The Ship

The kid reminded me of myself, so long ago. The way he leaned against the railing was the way I leaned against the railing, back when leaning against things was something done out of convenience instead of necessity. His eyes moved quick over the pods, trying to count them all, to take it all in, just like I did when I first woke up.

“How many are there?” he asked. It was my first question too.

“In this room, sixty five thousand, five hundred and thirty six.” I knew he wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t believe it at first either, until I had counted them, adding my mark to each pod in order to keep track of them. My mark, added to the hundreds that already decorated each pod.

The expected second question came. “How many rooms?”

“A hundred and fifty thousand rooms, more or less.” He looked at me as if I was going to elaborate, but I didn’t. He would have to discover the dead rooms for himself, just like I did. Rooms where the power had died, and sixty five thousand, five hundred and thirty six human beings died a slow suffocating death in their sleep. He would have to go through those crypts without warning, taking in the horror of what can happen when things go wrong. Otherwise there is no sense of purpose. The dead rooms were something he would have to face on his own, so he knew the price of failure.

I gave him the tour, or at least as much as I could in my weakened state. The ship was too immense for me anymore. The mess hall, where he could eat. The entertainment rooms, to stop from going crazy. “There’s more, there’s always more,” I told him as we pushed forward. “There’s rooms I’ve never even been too, probably rooms I don’t even know exist.” He would spend the first days, months, years, searching the ship, discovering a place to call his own, before he got really serious about the tasks that would take up the rest of his life.

We finally reached the control room. When full, it would hold a hundred people, all essential to the piloting of the ship. Now, it held two people, and soon, just one.

“The thing is all automated, of course. No one expects us to steer this thing. There are instructions on what to do in case of emergencies, how to check life support, that kind of thing. You can go through it at your leisure. But there’s one thing I want to show you.” I woke the main control panel up, and hit a few buttons. The front of the room, a wall colored a dull white, turned black. The occasional point of light would fly past, providing a brief point of reference.

I watched his face. I wanted to see his reaction, the same reason I had taken him into one of the storage room. His eyes, so much like mine, were wide, and I smiled. His reactions were just like mine when I first woke up, and an old man had taken me on a tour much like this one. “That’s… space?” he asked.

“Yep. And somewhere out there is our new home. My whole life has been dedicated to getting us there. My whole life has been just one minor leg on the relay of humanity’s salvation. But I can’t do it anymore.” I turned him away from the screen, and kneeled down in front of him until we were eye level. “It’s your turn now. You alone will guide us through the night and keep us safe. And when you can no longer do so, you’ll wake up the next one to take your place, just like I woke you. It is a great burden, but also a terrible privilege.” I leaned over and kissed his forehead. “You will do well.”

I stood up, wincing. “The ship is yours now.” I said and turned, limping towards the door of the control room. He stood there, and I knew what he was going through, the enormity of the task settling in.

“Wait!” he said. My back to him, I smiled. I was expecting that. “What.. where are you going?” “To sleep,” I said, not turning around before walking through the door, leaving him behind.

He’ll do fine, I knew. I did fine. The man before me did fine, And before him, and him, and him, back and back forever. After a long walk I found my pod, the one I had been awaken from so long ago. Climbing in was hard, my joints not moving like they used to, but I made it, and squirmed around until I was comfortable. The lid closed automatically, and the hissing of gas was the last thing I heard before falling asleep for the last time.

In his pretend life, August Baker is a retail monkey who channels anger and loathing into something vaguely resembling literature. In his real life, he is a Space Pirate.

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