I am afraid of the dark. My brain says there is no reason for my fear; yet, the fear is neither logical nor wavering. It’s as solid as a nickel-iron asteroid.
My imagination running wild you could say; only it’s not. Dark implies an absence: of light, of knowledge, of understanding of warmth, of human kindness, an absence that the imagination fills like air fills a vacuum. But, it’s not my imagination. I imagine no monsters or strange and ugly beings waiting in the shadows to devour my essence. I imagine no tortures or pain, no travail, no suffering, nothing to give root to my fear. And yet, I’m afraid of the dark.
You may say it’s a lack of sensation; only it’s not. True enough dark denies the ability to see. Without the ability to see, one’s hearing changes and one’s directions are confused. Without the ability to see, one’s touch is tentative fearing undetected danger. I imagine no difficulty hearing, no difficulty of movement, no undetected danger awaiting my unsuspecting touch. And yet, I’m afraid of the dark.
Dark is relative; defined as lack. Colors are ‘dark’ implying they lack brightness. Dark moods are synonymous with bad moods or melancholy. Dark motives connote nefarious purposes. Dark rooms are spaces without illumination or energy. Dark matter is a form of matter (and, therefore, energy) we neither see nor detect. Dark (or black) holes deny the escape of matter or energy, even light. Dark is the color of emptiness; of void, of nothing at all, of the total and complete lack of everything. Dark is the color of interstellar space; the color of isolation.
I was a careful astronaut, always checking, double checking and cross-checking, rarely wrong, but always able to repair mistakes and so I was invited to be part of the first interstellar expedition to Gliese 832 c sixteen light years from Earth. Gliese 832 c was the closest Goldilocks Zone potentially inhabitable planet known as of the time we left Earth.
It would take us many years to make the passage to Gliese 832 c and twice as long to return. Conditions on Earth would have changed radically by the time our expedition returned, but then, so would we. We were a self-contained colonial ship in a sense, containing the essentials for a stable population of one hundred people, evenly divided by sex, to maintain themselves for several generations. An excellent plan, and like most good plans, it did not survive reality.
Rather than a Captain and a paramilitary system of officers, we had an elected Governor who was up for re-election periodically. A court with an elected judge enforced laws made by an elected legislative council. By the time the expedition left the solar system and entered interstellar space, people tired of penny-ante poker and videogames and the movies and music had grown stale. Time began to hang heavy and boredom set in. The expedition’s medical staff issued birth control pills to all of the women, but eventually, the drugs’ shelf-life expired, a serious glitch in planning. An attempt to manufacture additional condoms failed when the limited supply of rubber was exhausted. An attempt to manufacture IUDs also failed when they caused an inordinate number of potentially fatal infections. If women survived the infections, they were almost invariably rendered infertile. Infertile women who held unique job skills were allowed by the Legislative Council to live until they died naturally. Those who shared job skills with others were considered duplicative to the expedition were indicted by the court for the crime of infertility, condemned to spacesuits and ejected from the airlock.
Births increased the population beyond sustainability. The Legislative Council then placed an age-cap on the population, so that those beyond forty years of age became subject to being ejected into space. The age-cap changed periodically based on population dynamics and job skill requirements, but the requirement was that the population be maintained at approximately one hundred individuals.
Suddenly, men were becoming sterile; from radiation, gravitational fluctuations, diet deficiency, or, perhaps, crowding…but no one really knew why. Ironically, the elected Governor was the first discovered to be sterile. He quickly destroyed his own records. Nevertheless, he brought the matter to the Legislative Council and who quickly adopted the same measures they adopted for infertile women…death by ejection into space…after exempting themselves from testing at least as long as they were in office.
Now, only ten men and women remain aboard, including the council members, along with thirty children…ninety people have died as a result of their rules. Since the council exempted its members and the ten that remain are all council members no one knows whether all ten, or none of the ten, that remain are sterile or fertile. What I do know is that none of the remaining women are pregnant.
As the last remaining non-council member, they handed me my indictment forty-eight hours ago in the form of a medical lab report. The sentence was carried out just a moment ago…They confined me in a pressure suit so the remaining members would not have to witness the effects of the vacuum of space on my body or clean my remains from the surfaces inside the airlock…and pushed me strongly and firmly out of the airlock. I have twenty-fours of oxygen to contemplate my fate, and a sharp knife they gave me to end it quickly if I wish.
So, here I am, alone in interstellar space. Ironically, the bodies of the others form a loose debris field around me as they drift in loose formation with the ship, testimony to the effects of momentum and the lack of gravity in interstellar space. Mute, they join me in haunting the remains of our dwindling expedition. They, too, wonder whether any of the remaining council members are fertile…but they will never know anymore than I will.
But of them, I alone am alive…for a time…utterly isolated…and afraid of the dark.
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