It is September 27th, 1972. I am six years old.
I am sitting in my Mummy’s Ford Anglia estate as she drives up Reepham Road in Hellesdon. I’m hoping we’re going to the toy shop where I saw Hulk dioramas last week but worried that she’s actually going to see a friend and I’ll have to sit and wait while they talk for aaages about boring stuff.
On the car radio, Radio One (275 to 285) is playing Billy Paul’s ‘Me And Mrs Jones.’ I love this song but I have no idea what it means. I am fourteen years away from my first lover. The window squeaks as I wind it down and stick my head out slightly, squinting into the wind as the Norfolk sun bathes my face. Around one hundred and thirty billion neutrinos are passing through my eyes every second, whether they’re shut or open.
Yesterday, a white boy threw a stone at me because I have brown skin and I stink. I told my mother and she got angry and hugged me and said I don’t smell, that it was just a bad boy and I shouldn’t listen. I don’t tell her that this happens a lot and that yesterday I took a kitchen knife and pushed it into my belly because I was sad and felt bad.
It is September 27th, 2020. I am fifty-four years old.
I am walking round Intu, Derby’s shopping centre. I am wearing a mask as are most of the shoppers around me because a virus labelled COVID-19 has knocked the world on its arse. The global economy is wheezing as country after country has instituted lockdowns, attempting to choke the spread of the virus and thus not overwhelm their respective health infrastructures. This all feels like I’m living one of the SF stories I love. It doesn’t feel quite real. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop; for zombies to appear or aliens or something? This current narrative isn’t very convincing, it’s missing some crucial elements. The six-year-old me finds it utterly ridiculous that the fifty-four-year-old me is plodding around a mall with a mask on. In 2020! By 2020, we’ll all be living on moonbases and have spaceships, everyone knows that. Aliens would help shitloads, I feel.
As I’m heading to pay my car park fee, Billy Paul’s ‘Me And Mrs Jones’ plays over the centre’s muzak system. The fifty-four-year-old me understands the lyrics now. I have experience, if not wisdom. In the immortal words of Phil Oakey, “I’ve been a husband and a lover too.” The lyrics Billy’s crooning are particularly pertinent this week when I’m missing her so bad I can’t even write songs about that absence. I miss kissing the warm softness of that curve where her neck joins her shoulder, I miss her saying my name as she looks into my eyes but most of all I miss being able to be close, to hold and be held. It’s a pain both chronic and acute. Is there actually a word for that?
It is September 27th, 4723. I am two thousand, seven hundred and fifty-seven years old.
I am halfway to 2MASS J23062928-0502285 d, otherwise known as TRAPPIST-1d, a small planet around forty light years away from Earth. It has about half the gravity of my home planet and a balmy daytime high of ten degrees centigrade. If nothing goes wrong, I’ll be there in around another two-and-a-half thousand years. Yeah, I know five thousand years to travel forty light years doesn’t sound amazing but I’m pleased I’m going this fast. Hell, if I was going at old Helios 2 speeds, the journey would take me 190,000 years.
I just worked that out! I’m good at maths now, I was shit before. By before, I mean the old me, the ‘ugly bag of mostly water’ me. This me is different. My brain is made of light and femtometre-scale focussing arrays rather than yoghurt and electricity. I don’t feel any different, I’m just me. Apart from I can do maths now, it’d be weird if a spaceship couldn’t do maths, I guess. Also, I don’t eat, sleep, poop or get bored. Umm.. I guess those are major differences but the me that’s me has been edited to not miss them. I mean, I can remember pooping but do I long to do it? No. I do have sex though – they found that editing that out lead to all kinds of unpleasant “catastrophic personality eversion.” Yeah, innit?
I remember when my flesh body was ‘approaching possibly detrimental failure,’ as the doctors snappily put it and I got transferred into my new brain. Or did I actually get transferred? Am I just a copy with all the memories of that me up till the day I was scanned? Am I hallucinating all that went before, the Gregor Samsa of spaceships? When you wake up in the morning, is that the same you that went to bed the night before? How about when you walk through a door? I mean, fuck me, I don’t know. Dammit, Jim, I’m a spaceship not a philosopher!
Like, it’s definitely it’s a good thing I can’t get bored but I don’t think I would anyway since I have everything here. When I say everything, I mean everything. I have every bit of data that humanity generated up to the day I set off from Bradbury base on Mars. Twenty-eight yottabytes. Sounds like such a small number for every book, photo, message, film, song ever made, doesn’t it? But it’s all there, all the public stuff anyway. One of my fave things is trying to work out the private from the public, like who someone was Vaguebooking about in 2012 or if someone’s Presence on Local was a subtle dig at an incumbent Prime Minister in 2038.
It’s great having all the music ever. I was chuffed when Spotify became a thing – can you imagine how I feel now? And, yeah, I do listen to my own albums, I admit it. I am that bigheaded. But mostly, I stick my ENTIRE MUSIC OF HUMANITY playlist on interstellar shuffle.
And what are the odds? Today, Billy Paul’s ‘Me And Mrs Jones’ started playing on yet another September 27th! (Actually, I know the exact odds of that happening over a five thousand year journey but I shan’t spoil the spookiness for you.) It was sooo good, hearing that silky, smooth production and that incredible honey voice of his, pre-autotune, pre-digital cut-n-paste recording, pre-people manifesting music straight out of their brains.
Of course, it made me think of her. Because I still love her. Fuck me, I’ve been in love with her for 2,713 years now. I was gonna edit it out because of the downsides but, after consultation, we decided not to because the way I love is part of me, it’s part of what makes me a spaceship-transferrable person. And then there’s that ‘eversion’ biz again, not keen on the sound of that. I did edit out what happened to us. There must have been something that was too hard, I don’t know. Sometimes I go looking for clues in the Sum Total Of Human Knowledge but I must have thought of that, pre-edit and there’s fuck-all.
It’s okay, I’m not morose! I’m worried this sounds really moany but I’m not like that, really. Better to have loved and lost, blah blah etc. I have her holos and videos and pictures, I have her precious voice messages. Those are my fave, I wish I had more. I miss her singing so much, she had such a beautiful singing voice though she never believed it. I have every message she ever sent me, from those early SMS days through every tech after until.. until whatever happened, happened.
Out here, I see her beauty everywhere. I can look around and see the colour of her eyes in the glow of distant nebulae, I can hear her singing in the vacuum energy flux patterns around my skin. Sometimes, I even think I can hear her say my name and pull me to her, just one more time.
And I can feel her soft cheek upon mine again.