Settlers of the Void


Ash from the eruption drifted down throughout the night while I slept and has covered the ground with a dusting of grayish white. The normally faint sulfur smell surrounding the camp has intensified, but the wind has lulled and the world outside my tent reminds me more of a snowy landscape painting than the surface of hell. Not that I’ve seen snow in real life before (or hell for that matter).

Nutri-Stew breakfast. I turned my radio to Channel 1 and gave a quick report while I waited for it to congeal.

“This is QCS9. Things were pretty quiet here last night, but I thought I’d check in. Have there been any other eruptions?”

“Negative,” Central said. “But volcanic ash is great fertilizer. Consider yourself lucky. Your plot will be one of the highest yield in the quadrant.”

“Right,” I said. “QCS9 out.”

I spent the rest of the morning planting cabbage in the ash infused soil. The first few seedlings felt like newborn children. I gently cut them out of the planter, cradled them in my hands as I walked them to their spots, carefully packed them into the soil, and sprinkled a measured amount of pond water on top. By the two hundredth cabbage, I started to get sloppy. The wind picked up and I couldn’t see for shit, so I headed inside the tent and mixed up another batch of Nutri-Stew to eat while I listened to Channel 2.

A frantic conversation played out in the static:

“My multitool is gone,” a voice said.

“You were always losing stuff on the ship.”

“I didn’t lose it. I put it right outside my tent before I went to bed. When I woke up this morning it was gone.”

“Did you ask for a new one?”

“I haven’t mentioned it on the official channel yet. Man, Martinez is going to skin me alive when she finds out.”

The wind spiked and static overpowered their conversation. I fiddled with the dial, tried moving the radio to a better spot to improve the reception, but ended up giving up and going back outside to work on the plot.

Got a lot of good planting in. Dawn would be proud, I think. Hopefully she can visit someday.

The wind died down around sunset. One benefit to my pond is that I can use it to bathe, something I desperately needed after a long day of working in the ash. I turned up the radio as loud as it would go and floated in the pool while looking up at the stars.

Most of the universe is just empty space. Even as big and impressive as a nebula is, as bright as the colors can be when you look at them through a telescope, the truth is that even stars are drowning in an ocean of nothing. In a way, this made my job as a navigator relatively simple. Everybody always worries about hitting an asteroid, but the truth is that the chances of you hitting anything big enough to damage a starship are only slightly above zero.

Truth, I’ve noticed, has a way of repeating at all orders of magnitude. Just like how stars are surrounded by empty space, electrons are surrounded by empty space too. And even if everything goes well for us here, we’ll only be thriving on a tiny corner of a vast, empty plain of barren rock.

But density isn’t the only way to look at the world. Slowly but surely we’re adding a bit of green to PIB-1176. There’s life here now, not just empty space. Things are changing.

Tomorrow I’m going to do some exploring.