The Volunteer


“Here’s a great SPACE story that I have been recently sent … based on the story of my song ’39 … it really makes you think.  

Please read and enjoy !   Should we encourage Tom to publish this ?



'39 - Don't you hear my call - by Marilyn Chapparo
’39 – Don’t you hear my call – by Marilyn Chapparo



By Tom Little (now Tom Waters)

     The sunset was scarlet and cadmium orange and magenta over the grey Pacific coast of Mexico. I walked off down the beach looking for Siân.

     As I walked, the form of the rocky promontory that we called Longaway Point loomed black against the gaudy sky. Dusk was falling rapidly now: I almost missed the first message. In the wet beach sand had been scratched the shape of a large arrow-pierced heart with “Siân + Jody” written inside it. The arrow pointed on toward the promontory.

Under the dark rock was the second message: “I’m building a sand-castle so we don’t have to pay rent anymore. Love, Siân.” The tide had already eroded the edges of lines.

     On the other side of Longaway Point was the third, written in beautiful cursive and with footprints for a border: “Beware savage natives.” As I finished reading it, I felt hands tightening around my neck and the weight of a body on my back. She pushed me over and we rolled around on the sand, obliterating the message. She took me down the beach another hundred yards to see the sand-castle. It was getting dark, but a nearly full moon was rising into the dark eastern sky at our backs. The castle had crumbled in a few spots, but it was still beautiful.

     Siân and I sat nude on the beach and quietly watched the gentle waves rolling in and out in the deepening night.

     “I volunteered for the Starchase project, Siân.”

     “I knew you would.”

     “I had to tell them I was unattached.”

     “This is our last night, then.” She spoke in a whisper.

     “It doesn’t have to be. They can put you in cryogenic sleep until we find a new homeworld. Then you can come to me. We can be together again, and … “

     “I don’t know if I can just go to sleep and wake up in another century, Jody. I don’t know if I could handle that. And what if something went wrong? What if the machines failed or they decided not to wake me up, or I died in the Sleep? It still happens, you know. Oh, Jody, why do you want to go? Why?”

     I didn’t have an answer so I said nothing.

     No one knew why the solar wind flux had increased tenfold in the past year. There was no explanation, no answer. All the experts agreed, however, that the process was accelerating and that the final result would be the end of all life on Earth. The same was true for the moon and Mars as well. Within forty years there would be nothing left. All dead. So Project Starchase was born. Twenty astronauts in the fastest machine that the world could build would race between the stars at speeds nearly as fast as light, aging only a few days for each year they were gone from earth. Somewhere, out there in the black night, there must be a world or two on which people might live. It would be a race against the clock for the survival of humanity.

     Now this was our last night together. We made it memorable.

     One week later a solitary figure stood on the same beach and watched the white speck that was Starchase-I sail off into the Milky Way. It was 2039, and the beginning of the end.

     The first leg of the journey went well enough. In the second system we explored there was a habitable planet, Procyon 4, with just the right orbit and atmosphere to protect it from the worst

of its fierce white sun’s ultraviolet rays. A jungle covered most of the planet beneath a seldom-broken blanket of clouds. It completely surprised us, but some of the plants turned out to be edible. Word was sent back to Earth. We continued to roam the stars, searching for further possibilities.

     After we’d been gone about five months ship’s time, and 45 years Earth time, the crew started to become restless. I found myself thinking of Siân, wondering if she’d taken the Sleep and come with the first settlers to Procyon 4. She might be there now, waiting, still 25. How many years would pass for her before we could meet again? Even if she was on Procyon 4, would she wait there for me in suspended animation? Would she even have the opportunity? I felt now a great urgency to return to her. I had said I was unattached, but it was not true, and my longing for her grew with every hour spent in the stark loneliness of interstellar space.

     Our captain was aware of the rising discontent. He declared that the time had now come to return to Procyon 4, in the hopes that the colonization had been successful. He warned us of the fact that we would be returning to a world some sixty years in our future by the time we arrived. He said that he thought it doubtful that we could assimilate. His plans were to have the ship overhauled and inspected, and then continue with the mission, finding new worlds for man. Some of us understood what he said. Many somehow believed that they were “going home” and eagerly awaited our arrival at Procyon 4.

     We were greeted like heroes emerging in the flesh from the pages of history. Indeed that is what we were. Procyon 4 was a bustling colony of twenty small cities. It was a place full of hope and excitement, a new world in all senses. Many of the young children were third-generation Procyonites. The humid, cloudy skies seemed to suit them all well enough. We were paraded through the city streets, and great banquets and parties were given in our honor. I saw no Siân.

