Iowa. It didn’t take me long to figure out. That all of us selected for this mission were from the heart of the Midwest. But I didn’t really get it until we came out of cryo-fugue beyond Eris.
The earth is patient with us, the heavens are not. If you weren’t open to the sky, the fetch of space, deep space, then you could end up like Sandros, Melaba, Krieg: untethered.
Humankind talks big about being free, unbounded, masters of all we survey. But we covet the hug, the insular, the bordered. Deep space has no boundaries, no horizons, no recognizable end, and that can mess up our earthborn sensibilities in a million serious and subtle ways. Like with Sandros, Melaba, and Krieg.
Sandros stopped talking.
Melaba developed tremors.
Krieg became invisible. Just faded away. Literally.
That was the rumor, anyway. They didn’t like to talk much about the first Kuipernauts, but they were sure trying to avoid that kind of cluster beyond the outer planets again. So, they threw all the psycho-emotional tests they could at candidates to see who would stick to the wall and not come unglued in the deepest fetch of space humans had ever ventured.
Iowa stuck. I hope that’s a good thing for Stimson, Piler and me. Since departing Phobos Station, we’ve been aboard Kuiper II for over six years, yet only out of cryo-fugue for seventeen days. Ostensibly, our mission is to rendezvous with Kuiper I to recover what (maybe who) we can. In actuality, our prime directive is to not go crazy. That would be a big win for the program, not to mention us.
Unfortunately, it’s not looking good at the moment.
Stimson has stopped talking.
Piler has developed tremors.
And my hands have started to fade.
We can’t understand it. Mission support can’t believe it. Only Percy has been able to help. Percy is our ship’s PRC, procedural reasoning computer, managing all complex systems on Kuiper II.
When queried on what was happening to us, Percy told us: To perceive a phenomenon that casts no shadow, you must search not for its presence but for its consequence.
A rather cryptic, almost poetic, response for a procedural AI, but it nudged us. We, the crew, were the consequence: muted, shaken, vanishing. The cause: a thing that cast no shadow, a darkness beyond our detection, beyond our ken, vaster than the depthless heavens.
Piler, atremble, voiced it, “Dark energy.”
My certainty vanished.
As we closed in on the last known location of Kuiper I and its crew, Percy alerted us: Incoming transmission. And then Percy died. All systems ceased as the ship itself evanesced, and we were left open to the boundless fetch of space.
Sandros, Melaba, and Krieg appeared before us, newly rooted to our beings, tethered to our consciousness in a surprising glut of light. We three down-to-earth Iowans raised under wide open skies were about to become very far-fetched indeed.