by John Gerard Fagan
Tex opened his eyes, looked out the window and saw it was dark – it was always dark. The Earth, smaller than his hand, ignored him in the distance. The whiteness of the shuttle’s interior stung his sticky eyes. He undid the belt and got out of bed. It reminded him of a coffin. His face was clammy and his back was wet from sweat. It was hard to breathe in there. Tex floated over to the control station, secured himself to the hard foam chair, and activated the video diary.
“G’day, it’s me again,” he said through a yawn. “This little computer is telling me it’s now day fourteen. I haven’t had any contact with any of you pricks for a while now. You fuckers had better not have left me out here. Geez, I’m starting to feel crook. Fuuuck. Well, in terms of me mission, one of me guitar strings broke, so I’ve not come up with anything since me last diary entry; I’ll need time to fix it, but geez I’ll have that song ready just as soon as I do, and that’s a bloody promise. I’ve had some good ideas, and I’ve been thinking I could write one about an old sheila of mine who broke me heart. Let me know if that’s what you’re after. Well, I’m needing a piss now, so I’ll speak to ya later.” He posted his latest entry and released himself.
He attached his feet to the floor, just like they taught him in training, and pulled a chord that undid a layer of clothing. Tex hated that silver suit; designed for comfort, if comfortable meant constantly having sweat running down your back all day and a feeling of sandpaper rubbing against your prick.
He picked up a water bag from a dispenser and let his thick yellow piss spray into it. He shoved the bag into the waste disposal unit, and it was sucked out into space.
He’d been confined to a space shuttle no bigger than a caravan. Contact with the Hobart Space Centre had been lost ten days previously. The shuttle was full of gadgets and machinery Tex had no idea about. Things would hiss and click at random times. He thought the launch would be the hardest part of the mission, but he was wrong.
Tex reached into the small, refrigerated box, pulled out the last can of Boag’s XXX Ale and skulled the contents. He let the empty can float away inside the room. Tex looked at his guitar, untouched the whole time he’d been in the shuttle, and then moved his eyes to the photograph of his best friend.
“You write the bloody song then Stinky ya prick. Fuuuck. I know mate, but me mind’s went blank. I’ll have something written bloody soon and get us back home. Don’t say that. Geez you’ve been a pain in the arse since we’ve been here. I should have never have rescued you from the pound.” He sat in silence, staring at the dog. “I’m only kidding me little puppy dog. Geez, we’re best mates me and you.”
He picked up the guitar and strapped himself back into the chair beside the control station. Tex stroked the smooth wood with his palm as distant memories ran past in his mind. He strummed the wire strings; they were out of tune. Tex twisted the keys until it sounded the way he remembered it should.
“G’day, g’day, how’s it going…” he sang then let the guitar go. It floated up to the corner of the roof and stayed there.
“What the bloody hell are you doing out here Tex? You’re sixty-six years old mate and playing at being a bloody spaceman. Fuuuck,” he whispered into his hands. His eyes rolled around the ship. That midget sized bed, the blue coloured walls, that control desk that looked like a squished spider and those fucking cupboards painted with the Tasmanian flag had now all been engrained in his memory. He had been there for too long; it was only meant to be for seven days.
“It seemed like a good idea didn’t it Stinky?” he shouted at the photograph. “I know mate, I know.” He let himself loose from the chair and drifted over to the cupboard. Everything was silent. He could hear his organs pulsating inside him. That was all. He opened a door and took out a nutrition bar. He bit into it and coughed. Fucking shitty space food. It tasted like paint. He floated up to the roof.
“What the fuck is that smell? Is that you Stinky?” He sniffed his armpit and his face recoiled. “Struth, it’s me mate. Well, what do you expect? I haven’t had a bath in days mate. Do you expect me to smell as fresh as a sheila only using those fancy wipes? Fuuuck. A man needs a bath once a week mate. I feel salty.” He looked out the thick window then banged his head against it. A thin layer of grease from his forehead stuck to the glass. He smudged it with his fingers.
