Exile From Earth: A Science Fiction Short Story
Being an astronaut was Mason Anderson’s childhood dream. And now here he was, floating before a porthole in his space capsule, looking over the moon’s horizon at the blue, blue earth beyond.
It had been seven days since he had been hurled into orbit atop SpaceX’s most powerful booster rocket. Seven days of checking out the capsule’s systems and making sure that his long weeks of training had adequately prepared him to handle any emergency. Where he was going, there would be no one to help if anything went wrong. He would be totally on his own. But after having gone through all his checkout procedures at least twice, Mason was sure he was as ready as he could be.
Now, as his spacecraft gently boosted itself past moon orbit, headed toward deep space, Mason couldn’t take his eyes off the planet he was leaving behind. He was moving fast enough at this point that he could almost see the earth getting smaller from moment to moment. And as the size of that orb began to shrink in the capsule’s port, so did his connections to the life he had lived for the last 33 years.
The life he left behind
It had been a good life, he thought to himself, at least until Moira came into it. Despite his childhood longing to join the astronaut corps, he had gotten an MBA rather than the engineering degree he initially thought he wanted. After graduation, it had only taken a few years for him to become a top producer in the life insurance business, bringing in a six-figure income every year.
Then he met Moira.
Like himself, Moira had been an up and coming young professional. She was a junior executive at a multinational bank, and everybody knew she was on the fast track. When Mason and Moira announced their engagement, the groans of envy from both sexes could be heard around the city.
From the outside they were the perfect couple. But it hadn’t taken Mason long to realize that the ruthless drive that was propelling Moira toward the top on the job didn’t shut off when she came home. More and more he found himself feeling trapped in an ever-tightening web of control and manipulation.
What made things even worse was his realization that however fast his own star was rising in the insurance business, he couldn’t keep up with his wife. The heavyweight in the Anderson household would always be Moira.
A new life
That’s when Mason Anderson began looking for a way out. At that time he was only twenty-seven, and he began seriously considering trying to make his dream of being an astronaut come true. Not only would that get him away from Moira’s overpowering control, it would also get him out of her shadow on the ladder of success. And so, for months he investigated what it would take for him to make that drastic career change. He assessed his chances with all the clear-eyed rigor that made him so credible with his insurance clients. And finally he knew the answer.
There was no way. He didn’t have the education, the experience, nor the training that many other candidates could present. And at twenty-seven, he’d never be able to acquire the skills he lacked before Father Time closed the door on his aspirations.
That’s when another plan began to take shape in his mind.
Point of no return
Suddenly a voice blared forth from the radio.
“Anderson, it’s time. Are you ready?”
Mason Anderson said nothing.
After a few seconds, the voice on the radio resumed.
“You will reach the communications blackout point in approximately five minutes. From that time it will no longer be possible for you to send or receive radio messages. All communication circuits in your capsule will be physically dissolved, and cannot be reconnected. This is your last opportunity to send any messages or make any statement you wish to make.”
Still, Mason remained mute. That was the one last element of control he still had over his life, and he was determined that for the next four minutes he would exercise that control. Let them talk at him; he would not give them the satisfaction of a reply.
The radio voice began speaking again, remorseless and implacable.
“As you wish. Mason Harold Anderson, you have been tried and convicted for the first-degree murder of Moira Jackson Anderson. Because you have seen fit to remove a human life from the earth, justice demands that you, too, be removed from the earth.
"However, in this enlightened age, our society has recognized the barbarity of the death penalty, and has developed a more humane alternative. You have the distinction of being the first person to benefit from this historic change to our penal code.
"Mason Anderson, for the crime of murder you have been sentenced to exile from the human race. Your space capsule has been stocked with enough supplies of food, water, and air to last you for the remainder of your natural life. Its computer is loaded with audio, video, and text resources encompassing every area of human endeavor throughout history up to the present moment. These you can access at will.
“Your personal robotic assistant has been programmed to respond to any request you may make. However, neither it nor you can in any way affect the navigation of your ship. You are now accelerating beyond the orbit of the earth and, as far as present calculations can determine, will continue on a course that will eventually take your capsule out of the solar system.
“Your sentence of exile mandates that you have no contact with any living person for the remainder of your life. Accordingly, from the moment your capsule crosses the communications blackout point its communications capacities will be permanently destroyed.
“You are now 15 seconds from communications blackout. For the final time, is there anything you wish to say?”
For a moment, just a moment, Mason Anderson felt an overpowering urge to tell that soulless voice where to go. But he didn’t. He had said his last goodbyes to his parents before being sealed into the capsule. Let those be his last words to the human race.
The final countdown
No longer looking at the earth that would never again be his home, Mason Anderson watched as the display on the communications console counted down to zero. Then the LED light that indicated a live radio circuit went dark. It would never turn on again.
Do you think this replacement for capital punishment is a good idea?
© 2016 Ronald E. Franklin