art by Melissa Mead
by Jonathan Fredrick Parks
"This is Tomorrow speaking." The voice came from the Eleven O' Thirty radio. The left bar flashed painting the storage room a green color. "Are you listening?"
I turned the dial two clicks to the right. "You are me from the future, right?"
A pause. "Yes. Now listen to what I have to say carefully as I share what I was told thirty years ago. You are alone but you will survive. You will be rescued one day, but it won't be soon. There will be many days that you feel abandoned. You will want to give in and take your life but you won't. You will live."
"But what of the others? I can't be the only one."
"You are the sole survivor of the Tianxin. We want to keep it that way, so this is what you need to do. Access the ship's systems and place the gardens on full lock-down. If you don't, you will run out of oxygen. Next you need to direct the ships systems to run off the Trimurti engine's power grid. Although it lacks the power to activate, the reserves will last as long as you disable the gardening machines. That means you will have to tend them with your own hands."
I did as he said, isolating the gardens from what was left of the ship. Tapping into the Trimurti engines power supply was beyond my expertise, but he talked me through it step by step. After that was taken care of I flipped the red switch in the machine room causing the robots and the self-watering system to come to a halt.
The tasks complete, I returned to the radio and asked the question I needed most to know. "How long? How long will it take?"
"Twenty five years," he answered.
I took a deep breath and held the air in so that I would not scream. When isolated from the world you'll always cling to the hope that just maybe your sentence will be cut short, but to have your future self deal you the harsh truth meant something else. He spoke from one of many futures, but within such a closed system I had little chance of changing the future. There was no hope of escaping. I was now sitting in the same spot that I'd be twenty-some years later.
I once knew a girl who smelled like peaches and earth. She lived in the shelter next door. I grew up without a yard, but she showed me the joy of gardening. Seven tin cups sat beneath the window, all of them tomatoes. I'd watch her water the green sprouts twice a day. We never said much to each other, but she taught me that life can thrive in the worst of conditions. She was the reason I became a gardener, but the prospect of having my own yard was what drew me to the Trimurti project.
I was one of countless aboard the Tianxin. We were to colonize a new planet but the Trimurti engine failed, tearing the ship in two. It was supposed to carry us across the universe in an instant. I fell asleep in the ship's gardens and didn't wake until it was over. Had I been anywhere else I would have died with the rest.
Alone. Always alone. I spent most days either sleeping or tending the square kilometer of enclosed land. I often dreamed of owning my own wilderness to explore. It wasn't how I imagined it, but despite the fake sky fifty feet above, I made myself believe that I had found that perfect paradise I had always wanted. I had my thirty fruit trees, algae pond with one orange fish, and enough dirt to bury my youthful aspirations forever.
I avoided further use of the Eleven O' Thirty radio. Talking to myself made me depressed. Of the two lights on the machine only the green one turned on. I didn't want to learn of all the boring days that came after tomorrow. I refused to bother my future self who had finally found freedom, but after seven months of solitude I lowered my guard. I didn't care who it was. I wanted someone to talk to.
I turned the dial. "So, Tomorrow? Where are you now?"
"I don't know if I should tell you," he answered.
Laughing. "You wouldn't imagine the things I've seen and discovered since I was rescued five years ago."
"Well? I have some good news. They find a way to save the earth."
"No kidding. How do they figure that one out?"
"I don't understand the technology myself, but they found a solution through a method of communicating with alternative worlds. Well I hate to break this short, but I have work to do."
"We've finally made contact with extra terrestrial life. They don't look much different than we do. I was appointed as one of the ambassadors to their planet which is where I live now. The plants and wildlife are different, but they are still plants and animals."
For the first time in months I felt happy to be alive. Although it would take a lifetime, I knew the hard work and pain I was going through would not be for nothing. From that day on I made it a habit to talk to myself, or Tomorrow as he'd refer to himself. Despite being busy with his new life he would still set aside an hour every day.
"We call them Pellshins after what they call their planet. It's smaller than Earth and the oceans aren't as vast. Apparently they evolved from a bipedal creature that resembles a cross between a pig and a dog. The hardest part of this job was learning their language, which I'll soon start teaching you."
