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Adventure Friendship Science Fiction

Good morning, Captain Wyant. It is currently 9:00 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time. Time for you to wake up!

Nine bells had rung before she said that, nine loud bells, so Athena’s normally synthetically-soothing voice felt more like satire than anything else that morning.

“Good morning, Athena.” I said this groaning, trying not to blame her punctuality on my raging headache. Though she had seen me drinking the night before and perhaps discounting the bells that morning would’ve been an innovative and thoughtful gesture on her part.

But that didn’t matter, not really. Her sense of creativity was developing steadily, and she always liked to stay on top of our little rituals. Most of all, it was a beautiful morning.

I heard them crashing against the hull before I saw them, always did, but as I got up from my company-issued twin bed and headed for the small window on the side of the cabin, I was reminded that the ocean is always a surprise.

There was a lot of commotion out in the sea today, so the usual dark blue and tempered-seas were now rolling with white strips of foam. Far off in the distance I saw what could be Arctic Terns gliding over it all; they migrate from pole to pole.

They were so far from the mainland now. Always were.

For the millionth time I wished I could go up on deck and feel the breeze on my face; smell the salt in the air, something! But that wasn’t possible.

“Athena, do you think there might be a pod of whales breaching the surface of the water any time soon?” I said, leaning closer to my window to get a better view of the ocean blues.

I think there just might be.

And just like that, the ocean’s gates creaked open to reveal the back of a dark-blue, -almost black- whale breathing in the salty air as if to say hello. Three more followed and we’re gone too soon.

The simulations were getting better.

“Thank you, Athena. You’re getting good at this.”

No problem, Captain Wyant. Her usually steady voice let fall a hint of pride in her work. Breakfast?

“You read my mind.” I forced my eyes away from the calming oceans and opened the door to my cabin, my sights set on the kitchen.

It was a long walk, befitting a big ship, and it wasn’t long before the cold metal walls of the main living quarters made me feel a bit enclosed. It didn’t help that there was no crew to wake up, so I just passed door after door I knew was empty of anyone to talk to. I was alone on this transport vessel.

“Athena.” I had to kill the thought before it festered, “How about a jog in the park to start the morning off?”

Why of course, Mr. Wyant.

The big metal walls opened up, revealing the outside; now a garden-variety dog park from West-Falls, Montana. The sounds of the ocean were gone, the smell had never arrived.

The windows reached floor to ceiling, giving me an encapsulating view of the rolling hills and sparse brush of the park. The grass had turned yellow since I’d last seen it, making everything look like gold.

The blue skies were still there, but the clouds had changed, and so had the position of the sun, it got in my eyes. I should’ve brought a baseball cap. I should’ve done a lot of things differently.

“Hey, Sparky!” I shouted. It took a second, then two, and on the third I heard his paws on the ground and his panting get louder and louder until he reached me with the biggest smile on his face. Dogs were amazing.

“How you doing buddy?” I wanted so badly to scratch his ears, to have him lick my hands, and I know he wanted the same, but the window separated us. I couldn’t really ever enter the park, he couldn’t enter the ship. “Let’s go for a run, huh?”

I decided to take the long way around for the dining area, what turned into a three-minute walk was now a five-minute run. Sparky deserved it. Not to mention I’d been gaining a lot of weight recently, and even that light jog pushed my limits.

When we got to the kitchen I said goodbye to Sparky, said something about not wanting to make him jealous of my breakfast, and he whined while giving me pouty eyes. My heart twanged, which meant Athena was getting too good at this.

Suddenly the windows all disappeared, replaced by cold metal once more.

“Athena,” I was halfway through my mediocre rations when I called her again, “Could I see that village in Namibia again? The one with the bright red robes.” My coffee stuck to my beard in droplets, it’d gotten long in the months since I’d given up shaving.

Certainly, Dr. Wyant.

The village was built on a hill with a dirt road that winded through all the houses and traditional huts. But it was green for the most part; grass covered everything but the road, and the trees provided shade for all the village kids to enjoy the morning before heading to school.

They played some version of soccer that was closer to keep-away, and were far too entertained with each other to give me anything more than a wave. Here, I was supposedly a doctor without borders. Not that I knew a single thing about medicine.

“This place is nice, Athena. Don’t you think so?” She agreed, and they made polite conversation in between the last bites of my tough biscuit.

Would you like to see more? I’ve thought of a few selections you might enjoy for today.

