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Spaceman Ross – Origin Story – 4

Of all the things that had changed on planet earth since the dawn of its creation, gravity was not one of them. So the afternoon fourteen-year-old Ross Bronski lost control of his skimmer in the fall of 2114, it was every bit as frightening and painful as a boy crashing a bicycle in 1954 or a skateboard in 2014. The contraptions may have changed over the years, but the experience was timeless. One may even say a right of passage in a young boy’s life. The incident was inevitable.

The skimmer, with its powerful dual thrusters and light weight design, was built for speed, not safety. The rider straddled the vehicle and with the thruster facing downward. Upon starting up, it could hover just long enough to use a shifting gear to point the thruster backwards. Hitting the thrust foot pedal on the left propelled the machine forward with an immense burst of speed. This was called a boost, or boosting. The right pedal, or antithrust, could cut a boost short, but there was no way to completely stop in mid air. Skimmers were not capable of constant throttle. A boost was needed every few seconds to stay aloft. When one boost ended, the thruster would recharge for the next boost. Hence the term skimming, or repeatedly thrusting and descending through the air, like a flat stone skimming on a pond.

While uphill skimming was achievable, the momentum of downhill skimming was much more dangerous and thus highly exhilarating. A lightweight rubber track on the back and landing skis on the front helped cushion landings. Additionally, a brake for the rear track could be applied by a trigger on the handle bar steering controls. Steering was what made for a skillful skimmer. Like skiing, one had to be able to anticipate the clearest straight line before boosting and then pivot upon descent.

Ross’s skimmer, the Mongoose, was one of the more powerful and expensive models and thus the envy of all the boys in his neighborhood. It was a beautiful machine, silver with hints of orange trim and gleaming bushings. The mark of a powerful skimmer was the length of time needed between boosts. The Mongoose boasted an impressive 1.5 second delay. But perhaps what really set the Mongoose apart from other skimmers was the distinct screaming roar of the thruster, which grew in awesome intensity from boost to boost. When those commercials for the 2114 Mongoose X5 with the slogan “Mongoose: It’s on. You’re gone.” danced before Ross’s prepubescent eyes with their shots of pro skimmers pulling off feats of derring-do to a dazzling driving soundtrack, he was sold.

Of course Ross could have whatever he wanted, within reason. Short of buying him a weapon, Stella was content to let her son to whatever he asked. A fact that was utterly lost on Ross. When he asked for something, he got it. It’s not that he was an undeserving child, or especially materialistic either. He simply never learned to appreciate the value of anything because it was all easy come, easy go. He never considered other kids had to work to save up for their own skimmer or settle for the lower model their parents could afford. As a child of one of the elite members of such an unequal society, he was oblivious to the simple concept of work ethic. He was seen by his mother as a kid being a kid. His grades were decent at the Goddard Academy (the exorbitantly expensive private school his mother insisted he attend) and he flew under the radar, never getting in trouble of any kind. Despite his conformity in good behavior, deep down Ross felt there was something gnawing at him. It was a certain zeitgeist, a desire to act out – not in rebellion, but rather manifesting itself in his obsession with skimming.

The incident occurred outside city limits, at an abaondoned quarry the boys frequented often to sneak cigarettes, spray graffiti, engage in fist fights and of course, skim. With its sprawling expanse of earth peppered with ramshackle long-forgotten lean-to shacks, it was an ideal escape from their shirt-and-tie academic worlds. It was a deserted, dusty, veritable playground of boyish freedom. Best of all for skimming, the edges formed a curve from ground to side like a giant swimming pool, and its soft corners were perfect for thrusting around at devilishly heartpounding speeds.

“Come on Ross! Stop being a little bitch and skim!” yelled Kevlar, one of the neighborhood mates, all intensely eager to witness the Mongoose in action.

“That’s too much skimmer for you, Ross!” another boy taunted.

“Shut up! I’m goin’, I just gotta get ready!” Ross shouted from astride his skimmer, set high above the other boys on the quarry’s edge. It was midafternoon. The sun was behind him, and the absence of glare made for perfect visibility of his run. “Alright, you can do this, you got this…” Ross muttered to himself, far from earshot of the others.

“Just do it already!” Kevlar’s patience waned further.

“I’m tryin’, if you guys would shut up it’d be easier!” Ross’s reply was followed immediately by the roar of the Mongoose, met by huge grins on all the boys’ faces. It was “on” and Ross was about to be “gone.”

