The Angry Astronaut by Kevin Norris
She was really, really angry about this.
Even taking the long view, and the possibilities that it represented, it still made her absolutely livid that she had to be an astronaut.
An astronaut! What the fuck.
She had made her case, had given an impassioned--bordering on the obscene at times--speech to the Commission as to why she had neither the disposition nor, indeed, the desire to have anything whatsoever to do with going to outer space. The Commission listened to her, their dour, doughy faces inscrutable in the haze of cigarette smoke that permeated the room. After less than a quarter hour of deliberation they called her back into the room and said that she would be an astronaut whether she liked it or not.
Then the official Secretary of the Forms took a (rather unnecessarily large and dramatic, she thought at the time) rubber stamp and hammered it down on her Request for Change of Vocation with a significant (and again, overly dramatic) thud.
So she was an astronaut. A goddamned astronaut. Ever since she was a little girl she had known that she didn't want to be an astronaut. She would look up at the stars that spun lazily over her parents' homestead, and think: "I really hate those things." When the images of the first man walking on the moon were broadcast she had farted in protest and her mother shooed her from the room. She liked to play astronaut murderer with her friends, which she had lots of, as she was a very nice person when it came to things not space-related. She simply despised astronauts.
And now she was going to be one.
Whenever she thought of it her brain would just pulsate read and she would go into a paroxysm of frustrated rage and the only sound she could make was something that sounded like "RRRRRRRRAAAAAAGGGGH." It was seriously undermining her life.
Her friends told her that she really needed to calm down. Take the long view. It wasn't so bad, after all. A lot of people started as astronauts and went on to do really well. Yes, of course, she would say. And she would sit quietly for a moment and sip her drink.
AN ASTRONAUT! RRRRRRRRAAAAAAGGGGH.
Her friends stopped inviting her over. She began to feel lonely as well as angry. This had something of a mellowing effect on her, but ultimately she sunk into a depression that only grew worse when she began to receive pamphlets under her door that shouted at her in full color all-capitals: SO YOU'RE GOING TO BE AN ASTRONAUT! ... SPACE: IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU? (IT IS.) and WHAT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO COME BACK (WINK WINK).
This last sent her into such a deep spiral of misery that she went into a closet and sat weeping in the dark for almost two days. It was only hunger that eventually made her emerge, blinking with reddened eyes, back into her apartment, her mouth stained brown by the bottle of shoe polish she had drunk in a rather pathetic attempt to kill herself.
Stuck under her door was a colorful pamphlet that said, jauntily: ASTRONAUT TRAINING STARTS IN THREE WEEKS! WILL YOU BE THERE? (YES.)
Three weeks later she stomped angrily from a transport and, after giving the driver (who would wonder despondently all day what he had done to deserve it) a very rude finger gesture, gazed with unutterable rage at the world renowned Astronaut Training Facility and Re-Education Center, located just outside that city that everyone always complained all the brown people got through from.
She signed herself in, breaking the pen in the process and needing to ask for another form because the one she was filling out had blobs of ink all over it. She was shown, by a smiling man in a white jumpsuit, to her quarters, which were smallish, austere, but really rather nice.
She threw her duffel bag at the wall, denting it (The wall, not the bag, though a small ceramic kitten she brought to lift her spirits was split in half). She sighed angrily and sat on the bed. Then she stood up and paced the room. Most of the afternoon was spent in some combination of these two activities.
The Angry Astronaut, as she was to become known (rather obviously but there wasn't really a lot of work put into the name as it really sort of presented itself as it was) was, in fact, rather cut out to be an astronaut. She hated this, of course. She scoffed at professors, snarled at trainers, and once savagely bit a vacationer who was on a tour of the facility. This last was because the tourist had said how natural she looked in her space-suit. The fallout was fairly severe but did not, to her even more increased distress, get her removed from the program.
Her outbursts were violent and routine. Other aspiring astronauts took extra serving trays in the cafeteria at certain times of the day when they knew she was going to begin howling and throwing food in random directions. She was not allowed pencils (due to the sharpness, woodiness, and general lethality), and was forced to take her shaky, nigh unintelligible notes with felt-tip marker.
