With humanity on the brink, one last crew is expelled into the darkness to carve out an uncertain future. But the hope that had once motivated them to sacrifice everything isn’t enough to reconcile that so much was lost for nothing.
A glass of whiskey is placed in front of me. I thank the bartender as he takes the empty glass away. I take a sip and wait for the bite as I swallow. It’s barely there. I shift my weight on the stool and get comfortable. I take a look at the variety of patrons around me and feel completely out of place. The clock behind the bar say 21:20. ‘She’s late,’ I think to myself.
The front door opens, and I feel the cold air rush in, reminding me how bad the winters are here. I turn and look as this smart looking woman with short black pixie hair and heavy overcoat walks in. She stomps the snow from her boots and closes the door, and then turns and scans the bar until her gaze lands on me. A recognizing smile and slight wave let me know she’s the girl I’m supposed to meet. She weaves her way through the tables and patrons while shedding her coat, revealing a simple white blouse and black slacks. I assume it’s her attempt to look professional.
“Captain Johns, I presume,” she says as she throws her coat over her arm and reaches out her hand. Now that she’s this close she looks taller and younger than I thought she was. I shift the whiskey to my off hand. ‘Soft hands,’ I think as we shake.
She introduces herself, “Olivia Parker with the Tribune. I’m sorry it took me so long to get here.” She busies herself unloading her coat on a neighboring stool. “The weather was impossible. It backed traffic up for miles.” She drops her bag on the bar and climbs onto the stool next to me. “I had to take a different route and it still felt like it took forever to get here. But I’m here now and we can begin in a second. Just let me grab a drink.” She raises her hand and tries to grab the bartender’s attention before even finishing her last sentence. She orders a martini, neat, and turns back to me.
“Pleasure, Miss Parker,” I say and take another sip.
“Captain Ronald Johns,” she says punctuating each word. “It really is a pleasure to meet you.” She starts digging into her bag. “I remember reading about your crew and The Promise as a little girl in school.” She pulls out a phone, a legal pad, and a pen. “It was just so fascinating knowing that I’d be alive when you would reach Dosterra.” She sets the phone down, opens a recording app, and hesitates. She turns back to me before saying, “I really want to thank you again for doing this interview. Are you ready to begin, Captain Johns?”
I give a slight nod before taking another sip.
“Great!” She turns on the recorder and looks at her legal pad. “Captain Ronald Johns. It’s been ten years since The Promise arrived at Dosterra. Can you tell me how you felt before the mission began back in 2158?”
I look at Olivia as she finishes the question. Her legs are crossed, and hands lie in her lap. She’s leaning in ever so subtly to show engagement. ‘She’s good,’ I think.
I take a moment to collect my thoughts, trying to remember those days before the beginning. I lean my side against the bar and rub my chin, feeling the stubble. ‘Should have shaved,’ I think. I take a slow breath and say, “We were all very excited… honored… and scared. We left Earth with the understanding that we were the last hope for humanity. If we didn’t succeed,” I let the words linger for a moment, “humanity was lost.”
“That sounds like a lot of pressure,” she remarks and makes a quick note.
“It was. But we were ready. As ready as anyone could be,” I reply.
She glances at her notes and continues, “You mentioned that you were scared. Was there anything you were particularly scared of?”
I chuckle to myself as I reply, “The Cryosleep.” She laughs with me. ‘Pretty smile,’ I think.
“The Cryosleep? You were afraid of the Cryosleep?” she asks.
“Of course. Barely tested technology that was built by the lowest bidder and was going to have to run for 100 years for the mission to work.” I let out a sharp sigh. “I had nightmares leading up to the mission of waking up as a Popsicle.” We laugh again. She shifts herself closer and tucks her hair behind her ear. ‘It’s a tactic,’ I say to myself. ‘She wants to seem friendly. Get me to open up.’
“Did any of the other members of the crew share their fears?”
During the seven years we were training, we didn’t want to have trivial nuances in personalities hold us back. So, we never shared our personal lives. Never got close. Never let each other in. The mission was too important. It always came first. But there, in that cramped hold, for three hours, we became family.”
“Well,” I take a sip so I can formulate my words. “There was a moment after we left orbit. We powered on the Ion Thrusters for the slingshot around Jupiter, giving us 3 hours of down time before jumping into the ice boxes.”
She tilts her head and asks, “Ice boxes?” She has a cute, inquisitive look. Almost playful.
