The Missing Piece

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2018

By Lucy Zanker

“Wake up, Tommy,” I said. Tommy, my thirteen-year-old robotic brother (he really is a robot—no kidding) needs to wake up! He always walks with me to school. He likes to sleep though. And eat. And sleep some more. Oh, and get into trouble. It’s not like our dad cares. He’s too busy being the Big Cheese at NASA. Not that I care. He never pays a bit of attention to us. I mean come on, it’s not like paying us attention costs $100.

“Laika, school was cancelled in Houston today because the Astros won the World Series last night,” Tommy mumbled into his pillow. That was when I hit the roof.

“But we have our fifth grade bake sale at school today!” I groaned. “Why did the Astros have to win?” I muttered.

“Why did the Astros have to win? So I could sleep in!” Tommy pumped his fist in the air.

“You and your darn sleep,” I muttered under my breath.

“Hey, I heard that!” Tommy threw a pillow at my face.

“Laika, you and Tommy are going to have to come with me to the office because there is no school today,” Dad said as I stomped downstairs.

Nooooooo. I hate the office. It’s so boring. Too much math and calculations.

“What about a babysitter?” I asked nervously.

“Are you kidding me? After how you two were playing hide-and-seek in the washing machine? Absolutely not,” Dad said.

“Mom would have gotten us a babysitter.”

“Can you not bring up Mom’s death every time we argue?!” Dad huffed. Man do I wish that Mom hadn’t died because Dad really just lost the ability to love and care.

As I looked out the window of our car, I thought about all the other kids in Houston who are sleeping in or watching a movie or playing video games while I have to go to the most boring office ever. Life is really annoying sometimes.

“Okay, Tommy, at the office you’re not going to do anything that will get me into trouble. Go reboot or update yourself. I don’t know, just don’t get into trouble,” I said.

“All right, sheesh. Don’t get yourself in such a frenzy,” Tommy huffed.

I tried to prepare myself for the office. I brought a stack of books by James Patterson. I hoped that having the books would help with the boredom.

“We’re here,” Dad said.

Dad’s office was big. I had to give it to him. The ceiling was a huge cupola like the churches you see in movies. The office smelled of brain power, math, and rockets. I’m not sure if a room can smell like those things, but somehow it did. I hate those smells. The room had white walls and machines everywhere. Every nanometer was covered by a machine. Oh, and coffee. There were scientists running around with coffee in plastic cups, mugs, and thermoses. Actually, it also smelled like coffee.

“Alright, kids: listen up. Stay where I can see you. NO MESSING AROUND. You hear me? I am working on a rocket that will go up into outer space in three days and we only have to install the return gear. So I need this work day. Got it?” Dad drilled.

“Chill, Dad. We get it,” Tommy said.

“That’s what you say every time…”

“Dad! I’m going to go read!” I called out. Two hours later, I finished my books. I looked around to make sure that Tommy was within Dad’s peripheral vision. But, as usual, he wasn’t there. I didn’t worry. Yet. I just assumed he went to recharge at the power station. I checked there, but no robot. That’s when I began to worry.

“Tommy, Tommy! This isn’t funny anymore! Come out from your hiding spot right now!” I hollered. I peeked around a corner hoping that Tommy would be there. But nope. I checked around every door. Or so I thought… I popped my head around the last corner and… Oh, wow. I saw a huge room with a rocket that almost scraped the paint off the ceiling, with a catwalk that led into it.

Then I heard a banging. I cautiously crept inside to go investigate. “Hello? Is there anybody there? I’m looking for my robotic brother,” I called out. The inside was round and filled with buttons and switches and technology. There was a cockpit, a fridge, sleeping quarters, and a tube-like thing. I looked out a window, and I saw a bunch of scientists in white coats scurrying around. Then I heard the banging again and followed it. It led to… Tommy. He was camouflaged with all the buttons!

“Tommy, what on earth are you doing here?!” I yelled.

“I was bored. Duh. Weren’t you?” Tommy shrugged. I was so mad. If we had been in one of those cartoons on television, steam would have been coming out of my ears. Actually, steam was coming out of my ears.

