A Visitor to Triton
I looked across the Manhattan skyline and watched streams of aircars travel at the various levels of the city. “It is good to be back on Earth, Doc,” I said, “but I still miss that girl I met back on Triton.”
“Lie down on the couch and tell me about her,” said Dr. Emily Gleeson, the shrink that the Navy forced on me.
“Why should I?” I asked. “No one takes me seriously when I talk about her.” I stared at the ceiling and paused. “No one takes me serious at all. Why should I bother if you are not going to take me seriously?”
“Just humor me,” she said. She flicked her Tablet with a finger, obviously going through her notes. “Tell me about Alison Randall.”
Why not? I thought. I would just tell her everything about the girl I left behind on. Maybe she would believe me. “Well it started back when the Orion stopped by for my regularly scheduled relief…”
The alarm blared in my quarters. The relief ship was arriving. I had been stationed on Triton for two years and my relief would finally take over so I could return to Earth and go to the next place the Navy wanted to send me. I had requested Mars, the second most populated planet in the solar system.
Triton Station had a crew of one: just me. Before the advent of Faster Than Light travel, Triton acted as a way station at the edge of the solar system. The newer FTL ships would blink into and out of existence at the orbit of Saturn, thus they never needed to come way out here. Only the slow boats came to Triton, and as soon as they arrived in the solar system, they upgraded their engines to FTL and never returned to Triton. The only slower than light ships around were those that left before FTL’s invention. Still there were quite a few out there and Earth command wanted someone out here to greet them.
Since I was stationed out here, the only ship I had seen was the one that brought me out here to the butt end of the solar system. The Orion was the second ship I saw, but it had come from Earth to relieve me.
“USS Orion,” I spoke into the Mike, “this is Triton Station. I look forward to your arrival.” I then waited the two minutes for my message to travel the eighteen million kilometers back and forth to the ship.
After the wait the speakers sounded, “Sorry about this, Triton Station, but the ship is in plague status. No personnel may be transferred from our ship to the planet. We are at quarantine. A container of supplies will be dropped to you.”
My heart sunk. I was stuck here and I would be alone for who knows how long until the Navy saw fit to send another ship out here. “How much longer am I stuck here?” I asked.
“We sent a message to Earth and they sent another ship immediately. Your estimated time of arrival is six months.”
I clicked off the radio and swore. There would be another six months of not feeling the breeze on my cheeks. There would be no pizza from Manhattan Pie Company and worst of all, no people to talk to. The loneliness that I had put behind me for the past two years suddenly came to the forefront of my mind.
“So Alison Randall never arrived on the Orion,” asked my shrink.
“Of course not,” I said. “She arrived on the bulk carrier, the SS Fortune.”
“Go on with your story then,” she said.
In the weeks that followed, I became more and more despondent. I was still imprisoned on Neptune’s largest moon for five more months and I was bored. I had watched every holovid, read every text drama on my Tablet, and even went so far as to write my own stories.
One night, at exactly midnight, I heard an unexpected alarm. A ship was arriving, but this ship was transmitting a distress signal. Triton Station had one shuttle stationed there and I ran to the shuttle. The message attached to the distress signal said that the ship was rapidly losing air and that they needed help. I wasted no time.
The ship was dark; the only light came from the day side of Neptune, but I piloted the shuttle closer and closer. The ship was completely dark. There were no running lights and no indication of anything approaching life, but I continued onward. As I drove the shuttle around the ship, I saw a horrible tear in the hull that went across all five decks of the ship. There would be no survivors unless they were suited or they were trapped in an airtight compartment somewhere.
It was a bulk carrier. It was a common enough ship even today. It contained five decks and a spine to which cargo containers were attached. The only difference between it and a modern FTL ship was the massive fusion tanks on the tail end of the ship. Modern ships replaced most of the tank space with an FTL engine. I drove the shuttle around until I found a hatch where I could enter the ship. The only good hatch was on the spine. I set my coffee on the copilot’s seat and went inside to look for survivors.
I floated through the spine of the ship and watched for any signs of life. There was air there, but as I walked forward of the spine the hatches all had red pressurization faults. All five decks were airless. Since I couldn’t get to the main hull of the ship, I walked aft. That is when I saw her. “I’m from Triton Station. I am here to rescue you.”
She was young, probably in her early twenties, but dirty and disheveled. And she stank like a bad environmental plant and lack of showering. “Everyone else is dead,” she said.
I took her by the hand and put her in the co-pilot seat in the shuttle. “I’ll take you back to Triton Station,” I said. “You’ll be safe there.” She was too shocked to say anything else, so I just let her be silent. She had just lost the rest of the crew of her ship.
