My Last Confession
My Fellow Red Colonists, citizens of Enricktown, and dear family on the 32nd Anniversary of the explosion of Shuttle 327A,
Once you read this, I will no longer exist. The molecules that once formed my body will be dispersed through the vast expanse of space and the space ship that brought me to my death will be vaporized.
I do not expect you to understand, nor do I expect you to forgive me. I hoped that redemption would be possible for me, that I could take my worst moment and turn it into a life of good. But there is no redemption apart from confession, and I am, quite frankly, tired of paying for my own salvation.
There is no way you will understand, but I would at least like the opportunity to explain. I want to confess in my death what I never could in my life, and hope that somewhere in the depths of the nothingness of space, mercy can be found for my wandering soul.
What follow is a story many of you have heard and you will wonder why I’m revisiting this so many years later. It is a story told every year at this time in commemoration of the lost souls of Shuttle 327A. But, in truth, the story you hear every year is only a half truth, and it is for the missing half of this truth I have come to the conclusion that I have no option but to end my own life and search for forgiveness in the life beyond. I know I don’t deserve the forgiveness of this universe, but the universe is vast and I’ll spend eternity searching for it.
It was 32 years ago. Grand Central Station was busier than usual. I remember that. Maybe it was a holiday that I’d forgotten about. At that time, it seemed every week had some type of holiday, something to remember or anticipate, some commemoration of sorts. I, honestly, couldn’t keep track. Even now as I write this so many years later, I can’t remember, nor do I really care. There were a lot of parents putting commuter suits on their kids, checking the calibration tanks to make sure their re-entry into Martian atmosphere was smooth. More than usual. I do remember that.
I set my briefcase down on the smooth, browning tile and rested on the bench while I waited for my shuttle. I could see the blue cloudless sky through the upper windows and the hints of red and purple in the corner of the sky as the earth turned away from the sun. Despite all the work us developers did to make Mars feel the same as earth, there were just some things we couldn’t replicate.
The sun reached the point where the beams of light sprayed across the atrium and I checked my watch. When I looked up I noticed a husband and wife looking over at me, pointing me out to their five year old son. As they made their way to me, I practiced my smile.
“I’m sorry, sir, but are you Scott Enrick?”
“Son, this is the man who designed the Martian Community, this is the man who made Enricktown.”
The boy had dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes that widened as he heard his father tell him who I was.
“What’s your name?” I said to the boy.
“It’s Scott, just like you.” The boy said, giggling slightly as he retreated back to resting at the base of his mother’s dress, looking up at both of them and then back to me.
“Well, that’s an excellent name. Would you like a special badge made only for Scott’s like you and me?” The boy Scott shook his head up and down with his eyes widening even more. The rays of light coming through the windows back lit him and his family, giving him an angelic glow as I reached into my bag to grab the set of space shuttle badges I kept for just such occasions.
Scott’s mother bent down behind her son, placing her arms on his small shoulders and whispered, “What do you say, Scott?”
“Thank you!” The boy said as he became caught up in another world staring at his treasure, turning to ask his mother to pin it on his shirt.
“We really appreciate it Dr. Enrick. We moved to Enricktown after losing our home upstate. The water, you know? Well, anyway, we’re very thankful that you allocated so much space for people with, you know, different economics.”
“Well certainly, I’m glad you were able to find a home there and sorry for the loss of your home here. I was just in a meeting discussing the problem of water here and hopefully we’re nearing a solution.”
I looked at my watch again, trying to signal an end to our conversation, which he understood and thanked me and walked away, their son staring endlessly at the badge pinned on his shirt.
The family faded behind the light and I reached into my bag for my commuter suit, putting it on with pride, glad to be seen with all the other commuters. I tried to make it a habit back then to take the public commuter ship back to Mars as often as my schedule allowed. I was proud of it, proud of all of it. And, frankly, it was good to be seen like that for my upcoming congressional bid, the first of it’s kind from the Martian Colony.
