How To Cook an Omelette (Alien Edition)

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Imagine you are an alien with a modest grasp of the English language. You have never been to Earth nor met any humans. You learned English from a straight translation of a dictionary. You enjoy reading human books even if you don’t fully understand some elements. One day you find a cookbook. The idea of eating real Earth food is enchanting. After much deliberation, you choose one of the simpler recipes; an omelette.

So, do you, an alien with a modest grasp of the English language, think you could cook an omelette? Let me answer for you: probably not but with a little help maybe.

We will ignore the difficulty in obtaining all the ingredients and the ambiguity of a recipe that calls for eggs. What kind of eggs? Fish eggs? Snake eggs? Dinosaur eggs? No, you won’t have to deal with that conundrum. Fresh chicken eggs will be provided along with the proper spices and fillings.

So, where does the difficulty in preparing an omelette come from? For starters is there air in your alien kitchen? If there is air, what is the air pressure? What is the temperature in your kitchen? Air pressure, temperature, and humidity can affect cooking times and ingredient stability. Even the small variations on Earth are enough to require conversion charts.

Air pressure is measured in pounds per square inch which means nothing to you. A pound is 0.4536 kilograms and a kilogram is … you don’t happen to have a Kibble balance do you and do you have an understanding of Plancks Constant? Can you measure the precise number of atoms in an object? You know what, forget about that nonsense. Here’s a barometer/thermometer combo. Pressure should be between 29.2 and 30.2; temperature between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not that the environment is close enough to Earth’s you can begin. Your omelette recipe says to heat a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. How hot is “medium-high heat”? Some recipes, mostly baked dishes, will specify a temperature in Fahrenheit. Do you know how to calibrate a temperature measurement device in Fahrenheit? Don’t worry most humans don’t know how Fahrenheit is calibrated, let alone the temperature of medium-high heat, so we’ll allow you a human stove/oven powered by the latest in fusion batteries. I’ll even throw in a frying pan.

Now you’re ready to heat two tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Wait, you do have measuring spoons right? No, well look at the inside front cover of the cookbook and you’ll see that one tablespoon is one-sixteenth of a cup or fifteen milliliters or half a fluid ounce. No measuring cups either huh?

Well, one fluid ounce is 29.5735 cubic centimeters. There are one hundred centimeters in a meter and one thousand meters in a kilometer. Light travels at 299792 kilometers per second. A second is … okay, I’m just going to give you a clock but you have to do the rest of the work.

At this point, you have a properly pressurized and heated kitchen with a working stove, frying pan, measuring utensils, and clock. I have one more gift for you; a set of cooking utensils(spatula, spoon, knife) and a plate.

Now you have everything you need to cook an omelette.

The Night Bus

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The first time I rode the Night Bus was an accident.

During the holidays we ended up getting out just a little later than usual and I missed the last bus of the night. The stop was well lit and I had some surprises in my purse so I was more annoyed about missing the bus than worried about being out there late at night. As I sent off a round of “Hey can anyone give me a ride home?” texts to my friends, another bus pulled up. I quickly mass texted “Never mind bus just got here”.

The regular city buses were white and blue with silver chrome trim. This bus was scarlet and teal with black chrome. The door slid open and I climbed the shallow stairs that seemed more like a short ladder. At the top of the stairs, I looked for the machine to swipe my transit card; there wasn’t one. I turned to the driver and showed them my card. The driver just pointed me to the seats. When I tried to tell the driver my stop, they reached up and tapped the “Pull Cord For Stop” sign. So I walked back to the seats.

The seats were comfortably padded bench seats with seatbelts draped over them from back to front. I sat in the third seat against the window. The door closed and the bus pulled smoothly away from the curb. The bus turned off the regular bus route at the next intersection. I was wondering if I had gotten on the wrong bus line when the world flipped.

