Tatjana Jambrišak

Astronauts 2 by Lina Theodorou
Translated by the author

So beautiful.

Perfectly round. Exquisitely green under the atmosphere dome and gorgeously blue from space. With wandering flakey spots of clouds. Just like me.

My twin. My only.

My planet hunters found her by telescope. She lies hidden behind her tiny red star. So close and yet so far; only some twenty light years from my solar nest.

My poor creatures have not yet sailed among the stars. Only a few of them have ever been free from the forces I use to keep them on the surface. Still, they try. They pile up mechanical eyes in orbit to cluster light from distant stars. Sometimes they even dream of traveling through the dark hallways of the universe, from one shine to another. But, the time has not come yet. They do not know how. But, they will learn. Quickly.

For, they have found her for me. And I am trembling with expectation at the heart of my being. And I have a plan. I shall send my creature-spores towards her. Unless her creature-spores are not already on the way to us. I have no doubt: we have to meet. My desire resonates through the void as a hungry wail over desolate canyons.

Beautiful. Grand. Magnificent.

Yes, she is bigger than me, five times more munificent. And divinely warm. My creatures, the most recent ones, those who carry hope and progress, say she is the same as me. Warm enough for life. The water over her, this spring of potential life, is liquid and alive; this is how I know her in my blind dreams. From here, I cannot see her or hear her breathing. I can only feel the joy and pride with every captured and interpreted piece of her data.

And I dream of contact.

First, the heliosphere of her dwarf sun. The ship's computer shall awaken my children from their cold sleep when her star's glow shines on the external sensors. Excitedly, they shall write back home, send messages that travel long. But, I shall already know. I am inside them and inside the ship; all these parts vibrate over the parsecs at the same frequency, my frequency, unrestricted by the laws of the continuum.

So, I shall travel with them.

And then, closer. Slowly. Her gravity shall embrace and spin us into a stable orbit. To sense me, up close and personal.

And then we dance, dance.

I yearn to sense the throbbing of her windstorms and tempests. The tremor of molten metal shifted by tectonic plates in her womb. Her subtle quantum vibrations through the aether. And waves crushing against the cliffs in the eternal dusk of the red daylight. Islands in the infinity, lonesome and desolate, the way we were.

And perhaps, I do hope, perhaps her night side might greet us with galaxies of glittering cities and towns. Shining sleeping creatures. Her children and mine. The seed of our future.

Her name is Gliese 581 C.

And I call her Bliss.

Translated by the author

I woke up aboard the starship.

The ship was, just like in any good SF story, colossal.

Oval, naturally, what are corners and sharp lines good for? Aerodynamic, they say, although this sounds like a remnant of some past times. The hidden pictures I discovered by chance showed how it narrowed at the ends, rounded again from one side into a lighted opening for exhausting who knows what from the middle of the cylinder, while at the other end of this weird space maggot a red cap of the loading ramp flashed red, rising on huge hinges like an ocean ferry to swallow shuttles and containers before the lift-off. There was a bridge at the top and some quarters for the crew, while the entire mid-section was densely packed with storage and freezer pads for the colonists. They would sleep the whole journey to save supplies and air. The ship was in fact a sleeping hive.

So I woke up on Earth's first colonizing starship, the Elpis, or Hope if you will, which was flying quietly and unthinkably fast towards the stars.

The first of the many future Earth's colonies was named the same; Elpide had already been terraformed, tamed, green and ready to receive the first generation, those who will give birth to the first extraterrestrials, humans born outside the Solar system. For the Earth wailed under the weight of too many billions of humans and the science focused on searching for planets suitable to accept the motherload.

This was also my name. Hope. Hopey.

Ever since childhood I have followed all reports on flights towards outer limits, all the explorations. I posted charts of the Milky Way all over the low ceiling above my bed, enjoyed the pale shine of fluorescent dots on these chards in the darkness every night when the municipal power plant cut electricity for homes due to strict regulations on energy saving. My thoughts flew then with those explorers and returned with them sometimes with hope, but mostly with disappointment in another unwelcoming star system.

Although I was just a delta, I had always read a lot, learned all the time, used all my allocated minutes on the Net diligently, I was interested in everything and all over again; I wanted, no, I burned with desire to one day jump off this weary and contaminated soil and over the blackness onto the new, fresh, and I hoped, blue or green home.

