UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Building A Better Spaceship
Seven years. Seven long years spent amongst the hostiles on that barren planet had been enough. The time had come to take off.
Pressed against the corrugated floor of the starship Maytag, Captain Jamie Hobbes initiated a final launch procedure checklist.
Flaps fastened, engines primed, cardboard carburetors flowing freely, corners taped, staples removed, linoleum launchpad stabilized. There would be no mistake this time. Liftoff was inevitable.
Trial runs complete, the prototypes tested, torn down, rebuilt from scratch and tested again. Margin of error had been reduced to a non-zero possibility. Captain Hobbes had spent the last month in preparation for this moment, building a better cardboard spaceship. There would be nothing to stand in his way this time.
“Jamie, what are you doing in there?”
His mother yelled from the television room over the roar of the clanking wheel on the set. A live studio audience clapped in approval as the real estate agent from Des Moines correctly guessed “Pittsburgh Steelers Wheel” in the “Before and After” category.
“You haven’t gotten into the spare boxes again, have you?” she bellowed back, her speech underscored by the rattle of ice in her vermouth. “We save those for moving.”
“I’m okay, mom. I’m just getting ready for takeoff,” the Captain replied with an air of obviousness. Even through the cloud of cigarette smoke that separated Captain Hobbes from his parents, his intents should have been clear.
“Godspeed to you, Captain Hobbes,” Dad blurted, fading in and out of a Valium-induced sleep. He awoke long enough to yell for the housewife from Duluth to buy a vowel.
“Thanks, Dad. Thank you.”
Captain Hobbes digressed from the distraction of the planet’s hostiles and returned to the task at hand.
Atmospheric conditions were far from hospitable. Captain Hobbes’ window of opportunity for a successful launch would be finite, and at best, minute.
Strong pressure in the lower atmosphere would make for a choppy ignition. Initial velocity would be crucial in building necessary inertia to break free of the especially strong gravitational pull of this barren alien world. The odds stood against the courageous Hobbes that day, but he was no stranger to adversity. Challenge was the old friend and confidante that urged him further and pressed him on to overcome. The trials of seven years had taught him that much.
No force on Earth or beyond would deny him this conquest, this ascent, this preordained escape to the heavens that beckoned him from above. All his life, Captain Hobbes had been an inmate of prison planet, Paramus, New Jersey. Captain Hobbes lived as one of them, laboring by their side. He had been assigned, as they all were, to the existence of the cube.
Each day he rode their yellow aluminum shuttle to the holding cell of brick and steel, enduring the conformity trials. Captain Hobbes was swept along the current of this river of deceit. He was made to learn and recite their hymns of institutional learning, and given marks of aptitude based on accurate repetition.
When his recitation was worthy of merit, he was given a reward. When it merited discipline, he was subjected to the trial of “time out.”
The blue print of assimilation was laid out. He saw his own life progress before him in ascending levels of conformity. From elementary school, he would be subject to matriculation, and conferred with a paper of expertise in some arbitrary field of concentration. There he would elevate to the highest level of compliance, the stage known as “occupation.”
Much like his parents, he was to look forward to a lifetime in a box such as those they had chosen. A cube reality of finite dimension, unadaptable to the whims of his fancy.
The planet was indeed box-shaped, a cubicle of adulthood proceeded by the wooden coffer of burial. It was a dreary box he inhabited. Seven years of desolation, and Captain Hobbes deigned that he would not allow himself to be confined to this menial, misshapen existence. An exit must exist.
Answers were slow to arrive. Each day demanded more of the Captain in this cubist continuance. Each period of absorption and bewilderment was rounded out by meals eaten in silence around the flickering light of the television. His parents, silent and blank-faced, brought him no voice of comfort or rationale. One night, out of the reticence, Jamie asked why he needed to attend this place called “school” or why they went to the place called “work.” One baffled answer came forth.
“Because, Jamie, that’s just the way things are.”
Later that night, Captain Hobbes descended to the living room. At the coffee table, he leafed through an unexplored stack of yellow-bordered magazines by the footstool.
The pictures beheld it all, a realm of limitless unknown adventure past the confines of the box world. He attended photos of the man named Armstrong as he walked on the moon. Hobbes marveled at the woman named Ride in the space shuttle, and the boundless depths that lay beyond the limits of even his own vivid imagination.