Down the large corridor I could see people, all in the gray commuter suits, walking towards the shuttle, so I picked up my briefcase, grabbed my mask and helmet, checked my watch one more time and walked along with the crowd, smiling at the whispering crowds as I passed.
When I saw the red light in the corner of the shuttle switch to green, I reached to loosen my mask and helmet. The mask was hooked into the transitional pressurization of the shuttle that helped everyone pass through the shifts of pressure moving through the atmosphere, as well as provided healthy air levels as the cabin adjusted.
Out the window I could see the serene greens and blues and white of earth growing smaller behind me and I had the same thought I always had as I left earth, that it looked beautiful even in it’s dying. The glass like quality of my native planet looked eternal as we raced through space. Everything seems eternal in the void. That’s true even today. But the earth was dying. The water, infected like septic blood, began in the country and was slowly moving into the cities. The earth still had some time, and some of us were hopeful to find something to turn the tide, but, to me, it’s death was inevitable and the only way to not die with it was to expand beyond it.
I was the first astronaut and scientist to discover that the chemical makeup of the Martian atmosphere allowed us to make synthetic water. It was actually an accident, which I didn’t share with anyone afterwards, but it happened nonetheless, and at the time of this event, we were ten years into the Martian Colony.
Actually, of all the technical advancements that made it possible, I was most proud of the commuter ships. With the exception of the first two prototypes, they were indestructible and without incident. I knew they needed to be seen as overly safe to convince most people to step into them, so we over engineered them to be fool proof. Of course, we gave people the illusion of safety measures by placing seat belts on the seat, emergency exit lights along the ceiling, the usual illusion of safety things. We even placed an escape pod on the bottom of the ship’s hull, separated by a single hatch. The escape pod could only hold 4 of the 150 commuters on the shuttle, which surprisingly didn’t seem to bother people.
They just wanted to know it was there just in case, and, like the safety measures in airplanes, it helped to calm the nerves of those who entered into a device that would either leave you unharmed or completely dead, never just injured.
I took out my device and glanced down at the hatch, a few yards from my seat and smiled at the strangeness of the human psyche. Outside, the sky was vast and dark, but also brighter than any night sky seen on earth. In the distance I could see the moon, like a small island far off the coast, and knew we were only a few hours away from touching down on the Hellas Basin, so instead of following up on some of the comments made in the meeting back in New York, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
At first I thought I was dreaming, one of those dreams where the content is vague and forgettable, but the sensation it leaves you with is palpable. It was a rumble, a shake that moved through the shuttle, jarring everyone from their preoccupations. The kids crept slightly closer to their parents as the adults looked around, out the windows, and at each other to see if everyone felt the same shake.
I wasn’t dreaming. As we all later learned from the diagnostic transmissions from the shuttle, something did happen. A tiny hose connected to a thruster on the port side of the shuttle disconnected, causing a build up of pressure in the tertiary thruster, which caused a mini explosion and sent a rumble through the ship. None of us knew this at the time, nor what it would mean over the next hour. All we knew was that we felt something we’d never felt after ten years of commuting back and forth, and it awakened a deep fear in all of us, one that was only buried under the guise of hubris.
As I looked at the other passengers, I noticed the family I met in Grand Central Station a few rows down. The boy, Scott, clutched his mother’s hand and stared at the shuttle pin I gave him. I nodded at his father a reassuring nod.
Apart from the first shake that went through the shuttle, nothing else happened for a few minutes, but the fear remained. I saw this as a great opportunity to exercise some of my calm, cool leadership under pressure. So I stood up and addressed the rest of the ship.
“Hello, hello, everyone. My name is Scott Enrick.” I paused to let it sink in. “I know that you all might be a little uneasy after feeling a bit of ‘turbulence’.” I laughed a little at the absurd thought of turbulence in space. “I assure you, I oversaw the design of these ships and am fully confident that we just scraped by some space particles that caused a slight disruption and nothing more. These ships are over engineered to be indestructible and their autopilot and automation systems are works of perfection. We’ll be landing in Mars in no time.”
