Author : Q. B. Fox
“Each freighter, since the very first one we built, is given a unique name,” the technician explained.
“Can I choose a name, if it’s not already taken?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not, sir,” the tech was barely apologetic. “A name will be assigned to you.”
“Oh, I’d like to have named her after my wife.” Alice’s warm smile and freckled nose appeared in my mind’s eye.
“Most people do, sir; a spouse or sometimes a child. But the journeys are long. And families, well, sir, they don’t always stay together. And you can see how that would become awkward. I’m sorry, sir, but there it is; I can show you the statistics, if you’d like.”
He started to turn his screen towards me, as he was required to by the Full Disclosure in Work Act, but I waved him away. Alice and I knew we’d make it work.
I was encouraged to think of the Catherine Rose as an animal, as a pet. Some men preferred to think of the freighters as their mistress; if those statistics were accurate then some of their wives did too. Some of the women thought of the freighters as children. But we were all expected to treat the ships as if they were alive; talk to them, care for them, spoil them.
It had always been a tradition to give names to vessels. And their crews have always treated them as living things, superstitiously believing it made the craft work harder to stay reliable, to keep them alive.
But the science is the other way about: giving them names makes us empathise with them. We sit in a vast emptiness of black, listening to the hum of the engines, alert for any sound of distress or discomfort. We fill our days with the repeated routine of caring for our babies.
And it keeps us sane, never quite alone in that horizonless, apparently unending, nothing.
They may have stopped me naming my freighter after my wife, but they couldn’t stop me naming my daughter after the Catherine Rose. So while I was away, my first born said her first word, took her first steps and had her first tantrums. But I was always connected to her, through the ship that shared her name, by an invisible bond that linked them.
I was only on a short run when the accident happened. Just an accident, they told me, nothing you could have done, if you were there. The sun shone brightly on the day of the memorial service.
It was year before they’d let me do another long haul trip, a year of short runs and psychological evaluation. I had adjusted remarkably well, they said. There was no sign of long term mental trauma, they concluded. I had grieved for a suitable time and I had moved on.
“Space,” Dr. Addison had warned me, “deep space, can play tricks on your mind. You’ve adjusted well, but if you have any worries, any worries at all, contact me, straight away.”
Of course, I had grieved for my wife, but I have to be strong. I still have to care for our child. She whimpers in the night, and I get up, adjust her injectors, balance her output, sooth her back to sleep.
She’s crying now, her display flashing an urgent red, tugging me towards our planned destination. It’s alright, sweetheart, I tell her, disabling the alarm. Let’s go this way. It’s quiet and peaceful; no one to bother us, kiddo. Just me and you and as much space as we need.