Captain Hobbes’ mind was made up. He could no longer live within the walls of the prison Planet Paramus, the Box World. The life of cubes and confinement would not be tolerated. He would blast off, up, up, and away from it all. On the day the new dishwasher was delivered to the house, he knew. Captain Hobbes had found his vessel.
The box was ideally shaped for a space traveler his size; brown and rectangular, and with just enough headroom to ensure comfort and mobility. The Captain set about making it worthy of deep space travel.
Initial trial runs did not go well. A false takeoff one day, and a near burnout the next threatened to derail his mission. Malignant weather throughout that week made the going even more difficult as building commenced, but Captain Hobbes would not be undone.
Each day, following his learning trials, reconstruction of the craft was his obsession. Crayolas in hand and Elmer’s glue by his side, Captain Hobbes strove to concoct the space ship he saw in his dreams. He would not rest until the Starship Maytag saw her maiden voyage.
The Captain knew and heard nothing of television. Childish games and distractions became mere distractions. Trifles such as geography and mathematics were swept aside. Nothing stood between Hobbes and his great mission. The only box he knew and felt was that before him.
On the day of the great snowfall, two days into the New Year, conformity rituals were cancelled in the interest of creating a safer transit path. All else had been set aside in the aftermath of the great white blizzard.
The moment was now. He felt it in the very core of his being. The day of the launch had at last come.
That morning he left a goodbye note to his parents by the television, knowing they would find it there.
“Do you think we should worry about this?” Mom had asked Dad when she read it.
“It’s just some game he’s playing,” Dad inspirited, “he’ll be over it soon enough.”
“I’m not sure, is this what they refer to as a warning sign?”
“Honey, we’ve all got the day off today. If Jamie has found something to keep himself occupied, then I’m over the moon about that.”
Formalities behind him, Captain Hobbes completed a final diagnostic scan. All was in place. Countdown could commence at last.
“Mom, Dad,” he cried from within the starship, “I’m taking off now.”
“That’s nice, Jamie,” Mom answered.
“Watch out for Uranus, son,” Dad chimed in.
Within the cardboard cubicle, Hobbes endured the immediate shock of ignition. The jolt shook him with unanticipated violence. Lesser men would have yielded under the force, broken and begging for mercy, but Captain Hobbes would not relent.
He had fought too hard and struggled too long to surrender now, seven years was too long a prison sentence to resume his toil. Hobbes ground his teeth, and pulled the nearest lever, summoning more fiery propulsion.
“Hey, do you feel something shaking?” Mom asked.
“Yeah,” Dad snorted, fully awake, “what is that?”
The foundation of the house quaked as the engine heightened the inferno.
Clocks, portraits, and a cacophony of wall hangings dislodged and shattered on the tile floor, flotsam from the shipwreck. Flame enveloped the kitchen and spread out to the television room.
Mom and Dad bounded out the back door, shouting over the hellfire that engulfed the house.
“STOP, JAMIE! TURN IT OFF!!”
Their shouts were unheard.
From within his tiny cockpit…
Jaime saw only the motion of hands…
The silent screaming of mouths…
The gnashing of yellowed teeth…
…and acceptance of the box life.
The Maytag rose forth from its linoleum launch pad. Volcanic momentum cast away the bindings of the house like a discarded shell.
The box penetrated the ceiling, burst through the attic, and out the roof leaving a vapor trail of shingles and wood in its wake.
Clouds whipped past the cockpit window like wisps of smoke. His parents and the gathering crowd of panicked neighbors dissolved into dots of terrain along the landscape that grew smaller by the second. Planet Paramus and its cube-shaped trappings were little more than features on the shrinking globe below.
Blue dissolved to black. The moon came into view as the Maytag darted betwixt the infinite pinpoints of light in the ocean of dark, limitless space.
The red hue of Mars would follow, then the rocky asteroid belt. Then would come Jupiter, and then beyond the infinite reaches of the Milky Way into unknown space.
Captain Jamie Hobbes was never heard from again.Corey Pajka is an actor and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He holds dual degrees in Theatre Arts and English with a concentration in writing from Wilkes University. He has worked extensively in regional and Off-Off Broadway theatre as well as several independent and student films. He is a founding member of the New York-based theatre company Genius Savant productions as a writer and performer in residence.
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