Lonely in Space
Don’t let anyone tell you anything different, space is lonely. It’s only exciting in movies or books. Space is deep, dark, and depressingly lonely. And cold. And dark. And lonely.
My name is Kimearrah and I'm from the planet Thrae. It is a beautiful planet with sunshine, water, and lush vegetation. The only problem is that Thrae is also lonely.
I'm writing this as I travel inside my spacecraft. This spacecraft is called a personal craft because it is built for one person. The living quarters are cramped at 12 feet by 12 feet. That's 144 square feet of loneliness. The rest of the 100 by 100-foot craft is occupied by the engineering and physics marvels needed to propel the craft through dark and cold space at incredibly high speeds. The storage space needed for the dried food is also in this area. Food is wrapped in edible containers so storage space is utilized to the maximum. The waste management systems also have to fit into this area. There is barely room to walk into this area if I need to check on any of the machines needed to keep me alive. Fortunately, most of the engineering is controlled by the craft's computers which have a high level of redundancy. This craft has computer systems that check on computer systems.
The personal craft was invented when the population of Thrae was on the brink of extinction. The reasons for our population decline are unknown, at least unknown when I left. The birth rate dropped to 0.001 children per couple and people started dying younger. At first, it was barely noticeable; people started dying in their seventies instead of their late eighties. Couples started having 2 or 3 children instead of 6 or 7. No one came from a family of 10. It seemed sudden but it took about 200 years before people started dying in their thirties and many couples had no children. Babies were so rare that most people only knew what a baby looked like because they had seen their baby pictures of themselves. That's how I knew what a baby was.
Our physicists were much more advanced than our physicians. Making machines was profitable, medicine was not, so the most brilliant minds studied physics. The personal craft was a combined achievement of some of the greatest minds Thrae had to offer. One person could safely travel alone through space at warp drive. Some short excursions had been made before I left, but no other life forms were found. All of the people on Thrae knew that other life must be out there because of a very famous artifact that crashed into our planet about 200 years ago. It contained some writing that was obliviously written by another human. All children had to memorize the letters NASA because we hoped to one day learn the meaning. So far no one has solved this mystery.
At first, the personal craft was very expensive, only the incredible rich were able to own one. That changed when our population reached a crisis.
Even our leaders realized that if we continued at our current rate of decline our race would cease to exist and no one would be left to morn our passing. Leaders would not be necessary, there would be no one left to lead and no one to lead them. A decision was made in record time. Within three days, it was decided that every person under the age of 25 was to be given a personal craft. The same people that could debate the merits of lunch for 2 years suddenly wanted action.
The idea was that everyone under 25 years of age would travel the universe in a different direction. That made 2,000 different directions or 2,000 different chances for our race to find life, breed and continue our race throughout time. Yes, there were only 2,000 people under the age of 25 living on Thrae when this plan was set in motion. No one on the planet was under the age of 12. We were a race that once faced overcrowding and depletion of resources because of the population explosion. More than 10 billion people lived on Thrae at that time. It was crowded.
I cried when I boarded my craft. I was leaving behind a beautiful home. My parents doted on me; every child was treated with love and care by all adults. I had a close friend named Tautamer and I wanted us to travel together, but that was not part of the plan. I was at home with her parents and my parents loved her as well. People our age were scarce and we all felt special, just because we were born. When I'm honest with myself I know that even my parents did not have much longer to live. They were both thirty-six, very old for Thrae. I know that traveling alone increased all travelers' desire to find another home and increased the odds that at least one of us would find another planet with people, find another home; a planet with people so that we could procreate. The will to continue our race outweighed any individual need. I left knowing that I would never see my parents or friend again. My parents would likely die within 10 years, though they appeared healthy. I was given a quick course in what I needed to know to survive. I was taught what I should look for on a planet and how to approach my possible new home with caution. Blending in with other life forms is necessary for our quest.
The personal craft is truly a marvel of engineering. It can reach speeds of 100 times the speed of light while avoiding nasty surprises like other vessels, stars, planets or anything that would destroy the personal craft in a crash. The personal craft required no pilot which is good because at this speed no pilot could avoid crashing into any of the various things floating in space. Naturally going this fast has hazards that only a super-fast computer could recognize in time to avoid. The computers on board were capable of scanning great distances analyzing solar systems, their planets and looking for life. It's necessary to find living beings similar enough to me so that we can reproduce. The computers will also analyze languages and put a learning packet together so that I will be able to communicate, albeit basically when I land. The outside of the craft is made of a nearly indestructible polymer and looks like a boulder. Our engineers thought this would be less conspicuous in a new world.
Another side effect of traveling this fast is that time is altered for the person inside the vessel. I have been in this vessel, all alone for six years but time on Thrae has measured six hundred years.
Food and water were held in the shop's cargo bay, the initial supply will last seven years, ten if I am very, very frugal. Once that initial supply is depleted, food and water can be chemically rearranged from various waste products, not a tasty option, so I have tried to be prudent. Oxygen also recycles from the carbon dioxide. This allows travelers to search indefinitely for another planet to call home, assuming they survive their own company.
We hope that at least one person would land on a life-giving planet and integrate our DNA with the host planet. Our wildest wish is that all 2,000 pilgrims would find a home. I consider this my privilege and duty to my race.
I was eighteen when I left Thrae. My parents were some of the last few to have offspring. I was an only child although I imagine they tried to have more children as this is considered everyone's duty on Thrae. I have been traveling for 6 years as I mentioned. I celebrated my 24th birthday 2 weeks ago with a high energy nutrition bar that I had been saving. It is one of the most flavorful things I have to eat. The loneness and despair that I feel can't be erased by the relative extravagance of an entire nutrition bar. I'm going to sleep with the anticipation of another day exactly like the previous 2,192 days aboard this tiny home.
The morning after my birthday I wake up refreshed, the sleep having dispelled some of my depression. I am alive which is a more favorable condition than most of my race. A small area of my personal space in the craft is reserved for weights and a treadmill. Exercise is important during space travel to fight off depression and to keep bone density at a healthy level. Breaking a bone while traveling alone would be unpleasant at best and could be life-threatening. I mentioned that medicine was not advanced on Thrae but I know how to set my bones if needed but I'm warned that is very painful and should be done immediately. That is one skill that I hope I never have to use. I use the treadmill and weights for the required two hours. Even the energy that I expend is recycled. Exercising for two hours enables my personal space to have lights for eight hours because electricity is generated and captured. I think having the lights powered by exercise was a way for the leaders to ensure that all of the travelers took our fitness seriously. Even light-years away our leaders exert some control.
I fall into my usual, same routine after exercise and scan the computer readings for any planet that may be suitable. I may be doomed to live my life in this craft, sharing my existence with my sophisticated machines.
What, the computer is showing an interesting possibility. It appears that I am heading towards a solar system that has a sun of the right size and energy output. I'm wishing with all my being that it will have an orbiting planet with the requirements necessary for procreation.
Carille Durbin needs to write about a suitable planet and let me find it. This unbearable solitude will soon drive me crazy.