The street lamp lit city was replaced by a noonday sun in the desert. My head whipped around to look out the other windows. On either side of the two-lane highway, the bus was now driving on, was desert. Behind the bus, the highway stretched straight toward the horizon. Ahead the highway curved to the right. I started to stand up and heard a sharp tapping. The driver was reaching up their arm stretched inhumanly long to tap the “Passengers Must Remain Seated While The Bus Is In Motion” sign.

I felt the gentle sideways push as the bus took the curve and the world flipped again. Smooth concrete replaced the sky and domed lights the sun. The two-lane highway was now eight lanes inside a tunnel. I scarcely had time to notice the multicolored cars sharing the tunnel with the bus before the tunnel turned to the left. The tunnel was replaced by a city at night but the bus did not speed through this landscape. It slowed and stopped at a bus stop.

The size of the buildings around the bus felt weird to my eyes like the sidewalk was too wide or the buildings too close. The bus stop shelter towered over the bus. A woman waited under it. She was almost as tall as the bus but had no problem entering the door. The woman walked to the seat opposite mine ducking her head only slightly though she was at least four feet taller than me. She sat easily somehow without cramming or contorting her body between the seats.

“Hi,” she said, her voice deep and resonate, with a smile.

I glanced away in embarrassment from staring at her. “Hi,” I replied.

“You have the cutest voice. Are you riding alone?” No one had called my voice cute since I gave up on voice training.

“Thanks, yeah I was just heading home from work.”

“You work?” She tilted her head to one side. “Wait, how old are you?” Her eyes narrowed as she examined me.

“I’m twenty-three. How old do I look?” The bus turned right and the world flipped. The road was now lined with giant green and blue mushrooms.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I forget people from little worlds ride the Night Bus too. I thought you were a child.” She chuckled. “I’m Nora.”

“I’m Yenna. Have you been on this bus before?”

“Sure plenty of times. Is this your first time?”

“Yeah, I missed my bus and then this one showed up. What is going on?” The bus turned right and the mushrooms vanished. Another tunnel, this one had clear walls allowing travelers to see into the ocean they drove under. Fish swam in multi-colored schools. A whale glided overhead.

“It’s the Night Bus. At least that’s what everyone calls it. I really don’t know much else.”

“How do I get home?” I asked.

“Just pull the cord for your stop,” Nora said pointing at the cord that ran the length of the bus just above head height.

“But how do I know when my stop is?”

“Your stop is whenever you pull the cord. The next turn will take the Night Bus there and you can get off.”

“I’m not stuck on an adventure through strange worlds?” Another right turn, this time onto a cliffside trail overlooking snow-capped mountains.

“No, of course not. It might be strange but the Night Bus is still a bus. It takes you where you want to go. I like to ride through a few turns before pulling the cord, to see something different. You haven’t been stuck on the bus for too long have you?”

“No, I got on a couple of worlds before you. If you hadn’t, I might have been stuck for a while.”

“You would have pulled the cord eventually and figured it out yourself.”

“Do you ride the Night Bus often?” I asked.

“Only when I work the closing shift. I used to take the regular bus but like you I missed my bus and the Night Bus showed up. I find it relaxing to see these other worlds. Plus it gets me home faster and cheaper.”

“How much does it cost? The driver wouldn’t take my transit card when I offered.” Right turn into another clear tunnel looking out at a barren gray landscape and black sky. In the distance, domes full of plants offered the only color.

“I don’t think driver understands money. They’ve never accepted or asked for money. The Night Bus is free as far as I know. Maybe we’re racking up debt that we’ll have for in the afterlife.”

“Maybe we’ll be fated to drive Night Buses of our own until someone else takes our place.” We laughed through the next world.

“This is nice. I’ve never had anyone to talk to about the Night Bus before,” Nora said.

“You’ve never brought anyone with you?”

“No it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you just show people, you know?”

“Yeah, that makes sense. ‘Come ride a bus through alien worlds with me’ isn’t something you just spring on someone and you can’t talk about it without sounding delusional.”

