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Proxima Centauri B

An Interstellar Prison Cell

By Zachary FryPublished 7 months ago Updated 5 months ago 6 min read
Photo Credit: Kevin Gill https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinmgill/29196109016

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space or so they say. I wish my voice carried over the three-light-year distance to Earth, but I know it doesn’t. I’ve been sending messages to ground control for over four decades. I’ve received no transmissions in return. I’m convinced NASA gave me a faulty transmitter on purpose. Better to pretend like I don’t exist than to listen to my complaints. I guess it's part of my punishment.

Forty years ago, I was given a choice: plead guilty to the murder of Johanna Neilson and accept the death penalty, or be the first human to land on the surface of Proxima Centauri B as part of an epic science experiment. I chose the latter option. At least I’ll make history instead of dying like a peasant. That’s the only thought that keeps me going.

I’ve had forty years to ponder my fate. Thirty-nine years ago I decided life wasn’t fair. I never killed Johanna, I was wrongfully convicted of murder. The judge didn’t care, she needed someone to pin her grisly death on. That happened to be me.

I would have killed myself by now, but the engineers who built Light Sail 2 were clever. Suicide is impossible. There are no hatches I can open, no sharp objects to slice myself with and no material to hang myself. All the walls of my living module are soft and squishy.

The ship is the size of a football field, most of it being solar panels. The ion propulsion system requires a continuous stream of energy to power its massive thrusters. The engineers say it’s the fastest man-made object in existence, but this decades-long journey has made it feel like the slowest tortoise on Earth. My entire life revolves around the living module of Light Sail 2. I can’t move anywhere else on the giant spacecraft.

I have a soft plastic desk to eat on, a television built into the wall with an indestructible screen, a mattress with no sheets that I strap myself into at night and a three-foot diameter window to stare at nothing. There’s also a small area next to the television where I can send voice messages and receive incoming transmissions. I poop and pee into a vacuum tube that sucks out the contents into space. Space shits are the worst, they’re never satisfying. It’s like I want more poop to come out, but I’m lucky if a couple of child sized droppings fall out. I used to love space, but now I hate it.

I wonder how Judge Jennie sleeps at night, knowing she single handedly ruined my life. I hope she gets cancer and dies. That would be a fitting ending for her. I know it's wrong to wish that upon someone, but I can’t help it. This interstellar journey has made me bitter and filled with hate.

I want to move past the case, but I find it impossible. It’s the reason I’m flying towards Proxima Centauri B at 10% the speed of light.

To pass the time I watch movies pre-programmed on the television. There is nothing else to stimulate my mind. I pretend the actors in the movies I watch are my friends. I know what words they’re going to say before they say them. I finish their sentences with perfect timing. My favorite movie is Pulp Fiction; I’ve watched it 3,076 times.

“Thomas, your first meal of the day is ready to eat,” the robotic voice of Thelma tells me. A freeze-dried meal of spinach, sweet potatoes, and ice cream.

I hate Thelma. She controls everything about my life; when I eat, when I sleep, and when I watch my movies. It might be more manageable if she had a face, but she’s just a software program that runs the vessel.

The food has no taste. It never does. It’s dry and brittle. I don’t even bother with the ice cream. After forty years of vanilla, you get sick of it.

A small trash disposal in the corner of my living module sucks up the remnants of my meal.

“Four years, thirty-two days, fifteen minutes, and sixteen seconds until your arrival on Proxima Centauri B.”

“Fuck you,” I respond bitterly. I don’t need to be reminded, I know exactly how long it’s been. Keeping track of time has become an obsession of mine. There are no clocks on board, but I force myself to have Thelma tell me the time every day. I can turn off the feature, one of the few things I can control, but I choose not to.

I’m as old as dirt now, pushing seventy. My bones are weak and my muscles are atrophied. All I do is sit in zero gravity and watch television. There’s no way for me to work out in this tiny space I call home.

I had a life once. It’s painful to think about it, but I like to wallow in my sorrow to feel something. In some weird way the sadness prevents me from not going completely insane. It reminds me that I am a living human being, and that I can feel. Happiness is a foreign concept to me, but occasionally I remember the one activity that always brought me joy: soccer.

Soccer was my love and passion. I played collegiate ball until I tore my ACL my senior year. After the career ending injury, I decided to coach. I enjoyed watching the progression and development of the young kids throughout a season. It made me feel worthy; I had a purpose. I long for that purpose now.

“What movie do you want to watch today, Thomas?”

“I don’t know, surprise me.”

“Interstellar has been selected.” The television turns on and plays the opening credits to the movie.

I hate this movie. It’s my least favorite in the catalog. Too much space makes me want to gag. As it plays in the background I float over to the microphone and press the transmit button. Maybe ground control will hear me today. Probably not.

“Hey ground control, I hope you all burn in hell for the rest of eternity. Suck my cock and balls. First thing I’m going to do on Proxima Centauri B is take a picture of my ass hole.” I end the transmission with a smile. Even if they don’t get it, I like to pretend they do.

I can see Proxima Centauri from my window. Its red glow is both beautiful and ominous. Solar flares are far more common on this star than they are on the sun. I’m close enough to die from a violent flare. The highly energetic particles would fry me instantly.

Proxima Centauri B looks like a tiny dot next to its gargantuan parent star. I can’t distinguish any surface features on it. I like to imagine its climate is similar to Earth’s, but I know it’s not. One side permanently faces Proxima Centauri, the other faces away from it. Light Sail 2 is programmed to land on the light side.

Once in Proxima Centauri B’s gravity well, Light Sail 2 will ditch its enormous solar panels and my living module will be converted into a descent vehicle. In the unlikely scenario everything works and I don’t die from a mechanical malfunction, I’ll land on the surface.

A space suit I don’t know how to use is stored somewhere in the ship. It was designed to operate in Proxima Centauri B’s unique environment that has only been hypothesized, never studied.

The astronomers say it’s in the habitable zone. Liquid water could be present on the surface. Life, both simple and complex might thrive on the planet. Or, Proxima Centauri B could be completely barren, devoid of anything organic. I don’t know which situation is more terrifying: living out the rest of my days alone on a foreign planet, or discovering alien life forms that have never met a human being before.

astronomyscience fictionspace

About the Creator

Zachary Fry

Author of Roswell 1947, available on Amazon. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @ZacharyFry505.

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