“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Star Pilot” by Lee Moan

Loneliness, by Romeo Esparrago

JOURNAL ENTRY #3138 Date: 11/04/2199 Time: 1046

This is Cory Dealth, captain and pilot of the cargo freighter, Alexa. I’ve just chartered the final leg of our course for Delta Centauri, but I’m certain that I won’t reach journey’s end alive. I am in the grip of “the Sorrow”, “the Loneliness”, “the Pilot’s Despair”; it doesn’t matter what you call it, I know it has only one cure — death.

I never thought I would succumb. After all, I’ve been piloting long-haul, deep-space flights for one third of my life — that’s eleven trips in as many years — and apart from a few dark moments, I’ve never been fazed by the endless solitude. My ex-wife never understood how a man could survive ten months alone in space and stay sane. She said I wasn’t human. They do say that the average deep-space pilot lasts only ten years or ten trips before he begins to crack. But that never worried Cory Dealth… until now. Perhaps this is that “one trip too many” which they always talk about. Perhaps I should have taken the statutory early retirement like my buddies back on Earth suggested last year. Perhaps….

But it’s too late to turn back now. I passed the halfway point of the Lutherian system almost a month ago. Delta Centauri lies three months ahead, but home is four months behind me. The way I feel now, I’ll be lucky to survive the next forty-eight hours. I’m going to sign off now. Don’t feel like talking anymore. Feel so tired all the time. If this is my last entry, my love goes out to… whoever finds me.

JOURNAL ENTRY #3139 Date: 11/04/2199 Time: 1812

Well, I’m still here. A miracle, really. I’ve just spent the last eight hours sitting in my quarters being driven slowly insane by the silence. My thoughts began to turn distinctly morose. I had to remove my shaving razors and my mirror, and dump them out the airlock. Better to grow a beard than… well, you know.

In my desperation I went and unpacked the Artificial Intelligence Unit. I believe its pet-name is DORI. I know they’re standard issue on solo-pilot deep-space flights, but I’ve always detested the damned things. I also know that the AIUs are specifically designed to aid pilots suffering from the Loneliness. Personally, I’ve always believed I’d prefer the silence to the inane witterings of a replicant. Anyway, I set her up and switched her on. She’s not bad-looking for an “artificial person”. As usual, the AIU asked me who I would like it to be. Stupidly, I suggested she be Lani — I don’t know why. Right now, my ex is the last person I’d want hanging around, even in replicant form. Anyway, within minutes the AIU was acting just like her. I don’t know how they do it, but the damned thing had her facial characteristics, her tone of voice that she uses when she’s angry — hell, even her silences began to sound like Lani. I’m afraid the situation ended badly for her — the AIU, I mean, not Lani. I may as well admit this upfront, as it’s pretty obvious who’s responsible — me being the only one on board. I took a spanner and removed the AIU’s operating chip. Ha, that shut her up. If only Lani’d had one, we’d probably still be together. Anyway, that wasn’t the worst of it. I took the chip and… I flushed it out of the airlock. It was only after I’d done it, as I watched that very tiny but extremely expensive piece of technology floating out into the endless ocean of space — it was only then that I realised the enormity of what I’d done. It’s not the fact that the chip cost about as much as I’m being paid for this entire trip; no, it’s the fact that, however irritating it might have been, I now have no chance whatsoever of having a conversation. If the AIUs were put aboard cargo ships to save pilot’s minds and their lives — well, I just flushed my saviour out into God’s great void. And with the Loneliness growing ever more acute, I may have just signed my own death warrant. The next twenty-four hours will show.

JOURNAL ENTRY #3140 Date: 11/04/2199 Time: 2112

I can’t take it any more. I’m not strong enough to survive this. All hope is lost. I have just passed the triple moons of Corcaris, those beautiful gushing orbs of molten gas and rock, spinning in infinity, so vast, so vibrant, so alive — yet I see nothing in those moons to inspire hope. I see only the reflection of my own imminent demise, the darkness in my soul.

The Alexa continues on her course…

But I am lost…

JOURNAL ENTRY #3141 Date: 11/04/2199 Time: 2256

I retire now to my quarters. I have put everything in my life in order. To those who hear this, please pray for my soul. I’ve just taken a glass of Mulhanney’s Draft… which means that I will be dead within thirty minutes, unless of course I get a blood transfusion before that, which is very unlikely…

JOURNAL ENTRY #3142 Date: 11/04/2199 Time: 2315

We have a saying on Earth: “Angels and saints preserve us.” Well, I think I’ve just been saved by an angel.

