The world is devoid of hope.
Humanity lost in the midst of crisis.
One could only pray for a miracle.
The savior that emerges when darkness falls.
He brings the light of hope to the people once more.
Darkness engulfed the world.
What had remained of the once bright and lively atmosphere was now the fearful, desperate cries of the people.
As the virus continued to spread, the people were instructed to don gas masks and stay indoors. Yet, as the days passed and the situation did not get any better, the food and water supply were soon cut off. Panic ensued.
“This situation doesn’t look good. At this rate, we won’t survive!” His fingers tapped anxiously against the rubber of his steering wheel as he listened to the voices expressing their desperations through the radio.
MASA rode his car through the dark, empty streets. He sighed quietly as he witnessed how gloomy the area had become after the outbreak. A few people scurried hurriedly into the lobby after collecting their food rations nearby.
The vibration of his phone jolted him from his daze.
“Masa, where are you?”
“Nao, I just reached. Relax, I’ll be there shortly.”
“Alright. I’m just concerned. Hurry back with the things Kenji-san requested.”
As he set his foot into his apartment, the familiar scent greeted him.
Right after the outbreak started months before, he had not been able to return home due to emergencies at work. Deep down, he knew it was more than that. Ever since his father’s passing last year, he never felt he belonged here anymore.
However, that day, he felt a rare sense of comfort being inside his own home.
MASA threw himself on the chair and let out a very long sigh as he closed his eyes.
These few days had definitely taken a mental toll on him.
“We are unable to minimize the outbreak. It’s already out of control!”
“The gas mask can only provide basic protection. We are unable to do more than that…”
“We need to do something! We need to help those people out there!”
“Help? How? We are struggling with ourselves, how can we help others, Masa?!”
He recalled the words from his fellow mates.
From corner of his eyes, he noticed a small picture frame of his parents and him, taken 4 years ago. The one and only photo of them together.
“Dad, you taught me to be hopeful. You told me when I was a kid not to lose hope in any circumstances. Always be strong and keep going like a Koi fish…” He didn’t finish off his sentence before drifting into sleep.
The 13 years old Masa marvelled at the sight of a koi fish swimming in a pond as they went to Koiya shop to buy their Koinobori flag.
“Dad! Look at that Koi fish.”
“It’s amazing isn’t it?” asked Hiro.
“But Dad, why it’s swimming against the current?” asked Masa.
“Koi is recognized for its perseverance and determination. They never give up, Masa. We, as humans, should regard that as a life lesson. Whenever we are faced with trials, instead of dwelling in misery, we should gain strength and never give up.”
“With the remaining strength left in me, can I still save this world, Dad?”
Masa was awakened from his short nap by an incoming message by Nao.
“Masa! Are you done?”
The main reason he came back was to take a file that contains confidential information about a solar system.
Both Kenji and Hiro (Masa’s father), were scientists that researched planets in the solar system. Initially, a project called “K01ハビエル(habieru)” was supposed to launch last year but was shelved aside due to Hiro’s sudden passing.
Masa recalled Hiro’s speech to the press last year. He spoke about his discovery of a new planet and the probability of humans living there.
“Based on our findings, we have detected and confirmed a new planet in our solar system.”
One of the journalists snorted. “Really? So, is that planet liveable?”
Hiro felt his anxiety grew as people began whispering among themselves. “According to our research, we discovered that the stones on that planet undergo photosynthesis, thus-”
“Stones?!” That journalist cut him off before rolling his eyes in disbelief. Everyone roared in laughter as they glanced at each other. Hiro knew that they did not believe anything he said.
“I know that things now are not concrete enough but these discoveries keep us hopeful that-” His reassurance fell on deaf ears and the journalist, once again, interrupted him.
“Hope? You are basically saying we are living off the stones. You got to be kidding us, Mr Hiro.” He scoffed cynically as the crowd’s demeaning laughter thundered throughout the venue.
He felt peeved upon recalling the mockery and jeers, still etched vividly in his mind.
“Back then, nobody believed you. Now, Dad, I’ll prove them all wrong.”
Masa couldn’t find the files in Hiro’s study room.
“Where did he put it?” he wondered as he stepped out. Then, his eyes directed towards the room at the other side. “Storage room?”
He hurriedly made his way in and continue the search for the file.
“Yes! There it is.” A bright orange file was spotted amongst his other belongings in the box. He was about to head out when he spotted a familiar motif folded nicely on one of the compartments.
He looked at it and upon realizing what it was, he smiled.
12 years ago…
Masa ran towards his dad and gave him a big hug. Hiro smiled as he stroked his hair. It’s been 2 weeks since he was away for a research seminar in Tokyo.