I could see people exhale and begin to smile. Some looked back out the window, while others returned to reading or sleeping or streaming whatever show they were watching before and I sat back down, satisfied. I glanced over at the boy Scott, his blue eyes glued on mine and I saluted him. He saluted back and went back to staring at his shuttle pin.
Just as I grabbed my strap to click it in, a second explosion happened, this time on the starboard side of the ship, which shot me out of my chair into the row across from me.
Up to this point, the story I am sharing now is the story that’s been known my whole life and is true. I’ve added a few more details in this account, but the basic story is the same. The rest of the story as known to the population is how, despite repeated attempts of refusal and even physical fighting, the ship decided my life was too valuable to lose and they hoisted me kicking and screaming through the hatch, into the escape pod, just in time before the whole ship blew up.
This is the story that became the foundational narrative for my bid for congress, my eventual bid for president, and the story that put me in the position I find myself now. It is the story I claimed drove my humanitarian ventures. I told everyone that my life was indebted to the belief and the sacrifice given to me by the brave men and women aboard Shuttle 327A.
But, unfortunately, the story I told after this point was a lie. And I need to now tell the truth.
After I was launched into the row across from me, a panic set in. I was panicked. In fact, I was more panicked than anyone. I knew that what was happening couldn’t be happening, that there’s no way a shuttle, this far into it’s existence could suddenly have a malfunction only seen in early prototypes. I was more panicked because I knew what space would do to us if it ever got us.
By this time, the lights dimmed and red flashing lights blinked along the ceiling of the shuttle and a robotic female voice came over the intercom telling everyone to remain calm, stay in their seat, and put their masks back on.
Most of the shuttle did just that and sat wide eyed as the ship began to veer downward, off course and hum. I knew the masks made no difference so instead I stood up and addressed the rest of the shuttle.
“I’m in disbelief and can’t believe I’m even saying this, but I believe we might be in a bit of trouble. Fortunately, there are a series of countermeasures that will take place before anything dire happens, and I am confident, despite the apparent problems that we will land in Mars and sleep soundly, and gratefully, in our own beds tonight.”
I paused to make sure I had their attention. There was an unusual quiet, a stillness that hung in the synthetic air as the shuttle continued to turn downward into the abyss beyond. I glanced down at the the hatch leading to the escape pod before continuing.
“We need to remain calm and stay in our seats with our masks on as much as we can and allow the shuttle to correct itself. I believe there have been a few issues with some of the thrusters, but fortunately the shuttle was built with more than it needed, so it will be easily fixed when we land on Mars.”
Another man, about twenty feet away from where I was standing, stood up. He was an older man whose grey hair had almost completely taken over his dark brown hair. “Excuse me, Dr. Enrick, I hate to be the one that asks this, but what if this ship doesn’t make it. Is there a way for us to escape?” The man’s eyes looked at the Hatch, followed by the eyes of the rest of the shuttle.
A woman, mid-thirties, stood up behind me. “Yeah, you made this thing, surely you know what to do if we had to escape.”
Everyone was looking to me again and I proceeded cautiously to explain the thinking behind the escape pod.
The old man spoke up again, “You mean to tell us that out of the hundred or so people aboard this shuttle, only four of us could possibly escape? You mean to tell us that for all the over engineering you claim, you didn’t over engineer the back up plan if this failed?”
I tried to smile. “I understand your concern. And yes, when put that way it does seem, um, negligent,” I regretted using that word then, “but if we put enough escape pods on the shuttle for everyone, it couldn’t have flown properly. And besides, these things won’t break. They may have an issue here and there, but there is no way that they would just break apart in space. So please, let’s all calm down, take a seat and just wait for the ship to correct itself.”
Another explosion occurred, making the ship drop suddenly, causing me to fly up to the ceiling, cut my head, and drop back to the floor.
I know it shouldn’t have been my first thought, but I was pleased with how real the artificial gravity worked on the shuttle. Through the window I could see that we were now spinning, and though the cabin pressure helped us feel stable, I could still feel my stomach tighten with every turn.