A second roaring boost and the fourteen year old boy was thrown forward at enormous speed, such that the boys could see his body jerk backwards as he struggled to grip the awesome power of the Mongoose. They yelled wildly as they watched awestruck, their privileged friend skim around the edge of the massive quarry. Ross was truly the star of the group that day, and it felt amazing. For a moment, they were all jealous.

BRRAAAWWWAAARRR!! The Mongoose screamed, kicking up dirt and Ross’s adrenaline as he skimmed ever faster. He was picking up some serious momentum now, and it was becoming harder to anticipate the safest direction for each boost. He was quite far from the boys who were now watching his run from across the quarry through viewfinders.

Then it happened. The young Ross was caught up for a split second too long in the grandeur that was being the envy of all the other boys and lost control of his coveted Mongoose X5. He was cruising at such high speed down the side of the quarry wall that he couldn’t bring the front of the skimmer high enough in time to avoid slamming into the ground nose first with a tremendous crash. While the Mongoose X5 may have been fully capable of negotiating downhill hairpin turns at speeds upwards of 50 mph, Ross learned that day his skimming skills were not. He was thrown over the handle bar controls with such force on impact he landed twenty feet away from his now demolished skimmer, unconscious as they both laid helpless in a cloud of dust and debris.

They couldn’t hear his scream from such great distance, but the boys winced at the silent, digitally enhanced crystal clear image of the horrfying accident in their viewfinders. Between gasps and “oh fuck!” expressions they continued to survey the area for a second to check for any signs of life. When the dust settled and they could only see a motionless figure laying in an unnatural position in the distance, they hurried to their skimmers and sped to Ross’s aid. One of them alerted the local emergency services but none dared to call Ross’s mother.

“Cough!” Ross’s eyes popped open and his body flinched as though he was awaking from a violent nightmare. The boys standing all around him swayed back, startled but relieved to rule out Ross’s death that afternoon.

“There he is! You just can’t kill this asshole!” laughed the ever sensitive Kevlar.

Ross used his last remaining bit of strength to slowly raise his middle finger in gratitude for his friend’s concern. Slowly he began taking inventory of his condition. Removing his dust caked cracked goggles, the sun was in his eyes now like a blinding wake up call and it felt like half the quarry’s dust was in his mouth. He weakly began spitting out dirt and wiping his face. He wasn’t to remain cognizant for long. Lying on his back, he leaned his head forward. One look at his mangled right leg and suddenly his brain allowed him to feel the intense pain of his injury. He immediately passed out again.

After the initial incident, the ensuing hospital stay and months of rehabilitation, Ross decided to steer clear of such dare devil antics as skimming the quarry. His mother was surprisingly mild in her reaction to what happened. This was partly because she was so preoccupied with something unfolding at work, but also because she viewed such things as a normal part of her son’s progression from boy to man. She wanted him to earn his scars and gain the lessons they offered. It was something she felt she’d never been able to do as a child but would have benefited from greatly.

Ross’s skimming days may now be over, but there was wisdom in Stella’s strategy. He would carry the lessons he learned in that quarry and on other boyish adventures many years later in the perils of deep space. He would remember that it’s not the ship that makes the man but how well he controlled it, and to take it easy in situations where he was inexperienced. And he would never again allow his image to his peers to interfere with his best judgement, especially not at high speed.

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Spaceman Ross – Origin Story – 3

SPACE BLOG

“Ross! Ross dear, come get your soup!” came the demure, timid voice of a twenty year old girl from the kitchen. It was Ross’s newest nanny, Miss Emily, and her efforts were in vain. Even if her frail voice wouldn’t be lost in the mammoth expanse of the Bronski residence, which it surely would have between the kitchen and the boy’s personal playroom down the hall, he was only there physically anyway.

Ross’s body may have been sitting on the floor in the middle of the room’s sprawling burgundy plush Berber carpet, but his mind was swimming deep beneath the ocean waves in a virtual reality induced world known as Inky Shadows, designed for kids. His VR helmet looked too heavy for his 4 year old head, and as he bobbed it from side to side to the music it looked like he was struggling to hold it upright.

Where does a baby octopus play

Where no sun or moon will light the way

Come on down and be the who knows

What lies below in Inky Shadows

It was amazing just how much time Ross spent in that virtual world, but it wasn’t entirely surprising. The grey walls and cavernous expanse of his mother Stella’s luxury condo with its disgustingly expensive, cold and sterile decor simply couldn’t compare to the lush colors and cozy nooks of Inky Shadows. Add to that a collection of cute creatures that sing songs and go on adventures and you’ve got the ultimate escape for a lonely boy seeking a connection. And that was certainly Ross.