Dr Emily was tapping her Tablet and looking up stuff while I talked. I knew she was not just taking notes. “What are you looking up?”
“Just reviewing your log for the incident,” she said.
“But…,” Dr Emily started to say. She must have thought better of
it. “Just finish your story.”
Alison sat in silence on the way back to the moon’s surface. I thought I saw a tear in her eye, which was only natural since there were no other survivors on her ship. However, the tears were there for another reason.
I pulled the shuttle into the dock and went toward the airlock and motioned her to follow me, but she wouldn’t move. “Come on in,” I said. “There is food, clean clothes, and showers.”
She gave a sheepish look and then stood up to reveal a circular wet spot on the co-pilot’s chair. Her face turned red as she looked down at her seat. “Um,” she said, “I have trouble getting to the bathroom.”
I sighed and we left the shuttle. Once in the passageway, I stooped down and caught a cleaning robot that was rolling along the corridor and took it back into the shuttle with me. I dropped it on the co-pilot’s chair and returned to the passageway.
The girl stood there waiting. “I will take you up on that offer of a shower and clean clothes.”
“Of course,” I said. I took her to my quarters where the only working shower in the small station was located and motioned her inside. I went back to my bedroom and opened my drawer to look for something for her to wear. I was a bit larger than her, so I just picked a t-shirt, and some shorts for her. The shorts would obviously be big on her, but she cinch the belt tightly around her waist. I slipped into the head and set the clothes on the sink. After that I slipped out.
She finished soon after I left. I had never met a woman on Earth who took such short showers, but she was from a space ship and water is scarce, especially on a slow boat traveling between the empty gulf between the stars. When she came out of the head, the T-shirt and shorts looked quite large on her, but she smiled at me.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Are you ready for dinner?” I asked.
She rubbed her stomach. “Are you kidding? I haven’t eaten for three days. I was trapped in the spine of my ship and couldn’t visit the galley or the rest of the ship.”
“Well let’s take care of that.” I lead her to the galley and started taking packages out of the boxes of supplies that lined one wall and covered the galley tables. I had emptied the container that was dropped and brought everything inside and just put it along the wall. I pulled out some pre-made chicken cordon bleu and made that. In all I made four servings, figuring that we would probably each eat two. I was hungry too.
She took a bite and then began to hungrily shovel in the food. “This is so good,” she said. She paused to take a drink of Kool-aid and then shoveled more into her mouth."
“These are space rations,” I said. “They are not really considered the best of cuisines.”
“These are new rations then,” she said, “Our food has to last years and I bet you these would taste bad too if they were in storage for decades, even with the effects of relativity.”
“Yes, I guess so,” I agreed. “I don’t think I could stand to be on a ship that long between ports.”
“It’s tough,” she said. “I am on my first push out from Epsilon Eridani. We were to go right back after stopping at Earth, but forty years will have passed when it’s only been four years four me. My parents will be in their nineties. The trip after that, I would have been visiting my sister’s great grandchildren. I wanted to be a spacer though and signed on with the first ship that would take me.”
“Wow, you must have just left before…,” I started to say.
She put down her fork. “Before what?” she asked.
“I don’t know if I should tell you, but I will. About twenty years ago ships started getting faster. You could have been home already.”
“How fast?” she asked. She picked up her fork again and took another bite. She had a look of relief on her face. “I thought something horrible had happened.”
“Faster than light,” I said. “A journey only takes the amount of time needed to go far enough away from the sun and then it is instantaneous.”
“How far away?” she asked. “I could get home next year?”
“Depending on the spectral type of the sun, it varies. In the solar system it is about ten astronomical units.”
I heard a pattering sound coming from beneath her chair as she stared at me open mouthed. I looked down and saw a growing puddle.
When she noticed what she did, she looked down and turned bright red. She looked at me. “I’m so embarrassed. What you said took me by surprise.” She stood up and looked down at herself. “I get like this when I am taken by surprise. Perhaps I should be wearing diapers.”
I was inclined to agree with her. “What happened on your ship when this happened?” I asked.
“It’s just been happening the last couple of weeks. They put me in EVA diapers. I heard they were going to beach me on Earth because of it.” She shuddered.
“Well you are pretty much stuck here on Triton until a relief ship comes. We are about twenty astronomical units out from where any ship goes anymore. The only reason we keep Triton open is to support stragglers.”
“Stragglers?” she asked.
