The girlfriend and I once had a talk about scarcity, and post-scarcity. The idea of a future where humans just figure it all out. It gave birth to a story, more creepy than anything. This is my attempt to translate that to the page.
It had been 500 years since the last time I saw another human being. So when I heard the chirp of my system monitor, I assumed it was going to be something mundane; unregistered debris, course adjustment requirements, fuel resupply.
I didn’t bother leaving bed to check the alert. There were few reasons to leave my personal space on the ship. I would have to choose between getting dressed, or feeling the chill of the ice-cold hallway until automated systems adjusted the rest of the ship to my temperature.
Instead I rolled over, gave my thighs a scratch, and placed a finger on the interface. There was a quiet snap, and my fingertip felt fuzzy. Then I saw the information scrolling past the back of my eyes. Not that it was really there physically, but the distinction was both pointless and likely to put me back to sleep.
The alert woke me up like a brisk smack on the cheek. Registered Space-faring Vehicle Located. There was more, my ship was approaching my next destination, and it was also requesting to BBMR, break bio-mass and refuel. I approved, broke connection with the interface, and laid back in bed. The room was pitch black, only lighting slightly when it detected my eyes were open for extended periods of time.
500 years. It was over 1000 years ago when I left home. That was when everyone started to leave really, and as far as I knew, there was no one left on Earth. It wasn’t a crisis, nothing dangerous, but simply an option. Earth lost its charm, and those who had the capability to leave, took it. When scarcity stopped being a problem, when resources stopped dwindling, Earth became a prison.
The second half of the last thousand years, I was alone. It wasn’t a problem, it was a state of being. It was hard to think back to why, to what lead me to pack up, purchase my own ship, and strike out alone. Something like wanderlust, that sounded like the right word.
Now there were other humans out there, people to meet. At least 500 years since I needed another human being to understand my words, recognize my motions, respect my appearance. I was going to need a bra.
I rolled out of bed, snapped my fingers, and the lights came on. There wasn’t much to see. A small bed built into the plastic of the walls. The walls were otherwise smooth, except where the plastic yawned out slightly as a drawer compartment. There was a shirt there, sticking out slightly, stopping the usually automated drawer from closing all the way. I snatched it out, looked it over, and decided it would do.
Since I took my time freshening up, the hall was warm before I made the walk to the cockpit. It took me some time to remember how I liked my hair cut, when it was ever cut. The rest didn’t require thought, so much as search time. A band to corral my hair behind my head, a jacket that wasn’t falling apart from burns or cuts, and a nice hat with a brim that wasn’t duckbilled. I liked hats, it would be a shame to be seen without one.
The hall, for lack of any better name, was the long stem of the ship. It didn’t occur until 20 years after buying the ship that I would never see around 90% of it. While the mass of the vehicle bulged on the outside, for me it was a cockpit, a long hall of smooth white, and my bed on the other side. The ship let off a slight hum, and if you touched your finger to the plastic you could feel it thrumming. Every bit of it, as far as I understood, was aware.
The cockpit had enough room for two, one primary chair and a second not far behind it. I sat down, leaned back, and gripped the arm of the seat. That numb feeling spread through my whole hand, and the information from the ship came back to me. The planet was closer now. Scans had already photographed several features and landmarks. It was an ice ball. There were jagged mountains with green peaks barely visible under blue-white snow. Deep caverns that could hold whole civilizations. All of it was empty. I had planned to board down those mountains. Maybe I would build a little house of ice, see what I could find. Fifty years ago I found a bird-like creature on a world. It was primitive, but the most advanced thing on the whole rock. I hunted them for at least a year, had some close calls, but every bit of it was worth it. I even got a feather for a hat. Well, it worked like a feather anyway.
The ships were communicating with each other. They were transferring records, places travelled, creatures and discoveries, even videos and photos. That meant more shows to watch during my landings and refuels.
Everything shook for a brief second, and the ship put out a warning that landing sequences were starting. I ignored it, and looked at the planets I had information on now. There was a small cluster of stars I had never visited, yet this other ship had bounced between them, visiting different sites. There was even a station there, Vega Habitat, more people. How long ago had this ship been there? How many people were there on it? It occurred to me I might come off as a bit strange to them. Was I strange? I shook my head. It was only a brief meeting, it wouldn’t matter after the ship dug up enough mass to keep going.