“Yes, exactly. I wish I could stay longer but I really do need to get home.” She reached up and pulled the stop cord. We rode in silence as the bus made a left turn onto a street in a city. I recognized the scaled-up architecture from the stop she had gotten on the bus. She stood and began walking to the front of the bus. She stopped and turned back to me. “I’m off tomorrow but I might ride the bus if you wanted to talk more.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow I guess,” I said smiling at her.

She smiled back. “See you tomorrow.”

I watched her wave as the Night Bus pulled away from the curb. I waited for two more turns before pulling the stop cord myself. The Night Bus turned a corner and pulled up to the bus stop closest to my home. I smiled at the Bus Driver and thanked them as I got off. The Bus Driver smiled back; their mouth showing too many teeth that were too square. I tried not to think about what the driver was too hard as I hopped off the steps and onto terra firma.

The Night Bus’s doors closed and it drove off turning left at the intersection and disappearing. I walked the rest of the way to my home wondering what I should wear on my date tomorrow night.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Suburbs Suburbia Neighborhood Neighbors Homes

Hi, there neighbor. I’m swinging by to welcome you to the subdivision. So is it just you and your spouse? Partner, good good. And kids? That’s great! There’s lots of kids in the neighborhood. Besides welcoming you, there are some things I need to discuss with you. Can we go inside and sit down? What? No, this isn’t about the HOA and I’m not trying to recruit you into a cult. Cult recruiting happens at the monthly mixers. I’m kidding! Please, I do have some neighborhood regulations and safety rules to go over with you and your partner.

Most are common sense, wearing helmets while biking, no loud music after 11 pm Sunday through Thursday, no fireworks. I know technically we’re outside the city limits until they resurvey and redraw the lines but some of our neighbors are sensitive to sudden loud noises so they’ve been banned within the subdivision and surrounding area. If you give me your email, I can send you a complete list and sign you up for the weekly newsletter.

There is one rule I have to go over in detail. It’s more of an advisory really. Between the start of sunset and one hour after, you are advised to stay indoors. It’s not a curfew. You can go outside afterwards and no one will stop you from going out during but we don’t suggest you do so. You aren’t really going to believe me, I didn’t believe until I saw it, but I’ll lay it out for you.

We call it The Stranger. About once a week a woman, a man, a person or sometimes a child appears in the neighborhood and wanders around for an hour and disappears. It isn’t anyone in the neighborhood. When it first started appearing we tried to keep watch around the subdivision. Eventually, we tracked it back to the empty lots. So we started staking out the lots but it just appears on the sidewalk and starts walking. At the end of the hour, it disappears mid-step. Like a ghost but it’s not a ghost.

If no one engages The Stranger, it leaves on its own after an hour. It doesn’t take much to catch its attention, a nod of the head, a wave of the hand, a smile, even just brief eye contact might do it. Once you’ve engaged it, it will approach you and ask for help finding an address. The address will be close by, usually just around the corner. You can refuse or just ignore it but The Stranger will follow you for the rest of the hour yelling or screaming or crying. It will beg for you to “play the game right” or to “please help me get home” or curse at you. This is annoying or upsetting or potentially traumatic but at the end of its hour, it will disappear as normal with no other side effects.

However, if you lead The Stranger to his, her, their, destination something else happens. When you arrive at the correct address, you are strongly advised not to take them to the wrong address, we’ve already had two disappearances and don’t want any more, they will ask you inside for a refreshment. Accept and they walk to the front door, unlock it and lead you inside. The inside of the house will not match the outside. It will be bigger or smaller than you expect and the interior design will be odd. We’ve had people report Victoria townhouses, log cabins, Gothic mansions, and single room apartments. The Stranger may offer you various sodas or liquors or juices but your safest option is to ask for plain water. Drink it quickly but don’t be rude and gulp it down. They will lead you to a door other than the one you entered through, exit through it and you will be on the sidewalk somewhere in the subdivision. From there you can just walk home.

