LOVE'S PHILOSOPHY (POEM):
ON A DATE WITH JANE AUSTEN:
Petronella Glover is a multi-genre author whose work has been translated into a dozen languages, including the Catalonian Romance language, where she has won two awards for Best Translated Story. A little quirky, very geeky, and unabashedly romantic, she hopes to one day visit the City of Love, find a bustling café where she can sample their hot chocolate and write her first New York Times Bestseller. This is her fourth appearance in Heart’s Kiss.
QUEBEC ROMEO VICTOR
by Petronella Glover
“RA0ISS, NA1SS, this is K1TTI. Anyone out there?”
Ugh. Even I could hear the slight desperation in my tone. Class it up, Kitty.
I opened up a block of Lindt Dark Noir Coconut Chocolate, popping an oversized piece in my mouth, and grabbed the handheld microphone attached to my Yaesu FT-2900R amateur radio. Using the keypad on the microphone, I changed the frequency from 145.825MHz to 144.49MHz. While the former signal was used by the handheld Ericcson radio in the Columbus module of the International Space Station, the astronauts were more likely to switch one of their other radios to the latter uplink frequency at this stage in their orbit; they had just started their pass over the Americas, which that signal covered.
I’ve been trying for a few months to reconnect with Namid Carpenter—once my school chum, now a celebrated Canadian astronaut—during several of the sixteen passes the ISS makes over America each day. Towards the latter half of his 126 day stint on the Space Station I had found out he had taken particular interest in using the amateur radios in the various modules outside of the Station’s regular appointments with student groups. That alone had sparked the idea to renew our acquaintance in the most unexpected, and even sentimental, way. We used to communicate with each other via HAM radios when we had first gone to our separate ways to different colleges, following graduation. Then Life interrupted, and, well…we have not talked in nearly a dozen years.
Up until around a couple of months ago I had sometimes heard a ghost of a reply from the International Space Station. I had even thought I’d heard Namid’s voice once: “NA1S—Crackle—ere. November Alpha One Sie—Crackle—eaking.” But, by the time I responded, either someone else was using the bandwidth to talk to the astronaut, drowning out my weaker connection, or it appeared the ISS had moved beyond the range my circularly polarized crossed-Yagi antenna could handle.
I grabbed another piece of chocolate and shoved it in my mouth, grimacing at the cramp searing across my lower belly. I knew my emotions were more heightened because of my period, but, following the recent media frenzy over the hushed up incident on the ISS two months ago, and whispers of assassination attempts on the astronauts from Expedition 63 whom had since returned back to Earth, I’ve grown genuinely concerned for Namid’s safety. After literal radio silence from the International Space Station for the better part of two months, it was a relief to read on various ammeter radio forums that people were starting to hear chatter on the Station’s regular frequencies again. I was determined to find out if my former best friend was well.
While I hadn’t seen the then-boy, now-man, in the last twelve or so years, my memories of our friendship were warm ones. He once asked me to be his date at the Homecoming prom, just so I could attend. Up until then I had been a delightfully geeky but awkwardly tall and gangly girl whom only the thoughtful boys had wanted date, except they were too shy to ask. I would hunch over in an attempt to appear more petite, but all it did was make me appear round-shouldered and even more awkward.
Namid had told me to stand tall and embrace the elegance of my lithe build: “The boys are idiots if they cannot appreciate your inherent beauty.”
At the time I thought his words were motivated by kindness, not from any true belief that I was beautiful. That’s what friends are for; to offer home truths for the most part, but also white lies when opinion becomes biased because of friendship. But he didn’t ditch me when he had become more popular in school and I was still trying to work through my intense shyness. Upon discovering my love of writing science fiction, he had even encouraged me to join the science fiction club and school newspaper by joining alongside me. He never cared that increased the probability of being considered uncool. He had always been more forward thinking, long before our classmates had considered that brains and personality were more important than their appearance and what they were seen to be doing.
I heard some static interruptions in the background buzz of my current frequency band, a sign that someone was online, just outside of my antenna range. I repeated my call to the International Space Station, in the hopes that one of the astronauts could connect me to Namid, even if he wasn’t the first responder. While I could have simply emailed him, or looked up whether he was on Facebook, I couldn’t shake the urge to renew our connection in a way deserving of the unique and special friendship we had once shared.
