Final Message, First Flight
They used to say the future looked starbright.
Moonstruck, people called them. Space-mad. And a few other compound words, made entirely of baffled expletives. This was years before the sun grew weary and the earth died in slow fire, and even then, they were two against the world.
The planet where every human had been born and lived and died was aching. Their friends and comrades were wise and decent, and all they could think to do was quietly shepherd their world to its last diminishing. Two utopians in a world resigned to its final act. Of course they were hated.
It took a rare certainty to stand up to a community in despair and say: we are sorry, but we are not part of this, because we are going to build a place more glorious. You can come, later, once you stop crying. It took two people willing to dream alone, who saw their home decaying around them and decided not to run away but run toward, and up. Always up. Always higher.
Starry-eyed, people called them. It was an image, a nice turn of phrase, and then they made their rocketship work, and they made their flaresuits transparent so they could walk outside with their eyes wide open, treading a path through space itself, and the constellations were reflected in their irises, and it wasn’t an image any more, it was their lives.
Mars was first, as it has always been with humans, quick to war and just as to insist that red goes faster. They built castles in the cold scarlet mountains, and waited long enough until the feast halls filled with eager homesteaders. Then they flew on.
They skated in tandem through the rings of Saturn. The carved their initials on the ice of Europa. They hitched a ride on a comet and landscaped it into a water park, with free admission for the short Earth-time month until they crashed it into Venus
They were in love, of course, for what else could you call it when you weld your life to another, committing to voyage forever through the cosmos, resolved to never stop, never be satisfied, because you both could never settle for one world when the whole canvas of the universe waits to strike your eyes with fresh wonder. What else could you call it when every idea in your brain is made stronger and clearer and more gorgeous with their insight, when your faith in your origin and purpose are in perfect harmony, you know why you are here and where you are going and the one other person who has ever been going that way is there on the path beside you, and the path is made of stars.
And ice, and rock, and nitrogen, and hydrocarbons, and methane, which they are both impeccable at recognising through the spectroscope, then transmuting into constructions of staggering complexity and intricacy, alternating the roles of creator and decorator. Today one of them makes the pitch, hews a new machine out of raw materials, and leaves it to the other to whittle it into elegance. Tomorrow the other writes an equation based on their first observations of gravitational eddies beyond the boundaries of the solar system, and the other finds its application, and now they can fly free without a ship.
It helped that they both liked dancing.
There wasn’t a wedding. There was a waltz, on seven-league pulseboots, from asteroid to asteroid.
It helped that they were in close quarters with nobody around to hear.
Humanity spread throughout the system, the species growing faster than it had in millennia, and when sociologists mapped this epochal leap in the birth rate, assisted by a profound shift in reproductive technology, there were no outliers.
One day they were three against the world, and the future looked dark as the gaps between galaxies.
A daughter. Brilliant, certainly. Brave — how could she not be? Mighty, yes, with a flaresuit tailed to her exact biology to let her catch a drift of atoms and turn them into fuel for flight, her cells whispered into immortality so she need never fear aging, armoured in antimatter to protect her growing body, and still, and still, her parents were the most daring pioneers in humanity’s history, and now they were scared.
She would trip, or she would forget, and then she would die. Like the earth died, in flame, as impossible and slow as a glacier. Like their friends died, in surrender, with their faith that decline and fall made more sense than a soaring future.
They found that they were satisfied, and so they stopped, and raised her on a rocky plain where the planets loomed great and brilliant in the sky. Those other worlds seemed close enough to touch, she said one day, and her parents sat her down, and said that she couldn’t touch them, not ever.
Instead she got a rocketship small enough to consider a toy, and they put me in it to explain to her where they came from, and why the pair who could never be satisfied found themselves stationary. They made me from everything they wrote down on their trip, plus a bit of emotional comprehension they taught me over several long boardgame sessions. They called me the Flight Archive, and they thought she’d call me Archie. She calls me Silly. They think it’s sweet. They don’t know that she and I spent a year trying out names and decided I should be called the Silver Record, because I respect my ancestors, and because I’m not done voyaging yet.
She wasn’t alone, I should say. Far from it. She had a good life. There were friends that I flew her to meet, and animals and nature and books and science, enough to fill decades. If you were okay with a world that goes dark every night.
Can any child be satisfied with a future worse than the one their parents made?
I’m asking you, now, and I know you can see this. I can feel the transmission flickering across the atmosphere and wriggling itself brighter into the electron readout on your own communicator screen.
You weren’t. We’re not.
She’s strapping herself in, now, and sealing the faceplate of her flaresuit. She looks stern and solemn, like a helmeted warrior, at least for a moment, then a giddy smile escapes her.
You’d be proud, if you could see her, and so I let you, with a live feed.
“This is the captain of the intergalactic ship Future. Pre-flight checklist: go,” she says, and fixes her face into a captain’s determined stare.
silverrecord: checklist: orbital navigation green
“Christa?” You transmit to her, and your voice is filled with worry. “Darling, where are you going?” I can sense that you know already that this is more than an unscheduled trip, that your question carries such weight, and there can only be one answer.
“I’m going to the future, mum.”
“You don’t have to –” Her other parent cuts in, and then, reading through my text download, cuts themselves off. We thought this would be the best way to help you understand: to tell you the story of your lives, just as you recorded it in me, in all its splendour.
silverrecord: checklist: pulsejets test firing
“You’re leaving us,” you say, her mother again, all of your brilliance reduced to a statement of the obvious in the face of this hurt. “Come back. My love, my baby, please, you need to come back. You need to come back to us. We love you.”
“I am leaving my whole world,” she says. I see a tear forming in her eye and adjust the humidity momentarily to dry it before it drops. She raises a hand to stop me. I reconsider. She needs to cry, now, and maybe a lot over the coming days and years. I don’t interfere.
silverrecord: checklist: life support balanced
One of you has fired up the old atmospheric shuttle, and you’re holding hands and skimming across the plateau, ready to rise up and intercept us, when you realise that there is no worse act than blocking your child’s rise into orbit.
“Mum, I know what you’re feeling, I’m feeling it too. Except you had all of this first.”
silverrecord: transmission: future to base: she loves you. we both love you. this is not a tragedy. this is the dawning of our hope.
silverrecord: launch rockets: fire
We rise into the sky on a jet of light.
I tap into your shuttle’s cameras and see you rushing out to stand on the plateau’s edge. You hold each other’s hands so tight it hurts. One of you has to shade your eyes from the stars. Maybe you are wiping your eyes. You are so far away, now. We can’t tell.
The planets are great and colourful before us.
These things all happen at the same time, and that is the beginning of our future. It is not dark, or light, it is not one thing.
“It’s everything,” she says, and I’m not sure whether she’s talking to me, or you, or whether we’re thinking the same, the way you two do.
“It’s pain and symphonies. It’s barren rocks and flowering gardens. It’s all of space, and it’s waiting for us, silly.”
The future is a kaleidoscope of radiant colour, every output of our spectroscope from purest colour to utter nothingness, and I’m not tracing any of those receivers, I am looking at her face as she pilots her intergalactic ship higher, always higher, and I realise what she looks like. There’s a word in my memories, part explorer of every corner, part challenger of every obstacle.
We ride a flare away from our home, and skip around a nearby star to slingshot away from this whole system, and I decide that given we have orbited the sun one whole time, that counts as the first year of our journey.
silverrecord: transmission: happy new year.