I smile to myself. “Yeah, that’s what we called the cryobeds. So, before we jumped in the ice boxes we came together as a crew to debrief.”
“I didn’t think there was enough room on The Promise to fit all 20 of you together in one room.”
“There wasn’t supposed to be. But while in orbit we picked up a payload for terraforming. There was a sizable spot where a water purifier would be stored before they built a better one on The Promise. Command had us jettison it as dead weight saying it would save on fuel.” I take another sip. “The spot was a little cramped, but we met there.”
She jots down some notes before asking, “If you don’t mind me asking, what did you talk about?”
“We came together to say goodbye.” I let the words hang for a moment. I turn towards the bar and lean both arms against it. “We knew there was a 20% chance that not all of us would survive the cryosleep. As Captain, I wanted to make sure everyone was prepared.” I pause for a moment to let her make a note. “The thing is, all of us knew each other professionally, but that was it. During the seven years we were training, we didn’t want to have trivial nuances in personalities hold us back. So, we never shared our personal lives. Never got close. Never let each other in. The mission was too important. It always came first. But there, in that cramped hold, for 3 hours, we became family.”
Her eyes open wider; more piercing than surprised. “Do you think it was wise to let yourselves get so close?” she asks.
I sit up and straighten my back with my arms still resting on the bar, but I emphasize what I’m saying with my hands. “As Captain, I did what I thought was right. If we were going to be living together for 20 years on this planet, before reinforcements could get to us, then we needed to care about each other. And not just professionally, either.” I order another drink. I finished my last one a question or two ago. I can’t remember.
“Did you tell your crew about your wife?” She tightens her mouth and waits. She knows it’s a heavy question, so she waits patiently. I wait till I have my drink and take a long sip. No bite this time. I look her in the eyes and I see them as if they’re trying to dislodge some secret. ‘She’s been waiting to ask that question,’ I think to myself. ‘No one ever asks me that question.’
“Yeah. I told them. I told them about Jenna. I told them how she cried our last night together.” I let out a heavy sigh. “We had divorced two weeks prior to that for legal reasons, but I made sure she was still on contract to receive government pay. Others say they did the same. I find out then that some of them had kids. And all the time I’m thinking, ‘Damn. What the hell are we doing?’ Some tears were shed, and I admit I was one of them.”
She leans in closer and I realize I can smell her perfume. Some kind of flower. “Do you miss your wife?” she asks.
“Every day.” The response came quick and honest. “When I wake up, I think about her. Before I fall asleep, I think about her.” I hesitate. “We lost so much time for nothing.” I can feel the slight twinge of tears coming. I steel myself, pick up my glass, and continue. “I will always regret signing up for that God forsaken mission.” I finish my drink and order another.
She finishes her drink before continuing. ‘She’s trying to build up nerve,’ I think. “Captain Johns, the discovery of dimension folding seven years after The Promise left Earth essentially made your mission unnecessary.”
“It didn’t essentially make us unnecessary, it DID make us unnecessary.” I interject.
“Right. Um…” She flusters. “Tell me about arriving at an already colonized Dosterra.”
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I always think about those first days, like a haunting nightmare that nags at you wherever you go. “After all of us successfully thawed out from the ice boxes, we still had 2 days before arriving. Part of our duty was cycling through all the systems, including the coms. All standard stuff.”
“Is that when you found out?” Her eyes go to her legal pad and she quickly crosses something out.
“Yeah. When we turned the coms on we heard President McMally speaking to us. Of course, we had no idea who the hell President McMally was, and here he is trying to contact us. We immediately start thinking something went wrong, somehow the ship returned to Earth, maybe we didn’t freeze for a hundred years. There was a lot of tension in the air. It was like we couldn’t breathe.” I take a drink to settle myself down.
“And then what happened?” she asks. I realize I stopped talking for a moment; lost in thought.
“So, we patched through and were debriefed. We were told we were late to our own party. Dosterra is already colonized along with twelve other systems.” I lean against the bar, folding my arms. “We spent seven years and three trillion dollars training for that mission. And another hundred years in cryosleep. And here we are arriving at Dosterra,” I make a big gesture with my arms, “ninety years after being colonized. We weren’t the first to arrive; we were the billionth to arrive.” I finish by bringing my hands down, smacking the bar. I return to leaning against the bar with my arms folded. I let my head drop.
She quickly jots down notes before continuing, “Captain Johns, if you don’t mind me asking, do you feel resentment for how things turned out?”