It was 2104 and four years into parenting, Stella had had about a week’s worth of contact with her son in the last three months. On paper she was an excellent parent. Ross’s every need was swiftly met, just not necessarily directly by her. It wasn’t intentional, but ultimately Stella had only one love in life: her career. She didn’t hate staying home with him for the first year of his life, but the glow of new motherhood soon gave way to the gnawing ambition to get back in the office. It was a great time to be in business if you were in a position of influence, after all. The One World Government became a stronger conglomerate every year, and only those businesses who were savvy enough to take early advantage of lucrative contracts would survive. Stella was not about to be left out in the cold. To be fair, all of her efforts at work were with Ross’s best interests in mind, but none of that mattered down in Inky Shadows.

Heels clacked loudly down the hall as the dutiful nanny brought Ross his lunch of Lil’ Ninja soup made with tiny pasta throwing stars shrouded in darkness by a bean curd miso broth. After she brought him back from his underwater paradise to join her on earth, she knelt next to him and talked while he ate. Emily was the third in what was to be a long list of nannies, and the most talkative thus far. The thing was, she had such a timid voice it was easy to tune her out when she went on a ramble. She was a slight girl with meek, mousy features. Everything about her was as thin as her voice.

After going on for about ten minutes straight about everything from the guy she was dating to the gift she bought her dad for his birthday to OMG you’ll never believe what happened to her sister… there was a momentary lull. Ross looked up at her as though she hadn’t said a word and asked “Miss Emily, are you my friend?” It was the first time Ross ever asked someone this question, but far from the last. In fact, years later he would be faced with this very question in much more dire circumstances. He would find himself in situations where his very life hinged on the answer. But today that answer would come easy. Emily flashed a toothy smile and no sooner than saying “of course” was off on another bout of constant talking.

For his part, Ross’s father Donald was around when he could be. For the first few years of Ross’s life he and Stella’s relationship was at its peak. They saw each other whenever they could escape from work, and the coming of a child reinvigorated their passion in the bedroom. Stella had even abandoned her side pieces for him. For the time being she was content to give herself to Donald alone, helping to cement the belief in her mind that he was actually Ross’s father. This assuaged any residual guilt she would have had for knowing it was possible he was not. That was a dark secret to be kept to herself for many years.

Spaceman Ross – Origin Story – 2

SPACE BLOG

It was a chilly overcast autumn morning outside of Estelle “Stella” Bronski’s high-rise luxury condo in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Inside, encapsulated behind her impenetrable floor to ceiling windows from the 38th floor she peered down at the muted, bustling metropolis far beneath her. As an elite, privileged and consequently isolated young woman, it was a visual metaphor for how she was accustomed to viewing the world. Any other morning she would be too busy getting ready for work at her family’s financial firm to stand there gazing out the window. But this was not just any other morning. At 25 years young, having recently obtained her Master’s in Finance and gunning to forge a bold and impressive career, Stella Bronski discovered about twenty minutes ago that she is going to have a child. Stella will not be in the office today.

The year was 2099, but no one was partying like when it was 1999. The world was still in the final throes of the Soft World War, or World War 2.5, as some called it. It was almost as though no one wanted to admit out loud we had brought ourselves to the brink of annihilation a third time. To Stella, as an elite, the war’s personal impact was no more than a flashing news clip or a rise or dip in a stock price. Still, she wondered what would become of all the chaos and how it would shape her child’s world. She made a promise to herself that morning to do everything in her power to ensure her baby had every advantage possible in life as she had.

Despite the irreplaceable loss of her parents to a tragic accident when she was a teen, Stella inherited enough wealth that she never needed to work. Nonetheless, her fierce determination to carve out her mark in the world of finance saw her through school with honors. Her extended family’s firm remained in tact, as her father had only been part owner. They loved her and through her uncles she always had a place to work and grow her skills.

Still gazing listlessly out the window. Still in shock. Excited? Scared. Excited and scared. In that order? Stella takes a deep breath and tries to reconcile with the morning’s news. “Ok, first things first,” she says aloud. “Who’s the father?” Stella’s approach to sexual activity was not as methodical as her book keeping. She wasn’t unusually slutty, but she was a healthy, attractive, young blonde known to have a little indiscretion now and then while maintaining a steady.

Her steady’s name was Donald and he was a professor at her alma mater, Syracuse University. “It’s Donald, right? Gotta be Donald.” Donald was ten years older, had never been married and had no children. They had been seeing each other for over a year. He had given her the impression he was in for the long haul. She was hesitant though, being younger and suffering from FOMO about settling down, despite loving him as she did. So they maintained a classic holding pattern made easier by the amount of time they both spent working on their careers. She loved the fact that he called her more often than she called him.

