Soon after graduation from the academy, my family and a group of ten, took off from Cape Canaveral. We were part of ‘the new mission’; 25 vessels in all. We were all full of excitement. The overall mission coordinates were set by the academy; they determined the what; our ships determined the where and how.
The exhilaration of light speed was powerful. However, soon into the mission, we experienced turbulence that never went away. I slowed the ship down gradually, but was concerned it would separate us from the convoy. The turbulence continued and was having a negative effect on the ship and all those on board. I hailed the lead ship and suggested that they take the other ten families off of our ship, onto theirs. A week after the others moved off the ship, leaving just our family there, I signalled the lead ship and suggested we shut the ship down for a period of time, so I could investigate further the root of the turbulence. “No, you risk the mission. This is normal. You have come this far. Keep going. This is not for the faint of heart. Continue.” His words bounced around my head. The turbulence continued, our family came under more stress, so one day, I signalled the lead ship that we were shutting down the engines and shutting down our communications. He was angry, but I knew in my core that we needed to do this. Something told me that I could not resolve this mysterious turbulence while in communication with the others.
I would spend days looking at the ships engines and electronics to find the root problem, and at night, we would spend time as a family, talking, laughing. Life in the Academy had kept me so busy I had lost the art of rest. After dinner, we would look out the window, at the stars and just sit silently, floating in space. Night after night, we would sit there, suspended in space, between earth and our destination, lost, floating. “Do you think the ship is making a choice for us?” my wife asked me one night. “What do you mean?” “I think the ship decided something for us. It made a decision for us; one we were not brave enough to make on our own. I’ve noticed your desire to find the problem is lessening. You used to spend most of your time trying to find the problem. Now you spend most of your time, looking into space, reading, writing, talking to us. It’s as if you wanted this to happen.” “That’s ridiculous,” I said. But I knew she was right.
Why wasn’t I trying harder to find the turbulence problem? Why wouldn’t we just go back to earth, very slowly? That would be so easy. She went to bed and I looked out the window. That’s when the truth came to me. “I can’t go back because I don’t fit in there anymore. I can’t go forward because I’m questioning the academy’s coordinates. The truth is, I wanted to be here, floating, because I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t go forward. But floating was for losers they said. The last place you want to be is lost in space, floating. That’s dangerous they always said. But it was what my heart needed and wanted.
I turned on the communicator one night. There were many messages from the other ships, and from earth, concerned about us. I sent back messages that we were fine, but did not give out our coordinates, lest they rescue us. It’s lonely out here, floating, but I found I’m not alone. I found a frequency where there are others like me, floating. Their stories are similar to mine. Some of them have been floating for a while, some talk about the academy and their missions, which were to other galaxies. Some have just recently started to float. It’s funny to listen to them as they frantically try to repair, but you can hear in their voice, how much they long to float. One woman spoke of her struggle; to call a rescue ship to bring her home but not wanting it to turn up. What makes floaters unique is that they are quick to listen, and slow to speak, something we all learned at the academy, but rarely saw in practice. Most academy graduates were quick to be right and slow to listen; quick to give answers to all questions and doubts. I somehow know that if we went home, or continued on the original coordinates, there would be no judgement from the floaters.
Our floating has taken us away from our regular routines and festivals we once attended on earth. We all feel the ache of their loss, the empty space that now fills them. I’m not sure how much I actually miss these routines but I just feel the empty space. Someone created a ‘floaters channel’ where we can speak in real time. We often just share our observations of the stars, but we also talk a lot about home. It’s a time with no agenda, no arguments.
The other night a rescue ship from the academy showed up on my radar. I happened to be awake at the time. It was 3am earth time. I did the strangest thing, without a thought. I cloaked the ship, making us invisible to them. I watched them pass in the distance. I zoomed my camera in on their cockpit. As they circled the vicinity of where our ship had recently registered, I could see the panicked look on their faces. I felt bad hiding. I understood their panic and appreciated their concern, but they didn’t have to be concerned. I could have been him. The biggest fear in the academy was to become a floater. We had heard stories of them, heard about the high percentage of those who ended up floating for years. Every life was to be lived between earth and the mission’s end, never to be caught stalled in the middle of the two. Yet, here we were in this strange place I call a terrible beauty.
– Brian Ralph