Sunday, 20 May 2012


It was a curious thing, he had decided. Why send a man to do a machine's job? Presumably it was just to stake a claim, or something. And why did he even volunteer for this?

I didn't sign up for this shit, he said to himself, approximating some gruff, grizzled war veteran. Then he smiled. I'm too old for this shit, too.

He smiled because it was true. He was too old. He had been too old for ten years. Hell, he was probably too old when he started out. Or at least, too tired. But none of that really mattered. He had signed up, he had volunteered, in the brighter days, when nobility meant something. It meant something because there was someone for it to mean someone to.

So noble! Volunteer for your country, kid. Sign up! Do the right thing. Your country needs you! Your calling is blah blah blah. So many words, so little meaning.

Back when he was young, which was any time before he was set adrift out here, he had longed for adventure. For forging a path, doing something that no man had done before. He had done that, certainly. His path, however, had not so much been forged, but meandered.

He was a dot, a blotch on the pure vastness of space. In the sheer unimaginable extent of the universe, he was barely even a speck. If someone brushed him away, who would notice? Who would even know?

I would know, he thought to himself.

The man had been orbiting the sun for - hold on there. This man had, of course, been orbiting the sun for his entire life. He was not backwards. But, for the last 12 years, he had been the closest human to the sun, exclusively. He orbited relentlessly, unquenchably. It's a curious verb, To Orbit. One doesn't often say "I orbit" anything. But there he was, "I orbit-" ing, infinitely. The fire and rage of the Sun was so close that he could only see it at 1% brightness. And still, it spotted his vision almost endlessly. When faced with a vast burning ball of nuclear fusion of seemingly infinite power and brightness, it's easy to lose a sense of proportion. He reduced the speed he was travelling to "a few million something". After all, what does it matter? He would like to think he was the fastest human alive, too.
But from a distance he hung mute and limp in space, a dark blotch on the seething sphere of yellow and red and orange and fire.

This capsule, this dulled and bruised speck of metal, fluid and computer trickery, was his companion, his support. It was his world. He wryly considered himself not only an autonomous nation but a Moon. He wouldn't be so arrogant to call himself a Planet, but not so self-effacing to reduce himself to that of a mere Asteroid.

He floated in space, and he floated in his capsule. His body itself was a mere vessel, almost an irrelevance, a lump begrudgingly included in the trip because Science was not able to rend it from his mind. Not yet. His body - and by extension his mind (or was it the other way round?) was kept alive almost indefinitely in here. He could see, he could hear, and importantly, he could think. A blessing but also a curse. Why couldn't he be a vegetable? At least then he wouldn't know how "selfless" and how "noble" his cause was. The problem was the problems.

"You got any idea how difficult and how expensive you are, son?" he remembered the old, nameless Important Politician snarl. "We need you there in case the capsule gets itself in a fix." So they couldn't send a vegetable, a monkey, a computer. They needed an entirely sentient, intelligent, reflective human to babysit the machine.

He dreaded to think what kind of fix might occur that would need him to actually do anything, anything at all.

Works of Shakespeare: Read. Bible, Qu'ran: Absorbed. Heiroglyphics: Learned. Rosetta Stone: Deciphered (He could have looked this up, but where's the fun?) Works of Shakespeare: Memorised.
And so it went on. He ploughed his way through the wealth of all human knowledge and achievement, assimilating, enjoying, appreciating - but where is the worth in that when you have no-one with whom to share it? Was he the most widely read and most learned human who ever existed? Possibly. He didn't know if his mind had become sharpened or dulled in the last twelve years.

But again, the state of his mind was only important if the capsule got itself in a "fix". And the capsule, being a machine, could be rebuilt and relaunched. He was nothing more than a budgetary requirement and a tick in a box, so someone somewhere could tell someone else somewhere else that they had The Guy Out There, staking the claim.

His was the flag on the hilltop, he was the outpost.

1 comment:

  1. Someone/no one/anyone9 June 2012 at 19:59

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I loved it, as usual. Good luck, and I hope things get less busy (unless you prefer it that way).