The sheer fact that I’m recording this journal entry more than half an hour after taking the fatal elixir means that a miracle has occurred. Let me try to explain the events of the last half-hour… if I can.

After taking the poisonous draft and recording what I thought was my last journal log, I retired to my quarters, fully expecting to lie down and slip into the welcome embrace of death within thirty minutes or thereabouts. As I lay there, wracked with self-pity, trembling with grief, tears running down my temples and pooling in my ears, I heard a sound that no solo-pilot ever dreams of hearing. It was the sound of a soft female voice. I sat bolt upright, casting my eyes to the discarded AI unit slumped in the far corner of the room. It was the only possible explanation, and yet I knew that the unit was incapable of operating without its central chip.

Then I heard the voice again; only this time I realised that it seemed to be coming from inside my head. “Cory,” it was saying, a voice so soft and sweet, “Cory.” Believing it to be a delusion brought on by the elixir, I started to lie down again, but the voice returned.

“Cory, do not go to sleep,” it said.

“Who are you?” I said to the empty room.

“A friend,” it replied.

“I hear you in my head,” I explained. “Are you… are you real?”

And I was told, “Come to the airlock and see for yourself.”

Trembling, both from the effects of the draft and from raw fear, I staggered through the ship to the airlock observation room. I noticed an unearthly light flooding in through the observation blister, and wondered if we were passing by a supernova or a white dwarf — but when I looked out into space, I saw the true origin of the light.

A figure, blazing with an inner radiance, hovered just outside the observation blister, a shimmering wraith coursing through space alongside my ship. I cannot say that it was humanoid-shaped — it appeared to have no shape at all, only an ever-changing body of heat and light. As I stared into the heart of this white fire I imagined I saw the face of a woman — no, different women, none that I recognised, but I found it impossible to fix on this form for any length of time. I decided it was only my mind trying to impose a recognisable image onto a form I didn’t understand.

The only description I could attach to this being was that of the fabled Stellar-Angel, an old legend passed down among deep-space pilots — particularly those who traveled alone and therefore had nobody to verify their story. Pilots often told how they were visited by angel-like beings that appeared to them at their most dire hour, whispering words of sweetness and hope in the eternal darkness. Such stories were scoffed at by most, including other pilots, myself included. They were believed to be delusions brought on by the Loneliness — rather than the saviour of it.

“Hello, Cory,” the voice said. Despite seeing the owner of this voice, the voice remained inside my head.

As I observed this being, I put the only question that came to mind. “Are you an angel?”

The figure waited some time before answering. “We are not aware of being known as such a thing. But we have many names. We refer to ourselves as the Aalahi.”

“Are you spiritual beings?” I inquired. “Or corporeal?”

I sensed that the being was smiling as it answered me. “We are both. But not at the same time. However, at this moment in time, we are spirit.”

I realised that further questioning would lead to similar enigmatic answers. So I said, “The reason I asked if you were an angel is that… I’m about to die.”

“We know,” the voice said softly. “You have done a terrible thing.”

“Yes,” I admitted. “So, are you here to take me away? I mean, after I die? The way angels are supposed to do.”

“No,” came the reply. “We have come to save you from death.”

I was stunned at this response. “But, why would you do that?” I asked.

“Why not?” was the simple answer. The words rocked me on my heels. The poison was beginning to attack my muscles now. My legs began to tremble violently, and I collapsed into the observation chair.

“Do you want to live?” it asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “But I’m beyond help. I have taken a poison, and the only way to reverse its effects is a total blood transfusion. I am alone on this ship. There are no blood supplies on board. And you have already told me you have no body as such… so you see, it‘s too late for me.”

“It is never too late, Cory,” the voice soothed. “And you are not alone.” The being, without words, seemed to direct my attention to the AI unit. “There lies an artificial being of human design. Within its veins runs blood like yours.”

