This is the part they rarely tell you about. I can remember when, as a child, I used to press with the throngs against the muscular Port Guard when a ship would land. The hum of the engines was drowned in the murmur of the crowd, the gentle ease of practiced phrases of awe and hope. The Port had been open for nearly five years now and had swiftly transformed the backwater denizens of Episcopal from a people fallen from grace to a people fallen from grace and yet obsessed with hope. The memory of solar dominance, of life never in one place, still ran in my people’s blood. Or so I was told; no one was still alive that had set foot in one of the fabled cruisers our people used to make or that had gazed on stars from out of a body unchained by home-gravity. It must have been true though, even as a child I could feel it: some sort of stirring in the blood, a faint tether hooked into my heart that pulled me away, not only in space but also in time.
And that was the part they rarely tell you about: space travel operates on more than just three-axis. Most of the journey, at least as far as they eye could tell, was through time. You stepped on to a ship and away from your life. Away from a father who had lost an eye in the monochrome fields, away from a mother who worried too much, away from a boy that had had such flowing red hair, it was impossible. Away from all of those. That first step, as the door hummed to a close behind you, that first step was a lifetime. This is the part they rarely tell you about and even when they do, they paint it with the thin coat of love, adventure, compassion and memory. They bridge the gaps left in your humanity, the echoing pools that form on the cavern-floor of your mind. The truth is, I have never been more alone. Sure, the pale flesh of the second lieutenant beside me satiates my drives but he is not enough. I am a lantern awash in a storm and he is flotsam that I found with me in the stream. How can I hold on to him when he is adrift just as I am, when he has nothing to hold on to himself?
Humanity is a chain. It is one tissue which feeds itself, extremities upon extremities that somehow, in the midst of groping hunger, feed each other. And space travel was sold to us, the people of Episcopal and a million-million other planets, like it was the great savior. The great release from the prison of community, the surgeon’s knife that would incise into the common flesh and free the individuals suffocating within. But, to me, it is no such thing. As the flesh stirs besides me, this young man from heavens’ (hah!) know where, I am instead made to think of large gaps, bridges across eternity and sable collections of water where nothing good lives but where everything rots. This is space for me: an impossible ocean that separates me from the life I knew, a life I had thrown away thinking it was too small. The irony is that at least the sailor on an endless ocean knows she has a goal, a beacon, a place to return to. I don’t have even that. You see, the home I knew is gone. Even if I turned around right now, by some miracle of astro-engineering I cannot even comprehend, the shark of time would have already devoured the lonely vessel that was my life. It exists only in my mind now, a ship of memory, longing, and fading urges for a place that is no longer there.
But if I’m truly honest, and on this, the eve of my arrival, I would like to be, I was always lost. The problem with my old life, my lost life, wasn’t that it was too small. It was that it was too big. Episcopal had been a bee-hive of memories, a place so lost it cried for everyone to find it, like a beggar crying for a piece of bread that would do nothing but prolong the half-dead state he was in. And I answered. All the children answered, as their parents had done before them. Slowly, history was re-modeled. Piece by piece, the past was made to have meaning again, knowledge excavated from ruin. And we dreamed. Oh, how we dreamed and in dreaming wounded ourselves every time we woke up to gaze on our bluish sun. A people of fools, of faint-hearted saps wilting in wax towers. Or so it seems to me now. But when I was there, still a child, the memories were the sweet taste of dripping honey, the faint buzz of a stomach that had gorged itself. Until the ships came, the beautiful, blue, rune-inscribed ships. Somehow, the hunger shifted and became more pressing. No longer would the dew of memories slake the thirst of my desire. I had to live, I had to experience, I had to make new stories, damn it! And most of all, I thought that I could run away. Run from the one eyed father, always telling stories of past glories, away from a worried mother who painted lost vistas, away from that damnably beautiful boy with his impossibly red hair who made my heart sing epics of a fallen age. I thought I could escape my hunger.
But nothing makes you more hungry than the stars. Now, the ship had decelerated enough so that I could make out individual stars out there, in the ocean. An ocean filled with stars, a deep heart for me to fill with starlight. The hunger is stronger than ever. The body besides me shifts and it has red hair, impossibly beautiful hair. In the corner of the room, I can hear my father’s hushed whispers as he speak of the mono-swords of the Late Crusaders. The wish-wish sound of my mother’s brush is his beat as she paints a purple scene of coronation. Thus, the cliche is all too real: the hunger was inside me. Forget the human tapestry, forget the organism which has no end, the body we call humanity. We are endless continuities, fragile repositories of liquid memory, songs, hope, fear and, most of all, longing. A longing for a home that isn’t there any more. A longing for a home that once was but is now separated from us by an empty ocean. A longing for a home that we carry with us and are thus incessantly reminded of its absence. The ship docks. The body wakes. My eyes open. I am alone.