“Sir, you’re coming with me. We’re getting out of here before Dad realizes we’re gone. And don’t even think about touching anything,” I commanded. We passed by another window that I hadn’t seen earlier. As I looked out the window, my mind began to wander and think about how cool it would be to go to space.

“I wonder what this big red button does,” Tommy said.

“Tommy, don’t touch the launch button!” I cried out. Too late. He had pressed the button. Then I felt a deep, low, hollow rumble. The rocket was beginning to launch. We ran for the doors, but they closed just as we got there.

“Now commencing countdown. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…” a female voice said over a loudspeaker.

“Tommy, what are we going to do?”

“This is awesome! We’re going to fly on a real rocket!”

“Super helpful, Tommy.”

The rocket rose into the sky like a giant coming out of his 200-year slumber. I looked out the window and the houses, fields, and buildings shrank and got warped as they got blasted with ignition fire. As the rocket lifted into the sky, it got darker, and darker, until it was as black as obsidian, with millions of tiny glittering diamonds flashing in space.

The next thing I knew, I couldn’t feel my body. I felt weightless. I was floating! “AWESOME!” I said. After a moment, I realized how quiet it was. You could have heard a pin drop. Actually, you couldn’t because there wasn’t any gravity so it would just float around.

Suddenly, I thought about how worried Dad probably was. “We should try to contact Dad at NASA,” I said. I floated to the cockpit to see if I could find something to contact Dad with. But there were so many buttons and latches and switches that I got dizzy. I sat down in the pilot’s seat and tried to find something that could help. I found a compartment with a latch that said COMMUNICATION. I opened it and found a headset with a mic attached to it and a sheet that said who to call. Thank you universe! I put the headset on and then I heard Dad’s voice.

“Laika, is that you?” Dad’s voice rang in my ears.

“Yeah, Dad, it’s me,” I answered.

“Laika, are you and Tommy okay? I was really worried about you guys. Especially you,” Dad said.

“Gee, I didn’t know you would be so worried about me,” I quipped.

“Laika, of course I was worried about you!” Dad exclaimed.

“Well, Tommy and I are okay. Thanks for asking.”

“Let’s talk about how you will get home,” Dad said, moving along. “First off,  I have good news and bad news. Bad news first: the rocket you are flying in has a major problem. It is missing a vital piece. The part that enables you to get home. Good news: the part is with you. Not you but with Tommy. Correction, in Tommy. You will have to dissect him, find the part, and put it in the correct spot. Then you will have to press the right button to get home. But when you dissect him, he will be gone. We won’t be able to get the part back. I’m sorry that it will have to be this way,” Dad affirmed. I fell back against the seat, stunned. I looked up at Tommy. I felt a medley of stunned, angry, melancholy, and shocked.

“Laika, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. I didn’t notice it but I was crying, silently. Quiet tears ran down my cheeks, as if they wanted to escape my eyes.

“Laika, are you sure you’re okay?” Dad asked again.

“No, I’m not okay! I am about to lose my big brother and you expect me to be okay? You’re a heartless father!” I yelled.

“I’m sorry, Laika, I—”

But if I don’t do this, we will both die. I’m going to have to take you apart.

Was that crying I heard from Dad? I didn’t mean for him to cry. I know Dad was sensitive since Mom’s death. I didn’t realize he was that sensitive. But I guess I am the one who was insensitive about Dad. I should have known that he would get upset. I also should not have kept all those feelings bottled up inside.

“Dad, please. I’m really, really sorry.”

“Laika, it just hurts me so to hear how you think of me. I try so hard to be a good father,” Dad sniffled. I was so remorseful at that moment. I felt so bad!

“Dad, can we get back to the whole getting-back-home thing?” I asked.

“All right, let’s get to that,” Dad said. “You unfortunately have to disassemble your brother. Fortunately, it will not be bloody. It will just be very metallic.”

“Haha. So funny, Dad,” I said sarcastically. “Tommy, come here!” I called. Tommy sauntered in with this I-am-so-cool kind of attitude.”Tommy, I’m going to have to do something very unpleasant. But  if I don’t do this, we will both die. I’m going to have to take you apart,” I cried.

