Laura was going to be late. She had an hour to de-plane, get her bag from the baggage claim, check in for her second flight and get back through security to make her connection. She ran through the crowded terminal wondering how she got in this predicament in the first place.
It was the holidays and this was the only flight home she could afford, booked on two different airlines. Laura did not particularly want to go home for the holidays, but her mother was getting older and she was not sure how many Christmases she had left. The airport was bustling, lots of people heading in one direction or another. Everywhere Laura looked, it was families traveling together. This put her especially on edge. Well, that, and what sounded like a security alarm for a door left propped open too long that was ringing in the distance.
She knew from the minute she walked through the door to her childhood home her mother would lay into her about how she could possibly still be single at her age, and why she had always focused so hard on work instead of making herself happy. Laura had always thought she was making herself happy with her work, but lately she was unsure.
As she got her bag and sprinted back to the ticket counter, she tried to think of anything she could talk about with Mom that would take her mind off her relationship status. Nothing came to mind, really. There were the small work accomplishments, but those were no help. Her mother had tried asking what Laura's job was a few times, but always gave up after Laura got a few words in.
The line at the ticket counter was crazy long. As she queued up, Laura noticed that the woman in front of her looked exactly like someone she went to college with. Her name was Bella and they worked on the school newspaper in college together.
Laura always thought Bella was so cool. She was two years older and handled all the finances for the paper. Laura remembered the last dinner party they had for newspaper staff before Bella graduated. At the end of the night, Bella commented to Laura that she was fun to hang out with, that it was a shame they did not hang out more. Laura had thought about that moment a lot in the years since, as proof she was fun if you got to know her.
But now, waiting in this line, it was as though they had never met. Worried she would be accused of staring, she turned away. The line had gotten even longer; now a new row of people were waiting behind them. Laura studied each of their faces, trying to distract herself. It was especially noisy, lots of people trying to talk to one another as that alarm continued to ring in the distance.
How could she not recognize me? she asked herself.
Laura wondered if it was because the school paper folded after she took over as editor. She had tried to recruit freshmen to help out, but none of them were interested in investing time in a dying art form. No matter what she did, she could not get anyone who was interested in helping her out. The faculty advisor read her the riot act when she turned the keys to the office in at the end of the year, saying what a disappointment she turned out to be.
Laura got that a lot. She was a disappointment to her mother, clearly, and the string of people she dated throughout college and beyond until she got so tired of being rejected she stopped trying. She made a big splash when she was hired after college, but soon that hope for her died as well.
It felt like given enough time, everyone in her life was going to end up disappointed in her in some way or another. Just wait around long enough and it can be your turn. But not Bella at least, not yet, she thought.
But as she turned back to face her, Laura realized this was not Bella after all. She looked exactly like her; exactly, but not quite. Laura was certain that if she asked the woman if they knew each other, she would be wrong. That was how Laura knew she was dreaming.
Laura always dreamt of people who looked exactly like her friends, her family, people she dated. But it was never them. She had the most lucid dreams, but it was always about strangers. Why did her subconscious never let her speak to her friends? Why was it always people who looked just like everyone she ever knew, but never them?
The alarm in the airport was getting louder and louder, as though the speaker was moving closer and closer to her head. She looked at her watch and back at the line which had not moved an inch since she stepped in it. She was never going to make her flight, and as the panic started boiling over inside her she felt something sharp hit her in the back of the head.
As she woke up, she realized the gravity in her ship had gone out again and she had drifted into a bulkhead. She had floated out of her bed and into the bridge of the ship. Without needing to look, she slammed her fist into the console, hitting the button to reactivate the gravity. With a thud, she fell three feet out of the air onto the floor.
Rise and shine, Laura, she thought to herself. She looked at her watch, which told her it had been exactly 2,555 days since she left Earth. Seven years, she thought. Happy anniversary to me.
She looked out at Ganymede on the vid screen, the familiar light bouncing off the craters. Here's to seven more.
All throughout the rest of January, the Yearbook Office is lost in space. We are setting a course and charting the stars, all on our own. Space is a lonely place, won't you join us?