Luis stared at the Earth in the far distance, little more than a blue and green marble floating in the pitch black of space, perpetually spinning. He gazed unblinking, alone as the planet slowly but surely vanished from his view. When the Neo Kosmo had first launched there would have been crowds watching, entranced, but the once busy viewing decks now stood silent and empty.
“Luis,” a voice called over his headset, and he snapped to attention. “You’re in the next group of crew going into cryo-sleep. If you want to send a final message back home now is the time. Comms officer is ready for you.”
Luis pulled his gaze away from the windows and sighed, “I’ll be there in a moment. Thank you.”
He began trudging towards the Communication deck, walking instead of taking the ships rapid-transit system. It had already been months since he’d spoken to Alejandro, it could wait a few extra minutes.
With nearly all of the colonists and crewmembers in cryo-sleep there was no squeezing through excited groups of people, no climbing into a lift full of hopeful faces, no being asked for directions by people still finding their way around the ship, and it didn’t take him long.
The Comms Officer whose name always escaped him looked up as Luis entered, wall-to-wall displays showing wireless connections, signal relays and transmission windows across the ship. The Officer indicated over to an empty desk. “You’re all set to log in and go. Your group goes under at zero eight hundred, so you got some time. I’ll give you a moment.” He moved to the other end of the enormous room, out of earshot.
Luis logged in and prepared, his finger hovering over the record button. He sighed and slumped back into the chair, remembering the day it had all started.
“I’m buying!” Luis said, stopping Alejandro from paying. He already owed his friend enough coffees on a tab that must have spanned seven or eight years.
“This place is expensive man, are you sure?” Alejandro said, his wallet already out. As the owner of an architectural firm, he had no qualms paying for an extra coffee, even in the expensive old-town neighbourhoods of Madrid. He frowned, seeing Luis twinkling. “What happened?”
Luis grinned. “I have a job, so I’m treating you for once.”
Alejandro cocked his head, “You don’t need to do that. What’s the job?”
“You know the Neo Kosmo, the colony ship that’s been all over the news?” Luis paused for breath, failing to notice his friend’s eyes widen. “Well, you’re looking at a junior crewmember. I-“
“You actually took a job with them? Why?”
Luis blinked. “What do you mean why? You’re always saying how the economy is terrible for young people, how our job prospects are limited. You know how much money they pay?”
Alejandro leaned forward. He had never been one to soften his words and Luis knew he was about to receive an earful. “For one year. You realise after that you have to go to space, to another planet, and live there. Forever. There's a lot of people to take care of and being a crewmember will be hard work. I love you man but this job…it isn’t for you.”
Luis sat silent for a moment, then pressed his finger to the bill, and sulked off after it confirmed his payment.
Their silence didn’t last long. Like family, they always reconnected, but it became a topic to avoid. Luis didn’t mind. There were plenty of company events to keep him busy, a welcome change after months spent on unemployment. The venues were always exquisite - penthouse parties with views over the Madrid skyline with guests that were far more supportive than his friend.
He bought a drink for a woman in a tight red dress, and left a handsome tip for the barman.
He grinned, “Humanity’s new home among the stars. 20,000 people need some kind of support team. I suppose that’s why I took the job, to help keep everyone safe.”
Her eyes went wide. “Wow, that’s noble of you.”
“I suppose.” He giggled, the effects of expensive whiskey quickly going to his head. “Maybe I’m just a born adventurer, desperate to see the universe.”
“Maybe you are. You certainly look the part of the handsome explorer.”
Luis flushed and stammered a thank you. She toasted, and they threw the drinks back and ordered another round.
There was little real work to do. Aside from a series of manuals that he was expected to read through, much of it was still social events. Posing for photoshoots and press releases and meeting the senior officers as they toured the Federation of European States. More training would be carried out in the final six months at the London headquarters which was – much to Luis’ excitement – completely paid for by the company. At the end of each ‘work’ day, he hit the bar in his Neo Kosmo crew jacket.
Almost immediately, a young woman approached him. “You’re one of the crew? I know people who have bought tickets but no one who was actually working on the ship.”
He grinned. “Well, I suppose some people are just born to serve. Can I buy you a drink?”
She paused, then nodded and stretched out a hand.
The next morning two empty cups of coffee already sat on the table when he went to meet Alejandro at their old-town café, the yellow renaissance architecture seemingly shining in the noon sun.
“You’re late.” His friend said.
“Late night,” he grinned.
“Ok. Look I’ve been doing some research, going over your contract with Offworld Life and the Neo Kosmo.”
Luis froze, then sighed and waved over for a coffee for himself. “I thought we’d dropped this subject.”