I pulled up AMSAT’s online Satellite Pass Predictions website, and input my longitude, latitude and elevation details, and saw that the ISS was indeed passing over my neck of the woods. But even that wasn’t a surety of contact. Even knowing the astronaut’s waking hours were between 7:30-19:30 UTC, that they were more likely to tune in during the hour-or-so down time they have before and after work, and then mapping when those times coincide with them passing within my horizon-to-horizon antenna range, there was still only a ten minute window to be heard.
“—llo. This is NA1SS. QRZ?”
My heart thumped in my chest. They were asking who was calling them. Were they talking to me?
Answer, stupid. You have no time to be tongue-tied.
“K1TTI calling. Kilo One Tango Tango India.”
I held my breath.
“Receiving you K1TTI. Zdravstvujte, Earthling. Where are you from?”
Oh god—they were talking to me!
Or at least he was talking to me. The voice was male.
“QHT Bellefontaine, Ohio.”
“QRN. Can you—Crackle—peat answer?”
“Noise interference here, too.” I told him, before repeating my location: “Bellefontaine, Ohio.”
“Ohio. The serdze…eh, the heart of the—” His connection broke, but I knew what he was trying to say. Ohio was known as heart of the United States, because of its position in relation to the rest of the country.
I grinned. I was talking to an astronaut!
“How are you tonight?” I asked, then realized how lame that was. I only had ten minutes, tops, to communicate with them, and I might as well have asked how the weather was. Not that they actually experienced weather up there….
The astronaut took a moment before replying. “It has been a…interesting day, thank you.”
This time I noticed the pause was not due to noise interference. Nor did it appear to be due to a language barrier. Interesting, indeed.
“Your name?” I asked him.
“Alexander Shvartsman. Yours?”
Ah, that confirmed it. Russian, second time on the ISS. “My name is Kitty.”
“Oh—Crackle—nd’s like your call sign.”
My grin turned into a smile. “Yes. Very similar. It’s a nickname I got while I was still in Mississauga at—”
I was interrupted.
“Kitty-Kat! Is that you?”
I was stunned silent. I would recognize that voice anywhere.
“Kitty?” the other astronaut repeated.
I found my tongue. “Yes,” I replied simply, my heart in my throat.
“Oh, how small Space is! Sasha, this is my best frien—Crackle—om school. We used to write science fict—Crackle—tories together, and dream of visiting other stars.”
“I still do. Write, that is.” And reach for the stars.
“Oh, you are an author?”
I nodded, then realized he couldn’t see that. “Yes.”
“I knew that you—Crackle—even back then!”
He knew what? That I had promise? Was insane?
Both were likely true.
I flexed my hand around the microphone, not surprised to discover my grip was sweaty.
“When did you move—Crackle—e U.S.?” he asked.
I paused, taking my time to piece together what he was trying to say. “Oh, two years ago. I needed a roommate after the second book in my series didn’t sell as many copies. So I utilized my dual citizenship status and moved in with Jae.”
“Sorry. QSB. Who?”
Crap. Fading signal. He was losing my connection.
“Jae. Juliet Alpha Echo.”
“Ahhhh, your friend fro—Crackle—iversity?”
“Yes.” The sound of another earthbound radio with a stronger signal chimed in, causing interference on our connection. I had to be quick, concise. “QRM.”
“Your signal is being interfered wi—Crackle—here, too. QSY?”
I shook my head, eyebrows furrowing. “I don’t think changing the frequency will help. We’re about to lose our ten minute window.”
“QRX on 144.49MHz tomorrow at—”
I sucked in my breath, waiting for him to supply a time, hoping that he was still in range, but he never finished that sentence.
“Seventy-three,” I said finally, closing off our call with the traditional message of kind regards, bouncing between elation at having been able to talk to Namid in Space, of all places, and sadness at having lost the signal before we had a chance to really reconnect.
But he wanted to talk to me again, tomorrow, on the same frequency. That much I was able to glean before the signal cut out. And the advantages of working from home meant I could just leave the radio on while I worked. If he came in range, and reached out, I would be here to answer.
I saved my manuscript file, checked my Yaesu FT-2900R radio was on, for about the fiftieth time, and picked up the microphone, repeating my call to the International Space Station.
No answer, for the third day in a row. What if he didn’t try contacting me back, because I had not heard when he had wanted to call me the other day, and missed it.
