The fly flew without purpose around a casing of two fluorescent lighting tubes. It would land for a moment on the side of it and then take off again to resume its flight plan. He had never seen it, but Terry assumed it flew the same way a drunken pilot would fly a helicopter.
The room Terry was waiting in was dated. The smell of 1970s linoleum refused extinction and remained in the room 40 years later; it was a cocktail of dust and mothballs. The walls were an olive green color, a hue that looks nostalgic in a kodachrome photo, but terrible in person. In the corner was a metal cart atop which stood an overhead projector. He remembered his high school chemistry teacher used one. The light would shine up into his teacher’s face and glasses. The shadows from the rims cast dark triangles above the teacher’s eyebrows making him a temporary devil. The projector head faced the wall. It looked like it was being punished; all that was missing was a dunce cap. It looked sad, or maybe it was nauseated from staring at the olive green wall for about ten years. The dropped ceiling didn’t help the room’s aesthetic either. One of the metal strips holding up the checkerboard pattern had bent; causing one of the white squares to slip slightly revealing piping and wires in the ceiling’s infrastructure. Right above Terry was a panel with a brown splotch stain. Either there was a water leak or one day someone was sitting at the conference table with an open cup of coffee, gravity reversed itself, and the liquefied coffee beans found a new home on the ceiling. The stain could easily be used as a Rorschach test but patients’ necks wouldn’t allow for it. Terry never did understand why dropped ceiling squares had little holes in them either. As an engineer, he never saw what purpose they served. It just looked like a team of ants had tried to send little tiny rockets into the ceiling, resulting in thousands of perforations in the Styrofoam material. He checked the email again on his phone making sure he was in the right conference room. He was, so out of boredom he started picking at a ding in the table, which exposed the corrugated material underneath.
Three minutes after the designated meeting time he heard voices ping-pong down the hallway and into the conference room. The bodies to which they belonged entered the room shortly after crossing over the threshold that had once been shiny and new linoleum, but was now worn to a matte finish. First in was Cory, the pilot for the upcoming mission. Behind him followed Rich, the mission commander, and another person whom Terry had never seen before. Terry was about to sit down when he noticed Cory wearing one of the EV gloves on his right hand; he knew this was going to be a hands-on meeting.
“Why can’t I bend my wrist more in this thing?” Cory asked abruptly. He tried to bow his wrist forward, but it remained pretty much straight with the rest of his arm.
Terry was unsure what to do about Cory’s terse question. He felt he missed the first few lines of the conversation so he tried to catch up. “Well the problem is the seal just above the bottom of the palm,” Terry responded.
“What do you mean?”
Terry grabbed Cory’s hand and bent it forward even further. “See, the further you bend your hand the higher the probability that the two pieces of the glove will rip on the back part of the hand. And if you keep bending your wrist over and over, the front part of glove could get worn down very quickly and rip.”
The other two in the room kept bobbing their heads up and down to get a good look at Terry’s demonstration. Rich finally cut in, “So what is it going to take to fix it?”
“You want to fix it?” Terry asked, a little confused.
“Yes.” Cory stated.
“We don’t have enough time or the budget to fix it this close to launch.” Terry replied
Cory kept wriggling his hand inside the glove. “I can think of five homemade remedies to fix it right now.” He was moving his hand on nearly every axis. Even though his hand was inside the glove didn’t look human. If spray-painted neon green the glove could pass for an ogre hand.
“We could always add almost a bubble of fabric on either side of the hand which would allow more range of motion,” Rich suggested.
“But then there is a greater chance the fabric could snag on something and rip,” Terry countered as he readjusted his polo shirt collar. The fly was still buzzing above their heads. Now it was making non-stop flights between the two lighting fixtures at the front of the conference room.
“Well what if you extend the fabric to the wrist?” Rich offered.
“I mean that would work to fix the wrist issue but with that material it wouldn’t let you move your fingers as much. You either have finger mobility or wrist mobility, you can’t have both,” Terry answered.
