Brad Astra (2019)
a Karl Sagan novel
Brad Pitt was in space.
He wasn’t cold or hot, wet or dry, happy or sad.
He simply was, in space.
He had never been to space before, or even thought about space in any real way, but he knew it was a thing.
As one of the top 58 stars in Hollywood, his finances allowed for such a vacation. George Clooney had once told him about space, since he had been there twice and enjoyed talking about it. According to George, space was “Fine. Not a big deal, really. And pretty cheap, considering.”.
Brad wondered what that meant, but he also didn’t really care either way.
Why had he come here?
Of all the places to spend one’s time, why space?
The shuttle had taken off without a hitch, without much of the excessive shaking you would see in a typical science fiction film or TV show.
Once the atmosphere was left behind, Brad treated himself to an overpriced Mars bar. It was in a tube, but it was, indeed, a Mars bar. Brad wasn’t particularly fond of chocolate, but he didn’t hate it either. Or even just liked it an average amount. He just knew it was food and food could be eaten by stars of the screen.
The tinted windows inside the shuttle cabin had switched over to reveal the blackness of space and Earth’s vast blue mass. Brad could see sparkling things he knew to be stars, which were probably far away.
Gasps, claps and other demonstrations of wonder were heard in the busy cabin.
It was just like watching a movie in the theatre at some swanky premiere, but with more space.
Brad noticed something: it was a hand waving in the air, somewhere in the cabin. He looked at it for a moment. The seat belt sign was soon turned off and the hand went down. Brad sucks another Mars bar tube chunk as he hears a voice calling him.
“Brad! Did you see me? I was waving.”
He looked up: it was Sandra Bullock, the star of While You Were Sleeping and Speed 2: Cruise Control.
Brad knew to smile right there.
“Can you believe this? Isn’t it a hoot?”, she continued, applying lip balm.
Brad thought maybe a response was appropriate here, since Sandra was looking at him and saying stuff.
“You’re here.”, Brad said simply, smiling again.
“Right? What made you take the leap?”
Sandra looked towards the shuttle window, Brad did the same.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
Brad couldn’t see anything he hadn’t seen before: Earth, stars etc.
“Is that normal?”, Sandra asked, perturbed, “Is that normal?”
She had turned to one of the shuttle attendants, who responded with a facial expression Brad had definitely noticed in a movie before. One of those comedies where people say things and then the other people raise their eyebrows, no doubt.
The seat belt sign was turned on again and the Captain’s voice filled the speakers.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please calmly regain your seats.”
“Fuck.”, Sandra said bitterly as she walked back to her seat.
The Captain continued.
“We are currently experiencing intermittent technical blackouts so you may expect some mild disruptions as we endeavour to fix this as quickly –”
The speakers and lights abruptly turned off.
Brad saw the Earth was small now. Maybe it was closer before?
“Can you believe this bullshit?”
Brad turned to his left to find Ryan Gosling talking to him.
“First the wifi’s slow and now this?”
Brad nodded because sometimes people do that.
Some time passed, mumbles mumbled all around the still darkened cabin.
The Earth was very small out there, now.
A seat belt click several rows behind Brad and then raised voices near the back of the shuttle got his, and many others’, attention.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium star Natalie Portman was arguing with the shuttle staff. One attendant was in tears. Brad sucked more Mars bar as Gary Sinise and Jodie Foster intervened.
Natalie Portman had slapped the crying attendant after they’d confirmed that the shuttle was drifting in space. They had politely asked Natalie to remain calm while they resolved this issue.
“Imagine making Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium just to be talked down to by some random. Unbelievable.”, Ryan Gosling said, genuinely outraged.
Brad had not seen that film, though then again, maybe he had.
The cabin was calm again. Amy Adams had smoothed things over by threatening the attendant with a lawsuit they could never possibly win. The staff had left the cabin, promising to return with more answers.
Space was all black, now.
They had drifted away from the Blue Planet, Brad thought. This was a thing that had happened just now, Brad also thought.
To his right, projectile vomit suddenly flew out of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang‘s Val Kilmer’s mouth, landing all over the window.
“Someone’ll clean that up.”, he said, dripping.
The cabin now smelled of Chardonnay and yeast, but mostly vomit.
In the distance, somewhere past the back of the cabin, significant clinking and clonking sounds whirled and clacked, rocking the cabin sharply.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who was sitting next to Ryan Gosling, lifted his eye mask.
“Are we in space yet?”
Brad could see something floating in front the shuttle, though he couldn’t make it out very well due to all the vomit stains.
“Is that an escape pod?”, Ryan wondered.
In the back, Natalie Portman was up again, this time hammering on the cabin door.
“What the fuck?”, Sandra Bullock exclaimed, looking at the pod.
Everyone now faced the front of the ship where the escape pod was floating, slowly getting further and further away.
“Is… is that the help?!”, Jake Gyllenhaal whispered to himself but loud enough that Brad could hear, “Why do they get their own ship?”
“They’re leaving us! Are they leaving us?”, Sandra Bullock was now red-faced, sweating profusely, “What the fuck is going on?”.
Natalie Portman, meanwhile, was still kicking the cabin door, pushing back anyone getting in her way.
“Maybe they’re coming back with a rescue ship?”, Ryan Gosling posited, not fully onboard with his own suggestion.
The pod was now but a dot in the deepness of space.
With a loud crash, the cabin door finally burst open thanks to Natalie Portman’s custom made Alexander McQueen steel-toed high boots.
