Waves— Part I
It wasn’t supposed to do anything. But I sat there and stared anyway. If something happened, my last seven years would be wasted. It would be another seven years back home, and I’d have to start applying to grad schools. As an old man nonetheless. I shivered at the thought.
I shifted my weight in the chair so my leg wouldn’t fall asleep. I moved again. Suddenly, I was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stop. Little scoot to the left. No. Resting my hips to the right. Way worse. Shouldn’t have messed with a good thing. Finally, I sighed, gave up, and took my feet off of the control panel. Etan would have a heart attack if he saw me lounging with my feet on the life support.
I stood up and stretched— but didn’t take my eyes off of it.
There it sat in a sea of ink. Just kind of floating there. Habitable Planet 1345. Or, HP-1345. Someone really needed to work on the name. I would name it Islamorada. It just made sense. This was our first jump off of the mainland but not quite into the ocean yet. We were wading offshore, in the Keys. When I was the first one down there, I would be sure to let everyone know the story so the future generations could know the real story. Names are just one-word stories and everyone should know theirs.
A rhythmic clank came from behind me. Someone else was climbing to the top of the lighthouse. I was going to lose my serenity. When I signed up for the Expansion, I never thought about how cramped this was going to be. Living on a ship full of pioneers was worse than one of those brain-melting reality shows. We were stuck out here, until Congress passed the Homestead Act. And someone was filibustering. Politics were ruining my life and cramping my legs.
So, here we sat in orbit around Islamorada—it has such a nice ring to it—waiting for clearance to go claim our land, to go build a new life. Thousands of other ships waiting next to us each complete with their impatient crews who were quickly getting tired of each other. I looked into the sea of dull silver hulls and wondered which ship would turn to anarchy first. It would start with a passive aggressive sticky note. It always did. I wondered which ship would have the killing spree first. Years down the road it would be made into a movie, which would be sponsored by a sticky note company. It would be the most profitable quarter in company history. I bit my lip and looked at the ships that were suspended in the deep vacuum: I really needed to invest in sticky notes.
‘Top of the morning, Del,’ Etan said from behind me. I swiveled the chair around and looked at him.
‘What if it’s evening?’ I asked.
‘Why would it be?’
‘Why would it be morning?’
‘Because morning means bacon, and bacon makes everything ok,' he with a faraway, wistful look in his eyes. 'Can you remember what it tastes like?'
In space we all dream of something to keep us sane. Who was I to judge a man for loving slices of crisped pork? Maybe he liked his bacon soggy. The thought took me by surprise, and I bored into him with my eyes, searching for the answer. This could completely change the way I saw him.
‘What’re you looking at?’ Etan asked. I jumped a little bit. How did he notice? Oh, because we’re in the middle space, just the two of us in the cockpit of the ship, and he came up here for a reason. Be cool, Del. Be cool.
‘What would you name it?’
Etan stared upward through the looking glass for a long minute. He was a tall, trim man with a slight British accent. The perfect person to captain a ship. I think that’s why the English were natural sailors. They just looked so good at the helm. Or they just brush a hell of an oil painting.
‘New Perth,' he said after a long silence.
I had lost the thread of the conversation,
‘The planet. That’s what I would name it.’
He looked at me like I was the world’s first talking puppy who wouldn’t leave him alone. He was regretting coming to the cockpit. It’s hard to work from home when home is also your office.
‘It’s my hometown.’
‘I thought you were British.’
‘Why on God’s green Earth would you think that?’
I took a moment to choose my words carefully. I revised the oil painting of him standing at the bridge of a clipper, ready to defend the crown. I added a kangaroo first mate. Was that culturally insensitive? He was looking at me still. I feigned a cough to buy time to think of something to say.
‘I don’t know. You just have that James Bond vibe.’
He looked at me deadpan.
I was a goner. I had pissed off the pilot of our little ship and now I wasn’t going to be the first person on Islamorada. They were going to name it something terrible like New Perth.
Etan eyed the other ships drifting around us. Wisps of compressed air corrected the ship’s course.
It slowly twirled like a leaf on the laziest of rivers.
‘That bugger is a little close. What is he even thinking?’ He scowled. and sat down in the chair next to me. Etan leaned back and kicked his legs up on the life support system.
‘To tell you the truth, Del. I don’t really feel comfortable at port. I don’t want to name this rock. I just want to get you lot off my ship and get back on the water.’
The water. Two simple words that meant everything.
‘Did you grow up on the water?’ I asked.
‘My dad was a sailor. He always said I was born with sea legs. How about you?’
‘Yes.’ How could I explain it? The ocean was my life. ‘I don’t sail though. I float mostly. As a kid, I would swim the Keys with my brother.’
‘Keys? As in Florida Keys?’ Etan asked.
‘The one and only. We would swim until we were exhausted and then just float on our backs. The rhythm of the waves keeps me in tune. If that makes sense.’
‘It’s weird being on a boat without waves, yeah?’
‘Absolutely eerie,’ I said.
Look for the next installment at the end of the week. Thanks for taking this little journey with me. —WH