I put the microphone back on the receiver and walked over to the bay window, looking out at the night sky, imagining the International Space Station passing overhead.
It was still surreal that I had been able to talk to Namid while he orbited above Earth, but in hindsight I never even reacted in surprise when I had first found out he had been accepted for the astronaut program, four years ago. He had always been destined for the stars, his name literally meaning “star dancing” in Ojibwe, the language of the Anishinaabe people.
It had been a comfort, over the years, to imagine him dancing out there, among the stars. He had always shone so brightly in my world.
“K1TTI, this is NA1SS, Namid speaking. QRV?”
I turned to look at the radio, stunned. Yes, of course I am ready!
Oh, idiot. It helps to grab the microphone before answering. I rushed back to my desk and did just that.
“K1TTI receiving. Sorry about that.”
I laughed while the signal was open, to make sure he could hear. “No, I was not doing any ‘funny business’.” One day someone was going to get confused by our deliberate misconstruing of the ‘fine business’ call sign if we inadvertently used it with other HAM radio operators. “I was just in my own little world, literally.”
Now it was Namid’s turn to laugh. “Touché.”
“How is it in your very own Space, today?”
“Great! I worked on our latest vegetable crop experiment, answered some fan mail on my break in the Cupola observatory module, so I could spend some time gazing at Earth, then it was finally my turn to be abl—Crackle—o go into the Destiny module, to—”
The sound of someone clearing their throat, deliberately, cut Namid off. Presumably it was the Russian—what was his name again? That’s right: Alexander. Or rather, Sasha, for short.
There was silence for such a long moment that I despaired the connection had broken for good.
“Sorry about that. Security Procedures,” Namid eventually replied. “I’m still so distracted by being able to talk to you, again, and in this manner. But, no matter how nostalgic I am feeling, I shou—Crackle—not forget that we’re not in university anymore, telling each other all our dirty little secrets.”
“Ah,” I replied, remembering that module was the primary operating facility for U.S. Research in a sterile pressurized environment. “Got you, loud and clear.”
He decided to take me literally. “The connection is a lot better toda—Crackle—n’t it?”
I nodded, loving the warmth in his voice. “I’ve missed you,” I added, quietly.
Pause. “QSB. QRO?”
“Nope, no need to increase power. My voice was fading, not the connection.”
“What did you say?”
“Doesn’t matter,” I replied, again shy.
I heard whispering in the background, Sasha to Namid: “Ya Skuchau po tebe.”
“Oh, Kat—I have missed you, too!” he replied, suddenly, with such enthusiasm I felt a blush spreading from my cheeks down into my chest.
I grabbed my discarded chocolate bar, and broke a new piece off, shoving it in my mouth. I don’t know why I was feeling so bashful. It was natural to miss a friend I had not seen for a dozen years.
“How are your parents?” I asked him, by way of distraction, as I chewed on the chocolate.
There was no reply. Oh no….
“Repeat?” he asked finally, and I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
I wondered if my signal was fading, for real this time. “QSB?”
“Ah.” There wasn’t much I could do about atmospheric noise, unless we changed frequencies. We didn’t have enough time for that, so I asked him again how his parents were doing.
“Oh, they are still trying to match me u—Crackle—ny girl that’s of our people. They’ve just given up on her being specifically Anishinaabe. Apparently, as long as she’s a full-blooded member of any of the First Nation races, that’s good enough for them.”
I snorted. Some things never changed. “I remember your brother was more enlightened. In fact,”—I thought back to conversations we had when I had flown in to visit him on college break—“when I saw you last, didn’t Animkii say that at the rate you were rejecting women, you would soon run out of them, and one day the only person you could tolerate dating was me.”
There was a long pause. And this time I think it was Namid not knowing what to say, rather than the ISS passing over the horizon and out of my range.
Then, finally: “Would you like to be there when I take the Soyuz bac—Crackle—to Ea—Crackle—ext week?”
“Be on the Space Station?” I asked, the interference confusing me. “Alas, I do not have the clearance for off-world visits.”
He laughed, as I had expected him to, but then clarified his statement for me: “I mean, would you want to be waiting nearby, for the landing party…as my, ah…person there? When I come back to Earth.”
My first reaction was shock. He wanted me there? Me, and not a family member?
My second reaction—slower coming, but no less intense—was: Hell yes!
I didn’t know how to put my happiness into words; I didn’t want to presume. I finally muttered something mildly appropriate, only to hear a smattering of Russian in response.
