Jasmine, and if he closed his eyes, the sound of the ocean. The smell though was always the strongest, it was what always clung to him. The ghost that gently haunted, touching his heart. It came and went, sometimes intense, taking him to that place where he always felt safe. Always felt them there.
He looked out of the window at the planet below, the strange orb spinning silently in its indifference to him. The purple hues lifted off the surface as if into a dream, blurring and smudging with the swallowing blackness of space.
Jasmine and warm sand.
He stole himself a moment to close his eyes, feeling the history shiver through him. An irritant beeping began in his ear, and his eyes opened to see the planet once more, slipping slowly from view as a stream of white slithered across the windows. He stepped back, releasing the metal banister from his grasp and turned to the yawning corridor behind him. There were a few people making their way along it, eyes glowing from the screens that ensnared them. Detached from the beauty that space could offer them.
Why should they be so dazzled by its brilliance? Space was taking something away from them. Distance and time.
He had come to terms with his own arrangement, but for the others, he guessed it was difficult still. He walked away from the huge windows, away from the calling of the beyond and made his way back to where he would spend most of his time. Alone, which is what he knew.
In his own little pod, his room of sorts on this floating chrysalis. Many of the travellers would enter one way and leave another. Changed by either their own trauma, or the perils of interstellar travel. He would not of course, he had already changed enough. If anything, he would retrograde, like Saturn returning, back into the pupa of his early days where things were so different.
Alone in his room, he turned off the lights, casting the space in the neon blue phosphorus glow. It was known to aid sleep in these conditions, but he would not be sleeping. How could he? His insomnia was welcomed back the moment he stepped aboard. Nights and days meant nothing up here anyway, so his patterns of rest blended and ebbed away. The blue now though comforted him, like an incubator heat lamp hung over an egg. The yoke of his mind turned, tumbling over the memories of a world he knew was forever lost.
The soft voice whispered into the room.
He turned over, the blue phosphorus blinking slightly like a heartbeat.
“Keter.” He replied to the nothing, and the room hung there in silence for a moment.
“Understood.” The soft voice replied, disappearing away like a ghost.
He had become used to these intrusions. They were passengers of course, guests even. Many had exchanged their savings just for their souls to be classed as passengers on this voyage through the stars. These numbers, all the time, numbers. Tracking, and recalibrating. Confirming and informing. Many that he spoke to set their times around these indications of location, celestial longitude. As if the mapping meant something to someone.
Only people meant something to someone else.
The number usually meant the distance, or the time left to arrival. For him, they meant something different. Like the length of rope thrown for safety, slowly falling away. The further he got, the closer he was. The journey beginning at the end, like the thoughts in his head. Chasing his own tail. The room scanned his body, noticing some change in the space. He’d found his was extra sensitive, monitoring his pulse and liquid extraction to the smallest degree. He’d stopped crying long ago, setting off too many checks and queries, the systems unsure of what purpose the leaking ever did.
He wasn’t travelling alone, but everyone thought he was. He sometimes forgot he wasn’t here by himself, but then he was washed in guilt. They were here in both places. In his heart, and in the cargo bay that was probably above his head now, the rotating section of the ship which spun around like a carousel. Their body was secure, he’d been assured. Packed next to boxes of memories and other people’s goods. Machines and provisions for a new life for the others. Well taken care of. He’s welcome to come by any time to check, though he is yet to do so and not likely to ever.
What was in the body really? The soul had left long ago. Even on Damara, the soul had slipped out through the atmosphere, heading back to earth. Back to their real home, where their bones would want to lie. He’d have buried them there if he could, but their family wanted them back. It was the least he could give them, having taken so much from them in their departure.
They would want to say goodbye, not through a video call or hologram burial across the stars.
Earth is where they would come to rest, put into the family tomb and forgotten about in a few years. But he would not forget, for their ghost drowned them now. Breathing into him along with the blue. Always blue, blue, blue.
