These are some daily notes of fiction project, unedited and often random. When one writes daily blurbs of fiction, even if those blurbs all link back to the same story, those pieces may lack structure or coherence or sense. Read at your own risk.
By definition a refuge class heavy cruiser is the lowest form of interplanetary travel ever designed and put into the ethers by human kind. I’m lucky to be aboard at all. If that doesn’t give you enough of a sense of my situation then maybe the rest of this story can.
My name is Noah.
Appropriate that I would end up shipping out on an ark full of barnyard animals, fleeing a dying Earth, and earning my passage with the strength of my own two hands mucking out the shit of a priceless herd of cattle while me and my fellow worthless humans clung to the bottom rung of the last ladder pulled up from the birthplace of humanity.
It’s not a pretty story. It might make you laugh. Maybe it will make you angry. It could even make you cry at points. But it’s my story and I’m going to tell it if it’s the last thing I do. Though now that I write that, it just might be.
At nights, in my free time, I look out of the rear engine’s crosscheck portal. The view is partially obscured by the dim electric blue glow emitted from the back of the ship because, of course it is, the portal was put there so the engineers could have a window out to see exactly that, but more than half of the view is the inky blackness of space speckled with a few bright points of light.
I don’t know what I expect to see out there, and most of the other schmucks working down here are definitely not looking for reminders that they are stuck on a spaceship fleeing a planet to which they can never go back. I want to say that it keeps me grounded, but that makes no sense. It’s the weight of it, I think, the weight of all that inky black that holds me down and keeps me from trying to claw my way out of this place. Seeing it. Feeling it. Space, stars, and the forever nothingness of it all.
I used to live and work at the edge of the mountains.
The ranch that employed me for nearly ten years, ever since I quit school at sixteen and had muscles enough to lift a bale of straw, was the last farm to the west of a hundred thousand near identical farms, identical except that next along west from us were the Rockies. Rolling foothills were not a terrible place to graze cattle, and an excellent place to spend days driving over dirt roads in a battered up pickup truck, drinking coffee and smoking tobacco as we worked and slugging beers and smoking weed when we played.
My quarters back there were downright spacious compared to my bunk on the Fukuyama, and laying in my old cot I could sometimes catch a glimpse through the window of the sun setting behind the big purple mountains to the west, or the moonlight reflecting off their snowcapped peaks on some of the deepest winter days.
I would be, could be, content for the rest of my life living in the ass-end of a fleeing starship and shovelling cow shit into the matter recyclers while chomping down rubbery nutrient bars and slugging water that tastes a bit too much like iron, really I would. But sleeping, or trying to sleep, an arms-length away from a two-hundred and thirty pound grunt who snores might be the thing that tips me over the edge, and maybe even out an airlock.
Hari snores and he knows he snores. And he doesn’t care. In fact, he seems to revel in the notion that he’s driving the rest of crazy and there ain’t nothing anyone can do about it. He’s got a screw loose, probably from a past with a few too many nights with his nose in a moff griller, rotting brain cells and coiling up like a kinetic spring whatever piece that remains would have been responsible for inhibition.
Hari snores with a rumble to rival the engine coolers and I sleep close enough to reach down and …
Nothing. There’s nothing I can do about it.
It’s possible by now, this early into my story, an intelligent person might be starting to ask some serious questions about my predicament.
Like for a start, what happened to the Earth?
Or, what was someone thinking hiring a bunch of ranch hands to tend cattle, living, breathing, eating, shitting cattle no less, aboard a refuge class cruiser? Why not scientists? Why not engineers? Why not robots, for crying out loud?
And why me?
Though that last one might just be me, asking it every night, screaming it into the bleak void out the rear of the Foo with her aft engines flaring against the ether and burning up sparkles of interstellar dust in her wake, and not a sound to be heard out there, not even my raging voice.
The answer to all those questions and more is simple, now that I’ve got you thinking about them: bad luck. It was bad luck the Earth was in a serious bind. It was bad luck that there was only enough time and materials to build big hollow space freighters and not the complex machinery and robotics to operate inside them. It was bad luck there were barely enough smart folks to fly and fix the ships and they had to look to other folks with other abilities to do the grunt jobs. And it was bad luck I didn’t have the foresight to see what a shit show it would all become and that I didn’t just stay behind. Bad luck is all.
“Bring the damn hose five steps closer.” Felix barks over the lowing hum of a thousand head of cattle and the ever-resonant thrum of the engines. “Are you fucking dim?”
