I press my hand against the glass. This is the only room of the ship that looks out onto that hard vacuum, the cold nothingness of space. I feel the frigid glass suck the heat from my palm, my fingers, I feel my joints stiffen in that hand. The glass is only two inches thick. I do not know the probability of a piece of rock or ice slicing through the constant night and taking the ship in this very window. It is low. The probability of everything is low in this place—but I’m not a scientist or a mathematician, just an operator of heavy machinery. I also have a proclivity for solitude. That’s why I’m The Alone One.
I pull my hand from the glass. Where my palm is naturally a lighter brown, it is now a gray death. I clench the fingers with much effort and use my other hand to massage blood and life back into it.
Motion perceived from the corner of my eye makes me stop. I jerk my head up. There is nothing. As a boy I often wondered, back on earth, what was between the stars. Surely there was something, I thought. The space between two points, even in atmosphere has fascinated me. There is so much between objects, between two friends, two lovers, two enemies, sitting just a foot across from each other. But no one can focus on that space between two opinions, right or wrong, good or evil. Even now I try to focus my vision on a point between two objects; not what is beyond them, beyond those stars outside, that darkness, but the actual space. I cannot. Just like anywhere else there is nothing between two points that a human can perceive. Yet, I feel as though the deep space—the trade lines this ship and its crew travel—is filled with something, something that when faced directly, vanishes. And this time is like no other. As though it was just a figment, the motion outside that thin window is nothing and I am alone, and the emptiness of space stretches out before me and I am reminded of Ishmael atop the mast-head, unconcerned with whaling, and only a hairs breath away from discovering the answers to that great problem of the universe any expanse provokes within the human mind. Such humility is fleeting within the vastness, as the mind can neither comprehend nor complete our place within the cosmos. Perhaps this is why I perceive what is not there at times. Perhaps my solitude has taken a toll on me I cannot quantify in visions or heightened senses. Perhaps I am nothing more than a case study of the solitary.
I am the Alone One. Every cargo ship has one. This one, the Tauntalar, has three hundred and fifty-two staircases, forty-seven lifts, and two hundred and thirty-six, point, two kilometers of passageways. I know this because I've been the Alone One on this interplanetary freighter for ten years, two hundred, and thirty-seven days, ten hours, and four minutes.
The passageways are all dark until I step foot in them. When the lights come on, they only do so fifteen feet in front of me, so it always looks like I'm walking into darkness. And in some ways, I am.
I call myself the Alone One--but the official job title is Loner. Every long distance freighter has three. About twenty years ago--this was before I was in the business, I would only have been three years old at the time--a crew on a ship, just like this one, ended up going mad. This was when full crews stayed awake for years at a time. After this one went mad, only one member was left alive. A woman. When the ship had docked she'd been found in the med-bay in a self-induced coma, due to all the drugs she'd pumped into herself to stay alive. After that, the IPFU rethought their strategy. The ship's log showed the unwinding of events on the Fortuna Gold. The woman who survived was named Elizabeth Stork. She'd killed another crew member by stabbing him in the throat with a Cardo Pen. She shot so much sedative into his throat that his airways had closed within seconds. His name had been Fernando Silva. On inspection, his semen had been found on Elizabeth's clothing. On further inspection, it was concluded they had been loves.
The other five crew members who had been awake had all been stabbed, or strangled, or suffocated in their beds, or poisoned. The IPFU found this out by autopsy. Elizabeth Stork had deleted all the security logs but one. One that proved she and Silva had been lovers. A strange choice, as the reason for his death took on even more mystery. Stork, even after months of question, was unable to give a satisfactory account of events. Because of the inconsistencies and contradictions within her own tale, her lawyer on Earth fought for insanity--and won.
After that the IPFU tried keeping all seven crew members in cryo, but about four years later a ship AI malfunctioned and vented the gel. The seven crew members woke up, but their doors wouldn't open. By the time the ship, The Superlative, got to it's destination, all crew had died, decomposed, the stench, I heard, was atrocious. All that bio matter and nowhere for it to go.
And so now they have people like me.
For the last two days, I've been substitute teaching in the public school system. This is something I've fallen into due to my interest in teaching (though at a college level), which has been a fun, if not tiring experience. On Thursday I subbed at a middle school, in a Language Arts classroom. It was fun for the most part. Of course, when some kids walk in and see a substitute teacher, they know the day is pretty much a wash--but we had fun overall, anyway. It was really enjoyable when I had the opportunity to speak with students 1-on-1 which didn't happen often, but here and there.
Yesterday I subbed at an elementary school for an art teacher--and. It. Was. AWESOME! The classroom was decorated from top to bottom with books, experimental handmade, self-bound books, puppets, drawings, paintings, models, you name it. And I couldn't believe the facility they had there. Within this art studio was a wood shop, complete with a garage door that opened to the outside. In a small, closet-like room, there was a wheel and kiln for ceramic. Dust was everywhere and books like The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, and The Spiderwick Chronicles were set out as beautiful pieces of decor. I wrote and drew stories with k-5 all day. Made stories about space-dogs (literal dogs in space), about castle sieges, and shark attacks. . . those last two didn't go together. Overall it was great, and I really hope I get to sub there again soon.