Past Light

He looked out the front window, leaning forward in a pointless effort to help his eyes span the celestial distance, but there was nothing yet to see.

“This is it, baby,” he said. “Daddy’s rich now.”

There was, of course, no baby, and he wasn’t a daddy. In fact, he hadn’t spoken to another person in five and a half months. Long ago he had stopped caring about the taboo of speaking aloud to himself. He had lots of time to dream and scheme and to tell himself all about it.

Everyone said talking to oneself was the first sign of space craziness, but he didn’t believe it. Supposedly, being by himself would make him lose sight of the benchmarks people used to measure the universe with. Loneliness would make him forget the limits society put on reality. Without others, how would he recalibrate his sanity? Numerous stories circulated about long distance pilots going nuts: flying into suns or going on rampages when they returned home. The surveyor had convinced himself numerous times it was all baloney. Space craziness was just a myth—an excuse to use when you screwed up.

And he was not going to screw this up. He had been careful with all of his plans. The ship wasn’t his, of course. It belonged to Unitrax, the folks who paid his salary. Technically, Unitrax would have first claim to any viable find, but the surveyor had taken a few delicate liberties with his employer’s trust. He was sure other surveyors did the same, though they never came out and said so. He never asked either; he just figured out how to do it. He delayed reports and fudged the ones he did send in. A little space garage on Mars helped override the company’s instruments and loop dead space filler into the logs when necessary. After almost six months in space, he had carved out a few off-the-record weeks for himself. If things worked out, he would find something of value on the planet and return to Earth to sell it. After resigning, he’d form his own company and come out here to “discover” the new world. This could be big.

He instructed the intellitor to jump further into the solar system.

A few seconds later, he saw the planet. It was definitely blue. Nothing more could be distinguished at this distance, but it was blue. He set the field drive to close the distance and returned his gaze to the view out the window. He breathed in deeply and licked his lips as if savoring a meal before devouring it.

“Beautiful,” he said.

The surveyor couldn’t see much of the planet yet, but he could see himself in about two years. A private claim like this would make him one of the richest, most desirable men on Earth. He could sell mineral rights, production rights and possibly residency rights. If there were any interesting sights or animals, he could cut in on tourism, hunting and exploring. None of the developing would he conduct personally; let others pay him for the right to do it themselves. Then he’d set himself up in a mansion somewhere. The exact location didn’t really matter; the surveyor never saw much of the Earth. He had always heard the French Riviera was nice.  Or maybe the Hollywood Hills. It wasn’t important as long as it was a place others envied.

“I’m really gonna do it.”

He probably was going to do it. No one else surveyed out here. Most prospectors searched through the larger star clusters where the chances of a payoff were much greater. His supervisor took a bit of a risk sending him out this way, and it had required quite a lot of convincing to get him to agree. This spot had captured the surveyor’s eye for some time. There were a few small star clusters out here not big enough to attract attention, but without competition, he thought he’d have a good chance at a profitable find. And now it was going to pay off. Not for his supervisor, or for Unitrax, but for him.

“It’s his neck on the block, not mine.”

Poor guy. His head would roll. After seeing his lackluster reports, the bosses wouldn’t be too happy, especially when none of them would be able to understand why he was out here in the first place. They’d fire his supervisor. They might even fire him. Fine. If they didn’t, none of them could blame him for quitting. After all, he did get sent out on a wild goose chase with little chance of accruing any significant commissions. No one in their right mind would send anyone else out here for decades, not until the more promising areas became overworked and saturated.


He could see clouds and continents and oceans.

His mouth watered. Intellitor models showed a single large moon which he could not see yet. It had to be on the other side. Good. A sizable moon could indicate stability, and stability meant a chance of biodiversity. His speed became noticeable as he approached, the planet looming ever larger. He slowed his ship and stared.

He sat astounded. It really was beautiful: glassy blue and creamy white clouds.  Glacial caps, or perhaps just a simple snowfall, covered the poles. The intellitor would be able to figure out which soon enough.

Home, he thought; and yet it wasn’t.

No divorce lawyers, vengeful in-laws, bill collectors or court agents—no angry wife—chased after him here. It was so peaceful. Just the idea this planet could end all of his terrestrial troubles gave him a sense of calm he hadn’t anticipated in all of his months of dreaming. This was better than Earth; this was his. He’d take the tranquility this place offered back to his home. The profits he’d make would be enough to ensure the peace of mind lasted the rest of his life.