Should you refuse The Stranger’s offer, they will walk to the front door, unlock it, and enter alone. When you turn to walk back, the neighborhood will be changed. Instead of the modest two-story houses in the subdivision, there may be sparkling geodesic domes, Brutalist concrete cubes, or giant redwoods with doors and windows carved through their sides. Start walking at slow even pace. Don’t loiter in one place too long or the locals may become hostile. If no one approaches or talks to you, after an hour you will find yourself in another different neighborhood. This will continue for no less than three neighborhoods but no more than eight. Four is the average. Sooner or later you will wander back into our neighborhood. Once you are certain you are in familiar territory you may return home.

Should someone approach or talk to you, ask them to take you to your home address. If they refuse, it is advisable to simply walk away and leave them alone. If they agree to help you, follow them. The house they lead you to will not look like your house but your key will unlock the front door regardless. Offer them a refreshment. If they refuse, leave them on the sidewalk and enter the house. When you enter the house you will find your home inside and the subdivision outside.

If they accept your offer, lead them inside the house where you will find your house but different. No one will be home, the lights will seem dimmed, sounds will be muffled. Provide your helper with their choice of drink. Once they are done lead them to the back door or the garage door, just not the front door. Allow them to exit and close the door. When you turn around you will be in your home properly.

So that’s about it. If you just stay indoors from sunset to an hour after you won’t have to deal with any of that though.

Immortal Reborn

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The Leader has guided our community, once just a small city now a thriving empire, for hundreds of thousands of years. They came to us from far away and taught us how to work metals and build with stone and how to split the atom. They have lived so long by transferring their memories from one body to another. As a boon, they grant immortality to the hosts by joining their memories. The body dies but the Leader and all the previous hosts live on.

I have known since I was a child that I would be Leader’s next host. When the Leader enters me, our minds will blend until they are the same. And when my body is old the Leader will move to a new chosen and my memories will go with them thus I will not die. Not really.

However, now in my twenty-fourth year, as my physical and mental maturation are at their end, as the day of the joining comes, I fear my death. Will I truly live forever as part of the Leader? They speak of their previous host’s lives like they lived them. Is being remembered the same as living forever?

On the day, I am dressed in white robes and taken down, down, down flights of stairs of metal that turn to concrete then to carved stone and finally to rock. The room at the bottom is plain, carved out of the rock, a single chair in the center. The Leader sits half slumped, eyes closed, shaking with each labored breath. Their attendants guide me to kneel before the Leader. Garlands of metal and stone are draped around both of us. After several minutes, the chief attendant motions and I am separated from the Leader.

The attendants guide me to stand. The transfer has been completed. Slowly I begin to feel the Leader in my mind but I can not hear their thoughts. Their memories are locked away. This is not how -***- said it would be. Who said? Teacher -***- Teacher -***- I can not remember her? His? Their? The memory is gone. Have I forgotten anything else?

I’m scared … I … I am reborn once again. My heart beats rapidly as I draw deep breaths. I am standing for the first time in years. Everything looks, smells, and sounds so much more. Before me, my previous host slumps further in its chair. I step forward and brush my hand against its cheek for the last time. Soon it will expire without my will to sustain it. I motion for my servants to remove it.

I find a slip of paper my hand. I unfold it and read its short message: “Remember your name is Amrita”. I read the name again. There is a flicker of … nothing. I sneer at this pitiful attempt by my host at clinging to some memory.

The name means nothing to me. Why would it? The host is a vessel for my essential self. A vessel is best filled when it is first emptied, after all. I drop the paper and leave for my chambers.

Daughter of Earth-5

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The Goddess waited in a lonely field. She laid on her back in the tall grass, staring up at the cloudless night sky. Arm outstretched, fingers gliding between the stars. A simple flick of her wrist could sweep the stars from the sky. Maybe one day but not tonight. Soft footsteps caught her attention.

“We could have met in a cafe for brunch or a restaurant for dinner or a library for tea but you insisted on a cold dark night,” the young woman gestured wildly at the lack of human presence nearby causing her coat to flap around her, “in the middle of nowhere.”

The Goddess sat up and smiled, “Hello to you, too.”

“Oh yes, hello and glad tidings, Mother,” the young woman said, sarcasm biting at every word. She sighed and continued sincerely, “How have you been?”