I reclined in my chair, crossed my arms, and said sure, getting ready for a long show. This was, after all, how most of the day was spent: Athena and I commenting and gazing at the many places she had been, or I had lived, or would like to think we’d get to know in the future. It was an all day cinema, and she was a trivia master.

Did you know that the first colony of mars celebrated its bicentennial anniversary of foundry just last week?

They were gazing at it through one of the windows of a mid-income suburban home in the city. The grass in front of the lawn was green, a major undertaking, and the main metropolitan area now boasted about six sky-scrapers. Though in my opinion they should be called dome-scrapers because of the giant...well...you know: dome.

Other than that, the people that lived there in that suburban neighborhood led similar lives to those in my home: Earth. Though I could never find the time to visit, it wouldn't have been hard either, but….just one of those things you put off until it’s too late I guess.

The kids would’ve loved it.

“Actually, Athena. The bicentennial birthday happened more than eighteen months ago.”

Oh. Sorry Mr. Wyant. Sometimes I forget I’m not connected to the network anymore.

She did that quite a bit. Her knowledge stores were massive -terabytes upon terabytes of information one could ever want to know, just because- but she often forgot that our connection to anything and everything outside had been cut off ever since this vessel veered off course.

“Show me Paris, Athena.” But at least they had the cinema. “But at night and while it’s raining, with a grand view of the Eiffel Tower.”

Would you like violins playing in the background as well?

She was poking fun, but I accepted. If only I had some wine.

After that they saw a planet called X-83593. It’s flora and fauna were so peculiar looking -like that of a Dr. Seuss book- that it was a hot spot for photographers and researchers

In the corner of the window, some bug that loosely resembled a dragonfly fluttered its wings, and that made the sound of tapping on the glass.

That was another thing about Athena’s projections on the walls, and the editing she did on them, they were always extremely convincing:

The windows had frames, and the frames had shadows, so the images on the wall wouldn’t look flat. Often they’d have wooden bars that bisected the glass, rails and lifts for windows that slid open, even the wire mesh at times.

They were so real that if you moved your head closer to the window, you could see more of the world outside; that is to say, these weren’t photographs, they weren’t even videos, this was a window.

It made the illusion real. It allowed me to pretend there was a world beyond the walls, and that I’d just decided not to go out that day. Every day.

I kept up this lie for myself to hang on to the slightest bit of denial I had left and curve the truth as best I could: which was that if I opened any exterior door to this craft, all I would see would be the void between stars, and promptly die.

So she showed me the most cliché tourist spots of Earth and the colonized planets, the wild nature of those planets not yet touched by human boots but only photographed by machines without pilots, and sometimes the most beautiful parts of space, like exploding stars or colorful galaxies seen from their best angle. Though the vast expanse was almost always switched away from quickly, like a bad TV show, for obvious reasons.

There was enough of it around them.

Oftentimes while we did this I’d move around between worlds and sceneries and do some crunches or jumping jacks, not that it put off the weight from drinking, but it was something to do, and it helped. It seemed pointless now, the sweat and struggle for the weight I’d never lose. Not if everything went according to plan.

The lights that simulated daytime were now dimming, and so the day was drawing closer to its end; but what was a day in space really? It was nothing. It was a framing device for something that no longer existed; sunrise and sunset. Just a framing device.

Athena and I stayed up until it was ‘night’, and talked. The only light now was coming from the sun or suns outside the windows, bathing the room in colors red, gold, blue, etc. These were windows after all, the light did not come from the roof on this ship.

I asked her to change the windows faster and faster, experiencing their worlds for fewer periods of time with each passing minute. Athena caught on.

Do you not like the views I’m showing you, Captain? I’m glad to take recommendations.

“No that’s not it, Athena.” I said, “It’s just that I want to see everything tonight.”

She paused for a moment.

“Everything.” I repeated.

We would need to look through approximately one-point-five thousand more windows to see everything I have.

“Can we do it?”

Of course.

It was a race: Athena changed scenery at an average of about seven seconds, the only way they could get this done in under seven hours; they were in for a long night, but it was exhilarating!

Each time a new image would pop up I’d try and guess the name; the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, the Himalayas, etc. But there were so many beautiful places in the universe, it was impossible to remember all their names. I got about three percent right according to Athena.

We spent less time on the views filled with people, it hurt a little too much not to be able to speak to them, to call out and be heard, so I always just told Athena to change it quickly, before I could feel the ache in my heart. And it did save us a bit of time.