I sat forward, my hands gripping the arms of my chair in newfound excitement. “Of course!” I yelled. “The AI Unit’s got eight pints of the stuff! It may not be 100 per cent haemoglobin, but it’s worth a shot….” My words died in my throat. “Wait. Oh God, no.” I looked out into space, into the heart of the radiant being. “What have I done? I removed the operating chip. The AI Unit can only perform the transfusion whilst it’s up and running. It’s necessary for the heating of the blood, the pumping heart….”

The being outside seemed to observe me with curiosity as I cursed myself over and over. Then, when my self-abuse was over, it said, “We do not understand your concern. You need only replace the operating chip….”

I raised my head and looked at the being, despair written on my face. “I threw it out of the airlock.” The silence which followed was crushing. I imagined that if this being had had a face it would have given me a look to whither my soul. I hung my head in shame and despair. Then:

“We are aware of that.”

“What?” I said.

“Go to the airlock doors,” the voice ordered. I was about to ask why. “Hurry. Time is running out.”

I staggered on treacherous legs to the doors. There, adhering to the outer glass was the million-dollar chip. A thin halo of white light, similar to that of the being, gilded its outer edge.

“But… that’s impossible,” I told the being. “I saw it drifting away into deep space.”

The voice held a smile within it. “We recovered it for you. Now put it to good use….”

Well, friends. As you can see, I did just that. Captain Cory Dealth is back from the dead! I retrieved the chip through the airlock, fitted it back into the AIU, and instructed her to perform the transfusion. By this time, my strength had almost left me completely. I fell asleep midway through the operation, but when I awoke, I felt truly alive again — the world seemed a brighter place, and not because of the “angel”. Unfortunately, the being didn’t hang around. It/she/he/they had gone. A pity. I would liked to have said thank you. I would also have liked to talk to them a bit more… but it wasn’t meant to be.

Instead I now have the AIU to talk to. We have come to a new understanding. I don’t think you can go through something as intimate as a blood transfusion without finding a new respect for the donor. We have agreed not to argue — or at least try. During our frank and open post-op discussion, she (I hesitate to call her after my ex-wife) has agreed to stop being so irritating, if I stop being so boorish. “It’s so unattractive,” she told me. God, that sounds exactly like something Lani would have said. I only wish me and Lani had been as open as this before it was too late… if there is such a thing as too late.

But the melancholy has left me. The next few months seem to be an open road again, and not a dead, oppressive weight around my shoulders. The future’s so bright I have to wear solar-flare-specs. When I — we — reach Delta Centauri and offload the cargo, I think we’ll celebrate. After all, it’ll be my last trip. That’s right. Cory Dealth is hanging up his anti-grav boots, and taking the early retirement. So that return trip to Earth won’t seem so bad. Who knows, the way I’m feeling, when I get back I might just give Lani a call…. *

About the Author: Lee Moan currently is in human form and living in South Devon. He enjoys writing short stories in a variety of genres, from science fiction and fantasy to horror and suspense. He is a family man with two children, holding down a full-time job as well as studying for an Open University degree in Literature — he must be an alien! His first published work recently appeared in Antipodean SF Issue 76.
(c) 2004 Lee Moan leejmoan@yahoo.co.uk

About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago needs no introduction to those who know him.
(c) 2004 Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com/

6 thoughts on ““The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Star Pilot” by Lee Moan

  1. Interesting, although I don’t feel we got to know the character very well. Curious concept, makes me want to know a bit more, but the Aalahi you describe seem a bit fantastical, not much explanation based in science. I enjoyed the style, though. Nice piece.

  2. I thought it was fairly good story. I had to question the length of time between the attempted suicide, being rousted from near death by the Aalahi, the trransfusion procedure, and his next entry in the journal. That all happened in 30 minutes? Such efficiency!

  3. Great story. Good twist. A real fusion of Calivinistic pre-destination belief systems and science-fantasy. Good use of journal style which kept a realism in a a good hybrid of genres. Raised an interesting debate bewteen what happens when hope is lost and how we all look for hope when in despair! Good work! Dan O’Shea

  4. Great stuff. A simple story based in reality through the style, but yet still mixing genres from sci-fi to fantasy. Some subtextual issues linked to Calvinsim and pre-destination and how we humans only find hope after despair!

  5. Just like to say thanks to everyone who read the story and left their comments. It’s great to get feedback, and the constructive criticisms are always helpful. Also, a big thanks to Romeo for the fab artwork.
    Cheers, m’dears!

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