Hari and I are handling it, the carbon steel nozzle gripped firmly in my left hand and a good slug of pressurized water hose tucked into my armpit on the other side, while he wrestles the coiled bit with two hands attempting to maneuver it closer to the soiled pen. Normally protocol does not abide by spraying gushes of free water into the open air of a space freighter, even under the point nine G of acceleration so we’re not used to working the hose, but the remains of the dead cow in pen four-six-three warrant a full decontamination cycle.
“Yeah, yeah.” Hari answers between grunts. “You get over here and help then, huh.” He chides, knowing full well that he’s bordering on insubordination with such comments if Felix were asshole enough to throw the weight of his supervisor pip in Hari’s face.
I give it another grunt and pull the hose five and then some steps closer to where Felix has the pen gate swung wide and hunch my shoulder enough to catch the corner of my uniform sleeve across my sweaty brow.
A cow can get used to zero gravity just like a human.
In fact I’d swear they take to it even better than one of their two-legged minders. Maybe it’s because they’re used to a life at the ass end of the pecking order, always being told where to stand, when to eat, and eventually even how to die, so what’s free floating in a hemispherical cage in the cargo hold of a gigantic fleeing spaceship besides another decision that someone else made for them? Nothing.
Yet come to think of it, most of that applies to me too, and it hasn’t helped with nausea of weightlessness one bit.
Cows seem to take to spaceflight as if they were made for it. They just curl up their legs under their hulking chests and drift. They snort and grunt and moo, of course. Those noises never seem to stop. But there’s no panic, not even in their big glassy eyes that so often telegraph fear and stress and all manner of emotion. Just a confused sort of peaceful stare, meditative and calming to watch even while it creeps me out every time I make eye contact with one of the beasts.
Now that we’re away from the planet there doesn’t seem to be any real urgency to our flight. Of course, it was touch and go there for the last couple weeks, what with the limited space aboard these haulers and twelve billions people trying anything, literally anything, to get a spot.
Important people were left behind, too. People you would have thought would have made the cut, but somehow they were left there standing in the wake of our ascent pulses, being burned alive because moments before they were clawing at the outer hull trying to scratch their way into the last of the ships exiting the planet.
There could be worse ways to go, I suppose. Maybe it really was the best choice, and maybe if I hadn’t made that cut, experienced cattle handlers wanted for deep space voyage, it would have been me standing out there begging to go and taking a facefull of ionized vapors as the better alternative to the chaos that was surely to follow, was following, in the short while after the ships left the Earth behind.
The planet was doomed after all. Or, at least, the people on the planet are doomed. The planet will probably be just fine in a few thousand years, humanity forgotten.
I dunno. I like to think I would have taken it better than that, maybe sat on the crest of the old hill on the west quarter, rolling grasslands at my back and watching the sun set over the mountains with a cold beer in my hand. That wouldn’t be a bad way to go either.
I grew up near a small prairie town in the backwaters of rural Canada, working my parent’s farm until I was old enough to know better but too young to do anything about it. Dad died when I was nineteen, and my eldest brother thought he knew better and quickly talked mom in to selling off the lot of it thinking we’d all have a little cash to see us through and be done with the work. Something that sounds like a lot of money and good sense when you’re nineteen often turns out to be short changing yourself, though, and by twenty one most of my share was spent on rent and trucks and beer and pissing around the countryside with a few guys I thought were true pals. So, it wasn’t much wonder at all that I found myself broke and working my way as far as I could get on what little bit was left over. Until a few weeks ago that had been a pretty little ranch at the edge of the mountains, but lately I’m getting further away by the minute. And there ain’t no turning back.
Hari is nine years my senior and with me being just twenty-six years old, that makes him damn near ancient as a wrangler. He’s got nine years of experience over me, nine years of drinking, smoking, and hard-living beyond mine, and a couple extra notches on his bedpost back on Earth over what I’ve managed to chalk up — though I suspect he may have paid for more than one of that tally.
According to Hari he “wasn’t born nowhere worth talking about” and I suppose that now we’ve left it all behind to burn, he’s sort of got a point.
That said, his bunk is arms-length below mine and between the grunts and gurgles of his often-disturbed sleep rich with throaty snores and laboured breathing, he talks, mumbles mostly, under his breath in fits and starts, calling out the name Naomi.
“Nah – omi, you c’mere.” He blurts between the inaudible mix of snorts and gasps. “No-me, noh-oh, get back.” And even weeks on I’ve never had the guts to ask him so much as who he’s talking to in his sleep, let alone why.