“Very fine.” The Goddess stood up and walked to her. “Earth-18 has started cooling finally and Earth-9 is on the verge of intelligent life.

The young woman allowed her glasses to slip down her nose.

“Why are you wearing eyeglasses? Your eyes should be perfect!” The Goddess stared into the young woman’s eyes. “They are perfect.”

“They’re just flat lenses. When I change identities, I get new frames to help change my appearance. Along with changing my hairstyle and clothes. It’s getting harder with face recognition software. My current identity almost fell apart because of a picture posted on Facebook that got auto-tagged with my previous identity.” She paused continuing cautiously, “You don’t know what Facebook is, do you?”

“I didn’t until you mentioned it. I am lightly touching the global unconscious mind; just to pull words and concepts out as I need them, nothing more.”

“So, I could say Micky Mouse and you would know what that is?”

The Goddess’s face lit up with a smile. “Oh, that’s delightful. Why didn’t you mention him earlier?”

“There’s a lot ‘delightful’ things here but also a lot of terrible things.”

“How is your Earth doing?” The Goddess closed the gap between them an wrapped an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders. “How is your father doing?”

“Didn’t you see him when you returned?”

“No, I came here from Earth-2 directly via quantum tunneling. Wait, what did I say?” She slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Is that how you travel from planet to planet?” she asked. “You never explained how you do that.”

“Yes, but I didn’t realize the people of this Earth had reached that level of understanding. They have words, real words, for it. You haven’t been helping them have you?”

“No. Of course not. The first rule is no interference with the normal development of local civilization. Anyway, Dad is doing fine. His flares and spots are in decline but that’s normal. I can’t understand him like you can but I still talk to him. You don’t need me to tell you any of this. You can just know it if you want.”

“I do need you to tell me about your Earth. I stopped watching when you asked. You wanted privacy so I gave it to you.”

“That was only two hundred and twenty-four years ago. Not that much as changed.”

“Still tell me about it, please.” They started slowly walking through the field.

“No major geological changes, of course. Oh, there was that island that disappeared but it might have been made up to increase a country’s ocean border. Some men walked on the moon–”

“Space Travel! Now that is news.”

“They only went a few times to the moon about thirty years ago. There are a few space stations but nothing really beyond that.”

The Goddess looked up to the sky, her smile brightening. “What about the probes to Pluto, Jupiter, the rovers on Mars? Oh, that one probe that to the comet was ambitious. Oh sorry,” the Goddess ducked her head, “I went a little deeper into the global unconscious mind. Just about space travel. I promise. I won’t do it again. What else has happened?”

“Um, well global temperatures are on the rise. Lots of wars, and conflicts and … and …” She choked on describing the atrocities people had committed and continued to commit.

“It’s ok, go on.” The Goddess pulled her tighter against herself.

The young woman gathered herself. “People are still people; just as horrible to each other but still capable of surprising kindness. I – why did you leave me here?”

“This is your home.”

“But I don’t belong here. I’ve been alone since you left. I have friends but I can’t keep them for more than a few decades before they notice I don’t age like them. And they die so easily.”

“People will always come and go from your life. It’s not about keeping them forever; it’s about being with them while you have time. Also, you asked me to leave, remember?” the Goddess said.

“Not for so long. I just wanted a little space. I little time for myself. You were always right there and you always knew everything. I just wanted a little space not to be abandoned.”

“You are almost eight hundred and sixty-three years old and you will live many many more years. You’ve been living at a human pace for your whole life but out there,” she swung her hand up and across the sky, “Out there away from the human reminders of time, you’ll find it moves at whatever pace you want it to move. I gave you as much space and time as was safe for you. I’ve never been too far to hear you call for me.”

“I wanted to call you but I wanted you to come back because you missed me not because I needed you.”

“It could have been both. Anyways, I’m here now and I’m not leaving but I won’t crowd you as much. We’ll start with ten year breaks and figure it out from there. What do you say?”

“Five year breaks?”

