Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Captain Enderby leaned back in his chair and watched the blue planet roll silently by the viewports yet again. It seemed unfair that, after all this time, these generations of waiting, the prize should be so close but apparently unattainable. This was what his great great grandparents had longed to see when they set their course for the stars nearly two hundred years ago, the blue streaked with white that meant another Earth, a new home.

He thought of the many who had been born, lived and died on the ship, learning early of the great quest that fate had assigned to them, how they had come to know these white walls, glowing with soft hidden lighting, the corridors and living quarters, as their world, contained within the shell that shielded them from the vast emptiness of space. And how they all had yearned for the news that a blue planet was found, that their journey was ended.

The hopes that had died with each generation's passing, yet handed with care to the next so that the dream remained alive, that they should all come to this, the tantalizing vision of the goal, so near and yet barred to them. Enderby rubbed his hand across his face as he tried once more to find a solution to the problem.

It was not that the planet was unsuitable. It was so nearly an exact copy of Earth that they had rejoiced when the first results were fed back to the ship from the scout robots. Atmosphere almost identical to Earth's, a fully developed flora and fauna, yet no intelligent life forms, an Eden awaiting its colonization. There was no shortage of volunteers for the first landing, the crew that were to build a base on a grassy plain next to a wide river.

So it was surprising that requests for return began to come in almost immediately. When these became desperate, Enderby authorized the return of the pioneeer crew and joined the second team to go down. He needed to understand what was happening to his people on the planet.

He found the answer as soon as he stepped forth from the shuttle on to the fresh, green grass of the plain. Overhead the great blue bowl of the sky arched and before him stretched the open prairie, seemingly limitless in its expanse. Fear gripped his soul and it was all he could do to control it and continue to the base.

He sought to drown the fear with work, throwing himself into the construction of the buildings, working alongside his people, hoping that manual labor would bring the relief of forgetfulness. But he saw the quick glances at the vast emptiness around them and knew that the people felt the same terror, that they held themselves despite the fear, trying so hard to make this venture successful.

It was no good. By the end of the second day Enderby's hands had begun to tremble with the effort of controlling his panic and the flow of entreaties to return had become constant. He ordered the crew back to the shuttle and they made their way back to the ship, defeated.

The problem was clear now, at least. For so many years had the people known only a world bounded by walls, floor and ceiling that the huge emptiness of the plain and the sky seemed threatening, made them feel like insignificant insects crawling on the surface, unprotected from the old enemy, the vacuum of space. There was a word for this, agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces, something experienced even by some Earth dwellers of so long ago. But that must have been nothing in comparison to the fear felt by his people and himself, never having known anything but the comforting womb of the ship.

Over the next days and weeks, Enderby and his officers worked out several solutions and all were tried. A base was attempted in a forested area but clearing was needed before they could build and, as soon as the sky appeared above the fallen trees, the fear seized the workers and they could not go on. They tried working in helmets that shielded them from the emptiness but the mind knew and refused to be blinkered.

In the end a shift system was established, crews going down for a day at a time to finish the construction of the first base, and its completion gave them a toehold on the land. Inside the domes they could block out the emptiness for a while and pretend that colonization had begun.

But it was a pretence; unless they ventured out into the open, they could never expand beyond the buildings. They knew this and, as the great openness of outside eroded their resolve, all attempts to grow the settlement or begin another ceased. Their toehold was no more than that and Enderby could not see how they might extend their reach to grasp the Eden before them.

The animals had no problems with the new world and their little herds of cattle and sheep were multiplying and spreading across the plain. Small test beds of crops hastily planted were thriving and giving good yields. But the people were essentially still trapped within the ship, unable to stand more than a week within the domes on the planet. They shuttled back and forth, taking it in turns to bear the burden of their fear.

Enderby was the first to realize that they could never take hold of the prize hovering so close before their eyes. That would be their gift to the next generation, to the children raised in creches within the domes, allowed out when young to experience the open world that their teachers could never inhabit. The promise must be passed to the children and his own generation serve merely as a vehicle, just as so many had done before himself.

Yet it was galling to be so near and yet so far. Still his mind sought for an answer that would allow them to walk free upon the surface; and still the fear resided within him, unreasoning, careless of understanding, ready to seize him the moment he stepped from the shuttle.

The blue planet rolled across the viewports again, a great bank of cloud across the southern ocean forming a smile that invited and mocked at the same time. Enderby shook his head at the hope that had led them to call the place Eden.

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Imagine how freaky snow or rain would feel to someone who'd never experienced the outside.
Date Added: 08/01/2007

Gone Away
Probably scare the pants off them!
Date Added: 08/01/2007

They'd probably have fights with the wind. This story kind of reminds me of what it's like coming out of hospital, except everything seems very vividly coloured rather than scarily large.
Date Added: 08/01/2007

Gone Away
A good analogy, Boogie. I can remember the strange feeling of coming back into the world after a long stay in hospital too. And that's really all the story is asking - would not people who had only ever known enclosed spaces automatically suffer from extreme agoraphobia when released into an open environment?
Date Added: 09/01/2007

Interesting thoughts. They need to acquire some diving masks, that way they will feel like they are viewing the whole thing from a porthole still. happy new year and all that
Date Added: 11/01/2007

Gone Away
And a happy new year to you too, Keef! :)
Date Added: 11/01/2007

I didn't get a happy new years wish on my blog! Humph.
Date Added: 11/01/2007

Gone Away
Awwww, you're such a happy type, Mad, that we just assumed you'd have one anyway. :)
Date Added: 11/01/2007

you didn't post anything on your blog so you aren't likely to get much traffic.....not so much a Blog as a Slog (static log).
Date Added: 12/01/2007

Gone Away
.oO(I'm not sayin' nuthin'...)
Date Added: 12/01/2007

Wonderfully written Gone! I never thought about things from that point of view before, I guess thats why the crew in Star Trek had to get out and stretch their legs on an occasional planet. It reminds me a lot of the video game Fallout, people live in a vault that survives the nuclear blast of world war 3, and then when the coast is clear and it is safe to come out they refuse to. They grew to feel safe there, and only the need for survival would let them even consider leaving it. It's hard sometimes growing and doing something new because we prefer the familar. I have to force myself to do new things and venture out of my comfort zone myself. Now I know why the explorers used to burn the ships sometimes, to keep the colonists from trying to return to Europe right away.
Date Added: 20/01/2007

Gone Away
Good point, Janus - I had forgotten about the burning of the ships. And thank you for the kind comments.
Date Added: 20/01/2007

Is the next piece about Scriptophobia? :p
Date Added: 26/01/2007

Gone Away
That's the thing about Gone Away - you never know what's coming next. Or when... :D
Date Added: 26/01/2007

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Date Added: 07/02/2007




Now with added Spam!
Date Added: 20/02/2007

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