Mostly this was ignored (or at least not spoken of). But one man, an older professor who had seen a lot of young astronauts come through the program and leave better people--or at least people better at being flung into outer space--reached out his hand in respect, tutelage, and affection to her. He was later found in a hallway, sitting on the floor with a black eye and sobbing quietly to himself.
Everyone feared her, but were also equally impressed by her, and it was generally the opinion of those who were asked that they should remove her from the planet as soon as was feasible.
So she was chosen for all sorts of difficult and dangerous training missions to speed up the process. They tossed her from airplanes, dipped her in freezing water, spun her in circles at incredible speeds. Each and every test seemed to have absolutely no effect on her, either mentally or physically, at all.
"I hate all of you," she would say to the poor soul whose task was to fetch her from a drop zone, fish her from the water, or take her from the centripetal force vehicle.
And she meant it.
For months this went on. The Angry Astronaut was put through indescribable difficulty. Pokes, prods, jabs, pills, diets, suppositories, duress, sleep deprivation, drugged sleep encouragement, sensory inducement, sensory deprivation, observation, embarrassment, brainwashing, braindrying, brainfolding. Essentially she was pushed to the edge of reasonable existence and then thrown off.
At which point, much to the surprise of not that many, she stood there past the edge. Glaring.
A small ceremony was given. She received an award and medal for "Greatest Astronaut Ever" and she promptly threw her plaque and medal at the attendees of which there were very few but who, anticipating this, had brought cafeteria trays. She stomped off as the Astronaut Marching Band played Pomp and Circumstances.
(An interesting footnote: The tuba player in the Astronaut Marching Band was actually the one and only person to have ever made any tiny bit of significant headway emotionally with the Angry Astronaut. He was small and shy and had mistaken her for someone else when he tapped her on the shoulder in the hallway one afternoon. She spun on him, and he smiled, thinking she was this other person and not the Angry Astronaut, and had continued smiling for full on five seconds before he realized. Her eyes shone with tears, and her mouth twitched for an instant with what might have been a positive emotion. But then the world reasserted itself and she was angry again. She grabbed his hand, took him to her room, and fucked him. It was an odd turn of events, and not something he liked to think about too much. But he did manage an especially heartfelt "oom-pa-pa" at her parting. He thought he might have liked her under other circumstances.)
So despite her best efforts, she was an astronaut. And the next step, of course, was to get her into space.
Launch day was difficult for everyone.
Obviously, the Angry Astronaut didn't have a particularly good attitude about the whole thing. She woke up, threw a glass of orange juice, and gained absolutely no satisfaction from either watching it shatter or seeing the liquid crawl its way down the wall.
Shit shit shit.
This was the day.
This woman, this angry, resentful, hating, spastic, occasionally violent woman had to do the one thing that she never wanted to do ever. Not even slightly.
The final frontier.
She kept trying to put a brave face on it and yet she couldn't.
Her entire body was shuddering with rage when this new idea suddenly flashed across her mind and things went from clear to mushy.
The idea went like this: Why?
Why was she so angry? What was it about the opportunity for space travel that enraged her so much?
She lay in her bed and listened to the birds chirp happily outside. Her face was set in what was possibly the most stony position imaginable. Faces carved from mountains might have been jealous of her stoniness. But inside her head was doing some serious thinking.
Today was the day. She had fought against it, every step of the way:
Are you going to be an astronaut? No, thank you.
Astronaut, right? NO, not. Excuse me.
Here are your astronaut papers. GIVE THEM TO SOMEONE ELSE.
Let's get up there and explore space! FUCK YOU.
Maybe space would be all right. Maybe she would discover some kind of... she couldn't come up with anything beyond: antibiotic, zero-g musical note, or...
DAMMIT. There was really no point to this.
She lay in bed, and she tried. With every fiber of her being she tried. She wanted so badly to think that her sacrifice, her complete dissolution as a person was for some greater purpose.
But it wasn't. She hated it.
She hated it, and there was nothing worth not hating.
Then a technician came in and she punched him in the groin.
His name was Larry, and he had been warned so he wore a cup. But he hadn't actually believed that the slight, rather attractive woman in the bed would immediate take a shot at his genitals upon meeting him.
Larry was glad she was going into space, frankly.
10... 9... 8...
And off it went.
Actually, a lot of the major media was a bit taken off guard. They nearly missed the launch itself reporting how hard the astronaut had fought before finally getting strapped into the rocket.