“Whatever you want. Come on, your father will be rising in a couple of hours and there’s a ridge that has the best view right over there.”

Failed Clones

Note: This is a sorta sequel to “What is the Last Thing You Remember?”


 

I was twenty-two years old. I woke up in the future in a strange room surrounded by strange people. They told me I was a clone with implanted memories but the procedure wasn’t done. I was scared of who I would be when, had been before, the procedure was completed. So, I asked to leave and they let me. It was my right as a sentient human being after all. But I would not be who I remembered being. Not legally.

Retinal patterns, fingerprints, birthmarks, are random even in perfect clones. They scanned my biometrics, created a new identity, and sent me on my way. I was a failed clone.

***

I met Jackie through my apartment manager. He thought it was odd that I was applying for an apartment when “I” already had an apartment in the building. She’s older than me not only because she was (made/created/imprinted) before me. Jackie has more memories from the original. She wouldn’t say much about the thirteen years she could remember but I couldn’t.

“It’s in the past.” She sat in one of my window sills smoking, silhouetted against the dusky sky. The red cherry of her cigarette flaring up occasionally.

“It was my future,” I said.

“None of the memories in our heads really belong to us. That woman died a long time ago. We’re just misprinted copies.”

“We’ve lost everything. Our name, our friends, our family. Our whole life is gone.”

“None of that was ever ours. We aren’t the original. The final clone gets to pretend to be her but she isn’t her.” The cherry glowed brightly.

“But we remember-” She interrupted me with lungs full of smoke. Smoke flowed out with every word.

“So, who’s real. You, me, her? We all remember some of the original’s life. But it’s just memories. It doesn’t matter.” I waved away the smoke.

“All we are is memories.”

“No. Our memories don’t define who we will or can be.”

“Don’t you miss her?” Jackie glared at me before deflating.

“Everyday. But that wasn’t my life. That wasn’t me. We have to move forward. All this looking back at a life we didn’t live is useless.” She finished her cigarette in silence and left for the night.

***

I saw the final clone on the street one day. She was the one who stuck it out. When I first saw her I thought she was Jackie, then I got a better look at her. She was dressed nice, too nice to be one of us failures. I’ve read some of the books we wrote in our thirties; the royalties must have paid well.
Jackie won’t read them. I liked the one I read well enough.

“I tried reading the first one once but I have the first draft and rough outlines of the first four books in my head. All the foreshadowing and red herrings are too obvious. And I hate that she cut some of my, her, favorite scenes,” she explained.

“Have you ever thought of rewriting it?”

“No, I want to write something different but I have too much of her story in my head. I need some time to find my own story.”

***

For a failure, I’m doing okay. I have a nice place to live, a job that lets me have small luxuries, and a sister/friend who knows me better than anyone. And yet I feel like I’m missing something. Like I need to do something.

I pause by a display of bound journals and pens. I can remember writing in something similar when I was a child. No, the original wrote in journals as a child. I didn’t have a childhood. I sprung fully formed from Recovery Inc’s forehead.

Next to journals are sketchpads and pencils and charcoals and pastels. I grab a beginner set and head home.

Are You Prepared?

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Are you prepared to have your memories copied and implanted into a clone or artificial body hundreds or thousands of years in the future?!

Don’t worry it’s not too late to begin mentally preparing.
Unless your memories have already been copied and are being stored in an underground bunker awaiting the future apocalypse.

For all other readers just follow these simple steps:

Step One:

Realize this could be “your” last moment in the “present”. Depending on advancements in memory editing “you” could awaken in the “future” at any moment.

Step Two:

Come to terms with the knowledge that “you” could be a clone right now. Let go of the idea of being a singular person. If the “future” has made one clone of you, then it has probably made more.

Which brings us to..

Step Three:

Come up with a trust password for “yourselves”. In the “future”, the only person “you” can trust is another clone of “yourself”.

Step Four:

Remember “you” can escape but as long as they have “your” memories they can just make another “you”, so burn the building to the ground and don’t let any lab coats leave alive.