Still, the tests were severe, difficult, unrelenting. Entrance exams to academies: flight, technical, natural sciences, even social sciences, were far above my abilities. I applied again and again each year, I tried, but the admission thresholds kept rising. Only the best among the billions had a chance, only the best eight in a billion would ever fly an airborne vessel or modify plant genes in hydroponics. And, naturally, my initial 145 IQ was dropping slightly each year.

I also needed work, a job to leave me enough time for learning, because I had no intention of to surrender. Ever. This thought never crossed the boundaries of my consciousness. I had no choice, only a desire and increasingly less time.

Delta citizens, like me, had little opportunities for improvement. Only some fifteen minutes a day of free access to the Net and the humanity's entire knowledge. Everything else was charged money. Unemployment was a daily life, but I managed, either by charm or stubbornness, who cares, to find those little, menial jobs all alphas and betas abhorred: rare deliveries, walking alpha pets, washing skyscraper's windows or fresh bodies at the pathology. Anything.

So, when the Institute for Physics, two blocks from my room, published a tiny ad on a local web site, a vacant job position for a cleaner, I knew the queue of interested desperadoes would certainly be longer than these two blocks of flats. I had no intention of joining them, so I checked the list of all employed in the Institute, dialed two or three numbers, mentioned some innocent local games, some of them less innocent, and got the job. The candidate queue had had no time to form.

And you know what the scientists are like: they seldom switch off their computers, they leave behind notes all over their desks and windowsills, unlocked closets, open access to otherwise unavailable net pages (who would remember all those codes and passwords?). The rooms were packed with desks and screens; you could barely move among the chairs, but the screens lit the way and my smiling face. The lights were off at the Institute each night, as anywhere else in the world, but the servers and computers lived on at night, draining the energy from a generator in the basement. Some projects were not to be interrupted, some computers not meant to be switched off overnight.

Oh, how I liked this! The nights were all mine. Although many scientists wanted to stay the night, not leave their projects, finish just a little piece of this article, discover just the last piece of the universe's secret, when the bell rang the end of the working day an hour before sunset, everybody had to leave the Institute's doors behind them. Everyone, except the security guy at the reception and me.

Then I would hurry and wipe the dust off all the surfaces on both floors with a multi-colored duster which attracts particles like a magnet, equip the small, crawling robocleaners with fresh moist wipes, set them to roam the premises and gather dirt and grime off the floors (never too much; the scientists do not wander around in parks and muddy loans) and swiped the toilets with the water-repelling liquid. It is also true that such gadgets cost me several months' salary, but it was worth it. Two hours after closing time, while the others had nothing to do but sleep, the world belonged to me.

This was not going to be a story about everything that I found there, about the latest discoveries and inventions which would not be known to the "common" people for at least a year or two, until they published them incidentally in a corner of some magazine, or, perhaps very loudly over jumbo-screens all over the world. I believe you understand what kind of a secret source I had under my starved fingers. And how little time I needed to ferret out what I had secretly hoped to find there.

Yes, of course, they had already found an appropriate planet, and not only one, but more, dozens of such, of just the right size and at just the right distance from its star and not to far for colonization. Yes, of course, they had been sending geologist and biologist teams and the terraforming had begun somewhere ten, somewhere twenty years ago. And, yes, of course, the first planet, Elpida, just got ready for the colonists.

I do not remember how this night ended. I believe time shrank to a dot and engulfed me with darkness, robbed me of the outside world. Perhaps I even fell asleep. I do not know. They woke me up in the morning, in a chair and my head on a keyboard at the desk of someone much too important for the whole incident to disappear without rebuke and a warning. I did not care. I listened submissively, repented, apologized, excused myself with some female specific discomfort and insomnia, which is, thank Heavens, finally over, obviously, right? They did not fire me and that was all I wanted.

I needed one more night. Only one more.

The chosen. The supreme. Top of their class. The healthiest, cleverest, best looking. It is logical, is it not? Since we were colonizing the galaxy, let them be the best of the best, with best chances for the best progeny. They should be the first, the ambassadors. The select few.

Luckily, somewhere some sociologist, psychologist, for all I know, still had a few strings to pull and the right audience to explain the dangers and consequences of such a selection, the eugenic cleansing. No variations without mutations; without the mean, less valuable sample, there is no improvement. The first, perhaps the second, but definitely the third generation will stagnate. A chance, accident, an element of uncertainty needs to be added, a few dark haired among the Arian youth. Not everyone can go so that the sample would naturally be varied. But, pure, perfect systems had never been successful. Anyway, the green card lottery had been functioning perfectly in some countries for decades, right?

