“Where do you think you’ll go when you die?”

The transmitter’s sockets are not aligning. Brent’s tongue is sticking out of the corner of his mouth. This is not a good time for stupid questions. Then again, with nothing between you and star-lit vacuum but a ten-mil layer of spacesuit electronics, who can blame the boy?

“I have no idea. Number three wrench?”

“I’ve always wanted to see the stars, you know? Here,” that’s the number three all right, but the joint is sticky. Frozen shut. “Try the heat-torch”, offers Reed. They work well together, despite all this chatter. “I know what they say, about the trips. I don’t care, I can take it.”

That’s easy to say. It’s a sixty-parsec jump to the nearest habitable. But the Ghost-squads are now jumping to places 200, 220 clicks away. Brent can’t even imagine it. “They say they’ve figured out the time thing. It’s two hundred actual years of subjective time. Two centuries, just you, yourself, and more you. Just to see another barren rock. Weld here, will you?”

Reed is a good partner, steady, quick. Brent’s had worse. But Reed is young. And stupid: “I’ve signed up, yesterday. Ghost-4201.”

Crap. “4201?”

“I signed limited, got pushed forward. Explorer class. Under 5000, you get earth-like, habitable. 3083 and 201 found life -“

“Microbes and depressed fish! Jeez, boy, limited, what’s that, forty?”

“Thirty eight. Look, it’s what I want!”

“You want them to come kill you in twelve years?“

“I want to travel to the stars! I don’t want to end up – “

The console lights up green. “Thanks, guys, you’ve got a real light touch”, says the transmitter. Jan Pieterse, engineer second class, deceased 2109. Ghost-180 390. Brent shudders.

Maybe the boy has it right.

6 thoughts on “Ghost-4201”

  1. Very interesting story. Enjoyed the everydayness of the far-future – the boy with his tongue sticking out his mouth and the older mentor.Also enjoyed the everyday interplay and working together vibe.

    My first reading was pretty confused, the second a lot more fun (especially the re-interpretation of the first line once you know what is going on).

    Even after several readings there are aspects of it which are unclear to me in a bad way: what exactly do the numbers mean (like a ship number or a date or a ghost number?) – the characters seem to get more information than me which is a little frustrating. Also I would like the rather interesting idea suggested by ‘limited’ more explicitly spelt out. I would also like to know whether the Ghost are a relatively new thing or an everyday aspect of their lives.

    But I suppose all the questions reflect my fascination with your world-building: Loved the ideas around being on your own for 200 years and what that would do to you and the idea around voluntary death for advantage.

    1. Thank you for the kind words!

      I am not happy with the level of confusion I have generated with this one. I have resolved to do a rewrite – it’s one thing to be obscure, another to be completely muddled!

  2. Nice!
    Ghost as space man! Very groovy.

    But I don’t get it.
    Wait, I mean: I didn’t get it.
    Actually, I still don’t quite get the numbers at the end.

    Really enjoyed the engineer pair. Great character sketches, especially of Reed.
    “Thanks, guys, you’ve got a real light touch” made me feel like they’re a team with a good rep, have been working together a while, and get called in for the tricky jobs that other engineers can’t do.
    I enjoyed the working team, chatty camaraderie, vibes.

  3. OK, this has a longish description of what I thought was happening, mostly because I thought bits of it was quite (intentionally) obscure, so I thought you’d appreciate it.

    Here’s my understanding of this: two engineers are working on the outside of a ship; there is at least another person inside, Jan, who appears to have been dead since the year 2109. They’re discussing travelling across large areas of space. This is presumably done after they have died. The boy, Reed, has signed up to do this, but has signed up /limited/, which seems to imply that he’ll be exploring things very very soon, and since this exploration is undertaken only by dead people, he also expects to be killed within a few years time.

    I still don’t understand the numbers: under 5000 (like 4201) is apparently good, but the story kind of implies that Jan hasn’t had it good (Reed doesn’t want to be like him). But Jan is Ghost-180, which is way under 5000.

    Also, one bit that left me confused, was the discussion of distances. Sixty-parsecs was mentioned, followed by 200, 220 clicks. A parsec is huge, and I thought that 200 / 220 clicks was somehow being compared to this, but a click (klick) is only a kilometer (which I suspect you probably didn’t mean, but I’m not sure).

    Anyway, I enjoyed this piece. The dialogue was fun and left me interested and pondering the world. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I really enjoyed the interaction between the two characters and the ideas about ghosts and life. The present tense combined with being in Brent’s thoughts, works very well. I like the way we experience Brent thinking about Reed’s words, the job, and reacting to both – the scene feels uninterpreted and direct.

    Like others, I’m afraid that I don’t quite get the numbers and wish I did. I feel like the story leaves me wanting to know too much more to be complete by itself.

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