My Dearest Astrid Doppia by James Edward O’Brien

Meta Stellar Mail Portal 09:32:55

To: astridmarkII

Subject: FML

My Dearest Astrid Doppia,

Electromagnetic storms have been jamming the live feeds, so I broke down and decided to write. I hope everybody’s okay back home. Work’s kept me busy—with the twin atmospheric domes at capacity and a third one in the works, there’s no end to the headaches at the firm.

I get claustrophobic up here sometimes. At first it felt like living in an overcrowded fish tank, but that just took some getting used to. I’m so tired half the time and so much of my commission goes to rent and utilities (you wouldn’t believe the price of O2 up here!) that I don’t have much time or money to do all the things we’d daydream about when we’d stare at the bright lights of the exploratory beacons from Euphemia’s veranda.

Most of the people on the job who aren’t AI might as well be—it’s all about work for them. Dead from the neck down. I slip out some weekends when I’m not too tired. A lot of the terrestrial clubs are all guest list and velvet rope—so pretentious! I have a theory that nobody’s down to earth up here because we’re so darn far from having our feet on terra firma.

I have met a few nice people—we meet up Sunday nights when the bars aren’t as packed. Some newbies like me—tech assistants, admins, but there are a few artsy types—most of whom are the grownup kids of terraform bigwigs who’ve been here most their lives, living on mom and dad’s dime just like they do at home.

I don’t know, Astrid—sometimes I wonder if I made the wrong decision coming here. Other times I just wish that you were up here with me. My partner in crime. Like I said, there are a few nice people, but everyone’s so… I don’t know… preoccupied. It’s so much harder than I thought it’d be to carve out a life among the stars that I can’t blame them, really. If you’re not looking out for yourself up here nobody else will, I suppose. Half the time I feel like I’m one step away from getting sucked right up in the infinitudes and emptiness of all this space. Sometimes, up here, you just feel so incredibly small that you’ve got to nudge and push and be a little rude just to stake your claim—to remind everybody around you—to remind yourself even, Hey! I’m here!

I don’t mean to lay all this on you but even the nice people seem to be, I don’t know, pretending a little? I pulled an all-nighter last Saturday—a big gallery opening for some up-and-coming interpretive planetscaper. I’ll send you some of her work once the feed’s up and running again—you’ll love it!

Anyway, I dragged some friends from my Sunday contingent along to the opening. We had a blast, but I don’t know—it could have been one too many cocktails, you know how I get—but at one point, I just got hit with a sense of overwhelming melancholy. We were huddled in a corner talking about nothing really, laughing about absolutely nothing at all. Then I noticed the way we were all laughing. Aggressively. Nothing had been said that constituted that level of laughter. Like we were all trying to choke something back, or swallow something down, or frighten off our loneliness—sounding more like guard dogs barking, or people convincing themselves they’re having a good time rather than people actually having a good time.

But I mean, if not here, where? I thought life here would be different, but it’s beginning to feel like the same old window with a different set of blinds. Don’t get me wrong, Astrid—I wouldn’t do anything any different if I had the chance to do it over. I think.

It’s just that, well—remember how it looked up here from Euphemia’s veranda—so bright that it was like a firebrand on the backs of our retinas? So bright we could scarcely blink it away? Truth is, from up here, home looks just as bright.

Anyhow, give my love to everyone—and check in on Nan every once in a while. You’ve basically got to put a pneumatic to her head to get her to clock into the live feed, so I haven’t gotten more than a “hi” and “bye” from her in ages.

Those psychoactive jet injectors I shipped should arrive by the end of July—I know you can just print up knockoffs on a 3D fabricator, but there’s something about the ones straight from the source, a certain je ne sais quoi—that you just have to try to believe. It’ll be worth the wait. Trust me! Miss you like crazy—let’s face-to-face soon as the live feed’s back up!

Besos y abrazos,

Astrid Prima

P.S. Don’t dare breathe a word of this to that preening loudmouth Euphemia with her perfect life and picture perfect pack of clones—not that you would!

James Edward O’Brien lives in Queens, NY in the US with his wife, three dogs, and two cats. His work has been featured in The Deadlands, Among Animals 3, and on the StarShipSofa podcast. Follow Jim on Twitter.