Notes: Any sci fi fans familiar with the Space Madness trope? It’s been touched on by Asimov, Niven, Star Trek writers; a lot of greats. I briefly considered delving into it here, but c’mon, I’m not mean enough to make a kid go crazy. I decided on Space Ennui instead, compounded by a judicious touch of claustrophobia. But don’t worry, Garrett fixed it. He’s such a fixer.
(PS-Whoever makes me a picture of a panda crossed with an orangutan, I will love you forever:)
Part Three: Empty Spaces Make Empty People
Three solid weeks of flying through space equaled definite boredom after about the first week. The fastest route from Pandora to Paradise didn’t get close to any sights interesting enough to detour for, and the blackness beyond the hatch was rarely broken even by a distant star. Most of space was just…empty. Of everything. No life, no color, no heat or fission or exciting chemistry. Just unending expanses of nothingness that could drive a person insane if they let themselves go.
Garrett had never been bothered by the vastness of space. Of course, he’d been a rather dramatic teenager, the sort to color his entire room black and listen to angry, hopeless music. The melancholia of such nothingness had appealed to his angsty side, and the solipsist in him kind of liked the idea that he was the only sure thing that was real, and that everything else was just something he’d dreamed up. He got a strange sort of comfort out of looking around and seeing a forever’s worth of nothing.
Jonah just ignored it all. He didn’t like it, didn’t dislike it: for him, flying was his job, and it didn’t really matter where he was doing it, he just had to worry about getting from point A to point B. If he played his music a little louder in the ship than he did at home, and if the lights were a little brighter, well, those were valid coping mechanisms and that was fine. Being on a ship was second nature for Jonah, having grown up a Drifter, and Garrett knew he didn’t have to worry about his fiancé. The problem came from Cody, and it was one Garrett felt he should have seen coming and planned for.
Cody was a kid, an active, bouncy kid who liked to run around and climb things and generally get his kicks exhausting himself. He hadn’t grown up shipboard like his dad, and he wasn’t used to tight quarters like Garrett. He’d been adequately distracted for a while, working his way through the movie holos, finishing the homework packet that was supposed to last the entire three weeks and learning the basics of flying a ship from Jonah. For about a day after that he was antsy, unable to sit still, fighting back against every suggestion for how to pass the time that either of them came up with. The next day he was worse, listless and sleepy but not wanting to go to his room, and protesting vigorously when either of them tried to get him to go to bed.
Cody finally cried himself out and fell into an exhausted sleep in Jonah’s arms while Garrett spelled him at the controls. They stared at each other over his head and shared a tired smile.
“We’re going to have to figure something else out,” Garrett said quietly. “We are not doing this for another two weeks.”
Jonah scrubbed a hand over his face tiredly. “I know. Not sure what more we can do, though.”
“Well, he’s not sleeping when we are, clearly. I have the white noise generator going in his room, it’s set to mimic the sound of rain falling at home, but it’s not doing the trick. He’s not comfortable enough to fall asleep even with that.”
“Huh.” Jonah looked down at Cody and then back up. “This is probably gonna annoy you, but…we could try letting him sleep in our room? It worked when he had nightmares, and he’s not that much older now.”
“Why would that annoy me?”
Jonah quirked an eyebrow and Garrett chuckled. “Well, yes, that, but I can be a monk for the duration of this flight if it means Cody’s in a better mood. Because what I can’t deal with is him being as moody as I remember me being at this age. I know exactly how much of a pain in the ass I was as a child and there’s no way our kid is heading down that road.”
“It’s a short term solution, though. He needs something to do while he’s awake or he’ll start breakin’ stuff.”
Garrett waved a hand dismissively. “I have an idea about that too. He’s done with his work, so now he can help me with mine.”
“Cody’s a little young for complex climate modeling, don’t ya think?”
“He’s not too young to learn to use the simulator,” Garrett replied. “I don’t need it right now, but I can teach him to use the animate feature. He’s tired of watching shows? We’ll let him make one instead.”
“Martina would kill you if she knew you were lettin’ him play around with the priciest piece of equipment in the lab,” Jonah smiled. “I’m kinda surprised she let you bring it with, honestly. Doesn’t she have a tendency to hang on to things?”
“Like a vulture clutching a carcass.”
