, a big blue ball floating in the emptiness, was looking bigger, now that she was getting closer.
Maggie spent the fifteen minutes she got after waking up this time, near the round glass window, watching her home planet from which she had been away for a very long time. Her heart raced just by looking at it. She felt like screaming at the top of her voice.
Once she gets there, she thought, she and John would go out together to visit many places she always wanted to go after seeing them on TV. John had promised her to take her to amusement parks. They would go shopping together…
Her head was full of thoughts and ideas that she would do with John, Milton and others.
When she lands, she thought, she would find them waiting for her. She would walk out of the spacecraft and run into John’s outstretched hands.
She started to sob. She was alone here. There was nobody to console her or wipe away her tears. After some time she composed herself by remembering John’s words to be strong and a good girl.
She went to the refrigerator and took the last bottle of RL35 and a sealed syringe. Pushing against the wall, she floated to her bed and pulled on the straps.
It has been a real long time, she thought. They had told her it would only be for few days but…
She thought of checking the computer in the control room to see the number of days she has been in the spacecraft.
No. She told herself. She did not want to see it, now that she was almost home. What’s the use of disappointing herself when it was time to be happy.
It was also time for her to take the last dose of medicine, immediately after which she would fall asleep.
She hoped she would wake up in the Earth and see John first.
The humanoid machines stood at the seashore, staring up at the clear blue sky. There were six of them in total, standing with their thin metal arms dangling by their sides; their smooth oval heads tilted back; their eyes, round and sleek like lenses were staring up at the white streak in the sky.
It looked like a meteorite coming down with high velocity, trailing a fanning jet of white smoke behind it.
The machines stood there watching as the thing descended from the sky and hit the ocean’s surface sending long white walls of displaced water around it.
The machines prudently stepped back from the shore, as the waves got larger within few minutes due to the impact. The water decayed their cover. Their once glossy white coat over their metal body had eroded away to a rough reddish brown coat from which flecks of oxidized metal kept falling frequently.
They could see something large, mostly white in colour and elliptical in shape floating in the ocean, bobbing up and down in the water body. Slowly the waves were pushing it shoreward.
They waited. Several more lookalike humanoid machines came down to the shore and joined the group of watchers.
“Is it them again?” one of the newcomers asked in a resonating tone. It sounded like a voice coming from one end of a hollow metal pipe.
“Who?” asked another robot in the group in the same metallic voice.
“You know, the humans. It could be them coming back,” the first robot said. Its eyes were fixed on the floating spacecraft in the ocean.
“They created us and left this world to find a new good home, something they haven’t destroyed with their own hands. Why would they be coming back? Besides I don’t see any other ships”
“The spacecraft is so small. What if there are humans in it?” a third robot asked.
“We will be a good friend to them” the second robot answered. Then everybody fell silent.
In the evening when the sun was a soft glowing red ball at the horizon, the ocean washed the spacecraft in which Maggie lay sleeping to the shore.