"Wait, you knew how to talk to them before first contact?"
"Yes. How else do you think a gardener got the job?"
Tomorrow started my lessons by teaching me a new word every day. The structure of the language reminded me of Chinese, but the sound was unlike any I'd ever heard before. Sounds could mean different words depending on their length and vowels outnumbered consonants. The human vocal cords couldn't mimic all the vowels, but I practiced getting as close as I could.
"Why do you bother doing this every day? I asked him as our two-year anniversary approached. It can't be all that fun talking to your past self. From your standpoint I must seem like a kid."
"Because I know firsthand how much it means to you. Remember, I've lived through those days as well."
As I improved my ability to keep the gardens alive and healthy, I found myself with more and more free time on my hands. Since I only had an hour to talk to Tomorrow that meant I had to find new things to keep me entertained. The only working electronic I had was the headset they had given to everyone. It was capable of projecting any image in front of the wearer. Had the main computer still been attached to the rest of the ship I would have had libraries filled with books and video that would take multiple lifetimes to devour, but the device had no media natively stored. The only music I could listen to was the music I made.
There was one program installed on my headset that I came to cherish. Called the Personal Orchestra Program, the lens could project one of thirty different instruments. The cameras would read your movements and the virtual instruments would produce sounds through the speakers just like the real thing. Without any formal training I first taught myself to play the piano. From there I learned the guitar and next the violin. When I learned to play enough instruments satisfactorily, I started to record my own music. I couldn't sing well, but the software could make my voice sound like I was born to make music. When I grew tired of my own voice it replaced it with another.
It was during the fifth year that Tomorrow told me the news.
"You won't believe it, but I met someone."
"Is she Pellshin?" My ear tilted towards the radio.
"No. She's human."
"What is she like?"
"Perfection. She has these cloudy blue eyes that remind me of the ocean. Her voice is like heaven, and she has beautiful... beautiful red hair."
"Sounds like my kind of woman."
"So what's her name?"
Talk of Autumn dominated most of our conversations after that. Tomorrow would tell me about her and I'd beg to learn more. I had an image of her in my head and every word added to filling in the shadows. Only five months after meeting her he told me how he proposed.
"Beneath the apple tree in our back yard I sang to her my best song. It didn't sound as good as the recorded version but her eyes sparkled more than the distant sun."
"Wow. So how is it falling in love with the same girl for the second time?"
"Unbelievable. You may think you know her from all I've said, but just wait until you see her with your own eyes. Imagination doesn't cut it."
Tomorrow married Autumn three months after the proposal. The wedding took place in a grand cathedral back on earth with all sorts of famous people invited--a celebration worthy of the hero that spent half his life in space.
"Hey, I got a surprise for you," Tomorrow told me after returning from their honeymoon to mars. "Someone here wants to talk to you."
I straightened my back in anticipation.
"Hey." It was the most beautiful voice I'd ever heard. "It's me, Autumn, your future wife." Muffled, she said, "Am I doing this right? He can hear me, right?"
"I can hear you loud and clear, Autumn."
"Wow. It is you, isn't it? You told me all about yourself--how you were stuck in space for so long. It--it must be lonely."
It was, but not anymore.
Autumn only talked a little at a time. Tomorrow talked for most of the hour, but everyday Autumn would linger around longer then the day before. It wasn't long before most of my words were dedicated to her. I came to learn how she'd been married once before but had no children. She was a teacher who taught history. We first met at a restaurant in the capital of Pellshin. She was the only other human in the room. The first thing that I told her was how she was more beautiful than I had ever imagined.
"Am I cheating by talking to another man every day? I know you are the same person, but you aren't. Not entirely."
"I laughed. Yes, but I forgive you. I'll always forgive you."
"If that's true with the next kiss I'll pretend I'm kissing you."
"No need to pretend."
"Okay. Then how about this? I'll refrain from kissing any other girls from now until we meet for the first time."
"That's a promise, right?"
"Yeah, I got what? Twenty more years of solitude? What's another ten after that?"