In the Quiet Dead of Space
The day our spaceship arrived to Proxima Centauri, my wife and I were hiking the meadows of the Azores.
Alone, my wife and I had been traveling in the void of space for 20 years. She was the most wonderful woman I had ever met and I was truly in love with her after all these years.
And during this time, the holographic simulation room our only escape. Here in the the holodeck anything was possible.Here we could experience any location on Earth. And we explored them all. We liked to get lost in the illusions of the places we visited.
That day Karla and I were at the top of a small hill overlooking the ocean when we heard the sound of the door to the holodeck opening. Travix, the ship’s robot attendant, and our only companion aboard, walked into our landscape.
“Just let us enjoy the sunset. Will you, Travix?” I said.
“We’ve arrived,” the robot said. “We have work to do.”
We were coming out of acceleration. Our trip was coming to an end.
“You know what that means,” Travix said. “The time has come.” Travix looked at my wife and then to me. “The fun is over.”
With the swing of a hand Travix turned off the simulation and the landscapes of Portugal were replaced by a view of the space outside the ship. In the center of the room the star system we had just reached burned bright.
“In 24 hours our ship will arrive to Keppler 248,” said Travix.
The flames of the holographic sun reflected on the robot’s metallic chassis. Orbiting the sun, drifted a small ball of blue oceans and swirling clouds. In just one day our ship would arrive to the K-248, and humanity’s greatest mission would start. I looked at the blue orb in awe.
“It’s beautiful,” my wife said.
In that instant the 20 years we spent alone in space faded away. All the sacrifices, all the goodbyes, all the lonely nights. It all faded away.
I looked at my wife’s blue eyes.
“Indeed,” I said.
Leaving our families had been the hardest decision I had ever taken. We said goodbye to everything we knew, and ventured on a one way trip to another start system. If it hadn’t been for my wife I would never have been able to get this far.
“Ikay. There is something we must talk about,” Travix said to me.
I nodded my head distracted looking at the blue dot. I pulled my wife close to me and kissed her. Yes, we had left everybody behind, but this was all worth it.
“Just you,” the robot said.
I kissed my wife one last time, and followed the robot out of the holodeck. Karla stayed behind watching the blue planet spin around.
I walked into the control room. Travix closed the door after us.
“I’ll be brief,” said the robot. “You know what needs to happen from here on now. We have less than 24 hours before landing on Keppler. The time for entertainment has ended.”
“I understand,” I said.
“You and your wife have been spending too much time in the holodeck.”
“No much else to do around here, Travix. Maybe the quietness of space doesn’t bother you, but how else do you want us to keep occupied?”
“Do I need to remind you of your mission?”
“What do you mean?”
“We have work to do.”
“And we’ll take care of it.”
“What about your wife?” asked the robot.
“What do you mean what about Karla?”
“What are we going to do with her?”
I laughed at how ridiculous the question was.
“What do you mean what are we going to to with Karla? What do you propose we do with my wife?”
“This mission must be your number one priority. Remember all the training. And remember everybody you left on Earth. Remember all the sacrifices—“
“I remember. Do you think I don’t? How could I forget?”
“Tomorrow we will land on the surface of K-248. This could be the single most important event of humanity. You must keep a clear head. This mission must be your number one priority. You can’t let your emotions get in the way. From here on it’s all on you, Ikay.”
“It is,” I insisted. “Of course it is.”
“You’ve been getting too distracted lately. You have spent too much time in the holodeck. The Earth survival depends on the planet explorers like you to find a habitable planet. You are a pioneer. A trailblazer. Nothing else matters but this discovery, Ikay. Nothing can go wrong. I understand the pressures that mission like this puts on somebody like you, Ikay.”
“Somebody like me?”
“This is a one way ticket travel to a planet that might or might not be able to hold life. A life or death roll of dice. I understand the pressure. But this mission is more important than you, or your wife. This is the future of all humanity we are talking about.”
Travix had never spoken to me this way. The coldness of his words sent chills down my spine.
“I have been in this ship traveling for 20 years,” I reminded the robot. “I have sacrificed everything for this mission. Nothing will go wrong.”
“I won’t let anything get in the way of our mission,” said Travix. “That is my role here. And I want you to remember that. When you wake up tomorrow the time for games will be over.”
The next morning I found myself alone in bed. My wife wasn’t around our living quarters. I assumed she had gotten up earlier excited about our arrival.
I then went to the gym and exercises for an hour before heading to the cafeteria. I didn’t see Travix or my wife anywhere. After breakfast I headed to the holodeck. Likely Karla would be there watching our landing trajectory towards Keppler.
I stood in front of the entrance expecting the doors to open. But nothing happened. I pressed the keypad and, again, nothing happened. Travix must have disabled to entertainment room.
I walked back down the corridors and resumed looking for my wife. I looked everywhere but she was nowhere to be found. The halls were empty and cold and I could hear my footsteps echoing down the corridors.