“Those pricks better get me back soon.” He pulled himself over to the video diary area.
“Righto bastards. I’ve had enough of this shit. Get me bloody back home. You hear me? I’m running out of that cardboard you call food, me water supply is getting low and I’m fed up shitting into a bag.” He punched the metal and his fist throbbed. He let himself float around the ship.
Tex Kelly was Tasmania’s only chance. He was a surprise option, having never had much success as a musician. He had a few unpopular albums out in the late nineteen eighties and never wrote much after that. He rose to fame when an old album cover of his – a picture of him cutting down sugar cane with a guitar – was used in the Tasmanian Independence campaign. He was invited to sing during the morning at Tasmania’s freedom concert. It was held in the capital Hobart, July 2024 – the year they gained independence from Australia.
Tex was attempting to be the first person to compose a song entirely in space and send it back to earth. He was the last musician in Tasmania to still play old-style country music, and when the new Tasmanian government asked their people who they wanted to represent them in the space race an internet campaign urged people to vote for the man who appeared on the freedom flag. After refusing twice, Tex was finally convinced to undertake their first space endeavour.
The Americans, the Chinese and the Russians had plans of their own, but the Tasmanians were the first to act and sent Tex up in a tiny space shuttle three months ahead of schedule. He was waved off a hero, armed only with his trusted guitar and a photograph of his dead dog Stinky.
On day sixteen Tex woke from a deep sleep. He was upside down, caught between the command chair and the floor. He heard someone calling his name. After a few seconds, he realised it was the control station back on earth.
“Tex, Tex, do ya read me?” a coarse voice said. Tex pressed a button and spoke.
“I hear ya mate. What the bloody hell happened down there?”
“We’re not sure, but everything’s under control now mate. It’s a new system we’re working with. You right? You don’t sound too good mate.”
“Struth, I’m fine mate, a bit dehydrated I reckon. I’m getting low on food and water. Geez, I’m ready to come home now.”
“We haven’t received the song yet Tex. What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t think of one. I gave it a go mate, but I’ve had enough. An old man like me ain’t meant for space.”
“For fuck’s sake,” the voice shouted. “Just write any old shit and send it to us. No one cares about you or any of your fucking music. You ain’t up there because you’re the best musician – your only there because of a bloody picture! I don’t want to lose me temper with you mate. We just need a song, any old bloody thing will do.”
“I bloody care. I don’t want to be remembered by a shitty song I wrote cooped up in a tucker box in space ya prick.”
“Look mate, I’ll make this as clear as I can. Those fucking yanks and commies are back in the race. I don’t mean to panic you, but we don’t have much bloody time left.”
“I thought you said those pricks gave up after we launched, and I had as much time as I needed?”
“They did but since you’ve not fucking done it, they’re sending their boys up this week. They said we’re all poofters in Tasmania. We can’t be having that Tex, so just fucking write something or we’ll leave ya out there.” The line went dead.
“Fucking prick.” Tex strapped himself onto the command chair and whacked different buttons. “Take me home ya piece of shit. A week those bastards said, a week at the very most, even if I come up with something or not.” The lights went out in the shuttle and he fell silent. A set of luminous orange lights lit up after a few minutes.
“What did you say Stinky? Well, it’s all your fault ya prick. You convinced me this was a bloody good idea. I should be in the little pub back home drinking schooners. Fuuuck, it’s hot in here.” He buried his face in his hands and pushed his eyes until he saw yellow rings. Tex leaned over and pulled the photograph off the wall.
“Remember that day when I played in Launceston and you pissed in me guitar. Geez I was mad. I had piss running down me arms before I realised what had happened. Well, I just want to say I’m sorry for kicking ya in the nuts mate. I didn’t mean to go wild on ya. Can you forgive me mate?” Tears ran down his cheeks. “You were the best mate I ever had and I should have treated ya better. You were always there for me, and I didn’t even get ya buried properly. I had some prick chuck ya into the sea like you were nothing. I’m so sorry Stinky. I’m so sorry.” His eyes were red and his bottom lip was trembling.