Oh, right. Minimal experience with animals. “A vulture is a type of bird, a scavenger. It’s big and ugly and smart, and it’s very opportunistic. They’ve been introduced on over a dozen worlds in the central system, in part to keep down the rest of the cloned animal populations.
“By the way, whoever thought redesigning Old Earth animals and putting them in wildlife reserves based on their ‘cuteness’ was a goddamn idiot. There’s this zoo, Chibi World? Most frightening experience of my young life. They crossed a panda with an orangutan, and the thing ripped through its enclosure and tore around the park like a mad thing. My class had to barricade ourselves in the cafeteria and wait for the robots to tranq it, which took hours.” Garrett shook his head, then pointed a finger at Jonah. “Speaking of which, the pet thing? Is an absolute no, as far as I’m concerned. Pets are nothing but pain and suffering.”
Jonah stared at him with slightly wide eyes. “What the hell’s a panda?”
“I’ll show you sometime when Cody isn’t around, being all impressionable.” Garrett set the helm to autopilot and stood up. “Let’s go to bed and see if it works out.”
Cody didn’t even wake up as they all settled in, and he slept a solid eight hours nestled between the pair of them. He woke up when they did though, and insisted on being with at least one of them at all times, which meant fast, solitary showers and accompanying him to his room to change his clothes. Breakfast was a little subdued, with Cody on the edge of pouting as he chased his cereal around the bowl with his spoon.
“So,” Garrett said cheerfully as he finished his coffee, “are you ready to go to work?”
Cody frowned. “I don’t have any more schoolwork, I finished it all.”
“Not that kind of work. This is special work. Something very, very exciting, something completely brand new.”
“So exciting,” Garrett confided. “And important. And I need your help to do it.”
“Really.” He stood up from the table. “You ready?”
Cody glanced at Jonah, who smiled. “Go on, bucko.” Those few words of approval were all Cody needed, and he grabbed Garrett’s hand and pulled him down towards the makeshift lab that used to be the ship’s gym.
“Is it in here?”
“Yes,” Garrett said, heading over to the simulator and turning it on. He loaded the simplest visual program up and pulled a chair over for Cody. “It’s got to be done with this.”
Cody stood on the chair and looked into the viewfinder of the machine. “But I don’t know how to use this.”
“I can teach you,” Garrett said. “We’re going to use it to make a holofilm. One about what things are like back on Pandora, since my family hasn’t gotten to come and visit us there yet. We can load images and sounds and you can draw the things that aren’t in the database.”
Cody looked at him solemnly. “That sounds really hard.”
“It’s going to take some time, that’s true, but you’re smart. I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you could,” Garrett told him. “I’ll help whenever you need me to, but I think this would be a great gift for when we arrive.”
“Do you think it will make your family like me better?”
How was this even a question? “Are you kidding me?” Garrett scoffed, leaning in and hugging Cody around the shoulders. “You’re their absolute favorite. Every time they call, who do they want to talk to first?”
“Exactly. They can’t wait to see you. I’m hoping this will make them like me better.”
Cody giggled. “They already like you!”
“Yes, usually, but a little extra ammo never hurts. So. Want to learn how to load the environments?”
The morning was pretty slow, hampered by Garrett’s compulsive need to step in and help until Cody finally told him he could “figure it out by myself, okay please Garrett?” The afternoon went better, Garrett only stepping in when Cody needed help drawing something or tracing a movement pattern in 3-D. Jonah joined them after dinner so Cody could show them what he’d come up with so far, and he duly gave it the praise it was due.
That night, as Cody lay sleeping between them, Jonah whispered, “You know, you’re kinda brilliant, darlin’.”
Garrett smiled lazily. “What, because I kept Cody distracted?”
“Because you made him happy,” Jonah corrected. “You came up with a game plan, something to do to keep him interested, and it’s educational too. Maybe you should moonlight as a teacher.”
“Mmm, no. I’d sooner shoot myself in the face than stare down a class full of seven-year olds every day, but thanks for thinking nice things about me, babe.” He grinned. “Between you teaching him to fly and me teaching him my job, I think Cody will be ready for colony-wide domination at around ten. Then we can move on to the rest of the Fringe. He’ll make a wonderful despot.”
“Don’t give him ideas.”