“You’re an idiot,” she muttered. “Screw you too,” I brilliantly retorted. What made me think it would be different out here, in the vast blackness between the stars? As if our troubles were attached to terra firma and would somehow dissipate in the eerie silence of space. No chance.
‘Wherever you go, there you are’ went the archaic expression. I remember hearing this in one of the mind-numbing lectures on ‘ancient wall art’ back at the university. Hah! University! And to think, we’ve still charted only about 2 percent of the galaxy, let alone the whole damn universe. But maybe those ancients were on to something after all, with their—what’d they call it again?—‘graffiti’ or ‘self-help’ or whatever it was.
“I can’t believe I’m stuck out here with you for, crap, like a millennia it feels like,” she lamented. “I knew it would be like this—even after millions of years of evolution, you men are still all the same: controlling, judgmental, and full of spite.” My comeback was almost preordained in its scope, albeit a bit more biting than I intended: “Yeah, and you women are a hell of a lot better, huh? Manipulative, moody, and utterly mad. You’ve come a long way too, baby.”
“This is getting us nowhere. I’m going for a walk.” And with that she jerked past me into the airlock. I watched her take the red slimline spacesuit out of her locker and slowly slip it on. Damn, I thought, even though she pisses me off, she’s still awfully cute in that suit. Pushing the depressurization button and grabbing the guidewire, she was off into the inky black vacuum. I could’ve sworn that a vague outline of a middle finger popped up as she drifted around the corner of the airlock door.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When the call came for us to staff this mission, we both had a sense that the change might do us some good. The pressures of life had gotten to us back home, I suppose—work, kids, money, overcrowding, pollution, the usual stuff. Oh sure, we had a nice little compuhouse, two late model hovercraft, all the VR time we could want, even a real tree in our yard to look at. The kids were grown up and had made something of themselves—Avram was an interstellar geologist and Irlana was an extraterrestrial anthropologist—and Charlotte and I had both been able to retire early after successful careers working together in the quantumech field.
Before we could even smell the rose-scented holoflora, however, the call came in with the offer to be part of the first near-light mission aboard the so-called Einstein-Rosen Rocket—known colloquially as the Holy Rosens project. The chance to be in the vanguard of exploration in the farthest regions of known space was too good to pass up. So we went.
The trip went as planned, and we were assigned to the forward-station lab at the first guidepost, which was the closest-in marker for the rest of the crew—the younger, fitter ones—who were pushing the envelope ahead. We were like the chaperones, the parental figures, the voices of reason. Geez! If they only knew how we really were with each other. But we knew. I guess we hadn’t fully calculated that dimension, in all of the excitement.
Anyway, here we are, with nothing but time—eternal, infernal time—to ping each other with gleeful banter and rueful barbs. We’ve honed it to a fine art by now. Love, hate, lust, disgust, attraction, revulsion—back and forth like a pendulum. Was it like this for everyone else? We never asked because we didn’t want to reveal. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’, like they say in the old vids.
It’s better than flatlining, I guess? Never boring, at least. We were both relentless adventurers anyway, always needing new terrain to explore. That’s how we wound up here, in every sense…
Lemar Starland, staying out of it