Space is cold, but she was always warm. The casual brushes of her body as she passed in the sterile corridors, the faint residuals of her breath in the recycled air, the lilting afterglow of her voice over the com. The flame streaks in her hair matched the fire in her eyes, and all of it radiated an evanescent glow amidst the icy vacuum.
The mission had been a frosty one since the blaze of the afterburn was extinguished nearly a year ago. Once escape velocity had been reached, we switched over to low-energy mode, subsisting on the diminishing rays of the sun as we careened purposefully toward a self-imposed oblivion. The fact that it was all seen as heroic by everyone and everything left behind only accentuated the emptiness.
But I won’t complain, at least not out loud. I chose this life, mostly for the chance to do something memorable and important, and to be a maker of history rather than a consumer of it. The stars beckoned, persuasively, and even though I would never technically get there in this lifetime, I would be part of the first wave of humans to achieve a proximate vantage point and to pave the way beyond.
My resolve about such matters has never wavered, not once. Yet I had not been prepared for the realization of utter coldness that beset the journey. I never liked the cold, at least not long-term. And this wasn’t the crisp cold of a winter evening, or the charming backdrop of a snowy holiday scene. This was like being enveloped in an outer layer of near absolute zero with only tattered undergarments on.
After months of this frostbitten reality setting in, I began to sense heat in the strangest and most insignificant places. Each blinking LED light was a tiny beacon of warmth. Every moment in proximity to a fellow crewmember, even with our dense suits on, was like starting a dormant pilot light of body heat. Even sounds reverberating through the thick hull were like acoustical smoke signals from a virtual bed of coals.
None of these small moments, however, could match her sheer radiance. She is untamed, motivated, energetic, effusive, passionate, and brilliant. At least that’s how I see her, as the fantastic reverie of her image keeps me sane in a sea of drudgery and isolation. I never let on to her or anyone else how I feel, which actually serves the purpose of keeping my unrequited torch burning with every gasp of oxygen.
So I guess this doesn’t quite qualify as a love story, as much as one of mere survival. I need her in ways far beyond the vicissitudes of courtship, partnering, copulation, jealousy, and longing. The spark between us may purely be a fiction of my mortal urges, yet it constitutes a love more fervent than in any Shakespearean tragedy. Without her I would perish; with her, over time, the flame would wane and the result would be the same. The only hope is to maintain a heartbroken ideation as a means of enduring.
Rereading this journal entry, and cognizant of posterity’s gaze, it seems that I’ve lapsed into a tone of far greater consternation than I had intended. I tend to write in formal, stiff prose in any event, substituting measured analysis for authentic reflection in most of my affairs, written and lived alike. I suppose that this, at least, rings through in the words above. But if I somehow gave the impression of being a tortured soul, or a hopeless romantic, or a withdrawn loner, or anything of this ilk, that would be off the mark.
No, this is neither desperation nor lamentation. It simply is an attempt to convey the essence of space travel and the human being’s ill-suited temperament for its realization. We are warm-blooded, highly social creatures; we are frenetic and erotic and unpredictable. Space, alas, is the antithesis of all of this, comprising a frigid and antiseptic realm of impersonal micromanagement. It may look exciting from the ground, but here it is mostly an abiding exercise in perpetual iciness.
That is, except for my fierce muse.
Lemar Starland, on the full-moon solstice