Tex stuck the photograph back to the wall and flicked a switch that had an upload of his greatest hits. He turned it off as soon as he heard the beginning of the first track. I was shit, he thought, I never made a bloody good song in all me life. Fuuuck. He left the chair and opened the food cupboard. Five nutrition bars were left. He opened one and bit a little bit.
“Fuuuck,” he shouted holding his jaw. He dabbed a finger in his mouth; it came back with blood on it. “Geez Stinky me teeth are hurting. It might be all those juicy steaks we used to eat mate. I remember when I went to the dentist a few years back when I had a sore tooth. The dentist said to me, Tex I’ll be able to save your tooth, but it will cost ya six hundred dollars. Six bloody hundred dollars – fuuuck! Do you know what I said to him Stinky? I said, just pull the bastard out. He referred me to some other prick, but I never went mate. We had to go play a gig in Melbourne. You remember that day? Fuuuck, it was full of pricks. I got booed off the stage I did. Those fuckers never liked us from the little island did they? Tasmanian pricks they called us. Bastards the lot of them. I’m telling you mate, Independence is the best thing that ever happened to Tasmania. It’s a bloody shame you never got to see it.”
After a while Tex picked up the guitar again. He strummed a few chords and sang,
“When will I go home? Where the grass is green. Where the sky is blue. I hope you’ll be there too.” It was the first new lyrics he had written in over ten years. In less than twenty minutes he had the new song ready. Tex forced the rest of the nutrition bar down his neck, drank some water from his depleting supply and strapped himself onto the small bed. He looked over at Stinky’s smiling face.
“I remember one night when you were just a pup. I felt someone licking me face when I was in me bed. I thought, aha me luck’s in here. Turns out it was only you ya prick. Fuuuck. Ha-ha. We had some laughs back in those days didn’t we mate? Best mates Stinky. Geez you loved your tucker; only juicy steak for Stinky mind. You’d hate the food in here; I wouldn’t blame ya either mate.” He closed his eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Tex woke to the sound of a man’s voice. His eyes nipped in the orange glow. Tex made his way to the command centre.
“Tex, do ya read me Tex?” the voice said.
“I’m here, I’m here.”
“Righto mate, have ya loaded up a song into the video diary?”
“Not yet, but I wrote one yesterday. Geez it’s a beauty. It might even be me best yet.”
“Great, that’s bloody marvellous that is mate. Get it uploaded as quickly as you can and post it off to us. Those yanks fucked up their launch this morning so they’re out, but the commies shot up this afternoon. It’ll take them a day at least to get set up I reckon, so get it done ASAP and we’ll get ya home.”
“Righto.” The line went dead. “Ya cunt.” He headed back over to the bed. “I’ll go for a bloody sleep if I want to Stinky ya prick. And what if I don’t? You and no-body else can tell me what to do. You’re the real fucking reason I never met a sheila. You would scare any off I brought back with me wouldn’t ya? You ruined me life Stinky, you fucking ruined it.” He reached for the photograph, slammed it into the waste disposal unit and fired it out into the darkness. He fell silent in realisation of what he had done. He cried and tasted dregs of hot sick. He spat them out and they floated around the shuttle. He stared out of the small window and into the abyss. Darkness, it was all darkness. The earth looked further away than it ever did. He wanted to go home.
The Tasmanians wanted to prove they were a new country that was going to achieve great things. They surprised the world when it was revealed, at the last minute, that they were challenging the world superpowers in the latest space race. No one even knew they had a space centre to begin with. Their shuttle, Lalla Rooke, was fired into space quicker than any other. Now, only six years after Independence, they were on the brink of another defining victory for the country. It was revealed after the shuttle went into space that the Tasmanian people thought their entry in the space race was some sort of joke, and that’s the only reason they voted for old Tex Kelly. Some thought he was already dead.
Tex scooped up the guitar and turned on the video diary.
