I'm chatting with a woman in the canteen and in a lull in the conversation I pull out my mobile phone to show her a picture.
"Was this taken ... in space?" the woman asks.
It's a multi-layered image showing four women reflected in glass. Beyond the glass, it's possible to see white panelling and then another window, triangular, with a view onto a blackness that is speckled with silver-white pin-pricks.
I explain that one of the women in the reflection is a hologram. She has mousy blonde hair, unstyled, and is wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans. She's standing slightly apart from the others, as if she doesn't fit in. She's looking in the opposite direction to the other women.
"That's Jesus," I say. "I decided to make her a woman. We've had some good conversations."
"How have you taken this photo?" she asks.
"I go up once a week," I say, instinctively looking up at the ceiling, forgetting it's there. "It's part of a study to see how the brain reacts under certain conditions, but I have to say that there hasn't been much testing yet. It's all been a lot of fun."
We often leave the ship and perform dangerous missions, including mineral collecting and mining, which involve a lot of rock climbing and walking across mountainous moons in single file.
I remember one woman in particular. I recall how exhausted she became after climbing hundreds of feet up sheer faces of rocks that were stacked one on top of the other like Lego bricks, though each brick was moveable, separated from the others by thin layers of air. She climbed to the top of one tower before jumping off the other side. Gravity was low, but that kind of a fall still takes it out of you. And then there was another wall to climb. And another. And another after that.
She landed in a heap and didn't get up. She rested her face against the cool, black rock, while molten lava bubbled up through enormous cracks around us.
It wasn't long before two guys climbed back to her and one of them allowed her to ride his tandem bicycle. I remember the relief on her face when she saw that she wouldn't be stranded on this moon.
Being on the bike contraption seemed to renew her energy. The moment she climbed on, he jumped on the back and off they went, trailing away, meandering, the vanguard now. We marched on behind, our spirits lifted because we knew that nobody would be left behind. Not one of us.
The woman in the canteen hands the phone back to me. It's an amazing picture, with its various windows and reflections, including the holographic woman, who is a mirror of sorts.
I look out of the canteen window. I feel trepidation about going back out to space. I always do. There is no getting away from the fact that you are far away from home. Nothing tethers you. Not even people. Not really.
When you're up there, you sort of disappear. And when you get back, you realise nobody knows you were gone. And so you tell the woman in the canteen. She's impressed, you can see that. Even though it's clear that you wouldn't give up your place on the space craft for the world, you can see that she's glad she's not you.
Dean's Dream Journal
My writing is sometimes inspired by my dreams.
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