Blueshift

They got me through subdermal registration. I’d taken the precaution of digging the chip out of my arm, sewing myself shut, and letting it heal. Only thing is I didn’t take into account the nanos. As I tried to make it past customs, the nanos showed up on my scan like a thousand tiny internal bees, buzzing and moving through my circulatory system. None even at my arm, where the chip released them as a last ditch effort, but all throughout the rest of my body.

It’s a three strikes and you’re going to penal situation. Funny, no one’s played baseball in a couple hundred years, but the phrase still remains. Some things just stick. Anyway, they asked if I had anything to say about the nanos. I kept my mouth shut, but I was already incriminated. My parole officer gave up on me. Recommended I go to penal.

It’s a generation ship. Built to last a thousand lifetimes, and with the capability of sustaining all of those lives through nanosleep. No need for cryo or preservation, because the nanos do all the pruning at the cellular level. You could wake up a thousand years in the future and be just the same as you were when you went to sleep.

This ship has me thinking of Australia. Legend goes that before Austrolasia, Australia used to be its own continent. There used to be an empire called The Brits, and they sent their nastiest to a penal colony in Australia. (Still feels weird saying Australia instead of Austrolasia.) Anyway, move the clocks forward a couple decades and you’ve got a fully functional country born of the descendants of criminals.

Wishful thinking to compare this ship to Australia? Maybe. Either way, you wouldn’t want to be on board. They don’t have much in the way of actionable punishments other than The Hole.

They can’t execute you, but what they can do is keep you in nanosleep indefinitely. Rumor is that some of the guys have been in The Hole for hundreds of years. Hard to tell who, because when you peer through the thick glass of their pods, you see nothing but the standard issue morphsuits. Nothing to give them away like state of dress. Can’t judge by haircuts either, because they’re all bald. Nanosleep does that to you after a while. Like in the old days, before they cured cancer, people used to say you’d go bald just like that. No eyebrows, nothing.

So I got into fights. Out of camera range, away from patrols. I got guys so pissed off that they’d attack me in plain sight later on, get detained and put into nanosleep. Somehow I got through without so much as a slap on the wrist.

You forget faces after a while. I wish I could say that’s a reversible side effect, but it’s not. The disease is time itself. Your wife, kids, parents… All of them go away. Tabula rasa. Just wiped, man. Nothing.

It’s easy to get institutionalized if you’re not proactive. Dudes staring out the windows, watching as we blueshift from the ship’s speed. Their heads lolling, holes for eyes. We call them Husks. Might be a fate even worse than permanent nanosleep.

I keep myself busy. Read every book I can find. When after a few years I finish all the books in the ship’s scant library, I write my own. Work with the prison librarian to bind them by hand, produce covers.

I start my own library. The librarian helps me out with a number of volumes, but I supply my own, too. Most of them fiction, but some old books from what I can remember. I read, we fly. To where, nobody knows.

We’re not meant to know where the destination is. I ask the librarian. He flushes like the first time we met, when he wasn’t yet sure that I was one of the “good guys.” Funny term, that one. Everything is relative, not just time.

I read up on Einstein, find out about the idea of time dilation. Of something moving so fast that time is slowed down relative to it. Works with supermassive black holes too, but it’s more feasible for humans to get a ship going that fast than it is to make it out of a black hole alive.

It’s to the point where six months aboard a ship traveling at nearly lightspeed would be a thousand years back home. We’ve been blueshifting for months. Who knows what’s back there on Earth.

It’s hard to keep track of time, but one day we reach it. A nearly barren, inhospitable desert planet. We all hop off, stretch our legs like it’s been nothing more than a long car ride. We enjoy being in spacesuits for the first time. This is penal. This is a new home. So why does it feel so familiar?

I run the library for weeks before it hits me. I sneak out at night. Wait for a sandstorm that will cover my tracks. And then. And then:

Gleaming in the distance, planted in the sand. The Brooklyn Bridge. Spanning from one desert plateau to the other.

