Space Station Solvychegodsk
I gazed out the porthole. Stars slowly danced in front of my eyes, their light tinted blue. And between us and them: absolutely nothing, simply the void of space. Even the sun itself was barely noticeable compared to its more distant kin.
“Haven’t seen you around here before,” an older woman commented as she sat down next to me, the crash of her tray on the table startling me out of my thoughts. “What are you waiting for?”
I lowered my fork. I had only been aboard the station for a few hours, and I could already tell this was the standard form of introduction between its inhabitants. I supposed to was the best way of distinguishing between the various cliques. “Enlightened despotism. And yourself?”
“Robot successionist. They’re our natural heirs. People are too obsessed with their own genetic survival, when it’s our memes that truly matter. Had Australopithecus acted like we do, we’d never have evolved. We should be encouraging our children to explore the universe and build their own societies, not deliberately handicapping them for fear of being overtaken. Besides, it never works. Just look at Chronos.” She examined me carefully. “Too young for Fredericka IV, am I right? She would have been perfect for you.”
“Before my time, unfortunately. I missed her by a few decades. My father worked with her, though.”
“Has it already been that long? Ah well, you’ll get another chance. By the way, I’m Maria.”
“Christina. It’s nice to meet you. Have you been here long?”
“Local time or ground time?” she asked with a laugh. “Let’s see…” She checked the small monitor on her forearm. “I’ve been here for, my word, two hundred and eighty-three years, ground time…”
“Well, you don’t look a day over two hundred. How long is that in local time?”
She tapped at the monitor. “Almost twenty years, would you believe it?”
My stomach dropped. “That long? Does it get frustrating? The waiting?”
“Oh, it’s not so bad. Good food, perfectly controlled weather, interesting company, and if you like to argue, there’s no place better. The distance and the time dilation help, of course. ‘’Tis pleasant, when the sea is high and the winds are dashing the waves about, to watch from the shores the struggles of another,’ she recited. I’d certainly rather be up here than down on one of the worlds. Probably wouldn’t have made it to my age, either.
“I won’t lie. There are days when I think I’ll die here without seeing my dream come to pass, but I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last person to die dissatisfied. I’ve thought about leaving and trying to join one of the smaller groups that send out a small colony towards the unexplored systems, but I just don’t think it’ll work in the long-term. Whenever we find them, I don’t think humans will accept independent robots. They’ll destroy them unless we can reach a state of acceptance,” she sighed. “Oh, but listen to me go on.
“At least your revolution has come before. It’ll come again. They’re like rabbits: once one shows up, there’s no end to it. All you have to do is wait and watch and scribble out the occasional manifesto to your allies on the ground. It’s important to stay in touch, or they just forget about you up here.”
“Do you ever think about going back home?”
“To Ganymede..? No, no… Too crowded. Too much competition and selfishness and noise: everything I hate about humanity. At least here, things are tolerable.”
“Maria!” shouted a man faintly. “Maria, where are you?!”
Maria craned her neck. “Thomas! Is that you?”
“Maria!” A short man ran up to the table, gasping for air. The light glistened off of his balding skull. “Maria! They’ve just started a Neo-Lycurgan colony around Tau Ceti and the last ship for the next two years is leaving in a week!” He got down onto one knee and clasped his sweaty hands around hers, still panting. “Do say you’ll come with me. Just think of what we can accomplish together!”
Maria deftly withdrew her hand from his grip. “I’m sorry, Thomas, but it just wouldn’t work. Separation is only a temporary solution, and I can’t bear to enslave intelligent machines. But you have my most sincere wishes for success.” She leaned in and kissed his forehead.
The light left his eyes for a moment, but immediately resurged. “If you ever change your mind, you’re more than welcome to join us, my dear. I’ll miss you.”
“And I, you.”
Thomas smiled and ran off. Maria watched him depart before turning back to me with a wistful smile. “I do hope it works out for him. I wonder whether I should join him someday.”
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