Nine months later, on July 12th, 2100, at 5:55 pm, Ross Bronski was born. Stella was still unmarried, but Donald was by her side. Together the new parents marveled at what was to be their future. Little did they know then, they were staring at the future spaceman of the world.

Being a Bronski had major advantages of course, but Ross’s meticulously crafted upbringing was clearly the result of Stella’s unwavering fortitude. Choosing to remain independent, she declined Donald’s repeated offers of cohabitation. Although there was never a blood test, they viewed Donald as Ross’s biological father. But he was always “Stella’s child,” which explains why Ross kept his mother’s last name. They never discussed legal custody, just casually shared in the responsibilities of parenthood. Donald’s role in Ross’s early years was somewhat tertiary to Stella’s, who was intensely involved in every aspect of his childhood. This while aggressively ascending through the ranks of her family’s firm and building a powerful portfolio of business bravado. She was a rising star in the Bronski empire of enterprise.

Donald was no slouch, himself. While his net worth was only a tiny fraction of the Bronskis’ billions, he was a brilliant and respected mechanical engineer who wrote books and designed machines used in mass production. This in addition to his professorship at Syracuse. His life ambition, however, was to design a rocket engine that would recycle fuel. Some said it couldn’t be done (more to tell later about this). Donald is an interesting character, super intelligent and very laid back, quiet. He was a thinker, not a fighter. His mellow ways played excellent counterpoint to Stella’s more Type A personality. Even when he was explaining or handling something extremely precise, he had a super casual way about him that was Bill Murray-like, and quite funny at times.

Spaceman Ross – Origin Story – 1

SPACE BLOG

So who is this Spaceman Ross, anyway? Well, to tell you that story in all its sordid detail, first we have to go forward in time about 100-200 years, and explain the dark but not entirely hopeless future into which Ross was born. Let’s do that now.

In the early part of the 2100’s the world had managed to somehow survive what was known as a Soft World War. Despite massive loss of life and property on localized battlefronts all over the planet, miraculously no major military campaign launched any nuclear attacks. There were many close calls, but in the end something quite astonishing resulted. By 2120, for the first time in human history, the wealthy and powerful elite class of every nation consolidated their power over the rest of us commoners. They must have realized they could make more money in peacetime if they managed us well. For the other 98% of human beings not in the ruling class this meant if you had a child he or she would never have to go to war, but they were never going to be super rich either.

It started with cease-fire agreements that read like sales pitches. It went on to multi-national treaties that were more like corporate mergers. It took several years to convince the most die hard boots-on-the-ground fighters to lay down arms in the name of good business for their leaders. After all, many of them fought for things like national pride and hatred of their enemy rather than business opportunities for the rich. Finally, the guns fell silent on the last of the zealots and dissenters. From then on if anyone tried to rise up against the status quo, they were swiftly dealt with in what were called “police actions” but were often executed by the military.

The newly formed One World Government was basically a huge international corporate conglomerate that owned every single bank and military force on earth. They centralized world currency and did away with all paper and coin. The rich were now totally and completely at the helm of humanity’s future, and they knew war was not our only danger as a species.

The world was not in the best shape environmentally by that time. Humans had done a number on it and in retrospect, years of past political debates over how to stem the tide of humans’ unparalleled destruction didn’t amount to very much in the face of our consequences. But the rich, being what they were, took a look around and said well the air quality is poor, but there’s air, people can still breathe. Then they said the water quality isn’t great, but there’s still plenty of water. But when they looked at energy resources, for powering everything from phones to aircraft carriers, they started to get very nervous. A big part of the problem was waste. They needed an energy source that could provide power while using very little resources to produce and was either reusable or left little or no environmental footprint. Scientists from around the world began to try developing such a fuel, but it was a slow and laborious process.

Then someone in the One World Government proposed something quite bizarre. I don’t remember his name, but he openly recommended that rather than limiting our search to earth for our solution, we should venture out into the universe and see what we can find that may be of use. At first the notion was risible, of course. His idea was thrown around at parties in some wealthy circles for a few months until eventually the elites realized the idea was actually gaining traction. To be sure, serious consideration of a space voyage to find a viable earth fuel was lofty at best and at worst a clear sign of the world’s desperation. Ultimately, the rich knew a multi-national space program would give the common people something to rally around together – an Olympic-magnitude human endeavor to save the species. They also knew there’s always money to be made in any human endeavor.