I looked through one of the landing cameras, it wouldn’t be long. The registration for the ship put it as a larger ship, a transport that could hold a few dozen families. It was registered to one Carlton Otomo. A ship lead by a man. I broke contact with the ship, and went to double check my bags before I hit the surface.
Despite my plans, he came to me.
The ship’s ramp lowered and I stepped out onto the deep snow. It had an odd crunch to it, like my feet were stepping into large sheets of the ice, crashing through the thinnest glass. It was a break in the non-stop storms I observed during landing. Instead the sky was broken up by mountain peaks high above the valley the ship chose for landing.
Even though there were no animals to keep the landscape busy, it wasn’t still. The shifting of snow, and wind-crafted flurries, all kept my eyes and ears busy with the swoosh of frost dominated worlds.
There was a heavy thud, and I turned to see that the ship was deploying small drones. They set to work, pulling down cables and equipment to prepare for the ship’s refueling. I was prepared to leave them to their work, to wander out into the snow and only return when I was called for, but instead my pocket buzzed.
I touched a finger to the sensor, Alert, lifeforms approaching landing zone.
It didn’t take long to find him, a silhouette of grey man against the white and blue wilderness. I waved, but he didn’t motion back. Instead, his vague form became a clear reality. A stern chin, squinted dark eyes, black hair was whipped by the wind before falling back into place.
“You must be Carlton,” I said.
He kept walking before he answered, got close enough that I could make out the detailed print of his faux leather jacket, could see the intensity in his eyes. He looked down my legs, then up past my hat, and still didn’t seem satisfied. His eyes wandered my ship, tracked the drones as they went about their business, then came back to me.
“Yes,” He said as he left a hand out for me, “I am.”
I shook his hand, trying my hardest to remember proper etiquette. Some man thousands of years ago decided what the best hand shake was, and to break from tradition now seemed unwise.
“Nice bird you’ve got here,” Carlton said. The tone of his voice was low, almost like he didn’t want to interrupt the frozen winds whipping across the planet. He was shorter than me, just barely, and seemed squeezed down into his small shape. His shoulders hunched, his neck tilted down. Still, he gave off an aura of control, seemed sure of himself.
“Thanks,” I replied, looking over my shoulder to see what he saw. It was rather magnificent, a large mass of metal and plastics, whirring and glowing. It was impressive, but to me it was a known tool.
“You alone out here?” I asked.
That was odd, I thought, “For how long?”
He looked me in the eyes, there was that look again. Was that how I peered at other people? Like cold meat. Maybe it was, who knew how to look at other people anymore? Somewhere, in a space station filled to the brim with human beings, they knew how to soften their eyes. Either that, or they knew how to ignore harsh gazes.
“Long enough.” He replied.
Without the warmth of activity, the planet’s cold was uncomfortable. Even in a sheltered valley, I felt the urge to cross my arms and dance around. But this stunted engagement was holding me in place.
“You want to head inside?”
It was simple, but somehow felt like the wrong thing to ask. I didn’t want another human being walking around my stuff. Besides, I didn’t really clean up enough to have company over.
He gave a nod of approval, and we headed back up the ramp. Drones passed by, ignoring both of us without anything more than a cursory scan. We headed to the cockpit, sat in the chairs, and looked out over the cold.
“When did you leave?” He asked. His voice was dry, lacked any wonder. Was this a routine question for him?
“First wave,” I answered, “With my family. Was young then.”
It was hard to imagine being a child, 1000 years will do that to you, will make everything gel together into one memory. Everything at the start of it starts to feel like it belongs to the rest, even if they are vastly different. Somehow, wearing cute blue dresses becomes level with hunting strange creatures for sport.
“When last did you get news?” He asked.
“Anything,” He said, “Anything from Sol.”
I touched the arm of the chair, and I knew the answer. I never even thought about it before, but now it was a thing to consider. How long had I been away? Was there something going on?
“At least 600,” I said, “Got partial news once, but that was 500 ago.”