“I understand this is very important. I just want you to know that, as your brother, I’ll always be there for you. Even if I’m not there physically, I’ll be there mentally,” Tommy acknowledged.

“Thank you for understanding, Tommy.”

“Laika, there’s a little button that says POWER. Press that.”

“I’ll miss you, Tommy,” I sobbed.

“Same here,” Tommy answered. I threw my arms around his neck and pressed the button. His eyes went dark, his arms stopped mid-hug, his eyes closed shut, his body slumped forward. He was gone.

“Did you do it?” Dad asked.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Now get a screwdriver to undo Tommy’s screws,” Dad directed. I found one in a compartment and began to undo all the screws.

“Are you done?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, what’s next?”

“Well, the piece you’re looking for looks like a cylinder and it’s about as big as your hand,” Dad instructed.

“Got it.”

“Good. Now, do you see the part on the control panel that says DESCENT with a little hole?” Dad said.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Put the piece there,” Dad responded.

“Okay. Next?” “Check the computer screen to see if something pops up,” Dad said.

“It says DESCENT ENABLED,” I confirmed.

“Now, when the ship turns around, you will go through the atmosphere and the parachute will deploy. It will be a water landing,” Dad said.

“What should I do?”

“Just follow the instructions on the manual. I will come pick you up in the water.”

The ship began to ever-so-gently turn itself around. We started heading back home. Suddenly, I fell to the ground. I was okay, but I realized that the rocket had already gone through the Earth’s atmosphere. I rushed to the pilot seat and buckled up. We began to pick up a bit of speed. The rocket began to shake and heat up. I was worried that I may be reunited with Tommy sooner than I thought. I mean, sure, I read what to do. But I was still scared. I saw out the window that we were approaching the Earth. I felt myself being pulled towards my seat. It felt like somebody had put an elephant on my body. The rocket was tumbling and rolling this way and that, while being tossed around like a hot potato. It felt like the Roller Coaster Ride of Death. Then I felt something jerk me upward and realized that the parachute had deployed.

“Prepare to make a splash landing,” a robotic female voice said.

As the rocket drifted toward the ocean, I was relieved to be finally getting back home. I had really missed my dad. I never really thought I would miss him as much as I did. The Earth got closer and closer until… BAM! We hit the water. The impact knocked me out cold.

The next thing I remembered was waking up in my bed. I looked up and saw Dad. I hugged him tight.

“I missed you. I was worried that I wouldn’t see you again.”

“I missed you, too. You took a pretty hard fall last night,” Dad joked lamely.

“Yeah. I miss Tommy, Dad. I want him to be here but that’s impossible because he’s at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Look, I’m sorry about what happened to Tommy. I really am.” Dad said, “I miss him, too.” This was a surprise. I never really knew that Dad cared a lot about Tommy. I mean, sure, he was his kid (sort of). “I’m also sorry about not being a very attentive father. I guess that after Mom’s death, I sort of closed up feelings-wise,” Dad confessed.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t the nicest, too. I had a lot of feelings bottled up inside and when I let them out, I don’t think I did it in the best of ways,” I conceded.

“You think so?” Dad tried, yet failed, to be funny.

“Can I have a hug?” I blurted. That’s just what he did. He gave me one of the best hugs in my life.

After breakfast, Dad walked in with this big, long sort of metal rod with a magnet attached to it. “What’s that Dad?” I asked.

“We’re going fishing in the Gulf of Mexico,” Dad said with a wink. I smiled.

Dedicated to Laika, the real hero. May you live forever in the sky.

The Missing Piece Lucy Zanker

Lucy Zanker, 11
Houston, TX

About the Author

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4 Comments
 
  1. Ana Luisa Puyol July 2, 2018 at 4:11 pm Reply

    What a great story, Lucy! The whole time I could hear you reading it to me and imagined your facial expressions, which made your story even better!

  2. walter beach July 15, 2018 at 12:28 pm Reply

    Who is Laika?

  3. Joanna Bressler August 4, 2018 at 2:02 pm Reply

    Great story. Fascinating. The details of how Laika managed to get back to earth were excellent.

  4. ChloeBelly August 18, 2018 at 5:55 am Reply

    Nice story

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