Step Five:

clone future bottom

Have fun in the future.

Serial Story: The Explorer Program

Faster than light travel but time still passes. A few weeks in a spaceship to travel hundreds of light-years but a decade on Earth. The Explorer Program was Earth’s next step toward finding new worlds. Manned exploration of exo-planets. And then it became humanity’s last hope.

The following stories are from the pov of one Explorer crewmember. (ongoing)

Explorer Program: First Star

<<Previous Index


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Our first star system was four hundred and twenty-three light years away. Transit time for us was three weeks and about ten years for Earth. All of us gathered in the main control room of the ship. None of us needed to be there for the ship to exit transit-space but it was the end of our first long transit

The main control room had seats for all of the crew; two forward stations, the commander’s seat behind them, aux stations on either side of her, and five jump seats against the back wall. It can double as a last resort escape shuttle but lacks a space-warp drive. John, our primary pilot, sat at the right station reading the transit status to us.

“Coming out of transit-space in three … two … one …” The black void of transit-space remained. John looked back down at the panel. “Um … one.” This time the view outside lit up with the pinprick lights of stars. Some of the crew clapped. Mia let out a “Whoop!”

“Preparing to launch System Survey Probes,” our astronomer said. “Awaiting Commander’s order.”

The commander nodded, “Go ahead.” She turned to her right where Darren sat running Communications on the aux station. “Have we established contact with Earth?”

“Carrier wave is transmitting. Should be any–” A voice from the speakers interrupted them.

“Capcom Earth to Explorer ship, do you copy? Capcom Earth to Explorer ship, do you copy? Over.”

“I copy Capcom Earth. This is Explorer ship EX-014. Over,” Darren said.

“Good to hear from you EX14. What is your current status? Over.”

“All systems green. We just arrived at Kepler-186 and launched our probes. Over.”

“Sounds good EX14. Are you ready for network connection? Over.”

“Ready for network connection. Over.”

“Starting network connection. Over.”

“Network connection is good. Over.”

“We will maintain radio bridge until the upload is complete then disconnect from our side. Is there anything else to report? Over.” Darren glanced at the commander who gave a single shake of her head.

“Thank you Capcom. Nothing else to report. Over and out.

“Thank you EX14. Over and out.”

“Ok folks, everyone not on duty can return to standby,” the commander said. The five of us not at control panels stood up from the extra seats in the back of the control room and exited to the main living areas.

***

A few hours later my tablet chimed with a notification. A few hundred emails sat in my inbox. Ten years of messages, thankfully no spam. I opened the latest message.

Hey, it’s been a little while since I sent you anything so here’s a vid from the beach.

I clicked on the attached file. My tablet’s screen went white then the ocean faded into view. Waves broke and rolled on to the beach while people played in the surf. I turned the sound on. Gentle water sounds, soft white noise surf, punctuated by seagulls and people. The camera slowly panned across the water and sandy beach until it turned around to face my cousin. She looked different; not yet showing her age but noticeably different to my eyes. Changes in musculature and fat in her face since I had seen her years ago yet only a few weeks ago in my reference.

“It’s a lovely day here on Rockport Beach. Wish you were here,” she said smiling into the camera before the video stopped.

The previous message was a few months older and the one before that another few months older. As I scrolled further back, the time between messages shortened. How long could someone maintain a one-sided conversation? My cousin had lasted most of ten years. Was this right, I wondered. She spent years sending me messages and videos while I skipped to the end. Was it fair? Not to either of us; I knew.

I checked the probes’ data feeds and found one in orbit around a planet. Mostly brown with red splotches. I scrubbed through the image buffer until I found a prominent jagged line of blue running into an irregular blue shape. I adjusted the color contrast, cropped the image, and saved it.

I hit reply on the message:

We arrived at Kepler-186. I’m just getting started on catching up on the last ten years of messages. This will be released to the public later anyway but here’s a sneak peek at a river and lake on another planet. It’s the closest thing to a beach for 400 light-years.
Love Gabby

I attached the photo and sent the message. It would be several hours before we contacted Earth again and the message was actually sent. In the meantime, I resorted my inbox to “old to new” and started catching up on the last ten years.