“Dad, do you remember what date it is tomorrow?” asked Masa.
“Of course, my son. Let’s prepare everything by tonight & we hang it together, alright?” Masa nodded happily.
Being a scientist meant that he was always busy and had limited time to spend with his family, and he was incredibly grateful towards them for understanding his job nature.
That very night, they spent time hanging the koinobori flag outside their house.
“Masa, when you grow up, be like a koi fish. Koi represent strength and undying determination to overcome any obstacles. In any situation, even when I'm not there for you, I hope you will find the courage to stand tall and keep moving forward.” Hiro looked at his son with an endearing look.
“Understood, Dad! I’ll be sure to keep those words in mind!”
Masa did not know that was the last koinobori with his father. A year after, Hiro became fully immersed in his work due to endless pandemic claims made by various experts around the world.
Despite the reduced amount of time spent together, Masa still looked upon his dad with the utmost respect, for him and his career.
“I’m not only doing this for us, but for the world.” That very sentence that inspired Masa to be an astronaut.
Masa hurriedly left his house and scuttled towards his car when he noticed a middle-age woman sitting on the road with a kid, staring into space.
“Miss?” Masa tried calling out to her but she did not respond.
A muffled cry sounded from a distance.
“Mama, don’t be like this. Let’s go back.”
「“Go back? Where? Your dad has left because of that virus. We can’t go back like how we used to! There’s no point in living.” The woman replied exasperatedly.
The kid stood beside her and started to cry.
She was about to take off her mask when Masa forcefully held back her arm.
“What are you trying to do?!”
“Let me go! I can’t do this anymore. The situation keeps getting worse each day and I’m stuck here with my daughter. I’m not seeing any hope anymore…”
“So you’re choosing to give everything up? Right in front of your own daughter?!” Masa realised that his expression must have been intense, because the woman suddenly broke into tears.
“I don’t know! I just want to live a normal life again.” She bawled uncontrollably.
How long has it been since he has seen smiles on their faces? How long has it been since the world hit the rock bottom?
Masa looked at her. He placed his hand on her shoulders.
“I have not given up. You should not either. Stay strong, for your daughter.” She looked at him with tearful eyes. “Believe in me,” he continued, “believe in the people that are still trying to change and save the world. Place your faith and hope in them.”
His body reeked of aerosol after the thorough disinfection. Upon entering the building, Masa met up with Nao, who was tapping his foot uneasily.
Nao’s eyes lit up as she noticed his fellow mate walking towards him. “Thank god you are still alive!”
This small action made Masa smile. Kenji appeared and Masa wasted no time handing over the files.
“What will our next step be, Kenji-san?” asked Masa.
“I’ve talked to Zenta about this. I’ve just gotten a confirmation this morning, from the Spectromapper* we sent to space last week. It has successfully scanned the planet and it was proven to be a safe haven for humans.”
Masa and Nao let out a cheer of ecstasy. For the first time since the outbreak, they found themselves smiling.
Kenji patted both their shoulders.
“Are you saying that we have hope now?” asked Masa, optimistically.
Kenji nodded. “And it’s all thanks to your father who never gave up on this project up till his very last breath.”
“Although the planet is theoretically proven to be safe for living, we still need to convince the people that this planet is a safe haven for them.” Zenta spoke, his brows furrowed in worry.
“We have enough research and our findings have all shown positive results on how closely similar to it is to Earth’s functions.” Kenji countered.
Zenta glanced at Kenji, Masa & Nao each.
“I’ll go. I’ll prove to the people that the planet is liveable.” Masa volunteered. "
Zenta noticed Masa was holding onto the Koinobori flag tightly. It was hung outside Hiro’s house. Masa looked determined and being his superior, he knew nothing could change his mind.
Masa’s voice echoed through the radio & television as they held a press conference to announce his departure to the planet.
The Koinobori flag decorated the screen.
“Previously, my father presented this idea to the media. He strongly believes that this planet is similar to earth and it’s liveable. Yet, no one believed him.”
“He has never given up in trying to find better solutions for mankind. He worked so hard just for this project. The faith and hope he had dedicated towards this, those that knew him personally would understand.”
“At this point, do not lose hope. You may laugh or sneer at my decision but this is the only path we can go if we want to continue living our lives normally. I’m putting my life on the line for this glimpse of hope, not only for me but for mankind.”
“You did well, Masa kun.” Kenji smiled at him, proudly soon after the conference ended.
Zenta brought them to an enclosed cabin. The scanner lit green as his iris scan and the door slid open. They entered.
