I woke up from the same earthbound dreams again; dreams full of sights, sounds, touch, smells and warmth. I hadn’t experienced such things for decades now, but they came to me all the same. It was my sacrifice, my name would immortalised so I was told; the life keeper, the warden, the pilot of Morpheus. Immortalised? Oh yes my name would be infamous, after what I did. Something felt different this morning; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I felt her stir beside me as I woke, not that Juanita really ever slept of course. If she had dreams, she never remembered them to tell me. I felt her hands reach towards me, caressing me. She knew what I liked and soon I felt her smooth, ageless pseudoskin against mine. She had once been my sexual ideal, custom made to my tastes, and I had revelled in her when we had first set out and yet, over the years, she had become nothing but a sweet gaoler. She was meant to keep me sane of course, an escape from the crippling loneliness, but my dreams told me otherwise.
I kissed and held her afterwards, for a while it all seemed real, but soon the moment had passed and reality became clear; as the lights flashed on heralding my beckoning duties. I was merely holding a pleasure cyborg; beautiful, yet soulless. She waved me goodbye; I had disabled her speech mechanisms after her awkward questions had got insistent. Besides I had soon exhausted her programmed conversation menu. She wasn't mortal, she never aged, she never heard the voices...
I rose easily, that was one mercy the artificial gravity afforded to my advancing years. If my dreams ever came real my skeletal structure would more than likely just collapse. I went to the adjoining gym, strapping myself in the treadmill and went through my exercise regime. I showered, the vacuum pump was noisy, indicating the filtration system was playing up again. I added it to the day’s duties. How many times has this water been through me now? Every shower I had this same thought, trapped as I am in my molybdenum alloy home.
I fixed myself a breakfast of synthicereals. How I longed for fruit! Real Fruit! A Crunchy apple with sweet juice that would flood my mouth or grapes… I put such self-torture out of my mind. I tried the faucet, holding the cup close to it due to the part grav, every drop was precious; even the water vapour I breathed and the sweat I exuded was scrubbed from the air and recycled. I smelt the water; it had an unpleasant aroma despite it being cold from the cryo tubing. The filtration system was definitly playing up. I poured it carefully away back into the filtration inlets. I would get a set of tools on the way to the computer room. I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge that I had previously set aside. It upset the resources diagnostics, which I had to bypass, but the years had taught me that the water filtration system was prone to problems. Over the years I had disconnected many of the systems from the mainframe.
I bounded down the corridor. Funny how even now the sensation still was joyful. Did I dream of full gravity? Was I aware of it? I must try to take that in when I’m next asleep. I timed my next leap to land next to the tool store. I punched in the number and retrieved a set. I looked at my hands, they were old and wrinkled. I realised I had lost all track of the years. I felt a wave of regret wash over me; or was it guilt? I fought back the tears; they would only be recycled anyway. I leant against the wall. The background vibration felt different and I was reminded of my waking thoughts. How long had we been cruising now since I turned off the Deuterium Helium 3 Inertia Engine? Forty years? Fifty years? More?
The superstructure creaked more than usual. It reminded me of when the Winterberg Fusion engines were running for the first ten years, propelling us to 17% light speed. How the creaks and groans had become voices echoing down the length of the beryllium shielding. I learnt that they were the voices of those who slept, while I worked alone; my life slipping away into monotony. The voices had taunted me, but I had silenced them.
I reached the computer room, hydrating myself as I sat down and punched the console into active mode. The touch sensitive keys had worn, only memory told me where I was to place my fingertips.
“Morning Raoul.” The female voice of the mainframe computer cheerily said. It sounded different, almost excited.
“What have you got for me babe?” I replied yawning.
“Last night we came within range of the navigation beacon for Barnard’s Star, the magsail was deployed as we came into its heliosphere. Our voyage is over Raoul, after 54 years and 6 Light Years. The cryopods are being activated. The crew will be awake when we rendezvous with the robotic Helium mining equipment around the gas giant. Take a look.”
The shielding over the forward portal slid open to reveal my first view of the Barnard’s system. It was a red dwarf star, like the sun, but different. We were heading for a distant gas giant, its bands streaked red from the rays of this alien sun, as it consumed its iron, its bright glory spent. From here the crew would have mined the Helium 3 and carried on to the Cygnus binary system to find the exoplanet from which the signal had been heard. Would have… They shouldn’t have taunted me about my lost youth.
I arose from the chair. “I need to repair the filtration system.”
“But Raoul, we’ve done it! Our mission together is accomplished.”
I walked away from her voice. Did it contain disappointment? It should if it knew.
I carried the tool case but thinking upon it, the futility was apparent. I dropped it on the floor and headed to the pressure suit cabinets and airlocks. I suited up and closed the door behind me.
“Rauol! Where are you going?” the computer said in a worried tone.
“I’m just going out for a walk babe.”
“Raoul! I forbid it. It’s too dangerous while we are still travelling at such a spee…”
I flicked off the intercom, another bypass I had found. By now the cryopods would be beginning to open. The occupants would crawl out confused and senile; the living ones that is. They had been older than me to begin with and to silence them I had bypassed the Time Stasis Buffers. I chuckled to myself. Mock me would you? The lonely man with the sexbot? At least I’ve been conscious while I aged between the stars, unlike you, who have aged and died while you slept.
I closed the visor on the helmet and saw my wrinkled and lined face in the reflection. It had all been for nothing, but I had seen what no other human had seen. I stepped out of the airlock. Behind the magnetic sail was vast and open, slowing our momentum. In the vacuum of space the speed was barely discernable. I walked around the hull, my magnetic boots keeping me attached, until I saw the star clearly as the Morpheus entered into its orbit. It was big at this closing distance, despite its labelling as a red dwarf. Its red glow reminded of a dream of a reality that was so long ago. To feel the warmth of the sun on my face, just one more time; I opened the visor to a cacophony of warnings. The alarms were strident until silenced by the vacuum, the cold, airless vacuum…
“So the same thing happened in this simulation as well?”
“Yes Commander,” the Flight Director replied, “It would appear that Mr Fernandez suffered the same severe space madness. A great pity; we actually made it to Barnard’s Star this time. I’ve got to admire the way his madness covered its tracks during this simulation. We definitely need some kind of hull buffering. All the subjects heard voices during the voyage. I've double checked the simulation programming, its not a glitch.”
“Just paranoid delusion, Director, the mind will hallucinate voices out of the silence of space if it wants to. Besides we cannot increase the weight without adversely affecting the fuel capacity of the Morpheus. See that Mr Fernandez has his memory wiped clean prior to bringing out of hyper dream sleep stasis. It still amazes me, 54 years squeezed into a week. Put in the false memory of a week’s holiday in Hawaii, pay him and thank him for his time. We still need a Life Keeper; we just have to keep looking for the right stuff.”
“A holiday in Hawaii Commander?”
“Yes, a holiday that included a whirlwind romance with a great beauty called Juanita…”