“I fucking knew it.”, she said, looking at the empty cockpit, “They’re gone.”
“I could see it in their eyes”, Jodie Foster added, “Their celebrity-hating eyes.”
A barely audible scratching and thumping sound had persisted ever since the door had been kicked down. Gary Sinise noticed.
“Do you hear that?”, he said, “What is that? Where is it coming from?”
It seemed to be coming from inside the cockpit.
Natalie Portman walks up to a nearby door, puts her ear to it for a moment, then proceeds to knock it down with one carefully placed kick. Out of the closet falls out a man, an older, well-kept man, like a newly chopped tree. With the whoosh of his landing came a brief yet pleasant aroma. A Georgio Armani fragrance crossed with coffee, cheap, very cheap coffee.
It was George Clooney.
George was completely tied up, with a ball gag in his mouth.
“George?”, Gary Sinise promptly untied the Oscar winner.
A crowd had gathered at the back of the cabin, by this point. Only Brad and a visibly too drunk to stand Val Kilmer remained seated.
Sandra Bullock walked up to George.
“George? What are you doing here?”
George removed his ball gag and pulled out a small bottle of Tiffany’s Mouthwash from his suit jacket’s inside pocket. A few swishes, a gargle and a swallow.
“There I was, in the Platinum VIP cabin, when I overheard two shuttle servants talking about their plan to leave us stranded. I was on my way to the Platinum VIP washroom. I confronted them and, just like that, they drugged me, gagged me and, next thing I know, I’m in the dark not holding a champagne flute.”
Amy Adams then said what everyone else was thinking.
“There’s a Platinum VIP cabin?”
“Is Tom here?”, George asked, ignoring the question on purpose.
“Hanks?”, Ryan Gosling replied.
“In the Platinum VIP cabin? I don’t think so. No, I meant Cruise. Is Tom Cruise here?”
Everyone was silent.
“Darn. They must have got to him too.”
“Brad Pitt’s here, Mr. Clooney. Sir.”, Chris Pratt suggested, bowing respectfully.
“Brad? Brad’s here?”
Clooney passed through the crowd with ease. It parted organically, just like in biblical times but real. Yes, this all really happened.
“Brad! You old dog! Boy, am I glad to see you.”
Brad looked up.
“George Clooney.”, he simply said.
“Riding with the mortals, huh? That’s hilarious. You are one funny guy.”
Brad recognised the word funny because he’d heard it very recently so he smiled.
“Listen.”, George continued, “You remember when I took you on that VIP tour of NASA?The shuttle flying simulator? The one I couldn’t try because Clooneys don’t drive, they get driven?”
“Brad, you aced that thing! You moved us all in Meet Joe Black, now I think it’s time for you to move us all again. Back to Earth. What do you say?”
Brad turned to space and stared.
A full minute went by as the entire cabin remained silent, save for Val Kilmer’s snores.
Tom Cruise’s corpse floated by.
“Ok.”, Brad finally said placidly.
“That’s the spirit, old chum.”
George hugged Brad. He then sprayed some perfume on the vomit nearby and on Val Kilmer, who had just woken up.
Brad had been piloting the shuttle for over two hours.
George had been sitting in the co-pilot seat, telling Brad of his travels, encounters with world leaders and how he told his wife he was doing a Peter Jackson movie. Amal couldn’t stand that man: smelt like he took the subway, which he did. Anyway, she wouldn’t approve of him going to space again because it was bad for the environment, which was a thing she actually cared about and George only cared about in spirit.
George loved telling that story.
“You know, Brad. I feel like we connect, you and I. Always have. We should make another Ocean’s. It’ll be fun, plus it’ll make up for that spin-off.”
Brad was silent yet he looked uncharacteristically solemn. George noticed this new emotion. Even on the big screen, he hadn’t seen Brad deliver such intensity.
“What’s up, Brad? You seem… different.”
Brad remained silent, at first. George couldn’t quite put his finger on why, but he felt anxious in that moment. Maybe it was all that complimentary espresso, maybe not.
“We’re broken.”, Brad said sombrely, without elaborating.
After a beat, George ventured a candid question.
“Something wrong with the ship?”
“You can’t see it.”, he started, “They can’t either. Had to be done.”
George didn’t really know what to make of this.
“Look, buddy, if you need to take a rest for a minute, I could take over for a little bit. Watch over the auto pilot or… ”
Brad shook his head, as if to say “you don’t understand”, and was silent again. George was now nervous. He hadn’t felt this nervous since the dividing window between him and his limo driver got stuck.
Slowly, George leans into the controls. His hand nearing the joystick Brad was currently manning.
“It’s been a long day, buddy. I’ll just –”
Brad turned to George so fast, the latter was startled. Brad’s eyes were now glowing, a light blue colour. His pupils were gone.
“BROKEN!”, Brad’s voice was louder, deeper and somehow projected an echo. It was nothing like George had ever heard. He promptly sat back as Brad faced the front once more.
“We’re not going back, are we?”, George finally concluded, his heart beating at double speed.
There was a long silence. Only for a few minutes, yet it might have lasted hours. George couldn’t tell anymore.
Brad lifts his left arm and points ahead.
There was something bright. Far, far on the horizon, if you could call it that.
George was afraid but he also inexplicably felt relief. Like a weight was about to be lifted off his shoulders. A weight that had been getting heavier and heavier for many, many years without him noticing.
His Rolex was spinning out of control.
More from Karl Sagan soon.
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