Don’t Forget Your Dreams
Between the Stars
A space traveller’s journal
by Graeme S. Houston
part 1 of 2
Before me was a great window, which had been placed with due consideration so that my last view in this life, was the Earth. She shone before me, white melding with blue and dispersing to reveal green, such a pure marble, solid and delicate. The collage of water, vegetation air and life called to me.
Her dark half was the shining lights of a distant, but most welcome city. She was an imperfect sphere, but from my last vantage point, she bore a perfection of geometry above all else and not without a great deal of tension, did I place myself upon that bed, where I would be put to death, for my crimes.
The tension was short lived, and a shot to my arm administered by the ship’s doctor soon lulled my mind into a harmonious state. I felt the smooth satin material below me as I lay my body flat. I felt myself sinking into it and I gazed at the well-lit white of the ceiling, its brightness soothing me. All thoughts of pain or death were swept from my mind, replaced with contentment; I would experience la petite mort, the little death, but I would have the luxury of resurrection.
I would wake up among the first of humanity to witness first hand the beauty of another solar system, and the beauty of another Earth-like planet. I closed my eyes and imagined how wondrous it would be to be among the first humans ever to set foot upon an exo-solar world. I could hear a gentle hum as an encasement slid around me and sealed me within. I was about to be cryogenically frozen, about to become a time traveller, I would wake up in forty years, circling another sun.
Robotic devices hooked themselves up to my body, drugs were administered and I drifted off into a deep sleep where people, like the stars, played out their lives for eternity within my mind. Time became a thing of prior convenience, small universes were created and vanished within my head, tides swept in and out, civilisations rose and fell, and endless dreams unfolded. Forever exploring, my thoughts raced, though locked in ice, they explored all their current extent giving me dreams in which nothing new was created but the old was played again and again with ever more poetic permutations.
Finally warmth crept through my body, and I knew as I was being awakened that my neurons had been frozen; I would not have remembered my dreams were it not for a little trick of technology, which had recorded for me all that I had experienced and implanted it into my head just before waking, and I was glad that someone had such foresight, for I now felt as if I had lived a hundred lives, even in that sleep of stone.
I was ill for many days after waking and kept in sickbay for monitoring, feeling like a guinea pig. The doctor, Franco, came and went. He had been the first to wake, and knew in full my sorry state. When he spoke to me, his voice was a lullaby which eased me, and I was glad he had been selected for this mission; I could see why.
However, something was obviously wrong, only the Captain was awake, yet the first officer, ship’s engineer, and the rest of the medical staff should have been before me. All the doctor would tell me was that everything was well and that my skills were needed by the Captain. Long I lay and contemplated this, but I could not imagine what I might be needed for. The sick bay seemed expansive, bright, but cold as white is prone to become — such an impersonal, clinical colour.
After the fifth day, I was finally aided to my feet. Drugs and technology had given me virtual physiotherapy, and I could walk as well as before. Since there was no one else yet to speak to, I was beginning to grow rather lonely and welcomed every moment closer to my meeting with the Captain.
I paced the sickbay many times, cursing the final few tests on my perception and coordination. I would be glad once all one hundred and fifty of us were fully awake. Finally, Captain Kleineberg stopped by, and greeted me warmly. He told me that I was clear to leave sick bay, and led me to the bridge.
We walked through the corridors and they were untouched by time. New, clean, and modern like the opening of a brand new airport — even after all these years. It was this vitality in my surroundings which finally woke me; all events before this, seemed a part of my dream world, and that one step onto the bridge signalled the opening of my eyes in the morning.
* * *
The Captain looked at me with a bemused smile. “I do hope you’re ready for this,” he said.
“Ready for what?” I did not know where to look, the bustle of all the consoles overwhelmed me, but I sat down at the nearest console, letting my hands rest on it so that the familiarity of it might return.
He tapped a console and radio channels stirred. “Avalon nine this is Ridbeck two-ninety, I’m sending over the data feed now.” Some beeping as he switched to another channel, a different voice boomed from the speaker, “Markus, do you read us, we have a slight change of destination for you, we need asteroid four-five-four-five-three-a-d-three analysed instead.” Then he switched it off.
“We’re not the first?” I asked, grasping my head, I felt my heart squeeze blood into my head, pounding, hurting, could this be real or another dream? I smacked the back of my fingers upon the edge of the table, drawing both comfort and dismay from the sharp, shooting pain.
“They do not know we are here yet. In fact, I am waiting for all the crew members to wake before we make contact. I have been collecting the news feeds, trying to build up a picture of the local situation.”
“How did they get here before us?” I asked. While taking in the full import of the Captain’s words, I looked at the information the ship had already gathered. Our ship was now flying sideways through space, while the Michelson-optical-interferometer at the side gulped in images of this new system with ravenous appetite.
The device was composed of a centrally mounted two-hundred meter boom. As it spun it collected light with a number of small telescopes along its length and computers digitally combined the signals from each into an image, giving us a virtual telescope with an effective diameter of two hundred meters.
This had been blessed to us, so that when we left the ship it would stay in orbit, take pictures of the universe, before transmitting them back to Earth. The captain was shrewd, and had made use of it early. I so wanted to gaze upon the images it had produced, but the Captain’s gaze commanded my full attention.
“Faster ships. The news feeds recently indicated the arrival of another colony ship, a record crossing: fifteen years.”
“What... fifteen years... what’s that, twenty-five percent of light speed? Well, if we are not the first, then at least humanity should have gotten a good handle on other worlds... This is exciting... albeit a blow to our standing in the history books.”
“That’s the worrying part, no ship has apparently re-established contact with Earth from any other system except this one. Latest news indicates that military missions, armed to the teeth, have even disappeared.”
“Any mention of us?” I asked, while playing with a console, I noted with particular sadness the captain’s look grow gloomier.
“None, sadly. You would have thought that they would be expecting us, no?”
“Yes, they should be expecting us! What is going on here?”
“That’s why I woke you before anyone else, I need you to take a shuttle and very quietly find out as much as possible. Your report will determine our next course of action.”
“Next course of action? You’re thinking of turning back?”
“Perhaps. I signed up to be the first, not the twentieth.”
“Yes, I suppose I did too. But what of the rest of the crew?”
“The crew’s opinion will be fully part of my final decision.”
“Okay. I’ll leave immediately.”
“Shuttle One was upgraded while you were sleeping, just before we departed. Take it. You will have to be careful, we can’t imagine what technological developments have been made, but since this is a barely established colony you might just be able to sneak past their sensors. Try not to be detected, so that we can decide for ourselves what we want to do.”
“Thanks for the information Captain,” I said grinning, walking out the door. As soon as the door was closed I fell upon the wall, as the blood rushed from my head. My world spun and my stomach wrenched upwards.
Copyright © 2008 by Graeme S. Houston