C.O.S.M.O.

Below is the first chapter of a short story that I have been working on, titled C.O.S.M.O. Any thoughts or feedback would be appreciated! I first began working on C.O.S.M.O. in 2015, and have slowly been adding to it ever since. 

Let me know what you think.

George

 

 

I – COSMO

The light blinked. A small pale white dot protruding slightly from the off-cream surface above the control desk. On, off, like clockwork. One second on. Two seconds off. One second on. Two seconds off. It meant everything was ok. If that light blinked it was all ok. There was a dull mechanical tick accompanying it too, like the ones an old clock makes as the hand moves, or like the noise when a typewriter is pressed. It had weight to it, it felt and sounded thick and tangible. It almost seemed as though someone was there, inside the desk clicking a button each time the light went on. Click. On. Click. Off. The light was still blinking, this was good. Next to it, on the right there was another light. Not blinking. No colour. It just sat on the surface, smooth like an empty marble. It was also good that this light was off, if it was on then things would not be ok.

The control desk was dark as most of the instruments had been powered down as they were not yet needed. There was a large desk lamp next to a stationery set. They hadn’t been used. Two large slightly curved screens lay dark, the white flashes of light reflecting back at an angle, illuminating the fine coating of dust that had gathered on the glass. Below them, there were many buttons, many more lights and switches, he had counted thirty-eight in total. To the sides and on the ceiling above the desk, higher than the blinking light, many squares and rectangles flicked on and off. Mostly orange, some white. They were analog and did not say whether things were ok or not, but he thought they were good all the same.

The walls were covered in puffy squares of firm foam covered in dull brown plastic, with a hard cream plastic in between each square. The floor was grey. He had seen it all before, many times. He had counted how many tiles lined the walls, how many orange squares randomly appeared on the panels and ceiling. He knew how many times the light blinked each day. The light. It was both comforting and infuriating to him. Days revolved around it, his digital logs the same each time: ‘All ok, no change.’ In the rest of the craft there were other lights, other computer beeps and mechanical scattered ticks, other digital screens and unused levers – but none quite the same as the solitary one, alone in the dark apart from its orange companions. The light was important, it meant that so long as it flicked on and off, there remained a link to Earth.

Through A.R.C, (Autonomous Reconnaissance Computer), intermittent signals were sent back to listening posts on Earth. The blinking light meant that A.R.C was still in control. A.R.C had spoken to him twice, the first time to launch the Argo, and the second to inform him they were passing past Pluto. They hadn’t spoken in almost twenty-five years, but he could recall that A.R.C had a robotic, clipped female voice, and he remembered that it was comforting.

The Argo itself was small. A.R.C’s room was at the end of a short corridor, also with grey floors and a dim automatic bulb on the ceiling. There were three doors along the walls of the corridor, two on the right and one left. He had only gone into two – to check on the L.P.B’s, and to maintain the small scientific section. This was his favourite place on the craft. Over time, the plants had become more wild and independent, effectively turning the room into a small garden for which he was thankful. A small hatch with a shiny metal ladder stood halfway along the main corridor extending up to the ceiling. This led to the control deck – little more than a small window with one pristine white leather chair surrounded by screens and buttons. Metal panels covered all the walls bar one, making the darkness complete. No lights flashed in this room, and he had no need to go in here since A.R.C was in control of the ship.

At the far end of the corridor opposite to A.R.C ’s room was a larger, circular space. This acted as living quarters onboard the Argo. A large viewing window covered the far wall, showing the deep dark expanse of space beyond the ship. Thousands and thousands of stars glimmered and glinted outside the window, casting a surreal half-light into the room. Occasionally the exterior covers retracted, enclosing the room in case of radiation flares, or meandering debris, but he didn’t like it when this happened. He knew that the window faced back toward Earth, although he had lost sight of the planet long ago.

The rest of the room was simple. A large screen covered part of one wall, with recreational equipment stacked and stored underneath. Videos, cassettes, movies, books and board games, most covered in a fine layer of dust. A whole wall was dedicated to maintaining sanity on board the Argo. To the left of the screen, a small kitchen occupied one corner, a single olive-green counter poked out into the room with various appliances upon it along with vacuum sealed food items, with several plates and bowls. Long lasting food containers were built into the wall, which could be replenished from the supplies packed into the storage bays of the craft below. He remembered he had been told there were enough supplies to last fifty years. Pondering, he calculated that he was over halfway to that now.

A round white table stood in the middle of the room with various personal effects neatly positioned around it, pictures of relatives, people from the launch of Argo that he vaguely recognised. but nothing too important. The Argo hummed quietly around him, but only in the room he was in. It was so designed that everything non-essential within each room would switch off once he left, in order to conserve power. The only things that remained constant were A.R.C, the L.P.B’s, the science bay, and the kitchen. Otherwise the ship remained dark and silent unless he was present.

 

He couldn’t remember the last time he had heard a human voice. He had stopped playing the prerecorded messages, videos and music many years previously, he found the sounds no longer gave him any emotions worth exploring. His own voice had become a stranger, it was perhaps two years since he could recall hearing it. He supposed there was little need of it without anyone to reply. The only sound he longed to hear was A.R.C. He yearned for the repetitive dull click to fade, and for her voice to crackle through the speakers. The first time they had spoken was at the launch of Argo, almost thirty-five years previously. The conversation had been short, A.R.C had been in control of the onboard launch systems and so naturally their first conversation had been one of her giving orders.

