wife lay together on the veranda, looking out over the turquoise lagoon, the setting sun turning the water’s edges to gold, the light of the metro flickering chartreuse in the distant fog. He would stroke her silver hair, the children would run up, tying their swimsuits as they came, then yanking at their parents, he and she being pulled out of their muse, reluctantly, for an evening swim; doing it all one last time, before he went to sleep.
He wondered which he preferred, the real tapes prepared before his departure, or the scenarios, new experiences randomly generated to make his journey more tolerable. He wouldn’t have time for both. Whichever he chose would be the last, because the preferred survival strategy had no chance, if that were what he chose.
It wasn’t in him to do it, to be turned into an ice cube on the hope that some day, in thousands of years, someone would thaw him out, a prehistoric oddity, his family and era dead and forgotten.
“Let’s get this ship down somewhere before the catalyst goes to zero,” he said, low and calm. Accepting abysmal survival strategies was not what Scout pilots did.
“Set an intercept course to the star we just mapped,” he ordered. Then mumbled to himself, “I believe that one had a benign planet.”
“Course set,” Seraphim Two announced.
“Give me the planetary data. Minimize ETA—forecast catalyst status at touch down.”
“Planetary data coming on screen,” the HER announced.
As the data rolled across the holographic stage, Seraphim Two informed, “Catalyst will be base minus four at destination.”
The pilot stared at him in momentary disbelief, then sighed. After all it was just a computer enhanced to be companion-like.
“Come on,” the pilot complained, “you’re saying we won’t get there. Get us there.”
“The programmed route is the best catalyst preserving path.”
“Display it,” the pilot ordered. The planetary data from Seraphim One dissolved, and the view of their section of the galaxy filled in. A bright thread, their projected path, passed through it and terminated at a speck.
“Magnify terminal leg,” the pilot ordered.
The galaxy melted before a huge fiery ball with diminutive planets scattered around it. The tiny thread of the proposed route corkscrewed several times around the star then arced out to orbit the planet.