Part I is located here.
The straight line. This is what I travel. I have wings that sift through the minor particles that make up space. Those wings are silver. My face is cold. A straight line through the universe is a pathway that has no destination. It’s simply a direction, a movement straight ahead.
I was born when everything was. So were you. In that, we are very similar. The same age. The same vintage.
The straight line through space sees me flying towards a small metal ship. I’ve seen things like this before, out here. I don’t change my course, but yes, this ship will cross my path. I alight upon it. Rest my wings and let it carry me for a while. I did not know how tired I was. Do you?
The metal is cold. The ship is old. I put my face onto it, and listen to the thrum of the energy that keeps it moving forwards. Through the front window, I peer into darkness. Lights twinkle in there, and near the middle, a box lies closed.
I rest. It’s a strange feeling, to finally rest. Together, we float, my wings around the hull of the ship. There is a minor warmth that comes from the metal. It feels familiar. It reminds me of something.
Time passes. We come to know each other. Help each other. When the warmth in the engines feels as though it might be diminished, I let them have my strength, born as it was in some star long ago. When the quiet is too much, we talk. Occasionally, we sing.
You are my love, perhaps. The thing that has supported my transit on this straight line from a beginning I cannot remember to an endpoint that does not exist. I am aware that beings live and rejoice around me, but not here. Not in the darkest space. Here, I have you, and you carry me onwards.
The time passes. So much of it. You ask me: what is time? I ask you: what is a question?
And then a star erupts far away, and its shockwave floats through space. It takes a long time, but I hear it approaching. Particles of heat move towards the ship. Don’t worry, I tell it. I’m here. But the assault is heavy. It’s hot. My wings wither. My face heats. The ship moves off course, rolls. We are tumbling. We are free of the straight line, and on an altogether different path now.
For ages, we spin. I’m scared, I tell you. Don’t worry, you reply. We’ll find our way back to the original intent. But it takes me to raise my wings, to make it so. The minor particles resist, and change our course. I push with my silver, swimming through space with my love in tow. So much time passes before we are back on the line. In the distance, that erupting star has fizzled into nothingness. It’s done.
This way, I tell the ship. And together we fly. I close my eyes eventually. Relax my wings. Thank you for carrying me, I tell the thing. Thank you for letting me by. I fly away, back on the route that I’ve followed for all of time. Back facing the distance and the blackness, the straight line that now takes me away from you.
Six hundred years later, I’m awake. The computer is cold and silent. There are messages from Earth, automated signals that make sure the ship is on course. No welcomes this time. No messages from my family.
They warned me this would happen. Prepared me for it. People forget, they said. Years go by, decades that turn into centuries, what did I expect?
In the mirror, I look the same. Stubble on my face, but I’m still that young man. I walk through the ship, loosening up. Eating. It’s been six centuries since last I ate mush, or drank my own urine.
The stars are different. I have two weeks to study, chart them, send messages back to Earth, a place where no one may be listening. When I get to Thear, it will take almost five years for a message to get to Earth, but when it does, it will talk about what it’s like to go to a new world. It will talk about how the greatest dream ends.
The days flip by. I keep expecting a new message to appear. But nothing does. I undress, and shower. Dry myself before the stars. Stretch my arms as though they could reach that far.
I write more messages. Talk about what I’m seeing. Hope that everyone is doing well. Ask them to tell me who won the World Series the last few hundred times. Do you still play baseball? I ask. I brought a glove with me, and one ball. They’ve withered to dust in my sports bag. I shoot them into space through a hatch, my last toss.
Two weeks come to an end. I’m about to lie in my casket when a message comes up.
“Who are you?” it asks.
“I’m Arthur,” I tell it. “Who are you? Human?” I wince. Of course it’s human.
Through the front window, a ship appears. It’s a hundred times the size of mine, and lit up. “This is the Rounded Glass. Deep-space exploration ship. On the way to Thear to determine if colonization is possible. Launched eighteen years ago. ETA to Thear is three years. Who are you?”
I tell them my story. Tell them to check their computer systems for a memory of me. They do that, and find a shred of evidence of who I am. They confirm that I existed. Confirm my mission. “There are several distant relatives of yours on this ship. Let us show you some photos.” But even people don’t really look like people anymore, I find. “Your mission is acknowledged, but we have developed much faster ships since you departed. We will explore Thear and other planets, if possible. That is our mission.”
“Can I come aboard?” I ask, pushing at the hull of my ship.
Silence. Deliberation, here in the deepest part of space. “Negative. You may have infections that could spread to our people.”
“You can’t leave me here! I was supposed to explore Thear as well! Don’t you have a way to deal with germs?”
More silence. More stars. Then: “Proceed with your mission. It is acknowledged. It is remembered. Good luck.”
And the ship flares once before leaping ahead. It’s gone in a flash, and I’m alone. Just alone.
“Well it’s been centuries with the same word for love.”
“What do you mean the same word for love?”
“Just that. It’s an important word, isn’t it? A meaningful one?”
“Well then, shouldn’t we change it? Isn’t it about time that we evolve to the next step? I looked up how old this word is, and you wouldn’t believe it. 85 AD or so it was first mentioned. That’s more than 2600 years ago. About time for a modification. I’m prepared to seal some papers.”
“You’ll seal some papers about the word love?”
“Quite so. Could you draw them up?”
“Just like that?”
“It’s easier if we do it quickly.”
“Won’t it be confusing to people?”
“It will be more confusing if we wait longer.”
“What are we changing it to?”
“It’s perfectly appropriate within the syntax of current speech patterns. I think it’s quite beautiful myself. Very modern. ‘Love’, as we used to call it, feels rather dated. Here, slip that over here. One quick signature, and… done! Xnfdu lives!”
“I hope this goes well.”
“If anyone doesn’t xnfdu this idea, we’ll just send them to live on Neptune. It would serve them right.”
Nine hundred years, and a warning wakes me up. I’m two hundred years out from Thear.
In the mirror, my hair is long. I cut it. I shave. I wash and stretch, and pin myself against the glass at the front of the ship, so that everyone can see me coming.
The warning blares. “What?” I call, unable to recognize my own voice. I search records, and play snippets of past conversations. It is me. It really is.
A ship looms, a thousand times my size. It’s immense, and colourful. Standing in alcoves on the outside are people, waving. They are waving at me.
I wave back. “I’m Arthur!” I scream. “Arthur! Human! I’m human!”
The radio crackles. “People of Cruiseliner XF1, we have a treat for you. Please go out onto your balconies and look at the spacecraft below. This is an ancient Earth relic launched in approximately the year 2050. It has been floating towards Thear for that entire time. Please be sure to take lots of pictures. If you zoom in, you will see that the inhabitant of this ship is alive! Yes, this ancient human has been frozen for much of his sleep. On all the visits we’ve made to see this ancient ship, we have never seen the inhabitant awake! What a wonderful day!”
I strip my clothes off. Pin myself to the glass. “Arthur,” I whisper. “Human.” Not a tourist attraction. Not a curiousity. Person. Human person, human being, just like you.
“Oh look, he’s waving back! I believe by his topology that he is indeed an ancient male. See how all the appendages differ in length and girth. It’s unlikely that such an ancient human could mate with a modern female, but of course we would not allow such proximity in any case.”
“Please take me aboard,” I bark into the radio. I wave, beckoning them to come. The people on the balconies of the cruise ship just wave harder. Kids are being lifted to get a better look. Streams of something like confetti are emerging from the sides of the ship, shot into space like fireworks. Huge beams of coloured light soar out of a million holes, like this ship is a massive atom waiting to explode.
I never knew, never dreamt, that space could be so bright.