“Okay. That’s settled then…. But now I have to go. Sasha says tha—Crackle—meone from Houston is trying to contact us.”
I was a mixture of elation and disappointment—our conversation was ending too soon!—but I told him my email address, so he could pass it on to The Powers That Be to organize my flights and transport to the landing site.
I was jotting down my own reminders when I registered his goodbye sign off: “Eight-eight, Kitty-Kat. NA1SS clear.”
For a second I brushed off his goodbye statement as heightened emotions due to finding each other again. But eighty-eight was traditionally used as a much more intimate sign off than seventy-three—both numbers part of the 92 code system adopted by the Western Union in 1859. While the latter number essentially meant “kind regards” and was used much more often on the radio waves, eighty-eight was used by couples to mean “love and kisses”.
However, I didn’t so much care how other HAM radio operators used the numbers….
What did Namid mean by his sign off?
I bit my lip, and then smiled, reaching for another piece of chocolate. Time to dust off my passport; I had a trip to plan.
Thinking of Ekaterina kept me preoccupied during the tedious three hour wait until the clamps released the Soyuz, and the springs in the docking mechanism pushed the Russian capsule away from the International Space Station. After the first three minutes the Soyuz performed a 0.5m/s burn to increase the separation distance, then maneuvered to nominal flight attitude.
Throughout it all I was performing my assigned checks, but couldn’t keep my mind off the woman who was waiting for me at Karaganda, near the designated landing site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Nine minutes later, the Soyuz performed a retrograde burn to ensure it was outside of the ISS’s sphere, and started its last full orbit before the Descent Timeline software was initiated.
“Excited?” Sasha asked me in Russian, nudging my arm with his padded elbow.
“Of course. It is always a bit of an adrenaline rush returning home, especially the last part of the journey.”
“No,” he drawled. “I wasn’t meaning that…. I was talking about your Russian Kitty.”
I laughed. “Technically she holds a dual U.S./Canadian citizenship.”
“But her name is Russian,” he pointed out.
“Yes. One set of grandparents did indeed come from your Mother Country.”
He said something about Russian women having more fire—ogon, as he called it—and I couldn’t disagree. While Kat had been painfully shy when I had known her in school, she had always felt things with a deep passion, and was fiercely loyal as a friend.
It remained to be seen if that ogon translated into….
I shook my head. No. It wouldn’t do me any good to make assumptions that could bite me in the ass later on.
I tried to focus only on the tasks at hand, and two hours, twenty-seven minutes, and a handful of seconds after undocking, the deorbit burn started, changing the capsule’s trajectory in preparation for atmospheric entry. While I was aware the Soyuz separated into three distinct parts, twenty-or-so minutes after the burn was completed, my thoughts were already on the ground. I was performing my responsibilities like a well-trained robot, but Sacha had to prod me to regain my attention.
“Earth to Namid,” he teased, using a popular Western term. “Not long now.”
I turned to him, smiling, then grimaced when the Deorbit Module slammed into the atmospheric boundary four minutes later, the drag on the capsule slowing it down as it endured extreme heating over the next six minutes.
Focusing my attention on a graph depicting the velocity/g-load, I watched as Sasha used the PYC Descent Control Stick to tweak the descent, making sure the module was performing within prerequisite parameters. Then the parachutes began to deploy, the heat shield was jettisoned, and I let myself loosen up, giving myself permission to get excited.
The last fifteen minutes passed by me, quite literally, in a blur. A thruster fired downward to decrease our velocity in the instant before impact, and just like that I was Earthbound again with a resounding thud.
While part of me couldn’t help but feel sad Expedition 64 was now officially completed, this time Kat was going to greet me once I was medically cleared. It was a giddying thought, despite the unfamiliar tug of gravity weighing me down.
The capsule was opened minutes after landing, an overly bright light shining into our confined space. Then NASA support personal and Russian recovery crews gently pulled me, and then Sacha, out to hand us over to the medical staff, the sensation of being weighed down draining our energy fast.
Carried over to nearby recliners to be medically debriefed, we reassured everyone we felt no headaches, unusual chest pains, or any kind of constrictions in our limbs. But, despite exercising a minimum of two hours a day on the ISS, our muscles had started atrophying in the absence of gravity, especially after being in Space for stints of six months or more.