“Resentment? Yeah. I do. But I can’t be mad at anyone. Fate set us up to be heroes and left us as a bunch of relic losers. It’s hard to cope with knowing that everything you were taught, everything you think you know, is a hundred years out of date.”
“Well,” she leafs through her notes, “it seems Sargent Frank Littman and Lt Hannah Miller have taken to the change. They’ve both made a name for themselves here. They’re quite the bit of celebrities.”
“So, I’ve seen. ‘Littman and the New-Old Movie Review.’ I’ve watched a few of his videos, he was always a cutup, cracking jokes. Good man. Same with Miller. Great pilot. Her stunt shows are amazing.” I stop and turn to look her in the face. “But I notice you didn’t mention Connors or Kayland.”
She leafs through her notes more, “Connors and Kayland’s deaths are very tragic…”
I cut her off, “Suicides. They were suicides. Got it in their heads that they were special. They started taking drugs, got mixed with the wrong crowds.” I let out a sigh. “Connors actually called me the night before she did it. Said she wanted to talk. I was booked for a week on the other side of the planet with a new work program because I was trying to give meaning to it all.” I gesture at everything around me. “So, I was too busy. I didn’t realize that she…” I hesitate.
Olivia waits. Her pen and legal pad are on the bar and she’s leaning in close enough that I can feel her breath. She knows that this is an intimate moment for me and she wants me to forget about the interview. We’re just a couple of old friends talking. Nothing more.
“I didn’t realize she needed help.” I continue. “I should have been there. For Kayland too before he put a bullet in his brain. I was their Captain. We were a family.” I drop my head and close my eyes. “I let them down.” I can feel my eyes watering.
“Why do you think they did it?” She asks. It’s an intrusive question but I’ve had the right mix of alcohol and memories and the words just slide out.
“Because being us sucks! We gave up everything for the mission only to find out we were obsolete.” I raise my glass to my lips but it’s empty. I place it back on the bar. “They couldn’t even make work for us. They wanted to put us in dorms and forget we exist.”
She picks back up her pad and pen. “There are those who say that you do have it easy.”
“I won’t deny that we have it good, but I’d be lying if I said it was easy.”
“What do you mean?” She readies her pen.
“I mean we’re set for life, all of us. We each get steady paychecks just for being us. But imagine a pack of aboriginals stumbling upon an anime convention, being heralded as heroes, and then shoved in a closet to rot. Like we’re dead weight.”
She looks at me softly. ‘She pities me,’ I think. I don’t blame her.
I continue, “I’ve felt like a ticking time bomb moving back and forth between depression and rage for all these years. I’m afraid one day I’m going to lose it.”
“Do you really think you’re going to lose it?” she asks.
“Yes!” I shove my head into my palms and let my head drop, smoothing my hair back with my hands. “… and no. I mean I guess. I don’t know.” My emotions are raw. I haven’t felt like this in a long time. Not even when they forced us to talk to those shrinks for years.
She leans in and places her hand on my arm. “Captain Johns…”
I can feel the heat of her. “Call me Ron. I’m not a captain anymore.”
“Er, Ron,” she continues, “what do you have planned next in your life?”
‘She’s trying to change the subject,’ I say to myself. ‘She can see you losing it.’
I calm myself and respond. “You know, I’ve learned that making plans is the worst thing a person could do. I figure you kind of have to just go with the flow.” I offer a slight smile.
“Okay, so tell me what do you want to do?”
“That’s the question, right? The big question. What do we want to do? I’m not really even sure.” I grab the bartender’s attention, but order a water. “I tried getting back to work but I’m not qualified for any real positions. I got work in construction a few years back but that’s when Connors hung herself. I sort of just broke down. I ended up quitting and moving back. After the funeral, I made my way to Bella Day.”
“Bella Day Rehab Center?” She jots down in her pad.
“Just for a visit. I wasn’t there to sign myself up or anything. A few of the crew ended up there. It was… good seeing them. Felt good connecting with people again. Really connecting. And I mean that. It’s hard connecting with someone ten generations separate from you. We think differently, act differently, view the world differently.”
“You mean people like me?” She gives me a sideways smile.
“Yeah, er, I mean no. What I mean is that you’re a very nice girl and you’ve actually shown respect. But most days I feel like a relic in a toddler’s playpen.”
“You don’t look like a relic to me,” she smiles. “You’re what, 39 chronologically?”
“Yeah,” I return the smile. “But I feel 139.”