LETTER TO KEEGAN
Hello again, my friend. I know it has only been a short while; yesterday, I think, is when I wrote you last, but the days are long here.
They are so terribly long.
The pile of glasses on the bar is nearly complete. I have two clean ones left before I have to wash them all. It is what I promised myself I would do when I finally got them all dirty. I have been drinking since Thursday, give or take a day or two. I keep hoping I will get drunk, but it never happens.
Or perhaps I am, and I’m too drunk to know it.
Ah, Keegan, my friend, how are you? A pointless question, I know, but I ask nonetheless. Are you well? Did Drummond finally give you the entire East Wing Lab to run as you see fit? Yes, poor joke, but I am able to do no better today.
Keegan, I am so lonely here. You know that, everybody knows that; I am sure it is a terrible tragedy to them, too, that they cannot help me, nor I them. Things are as they are, and who’s to blame? No one. I am lonely; there is no help for it. I will continue to be lonely.
So very ironic, that I, who hated the teeming billions so much that I almost lost this assignment due to my sociopathy, should be lonely. I laugh about that, on my better days.
I miss you terribly. You know that, too. We have been over this before, many times now. I don’t even have a picture; my bag was left behind at the dock in the ruckus of departure. Most likely you have it now, and do you cry over it often? Another pointless question, to which I think I know the answer. I know you, Keegan. You don’t change much, do you?
The work is going well in the North Arm of the city; I am nearly finished. Almost everything I built there last year when I was mad has been replaced. Some of the more eerily beautiful structures, however, I left untouched. Madness sometimes has a power of expression that cannot be matched. I am almost sorry that the medbot took my madness from me. I went to it to fix the leg I broke playing Tarzan in the tube-tree jungle, and it healed my madness as well. I did not expect that.
They are amazing machines, these medbots; they can heal my injuries, cure my illnesses, take away my insanity. They even talk to me, in their limited fashion.
Amazing as they are, however, they cannot preserve my youth. Not like the ones at home. I will die here, Keegan. The license will pass to some other fortunate, unused.
Does it hurt you when I say that? Another pointless question.
But then, they all are.
I am sorry, Keegan, that you could not be here. I know how you were looking forward to studying the life of this world. It is indeed fascinating. I am not a biologist; that is your field, but even I find much to marvel at here. I built myself a crude microscope, did I tell you that? It has lenses, Keegan; glass ones. It does not do a very good job, but the things I see in it are tantalizing, even to one of little knowledge such as I.
The life here, while possessing in appearance and behavior a bewildering variety rivaling that of Earth, is on the cellular level startlingly homogenous. Everything looks as if it came from the same organism. The shapes of the cells themselves…
But you got my samples. I am certain that it is you studying them, with a few others. I apologize for the condition; I could not protect them any better, not having the resources at my disposal. I wish I did.
Then I could come home.
Please forgive the stains on this page; I just threw my glass at the wall and broke it, and splashed your letter with wine. One glass to go, before I must stop. Perhaps I am drunk after all.
At least I have the wine. Bless Kane, for smuggling the digester, and God rest his soul. I can still hear him saying, “Keep this our secret, my boy, and we won’t have to share!” I can still see the wicked grin upon his face as he said it.
I can still hear his screams through the intercom, which were the last human sounds I will ever hear, save my own.
He perished for me, Keegan, with all the rest.
He left me behind, so that I could tell you all if he failed. No one wanted to be left behind, so he picked someone, and it was me. He did not do it out of friendship; no friend would saddle another with the shame of being left behind from what could well be a suicide mission.
Perhaps it was because he thought that of all of us, only I could bear it here alone if all failed.
Who would have thought, knowing me like he did, that he could be wrong?
I walk in the jungle when I am loneliest, striding through blue and red avenues of tubetree, broccolibush, and handvine (and so many other plants, but these are the most prevalent), listening to the weird calls of unseen creatures in the distance; the presence, the sights and sounds and smells of other living things brings me some small comfort. Sometimes I unfocus my eyes so that the outlines of the jungle blur just a bit, and I can imagine that I am in the Preserve, on my daily 5-credit Solitary Walk, with you waiting just outside the dome, to take me to lunch.
