Traveler

A young man, of a nondescript age of somewhere between 25-35 to the casual observer, sits alone at the side of a long formal dining table. He is wearing loose white, cotton clothing, possibly sleep wear. The dark wooden table is surrounded by perhaps two dozen high-backed ornate chairs, but is clear except for some recently used dishes in front of the man. He wipes his mouth with a fine linen napkin, pushes back his chair and quietly stands. As he leaves his dishes behind and walks slowly towards the door, we see he is in a large room with dark paneling and enormous classical oil paintings on the wall. Ornate wall sconces cast a low even light. Stepping through the doorway he emerges in a somewhat incongruous long white hallway, brightly lit from above. As he moves silently down the hall in his soft slippers we catch glimpses into other open doors he passes. One appears to be a large library stretching into the distance with no back wall in sight, another a large gymnasium holding a variety of exercise equipment, and yet another a formal living room or perhaps a lounge of some type. Each appears to be of a similar dark wood style to the dining room, filled with heavy dark furniture, fitting of an old English manor, with only the bright, smooth white hallway standing out of place.

As he progresses we gradually become aware of a distant but growing sound. A slow electronic beep. Relaxed in its pace and tone, yet of growing urgency in its persistence. Finally, after some minutes and more doors, the young man reaches a slightly smaller door at the end of the hallway. He deftly operates the unusual handle and opens the door comfortably, as if he has done this many times before. Inside the door is a well lit, but very small room, or maybe even a closet would be a better description for the small space, with the only prominent feature being a ladder ascending the far wall. The man immediately begins to smoothly ascend the ladder as the beeping grows closer and louder. He climbs deliberately up the ladder for several minutes, climbing for several stories worth of distance. At the top of the ladder is a small round hatch-door with a round wheel latching mechanism which would not seem out of place on a submarine. Holding a ladder rung with one hand, his other hand easily spins the well lubricated silent wheel, then pushes up on the hatch to open it.

The electronic beep instantly increases in volume with the steel barrier removed. We see now, from above, the man climb from the hole in the floor into a small space. There are electronic consoles, panels and screens surrounding him, as would be found in a control room, or maybe even a cockpit of an advanced vehicle. He steps, crouched slightly, to a large, low, comfortable seat and lowers himself into it, with a slight hiss as the leather upholstery releases its air. Reaching forward he depresses the small, square button flashing in time with the beep. Instantly the sound ceases.

As we pull back we can see he is indeed in a cockpit, surrounded on three sides with large, angled flat windows. As our view pulls back further to outside of the windows we see the vehicle to be a surprisingly small space capsule. Far too small, in fact, to contain the large living space which we know lies within. From the outside we observe the tapered nose, the flattened cylindrical body, and small section of body behind, glowing faintly on its rear surface as one would expect from a propulsion system of some kind. Inside, the man, who we now can easily assign the identity of pilot, carefully reads some urgently flashing text on a CRT in front of him, and taps a few keystrokes on a nearby keyboard, presumably a course correction or fuel re-allocation of some kind. The screen clears, then scrolls some text quickly by, then settles on an updated status screen:   Estimated Time to Destination: 987 years, 7 months, 14 days, 13 hours, 37 minutes, 14 seconds – the seconds ticking down slowly as to be expected. Our young pilot checks several other displays and gauges, then, with a small sigh, pulls himself up the chair and descends through the hatch. From a newly distant perspective outside of the small capsule we now become aware of the tremendous speed at which it is hurdling through the vast open voids of space.

The art of passing time alone, large quantities of time, is to never do anything quickly which can be done slowly, and always pursue any diversion which presents itself. And those are exactly what our pilot appears to do.

And so days pass into months, months pass into years, and pass into decades and so into centuries….

For quite some time he pursued a rather healthy active lifestyle, fitting of an astronaut or military man. Waking at a preset time which could be assigned the somewhat arbitrary value of “morning”. Respectable personal hygiene, healthy meals and a daily ritual of exercise in the gym. Walking on a treadmill, lifting weights or riding a stationary bike in the gymnasium.

Over time he became braver, or perhaps just more curious, and began to play more actively with the ship’s internal configuration system, adding, deleting or resizing rooms to fit his whims. The first thing accomplished was to stretch the gymnasium into a massive indoor space, larger than the largest of airplane hangers. Then came grass, trees, and a pond, all surrounded by a nice bike path. He could ride mile-long laps under a simulated sunny sky all day. He never allowed himself to continue growing the room beyond the reach of his vision, always leaving a far wall barely visible in the distance. He did not know, nor did he care to find out if the system had any limits to its capacity. His own sense of self preservation instinctively told him that growing a space to hold entire mountain ranges, or indeed even continents – large enough to get lost in forever – would not be to his advantage.  Or, as an interesting thought experiment, large enough to hold entire planetary systems – he had chuckled out loud when that thought had occurred to him and quoted Shakespeare’s King Lear to himself, “O, that way madness lies; let me shun that.”

