Saturday, 25 August 2012


We’d been drifting down through Ergo’s dust for a couple of months and I had already had more than enough time to think things over. I was pretty sure non-existence was the best option. Not that I was depressed, I was not. Nor was I at the end of my tether through exposure to some emotional turmoil. No, I had simply had enough. My life before hadn’t been too bad when compared to that of some friends of mine. No drug or sex addictions, no guilty conscience continually nagging at me due to crimes I’d committed. No. I’d just had enough. And enough was enough.

I had to admit I was still finding interest in this trip so the time for my exit was not yet. No, not just yet. I’d wander down the corridor from my cabin and enjoy the thick pile carpets and nice velvety feel of the armchairs in the forward lounge. It was just . . . somehow it all felt a little too far away. I could feel the textures and enjoy them in a way but somehow that enjoyment seemed second-hand rather than first. I can’t really explain it, it was like a filter had grown between me and everything I saw and touched. Had I lived too long? It’s possible. I knew that back home several generations had already come and gone. And that the old place had no longer been visible in the aft lounge, even through the viewer, long before we’d reached Ergo. Had that done it? No longer to be able to even see the vague smear near the tiny sparkling light of our own sun?

My story wasn’t unique. I knew that. For all its wonders life could burn the interest out of some people and it seemed to have done just this with me. I suppose that was a large part of the reason why I’d put myself in line for this trip. It was a one way ticket. At least for the humans. The data would go back and plenty of it. But we? We would never return.

Maybe I’d be shaken out of my melancholia by the others. I didn’t think so. But I needed something to keep my spirits up and this would have to do.

There were only a few days to go before they’d come out of sleep and join me in the lounge. I could only hope they wouldn’t make me feel worse rather than better. Oh my god. I was a hopeless case. This I told myself each and every day.

Ergo was older than Earth by some half a billion years. It was much bigger too. Some three times the size of Earth. She looked even bigger due to the thousand mile dust field which surrounded her. The dust didn’t stop light reaching the surface however as she was within a binary system and her two suns burnt their hydrogen much closer to Ergo than our own sun did to Earth. That’s why we were here. Ergo was special. A life-bearing world had not been found despite a thousand and more years of searching. Ergo, as unlikely as her dust shield made her, was the strongest candidate by far. For the dust was indeed a shield and the vortices within that shield created a protective atmosphere against all the debris that had perhaps wiped out life elsewhere. Not that any of the traces we had found had been wiped out in any short time span. By the best estimates this had taken something in the order of a billion years. Those traces had been intriguing. Tiny flakes of metal. Now and then a tiny flake bearing a symbol. It wasn’t much. It wasn’t very much at all. But it was everything. We were not alone.

The dust was interminable. At least it seemed to to me by the third month. We couldn’t go through in any other way. It was too dangerous. The stuff had to float against us and pass us by, not hit us as a projectile where our combined speeds could instigate collapse. Our recognition systems moved us gently from the orbit of larger objects and steered us well clear from the vortices of course. Thankfully these, like the Great Eye of Jupiter held their position in predictable locations. The smaller ones did move but our systems were up to the job of moving us out of their way. But slowly. Everything slowly.

I lay in my bed and gazed at my ceiling viewer. These days I preferred off world topics. Somehow I felt sick when I viewed anything of Earth. A sad, strange, lonely sickness. A feeling like I was looking at something and someones who I had not one single thing in common with. That shouldn’t have been the case of course wasn’t I human too. Hadn’t I lived on Earth? And quite normally with all the usual desires, interests, tasks and material goods? I was sure I had. Hadn’t I?

Sometimes you question yourself so much that you completely run out of answers, in fact you no longer get answers back from that place where you look most often for them. From your mind. Was I suffering from sensory deprivation? Maybe. But the training had been thorough back at the lab, I’d spent the requisite number of hours in the tank and with the shrink, hadn’t I? But then how foolproof are these things and just how expert are the experts. They probably go back home each night like the rest of us happy to have got through another day not screwing up and having got away with the semi-professional scamshow they were running. Or had I become too cynical. What was too cynical by the way? I don’t know what you’ve been exposed to in your life but I’m assuming you’ve seen an average amount of the stuff that goes on day in and day out. Tell me, how do you avoid becoming cynical? Take drugs? Get religion? Hypnosis? Stop looking? But forget that, it’s just another series of questions I need to stop asking myself. If I erect a fence called "You’re too cynical" I’d never ask myself another question. Then I really would start to go mad even sooner than through having so many questions without answers that I live in a permanent fog of confusion. As I said, I’ve had enough.

I’ve always found it helps when I feel like this to arise from the comfortable and comforting bed or couch I’m lazing in and start walking. Looking and not thinking really helps. Unfortunately I can’t quite get off on corridors, cubicles, cabins and multicolored artworks the way I used to. And from the lounge all I see is orange clouds of swirling dust. I need some company. Fast!