We also almost completely avoided the recordings of space, which also cut down on our time by a big margin. But I also dragged my feet quite a bit on a few particularly beautiful windows, so we were still careening steadily towards six hours.

I drank coffee, and jumped up and down a little bit, but mostly I just sat on the floor and smiled. The windows were wonderful.

I toyed with the idea of making fake people to make conversation with and such, like they do in the movies where only one person is left alive on Earth, but that was too much. A fake outside is more than enough for the level of insanity I’m willing to tolerate within myself. Plus, I had Athena.

And even though I know her name is an acronym, she really had done a lot to keep me going as long as I had. It’s like I had a partner who was going through the same thing.

Though I never did ask her if she missed anything, nor if she felt bad about our situation. Because as realistic as she felt sometimes; I was deathly afraid she’d tell me she just didn’t have emotions.

Finally, the picture show ended. The window didn’t change, and when I asked her why, she told me they had successfully seen everything within a day. It was the first time they’d ever done so; it felt like an adventure had been completed.

“Well,” I grunted as I picked myself off the floor, “How was that for a last dance, Athena?”

I’m sorry, I don’t get your meaning, Captain Wyant.

“It’s nothing, Athena.” I said, still looking at that last window on the wall. It was my hometown, the same street where my wife and I had bought our first home, and had both our children. I looked at it every single day: today it made me cry.

Thankfully Athena didn’t comment. She just let me bawl my eyes out like a kid with both hands covering my face, gasping for breath in between sobs, looking at the single most place I’d ever wanted to be throughout these impossible eighteen months.

“Athena.” After a few minutes I could talk again, quietly though, my throat hurt, “Turn it off. Turn it all off.”

The windows were gone. I wouldn’t turn them on again.

I looked around the room and saw it for what it was, what I had been ignoring. Just a very large room with sparse furniture and cold aluminum walls. Though they weren’t completely barren, this ship had come with real windows.

Early on I had covered them with trash bags and duct tape, to keep the dark nothing away, and Athena had been the one to come up with the idea of the projections. They had come a long way since then: before, they really were just like photos and videos, all flat and no substance.

But even after all the improvements, yesterday I had decided something. Something big. And now that it was time, it actually shocked me to realize I was still going to go through with it.

“Athena,” I said, “Guide the way to any door that leads to the outside.”

She hesitated, but nonetheless…

Guiding the way to shuttle bay doors. Strips of lights along the walls pointed the way.

It wasn’t a long walk, just four minutes, but in that time I thought of everything that went wrong. Of the coordination system that was shot to hell, and the lack of fuel that made the prior fact useless anyway. Of the bodies I’d had to leave in the empty cabins instead of buried in the ground, wrapped in coffins.

Of the beacon I had sent out, and continued sending out every hour on the hour, and how not one person in the universe had picked it up.

Mostly I thought about my family back home, and how they would disapprove of what I was about to do. But the time alone was torture, and hope had run out long ago. It was the guilt of leaving my family behind that had kept me there for so long, and now not even that was enough. No one was coming, so why torture myself any longer?

The minutes ran out, and I was face to face with the hatch doors. And more than anything, I couldn’t help but smile sardonically at seeing a real window for the first time in over a year.

It wasn’t glass, probably some strong plastic polymer, but it felt like it. Like the glass windows at home.

I raised my hand to the control panel beside the heavyset door and typed in the code; one more touch and I’d be rocketed into space before I could even remove my hand from the control panel.

Captain, I-

“Don’t try to stop me, Athena!” It was the first time I’d raised my voice at her in many months, but she wasn’t getting in my way.

But Captain, there is something-

“I’ve been heading here a long time, Athena. The whole time, really. I just didn’t realize it until a few hours ago.” I said, “Thanks for your windows.” And I meant it, but before I could do something I’d regret for the rest of my very short life, she spoke up again. Thank God for that.

I just thought you’d like to know our beacon has just been confirmed by another transport vessel.

Did I hear her right?

Now get your damned hand off the control panel. Estimated time to Earth is three months.

I did as she said. And I can honestly say I’d never smiled so big before in my life.

I was going home.


June 12, 2021 03:58

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1 comment

Amanda Fox
19:01 Jun 16, 2021

I really enjoyed this take on the prompt - what a melancholy work and then a hopeful ending!

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