Then a bush will sprout legs and run away, or a snake-ring will drop from the trees, coating me with harmless venom, and remind me that I am truly in an alien place.
It must pain you to know that the sadness that has ever been my constant companion is deeper than ever before. Lonely in a system full of trillions of people, I now have a loneliness that is deeper and more wrenching than I ever imagined. You and Kane were the only ease for my loneliness, Keegan; you knew it, then and now. I am not like anyone else.
As a boy I used to look up at the stars and imagine that they were my true people, that I had fallen somehow, but could get back to them someday if I tried very hard. They were my only friends in a horribly overpopulated world.
Now that all the people are gone, I look up at the stars, and I see them as stars. They are not my people. They are not people at all. I am alone.
So sadly amusing to find that I am human after all.
The terrible waste of it all bothers me more than anything, I suppose; it took the seedship two hundred years to get here, and another ten to assemble the components of the slingshot and catchring and set them in place.
Two hundred and ten years of breeding restrictions and rotations of mandatory hibernation, while the Earth groaned under the weight of all the buildings and feet, and the other worlds and stations of Sol closed their doors to us. Two hundred and ten years of riots and gassings and genocidal terrorists and mass rapists and drug abuse pandemics. All for the purpose of stranding me here alone, apparently.
I guess they have learned their lesson now, and will damn well send the big ship first next time.
We were equipped with rudimentary survival gear; they left it all with me. They would not need it, whether through success or failure. They left me here with my medbots and organic processors and construction bots and the railgun, to fire my messages and samples out into space, into the slingshot’s field.
They left me, and then they died.
We had to fix the catchring, before Victory tried to come through it. We had given the all-clear before the catchring malfunctioned, so they had no reason to expect anything wrong, and had sent her on schedule. She was already in transit. We had to fix the problem or everyone aboard her would die. Seven million people, Keegan.
If we couldn’t fix it in time, everyone at the catchring would die as well, when Victory blew the interface and blossomed into vapor and energy.
I protested. I was the best Operator we had, as well as First Officer. They had no reason to leave me behind when I was so clearly needed.
But you have heard his report, along with everyone else; I am sure it was on every news syndicate in Sol. You know what happened. I am merely crucifying myself with the memory. While I’m at it, I may as well repeat the other things you already know…
There are only two ways to pass between the stars; the long, slow way, at light speed or slower, and the slingshot. The physicists say that there may be other ways, but nobody has found them, not in four hundred years. It seems unlikely that they ever will. The slingshot, of course, requires the catchring in order to work; the objects fired from the slingshot must be caught, drawn back into the normal universe from whence they came, or they will travel forever. And even then they must be equipped with inertial cancellers, if anything living inside is to survive the deceleration.
I could build a capsule, Keegan; I could fire myself from the railgun into the slingshot, and thence to Earth, but if the acceleration of the railgun did not kill me, the deceleration at the end of my journey surely would.
Tormented as I am, I do not want to die, Keegan. Death will have me when it can take me.
So I wait to die here. And while I am waiting, I revive forgotten arts, like handwriting and glassmaking and woodcarving and weaving. I build cities for people I will never see. I drink wine. I explore this vast, empty world.
I use the largest, most expensive and technologically advanced machine in human history to send letters to my wife.
Ah, Keegan, I ask you once again to grant me the divorce, even though I know you will not. You love me, and no other, and I you. I try to speak formally, I call you “my friend” instead of “my love”, I try to convince you that even though our child will never be, yours still can, and beg you not to waste those precious genes of yours.
Beg you not to waste your love on a man you will never see again.
But all for naught. Even though a Breeding License is the highest honor and most precious opportunity one can have these days, you will not use yours, because I cannot use mine with it. You will live on, eternally young, eternally alone with your cultures and samples, never looking for another man who can make you remember that you are a woman. I know you, Keegan.
You will die alone one day, just as I will, and although your loneliness will not be as great, it will last far longer than mine.
I cannot bear that thought.
The last glass is gone, crushed in my fist. Forgive the blood. I will go find the medbot after I send this letter off to you. It is time once again to go. I think of you, reading this, the tears streaming down your face, and I wonder: of the two of us, whose lot is worse?
Another pointless question.
But then again, they all are.
-John Henry Keegan