The residents of the starship Argo had been in space for 5000 years and frankly could give a flying fuck about planets. Think about it: You’ve got a vessel capable of supporting an entire population for thousands of years. Add to that the fact that, for the past 200-odd generations, none of the inhabitants had seen a star up close, let alone a planet.
This is the fundamental flaw in using generation ships to colonize distant star systems. By the time your potential colonists arrive at their destination, they’re far more comfortable living in the spaces between stars than on a planet in orbit around one.
“I’m going,” said Djani, gazing out the window at Britannic.
“I know,” replied Brey, staring at the floor. “All your stuff’s already moved over. It’s just… I’m still on the waiting list. And there’s only three weeks left until separation.”
Britannic had been tethered to Argo since construction had started on it all those years ago. Britannic, like Bremen before it (and a dozen ships before that) was a beta ship, built from raw materials gathered en route. The people who’d designed, built and launched Argo had intended it to make its way to Epsilon Eridani over the course of a hundred centuries. They had provided Argo with everything needed to maintain a population of up to 100,000 for the length of the journey. Over the centuries, the inhabitants of Argo had expanded on that a bit.
It was expected that Argo would be traveling through almost entirely empty space. The reality was that the space between stars had a lot of rocks in it. The odd rogue planet here and there, quite a few stray asteroids and uncountable clumps of dust and ice – the ejecta from billions of planetary system births.
Argo encountered a fairly sizable chunk early on in its voyage. By chance, it happened to be traveling on a course that allowed for mining expeditions. The new influx of raw material presented the citizens of Argo with two possibilities: build onto the existing ship, or build an entirely new one. They opted for the latter, and the Beagle was born.
Once the Beagle was fully constructed and “seaworthy”, half the population, chosen by lottery, set up residence on board. The ship was cast off and sent on a course divergent from that of Argo, which would continue on to Epsilon Eridani as planned. Unlike Argo, Beagle had no specific destination. The intent was to wander the space between stars. “Why bother with planets,” they said, “when there’s so much more room out here?”
Since then, Argo had been spawning secondary ships at a rate of one every four hundred years, give or take. Assuming all the secondary ships survived and were similarly spawning ships which, in turn, were spawning their own… Well, there must be thousands of ships out there by now, housing hundreds of millions of people. By the time Argo reached its destination, the number of humans living in space would potentially outnumber the population of Earth by four orders of magnitude.
Britannic was the latest ship to make its way into the void. And Djani would be on it. Brey was not so lucky.
“You could stay…” Brey ventured, looking up at Djani.
“No way,” said Djani. “This is my only chance to get off Argo. I’ll be long-dead by the time the next ship is built. I don’t want my descendants stuck on some stupid old planet.”
Descendants. Djani wanted what was best for them. Brey understood that, and wanted the same thing. Who wouldn’t? The problem was, well, Brey wanted to make those descendants with Djani. And that would never happen if they were on separate ships.
“We… we could get married. Then they’d have to let me go with you.”
Djani laughed and Brey’s heart broke, just a little.
“Would it be so bad? At least we’d be together,” se said, trying to keep ser voice steady.
“Oh come on! We’d never be able to pull it off,” said Djani. “We’d have to convince the Council we’re in love.”
Well, one of us is, Brey thought. But, no, that would be exactly the wrong thing to say. Instead, se gave Djani a big grin. “I don’t know, you’re a pretty good actor. And we’d only have to keep it up for a while. After we’re on our way, we could have a falling out. What are they going to do, send me back?”
Djani swept up Brey in a theatrical embrace, laughing again. “Oh darling! You know I’ll always love you but I think we should see other people.”
Brey tried to laugh too, but se could barely breathe. Being this close was unbearable, knowing they’d soon never see each other again.
“Please? I don’t want to get stuck on Argo. Not without you. You’re… you’re my best friend. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Brey was practically in tears.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Djani turned back to the window, staring out at Britannic again. “OK, fine. Let’s do it.”
“Really?” This is happening. This is really happening.
“Yeah. I mean, you’re right. I couldn’t bear to be without you either. You’re my best friend,” Djani said. “But we need to make this look convincing. Serious lovey-dovey smoochy shit, right?”
Brey laughed. “Ah, so that’s your angle. I always knew you wanted to get into my pants. So, something like this?”
Brey grabbed Djani’s face in both hands and planted a big, wet kiss, right on ser mouth.
Djani, caught off guard, kissed ser back.
This went on for some time.
“Yeah, um, yeah. Like that. Damn. That was… that was… wow. Um. It… it might not be that hard to convince the Council after all.” Djani looked at Brey again, this time seeing someone completely new. Like someone had flipped a switch. Everything was different. Good, but different.
“That’s the idea,” Brey said, taking Djani’s hand. They both turned toward the window again. They stood there, silently holding hands, staring at their new home.
They remained like that for some time: Brey staring straight ahead, smiling; Djani occasionally glancing over at ser.
After a while, Djani broke the silence, “We’re going. Together.”
Brey squeezed Djani’s hand. Together.
(©2016,2019 Story reprinted – with some corrections – from Dandelion Seeds)