A trip to Ganymede. Memories are given.
He was walking barefoot on firm sand. Stretching in front of him was a scene of light and darkness. Moonlight reflecting off the beach illuminated the endless clash between earth and sea with the thin line of sparkling froth marking the end of one contest. He closed his eyes to listen to the silver battalions of surf charging in. Feeling a delicious chill, he smiled as a wave expended its last energy to cool his feet.
He took one last look at the half moon, turned, and strode to the parking lot. Flexing on his communicator, he called the shipping company to say he would haul any load they had at Armstrong Station. He grinned as the controller told him loading would finish by the time he stepped out of the space elevator.
Eight hours later, he arrived at the hub of the station. Floating out of the elevator, he grabbed one of the handrails and gently guided himself forward. As he progressed from the center of the spinning station, he gained weight until his feet touched the carpet. Soon, he was finished with the check-in procedures and stepped into his ship, the Himeko.
Lights flickered on as the freighter sensed its captain. Settling into his control couch, he pulled off his scalp, revealing a brain under a clear skull of pure diamond. He leaned over to open a side panel in his couch, extracted an antique Detroit Tigers cap studded with gold plated electrodes, and put it on. He mentally spoke five words. Electric bolts of energy cascaded into his body, coursed down his arms and legs, and flashed into the control couch. A tsunami of data imploded into his brain while the reach of his senses exploded. Man and machine were wed.
Instantly, every molecule of the ship was checked and flaws corrected. The countdown, a needless but much loved ritual from centuries past was begun and in seconds the Himeko embarked. Soon the station and Earth receded and, swallowed in the glow of the Sun, disappeared into the background. He aimed at their first stop, Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede.
A third of their way to Ganymede he turned off the engines. On the last third of their trip, he would turn the ship around and restart the engines for the braking. Now they were coasting, he could relax and enjoy the quiet, solitude, and beauty of space. He loved it here, away from the crowds and noise, but most of all for the feeling of control that he had. For the Himeko was gargantuan, space freighters dwarfed even the supertankers of the Petroleum Age. And, best of all, he was a much desired commodity for very few were able to endure the structural changes to the human body required to hook up with a space freighter, or wanted to.
He switched off the lights; the only illumination was the light of a million stars ending their journey through time on his retina. He spoke softly, “I want this to go on forever.”
The Himeko roused. “We’ll be docking at Ganymede in six weeks.”
“There’s so much more to see.”
“I sense your wanderlust. We must complete our mission. Part of our cargo is for the colony there. It would be cruel to the citizens of the colony and a criminal act. Besides, once we fill up our tanks at Titan for the trip back that’s all we’ll have.”
“We can use gravity wells to slingshot us out.”
“It would be rash and serve no financial profit.”
“You're right. It was just a mindless thought. Forget it.” He decided it was useless to convince a mind that couldn’t feel the serenity of space or the senseless pain of mortal existence. But, he could feel and he couldn’t ignore it. Just for the fun of dreaming, he plotted and planned.
Six weeks later.
Using the reverse thrusters, he eased the Himeko into its berth. Contact with the station was established and he mentally said five words to disengage from the ship. Nothing happened. Thinking he must have garbled a word, he repeated them. Just before the end, he knew what they were going to do.
An hour later, the doors slid open and two men, one of them carrying a tool box and the other wearing a suit, entered. They approached the control couch containing the slumping pilot. The tech opened his tool box and selected a screwdriver. Carefully taking off the Tigers cap, he began the simple task of extracting a tiny device lining the diamond skull. As he handed it to the director, he said, “No matter how many times I do this, I still get a weird feeling.”
The director pocketed the defective piece. “I know what you mean. The whiz boys back home can’t seem to get everything just right. It might be unreasonable to give a computer memories, emotions, and physical abilities and at the same time expect to completely forecast its actions.”
“Except for its brain case, it sure seems human.”
“I think in a way it is human. It’s certainly closer to us than to the Himeko.”
The tech snapped in a new helix. “Finished.”
“I hope this one works out better. Let’s go back to Control and check it out.”
Using the reverse thrusters, he eased the Himeko into its berth. Contact with the station was established and he mentally said five words to disengage from the ship. The reach of his senses imploded. Man and ship were divorced. He took off the Tiger’s cap and stepped onto the floor and with a jaunty step headed for the door leading to the gate. He had two nights free. He was already imagining the fun waiting for him on the colony.
The two men looked at the still form sitting on the control couch of the Himeko and watched the readouts on their screen. Everything was perfect.