I headed to the control room. The only place I hadn’t checked yet.
There I found Travix on a chair. The robot was still. When walked into the room the robot came to life.
“I can’t find Karla anywhere,” I said. “Where is she?”
“It’s just you and me now,” said Travix.
“What do you mean? Have you or have you not seen her?”
“I haven’t seen her,” the robot said with cold sharpness. Travix looked straight at me in silence. Then he continued. “I told you that it would be a bad idea, Ikay. I told you it wouldn’t work.”
“What wouldn’t work? Where is my wife?”
“Did you know that at first the selection committee wouldn’t accept candidates who were married? The screening process tries to find candidates with strong mental aptitudes and no romantic attachments. But the number of adequate volunteers was too low. So eventually they started accepting less than suitable candidates.” Travix looked up at me. “Like you.”
“I’m a perfectly suitable candidate. I’ve prepared for this all my life. I’ve made all the sacrifices asked of me.” Something seemed to be off with Travix but I couldn’t figure out what. “Why is the holodeck locked?”
“The holodeck is offline.”
“So I’ve noticed. Why?”
Travix looked down.
Travix remained seated at the control panels. I felt a cold sweat dripping back my head.
“I want to know where my wife is. You are the ship’s eyes and ears. You have access to the cameras, and the movement logs. You know where she is and I want you to tell me. Now.”
“We are 12 hours away from landing. You need to get ready.”
“Where is Karla?”
“In just 6 hours we will anchor in the atmosphere and in another 6 we will reach surface.”
“I said where is Karla?”
“We have to prepare for landing, Ikay. We are running out of time. We don’t have time for this.”
I run towards the control panel where Travix was seated and pushed the robot out of the way. I knew the control system enough to locate my wife. I went through each and every room. Until I saw a blip. A blip inside one of the quarters. The holodeck.
“I want you to open the holodeck.”
“I told you already. It is offline.”
“You locked her up.”
“Don’t be absurd.”
“If you don’t give me access now I’ll bust you to pieces!”
After a moment of consideration, Travis placed a hand on the controls. A section of the screen lighted up. The door to the holodeck was opening. I run out of the control room to find Karla.
“I told you it was a bad idea,” I heard Travix said behind me.
The doors to the holodeck were already open when I arrived. Inside all the displays were off and all I could see was darkness. I walked into the black room certain my wife was somewhere inside.
I could barely see a few feet ahead of me. My heart was pounding on my chest and my eyes were drowning in tears.
I called her name.
And then I felt a movement. Somewhere in the darkness ahead I sensed movement. A figure was hiding in the shadows at the back of the room. Karla. My wife came out from the shadows and walked towards me.
It was then that my heart stopped. Something was not right. Her walk. Her gaze.
She took another step towards me, but panic had already settle on me and I retreated in shock and horror. She stopped just a few feet from me.
“I told you it wouldn’t work.” The voice came from the entrance behind me. Travix had followed me. “I told you.”
My wife stood in impossible stillness. Life within her had frozen. Trembling I reached my hand towards her. Her skin was cold.
A hologram. A joke I thought.
“What does this mean?” I asked. “Where is my wife? What is this joke.”
Travix stood next to me looking at Karla.
“It’s not your fault, that the committee couldn’t’ find enough qualified volunteers, Ikay,” said Travix. “After a year in space you started going crazy. The holodeck became your only release.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s a taxing job and you couldn’t handle it. You couldn’t stand the isolation of space. Soon after taking off you started regretting your decision.”
“Leaving your wife behind. She never boarded this ship, Ikay. The planet expeditions are carried by a single human and a robot. It’s most efficient and keeps the travelers focused on the mission.”
“But you couldn’t stand the pressure. You said you couldn’t live without her. I told you the pain would go away eventually. You said you would kill yourself if you couldn’t see her one more time. I warned you that it could get out of hand. At first you run her simulation for a few minutes at a time. Then minutes turned into hours. And then hours into days.”
I held the body of my wife in my arms and pressed her body against mine.
“Soon you forgot she wasn’t real.”
Her body was stiff and cold in my hands.
I looked at my wife’s blue eyes and the memories came rushing back to me. My decision. Her tears. The separation. And the the solitude of space. The regret. The pain.
I cried on her shoulder and remembered. Karla had known that if I was ever selected I would be going on this trip. They needed hundreds of volunteers to explore all the potential habitable planets within reach. I had worked all my life for this opportunity.
“You made a noble sacrifice, Ikay.” Travix said. “We need explorers like you if we are ever to find a way out of dying Earth. You are a hero to your fellow humans.”
To stay behind would have been selfish, I told myself. Yet. She was the most wonderful woman I had ever met and I had left her behind. I felt true deep love for her. Her smile. Her beautiful blue eyes. Her warmth.
Once again I held her body against mine and cried for the memory of my wife.
November 11, 2018