When not pursuing physical activity he kept his mind active with intellectual pursuits. He read from his nearly endless collection of all human literature. In addition to the digital library in the computer, he had insisted on the inclusion of a large library of physical hardbound books. He enjoyed strolling slowly along the nearly endless rows of tall bookcases in the library, drawing his finger along the book spines dreamily until one struck his fancy. Slowly and deliberately (for any haste was his enemy) he worked his way through entire sets of novels. When the mood had struck him he delved into non-fiction, passing years studying history or science. Intelligent as he was, there were of course many advanced topics which he had to struggle to comprehend, but taking advantage of his greatest asset, time, he would patiently read and re-read texts until understanding dawned.  When he felt creative, he tried his hand at penning entire novels of his own. He modestly felt he eventually gained some competence of the form, and decided that his own work could be best enjoyed when read many years or decades later when he had forgotten the process of writing them and could enjoy them as if they had been written by someone else entirely. As indeed they were written by a different person who he once was. Sometimes he would indulge somewhat lesser pursuits, viewing movies and other programs from his video entertainment system or indulging in various forms of video games, nearly all of which would eventually fall under his mastery with the passage time.

As the years slowly passed he was, somewhat surprisingly, unchallenged by the potentially crippling (to some) effects of loneliness. As a young cadet back at the academy he had easily succeeded at the academic studies, but had somehow failed to fit in with the socializing of the other cadets. He soon learned that he was more comfortable alone with his books or computer than he was around other people. And so, many centuries ago, when he set out on his chosen path, he had accepted on some fundamental level the nature of the task ahead and embraced a solitary existence. He was not sure at the time if he would always be as comfortable by himself, but so far had managed to maintain a basic level of satisfaction with being always completely and utterly alone.

While loneliness did not haunt him, boredom was another matter entirely. A silent enemy, it was always there, just out of view, waiting for him, stalking him, seeking the perfect moment to strike. When it finally made its move, it crept upon him with a stealthy slowness which he had not expected. Even the best and brightest of people can only strive for perfection in life for so long before they must take a break, and embrace the imperfections of being human. He had stuck with his pursuit far longer than most people could have, several lifetimes in fact, but in the end perhaps that only made his fall that much harder.

Gradually over time he became less and less satisfied with his daily routines. Meals seemed to lose their flavor, and books lost their ability to hold his attention. Exercise, once invigorating and satisfying, began slowly to become a painful grind of repetition. It was perhaps some time into his 4th century when the scale finally tipped. One day he silenced his morning alarm, turned it off completely, then rolled over and stayed in bed. Eventually when he rose he indulged himself in junk food and beer in front of the video screen instead of breakfast in the dining room. As the hours rolled into days his descent rapidly progressed. After centuries of intellectual pursuit and study, his brain had somewhat suddenly decided it needed a vacation. It was not a conscious choice on his part, just something that seemed to happen on its own.

He spent almost all of his time in a poorly lit room with old sagging couches, antiquated music system and video screen. It was a room that in every way resembled nothing more than a basement family room with a moody teenager wasting a summer. The days grew into weeks, and then into months. He stopped bathing and consumed nothing but salty, or sugary junk food. Another striking new development was his interest in the pharmaceutical cabinet. He had always known it was there, and had occasionally accessed it for mild painkillers or sleep aids over the years, but now his agenda had changed. He was looking to numb a greater pain, to fill a vast emptiness inside. His knowledge of medicine, chemistry and pharmacology allowed him to pick and choose, mix and match, and sometimes even synthesize brand new choices. He combined his newly born habit with significant quantities of alcohol to increase the effects. He blasted music, stumbled around, yelled at the video screen or lay in a haze. Progressing to dangerously large quantities of whisky and narcotics he flopped around in a barely conscious state attempting to numb himself from the awareness of the slow passage of time. He did not think about or analyze his situation. He did not lament or regret his choices, or even feel sorry for himself, he just wallowed in the moment. Laughing, crying, singing, dancing, blotting out his reality in a chemical induced fog. The room littered with garbage, his unwashed, reeking body passed out on the stained and broken couch he eventually reached the elusive goal which he did not even know he was pursuing – his body shutdown. Entering a state as close to death as he could ever achieve, he slept in a near coma for slightly over two years.