I grimaced when I realized how ungainly I would appear when seeing Kat again, and the flight surgeon asked if I was in any pain.
I laughed, telling him I was fine—“I’m just ready to see my loved ones.”—and after the obligatory waves and comments to people viewing the live NASA stream, we were picked up to be taken over to the helicopter.
Keeping my eyes closed—I hated being manhandled by strangers—I opened them when we reached our transport to see a swarm of security surrounding us, checking the underbelly of the helicopter. Shocked, I glanced over at Sasha, who nodded grimly. Both of us remembered being briefed on the assassination attempts on Elanora, Babirye and Raine—astronauts from Expedition 63 whom had returned to Earth on the last Soyuz trip.
We also knew the importance of keeping the secret housed within the ISS Destiny Module exactly that: a secret. It was why I had organized a certain level of security clearance for Kat; so she could be protected under the NASA umbrella as family. I was so shocked and delighted to talk to her on the HAM radio, and in our many emails since, that I didn’t recognize at first that public association with me could also put her in danger, too, if the unscrupulous used her to get to me.
Well, I suppose keeping her safe was a good excuse to keep her close.
I was lowered directly in front of the helicopter, and reached up to clasp the hand hanging down from the cockpit to pull me up into it.
Our grasp secure, the hand squeezed mine with a warmth Kat’s had used to have when—
Shocked, I looked up, my eyes widening.
She was stunning. Waist length blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders as she leant down, her body still lithe, but now supporting the curves of a mature woman.
Kat looked down at me, her eyes dancing and her smile warm, and squeezed my hand again. “You always knew how to dress to impress,” she said, finally.
Confused, I looked down to see my flight garments in various stages of undress, and grinned. “I thought you were going to be waiting in Karaganda!”
“I wanted to surprise you, and it turns out for security reasons it was better to have me tag along.” She shrugged. “Something about concentrating their security measures.”
I opened my mouth to respond, only to be interrupted by a polite cough and the inescapable sound of someone clearing their throat.
I turned around to see Sasha supported between two men, grinning shamelessly. “Well, I’m feeling a little under the weather”—he coughed again in an overly exaggerated manner—“and believe I should take the medical personal with me in the second helicopter.”
Then he winked, completely destroying the effect.
Kat laughed. “Spasibo.”
He grinned, unrepentant. “You are welcome, Russian Kitty.”
Kat returned her gaze back to me, the twinkle in her eye softening. “QRV?”
My heart melted at her use of radio code. “I definitely am ready.” In more ways than one.
She pulled me into the cockpit, another medical assistant helping me into my seat.
I turned to thank the staff for their assistance, instructing them to close the door, and then focused my attention on Kat.
She leant forward to help strap me in. “I just learnt this less than an hour ago, but I’m hopeless at these things.”
Her hair smelt wonderful (oh god, how I was looking forward to taking my hair out of my long plait and wash it in flowing water) and I couldn’t help but reach forward to touch that golden waterfall.
She stilled, her breath catching.
Did that mean she was reacting to my touch? Or reacting badly to my touch, and was not sure how to tell me?
What if I screwed everything up, and lost our newly rediscovered friendship, too?
I waited for a long moment before sliding my hand up to cup her face, tipping it up until she looked at me.
“Ya Skuchau po tebe.” she said finally.
I smiled, loving the way she reverted to Russian when she was more emotional. “And I have been missing you, for far too many years,” I replied.
She studied me for a long time, as if internally grappling with something. Just when it reached the point where I was about to panic, her head darted forward and I felt her lips fall on mine.
I gasped in surprise, and the kiss deepened, alternatingly tender and passionate.
I tugged her closer, until she moved to sit beside me, her arm brushing my chest unintentionally; I moaned into her mouth.
The kiss deepened, my lips opening to the onslaught of her tongue—ogon indeed—and she slid her hand up my neck to slide her slender fingers into the plait at the back of my head.
There was a polite knock on the cockpit door, before it opened.
We pulled apart, laughing in happiness.
“Well, your brother was right, after all,” my Kitty-Kat teased, as she scooted closer to me on the seat and strapped herself in.
I reached for her hand, lacing my fingers with hers as the pilot hopped into his seat and started the rotors. “Yes, you are right. I think we’re in for one hell of a ride.”
Copyright © 2017 by Petronella Glover.
Heart's Kiss Magazine
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor LLC. All Rights Reserved.