As I stood up, I caught the eye of the young boy with blue eyes, who was now sitting on his mother’s lap clutching her arm. His eyes looked like the glass earth we left behind and I felt my stomach tighten for a different reason. The blood dripped down the side of my face as I spoke again.
“Okay, I still believe that this shuttle, despite the three malfunctions we just experienced, will land safely on Mars. Whether its the ship itself or the ships they are sending right now to get us, since we’re not far from the Helas Basin and they surely would have seen the indicator lights go off on their monitors. I do not want you to be afraid.”
At this point, many were crying. If they were commuting with someone, they were holding each other. I’m sure even some strangers felt it necessary to huddle close to feel the humanity of touch in the midst of the overwhelming fear. The family of the boy was huddled together and I could see the fear in the eyes of the mother and father.
“One possibility, in the off chance that our communication transmissions were damaged in the, um, malfunction, is that I use the escape pod, with maybe a few others, to go and get help at the Martian station.”
The silence grew thicker.
The woman behind me, the one who had already stood up and asked about the escape pods yelled out. “Why should you be the one to escape? Why not me? Why not any of us?”
I could see the fear turn to anger in the eyes of many of the commuters and I tried to calm them, assure them. “Oh no, that is not my intention. I am not trying to escape and leave you behind.” It was what I was attempting, but I didn’t want them to know that. “I am merely suggesting that we send a rescue team to Mars to help them locate us and since I have the most knowledge of the shuttle and how space travel works, it only makes sense that I’m the one sent to get them.”
I looked again at the hatch. It was only ten yards away from me, a few steps, a strong twist and a leap. I could feel us spinning faster and noticed the cabin felt warmer than it should.
“Look, I understand how that came across, but I promise I only have the rescue of this shuttle in mind, not that I believe, in the end, that this shuttle will need to be rescued at all.”
Another stood up, “But why you? I have a wife and kids waiting for me at home. It’s my daughters fifth birthday next week and I promised a trip to the Martian Mountains. You don’t have anyone waiting for you at home, so why should you escape?”
I tried to control my disbelief but couldn’t. “Why should I escape? Do you not realize that none of this would be possible without me? I discovered how to make water on Mars. I oversaw the creation of the first Martian colony. I mean, I invented this ship. I invented this ship. I invented this ship and I will do so much more!” I was shouting at this point and breathing heavily. “How could you possibly believe that you deserve this more than me!?”
I was seething at this point. All the pretense I held to blend in with the ‘common folk’, as I called them, was gone. I couldn’t believe they couldn’t see how different I was from them.
“Look,” I tried to calm down, “I will bring some of you with me. We are all going to make it out of here, don’t worry.” I attempted to smile, but I could tell it was no use.
After a brief pause, the shuttle erupted with everyone shouting their case for why they deserved to be on the escape pod.
None of the reasons shouted came close to the contribution I gave to humanity. I began to slowly and nonchalantly move back towards the escape hatch.
Down at the end of the shuttle a fight broke out as a young man began to run towards the hatch. Another woman began leaping down the corridor, stopped violently by other commuters.
I held my hands out to try and calm them. Every step I took was a step closer to the hatch until I was a few feet from it.
“He’s trying to escape!” someone behind shouted and I felt a hand grab my shoulder and pull me down.
“Please! Please!” I shouted, attempting to shake off the arm when another grabbed my leg. I flung my fist at the arm grabbing my leg and grabbed the hand that pulled my shoulder and bit it.
“That son of a bitch is going to escape. He’s going to leave us behind!”
I could feel the shuttle warming more and now the smell of burning crept through the oxygen ducts of the cabin.
More commuters were rushing towards me and I knew I was out of time, so I pushed and fought and screamed and kicked and punched my way to the hatch and spun the circular release valve until it creaked open and I pushed and bit and punched some more until I could get my legs down through the hatch.
I felt an arm reach for my shirt as I began my descent and I reached back and pushed the body attached to it away. When I turned, I saw the blue eyes of the child, wide and still, his mouth wide and silent. My shove ripped the shuttle pin I gave him earlier and tore a hole through his cotton blend shirt with a dinosaur on it.
