“Defrosting the ocular region…”
A sensation of warmth on my eyes, of melting eyelids… Opening one’s eyes is the easiest thing in the world to do, even tetraplegics do it. Still, I feel like I’m lifting a 280-kilo rusted mechanical shutter with each eyelash. I take in the shock of the light. It’s just the light from the Kœl helmet stuck to my eyes. Still wedged in my hibernacle, by way of the curved screen, I wander through the passageways, pass through an airlock, cross the empty lobby and enter the control room, whose bay opens onto an enormous planet, orange and blue, riddled with craters scrolling by at top speed. I’d like someone to stop spinning the globe, it’s making me nauseous.
“Show me where I am…”
A zoom through the walls. Vague SF church atmosphere. The gray rays of a metal hive. Hexagonal alveolae for maybe a hundred meters, by twenty meters high. With corpses inside. White corpses, more or less thawed out. The camera pans and switches without warning to a high-angle shot. A sarcophagus marked with the name “Sohan Decker.” I suddenly see myself from above. My legs are bones covered with a rag of flesh. Knees jutting out. Hips and ribs sticking out, navel twisted up like a t-shirt left in the snow for too long, that creaks if you shake it, Adam’s apple. My face I can’t see because of the helmet. Nothing human anymore. I am a sack of stiff flesh, a freeze-dried packet, forgotten in a Russian freezer.
“Do you recognize yourself?”
“Am I really alive? Or is it just my brain that’s alive?”
“With accelerated rehydration, you will recover your ideal weight in one week. And a passable face, with hair growing back. Your muscle tone will return through electrostimulation. You will soon be able to walk somewhat. Have I reassured you? Your hormone levels show a fairly marked increase in anxiety.”
“If it will calm you down, your neuronal network is being very effectively redeployed. Your identity, your speech, your emotional and social skills are operational.”
Abruptly I start to bawl like I’ve never bawled in my life. A massive sadness, without a source, horrible. My lungs crumple up like tracing paper. Breathing rips me apart.
“According to the psychological tests from the simulator, you are an explorer, Sohan.”
“Stop saying Sohan the way She did! Stop talking like Her! You’re not Stella!!”
“Do you desire a change in vocal register? We can offer you the voice of your mother, your brother, seven of your Terran friends, or a star of your choice. Do you have a preference?”
“Go fuck yourself! I want a metallic voice, cold, neutral, a robot voice. A voice that says what you are, ‘Aphelia.’ That doesn’t lie!”
“I have not been programmed to lie, if I may be so bold. At least, not to my knowledge…”
The simulation has begun. I found myself at the top of a mound, facing hills of tall grasses, rustling with stellar wind, as far as the eye could see. The air was tangible and lashed my cheeks. Turning around, I found a desert of pink sand at my back, descending in a gentle slope toward an ocean. I was at the edge of two biotopes. I could suck up the sand and compact it. I instinctively approached the ocean. How long did the simulation last? An hour? A day? A week? Impossible to say. I lost consciousness several times, as if my body was powering down by itself under the overload of data to assimilate. And I was still incredibly cold. I felt my blood circulating more and more easily; it didn’t soothe anything, though. It even made it worse. With each diastole, I had the impression that the liquid nitrogen went on a little merry-go-round ride through my organs before coming back to be pumped. Drinking an ice cold can on a high-altitude terrace, in the middle of winter, when you’re hoping for a hot tea.
But the simulation was the only piece of good news since I left hibernation. It forced me to find my footing in my mind. It showed me a possible future, without Stella, exiled at the end of the galaxy, yet alive, still alive and with the hope of encountering human beings, of breaking my solitude. Of facing the insane challenge of rebuilding humanity far from Earth, far from the cradle where our miracle had been born.
The simulation didn’t show me what I would be capable of doing when I hauled myself out of the hibernacle. It had the intelligence to show me the world in which I would be able to live in a few months, if everything went well. A world in which I would be able to build my house, help construct a city, to exploit the planet’s resources, sell, buy, trade, communicate, share. A world in which I would be able to choose the political system in which I wanted to live, in which I would have my own ship for exploring planets, in which I would be able to protect, if needed, my territory, with weapons. A pioneer’s world in which utopia was at last possible and would be contingent on me, on my way of helping others, too, of welcoming Earth’s exiles, who would arrive in ever greater waves.
The exploration of unknown planets would offer a new challenge, unique in mankind’s history, living with maximal risk, ceaselessly bordered by the necessity of survival – the other pioneers’ attitude was still undecidable, impossible to predict, certainly – nonetheless, I sensed that after what we had lived through, the responsibility of bearing humanity to a place where it could still stand upright, create and think, love and support one another, would produce a new renaissance. A richer, more welcoming and benevolent civilization than the one I had left, morally destroyed by the abject war to save one’s hide.
To build, to communicate and collaborate, to pool resources and help one another, such was the vision that I felt taking shape within me, even if it meant defending it against those aggressive and egotistical men who would want to reproduce, at the farthest reaches of the stars, the ignominies that they had committed on Earth.
Acquiring one skill after another, I felt my yearning and my energy return. And with the desire to leave, at last, this sarcophagus that stank of death. To set out to discover Alioth, which we continued to fly over from every angle, and upon which we spotted craters and seas, mountains and forests, a mind-boggling landscape, yet recalling Earth, leaving points of reference, reassuring footholds.
… to be continued
Written by Alain Damasio
Translated by Alexander Dickow