Ergo rotated slower than Earth and in an eccentric orbit due to its twin suns. One of Ergo’s suns was eating the other due to a gravitational imbalance. This was from a human’s standpoint a slow process. However around six thousand million tons a second were transferring and I wouldn’t call that slow exactly. But if you stood on a rock orbiting Ergo for about twenty million years you’d not notice much difference in those suns. They’d both look about the same size and that thin bridge of mistiness would look just as thin and misty at the beginning of that time and at the end. You’d have to be a little patient and wait a further three thousand five hundred million years to begin to see some changes. Even then they’d not be that spectacular, there’d be a slight thickening and a slight reddening of the bridge.

Ergo was mysterious because of its covering of dust, But the telltale composite spectrums told us the elements of life were present. It doesn’t mean there was life there, but certainly the elements certainly were. We’d find out if we survived. A lot hung on this. Because Earth was dying.

It was one of the good reasons why I’d left. I’d had plenty of bad and quite a few mediocre reasons for leaving but this was a good one. She was observably dying. Oh there were some folks who pooh-poohed this. Yes, there still were a few of those kind! Unbelievable, isn’t it? Now they could have been on drugs, have found religion, taken up self-hypnosis or stopped looking. Or a combination of these. But, anyone with just a hint of sensitivity and not blinded by hedonistic greed, lust or psychosis could see it. I mean, when you wake in the morning, open a window and find the air in the room is not one whit changed you should know that something somewhere is very wrong. And if you get the fear and start running down the stairs, jump in your transport and high-tail it as fast as you can to the edges of your city, get out and still find no change in that air . . . well then you start to choke with that fear that entered your lungs, heart, brain and tissue instead of the good air you once on a time still recalled as being a natural part of your life. So, I really HAD to get out of there. Yes, I’m one truly screwed up son-of-a-bitch. But you know? I hide it well.

Wasn’t it something we all did? You find some way to hide it. You get home at night and your hand seems to have a mind of its own, like it is preprogrammed. That bottle of wine was just waiting to be opened. That pack of cigarettes too. And the comforts swallow you and start to work on you so you’d forget . . . (almost) everything. And month by month and year by year you need just a bit more comfort to heal that open wound your day prised open again after the night before. A few glasses while you prepared food. Those didn’t count right? Then a few more with the meal. Then a joint, then another. Then a nice glass of your favorite spirit. And, because it felt so good and felt so right another couple of glasses of wine. After that it was all beginning to numb down nicely. The world even seemed to become interesting again. You might even laugh. That felt nice. The mask had a great big smile all the way across it as your eyes closed to slits and the world stumbled gently away.

The others woke and suddenly I was stunned by the unholy noise I heard all around me. My first reaction was to run. Seriously. But I knew the professional image MUST be maintained. So I smiled and said the stuff that creates that illusion. Soon I was almost convinced I meant it.

Thankfully they were tired after their long sleep (it doesn’t sound right, I know but that’s how it was) and I was once again alone.

It was only an estimated two more days to emergence. I was keeping it together. Chatting like it was a tennis game. A few words were batted over to me in a string and nothing too hard to bat back. I was keeping things turning over nicely. Nothing to worry about here. Besides what could they do? Apply a mental cosh. Hold me down and slip the straightjacket on? Lock me in irons and throw me in the brig? Possibly. Thankfully making me walk the plank was not an option. But no need to fear. Like I said. I hide it well.

On the day itself we all gathered in the forward lounge in a fervor of expectation. (Yes, I was good at faking that too. But this day I didn’t need to.)

We watched as the orangeness diminished and the darkness began. At first this slightly bemused us until told that it was the Ergo equivalent of dusk and that though we were experiencing this dimness we’d never experience night. There was to be no black on Ergo. No black. At all.

Slowly the orange trailed away behind us and, as the screens were washed clean, we started to see some features. I was looking at what I thought was a yellow wall and then had the realization I was looking at Ergo herself. Wow. She. Was. Big. I had thought (cynically or not) that I had lost my sense of wonder. But I knew the darn thing was still in there. Wow. Life was one amazing beast, able to survive at some level, no matter how low, come what may. I was now officially blown away. Greens and Browns started to appear, irregular shapes of light grey and the lightest shade of violet imaginable stretched and streamed in one great streak across the wide horizon now confronting us. And then we saw them. The lights.

Just as the wonder that had sprung from me unbidden and unknown now the tears performed the same miraculous trick. I was shaking with life. What was this? I hadn’t felt like this since I was a kid and my father had slapped me across my face. I was shaking completely unable to stop. We clung onto each other and it was clear that we were all going through the same thing. We were shouting, though we hardly heard ourselves. The melee of emotions seemed to completely unhinge us from our senses.

Then came the fear. What was down there? What did we look like up here to whatever was down there? Was there something down there? And if there was, what happens now?

It was my 90th birthday. I suddenly realized my feeling that I had had enough was gone. I was ready for more.

Allan Edward Tierney's Website

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