The Story of a Man

by Prabal Nandy
 

There once was a man.

He was a quiet man, fond of memories, fond of simplicity.

He was a man who would have loved the old days, when the Earth was new.

He was also an astronaut.


He worked for United Corporation. United Corporation worked for the United Council of Terra and Homeworlds. The Council of Terra and Homeworlds worked for humanity.

So they said.


The Corporation had a contract. The contract was for them to terraform and colonize a new Homeworld for Earth. The Homeworld needed people to populate it. The people needed a ship to get there in. Earth had the people. United Corporation had the ship.


The man was one of those people.


The Colony ship left the peaceful comfort of Terra on a cold winter day to embark on its eighty-year-long mission. The soft idle snows of Northern Earth were vaporized into a searing mist of steaming rain when the massive ion drives of the ship hurtled its giant frame out of orbit, and out into the cold dark silence of space.

The ship was a mile long. Loaded with supplies and livestock, robots, and humans. All frozen in cryogenic suspension, in the hopes that one day, they would bring life to a world. All except for five.

The man was one of those five.


The ship was big. So huge, in fact, that it was constantly breaking down in some place or another. So often was it in need of repair, that at least five humans and a full company of robots had to be on the job twenty-four hours a day to make sure the ship stayed together for the duration of its long voyage.

Not that twenty-four hours mattered to a robot.

Not that a day mattered in space.

It mattered to the man.


It was tiring work, rechecking valves, fixing computers, patching hull breaches. But what made it even more tiring for the five lone humans was the knowledge that they were not expected to survive the long journey. They had all volunteered, with the knowledge that they would age and die before the eighty-year voyage was over. But they knew that their efforts would one day bring life to a world, a world waiting for man.

The man had no one to wait for him.


He was alone. He was always alone within the dark massive chambers of the ship. The only human face he had seen was his own gaunt and tired one, occasionally reflected in a shiny steel bulkhead. Only that, and the cold, half aware faces of the countless humans in Cryogenic Suspension. The thousand frozen beings that would one day till the land, and breath the air of a new world.

He would not be there when they did.


He had long consoled himself to a weary existence, living close to the machines of the ship. Living close to those cold hard beings who in their unfeelingly efficient way, carried out the works of man. They were his only companions, his only life, the cold metal children of man.

Until one day, he saw her.


She was just like the rest of them. Frozen in a twilight world, stuck between the glaring heat of reality, and the frigid depths of dreams. She was from Terra, the cradle of humanity, and was now sleeping through a voyage across light years to colonize a world that the man would never know.

But he saw her. A frozen face, in an icy capsule. Cold, and blue in the soft lights of the Cryogenic Suspension Chamber. Soft golden hair, turned silver within the subzero gas clouds that surrounded and preserved her. Deep brown eyes that paused, half open, as she had blinked forty years before.

It was a pang of pain, mixed with a sense of loss, that struck the man's heart when his eyes fell upon her preserved form. His warm living hand touched the glass of the capsule that separated him from her.

It was cold.


He knew he would never see her alive. Never see the laughing eyes, never stroke the flowing hair. He knew that when the doors of the ship opened, and she bounded, full of life, into the world beyond, he would be ashes, long dead and sealed away within the ship. He stared, and he hurt. An agony that would be so long for him, was merely the blink of an eye for her.

He worked.


He worked hard to keep his mind off of her, the one immaterial fleeting thing he had ever worked so hard to have, yet knowing he would never be able to touch beneath the glass. For it was not just glass, but time that separated them. He fixed his ship. And every day he sat by her capsule and wrote letters to her. He wrote letters to someone who did not know him, someone that he himself would never know. Letters that she would see, only after the man was long gone.

He aged.


The ship aged, and so did her crew. One by one, their organs slowed and died as time took its course, and they committed themselves to the cold vacuum of space. One by one, his comrades slowly fell until the man was alone again.

He was used to it.


But he was never alone without her. Never alone while his eyes could still see her frozen form, still alive, behind the glass. Never alone without the metal children, that some call machines. He placed his letters among her things in the cargo bay, as he prepared to wait for his own end.

He grew old.


And one day he awoke to find that the ship had landed, had completed its eighty year voyage across the silent sea of space, and was ready to let its cargo colonize a young world, full of life. He smiled as he saw the lush vegetation, the pure blowing winds. He smiled as he thought of the children, and the people who would make this world a new world of man. He ran as well as he could to the cryogenic chamber, just in time to see the frozen glass capsules slide open, and the cold human cargo begin to warm, stretch, and open their eyes.

And in the midst of them, was she.

But the world was young.

And she was young.

He was old.


She often wondered who had written her so many letters, fond letters that spoke to her as a friend, young knowing letters that bespoke of age. She wondered who could have grown so attached to her in a time that was for her, a blink of an eye. She thought whoever he was, he must be long dead by now.

She never saw him.


He would not have liked it if she had.


There is a beautiful world out there, light years from the warm comfortable cradle of humanity we call Earth. A young world, full of the simple things that men and women have long since lost.

And on that world there are children, who speak of a man old beyond imagination.

Some say he came when man first came out of the sky to give life to a cold world, a rock in space.

The more experienced tell their children not to speak of such things, but when asked about him, they will only say that he is "old."

Some never speak of him at all, and those who do only call him "old man." None know his name. He would not have liked it if they did. Perhaps it is for the better.

But some say that on the last day of fall, when the sun lights up the heavens with a wispy golden light, and the land becomes the deepest shade of brown, and the first cold wind begins to blow from blue mountains of the west, his eyes will swim through the sky as they did so long ago when he was young, and he will tell stories.


 

This document and all documents on this site linked to it are owned exclusively by Prabal Nandy (p.nandy@att.net). Permission is granted to use and make electronic copies of said material. Authorization must be granted by the author before said material may be published in any form. Myops and MUSCATech: Copyright 1993-2001 by Prabal Nandy.

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