I slept, and wept, and slept again, the black bracelet on my ankle tethering me to my PAST – Personal Assayed Sentence Tracker. I had such high hopes, back when I’d managed to deactivate it and sneak aboard the longship. I watched the parasol unfurl, catching the sun like a breaking wave, and the superconducting magnetic loop spool out, kilometer after kilometer, stealing momentum from every passing charged particle.
But it was the ion drive I felt, from the floor of the forward storage area where I’d stowed away. Four massive nuclear reactors inside the asteroid, which the L2 shipyard had worked into a three-kilometer long iron/nickle cigar, reducing chunks of that cigar into superheated plasma. Ion drives fired that plasma fuel out at near-light speed. Unlike the sails, those babies could produce enough delta V to feel. I felt their silent rumble in my belly pressed against the composite hull.
I avoided discovery for months. During those months, as the ship spiraled away from earth, slowly gaining speed as it deployed first the parasol, then the magsail, then the ion drives, the 576 legitimate passengers and crew were too busy or distracted to notice. There were crates of food, back up in case anything went wrong with the hydroponics. There was, thankfully, a toilet and shower. There were even spare clothes. So I was pretty comfortable and could mitigate my boredom by looking outside, at least at first. After we’d reached system escape velocity and straightened our course, the view didn’t change much.
They eventually did find me. They knew I was a stowaway at a glance. They knew I was a fugitive by my PAST. After threatening that they’d just let me age out and die on the trip, the crew decided to slow-grow me, just like the legit passengers. Spent 243 years, relative time, out like a light, in a box I shared with bots that trimmed my hair and nails every year or two. Slow-grow isn’t no-grow.
That’s how I came to wake up as we dropped into orbit. They’d checked my criminal record, and were thinking it it might not be safe just dropping me with the other colonists. That’s when I started to get a hint that maybe my escape wasn’t an escape at all. Maybe the feds had let me walk, hoping I’d stow away and get permanently out of their hair. Things had gone a little too smooth.
Anyway, the bots were programmed to wake us up, and give us a light trim and a manicure and pedicure whenever the ship dropped into orbit. To make sure everybody is ready to go and all. The crew never thought to override it for me. So, before they could even miss me, I, clean-scrubbed and with lovely nails, stole a landing craft.
I just take things, see. It’s me being me. I also sometimes use a little too much force. I don’t think I killed the landing bay guard, but sometimes things happen. I dragged my PAST onto a craft, set the auto landing, jimmed the craft release, and proceeded to land.
The bastards. This planet is a paradise, at least to look at. Water is very good, almost sweet. Lots of edible plants. But there are no animals here, just plant after plant. Green as hell.
I thought, hey, I’ll drop down early, hide away somewhere, and wait for the colonists to set up shop. Then I could live like I always have, and still pick up a few things from the colony when the urge arose.
But the colonists never came. Crew must have determined that this rock wasn’t good enough.
Landers are just that, landers. They aren’t shuttles. The last I heard from the longship was a message that I’d been convicted of stealing a lander and putting a guard in the hospital, and sentenced to being banished to this rock. Then radio silence.
It was just after sunset when they left me here. I cursed the specks of light glinting off the longship, visible in the darkening sky. I watched until distance and the horizon swallowed her up.
Thus I sleep and weep. That’s two escapes that weren’t escapes. I’d fallen for it like a rookie.
Then, this morning, the ankle bracelet fell away. Signal from the longship, is my guess. Did the bastards always know how to do that? Good thing, too, as the chow on this planet is not only bland, but you need to eat a lot of it. Something about a mismatch of my enzymes and the chemical bonds in the alien plants. I’m effectively grazing all day long.
Eat that much green, and the spore starts piling up. It’s not pretty. Same thing works in reverse: whatever biological activity is at work here decomposing dead plants, it doesn’t work too fast on human waste. I’d probably go nuts, if I weren’t already a bit of a sociopath.
Like the longship leaving Sol, I’m spiraling out away from my original camp. Funny thing – once in a while, I go back to visit my PAST. It’s all I’ve got.