Chains of Gravity

It wasn’t until long after I died that I realized that there is no such thing as a coincidence.

I was born on July 20, 1969, the day they landed on the moon. The way my Mom told it, I just had to be there in time to hear Buzz utter his famous first words. As a child I saw the space program as the future of humanity. I spent days imagining I was an astronaut, hiding out in my room as I explored strange new worlds. I could just see myself out there, standing majestically on a large outcropping, claiming a new planet for settlement. By the time I was 17 I had the habit of watching every shuttle launch live on TV and imagining myself in the cockpit. My dreams died quickly with the loss of the Challenger shuttle. By the time I was in college I had other interests, but I still kept an eye on the space program. It was not encouraging. The American space program was floundering, it seemed that there was no progress towards manned exploration of the planets. It was like they were in a holding pattern and I was losing interest.

When I met my wife I had not been following the space program for years. So it was no surprise that I totally missed the story about first space tourist. But Dennis Tito was making news the day of our wedding, May 6th, 2001. It was probably a bad idea to watch the story on the TV in the hotel bar on our honeymoon, but hindsight is always 20-20.

My daughter Sara was born was October 4th, 2004, the same day the x-prize was won, paving the way for private space flight. I took it as a sign and invested everything I had in private space flight. My dream seemed closer than ever.

Funny thing about investing your life savings, even when your stocks go way up, you still have nothing in the bank until you sell those stocks. But if you sell too early you lose what you could have made. So you make a few sacrifices until your ship comes in. It hadn’t really occurred to me that Margaret would not want to make those sacrifices. It did not really surprise me when she left, what did surprised me was how little I missed her when she was gone. She took everything but the stock and Sara. By then it was obvious that Sara loved me more anyway.

The day I turned 50 was supposed to be the greatest day of my life. I had finally saved up enough for a sub orbital trip and I was going into space. The day before, July 19th, 2019, Virgin Galactic’s Voyager blew up for reasons unknown. Even though I was scheduled to fly on the Intrepid, all flights were canceled until they knew what it was. By the time they concluded it was pilot error, I was grounded for my own reasons unknown. One of the physicals for the next flight had discovered a dark spot on my x-rays and sent me in for more tests. It turned out to be cancer, easily treatable, but another delay in my trip. By the time I was fit again, I was 53 and my daughter was getting married, so the spaceflight fund was put on hold to cover the costs of the marriage.

I gave up saving when I was 64. Spaceflight was still the luxury of the rich, we had not colonized any other planets (a telepresence on Mars does not count) and no real advancements had been made in the last 10 years. I was old and bitter, and felt that humanity had lost it’s vision.

I wanted to die when I was 70 years old, but I couldn’t afford it. The scans that would turn my brain into a computer program were still too expensive. I sold everything I had for the hope of a better afterlife, but it was not enough. I had enough to pay for the procedure, but I had forgotten one crucial detail. In order to house my new electronic self, I needed to set up a monthly payment. There I was, no home, no possessions, and lots of money I dare not spend.

By the time I could afford to die, I was bitter about everything, so that really affected my scan. Back then the personality scans were really only a surface scan of active nucleation sites and so I was a bitter old man for the next 3 years until my upgrades came in. It must have been hard to visit me then, but Sara came every month, without fail. I try to tell myself that she would have left her husband even if I hadn’t been a serious drain on their finances. I’ll never know.

When I got my upgrades I was finally a mobile program and I started earning my keep. I did what most of the dead did those days, I was a data miner for a large corporation. It was the most boring work I have ever done. Even with my program tweaked so I liked it as much as possible, I still felt a dull ache of boredom. Because we did not need sleep, they treated us like any other program, to be used and ignored. We felt like slaves with no real prospect for freedom.

Actually, a slave is at least afforded the luxury of being alive. Because we are dead, we have no rights. What little free time we have can be taken away if we do not meet our quota. I used to complain about this to Sara, but I stopped when I realized it depressed her.

Most of my life was governed by satisfying my body. Now that it is gone, I lead a simpler life, devoid of food, sex, and even sleep. To be honest I don’t really miss it. Oh, I gripe about it with the others but really, all that stuff was just a hassle. But the one thing that has stayed with me is the lure of space. It is like a siren’s call, tempting me on to unknown adventures. If I could still dream, I am sure that visions of far away worlds ready for exploration would permeate my slumber. But space cowboys are entertainment, not fact. I guess there is just not enough money in it, no one really wants to go into space anymore.

Time doesn’t mean the same thing when you are dead. You are always active, but sometimes minutes can be hours, and other times a month is gone and I am surprised when Sara visits. I worry about her sometimes, she is getting old, forgetting things. I know data mining is boring, but it scares me when I remember her childhood better than her.

I am not proud of how I got transferred to the Orion program, but I felt like there was no other choice. I was mining a bit off the beaten path when I found my ticket to freedom. I think the director was surprised when an electronic person contacted him, but certain information has real world power. They really should not be surprised when a data miner actually finds something interesting, and despite what the director thinks I really did destroy all copies after I was transferred.

I think Sara suspected something, but she did not want to ask and possibly upset our delicate relationship. Sara is dying of lymph cancer and has real death in her will. It infuriates me that she would undergo so many treatments to keep her body alive, and then just give up when death comes. We try not to discuss it anymore.

The news about my ship came weeks before Sara died. I have tried to tell her about it, but her mind wanders so much, I wonder if she understood any of it. When she finally died, I tried not to see it as a personal attack.

Today is the day. Exactly one hundred and fifty years after the moon landing we are going to the stars. They were ready last week, but they decided to wait to make it seem more dramatic. I wanted to leave as soon as possible, but when they explained the significance, I realized my life has always been leading up to this.

Launch is a few hours away and I feel almost giddy. I know the systems check is redundant, but I do it anyway to keep my mind occupied. My living crew has just come aboard and we are just waiting for a green light from mission control. I guess “crew” is stretching the term a bit, organic material for terraforming can’t really contribute much, but they are the reason I am flying this ship. I heard once that talking to plants helps, so I try to lighten the mood with a joke. I think they like it, but with slime molds, you just can’t tell. I was about to tell another joke when mission control gives us the go ahead. The countdown seems redundant, but when I feel the engines kick in, nothing else matters.

Free at last!