     I would have started an inquiry after here, to at least answer me whether she had been able to come to Procyon or not. But the ceremonies consumed every available hour. It was very tiring. Their speech was different than ours, and their customs strange. We wore Procyonite clothing and ate Procyonite food, but we did not feel at home. Soon most of us were ready to join our captain on the continued voyage. Only a few wanted to remain here.

     On the day before our departure, I was approached by a tall, middle-aged man with a somber expression on his face. He folded his hands before his chest in a gesture of respect and politeness and said, “Forgive me, grandfather, if I have offended you. I thought that you would speak with me and with my sisters and our children, but you have shown us not even the smallest courtesy or acknowledgment of kinship. If we have been unworthy, please reveal our failings to us, that we might learn … “

    I stared at this man who was biologically old enough to be my father. Grandson? Could it be? I felt dizzy and weak. My head was clouded. “Are you really my grandson?” It was a stupid thing to ask, but all that would come to me.

    “It is known throughout Procyon that our mother was the daughter of Jody Brian of the Score Brave Souls, the Volunteers of Starchase-I. This point of family honor is beyond question, and uncontested.” He seemed slightly indignant, though the indignation was concealed by a shroud of reverence.

    So Siân must have been pregnant, even then. Or perhaps the conception occurred that night, that last night … a daughter.

    “You say ‘was’. Is your mother dead then? And what about her mother? Is she here? Where is she? Where is Siân? Speak, man! Are you deaf?”

    “Mother left to sail the skies when I was four. She is gone now. Grandmother did not come to Procyon. She … ” The man lost his voice, flustered and injured by my strong words.

    “I’m sorry,” I said, and ran back to the spaceship, sobbing. Siân had not come to Procyon. Where was she, then? In some Sleep Cell on dead Earth, waiting for a wakening that would never come? Or was she dead? Or sitting on a sandy beach in Mexico, gazing into a night sky brightened by a supernatural aurora of cosmic rays? What messages wait there in the wet sand for me?

     The ship returned to Earth. We were told it was safe to spend two or three days on the surface, but no more. As we stepped into the landing pod bay, I noticed the ship’s Earth-time chronometer. It read 2139. A hundred years. A century. What would I find here? Why had I come? The thought of the vast gulf of time which had flooded over this place during the last year of my life overwhelmed me and drained my hope away.

     Perhaps I had come to pay a final tribute to a moonlit night a hundred years before. Perhaps I had come because the other astronauts had wanted to return and see the dead world. In any case, here I was. I hopped on a solar scooter and headed for western Mexico.

     Everywhere I went, the world was grey and violet, lifeless and wind-swept. The life had all turned to dust, and the dust clogged the air and filled the valleys and riverbeds. There were dead black pools and muddy eroded hillsides. The devastation was stifling and colorless.

     The beach was still there, though the shape of the land had changed some. The promontory could still be seen, though only half of it remained visible above the grit and dust. It was farther inland now. I walked along the beach in a grey, stale morning. Tears came to my eyes.

     I lifted my head and saw a distant silhouetted figure walking toward me. As we drew nearer, I saw that it was a woman, and I recognized –

     “Siân!” I screamed and ran through the thick sands to meet her. I threw my arms around her body and pulled her to me. Then I looked into her face …

     I pulled away. It was not Siân. I saw Siân’s hair, Siân’s lips, Siân’s eyes. But it was not Siân. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought you were someone else. You look just like …” I stammered.

     The woman showed perfect poise and little emotion. “What is your name?” she asked slowly.

     “Jody Brian. I’m an astronaut.”

     “I know,” she said. “Mother told me.”

     Then it made sense. We had come to the same beach on the same coast on the same continent, on what was an otherwise deserted planet. I to think of a lover, she to think of a mother. “You’re so young,” I said to a daughter my own age.

     “I’ve been star-hopping since I said goodbye to the children on Procyon 4 last year, I mean forty years ago. I decided to die here, like mother.”

     “No!” I said. “We’ll go to Procyon. We can live there with your family. Come!” I took her hand, though I don’t know why. Perhaps it was Siân I saw.

     “You don’t understand, do you?” She seemed partly compassionate, partly patronizing, and partly pleadingly mournful. “Once you start star-hopping, you can’t go home. There is no home. Once you’re on that ship, the rest of the universe slips a year further into oblivion with each day you live. After a week, home no longer exists. We’re both homeless. The difference is that I understand that, and you don’t. I’m going to sit here on this beach and watch the deadly sun sail overhead once, twice, ­­­ many times it takes for the radiation to finish me. Join me: it’s your only future.”

     I thought about it, but I just couldn’t do it. Was it survival instinct? Or just helplessness in the face of time, inability to control or even halt its flow?

     So I went back to the spaceship, to let the years roll pointlessly past me, each one a century, each one an agony of unmendable loss. It goes on like a ballad with a relentless rhythm and a desperately searching melody.

     For my life still ahead, pity me.