They were still showing visuals of technicians with minor lacerations (she had somehow finally gotten hold of a pencil) when the go ahead was given to just launch the goddamned thing. Somewhere between 8 and 7 is where it happened and mission control received a stream of violently obscene invectives over its radio channels. Perhaps coincidentally, a small control panel chose that moment to suicide itself with a small pop and a wisp of smoke.
But at least the rocket was off the ground and heading away.
And at least the Angry Astronaut was on it.
The building pressure on her face and body wasn't a problem at all. She had experienced worse at the Training Center and had gotten through it. The crushing feeling within herself, the one that left her feeling hollow and destroyed, that was difficult to deal with.
The noise was terrible, but again, nothing she couldn't handle. The screaming in her mind, that she would say anything, do anything, be anything so as not to have to continue on this rocket clawing its way through the atmosphere toward the infinite reaches of space, was so loud as to be deafening.
The fear of the unknown was unmatched by the fear of the known and despised.
Tears of frustration streamed down the sides of her face as the rocket howled relentlessly towards its goal. Her teeth were clamped so tightly that her jaw ached. Her breathing came in uneven rasps.
And then it happened.
Suddenly, the blue of the sky was replaced with the inky blackness of something else, something so large and impossible that it left the mind reeling from it. The vastness of it asserted itself, and she saw, finally saw what it was that the poets and philosophers and priests all were talking about.
Stars were no longer pinpricks of light, but huge and vital, swelling organs of energy, untouchable but solid, ephemeral but with a strength to reign in chunks of rock and metal. And their planets, each one a unique being unto itself, spinning among trillions and yet alone in the vast loneliness. Comets following paths shaped by gravity and chance, parabolas of a distance that leaves the realm of comprehension. Quasars and nebulae and asteroids and all of it in front of her, behind her, above and below. Directions make no sense in space, every direction is up.
She saw all this in an instant, and her tears stopped, her jaw unclenched. She might have said that she was given a glimpse into the mind of God, if she thought there was such a thing.
It was a simple mistake, and the technicians responsible were duly reprimanded. But ultimately in the pursuit of knowledge there are casualties, and as the Lead Commissioner said when asked for a quote: "We all do our duty to the best of our ability. We all know the risks, we all take the chance. She did her duty."
It was a simple mistake. One small coupling that failed for half an instant to un-couple when it was supposed to. It was enough, however, to send the craft that carried the Angry Astronaut, as it detached from the rocket, on a slight deviation that meant she would never be able to return to the planet that was so, relatively speaking, close.
They erected a statue in her honor. It was surprisingly difficult to finish, as several artists tried and failed to create a convincing likeness of what she might have looked like had she smiled. But eventually someone got it close enough and the statue was unveiled and there was a small ceremony. People clapped rather unwillingly, and as it started to rain most everyone went back into the facility for something hot to drink.
Most everyone. But not every single one. There was one figure, a small, shy figure who approached the statue and put a single flower on its base. Then he too went inside, as his tuba was not going to practice itself.
The flower sat just above a small plaque, which held the last words anyone ever heard from the Angry Astronaut. It came a long time after anyone thought any communications from her craft were possible. It was extremely faint, and almost lost in the crackle of interference. The message was recorded, cleaned up as much as technology would allow, and listened to over and over again by people whose job it was to listen to things very closely. After much discussion, it was decided by committee to put the Angry Astronaut's final words exactly as they were spoken on the plaque, which read:
THIS DOESN'T COMPLETELY FUCKING SUCK
© Kevin Norris, 2015
Kevin Norris is like most other people who are currently living in Los Angeles in that he isn’t actually from Los Angeles, but just sort of ended up there. He works a day job as a graphic designer and video editor and writes when it isn’t the daytime. His first novella, a darkly funny little number called “The Last New Year”, was finally self-published out of exasperation but is really kind of a fun read you can find on Amazon, and in the meantime he continues to plug away at writing stories that make you laugh and think, but not necessarily in that order. He lives in a 1920s style bungalow with two cats, two turtles, three goldfish, an on-again, off-again ant infestation and a pretty girl.
The Angry Astronaut was read by Jenny Williamson with music by Caitlin Mahoney for the Brooklyn Book Festival on 14th September 2016