His small ship continued hurdling through space at just under the speed of light, its sole passenger blissfully unconscious. Then eventually, like a flower reemerging from the soil after a particularly brutal winter, he awoke with a startled snort. The spring rains washed away the mud, snow and debris in his mind, and the clouds parted to reveal the sun. He sat slowly upright, unaware and not caring how much time had passed, he glanced with disgust at the filth around him. He rose slowly as his atrophied muscles struggled to carry his weight, and stumbled to the door. As he left the room he immediately erased it from existence. He would not want a reminder of that unpleasant, but fundamentally necessary phase of his journey. For any normal human it would have represented a sad final chapter to a misspent life, but for him it was merely a brief passing trial of his journey. It was, he supposed, one of the advantages of a life-span that was many times that of an average human.

Moving forward, he incinerated his clothing, showered for hours, then headed to the dining room for a massive breakfast. A breakfast fit for someone who had just slept for two years;  eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh bread, cereal, pastries and fresh fruit – lots and lots of fruit. Eventually he felt like a new man, which is just exactly what he needed to be.

So once again he got on with his life, albeit in a somewhat more balanced way this time. He did not pursue fitness or learning with any superhuman ardor, nor did he spiral into despair. He simply lived. Some days he walked, others he read, and occasionally he would get drunk and dance. In time he found balance was good. He had stopped ever activating his video system long ago, and did not miss the reminders of a different, distant past reality which involved other people and creatures. He spent more and more time in the gymnasium-cum-park. He read more philosophy and less astrophysics textbooks. As the years slowly rolled past he thought less and less often of the small spaceship on the large journey. That journey belonged to someone else he had once been. The memories slowly fading like the ink on a sun-bleached paper. He enjoyed poetry under the trees, picnics in the lush soft grass, rowing on the pond and contemplating the writings of Sartre, Heidegger or Locke on long walks. Eventually any notion of space travel faded to a distant memory of a former life. Thoughts of why and when did not enter his being. Now, never leaving his park, he was simply content in his simple day to day life, not unlike a simple country gentleman on earth centuries before.

Thus it was on that morning as he was rowing quietly on the pond, his pond, his pond which he did not actually remember creating many centuries before. It was not spring, since he experienced no seasons, there were not birds chirping in the trees, since he alone was the only animal in this world. He had long ago forgotten the songs of birds or the sights and sounds of other creatures. And as he rowed, watching the ripples in the water, and listening to the soft splashing of the oars, he became aware of a new sound. A distant sound, which some part of his brain understood was not really new at all, but merely long forgotten, a sound from a distant past life. A slow, persistent, repetitive electronic beeping. He lifted his oars from the water and drifted along in silence, tilting his head slightly to listen. He struggled to understand what he was hearing, struggled to dredge the information from a long since forgotten and buried part of his existence. Eventually he returned the boat to the shore. He walked ever so slowly, as though slightly confused, deep in thought, trying to stir awake that long sleeping part of himself. Past his blanket under the tree where he slept. There was no weather, no rain or wind or cold here, and yet some primitive part of him, from an ancient animal past, had caused him to place his bed under the shelter of the tree. Past his simple rough table where he took his meals. Across the grass lawn, to an oddly out of place door. He knew it was there, he saw it everyday, but he was not sure he remembered why it was there. Surely he had once used the door, some part of him knew that, yet at the moment he was not exactly sure why, or what he would find on the other side of it. Again, following some basic ancient instinct of the human animal, he took some food and water wrapped in a cloth with him, basics to survive on an unknown journey, and opened the door. He squinted at the bright white hallway which lay beyond. He knew this place, but it was as if it were from a dream.

He walked cautiously though the strange dreamland, his bare feet unaccustomed to the foreign feel of the cool smooth floor. Slowly down the hall, as bits and pieces of a different time long ago started to come back to him. With each cautious step, one more piece emerged from the fog. He knew this place, he had been in that big room with all the books. He thought he may have once eaten at that enormous table. But what is that persistent beeping? It means something. Something important. Down the hall, to the very end. This door is different then the rest. How does this handle operate? A push, a pull, a cautious turn, his muscles remembering something his brain has forgotten, and the door swings open to reveal the ladder. The ladder hits him with a bright flash of recognition. Suddenly his head is filled with strange images. Images of screens, images of the endless black void, images of a spaceship, images which he struggles to comprehend. He knows he must climb the ladder, and so he does. He even knows what he will find at the top. Gradually he climbs the ladder, ascending out of the deep fog and opens the hatch. Yes, he know this cockpit, though he still feels like a stranger in someone else’s private place as he lowers himself into the chair. He sits in silence, the persistent beeping continuing around him, and stares in amazement out the windows and into space beyond. The endless black void, the tiny pinpricks of light, and then at the rapidly advancing planet ahead. He realizes that once again his life is changing. The quiet man in the park is no more, and he would soon become the new man he had to be. Slowly, without conscious thought, his hand reaches out and presses the flashing button to silence the alarm.
He has arrived.