During my last trip through the dark, I was paired with the newest recruit for the second shift. Second shift is the boring middle months after the ship has left one system but before it reaches the next. There were other crew members out of cryro at the time but the foreman had asked me to mentor Joanne on the ship systems.
After five minutes of watching numbers on display screens, I asked her a question, “So, why did you join this mission?”
She looked out the viewport at the stars and said, “I wanted to explore a new world.”
I laughed, “You do know new planets are mapped and explored by satellites and rovers, right?”
“Yeah, but is it really explored if no humans have been there before?”
“Yes. It doesn’t matter if I see a rock or if a robot sees it. It’s been seen. Anyways we aren’t an exploration mission. There aren’t any manned exploration missions.”
Joanne sighed, “I know. This mission was the closest I could find.”
“You’re not going to have a lot of time to ‘explore’.” I counted off items on my fingers. “We have ten habs, fifteen farms, ten labs, and six storage buildings to set up before the colonists arrive. And then the real work of getting the colony running starts.”
“Still we get to be the first people on a new world. That’s still something.”
I couldn’t help smiling. “I wish I had half your spirit.”
“Why did you sign up for this mission then?”
“Same reason I signed up for the last ten colony missions: I wanted to build something.”
“You never wanted to settle down, have kids?”
“Thought about it but I wanted to travel and Colony Constructor is strictly a single person’s job. Children were straight out of the picture.”
She pointed an excited finger at me. “Ah! So, you do have some of the explorer spirit in you.”
“Maybe a little but after you see a few planets it starts to wan. We go where life is possible, which means Earth-like planets, which means they all kind of look the same.”
“There’s still some stuff to discover on these planets,” she countered.
“Yeah, but we don’t get to stick around to discover it. If you really want to pioneer a new world, you should have applied for immigration and joined a colony.”
“I might do that someday but first I want to see a few planets first.”
“Don’t wait too long or you’ll end up like me,” I warned her.
“You’re not that old.”
“Physically I’m only old enough to be your aunt but relativistic time dilation means I’ve outlived everyone I knew on earth.” I paused thinking about the distant family members that were still on earth that I barely knew. “This is my last mission. Next time I ship out will be as a colonist.”
“What will you do then?” Joanne asked.
“I’m going to build something new.”