Carlton nodded with eyes closed, like he expected that answer.
“I was third wave,” He said, “I’m behind you by a good 100 years.”
“Did I miss anything?”
He looked at me, then turned to look back outside. “Another war, a short one.”
“Over what?” I asked.
“Technology,” He said, “and maybe religion. Its hard to tell.”
I scoffed, but the look he gave me made me hold my tongue. Maybe he lost someone.
“We had plenty of everything when I left,” I said, “That was supposed to be it, there was nothing left to fight over. We figured out how to heal the sick, feed the starved, and get enough space for everyone. The problems were all solved.”
He shook his head, “As long as there are other humans with other points of view, there will always be something to fight over.”
There was some truth in that, but I didn’t want to admit it. That was why we had the new frontier, why we left that barren rock. We didn’t need to sit around, arguing over whose god was the best, or where this country ended or began. Space was endless, we could go where we were wanted, and never answer the call of another.
“That’s why I enjoy it out here,” I said, “No conflict.”
Then things were quiet. I enjoyed the quiet, like for a brief moment he wasn’t even there. It made me question why I avoided people, why I was so secure in staying off the radar. Maybe I could visit a station or two, even if just to check in.
“I think,” He said after some minutes, “As long as there are humans, we’ll find each other, and make life shit for each other.”
Silence returned, and I was more thankful for it than before.
We returned to the cold as the planet’s sun started to recede. We didn’t say it, but I had no plans to speak to him again. His words, his attitude. It was odd to have a dissenting opinion around again, but I wasn’t sure I liked it.
So when he vanished into the white of the distance, I let out a sigh of relief, and went back to the bridge of my ship.
It was hard to sleep with Carlton on the brain. I thought about his words, about the state of humanity. It was distant, a vague concept, but I knew I was still part of that spread out lot called humans. Were we really like Carlton insisted? Were we all dangerous animals just waiting to ruin each other’s lives?
By the next morning I was consumed. my thoughts swirled, and I found I wanted to speak to him on the matter personally. No matter how much I disagreed, I needed to see his view on it. But I resisted, instead turning to my original plans for the frozen planet.
I took a board, wrapped myself in a thick and fuzzy coat, and headed East to a slope I marked during descent. The snow came down in sheets, blasting me with frozen walls that made the trip take longer than I expected. I couldn’t see much further than my nose, and only computed navigation gave me any sense of direction.
Then I felt a buzz at my side. I stomped my way behind an outcropping of rocks, just enough shelter to get my bare hands to my monitor.
It was another alert, Lifeforms approaching landing zone.
I sat there, thinking of all the objects that could accidentally trip the ship’s sensors. The rock was a desert. There wasn’t supposed to be anything alive enough to sense. Which left one obvious lifeform.
I bundled up, and continued to the slope.
The boarding wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped. The speed was intense, the snow on the little world providing little resistance. As the air whipped past me, I felt afloat, like the wind would pick me up at any moment, and deposit me somewhere halfway across the globe. It just wasn’t the best, I knew I’d had better.
So I returned to the ship, greeted by a break in the blizzard. The drones passed around me, busy in their process. The ship was officially latched to the planet, breaking down what it could, turning the dirt and anything in it into everything it needed. Someone gave me the specifics once, page after page of discoveries that saved mankind. It was dry, and I was at the back of the class.
I stripped down, then made it back to the cockpit. An arm down on the chair, and I reviewed the earlier alert. Footage, the ship had a mind to record the whole situation. I pulled it up, and a video of white began to play. The same blizzard I was trapped in at the time. There was no sign of whatever it was looking at.
I switched the footage to a thermal view, and I nearly snapped away from the system monitor. An outline in red, a heat signature against the frozen rain. The picture moved forward, speeding up and slowing down as I willed it, but he didn’t move.
An itch in the back of my head told me if I went to the present, he would still be standing there, still waiting. Instead the form receded shortly before the blizzard took a break. By the time I had a clear picture, Carlton was nowhere to be found.
I had been 500 years since the last time I talked to another human, but I knew when it was time to sit down and talk with someone. I pulled on a thick coat, tugged down my hat, and headed in the direction of his ship.