Huh.

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THE DIVE

Turbulence isn’t much of a factor as our ship enters what used to be the planet’s atmosphere, much to the surprise of everyone on board. Early readings pointed to atmospheric inactivity, but you can never be too certain. The water planet has an eerie stillness to it, and I can see as much as I watch our approach through the window. An orb of blue for as far as the eye can see, the water absolutely still since the planet it finds itself on has long since died.

It’s a routine stop: harvest what resources we can for the ship, take some readings and mappings for data purposes, and maybe see if we can’t dig up a few things for the boys over in Archaeology.

Today is the sixth day of the sixth month. The year is 3944 AC. I don’t mention to the others that today marks the three thousand nine hundred forty-fourth anniversary of the collapse of our planet, as that’d be unnecessary. For nomadic castaways like us, the fact that we have no world to call our own has been embedded in our DNA as intrinsically as our physical makeup.

Being as I’m the lead researcher, I get the dubious honor of first dibs on a wet suit. The things are all the same, and since they’re composed of nanomachines that can reorganize and mend themselves as necessary, it’s not like my choice will matter much. I pick the first one I find and instruct the suit that I’d prefer it to change its color to azure. I’ve always been a blue guy. The nanomachines comply at once.

The perfluorocarbon liquid in my suit’s helmet goes down my lungs easy, a result of a task that’s been repeated ad nauseum. It’s a neat trick, this breathing water–lets you dive down as far as you want since the liquid’s pressure is pretty comparable to water, as opposed to the plain old oxygen our divers used to use centuries ago. There’s no risk of the bends, either, which is a nice bonus. Progress.

I send the drone out before I drop in. If it doesn’t go haywire (as the stupid thing has a tendency to do), then it should collect up a decent supply of water for our reservoirs while us humans swim below in search of artifacts.

I set my torch on as I begin my descent, long-submerged bits of matter stir around in a cloud and flutter past my vision in the same way dust will when light comes in through a window. Whatever this stuff is, it hasn’t been stirred around in God knows how long, and I almost feel guilty as I rouse it from its weightless slumber.

It’s kind of hard for living beings to exist on a dead planet (go figure), but I keep my eyes peeled anyway. We’ve been wrong before, and while I have to die someday, I’d prefer my last moments to not be spent in the jaws of some aquatic alien monster.

A shape begins to appear below me, faintly visible in my torch’s light. It isn’t moving, though, and it looks fairly geometric in shape. I adjust my suit’s fins so I can drop right beside the thing, whatever the hell it is. The other researchers follow my cue and head toward it too.

I can’t believe my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of weird shit over the years; rock formations on igneous planets that had to be the work of intelligent hands, mountains made entirely of diamond, I’ve even seen alien microorganisms under the microscope. But never in all my years have I seen this.

It’s an alien city of impeccable design and ingenious craftsmanship–spires and towers stretch up toward the ocean’s surface like snorkels that have since been submerged, strange looking roadways snake and twist around like capillaries which must’ve once carried alien travellers as if they were macrocosmic blood cells. And all of it is as pristine as it must’ve been when this planet used to be dry, each construction frozen in time as if the whole thing is some sort of photograph.

All of our readings told us that this planet’s been long dead, if it ever lived at all. Nothing in the data pointed to the possibility of an advanced alien civilization once living here. But like I said, we’ve been wrong before.

I continue my descent, my pulse audible and carrying loudly in this liquid medium of the perfluorocarbon in my helmet. I make my way for one of those snaking roadways down below.

When I touch down, a cloud of silt kicks up that refuses to clear for several minutes, as if the planet itself wants to hide its secrets. But it finally clears and allows me a view of where I stand.

Right there in front of me a sign is erected, rusted in parts but still visible thanks to my torch’s light. There’s a message on it. My heart stops as I realize I can read it. It’s written in an ancient language. A dead language from a dead planet. My planet. And the language is English. This is what it says:

WELCOME TO CHICAGO!

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