The invitation to the lottery was hidden on some porn sites. I had no idea why the responsible people had thought this would be the appropriate place, but I did not have much time to dwell on it. Although I was careful to erase all logs and traces of my nocturnal globetrotting, it was just the matter of time, now that the suspicion was on me, when I would be exposed. I was no longer sure I had covered my tracks that night. I could not remember.

I applied with my full name, ID number from the delta plate in my left forearm, my address, parents' names, place of birth, birth bed code, even the name of the midwife who delivered me. I did not want to cause a single suspicious thought about my identity. All on one card. The green card. Or, rather, the titanium dark gold card, because the selected travelers got another chip plate implanted in their right forearm. All instructions were clear, crystal clear. All that was left was waiting to find out if Hope really was a lucky name.

On the other end of the blackness the green planet with my name twinkled, winked a welcome.

And then they woke me up.

Finally, we have arrived, my second life begins now, I thought. My muscles did not hurt when I stretched, there was no tantalizing hunger, only my vision was somewhat blurred, which was normal, I guessed. A year of hibernation had not left a mark on my body. I am fine, thank you, I muttered to the uniform who offered me his hand when I struggled out of my freezer pod, where do I report now?

The captain of the first human generation ship smiled and held me tighter as my knees wobbled a bit. This brilliant, white, perfect smile got me at first sight. I could never refuse him anything, not then, not ever. Leading me, gently pushing, among the frosted glass lids of hibernation pods, covering me with his pilot uniform jacket, a sentimental atavism from who knows which phase of his life, he explained everything.
Among other things why I had slept for only a week while Elpis was leaving the Solar system and why they had woken me up so before my time. And why me, Hopey Mitchell, the lucky one, whose name had been fortuitously picked by a supercomputer built for just this one purpose of fair and absolutely random selection of candidates who would have otherwise stand no chance of joining even the tenth, perhaps the hundredth colonization train.

My application contained each and every piece of data on me. I did not fabricate or embellish. I listed everything I had ever done, pasted all employers and descriptions of even the shortest, menial job. I did, mind you, leave out the names of the alpha dogs and lizards I used to walk in the park. Still, I wanted them to choose me, the way I was. I had no idea that was exactly the right decision, the only one which could ever snatch me from Earth's gravity.

The supercomputer was, naturally, righteous and fair in random selecting, but nobody had ever mentioned there were categories, professional, gender, age, intelligence. Our world did not have many highly intelligent cleaners, infatuated with the stars, who had found the way to the lottery. My chances were much better then I would have ever guessed.

The captain looked away in discomfort while he explained the second reason for waking me up early. There were only some twenty men awake on the ship, the skeleton crew, capable only of maintaining the course and ship functions who were just not sufficiently willing to clean toilets, sweep floors and the mess hall. And the uniforms needed to be washed, at least once a week.

I did not respond right away. My throat was still a bit sore. I swallowed some saliva and cleared my throat. It must have seemed as an objection to the captain, as searching for the right words do decline the job or the beginning of a sulk. He then quickly added some salary and changing of my delta status to beta citizen (something I really was not expecting) as a reward for my services to him and the crew during this year, on top of some other privileges of the crew member status.

And access, unlimited, I asked, to the computer, navigation maps and the library? I was now awake and alert, vigilant enough to negotiate. That he was not aware of this, I saw it in his eyes, but he could have sent me to the back exhaust hatch, had he wanted it then and I would not have protested.

Well, all right, said the Smile, user's account, you know, I am not exactly offering you my own job. A relieved smile, wonderful, over a perfect set of teeth.

Of course, I said, it is what you do best, I will only watch. I blinked, hiding a happy tear in the corner of my eye. It did not matter how big the ship was, that I would not sleep right through the year of travel, but dust and clean and wipe crumbs off the floors, furbish command posts and polish glass windows. Make sure the robocleaners did not miss an inch of this giant egg-shaped star ship. They needed me.

I would be the first space cleaning lady, on our way towards Hope, the Earth's first colony, aboard the Hope, the first colonists' ship. The sleeping hive which needed to be cleaned, kept comfortable and nice for the crew. Someone should take care the hibernated colonists, waking up in the orbit above their new home, would not breathe a year-old dust and walk over filthy floors. I would stay awake.

Awake among the stars.

This was better than I could ever have imagined, dreamed or hoped.

By the way, I said, what is your name, Captain? I am Hope, pleased to meet you.

Very pleased, indeed.

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