They were greeted by a white spherical spacecraft.
“A rocket?” asked Masa.
Kenji shook his head. “That’s a pod.”
“Ohio Max GPCRT006. This is the newly invented pod we are supposed to launch last month but due to the outbreak, it got delayed.” Said Zenta.
“We wanted to make a compact yet equally functional rocket. This is our end result. We already did a test flight and everything is in good condition.”
Despite working in the same institution, this is the first time Masa heard of this newly invented pod. Nevertheless, he felt overwhelmed.
“This will be your transport to K01.”
Masa stood in front of the pod and stared into space.
“What are you thinking?’ Nao nudged his elbow.
“I’ve been thinking, if my father is still alive, he would be proud that his hard work finally paid off and witness me flying into space for the first time.”
He looked at the Koinobori flag.
“Masa, he has always thought of you. This flag says everything.”
Masa and Hiro looked as their Koinobori flag fluttered in the wind. They looked at each other and smiled.
“It’s so cool!” Masa exclaimed.
“Indeed, it’s so cool. My son did it all by himself, didn’t you?”
Masa glanced at his father once more with that bright, innocent smile on his face.
“He’s always proud of you, Masa. Now is the time for you to shine.”
Masa nodded as he caught Nao’s assuring smile. “Thank you my friend.”
Ever since that press conference, they have been getting lots of positive feedback. Most of the comments expressed their high hopes that the world could still be salvageable.
“Don’t disappoint us! We are waiting for your good news!”
“We put our hopes on you! You are our only savior now.”
Upon hearing all the encouraging words, Masa is more determined as he brought along the hopes of the people, in his mission to save the human race.
After Zenta and Kenji completed their checks on the Ohio Max pod, they proceeded with a briefing.
“We are on a mission to discover what might be a new planet for the human race to live in. K01, what we call it.” Zenta started the ball rolling.
“Spectromapper* has confirmed the planet is free from any unusual activities. What we need to do next is to affirm the people that this planet is indeed safe for them.” Kenji continued.
Everyone nodded and had a moment of silence.
“Let’s do it!” Everyone placed their hands on top of each other and cheered.
Nao patted Masa’s shoulder as they exchanged glances.
“Go and come back safely.”
“CAPCOM Independence*. Go Flight.” Kenji checked and gave his approval.
“Crew member, lock your helmet. We are 20 seconds away before take-off.” Said Zenta.
“Masa, are you ready?” asked Zenta through the telecom.
“I’m ready, sir.” He replied.
“Counting down 5…4…3…2….1! Main engine starts!”
Water emerged from all four sides in order to cool down the surrounding as the pod finally took off into space.
Masa briefly glanced outside. He was mesmerized by the beauty of clouds and the vast blue sky.
“Never knew it would look so beautiful.”
“Successfully enter space.” Masa’s voice echoed through the telecom.
They cheered happily. Masa’s journey to space was live broadcasted on television and radio. He had wanted these people to board on the journey together in finding hope.
The location of the planet was already keyed in the system. Masa has to ensure that during his journey to K01, there’s no obstacles coming through.
After 5 hours travelling through space, he realized the K01 planet is getting nearer.
“I’m about 20 miles away from the K01 planet.” Masa updated.
“Okay. Good luck, Masa.” Said Zenta.
As he approached nearer, his heart beat faster. That feeling of anxiousness settled within him. Yet, he was happy he managed to come to this point.
“I have reached the K01 planet. Preparing to land.“
As the people listened to his words, they closed their eyes, raised their hands and prayed for a miracle. At that time, everyone became hopeful.
Masa headed out of his pod, with the Koinobori flag in his hand. He looked around. Although the planet looked barren and empty, there’s no sight of any unusual activity and he let out a tiny sigh of relief.
He unlocked his helmet, slowly taking it off. His eyes remained closed.
He stood lifelessly with his helmet locked under his right arm and gradually took a deep breath.
His eyes fluttered open as he released his breath.
“Masa? Masa? Can you hear me?” asked Kenji.
As they didn’t get his prompt reply, the people became anxious. They stared at their own televisions and radios, awaiting for his reply.
“Masa?!” Zenta shouted through the telecom. Nao became worried.
Then, they heard something.
“I did it...” a tiny voice echoed through the telecom. “Masa?”
“I did it! I can breathe normally, without a mask!”
Everyone cheered as they witnessed Masa take out the Koinobori flag, attaching it to a pole and implanted it into the ground.
“Now we have hope. I hope you guys out there stay strong and look forward to living our lives normally in days to come.”