Mistakes in the field are unavoidable. In life, even more so. Not just the mistakes we make, and are bound to make, but the mistakes of others too. The universe is harsh and unforgiving, a fact provable by science thanks to your earlier discovery of alien life. Any reality cruel enough to allow sharks to evolve not just once, but twice, is no laughing matter. However, we are not our mistakes. We are not defined by how many we make or how we solve them. The truest measure of our inner quality is how we navigate the failings of others.
Accidents are bound to happen. Though it is often difficult and sometimes scary, taking the time to stop and do right by others when they have fallen down is one of the most noble things anyone can do.
u: Stop LilA.
The Little Astronaut halts mid stride, the crystalline sphere above giving her bright blue chassis an ethereal glow. She lowers her head, but does not turn around.
u: It’ll be okay. We’ll retrieve their data core and find out what happened to them, then we can go. LilA: WHY? ALREADY BROKEN, LEAVE THEM ALONE.
She stomps her feet in protest, widening her stance as if to physically block you from the site of the crash. You shift the mini cam down to her gaze, making sure that nothing of Unit 14 is visible in the feed. LilA would know. You sit there for a few minutes, silent and staring at the unflinching visor that fills your screen. LilA doesn’t move. You start to type, fingers carefully tapping each key.
u: If something happened to you, wouldn’t you want someone to know?
LilA shrugs. She lowers her hands, hooking her thumbs into her waist, as if tucked away in a belt loop. This line of questioning is upsetting for her, but this is something we all have to face. Grief is the unavoidable side effect of family bonds.
u: I won’t force you to do anything LilA, but I want you to consider more than yourself today. You are right. Unit 14 is already broken, but finding their data core is the best way we can honour their memory. LilA: BUT WON’T IT BE SAD? u: It will. What I’m asking you isn’t easy, and it will probably make you feel worse now, but you won’t always feel like that. LilA: HOW? u: Our feelings change as we grow older, LilA. If you retrieve that data core you’ll make sure that Unit 14’s memory will live on. It will hurt to see what happened to them, but ultimately it will bring you closure. Acceptance. LilA: AND IF I DON’T? u: Well, your feelings will still change, but it might not be for the better. You’ll always wonder what happened, whether or not you did the right thing. Regret is a heavy burden LilA. I don’t want that for you.
With deliberate steps, LilA turns around. She stares at her sibling, watching for the slightest sign of anything. She takes a step forward, then stops again, waiting, hoping that something will happen. The air is still. Nothing within the grandiose crystal chamber changes except for the next pulse of light that fires off into the sky. You let LilA continue on like that, slowly building the courage to get closer to Unit 14. You allow for a few minutes of silence between the two of you, giving LilA the space she needs. When she is finally close enough to touch the wrecked robot, she kneels down beside them, placing a hand on their shoulder with a gentleness that carries so much weight.
LilA: NEVER GOT TO MEET HIM. I’M SORRY 14. SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE FOR YOU. u: Don’t feel bad LilA, you didn’t know. LilA: I DON’T FEEL BAD. HERE NOW, AND THAT IS WHAT MATTERS, RIGHT?
She looks up at you, and you smile without thinking. You nod at her, reaching for your keyboard to tell her, but she nods her head back at you before you can. A little white light next to your webcam that you had never noticed before flicks on and off. Cheeky little thing.
u: I’m proud of you, LilA. LilA: :)
Over the course of the next two hours, LilA removes every broken piece of Unit 14 from the crash site with painstaking detail. She lays the largest pieces where they should be, and piles up the bolts and cracked armour plates off to the side. When that is finished, she carefully unscrews the chest plate, revealing the intact data core lying dormant within. She removes it with the utmost care, not damaging a single wire as she unplugs it from Unit 14’s chest. Now all that remains is to sift through the data and see what happened here.
LilA: CAN WE DO TOGETHER? SCARED. u: Of course, LilA. I’m ready when you are. LilA: THANK YOU.
You give LilA a few seconds to prepare herself, in every sense of the world. She ejects a small, black cable from the back of her head. After a moment of hesitation, she plugs it into the data core and sits down next to Unit 14, running a hand over their cracked visor as she watches the data filter in. There isn’t much, but the astrogation data and footage stored within sheds enough light to give you a picture of what happened. Two years ago, after having been in flight for a year, there was a massive discrepancy. In less than an hour the Little Astronaut’s rocket pod travelled trillions of miles, arriving at their destination far earlier than expected. Though most Little Astronauts were secure in their gyroscopic cradles, Unit 14 seems to have slipped their bonds during the disturbance. Through their mini cam footage you can see them stare out the window as the small craft is swallowed by a terrifyingly beautiful wormhole.
u: No wonder you arrived so early LilA, something happened to all of you that we hadn’t expected. LilA: EVERYONE ELSE FINE THOUGH. WHY NOT 14?
The answer lies at the very end of the recording. The rocket pod failed to slow down in time for a proper landing. The Little Astronauts were activated and ejected automatically, so that they might land using their own inbuilt propulsion systems. Unit 14, having already fallen from his cradle, was unable to eject from the craft in time, crashing here moments after.
u: I’m sorry LilA. I know that must have been hard for you to read. LilA: YOU WERE RIGHT. SAD, BUT NEEDED TO KNOW. u: You’ve sustained some light damage LilA, and you’ve come a very long way. How about we rest here for a while and wait for a repair drop? Our satellite should be in orbit now. LilA: WAIT WITH 14? u: Maybe we should bury them. LilA: WHY BURY? u: So we can put them to rest. This cave is beautiful isn’t it? I’m sure Unit 14 would be grateful for you to take care of them and let them rest somewhere peaceful. LilA: OKAY. GOOD IDEA.
Over the next few days LilA prepares a modest burial for Unit 14, on the exact spot they landed all those years ago. It’s a much prettier sight now. The dirt and rock of the cavern floor is all smoothed out, and it provides a perfect view of the myriad crystalline growths across the chamber. Every day the sun shines straight down onto Unit 14, making sure that even buried here at the bottom of this mountain they are never without the light and warmth of the world outside.
When the repair kit finally does arrive LilA applies it delicately, filling in cracks and tears with methodical care. She’s learnt a lot during the short time she has spent with you, and the weeks of relaxation within the cavern have done much to cull her impatience. Every day you logged on, even though you didn’t have to, just to keep her company. Your talks were long, allowing the burgeoning friendship between the two of you to blossom into something strong and beautiful. Outside of work, your time was inundated with interviews galore. Most of them revolved around you shaking one or two hands and letting Allen do all the talking, but that suited you just fine. LilA may be one of a kind, but she’s better left out of the spotlight. Away from unkind and greedy eyes, she is free to dedicate herself to what she truly loves.
When the last rivet is screwed into place, and the last of the supplies within the kit are carefully tucked away within the surprisingly fashionable sack that came with, LilA begins to march into the sparkling dunes once more.
u: Ready LilA? LilA: READY. WHERE TO NEXT? u: Actually, I thought you could decide. Any ideas? LilA: HMMM. HAVE A FEW IDEAS. CHARTING COURSE NOW :)
Author: Jamie Stevens (he/him) is a third year creative writing student from Brisbane. With an unhealthy love of everything abject and absurd, Jamie crams his sense of humour into everything he makes. For more news on his other publications and projects, check out his Instagram @jamie.c.stevens.
Artist: Harrison Coates is an emerging writer studying at QUT. His work investigates the varied and complex lives of those around him, and their place in an increasingly strange world. Living in Brisbane as a 3rd year fine arts student, he finds inspiration for the absurd situations explored by his fiction easily.
Editors: Rory Hawkins and Bea Warren