The days, the weeks, the months, the years spent staring out the window. I’ve been here four years now, just sitting, gazing out the port. When I took the contract to join the terraforming crew, I knew I’d miss the Earth, knew I’d feel the outpost walls crushing down on me. I thought I could handle it all, the isolation, the loneliness, the claustrophobia; that the promise of a lifetime of pay in exchange for five years of my life would get me through. I think it would have been enough too, if it weren’t for some sick asshole.
Someone, whose name I don’t even know to curse, had to have a sense of humour about their job. The terraforming is done by self replicating nanotech, these tiny little silver machines that digest the rock of the planet to release oxygen. The nanotech form little colonies, all functioning independently toward the same greater goal. Why somebody thought it would be a good idea to make the colonies take the shape of perfectly formed blades of grass and flowers I’ll never figure out. When you look out of any port in the outpost all you can see is a beautiful silver garden stretching out beyond the horizon.
Here we are, six people, tripping over each other for years, all while surrounded by a vast alien garden we can see but never touch. The image is perfected by the little service drones moving between colonies, designed to look like silver bees and butterflies, collecting data from the flower colonies like they were drinking nectar.
Every one of us has fallen under the trance of the garden at some point, staring out into the garden for days. When you’re free of the spell, you have to wander the outpost, making sure the people lost staring out the ports eat, sleep and drink. Sometimes if you stare out too long, the garden begins to look real. Two of our comrades have fallen prey to this trance, walking unprotected out of the airlock. Everyone staring out the ports was forced to watch as their friends blood boiled in the vacuum, their last agonizing movements throwing perfect little silver blades and blooms high into the air, to flutter down in the slow motion of the low gravity.
We don’t have anywhere to store the bodies, so they are left were they fell, covered in a death cowl of silver. Once a month I’m allowed outside to check on stations scattered around the area.
It is these times that save me.
I will wander slowly through the garden, my boots trampling down the grass beneath me. I’ll let my fingers flow through the long grass, feeling the strange way it bends and moves underneath my gloves. I’ll pick a few of the flowers, throwing petals into the air in front of me as I walk. There they slowly fall like snowflakes, seeming to defy gravity.
Recently they’ve begun to spin gently in the very weak winds of the partially formed atmosphere. The sunlight glints off them as they spin and fall, flashing into your eyes. In these moments, when nobody is watching, I weep at the beauty of the garden.
Still I end these trips the same way, lying on my back on the grass, looking up for that one bright speck among billions. Four years gone, and a lifetime from the planet I love. I’ll sit and watch that single speck until the oxygen warning alarm wakes me from my reverie, letting me know it’s time to decide, to return to base, or unlatch my helmet and stay forever in this garden that blooms in silver.
Sebastian Tolhurst is an author living in Mississauga, but dreaming of the stars.