He could remember not feeling happy during the launch, none of the launch team had even spoken to him, they relayed instructions only to A.R.C. It was only after they were out of the earth’s atmosphere and the Argo had been set on its current course that they really conversed. He recalled how intriguing he found it that a computer could have so much emotion and character in a voice, just a few animated words on a screen. He thought they would be together every step along the way, but she soon explained to him her purpose on board the Argo. It wasn’t long before A.R.C went into far range low energy mode and left him alone the first time. It was many years before he would hear her again.

Pluto had been visible out of the viewing platform the second time they had spoken, a small hazy orb floating in the vastness of space, it was a welcome change from the endless blackness of the void. They had passed the other planets in the preceding ten years, with each one he had hoped A.R.C would wake up, but she remained silent at every pass. He gazed at Mars, marvelled at Saturn’s rings, took readings of the huge storms thundering across Jupiter, recorded data from the swirling gases of Neptune. All alone. It wasn’t until Pluto appeared on the system scan a full ten years later that she spoke to him again. He had been watching the planet slowly move past every day for a month, slowly resigning himself to many more years of silence when, out of the silent darkness in the corridor behind him he had heard the light stop.

That time they had spoken for hours, A.R.C had 10 years of Earth data to share and he gladly did not deny her the stage. Since then, he had tried countless times to wake A.R.C, but to no avail. He had not been told the manual override procedure to force her out of low energy mode. And, afraid of engaging the wrong button or switch he eventually gave up, instead steeling himself to watch the blinking light every day for the next twenty-five years.

 

The room around him went dark. He had been staring out of the viewing window for too long, the automatic detection systems had assumed he had gone. Moving backward, he turned to face the door as the pale yellowish light above the table flickered once and stayed on. Above the door there was an old-style bank clock which had been configured to display the date, time and month back on Earth. The faintly illuminated white letters stood out from the tiled wall. Watching them move comforted him, he enjoyed this simple movement of change in an otherwise sterile environment. There was no sense of time to him, it did not get dark or light – except by closing the viewing window – and the concept of months and years were long forgotten. Life on the Argo was measured by nothing longer than minutes, the idea of planning for anything further seemed pointless to him.

He moved around the table and back out into the dimmed corridor, he could hear the comforting blinking and click of the light from A.R.C’s room. There were eight minutes until he had to check on the LPB’s, which gave him time to tend to the Argo’s garden. It wasn’t a garden in the true sense, at least not from what he had read about the gardens back on Earth. Originally a low long room stretching the length of the Argo, the scene bay had been designed to hold and nurture a variety of seeds ranging from weeds and herbs, to fruit trees and rare species. At first, he had tended to the Science bay as his mission decreed, but over time the longing for a garden of his own had led to it becoming his own vision, a small world of biological wonder that still seemed strange and foreign to him, even after all this time.

A thick tangle of vines crawled haphazardly along one wall, sprouting from a dark thicket of various forest plants that he had scattered into one of the bio bays. Dozens of flowers lined the walkway that wound its way throughout the whole room, skirting a raised rectangle in the middle that had originally been a work surface complete with computers and equipment for scientific experiments. All of these were now covered and overtaken by more vines, along with some vegetable plants and flowering shrubs. Some of them had even produced fruit several times, but he was never able to eat it. Some larger plants lined the far wall, slightly obscuring a thin curved window that filtered in pale light from outside. This room faced the sun, and sometimes it was filled with blinding light, orange splashes covered the walls, the plants seemed to move toward the window, as if it were warmer. If it was, he could never tell. There was another window in the ceiling in this room, but he never opened it, he didn’t like the way it made the garden feel. More open, and much, much smaller. He didn’t like that.

 

Moving between the avenues of green, he checked each bio bay as he went. These regulated the growth of his plants, and released nutrients in patterns which he programmed. From the corridor, he could hear the steady light clicking, the only sound as the room began to come to life. Reaching a small but impressive pine tree at the far end of the room, he stopped beneath it. This was his favourite part of the garden, although stooped, the twisting wood stood taller than him, the gnarled surface had patterns and grooves that seemed full of stories. The tree had come from Earth. It was a sapling when it had been placed in the science bay, its survival and growth had become his greatest achievement, at least, that’s what he thought himself.

He stood happily underneath his tree, surrounded by the gentle humming of the bio bays in front of him as they began to compute and analyse their charges. Raising his head, he strained for the familiar faint click of the light outside. He waited, still staring at a thick knot in the bark of the pine tree. From outside the room the click didn’t come. This was odd. Turning to the door, he focused on the passage beyond. Still no click. He moved out into the corridor and headed toward the dark room at the end. The orange lights still danced upon the ceiling, the desk remained dark and uninviting, but the blinking light was gone. Instead the marble glowed a constant warm white, faintly illuminating the dusty surface around it. He moved slowly into the room and approached the desk, standing beneath the wildly dancing orange squares above his head. He could hear a faint crackle in the air, could see a peculiar glow behind the desk screen, obscured by years of gathering dust. he gazed back at the small ball of light, drinking in its glow. The screen flickered briefly and a sound filled the room for the first time in twenty-five years.

“Hello Cosmo,” said A.R.C.

 

George Janes, 2018

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