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'Homecoming' by Elisha Jhoti

To celebrate Space Queens week, we are thrilled to present 'Homecoming' by Elisha Jhoti, a short story about a young female Indian astronaut on her trip in space and a call home...

The shrill tone of the alarm clock woke Surinder up with a jolt. She’d been having such a wonderful dream of when her parents took her to the sea when she was younger, thinking about the sand between her toes and the salty ocean spray on her tongue. Back to reality, she stretched, yawning as she slipped out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. Brushing her teeth, she looked at herself in the mirror. She combed her fingers through her hair, wow she needed a haircut. She wouldn’t have to wait long for that she thought excitedly. She hurried over to the coffee machine, punching the button to heat up the water. The machine made an odd clicking sound. She gave it a hard knock and it started whirring

smoothly. While waiting for the coffee, she headed over to the computer and checked for any new messages. She smiled, seeing one from London, UK, she clicked it and her family’s faces filled the screen.

“Hello darling! Hope all the travel preparations are going well, we are so excited to see you soon!” exclaimed her mother, Louise.

“Yes, yes, everyone at the Gurdwara has been praying for your safe return.” said her grandma, half her face cut off by the screen. Surinder chuckled to herself, it had been six months and her grandma still hadn’t gotten the hang of the tablet. Her mother turned the tablet to show her sister and father, who had been standing behind them.

“Hello Surin, I want you to know we are very proud of you and what you have accomplished.” her father said, his voice turning serious even though he was using her nickname. “Kareen say something nice to your sister.” He elbowed her sister Kareen. “What? She’s coming home like next week!” said Kareen. Her father frowned at her. “Ok fine, hope you have a safe journey home, can you bring me back a cool rock please?” asked Kareen.

“Kareen, you know they can only bring back the rocks for the scientists!” scolded her mother. “Anyway dearest, the timer is almost up, we love you and we’ll see you soon.” The screen went blank and Surinder sighed. Grabbing the headset and sipping her coffee, she went to the window and looked out at the grey patch of soil and the ladder leading up out of the cave she was in. Above, a see-through dome covered the cave opening where she could see the black sky, empty except for the Earth, a blue and white marble floating in space. Pressing the button on the headset, she began her morning report.

“Houston, this is Artemis 13, ready for final day briefing. It’s a beautiful morning here on the Moon, over.” After a minute, she heard the familiar voice. “Artemis 13, this is Houston, we are looking forward to your safe return in two days. No changes to the schedule today, but we have had a warning light on Geophone 12 that we’d like you to take a look at. Over.”

Surinder brightened, jackpot, she thought, one last journey outside was what she’d been hoping for. The geophones measured vibrations under the Moon’s surface, allowing scientists to learn more about its structure. They were particularly tricky and required constant upkeep.

Gulping down the rest of her coffee, she hurried to the spacesuit room and began the long process of getting into the spacesuit, making sure each joint was locked tight. “Houston, ready to exit the base. Suit pressure is normal and oxygen levels are at 100%. Over.” After a minute of silence;

“Artemis 13 you are go for exit.”

Opening the airlock hatch, Surinder stepped out onto the grey soil, kicking up dust with her footsteps. She checked the navigation screen in her suit’s arm. Only ten minutes’ walk to Geophone 12. She climbed up the ladder easily due to the lower gravity and opened the hatch at the top of the clear dome. Climbing out and closing the hatch behind her, she looked around at the Moon’s surface. A grey expanse stretched out before her, dotted with craters and rocks that cast shadows cold enough to freeze water. She looked up at the Earth, a pale blue dot covered in swirling white clouds and patches of green. She smiled; she’d never seen anything more beautiful.

Learn more: Elisha Jhoti on Twitter

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