*

The Weed Hatch

I feel that I’ve been lost in space within this pod for so long, I can only have a certain amount of time left. But what will eventually kill me is still a mystery. There’s plenty of food in the dispenser—or the dials at least indicate that. And as you can see, my mind is pretty strong, despite the growing solitude.

Holmbee died weeks ago from his version of old age; a peaceful sleep spread across his face, but his last words I’ve already forgotten.

I’ve decided to write these last journal pages in the form of a letter to you, dear Mum, in the hope one day they’ll be found. But, of course, you’ll be dead by now, after all these years … unless space travel, in a peculiarly Einsteinian way, has altered the time zones in which each of us lives.

I’ve chosen you, Mum, because, when I was a boy, we often sat down and just talked, human being to human being. Dad never had time to listen to me, but you did, knowing that a growing lad needed to get things off his chest. So, be patient, Mum, while I spend my inevitable last days in “talking” to you again.

.
Anyway, getting down to it, I still carry out the duties which the Universal Corporation left with me. You wouldn’t believe it, but, despite all modern science, I have to clean out the pod’s weed hatch, as if it were one of those Canal Boats slowly plying the canals of Ancient England. Debris gets cluttered up in that hatch, you see, things that should never have existed, for space was always thought to be empty. Some of the clutter actually must have once lived for real, since tangled fur often clogs up the pod’s perpetuator.

Naturally, I keep a look out for enemy ships. That was, if you remember, the job that Holmbee and I were commissioned to do out here. Lookouts, scouts, reconnaissance experts. But, we’ve not seen anything … except, once, the flicker of a tail which made me think a living creature was being sucked up by our exhaust pistons.

The whole job has been pointless. But, I still stare out into the black sahara of space. Hourlessly, I pine for at least a glimpse of those enemies who we were told are nearer to a human form than was good for them. If I eventually die while I am jabbing out the vital code upon the podboard computer — diagramatising, on our ‘watch’, some establishment of the existence of such alien enemies — then it would seem to make the whole gig worthwhile somehow.

By the way, Mum, the self-imposed nights are more lonely because sleep has grown empty of dreams.

.
Mum, a number of days have passed since I last wrote to you. This letter that I handwrite to you has had to take second place, for events overtook it.

Soon after putting my antique pen to rest, last time, I saw the speck of a glint in the “sky”. It darted like a fish. So I had to keep alert for following its path, in case it encroached on the man-made space lanes—wherethrough “cargo has to pass” as it says in the instruction log. Maybe it was a figment of my dulled imagination, but it did warrant vigilance. At least for a time.

.
I hope you are well. Have you still got that necklace I left for you as a keepsake? It took a whole year’s earnings (but don’t worry as, of course, I’ve no use for money now) and it did set off your neck a real treat. I hope you wear it. I picture you wearing it, anyway. It sparkled so, didn’t it, and I hope it still does.

.
A read-out has come through on the computer, the first for several months (or is it years?) A red letter day!

What did it say? I hear you asking. It used words I could not fully understand, but I gained the impression that Earth is still alive, even though you, dear Mum, may be too old yourself. I’ll read it again later, to see if I can make head or tail of it.

The weed hatch and the bilge still need plenty of attention, I can tell you. This part of space must be crawling with life but, damn me, I can’t see any of it from the pod’s cockpit. They must creep up on me and then get caught up in the workings.

.
How’s Dad? Still making your life a misery? I certainly hope not.

.
I’ve looked at that read-out again, because there’s not much otherwise happening. I’ve seen only one unidentified flying object since that last one I told you about. It looked as if it had square-rigging.

.
Other than that, nothing much. Even the weed hatch has grown emptier. Loneliness becomes worse and I pray for aliens to turn up and scare the bejesus out of me.

.
I’ve jettisoned Holmbee’s body. I know he would have wanted me to do it, because the smell was getting too much. At first, the decay was a welcome relief from the clinical sameness, but then it became too foul and fetid even for me. He’s floating quite close to the pod, slowly twirling on an unseen spit. I cannot bear watching him, so my reconnaissance duties have had to go hoots.

Never mind, I’d rather write to you. Who knows, but this may become a historical document one day. A primary source.

.
The read-out’s beginning to make more sense. It seems as if somebody has invented immortality back home on Earth, a condition Mankind has always been after. I can’t believe it, but whatever is meant by “immortality” is a state I can never attain, being so far from the “medicine spoons”, as I am. Does that mean that you, dear Mum, may still be alive? Still wearing the necklace I gave you? In many ways, I hope not. Misery is only bearable when you know it’s going to end. Happiness is only at its happiest when you can optimise it within a strict time frame. Do you see what I mean? You were already old enough when I so proudly placed that necklace around your scrawny neck. It did set your face off beautifully, though, and I’m glad I made that one last sacrifice before I departed on this mission.

.
Another read-out’s been gibbering from the computer. Oodles of ancient pyjama paper with facts and figures littering it. Apparently, immortality’s only half the story.

.
Mum, I’ve seen sights that would make your hair curl. Outlandish faces at the porthole, so wrinkled and evil, I can’t believe they’re anything but dreams … except they sometimes fetch Holmbee up to the glass and smear his face across it, making green or yellow streaks and smudges. These are the creatures parts of whom I once trawled from the weed hatch, but now they must know the knack of not getting themselves caught up in it. Their bearded mouths lust for the flesh on my bones, no doubt. Their doleful yet burning eyes tell me that they want to come in. It’s troubling to watch. Are these the inhabitants of the enemy ships that Holmbee and I were sent out here to log? If so, I can tell you, that they seem to represent no danger to us humans, for their limbs are long and weak, knotted with threadbare patches of fur, and twiggy fingers unable to grasp.

.
They’ve eaten Holmbee. His bare bones swim along with the pod, making shapes that I used to doodle as a kid when sitting on your lap.

.
Mum, do tell me, but has immortality, so-called, changed humanity? It must have done, I suppose. Having beaten death at its own game, maybe the badness has to come out in other ways. They say Mankind came out of the primaeval soup, evolving from fish to walkabouts almost overnight in the scheme of things.

I can’t reckon any of it.
Love you forever, XXX

PS: The necklace I later found in the weed hatch—sparkling amid a mess of flesh and fur—is more than I can bear or even explain.

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