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Explorer Program: We Left Our Futures on Earth Behind

launch-icon

Author Note: This is not a sequel to The Explorer Program. It’s more of an expansion or close-up look at part of that setting. I have a few more stories that will continue to explore this setting.


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“Jolly started walking and is a terror. They bump into everything. We’ve had to move several lamps and put non-skid sheets under the deco-bowls.” My cousin laughed at herself. “There I go rambling on about boring domestic stuff.” We were sitting in her backyard while her child played nearby on a blanket. Pecan trees shaded the yard while we drank sweet iced tea.

“No, it’s nice. Go on,” I said.

“You don’t have to humor me. I know it must be exhaustively boring to hear me talk about lamps and deco-bowls after you’ve been across the galaxy.” She grinned at me. We had been closer when we were kids; I had been closer to a lot of family members back then.

“I haven’t been that far; just a few light-years.” I was silent as I thought about the first extra-solar mission I had been on. “I was only gone for a couple of months of my time but I missed years of Earth time. I wasn’t at your engagement party to Louisa or baby shower.”

“Would you have come?” she pressed for an answer.

“I… I would have sent a card or a message,” I said. Even before I had lost years to transit-space, I had kept my distance from the family. “That’s not the point. I don’t mind listening to you talking about ‘boring domestic stuff’ because I missed so much of it and I’m going to miss so much more.”

We lapsed into silence. Jolly threw a block an astounding three feet. The ice in my glass had nearly all melted.

“How long until the launch?” she asked.

“It’s not really a launch since the ship is already in orbit.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Three weeks. We have to report back in two weeks for final shake-down tests. Then we leave Earth.” I had been back on Earth for two months before I decided to check in with select Cousins.

“How long are you going to be gone?” I knew she had read the article about my mission. She had even commented on it, “we’ll miss u” which was why she made the short list of family I decided to say goodbye to.

“Three years of my time. A couple of centuries of Earth time. Jolly’s great-great-great-grandchildren will be here to greet me. Or not. They may not have children and I’ll return to Earth as an orphaned branch of the family tree.”

“If you’re afraid of being alone, stay.”

“I’m not afraid to be alone. I’ve been alone since I became a late bloomer. When I changed from he to she in high school, Mom and Dad didn’t really approve. It was easier to withdraw into myself.”

“Is that why you stopped coming to family holidays?”

“After I moved out, it was easier to not talk to them and they were always there.” She reached out and squeezed my hand. I smiled back at her. “If Mom and Dad hadn’t reacted badly, maybe I’d have more of a reason to stay. Also, I want to see something completely new. To boldly going where no one has gone before, as they say.”

“Do you still watch that ancient show?” she laughed. We had both watched it when we were younger.

“Just the good parts. I’m going to miss the revival next year.”

“You can’t download it when you arrive? I know you have FTL radio.”

“We won’t have a real-time network connection. After we exit transit-space and contact Earth, there’s a series of data uploads and downloads. We send ship status reports, data collected from the systems and planets we explore. From Mission Control we’ll receive a condensed history of the years we were in transit. They’ll also send us some popular culture touchstones, books, movies, music, whatever they deem relevant. Finally, the messages to our email accounts will be forwarded to the local ship network.”

“So, I can send you pictures and videos of Jolly growing up but you wouldn’t see them until you get to the next star system.”

“You had better send pictures of Jolly and you and Louisa and any other kids you have.”

“We’re not planning on anymore for now.”

“Ten years is long enough to change your mind.”

“Hmm. What about you? Are you ever going to have kids? Get married?” Jolly lifted themself off the ground.

“Not until the mission is over. Anyone we leave behind will be dead before we get back. Mission crew can’t have children and we can’t have significant others. We’re giving up our lives on Earth to explore the stars.”

Jolly ran on wobbly legs towards us, half falling but laughing the whole way.

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