“Hardly, it would be irresponsible of your best friend to just leave it like that. First, you can still walk away. There’s actually very little that the company can do if you walk off. They’ll try to fine you, sure, and it would be a bad mark on your employment record but it’s not like others haven’t done it already. Second, your contract includes a clause that allows you to cancel anyway. If you pay back the advance then the company will release your contract with no black marks.”
Luis spread his arms. “Well, I don’t exactly have all of the money to return.”
“I know. My firm is doing pretty well at the moment and,” Alejandro paused, “I’ve got the money to pay back what you’ve spent. No strings.”
Luis groaned. “I’m enjoying life far more than I ever have. I have money, I can buy you coffee now. I have a job, women want me. Why would I quit that?”
“Because it's temporary. Once the training starts and the ship leaves, things will be very different. I don't want you to get sucked in to what they offer now, and realise it isn't for you later."
Luis snorted. “You think I’m only doing this because I don’t have any family, that I’m being manipulated by easy money?”
Alejandro held his ground. “I think you’re making a mistake.”
Luis sat, silent. The waiter brought over his coffee, and he took a sip, his eyes wandering over the medieval brickwork. It was a far cry from the skyscrapers and event halls he was frequenting at the moment. “Can we please drop it? Can you just enjoy the fact that I can buy something for you now?” he said eventually.
Alejandro stared at the table. “That’s not what friendship is about.”
“Ok?” Luis pressed.
Alejandro raised his hands. “Fine. I won’t bring it up. But please, know that the offer is there if you change your mind.”
“I won’t, but thanks.”
True to his word, Alejandro never brought it up again. Not once over their coffee mornings, not when Luis was late, and not even when Luis headed off to London. Alejandro even walked to the station with him, despite being clearly uncomfortable.
“Good luck.” Alejandro said. “I hope it’s everything you want…talk to me all the time yeah? Anything you need, I'm here.”
“I will.” Luis promised.
London was a completely different experience. Every day was filled with hands-on training. Luis pushed through long days, listening to instructions and practicing drills for everything from escape pod emergency re-entry procedures, to how to diagnose and fix the ship’s extensive coffee machine network. It was gruelling. Beyond knowing basic ship systems, he was expected to learn first aid, tele-operation of machinery, habitat construction, and even have a rudimentary knowledge of terraforming. He finished each day exhausted. To make matters worse, the local bar scene turned out to be a disappointment.
"Can I buy you a drink?" He asked a lady at the bar.
“I'm ok thank you.” she replied, turning away.
“Really? Not even from a man going to space?”
She turned and looked at him with pity. "I'm sure, I've seen enough crewmembers pass through already."
Luis sat alone for a while. He tried striking up conversation with some others in the bar to no avail. Eventually he joined a conversation with some other crewmembers on the Neo Kosmo, but left when it became apparent it was technical talk – what they found easy, what they found hard, what they thought life on the other side would be like. He left early and walked slowly back, trying to find somewhere that served a decent coca de trampo. He ended up settling for a meal of London sausages that lacked any spice or flavour, before heading back alone to his company-provided hotel room
Luis sighed, his finger still hovering over the record button. It had only got worse as the departure date had grown closer. Countless nights spent reading manuals and instructions alone had given way to drills at every hour of the day. Emergency run-downs, systems tests, and exams. There was no room for error.
He slowly brought up Alejandro’s contact card and began recording a message.
“Hey, I’m sorry for the delay. I can’t lie, it’s hard work right now. I’m basically on call all the time. A lot of people have paid a lot of money for tickets, and it’s all really serious.
“I kept thinking, maybe it will change. Maybe after the initial training it will chill again. Maybe after the emergency drills. Maybe after the ship is in orbit. Maybe once the ship is on the way. Maybe before cryo-sleep. I just kept thinking maybe, maybe after the next thing it will go back to being parties and fun again, you know? I'm sure you'd love to say you told me so right now.
“I nearly asked for your help, but...I wanted to see it through. At some point I gotta stand on my own feet right?
“Anyway, I just wanted to say I'm going to miss you. I'll miss the coffees, the brunches, everything. Wish me luck!”
He closed the recording and sat for a moment in silence. He had already seen the arrival plans. Once he woke up from the 500 year cryo-sleep he was looking at 14 hour long days as they hurried to get the first colony modules landed. He sighed.
“Alejandro, you were right. This really isn’t the job for me. I made a mistake. I wish I'd have listened to you.” he said to no one.
Luis nodded over to the Comms officer. He had some time to go, and took the scenic route along the observation decks. The Earth was long gone now, but the trillions of stars that dotted the sky were equally impressive. He traced the tail of Scorpio, trying to remember how to find the constellation they were headed to, a cluster barely visible to the naked eye. He smiled, maybe once the colony was established there could be another party.