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Story: Laika

(Translated from Swedish. Please tell me if anything sounds weird.)

Rodya looked at me. I looked at Rodya. Rodya glanced towards the dog.

“Someone really ought to…” he began.

I looked back on the dashboard. Three readings taken so far today. All three showed results that were well within the framework of acceptable.

“Emmy. You. Emmy, hey. Laika. Someone should go out with her. She’s been whining for a while now.”

I continued taking down my readings. At a visual inspection, as it they call it, the sun had grown significantly. That is, when I last looked out the window the damn thing looked larger. But according to the telemteroscope, it was the same size as yesterday, the day before yesterday and in fact all the week, month and year that we’d sat here staring at it.

It was not just the sun we looked at, of course, even if the damn ball of gas was the most intrusive.  We kept track of the entire cosmos. All the fifty-two ships of our fleet, from the Ace of Spades to the King of Hearts sent their messages to us two. We were the last astronauts, you might say. Rodion Raskolnikov and Emily Smith. The dregs of our profession, you could also say. Those who weren’t good enough to join the fleet that would find a new home for mankind. But when that humanity realized that the layer of debris in the atmosphere was too thick to get a decent signal through, we were suddenly wanted again. I was called away from my farm in Arkansas, Rodya from his cold little apartment in a suburb of Moscow. They sent us up with a space ship that was held together with duct tape and hope and dumped us on the remains of MIR.

“Emmy,” Rodya said again. That pleading, whining tone that I hated had crept into his voice again. “Emmy, can’t you go out with Laika this time? I wouldn’t ask you, but I’m so tired.”

“I’m doing the readings,” I said curtly. Actually I was done, but I reminded myself that protocol demanded I checked them again at least once. I started on it.

“I can do them for you,” he said. “Emmy, you know I can. I don’t understand why I never get to do them.”

I sighed. “You’ve got the dog to take care of,” I said. “You know it’s you she likes the best. How could I take her, she can barely tolerate me.”

“Oh, when the spacesuit is on in she won’t notice any difference, you know. Right, little Laika?” Rodya looked worriedly towards the sleeping quarters. “Can’t you hear her whining?” he asked.

I looked down at the dashboard and pretended not to hear him. Unfortunately, after a whole year together, he was too good at reading me to fall for that.

“Emmy, Emmy, let me do the afternoon readings today,” he said. He seemed to have forgotten the dog for the moment. “I never get to do them anymore.”

He came and sat next to me. Since the chair wasn’t designed for two people he pushed me off and I would have fallen to the floor if it weren’t for the lack of gravity. He was about to start pressing the buttons and the levers when I pushed him away. I misjudged the amount of force, as usual, and he didn’t stop until he bumped into the window across the room.

“That was unneccesary,” he said with a hurt voice.

I saw I’d have to talk seriously to him. That was nothing I looked forward to. The last time he had refused to talk to me for weeks, and however annoying he was, he was still my only companion here. “Rodion Romanovitj Raskolnikov,” I said. “You know what happened last time. It nearly cost us our jobs.”

I didn’t add “It nearly cost us our planet.” I didn’t have to. I saw a flicker of guilt cross his otherwise so innocent blue eyes. His lower lip began to quiver. I quickly put on a smile for him.

“Wont you take take the dog for a walk now, hm? You know she likes you the best.”

He nodded slowly.

“There you go,” I continued in the same encouraging tone. “Put on your spacesuit and tell me when to open the air lock.”

I continued with the readings. No new messages from any of our ships. There was a beep on the radio, but it was only Rodya. I let him out with one touch. He glided up just outside the window and waved to me. He looked incredibly small in the black space.

“There, Laika, sweetie,” I heard a whisper on the radio. “Do you want to play?”

Rodya bounced away in the emptiness out there, alone as always.

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