I have a question to ask.
What would you do with three hours, knowing that at the end of it, you’re going to die?
See, I’ve spent the last thirty minutes trying to think of something worthwhile to do before I realised I was wasting time. And I have precious little to waste.
Three hours. Geez. It doesn’t seem like much. I’m fifty-three that’s…I don’t know how many hours that is but it’s a lot. It’s like one thousand seven hundred days. So around like, I don’t know, more than three.
You know what I said to myself before I hit record? I said, ‘you only have three hours, Karla, don’t waste it.’ Well, past-Karla, here I am a few minutes later, wasting it. Fuck you past-me. And also, present-me.
I don’t think future me will be fucking anything.
And isn’t that a shame.
This was meant to be poignant. A last little memoir about my life and what happened to me. To us, I guess, though I’m the only one of my crew still living.
And at this point that’s a technicality. I know I’m not going to be alive for much longer but hey, I’m holding onto It while I’ve got it.
Instead, I keep talking about random shit, my mouth running away from my brain like it always has. You would think by now I would have better control of it but here we are.
I’ll start properly now. I won’t delete what I recorded, it’s drivel but it’s my drivel and most likely no one will find this recording anyway, so I might as well say whatever the fuck I want.
Ahh shit. Where do I even start? The Syrinx? Our landing that we got wrong? Mother?
That’s as good a place as any.
Rather, she is as good a place as any to start.
I don’t know who will find this so let me give you some context. Mother is an AI. I say is because as far as I’m aware she is still alive on the surface of that godforsaken planet we semi-crashed into.
You know, I should have known things would go wrong with a start like that. What mission is going to go well after landing in the wrong spot is the first thing you do? I’ll answer that, no mission.
And ours didn’t.
It’s not fair to lay the blame completely at Mother’s metaphorical feet; she was doing what she thought was right.
Although it didn’t seem like it at the time.
You’re probably imaging an AI like from a movie – ugh wait. What if something that isn’t human finds this? How will they know what a movie is?
Wait, they won’t understand a word of it anyway. Damn, I’m an idiot.
Bargle flarty bugspray.
That’ll help with the translation effort I’m sure.
Anyway, Mother wasn’t like that. When we set off for TRAPPIST-1 she was the most advanced AI humans had ever designed and it showed. Nothing slowed her down. She was caring, kind, empathetic. Mother was the person we went to when we had personal dramas with other members of the crew. She was our psychologist, doctor, hell, she was our Mother.
And she was designed not to hurt us.
You’ve got to understand, I trusted Mother implicitly, and honestly, if she were with me now, I would probably still trust her. What happened to Mother on TRAPPIST-1e none of us could have predicted expected, least of all her, and it left her scared and trying to catch up with what was herself essentially being born anew.
I’ve derailed myself again.
I’ll go back.
Mother was the first crew member I met aboard the Syrinx. I was a ring in, a late addition to the team. The person they planned to go died suddenly a week before take-off – something about a nanite cascade failure? I don’t know, I stopped listening once they told me I was going to be aboard the ship that would take humans to TRAPPIST-1.
It blew me away. I still remember the buzzing that filled my head. It was inconceivable that I would be picked. I was fifteen years into a dead-end career cataloguing specimens brought back by other exoplanet crews. My astrobiology doctorate was sitting in a dusty corner of my home office and whatever knowledge I had was blunted into uselessness by the repetitive tasks I performed every day.
Do you know how disheartening it is to spend each and every minute of your workday reviewing the incredible work of other people in your field?
It fucking sucks.
And then suddenly this once-in-a-lifetime chance falls in my lap? I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it when I met the crew. I didn’t believe it when I walked onto the Syrinx for the first time and I didn’t believe it when, eighty years later, I woke up with the red dwarf TRAPPIST-1 outside of my window.
Hell, it still feels like it’s not real. Like that the last few months on that shitty planet never happened.
Like I’m going to wake up any moment in my bed; kids down the hall, Sarah next to me, curled on her side and facing away after she got too hot in the night.
Shit. Crying in zero-g is the worst. I can’t get these fucking tears out of my eyes. God dammit. There, okay. Absorbed into my shirt for the most part. No more of that, Karla. Come on. You said goodbye to them when you boarded the Syrinx.
I knew there was a chance I wasn’t going to get back to them. And if I did, they wouldn’t be the same.
For all of humanities tech, we haven’t yet figured out faster than light travel. We have figured out how to genetically pause our bodies – well, to be more precise, we’ve figured out how to invent AI controlled nanites that do it for us, but the end result is the same.
We travelled at roughly 0.4c and during that time I aged about twenty years. Eighty passed on Earth.
Sarah, Naila, and Salman. They should still be alive.
They are still alive. That’s right.
I have less than three hours left, and I’ll be damned if I spend it thinking my family is dead.
I did abandon them though.
I did do that.
I’ve forgotten what I was talking about. Getting the gig? Meeting Mother, that’s it.
Okay. Back to it. Focus.
It was at the end of my first briefing, which incidentally was the rest of the crews last briefing as take-off was the next day. We were on Lunar and I had just met Gozi, Ellesk, and Paran.
‘Nervous?’ Paran asked me, a glint in his eye that I grew to recognise as a precursor to a smart-arse remark.
This time though, Gozi was there to save me.
‘Of course she is you dolt. Come on, Karla, I’ll show you around the ship.’
I gave Paran an apologetic smile, literally the last time I would ever do that, and let Gozi walk me away, through the base to where the Syrinx sat.
There’s something to be said about a pretty spaceship. The first one’s we humans created were dodgy, hodgepodge things put together hastily in our need to quickly leave Earth. They were buckets held together by a couple of dozen rivets and hope. But they flew and they let most of humanity stretch over Lunar while the Earth took a break from us.
It’s true that some of us stayed and if you go to Earth now, whomever finds this, you’ll notice the difference between those who stayed and those who didn’t. Mostly in body shape; we’re taller. Stretched by the lower gravity of Lunar and then the stations we built in orbit. And our cousins on Earth are shorter.
That’s the biggest difference really. We weren’t suddenly enlightened when we broke our earthly bonds. We didn’t become a higher race of people, wiser or better.
Nah, we still fought and were dicks to each other. Just like the people left on Earth were and presumably are, still dicks to each other.
If you’re an alien and you find this and you translate it, probably best to not go to our little neck of the woods. We are a voracious species and even our creations share that quality.
Damn, look at that, a perfect segue to Mother.
I’m getting better at this death recording thing I’ve got going on.