Origins: Part 1 – Humble Beginnings
Santa Monica Pier, June 2910
“Look, mommy, there’s a spaceship in the sky.” The little boy pointed towards a sleek passenger transport climbing steeply out over the Pacific Ocean. The sky to the west was awash in gradient hues of pink, purple, and orange, as the sun slowly slipped beneath the horizon. A sweet, soft breeze blew down from Malibu.
“That’s nice, isn’t it Werner? Be careful with your ice cream darling.” The young woman licked the corner of a napkin and used it to clean a growing coat of chocolate off his chin. Behind them, thousands of blinking, colored lights on the Santa Monica Ferris wheel dominated the skyline.
“Do you know what kind of ship that is love?” She was always amazed at how smart he was, particularly for a five-year-old.
“Um…That is an Origin 890 Jump.” He replied. “Probably the 7 PM bound for Port Luna. When Can we go to space?”
“Why do you want to go to space, love?” She replied with a smile.
“To kill Vanduul!” The boy held his hands out to fly an imaginary spaceship and yelled “Pew! Pew! Pew!”
She laughed for a moment, and then looked at him lovingly. “No sweetie, I couldn’t bear the thought of you off fighting the Vanduul. Besides, you’re going to be a doctor or a lawyer someday, not a fighter pilot. Plus, you’d never get to see your daddy if we went to space.” She said.
Of course, nothing would make the boy’s mother happier than putting a galaxy between the boy, his brother, and their shiftless father, who was missing the mark as a positive role model.
For her own part, she had always dreamed of a life among the stars. Even after giving birth to two healthy baby boys, she still imagined serving aboard an Endeavor exploration vessel as a medical officer. However, shortly before Werner’s fifth birthday, she started getting sick. Her thoughts drifted back to the day she was diagnosed.
“I don’t know, it’s like a whooshing sound in my left ear.” She said, sitting on an examination table dressed in a hospital gown with her long, dark hair pouring down onto her shoulders in a tangled mess of curls.
A short, middle-aged doctor with spectacles and a bald spot on top of his head pulled her messy curls to the side and peered into her ear with a scope. “I can’t see anything physically wrong with your ear Marlena.” He pulled back and glanced at her sympathetically, still holding her hair back. “I’ve been following you since you were a kid and you know you are always welcome here but you know I’m just a pediatrician. I treat earaches and the flu. Sometimes the occasional run in with an ornery pet.”
“I know.” She replied, and looked down at the floor. The doctor sat back in his stool and flipped the disposable sanitary guard on the scope into a nearby trash bucket.
“This seems like some sort of auditory hallucination. I’m no expert, but when you consider this symptom in the context of the other difficulties you’ve experienced with coordination and motor skills, and your family history…” The doctor trailed off as Marlena’s eyes began to fill with tears.
“I want you to go downstairs and talk to that friend in neurology. The one I mentioned last time you were here.” He added, while handing her a tissue.
Marlena swallowed hard and a tear rolled down her left cheek. She knew what was next. Her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother, they all died young. Each suffered a wasting, lingering death; the result of a hungry tumor, slowly growing inside their heads.
Even now, after all these generations of modern medicine, there is no cure, only treatments that delay the inevitable. It’s more like a curse than a disease really. A mean trick of genetics, causing star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes to grow uncontrollably and destroy any normal tissue in their path.
After two MRIs and some other tests, her diagnosis was confirmed. The next day she started taking medications to slow the disease process.
“Mommy?” The boy held out a sticky little fist with an ice cream soiled napkin balled up in it. “Do you need a tissue?”
“No.” She sniffed back tears and wiped her face with one of her clean napkins. “Finish your ice cream love.” She kissed him on the forehead and the boy started chomping on his cone. They both looked out over the Santa Monica bay at the sunset again. The departing ship disappeared had into the night sky and Marlena’s thoughts drifted again.
The boys’ father was once a handsome, passionate young man. They met hanging out on Venice Beach with the rest of the kids in their neighborhood and quickly fell in love. Sometimes they would just fall asleep on the beach together, sharing their interest in music, surfing, and smoking marijuana.
They never were officially married. After having Werner and his brother, Marlena quickly matured into a responsible young mother, but their father never got off that beach. As time went by he showed up less and less frequently. Once Marlena was diagnosed with cancer, he stopped showing up at all.
For a while Marlena dropped the boys off at his mother’s place in Santa Monica every Sunday, so he had a chance to see them grow. Sometimes he was there. Sometimes he wasn’t. As time went by he became more and more like a ghost, haunting their lives and her past. Just a few days earlier, while taking a walk with the baby, Marlena came across him lying unconscious in the sand, baking under the California sun. She left a cold bottle of water against his cheek and scurried away before he awoke and frightened the baby.
“Pew! Pew!” The boy was finished with his ice cream and running in circles around the park bench. He tripped over the stroller parked in front of his mother and giggled. In it, his sleeping baby brother began to stir and whimper. Marlena caressed the baby’s cheek with the back of her first two fingers and within seconds the baby sighed and settled back to peaceful, rhythmic breathing.
“Be careful with your brother Werner! You need to look out for him.” Marlena turned to look at the boy thoughtfully. “Do you know that son?” He jumped off the edge of the park bench and landed on the boardwalk with a loud thud, making a convincing “explosion noise” with his mouth.
“I know mommy.” He replied. Werner picked himself up and dusted off his shorts.
“Look at me, Werner.” She said in a soft but convincing tone. “Look at me.” The boy looked up at her and they locked eyes. She grabbed his hand and pulled him in close to her face.
“Promise me you’ll always look after Martin and protect him.” She said.
“I will mommy.” As he said it, Werner tried to wiggle free of her grasp.
“You promise?” She repeated, softly.
“I promise.” He settled down and looked her straight in the eyes. “I will always look after my brother.”
“Good.” She replied and loosened her grip into a hug. The boy spun around and watched as the very last tendrils of the setting sun gave way to deep dark blue and black. Venus shined down on them brightly. “Very good my love.” Away to the South, another ship departed the Los Angeles spaceport. “Very good.”