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Hidden Depths of Space

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Kevin had a secret. Not a space secret (although he knew plenty of those), but one that would have stunned anyone who know him: he could talk.

He wasn’t sure what caused the little switches in his head to finally flip in the right directions. One morning he looked in his bathroom mirror expecting to say “Hi, space,” as usual and instead he said “Hi, handsome.”

Unfortunately he was shaving at the time. He stared at his reflection, ignoring the blood on his jaw. “H-hello? Is… is this me? I’m talking? And it’s not about s-” Pure, fear-driven superstition stopped him for a moment, but eventually he finished saying the word. “...space.”

It still felt good to say it, but it was no longer hard-wired into his vocal cords the way it had been for the past eleven months. Since his first day at Aperture.

He'd always known he was destined to be an astronaut, just like his father before him. He'd studied for it. Trained for it. Submitted an application to NASA. Everything had been perfect right up until they discovered his allergy. A lifetime of dreams, studying, and hard work all thrown out the airlock just because he was allergic to lemons. It had been a devastating blow. Worse than devastating; he thought his life was over.

And then he saw the flyer for Aperture Science, recruiting astronauts. What was he, if not an astronaut? ...More or less. He left the next day and soon found himself standing in a somewhat shabby office before a bored-looking clerk sitting behind a shielded desk.

“Astronaut, war hero, Olympian, or other?” the clerk asked in a monotone.

“Uh…” Kevin clenched his fists. “Astronaut?”

“Follow the red line and welcome to Aperture Science, where testing is the future and the future starts with you. Next!”

Kevin hesitated. He’d prepared all kinds of answers- and excuses. He’d expected it to be a little harder than this. The clerk glanced up at him, glassy gray eyes starting to focus. Kevin ducked past him and followed the red line.

“Astronaut, war hero, Olympian, or other?”

“Buggrit! Millenium hand and shrimp!”

“...Other. Follow the white line. Next!”

Kevin passed through a shimmery field of- of something and into a new room. Several other men were standing about. Some of them had the clipped-hair, squared-shoulder look he remembered from training, but a few others seemed softer and unkempt and he was pretty sure that at least one of them should have followed the white line, instead. Still. He was here and that was what mattered.

Not long after he arrived a man with shaggy hair and a rumpled lab coat showed up, apologizing for the delay due to “technical difficulties.” He led them through a labyrinth of corridors, and since no one else commented on the green slime oozing down his back, neither did Kevin.

They entered a “staging area” and were told to grab a space suit and gear up for the test. This was when the questions and demands started. Kevin, however, poked through the suits til he found one that looked to be in reasonably good condition (no cracked visors or holes with ominous staining) and started to put it on. If this was required to get him into space, he’d do it. Besides, if they were just testing him on suit useage, he could do that in his sleep!

The guy in the lab didn’t say much beyond that this was a standard test utilizing the latest in technology to simulate the conditions and hazards of space. It was a Space Simulation Room. Kevin’s heart beat faster as he checked his seals and lumbered over to the simulator.

A few of the candidates chose to leave, but the rest eventually followed Kevin into the simulator. Once the door was sealed it seemed to disappear, leaving them in a perfect and featureless half-sphere.

An automated voice began to drone, welcoming them to the Aperture Science Exospheric Relocation and Implementation System. As the sourceless light began to dim, the voice continued on, listing off the possible hazards of using the ERIS. Side effects included death, simulated death, loss of vision, hematopetrolization, dandruff, glossolalia, diarrhea, constipation, explosive constipation, and the inability to see the color yellow. There were more warnings being listed, but they were drowned out by the remaining candidates, who were now shouting and beating on the wall wherever they thought the door should be.

Noting the atmosphere gauge on his suit was dropping, Kevin checked his helmet seals again and waited. Just as the lights went completely out he thought he caught a flicker of orange around the edges of the dome. All other thought fled as he found himself surrounded by stars. He drifted there- they’d done something to the gravity, too- and stared.

“Space,” he whispered. “I’m in space.”

Or at least  it was the best simulation he’d seen in his entire life. It put NASA to shame. It was almost as if he really was hanging there among the stars. Pure magic. Or science. With a tilt of his head he could just see Earth starting to drift into view. He used the suit thrusters to turn and beheld… the moon, so close he could almost touch it.

“Space.” His eyes tracked the bright pinpricks of stars and planets, naming them all. “Dad, I’m here.”

