I don’t know how I managed to wangle a ride to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, but I did. They stuffed me in the back seat. I didn’t know the Soyuz even had a back seat, but it must have because I got to ride out the trip to orbit in a cramped compartment cut off from the crew with no lights except for a porthole. As the engines roared for ever and ever and ever I remember looking down at the Earth through my single tiny window and thinking, Hey, shouldn’t we be a little higher than this?
The next thing I remember is slogging through ankle-deep water while trying to keep up with a very young service man who wasn’t at all interested in answering any of my questions. When I asked him where I was, he pointed out the window and said, with a note of exhausted sadness in his answer, “Kazakhstan,” and that was all I could get out of him. The window he pointed to, by the way, went from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, like a zoo exhibit, and just on the other side of it was a wide, sandy, sunny beach jammed hip-to-hip with happy swimmers and sunbathers, so it wasn’t exactly self-evident that this was Kazakhstan, just as it wasn’t very clear why a sunny, crowded beach should fill this particular soldier with so much ennui.
He led me to a combination locker room and toilet. I was more than a little disappointed that I wasn’t taken to a very expensive and impressive-looking medical facility to be given a comprehensive check-up and a thorough debriefing by engineers and analysts eager to figure out what went wrong. At least a bit more official than being dropped off in a dingy locker room by an enlisted man and told to “just dump your space suit on the floor.” The room was painted a revolting shade of puce; not just the walls, but the floor, the ceiling and the lockers, too. It looked as if the job had been given to a gang of teenagers who were handed five-inch brushes and told to finish as quickly as possible, but try not to get any paint on the porcelain.
About a dozen young service men and women were using the locker room and bathroom. They all acted as if they couldn’t see each other, although they very pointedly stared at me while I peeled off my space suit, a garment that was by that time barely more than a cheap plastic coverall and a gas mask. I left it on the floor in a heap, as instructed, then opened the nearest locker and stole somebody’s blue uniform pants and shirt and got the hell out of there.
My Darling B was waiting for me, also in uniform, in the chow hall, where a couple dozen people introduced themselves to us but wouldn’t tell us where we were or how we got there. We stood up to salute some old fart who introduced himself as the base commander, until I noticed he was a staff sergeant and told him to take a hike. Lunch was served shortly after, and we ate until we were so full it made us sleepy enough to find a deck chair on the beach where we could stretch out for a nap.