“Well, I need both to man this ship, the new instruments require it,” Cory objected.
“Look, we don’t have enough time to test it. We have 43 days left.”
“What are we paying you for then. You’re supposed to fix problems like this.” Cory’s voice was rising.
“You aren’t paying me. I want to help you but to do this the right way we need more time and--” Terry was cut off by an even louder Cory.
“Screw the protocols! I’m the one going into space, not you.” Cory was leaning into Terry. Even though NASA was all about space, no one working there ever seemed to get enough of it.
“I understand that, but plenty of other astronauts have done it just fine up til now,” said Terry.
Cory retorted, “You have one job here and that is to retrofit the suits so the astronauts are happy. There are new instruments and I need new gloves to make it work.”
There were only a few inches between them now. Terry put his hand over his shirt pocket. It was a pointless gesture, but regardless his hand was restraining the pen in his pocket from jumping out and committing suicide in order to avoid any more conflict.
“We did what we could with our budget.” Terry tried to explain, “We fixed the boots, made the cooling suit more comfortable, and we modified the shoulders so the weight of the suit is more evenly distributed.”
There was a pause in the conversation. Terry subconsciously listened for the fly above his head, but he couldn’t hear it buzzing. “Look,” Terry began, “we have to treat every change to the suit as a failure and then test it so many times to prove that it isn’t. We just don’t have the time now. I’m sorry.”
“So, you aren’t even going to try?” asked Rich.
“I don’t see the point. Cory, you will just have to find a way to get around it.”
Cory forced air out of his nostrils. Terry wasn’t sure if he was going to punch him, but it really didn’t matter since Cory couldn’t make a fist with the glove on. Cory ran his tongue along his teeth like he had just gotten his braces off. “Well then, I don’t see the point of you being here.” And with that, Cory turned around and left the room. Rich didn’t say anything either as he left the room nor did the nameless individual who hadn’t said anything the whole conversation. Terry placed an imaginary sticky note on his back as he left. “Village Mute,” it read.
The room was much brighter than he remembered, or the aperture of his irises had widened considerably because of adrenaline at defending his non-action. Terry returned to the chair and tried to calm down. He took off his glasses and massaged his eyes. He pressed down on his eyes and moved his hands toward his ears, maybe the scene of the last few minutes would slip out of the corner of each eye. Multiple things grasped for his attention, but nothing got a firm hold. Logic told him he was perfectly accurate in his assessment of the astronaut’s needs, but emotion made him feel otherwise. His mind began a mental archeological expedition, digging through forgotten magazines and college textbooks to find a simple and easy solution to the problem. After about ten minutes of searching he knew it was fruitless.
Terry stood up and walked to the front of the room to retrieve his bag. He had left it next to the punished over-head projector. As he was putting the bag over his shoulder, he spotted the fly. It was in the chalk tray that ran along the entirety of the chalkboard. It had come to rest in a snow bank of chalk dust, its legs bent up in the air.
He left the room, walked down an equally dated hallway, past the secretary’s desk, which had a big NASA logo on the front of it, and into the mid afternoon sun. He slid into his car, which started to bake him instantly, no different than what had happened twenty minutes previous. He went into mental autopilot as he drove home (if only they had an autopilot for the upcoming launch.) The conversation kept playing over and over in his head, especially the four seconds when Cory said, “Well then, I don’t see the point of you being here.”
Terry arrived at work a few minutes past eight. He saw the note on his desk even before he entered his office. Rather than pink, at NASA, they were a plain gray color. It was placed turned over, a passive aggressive move, Terry thought. A corner of the note was dog-eared. The note probably lifted off the stack of invoices the secretary was carrying around that morning and landed under her foot. She walked a few paces down the hallway until she noticed it was missing. He didn’t want to turn it over, as if doing so would prevent what was written on the note. He flipped it over and read, “Your employment at NASA has been terminated. Please have your things cleared out by the end of the day.”