He closed his eyes, hating himself. Remembering what they had said before they had left, those years ago. That death would snatch them there, on that cold side of space. Yet they would go non the less, for he seemed to want it so badly. And in truth, he did. He’d wanted to get away, try something different. Get as far away from Earth as humanly possible. To build them a new home on a new planet, a place where they would live longer, be healthier and stay together.
Home, they’d said is wherever they were.
“2.5, R HH” The soft voice spoke again, harder this time.
Halfway on their journey, from where they’d left, to where they were going.
He closed his eyes, and though no sleep came, fantasies and dreams washed through his head like a pageant. Illuminating visions that meant nothing and everything to him, silencing him for some time.
He saw a shell, a purple scallop shell before him on its side. All around a mist floated, he could see the water inside, sloshing back and forth as if the little shell were a boat out on rough waves. It began to lift slowly, coming towards him. The water began to ooze and leak away from the middle. Draining out and away into nothing. The shell continued to rise until its profile faced his eyeline. And with a deafening thunderclap, the shell cracked down the middle and he opened his eyes.
Making his way along the corridor, he touched the sides to feel the glass. Just beyond lay space, hidden from him by the greyed colours of the walls. But he knew it was there of course. Many didn’t, they forgot where they were, either by their screen diving or the long bouts of hibernation. It was easy he supposed, to forget you were where you were. Flight, travel. It disrupts violently the ordinariness of life, but in a surreal detached way, it can also be forgotten. Like you were in a waking dream, and things were going on without you.
He turned at the end of the corridor and climbed upwards, through a stairwell which led to the cargo bay area. He didn’t bother to ask anyone or sign in as he was told to do. Instead, he snuck through the huge doors as quiet as he could and was successfully undetected by anyone. He’d been tracked of course, eyes always on them, but nothing had come of it he’d noticed.
Moving steadily, he made his way to section 5t, the ‘living containments’ section. Ironic he’d thought, seeing as everything here was frozen, sleeping, or dead. He could see a red light blinking on the box some distance away, and he hurried forward at the sight of it. Error messages flashed across the box, symbols and numbers which meant nothing to him. He saw the number 16 flash by, and his mind was reminded by their birthday, cakes and smiles, images of kissing and the scent memory of blown out candles attacked him at once. He saw it then, a little pool of water just beneath the box.
“Fuck.” He said aloud to no one.
He scanned his wrist across the glass by the numbers, and the red light stopped flashing, but remained red. He pressed a button at the side and with an artificial exhale, little jets of air hissed the lid open. Whatever the error, or malfunction, the body inside had thawed. The crystal struts that kept the body in position glistened as the liquid inside sloshed around them. The head faced him, but the eyes were closed. He was thankful of that. He didn’t want to see their brown eyes. He would always remember them speckled with golden light, and he knew now the light would be gone.
What to do, what to do.
He stood there, not knowing for some time. The pool of water had spread a little towards his feet, but since the box had been opened, it seemed to have stopped leaking. The display on the side slowly climbing little bars up to a 100% destination. Aiming for perfection.
They looked peaceful at least, they looked like they were unaware of anything around them, even him. And of course, they were. Dead, gone, already back on earth. This body, these bones cared not for the journey they were on now. He reached out then, touching their hair which was wet and trailed slightly in the pooled water around them, floating like leaves in a pond.
The water was warm, and as his feet plunged into the box it rose above his socks and kissed his skin. He plunged down on top, his arms reaching around, through the crystal struts and finding the fleshy body and bones behind at the bottom. He hugged, and squeezed them, his eyes filling both with the water and the tears. He knew they were gone, but he had to hold them. He had to be here now with them, encased in a water filled box shooting through space.
“2.51.” The voice overhead announced, this time echoing in the vast space of the cargo bay.
He closed his eyes, jasmine filling his mind. He was no longer halfway. He wasn’t even before. He was only lost and alone. This he knew was how it would remain. So, he stayed and cried until sleep finally snatched him away, his body drained of energy from all the weeping. The voice overhead continued to call out many more marker points, little dots that now tracked his fall into nothingness.