I need to fly.
I need — no — I want to be in the spacecraft and feel myself hover above Earth and let myself be free.
As a child, I pondered over books way past midnight, with a torchlight underneath the bedsheets, studying the planets and trying to discover unchartered stars. And yet, despite my high test scores in school, the high powers still deemed me unqualified and invalid. Invalid, imperfection; born out of love, they said, unlike my younger sister, Cassandra.
Even at birth, she had the nurses cooing over her in the nursery room, whilst I watched with our proud parents behind a glass partition. Everyone could see that Cassandra had no flaws to speak of, nor an ounce of hatred, smiles all the while. The geneticists had made sure she was free from defects. She could never catch the common flu, like us normal beings. She would never suffer a mental disorder, or distemper, like some of the populace. Physically perfect, she even had green eyes. The scientists made sure to accelerate her I.Q. so that she could join a special school at four years old.
Cassandra was the epitome of excellence in the eyes of our family.
I was, meanwhile, a degenerate.
“Mary, could you braid my hair, please?”
“You’ve always done it yourself,” I replied across the room as we prepared for our prom night. I placed my glasses onto my imperfect nose. The mirror showed a bespectacled girl with long brown hair. She was wearing a red dress.
Hand on hip, Cassandra sashayed towards me in a matching gown. Could you guess who looked better? “I need to be perfect. This is our last day together, and I don’t want to be seen as an ugly duckling!”
I curled the corner of my lips in a semblance of a smile. When I pulled myself away from the mirror, she promptly appropriated my chair, pouting.
Despite our differences, I never felt jealous of my Cassie. Yes, she excelled in all subjects and was very athletic. Her vivacious laughter could make even the most confident boy blush, with the exuberant confidence that she possessed.
She was never mean to me, only bossy, as any younger sibling could be.
“You’re going to be a vet, and I’ll be in the astronaut’s programme!” Cassie exclaimed, her eyes brimming. “Isn’t this exciting? We’re going to have an adventurous life, and you can see me fly off next year.”
“Yes, it’ll certainly be an adventure,” I replied, tightening the single ponytail braid, then twirling it into a bun.
We then stood side-by-side in front of the mirror, beaming. Mother poked her head into our room and quickly snapped a photo of us.
“You’re almost like twins with your smiles,” Mother said.
We ran out of the door. Cassie got behind the wheels.
A few hours later, we were still in the car but soaked in blood.
“Damn it, Mary, can’t you get anything right?”
I unlatched the locks behind the wheelchair. The machine was sleek black, custom-made with calf leather.
“Sorry, but the floor …”
“Never mind the fucking floor! Get me up. I need to take a piss!”
I lifted Cassie’s arms so that her legs dangled in the air. Using her arms, she then pushed me out of the cubicle.
“Come on, give me some privacy.”
I left Cassie alone while I waited quietly in the hallway until she needed me again. I switched on the remote control for our android.
I needed a drink. Badly.
“Cassie, D7’s here. I’m going downstairs.”
We were in our own apartment which Father bought after our night out three months ago.
I remembered that night. A drunken fool had driven straight and collided with the car. Unlike mine, Cassie’s airbag did not open upon impact. She sustained several broken bones. The doctors could not pinpoint the cause behind the loss of feeling in her legs. They speculated that the veins may have compressed during the crash. Only time could heal her pain and broken heart.
I took my glass, swirled the ice cubes in the amber liquid. I pressed myself against the panels facing the sea. The sunset dazzled, extending its rays across the horizon and beach. The sea crashed onto the sand, curling foam as it retreated back.
Our daily routine included walking, or at least an attempt on Cassie’s part, to walk on the sand. She and I had been hospitalised until Father ordered for us to be brought back home to his laboratory. After all, a geneticist needed his investments to be secured, unless he wanted the risk of the public seeing him as a failure, with his daughters viewed lying semi-comatose.
It seemed impossible, miraculous almost, but I survived without a scratch, with merely a concussion. It was unfair; Cassie would be turning 17 in a few days. I would have to prepare a small gathering soon, I thought. That is if she still wanted to see her friends, which I doubt she would.
Our accident was never mentioned in the newspapers or related to anyone. Only the man who died in the accident. The authorities took note of that — no one would want to cross the line with Mother now, another influential scientist, would they?
The only news offered to anyone curious about us was met with the standard answer – Cassie and I were on a long holiday in Europe. We had decided to take a year off before embarking on our future.
Cassie loathed any form of sympathy and often lashed out in anger at anyone close to us, including our dog. Books, glasses, anything within her range — she often hurled them at Father and Mother after they had examined her. “Fix me, damn it! You made me, now fix it!”
I stayed in the shadows, my mind wandering to another world where neither of us were hurt. Our android and dog was my sole companion during my recuperation period. Cassie became a prisoner of a different kind, seeking refuge in her room. Slowly, we were separated by a wall of anger and deafening silence.
“We have a proposal for both of you,” said Father.
All four of us were having dinner. Mother chose to gently cut into her fish and remained silent.
“We believe that both of you can still lead a normal life, except differently. Mary,” he turned to me, “you’ll have Cassie’s place in the space programme.”
“While I get to maim animals?” Cassie remarked.
I shook my head. “Father, even if we did, the Space Committee will never allow it. Cassie’s a trained astronaut. She’s trained since forever.”
“I don’t need you to defend me. You’ll never be me. You were never perfect. Never!”
Cassie wheeled away from the table before I could rush up to her.
It was Mother’s turn now. “Don’t worry, she’ll recover from her injuries, but the committee recently agreed that you’re a perfect candidate, given that you’re still intact.”
“Training starts in two weeks. Anyway, both of you look almost similar. You’ll still be you, only carrying Cassie’s name. No one will be the wiser.”
Still intact, I mused. The two words lingered in the air. My dream to be in space was about to come true. It then dawned on me – we were only investments in our parent’s eyes, a trophy to be displayed as their success.
I ran to my room, torn between guilt and joy. It would only be one mission, and Cassie would be much fitter by then. I would still be her shadow, an unknown. She would understand eventually, I hoped. I tossed and turned until dawn, then slowly crawled to Cassie’s room. Her bed was untouched. I ran to the beach.
On the shore was a body. Waves pounded against it.
This would be my fifth mission to Mars. My crew was decked in their suits and we were ready to depart from Earth. We had successfully built an eco-dome made habitable for humans to stay for longer missions.
“Captain Cassandra, are you all right?”
I nodded. I could not wait to return back to Mars. It was easier living with only scientists and the odd tourist there. At least, I would be far away from Father and Mother’s clutches.
I had Cassie’s remains in a cryogenic state much to our parents’ objections. She had her own room in the dome on Mars. Using a software programme that enabled it to connect Cassie’s brainwave, our scientists also managed to revive her mind as a living being.
Are you ready, Mary? Cassie asked on the screen. I could somewhat see her smiling in a semi-zero-gravity dorm.