“G’day Tasmania, it’s your old mate Tex here. This is me latest and hopefully one of many new songs I’m planning to write.” He strummed his three favourite chords, repeating them twice, and then he sang: “When will I go home? Where the grass is green. Where the sky is blue. I hope you’ll be there too. When will I go home? Where the coral sleeps. Where the sugar cane grows and the wind she blows. When will I go home? When will I go home?” Tex stopped playing his guitar, stared into the diary screen and pressed stop. He looked at his guitar; a friend he had for forty-one years; and played thousands of times. He jammed his old mate between the seat and the shell of the shuttle and put his foot through it; shards of wood from the guitar floated up. He let the rest of the broken instrument drift and went back over to his bed to lie down.
The Australian government wanted to turn the whole island of Tasmania into a prison. They saw it as their best option to control an ever increasing amount of convicts. The whole island was to be turned into a fully enclosed prison with escape being impossible. The government also wanted to rent the new prison island out to other countries as a place to store their long-term prisoners. It was seen as a potential highly lucrative earner.
They had outlined plans for every Tasmanian to be relocated in the new townships in the Simpson Desert. The Tasmanians went wild over the news. This initial reaction was followed by protests all over the island and a demand for independence. An election took place on Tuesday the 16th June 2024. The Tasmanians voted by an overwhelming majority for immediate independence from Australia, and thus the world’s newest nation was born.
His eyes were closed, but he was awake. The voice was screaming through the line. He strolled to the chair and cuffed the communication channel.
“G’day,” Tex said.
“Don’t ya bloody G’day me ya cunt. Where’s the fucking song?”
“I’ve recorded a bit of it on the diary.”
“A bit? What do ya bloody mean a bit?”
“I’m sorry mate. I can’t do it anymore. I’ve had enough of it all. I don’t want a comeback; I want to be left alone.”
“Fuck. Righto. Well just send us what you’ve got mate. There’s still time. We’ve heard reports that the commie cosmonaut rappers are still recording, but they could send their song any bloody second, so send it to us now and we’ll be right.”
“Mate, I don’t think I should.”
“Millions and millions of fucking dollars were spent on this ya prick. It’s our first space mission, and we don’t need some old turd like you fucking everything up. We need to win this for the country mate. Do you want those Aussie pricks laughing at us? Just send the fucking song, and it’ll all be over. We’ll get ya back home.”
Tex stared at the virtual diary.
“How long will it take before I’m home?”
“Fuck me. Send the fucking thing will ya and I’ll tell ya.”
“Promise me one thing.”
“Just promise me if we win it will be dedicated to me dog Stinky.”
“Sure mate, just post the thing will ya.”
“And you promise right?”
“Yes, for fuck sake yes, I promise, I fucking promise!”
“Righto. It’ll just take me a second.”
“Hurry the fuck up ya old shit.”
Tex activated the video diary.
“He’s posting it just now.” Tex heard the voice say in the background. He held his arm over the send button and looked out at the ball he called home. He let his hand hit the button.
“He’s posted it. Have we won? Have we won? Yessss!” the voice screamed. Tex could hear people cheering, and the song he’d written, faintly in the background. He never took his eyes off the tiny globe.
“Can ya bring me home now mate?” Tex said to the command centre but the line was dead.
Tex woke up in the chair on day twenty-seven. It had been nine days since he posted the song and had heard nothing from the Hobart command centre since. He hovered over to the empty food container hoping he would see something different from the last time he looked. He had drained the last drops from the water tank the day before. Tex was gasping in the stale air that lingered in the shuttle. He had stripped down to only his lucky black pants. His skin was like wet putty and he could taste dry blood on his lips.
“What’s going on Stinky me little puppy dog? When did you get here?” His face was tight and grey. Stinky had appeared and was drinking water from a bowl. “Save some of that for me mate.” Tex pulled himself over beside Stinky and the water but it had disappeared. “Where’d it go mate? Did ya drink it all ya prick?” Stinky shook his head and floated over to the bed. “It’s alright mate. I believe ya. I’m glad you’re here now. Geez I’ve missed ya.” He strapped himself onto the bed, held Stinky in his tired arms and closed his eyes.