A Matter of Perspective
Chan looked into the yawning blackness before him with the same rapt expression one might hold for a child. It was truly where he felt at ease. Nimble fingers danced over the controls before him, so fast that they nearly blurred, correcting a miniscule course deviation before it escalated.
He had been in the couch for nine hours now, and he could easily manage nine more, but Morgan was coming through the airlock to relieve him. He mouthed her traditional greeting along with her.
“Shift over, mate. Let a real pilot in,” she said as his beak moved in synch.
“If you were a real pilot, you’d be an eagle,” he replied, the response as rote as her intro. He stood from the grav couch, though, and let the sleek hawk take his place. She keyed in her bio-code and the couch moved and changed shape, morphing to fit her larger profile.
“Argyle has some seriously good coffee in the galley,” Morgan said as she reviewed the information on the screens before her.
“Sweet. Hey, there’s an asteroid strike in there from yesterday. You forgot to sign off on the ‘no damage’ statement. I highlighted it so you could find it easier. Don’t want the Captain crawling up your tail about it.”
“No shit. Thanks, bro,” she said, holding up a fist. He tapped her knuckles with his own.
“That’s about it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Get some rest.”
He laughed. “Rest? What’s that? That’s something you slow-moving folks do, right?”
She cut her eyes at him, shaking her head in mock sadness. He threw a salute her way and stepped through the airlock gate. As it cycled behind him and left Morgan alone in the command suite, he hummed a tune of love and loss that seemed to be all the rage in the common quarters. The hallway was open before him and he took off at a quick jog, his boots barely making a sound given his light step.
The galley was sparsely populated at the hour, with a couple of mechanics sitting at a table and discussing the day’s tasks. Soft music drifted in through overhead speakers. Argyle looked up as Chan entered and a big smile stretched back his lips. The cook began filling a coffee cup and had it waiting by the time Chan reached the counter and grabbed a tray.
“Good to see you,” Argyle said as he passed the full mug across. Chan took it with a grin.
“Been needing this,” he said.
“You could have sent a message. I’d have had someone bring you a cup.”
“I know, but once I’m in the cockpit I lose track of everything else.”
Chan dropped toasted bread and jam onto the tray. He didn’t bother with a plate, trusting that the trays had been as clean as the plate would and not wanting to add to the washing burden. He grabbed another slice of toast and tucked it into his mouth, tearing out a bite.
“Thanks, Argyle,” he mumbled around the bread.
“Any time,” the cook said. He returned to the prep area as Chan went to a table.
“Well, look who it is,” boomed a voice. Chan looked up, shaking his head as he saw the massive muzzle looking down at him.
“Morning, Marcus,” he said. His fingers flicked in the direction of a chair. “Have a seat.”
The big marine wore the casual shipboard uniform, little more than a grey jumpsuit with his name and rank tabs. The holstered flechette pistol and broad-bladed cutlass on his belt would be an impediment to using the chair, but Marcus spun it around and sat in it backward, leaning across the back of it as he looked on the small pilot.
“Busy night?” Marcus asked.
“Saw a star,” Chan said with a shrug. “Maybe two. You?”
A paw big enough to wrap around most of Chan’s face waved in a dismissive gesture. “Stayed in my rack. Read a book.”
Chan looked up, eyes widening. “Holy shit, Marcus. You can read?”
“Suck it, birdbrain.”
The pilot made an obscene gesture and they both laughed. Another marine passed by and slapped a carbonated drink of some kind into Marcus’s outstretched paw and he cracked the seal, slurping at the pinkish liquid within. Chan saw that it was one of the stimulant drinks that he generally avoided. The coffee he drank because he liked the flavor, but the last thing Chan needed was a stim.
“So another week, then,” Marcus said. His can made a clunking sound on the table.
“Yeah,” Chan said with a nod. He slathered jam on toast. “Figure a week, maybe ten days to shuttle everything down, then a month back home.”
“The colonists are getting antsy.”
Chan made a high pitched sound that Marcus knew was laughter. “Antsy? Wait ’til they get their asses dropped into their new home. They’ll be too damned busy to be antsy.”
“We had to actually break up a fight yesterday. Two of the farmers got in an argument over some lizardshit vegetable production method. Started punching and kicking. My boys said it was the worst excuse for a fight they’d seen in years.”
“What happened to them?”
“We put them the brig ’til planetfall. Ju’oth gave them adjoining cells so they have to watch each other in the head. That ought to foster a sense of camaraderie.”
“People do funny shit this far from home,” Chan said, biting into his toast. “Makes you wonder what they thought they were going to accomplish.”
“I don’t think it’s the distance so much as the surroundings. None of these people have been locked into a ship for more than an hour or two in their lives. Now they’re in here for a month. I can’t even remember what that’s like.”
“Yeah, but you’re weird.”
“We all are, pal,” the mastiff said, crushing the empty can and rising to deposit it into a bin.
Chan waved as Marcus left. He smiled to himself at the thought of the two colonists in the brig, but his comment to Marcus rang in his ears. These people were flying hundreds of thousands of miles from their homes, places they would likely never see again. He pictured the house he grew up in, and charted the distance in his head within seconds. Years of astrogation made the task a simple one, but the distance itself was no small number. He marveled at the thought of how far he had traveled in his career.
He watched as a trio of ocelots from the mercenaries contracted as settlement security entered and stepped into the line, filling their plates in the relaxed but orderly manner of career soldiers. They took a table not far from him, conversing quietly as they ate. The question ran through his head and Chan wandered over to their table. The conversation ended as he stepped within clean earshot.
“Excuse me,” Chan said. “Got a weird question for you guys. I was talking with one of the marines and he was telling me about the colonists and how far they were from home. I know where I am in relation to my place, but what about you? How far from home are you?”
The ocelots looked around for a moment, as if wondering whether some sort of trick was being played. Finally, one of them looked back to Chan. His eyes had a lonely, haunted expression, as if he had seen and done everything. The ocelot shrugged his shoulders and answered.
“A million years.”