I paused briefly and stared at his eyes. It was as though the chaos of the last minute was calmed and I was just sitting on the ship after the storm ceased in amazement at the glory and the wonder.
Then I heard another explosion and saw the reflection of fire barrel down the corridor, so I shut the hatch quickly, pressed the launch button, and felt the pod drop into space.
One of the first things I learned in space travel is that nobody dies in space. They just stop existing. Cells and molecules that once formed organs and flesh and bone and blood separate and simply cease to be anything but nothings fragmenting into a voided nothingness. As the pod launched off the hull of Shuttle 327A, I watched the billions of molecules that once formed the commuters, the molecules holding blood and dreams and fears and anxiety, memories and visions of beyond, all cease to exist and become nothing.
There was no sound. There was no light, no moment to allow the length or brevity of the person’s life to flash before his or her eyes. No time for regrets. There was nothing but the split second transition from existence to non-existence, and I was a silent witness to the nothingness. In the distance I could see earth hovering like a blue eye and I looked at the three other empty seats in the escape pod. I would have gotten the family off if I could. I would have at least brought the boy. If they hadn’t started fighting with me, if the rest of the commuters could’ve just understood my rationale, if they understood my contribution, then at least I could have brought the family with me. I thought about the conversation we’d be having, the cool, comforting presence I could have been for the family. The bravery they would’ve witnessed.
But they weren’t with me and no longer existed.
I was alone. Alive and alone. Existing in the ocean of nothing, smaller than a molecule in the vastness of space.
It took a little over an hour before I saw the august haze of the Red Planet’s atmosphere. Faint lights peeked through the auburn sky as the plains of the Helis Basin came into sharper relief beneath me.
I couldn’t believe that hours before, I was watching the sunset burst through the atrium windows of Grand Central Station. I refused to believe it. I refused to believe that anything that happened up until the moment of re-entry was true, or me, and I decided that my re-entry into Mars would be my rebirth. Scott Enrick disintegrated in space with the rest of the shuttle and a different Scott Enrick, a better Scott Enrick was born, formed by the disparate molecules of the previous bodies and souls I abandoned.
When I landed, the station attendants rushed out, wrapping me in a blanket and bringing me inside. They had sent a rescue ship to try and retrieve Shuttle 327A, but hadn’t been able to find it. I told them it no longer existed.
Later that evening, I was asked to give a public statement, and in my new body and new soul, I shared the tale that’s been known through history; the tragic fate and heroic sacrifice of a ship that saw my life and contribution as more valuable that their own and fought tooth and nail so I could make a better world.
And I did make a better world. As governor of the Martian Colony I was able to develop the water creation and supply chain necessary to not only sustain the colony, but to sustain the remnant of life left on Earth, making the Martian colony incredibly wealthy over time. Millions of lives saved and made better.
As president, I was able to navigate a peaceful treaty with other world leaders that ended the water wars and brought about the collaborative innovation that led to the discovery of the antidote, the chemical solution to the poisoned water of earth.
I saved millions, and if you count the generations beyond me, billions, all the while telling myself that the good of my life outweighed the evil of the truth. I told myself I did what was necessary. I told myself that no great thing came without great cost. And for a long time I believed it.
Which is why it might surprise you that once this letter is found, I will have launched myself into space in a ship timed to explode five miles over the Martian atmosphere. I don’t know whether or not the good that I did outweighed the lie that I told. I don’t know if there is such thing as penance. I hope there is.
What I do know, is that every night as I fell asleep and every morning I awoke, every time I squinted my eyes at the sun or shut them in the brightness of the day, I saw a pair of longing blue eyes stare back at me. My life has been filled with ghosts of what I deemed undeserving and I feel I have no remedy but to join them in the nothingness and let my molecules and dreams separate and fragment into the eternal slumber of the void.
This is, as they used to say, my final confession and with it, I hope I may find a bit of peace, a bit of forgiveness. Or maybe I’ll find that mercy was just a comfort we gave ourselves to mitigate the cruelness of a universe trying to destroy us.
Either way, goodbye.
Dr. Scott Enrick