The others had stopped screaming and were demanding answers again. Or at least the ones who’d had their helmets sealed were. He caught movement in the corner of his eye and turned, expecting to see one of them. Instead there was something vast and glittering and- and-

When he woke up his head hurt and his mouth felt dry. He cracked open an eye and startled a scream from the man standing over him.

“Y-you’re alive?! I mean, you’re- uh, how do you feel? What happened in there?”

Kevin tried to remember. He’d turned to look at something and then…

“SPACE!”

The man- doctor?- leaped backwards, tripped over a tray, and fell. “Well, yes,” he said, dragging himself back to his feet as if nothing had happened. “You were in space. I mean, in the simulator. And then what happened?”

“Space.” Kevin frowned. That wasn’t what he was trying to say. “Stars. Stars. Moon.” He touched his mouth, wondering what was wrong with it.

“Yyyeahhh, OK, then.” The doctor’s gaze shifted slightly upward.

Kevin reached up farther and found bandages wrapped around his head. “Space?!” Oh, this was going to get annoying fast. What the hell had happened?

“Nothing to worry about, I’m sure!” The doctor focused all of his attention on writing something on his clipboard. “Probably just a side effect of the micro- of the simulated micrometeoroid strike. You, uh… didn’t happen to see any of the other astronauts while you were there, did you?”

“Meteor?” he repeated, relieved to say something relevant. “In space. Gotta go to space. Comets.” He sighed; so much for making sense. The weird thing was… saying those words made him feel better. They were good words.

“...Right. That’s what I thought. Well, the effect should wear off, uh… soon…” The doctor glanced away and back. “And in the meantime, congratulations! You’re getting a cushy job in R&D!” He grinned. “You’ll love it down there, I promise!”

“Wanna go to space.” Kevin gave the doctor a worried look.

“There’s plenty of time for that, uh, later.” The doctor refused to look at him. “But we gotta get you healthy first, right? No better place to do that than R&D! Just standing around all day thinking up stuff and writing it down. That’s science, that is. Writing it down.”

“Black hole,” Kevin muttered, not happy at all. The doctor gave him a thumbs-up and scuttled away.

That had been almost a year ago. He hadn’t been able to speak a single coherent, non-spacey sentence since. Until now.

“I’m fixed?” He grinned at his reflection, dabbed at the cut, and finished shaving. Then he gave the "micrometeoroid” scar over his left eyebrow a rub for luck and went to finish getting dressed. He couldn’t wait to see the looks on the faces of his friends when he got to the lab!

He’d been dumped on them once the doctors realized the “space” problem wasn’t going away. They were nice enough guys, for non-astronauts. Craig, at least, knew a lot of information about space; almost as much as Kevin, himself. Rick sometimes seemed to think he was in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie and was uncomfortably good with explosives, but both of them were nice to him, most of the time. After the first month they’d hardly filed any complaints asking him to be removed.

When he arrived at the lab, though, Rick was in a foul mood. Caroline had been by and not only was she still calling him “Richard”, but she hadn’t stayed long enough to hear his latest terrible attempt at a pickup line. For some reason he was blaming Craig and Craig was firing back with little “facts” about testosterone atrophying brain function and how insanity was repeating the same action over and over, expecting a different result.

“Space,” Kevin said. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to. He’d meant it to be a lead-in to his revelation, but the two of them turned to focus their glares on him, so he muttered “space” again and got to work. At least that hadn’t been affected by the accident; he could still push buttons and twist knobs and even write papers. He just couldn’t talk. And right now he wasn’t sure it was safe to, not with Craig and Rick having another of their mini wars.

At one point during the morning Kevin couldn’t resist throwing a small “twit” into his usual patter of space details. Rick whipped around, glared at Craig’s back, and threw a pen at him.

Craig let out a startled yelp when it hit him in the head, turned to see what had happened, and saw the incriminating projectile on the floor.

“Pens? You’re throwing pens, now? Oh, yeah, real mature, there, Richard! Did you know-”

“I would’ve thrown something bigger, but it mighta snapped your little pencil neck!”

Craig’s eyes widened. “Pencil-neck? There’s no such thing as pencil-necks! Meatheads, on the other hand…”

At his own station, Kevin ducked his head to hide his grin. It was terrible of him, he knew, but it was also kinda fun. Their disagreements never lasted long, anyway. Meanwhile, maybe he’d hold off telling them he was cured for a little while longer...