The four years I was out of Slumber during the journey were mostly uneventful. They were designed, as I mentioned before, to keep my mind active and make sure Slumber wasn’t causing any brain damage to occur.
Not that you would be able to tell.
That would have been funnier with someone else here to appreciate such incredible humour.
Each time I woke from Slumber, Mother was there to greet me. It had been the first time when she asked why I didn’t like her, and it wasn’t until the third time that the topic was raised again.
Not as soon as I woke up though. It was seven months into our year off and I was playing- beating, why am I being modest…or truthful, no one will ever hear this. I was beating the absolute crap out of Ellesk, our commander, at chess.
‘You’re very frustrating to play against.’ She said to me, her words dripping defeat down onto the board.
‘I think I’m just frustrating to be around.’ I responded.
She tilted her head and nodded as if to say, ‘that sounds about right’. I tried not to be offended by the passive agreement as she took my queen with a well-placed knight that no one could have defended against.
‘See, your mistake there was focusing on my queen, instead of defending your own. There were at least three ways you could have saved yourself and counter-attacked.’
Despite trying her best, Ellesk’s voice carried a hint of condescension, and it raised a question that I decided to give voice to.
‘Why the hell did I ask you to teach me how to play chess?’
Ellesk smiled as she watched me move my bishop out from where she was cuddled up around the king.
‘Ah. Oh no.’
‘What? What did I miss?’ I asked and leant over the board for a closer look.
One of Ellesk’s hands reached into my vision and her queen zipped across the board to stand next to my king, in a spot protected by her knight.
‘Check-mate.’ Ellesk said. She folded her arms and leaned back.
‘If you weren’t my boss I would be sorely tempted to slap you right now.’
‘Tut tut, don’t make me write you up for insubordination.’
‘Who would you write me up to?’ I asked, the innocence in my tone held hands with insolence.
‘No one, but I’d make you spend two days with Paran teaching you all about engineering.’
My eyes narrowed and I pushed back from the table.
‘You wouldn’t.’ I said, my shock only mostly feigned.
Ellesk didn’t respond. She stood up and tapped her forefinger against the side of her nose and walked out of the rec room.
I slumped down into the chair, which is easier when the gravity is 1.5gs. The chess board stared at me, and I looked back at it, annoyed.
‘I’m sorry to bother you, Karla, but I observed the back end of your game against Ellesk and I couldn’t help but notice you may need some help.’
Mother’s voice spoke from a camera and speaker on the wall to my right. I had noticed the flashing green dot but as usual I was doing my best to ignore it.
‘Whatever gave you that idea?’ I asked and threw my best glare at the camera.
‘This is your 75th game of chess against Ellesk and it is your 73rd loss.’
I deadpanned the camera.
‘Thank you. For that.’
‘I have within my core a record of every chess game ever recorded and every single tactic performed by both human and AI players, along with associated win rates and probabilities of success.’
‘Well, fuck.’ I said and turned my full attention to Mother. ‘Alright, show me what I did wrong.’
She paused before she answered.
‘…but which time?’
So, Mother taught me chess. Perhaps an unusual way for an AI and a human to bond but it was effective.
Oh, and just do you know, when we reached TRAPPIST-1e and were forced to stop playing, it was 243 games in total, and I’d won 121. Pretty damn good comeback if I do say so myself.
And I’m the only one here so my word is basically law.
While we’re taking a break from an admittedly fractured and poorly told story, I’m going to complain about one other thing.
Drinking water reclaimed from your own pee might be the most disgusting thing ever. Yes, it’s sterile and perfectly drinkable, and yes, it tastes like water, which is to say it tastes like nothing.
But it’s warm.
The process of reclaiming it doesn’t heat it up or cool it down. In my suit my pee comes out at body temperature, and I drink it back the same.
I’m going to die.
Sorry for the silence. I’ve been trying to talk but…
I’ve always known I was going to die. Every person learns that truth at some point. Sure, it might be two hundred years later now, but even when it was eighty or thirty, we knew we would eventually die.
But there’s a difference between intellectually knowing that fact and staring death in the face.
A face that will be here with me in a little over two hours.
I don’t want to die.
I know there’s a long history of astronauts ready to give their lives for the good of the planet etc. etc.
But I’m not one of them. I don’t have that in me. I don’t have that drive, that extra push that allows someone to put themselves in front of the metaphorical train as a sacrifice.
I’m a clerk. A PhD and a failed one at that. I had a family that are now many years older than me and have probably moved on or are possibly dead. I have no idea what has happened at Earth since we left. There could have been another war. A plague. An invasion. Anything.
I have nothing to live for and yet, I don’t want to die.
Ah, fucking tears. Zero-g is only fun for a very brief amount of time.
The tiny amount of training that I had before launch is a vomit smeared memory on the side of my brain. Shit, I still remember Paran laughing at me. I’d only met him the day before there he was, floating in zero-g like a fish in water and there I was, curled around my stomach, trying desperately to hold onto that mornings breakfast.
Don’t get me wrong, lower gravity is something humans are pretty used to by now. But zero-g is nowhere near as common as it was when we first left earth all those years ago. Our space stations all spin and when we are in transit, like we were on the Syrinx, and awake, we were under the constant thrust. Though, that was 1.5gs which also took a bit of getting used too. But 1.5gs is just 1g but heavier. It sucks but hey, you can do it.
Zero-g is fucked. You float, untethered and completely out of sorts with your own body. What is up? What is down? Two concepts that every human is familiar with from the moment they are aware suddenly get tossed out of the window and the mental gymnastics you have to do to keep your head from exploding is insane.
Of course, the whole crew understood that.
It just didn’t stop them from laughing.
‘Come on, I’ve never seen anyone so bad at it as you.’ Paran said, his face turned up in what seemed to be a permanent grin.
I tried to respond but when my mouth opened my oesophagus decided to clench and I had to snap my mouth closed to stop bile from floating out. That’s right, floating out. There is nothing worse than vomiting in zero-g.
Humans aren’t designed to be in zero-g, did I mention that?
‘Hey, Paran. Leave off.’ Ellesk said from across the other side of the chamber. I glanced at her, tried to smile a thank you but I think I just looked ill because her face fell with pity.
Ugh, talking about that was stupid. I’m starting to feel sick again.
God, I need gravity.
Hey, how about that. God. Are you up there? Or down there? Or wherever.
Seriously, I’m floating out in the nothingness here. If there was ever a time for a miracle or divine intervention, now would be it.
Well, I don’t know what I expected. I’m not the most pious person.
Guess I’ll float here for eternity, slowly decaying.
It is beautiful though. I wish you could see it. I’ve never seen a sky like this. Even from the Syrinx with only a window between myself and the stars. No light pollution, no nothing. It still doesn’t hold a candle to this.
It’s almost like I can reach out and touch the stars. They seem so close.
I can’t. I just tried. There’s nothing around me but radiation and particles that I can’t see. Probably giving me cancer or some funky mutations at least.
I’m getting tired of talking. But what else can I do? I’ve got no other way to leave something. Anything. There’s nothing of my crew left. The Syrinx is shooting off in the wrong direction to Earth. I still can’t see it you know, and I’ve been keeping an eye out. It seems to have disappeared. Or one of these stars that I’ve been staring at is actually the plume of the light drive. Probably not, though.
For some reason I feel like I would be able to tell if that were the case. I have no reason for thinking that, but I do. Some version of belief is clearly sticking with me. I thought I let go of all of that when I left TRAPPIST-1e.
Trappy, I’m gonna go ahead and call it Trappy. TRAPPIST-1e is a mouthful and Ellesk isn’t here to tell me not to use nicknames.
I wish she were here.