ZEN AND THE ART OF SPACECRAFT REPAIR
I can see by the clock on the dashboard that it’s 0100 hours, and morning time, despite the black void surrounding my space cruiser. Without taking my hand off the steering column, I stretch in the cockpit, twisting and turning best I can, to get out the aches and pains. The temperature is near-freezing, causing the windshield to ice up, and the cab to be cold, regardless of my attempts to keep the heater pumping out warm air. It’s an old craft, the kind my father used in his day, but as far as I’m concerned, the TK-100 is still the best way to get around the cosmos.
With temperatures this cold, this early, I can’t help think the day is going to be rough. I’m supposed to be rendezvousing with my son, Derek, on Kuna in the Delta galaxy, located two-thirds of the way from the sun, a warm planet with mild winters. His mother took him to live there when he was first born, 400,000 megamiles away from where I live in Cephei. I’m about two days late, and hopefully forgivable. A boy of twelve, who has only seen his dad on birthdays every other year, probably expects it. I sent a telcom-scribble telling him I had spacecraft trouble, but who knows if he’ll believe me. It’s not a total lie.
The highway, nicknamed Penguin Road, ‘cause it’s so damn cold, is an old two-laner that doesn’t get used all that often. (Roads in the figurative sense; it’s really nothing more than the right coordinates and dark matter). Above me, I can see the steady stream of traffic on the Interstellar Highway that replaced it; at this time of the morning it’s packed stern to prow with luxury cruisers and a ton of rush-hour express vehicles. All of them are on autopilot and have genome hardware and engines that are programmed to self-diagnose and replicate the proper mechanism in the event of engine failure. A bunch of guys stand around waiting for something to happen, just so they can report it, not actually fix it. And they call themselves engineers.
I try to avoid those kinds of ships at all costs. The last big spacecraft I traveled on was about a year ago, a battle cruiser that saw a little wartime. On board, you never could see what was going on outside. But everyday I was able to go out and witness it all up close in my sleek, one-person fighter-craft, as I scouted the boundaries over Cephei. Life was good, until I took a minor wing-hit from an enemy fighter, and ended up with an honorable discharge, since I broke my leg during landing. Twenty years I served in the Cephei space force, just like my old man. I miss it sometimes. But I always said if I retired, I wouldn’t waste it sitting around in a cantina getting drunk on ice-rum all day. After my leg healed, I decided to go out and travel the cosmos, and do it in a TK-100, so I could actually see it up close and personal.
When I pass an ice meteor, I realize I’m in for the ride of my life. I click the lever to release the semi-rusty periscope, which back in the day was one of the features those sales guys used in order to sell the craft. It allows me to see much better what’s coming further down the road, and prepare for it. The cab gets colder each time I shift the craft right or left to avoid a direct hit into one of those ball-busting ice blocks. This goes on for stretches, until I transit onto Fake Hill Highway—known for its up and down movement that’ll make the toughest pilot lose his or her lunch—before exiting onto Post Road, a cut-through that’ll save time in reaching my destination.
I couldn’t be happier on this old road. Not a lot out here to look at, only an occasional hunk of space junk or an abandoned ship left out to rot. Sure, I could avoid this altogether and take the easy highway like everyone else. But that’s the problem. We’re all too used to everything being easy. Easy and automated that’s what we’ve been sold. Automatic toilets and bartenders. Automatic cooks and cruisers. Automatic books and hairdressers for the ladies. They even have a new device now that sleeps for you; you just have to have a chip implanted right at the bridge of the nerve fibers in your brain, and there it is; in one click, it’s like you’ve slept a whole night, or whatever you decide to set it for—a nap, hybersleep, three winks.
None of that is for me. The more I can do on my own, the better. So what, if I have to stop every few thousand miles and refuel; or wait for days, until some junkyard can locate the part I need when something gets busted for good. This spacecraft can give me things, the others can’t. I like to see the asteroids coming at me, and feel the adrenaline kick in every time I brace the steering column, wondering if I’ll avoid it or smash straight into it. I love feeling every bump and gravity change, and seeing right up-close the space dust and junk bunnies that hook onto the hood of the craft. You can’t get that in those state-of-the-art metal cans.