Author : Luke Chmelik
The Eldest coughs, hoarse and frail from the vagaries of stasis. Dull orange light from the isotope heater gives a glow of health to a man who has cheated death for many, many lifetimes. He has awakened for the first time in centuries, and the young ones gather close. He looks out the viewport at the pin-prick stars wheeling against the void, bright and steady and changeless. He is the only one who has seen the way an atmosphere makes them sparkle. There are a great many things that only he has seen.
The Eldest is much older than he seems. He was first put into stasis in low orbit at the age of twenty, young and strong and fit. His physiology took well to the procedure, and he was selected as an Elder, a cultural time capsule for the tens of thousands of colonists aboard the unnamed worldship. Awakened once every generation, to tell them the stories of the past, he has been sheltered from the passage of time for so long that he can no longer be considered the same as the people he was to guide. They are made now of bio-alloys and neural networks, linked together in a mesh of infinite complexity, and he can not take part in it. They see him as an antique prototype, an outdated custom model never meant for mass production. He has been alone for a very long time.
There is a quiet rustling as he stands, a breathless chatter like leaves in the wind. He sighs, yielding to a wave of nostalgia. The young ones have never seen leaves, never felt the wind, and it saddens him that many of them never will. He moves slowly to the dusty command console, disused joints groaning in protest, and turns on the power. The young ones watch him in curious wonder, eyes bright and cold and silver. They do not understand why he needs to use his hands. In the dull glow of the screen, his brow furrows. Without thinking, he recalibrates the system, accounts for the blazar on the edge of detection, filters out the microwave background. The young ones watch as he does in minutes what they do instantly.
When the Eldest moves to the communications array, the young ones do not follow. They have not used the communications array in millenia. The ancient screen flickers to life, showing only an oscilloscope wave and frequency information. Undaunted, the Eldest manipulates the controls, and the low hiss of the void turns into something constructed, not random. His face changes, and he makes a choking sound deep in his throat. Some of the young ones appear, curious about the sound, but he ignores them. He adjusts the controls, receiver crystals slowly tuning in to the signal. When the oscilloscope vanishes, it is replaced by a moving image and a voice.
“…own vessel, do you read? This is Station Charon’s Rest, do you read?”
The Eldest does not know how there are humans here, light years from home. He does not care. She looks like the Eldest but her face is young, soft and smooth where his is hard, and her eyes are as blue as the sky that only he has seen. He has been alone for so long. The young ones do not understand why the salty water comes from his eyes.