Short Stories

Short Story: Life According to Holt

I don’t sugarcoat it. Life is a small boxed existence, which you can measure with your feet. It is not grand. It is all about being stuck with your thoughts and finding decent enough company to share them. The trouble is, I Holt, don’t have company, not in the sense what one might call engaging or meaningful. I have my AI with me, and its only concern is my vitals, oxygen and food supply, and getting me to my destination. So our conversations usually go as it repeats my pulse and bowel movements, and I reply, “Did you know that in Fates Worse Than Death, Kurt Vonnegut Junior described that we live in hell, thanks to technology telling us what to do? And to think, he said that what three hundred years ago.” And when I say such a foolish thing, all I get back is, “Do you want me to play you the best of Vonnegut?”

I should have never downloaded my library to its hard drive.
So, back to the question about life. Did I already say it is a box, and how hard you try, you cannot peek outside? You would think that traveling in space would have an endless supply of nice scenery to let you contemplate the beginning of the universe. It is not so. Not that living on the Earth differs that much. It is just a bigger box, and you need special equipment to notice you are even surrounded by a vast universe. So my simile works. But with one thing we differ, you can have that meaningful conversation. Pick anyone you meet at the street, and I bet if you listen to them carefully, they lay down their whole life for you, and you have lived longer and fuller if you hadn’t heard their recount. But if I want to do the same and listen to the inner workings of my only friend, my AI, I’ll go insane. Some other fellow might enjoy the syntax of its code spewed out, but I don’t.

Now one might think that it is my fault I am stuck in this position, and my life is mine to suffer. I wish this were true, but I am a victim of a lottery. If I am correct, so are many of you. Maybe not in the way I am, as I was randomly assigned from the whole population (lucky me) to travel to the farthest reaches of our solar system to install a warning system, along with remote dischargeable missiles for meteorites and other celestial bodies, which according to the calculations of our scientist will come crashing down anytime soon annihilating live as we know it. Indeed, lucky me. I get to be the hero who never comes back. It is a one-way trip. Pretty much as life is for you, too. Not that you go as straight a line as I do.

Who ever thought a Holt could be a name of a hero? I didn’t. I was born into a pretty dull family. All families really are. Others are just pretending to be funnier and whatnot. Also, it is about perception. If you grew up in a family where everyone around you spoke seven languages, sung like sirens, and partied like sailors, you wouldn’t blink an eye. What I am doing now is the most outrageous thing I or anyone in my family will and has ever done. They cheered me, and what hurt me a bit, all of them thought this was the best I would amount to. I wasn’t a rocket scientist. I couldn’t cure the sick or feed the poor, nor could I make anyone dazzled or lightened with my words. So there was no way I could decline or should. The scientists taught me to install the system, navigate the spaceship, and manage my nerves. The key to the last part is medication. I go all out with it when I think it’s time to go to bed—the AI helps with the rhythm, keeping the Earth’s 24-hour with lights and temperature. Most would dream about an opportunity like this. Honestly, I did as a young boy. But honor, esteem, reputation, and worship are good for nothing when you alone with them. Don’t get me wrong, I know my efforts might save humanity from extinction and cats and dogs too. I am all up for that. Still, can anyone really say they are willing to die a slow, agonizing death for it and be happy about it?

Now we already come to death, and I haven’t even lived enough to welcome it, as did my grandma at eighty-nine. She said good riddance when the doctors told her she had only a few months to live. I am not ready to die. I have loved no one or have been loved back without blood ties. Another thing I think is part of the human condition. I will never get to experience the first cry of my child. Not that I ever wanted such a thing when I was spinning like the rest of you on the rock we call home. Now, I would give anything to hear such a lovely and horrid sound. I would happily wake up in the middle of the night and sleep only a few hours to experience such emotion. Not for me.

The scientists warned me about all this before I left for the mission. That I would question everything, I would mope, I would cry and scream—all which I have done, and more. I walk naked all the time. Why not? But what is the best thing is that humanity sent me off with enough drugs to tranquilize an entire army of elephants. I have been popping one in my mouth every morning and night. While the tablets numb me somewhat, the restlessness stays. I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t get to pretend life isn’t absurd, and then we die. The rest of you who don’t are the lucky ones with enough distraction and purpose to trot on without having to stop.

Yet, while life is a box with an ending, we all share, and while I know my story and how it will go, there was a day I didn’t. Those were the good days when the world and life held wonder, and while I wasn’t the cheeriest in the punch, there was hope and curiosity. And I guess I have to take that with me to the end of the solar system and be happy that I am the first human who gets to experience it. To stand there and let the unknown gaze at me as I gaze back and as I set up the machine and live in my spaceship until the oxygen runs out.

Thank you for reading, and have a beautiful day ❤ 

© K.A. Ashcomb

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