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Before

By Andrew Dunn

Before we were forgotten, we were myths. People read of us, and learned about us in school. The day we set sail on a column of fire was still a holiday – one celebrated with sales and bar crawls by all but the truest adherents. The true believers still shot miniature rockets skyward by day, and looked for us among the stars through telescopes at night.

(Illustration by Marie Ginga from an image courtesy of geralt on Pixabay.com)

Before we were myths, we were flesh and blood legends. Top actors portrayed us in dozens of movies people downloaded. Our memorabilia was sold everywhere, down to stylized body suits that copied the silver-blue coveralls we wore into space. People still remembered that once we cleared Earth’s gravity, we’d undress and climb naked into our pods so that cryogenic sleep could regale us with centuries of dreams. The idea of two people naked and alone, hurtling through space, stirred some to wonder whether we’d found intimacy one last time before we were sealed in our pods.

Before we were legends, we were curiosities. The world saw us as two exquisite specimens when we were unveiled. Our initial interviews were awkward at fist, until public relations dressed us in contemporary fashions. Coaches were brought in to help us speak with the modern cadence and slang of a dozen languages, which we used on television shows earning ourselves millions of fans. On some shows we were challenged to solve equations that normally took genius minds months – we solved them in minutes.

Before we were curiosities, we were one man and one woman, selected young for our bodies and minds. Even as children our training was rigorous. We had to be able to survive our voyage. Once we reached our destination, we had to be able to start our lives again fresh from our pods in even the most challenging of worlds.

Before we were selected, we were a theoretical project to send human beings toward a peculiar radio signal emanating from beyond our solar system. It was a monumental endeavor, one scientists hoped would lead to technological advancements that would someday make interstellar travel faster, and eventually, as common as short hops to the moon or Martian colonies.

Before our spacecraft entered orbit around the blue-violet sphere well-within the Goldilocks Zone, systems woke us from 372 years of sleep. We were weak at first, but barely aged. Our coveralls had deteriorated slightly, but were wearable. We made rounds to see how our craft had weathered the years, then floated through a narrow tunnel into the ship’s bridge. Sensors there were rampant with data about the planet growing larger through thick rectangular windows.

There were satellites in orbit. Sporadic radio transmissions in unusual dialects of languages we understood crackled through speakers. Sensors said there was a handful – a dozen or so – populated towns on the planet’s surface. Flying machines were moving slowly among the towns.

Before we were discovered, we were the forgotten mythical figures from four centuries past, drifting into the planet’s orbit.

Our ship began a sequence of pre-programmed radio messages that had once been cutting-edge technology. Periods of silence between broadcasts gave us time to listen for a response and wonder if it would come.

Before, we had spent our youth strengthening bodies and minds to survive even toxic extraterrestrial environments. Now, we were leaning into an embrace, and wondering if we were ready to meet what humans had become lifetimes after we left.

This story previously appeared in 365 Tomorrows.
Edited by Marie Ginga

 

Andrew Dunn is a Maryland-based writer. His work has previously appeared here in MetaStellar, 365 Tomorrows, Antipodean SF, Daily Science Fiction, and Penumbric Speculative Fiction. He's won a few writing awards as well. When he isn't writing, he's running, cooking, playing with his dog or guitar, or watching old movies - all of which fuel his future stories.