“People like you. Slower than light ships that left before they came home to find out that the universe changed and transportation is faster. Anyway, I have some EVA diapers. You probably should wear them until we find out how often you wet yourself.”
She sighed. “Well okay,” she said. “I will.” She got up and I led her to the airlock. There were spacesuits there. Some were for walking across the planet, but others were for fixing ships in space. The station used to be a lot bigger and at one time it was a full support base. Now it was just an outbuilding with a section converted to quarters. The full supply of spacesuits and accessories were there. I opened a cupboard and found a pack of EVA diapers and gave it to her.
“Well here you go,” I said. “We can travel quickly throughout the stars, but we can’t figure out a better way to pee while wearing a spacesuit.”
“Well that works for me,” she said with a smile. She hurried into my quarters to change. When she emerged she wore only the diaper and the t-shirt.
“I can find you another pair of shorts,” I said.
“They made me dress like this when I was on the ship,” she said. “I’m used to not wearing pants with diapers.”
“Suit yourself,” I said, “but you can still have shorts if you want.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “It’s quite warm in here. So what do you guys do for fun around here?”
I showed her my Tablet. “You can either read books or watch movies.” I showed her how to access both.
“So you say you dressed her in EVA diapers and a shirt and she didn’t mind?” asked Dr. Emily.
“No she didn’t mind,” I said. “She will testify to that fact, that is, if anyone can find her. No one will tell me what happened to her.”
“How about you finish the story.”
That night (if you can call it night, because the southern hemisphere of Neptune is constantly in daylight) I set her up on one of the couches in the staff lounge. Before going to my quarters to sleep, I showed her where the head was in case she needed to use the restroom in the middle of the night. I made sure she had plenty of blankets and was comfortable before I returned to my quarters to sleep.
I woke up later with a soft, warm body pressed up against mine. It was Alison. She was fast asleep, but I woke her up anyway.
“What happened?” she asked. She stretched and turned to look at me.
I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. “You must have sleep walked or something. You crawled into bed with me.”
“Oh, yeah.” She yawned and stretched again. “I couldn’t sleep all alone. The ceiling creaks and the couch is uncomfortable. Besides you are cute. I want to sleep with you.”
“What? No,” I said. “Go back to the lounge and sleep on the couch.”
“Please,” she said, “just for tonight.”
“You’re too young. I’m almost thirty and you…” I paused because I didn’t know how old she was. “…are too young.”
“What’s the date?” she asked.
I told her.
“Well I am almost forty-one,” she said, “and that makes me a cougar, but plenty old enough.”
“A cougar?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“Nevermind,” she said, “I am plenty old to share your bed. I only look twenty-two because that is my subjective age. My objective age is forty-one. Besides, we are just sleeping.”
“Fine,” I said, “but tomorrow night you are going back on the couch.”
“Okay,” she said. I turned and went back to sleep. She never did go back to the couch in the five months we waited for the relief ship.
I woke up late the next day. Alison was gone. I figured she was in the bathroom, but I didn’t hear water running. I got up and went inside and looked around. She wasn’t there. I wondered where she could have gone. I was about going to do a tour of the station, but then I heard a thumping sound coming from the galley. I raced to that compartment to see if she was okay.
She was standing on counter wearing just her EVA diaper and t-shirt. She held a bunch of food containers and was stacking them in the cupboards.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
She pointed to the row of cartons stacked along one of the walls of the galley and stacked on the tables. “I am stowing the supplies,” she said. “I am also rotating the stock here. We might have to stretch the food a bit since we have two people here and your planners only planned to supply the base for one.”
“There is plenty here,” I said.
“I agree,” she said, “but I didn’t find that out until I started to inventory the food. Although if worse comes to worse and we are out here longer without resupply, we can take the shuttle back up to the Fortune and raid the galley there. You got proper suits and stuff and according to the chart, the Fortune is in a stable orbit of Neptune.”
I looked around. She made a lot of progress on unpacking the food supplies. “You’ve thought quite a bit about this,” I said.
She reached for my hand, which I took, and then jumped from the counter. “Of course,” she said. “I also should try to earn my keep.”
I was please her restocking effort, but I also felt a little guilty for not doing it myself. It was not like there was anything else for me to do and I was required to restock instead of letting the supplies sit in the hallway. The only thing I had done besides parking the dry goods on the tables and against the wall was pulling the pallet of frozen goods into the freezer.
That evening we ate a feast. The proper ingredients were easier to find and Alison gave the meal a woman’s touch. We even had a salad before the meal and she had crawled through the frozen foods to find some ice cream for dessert.
She stuck her fork in the lettuce and held it up. “This is pretty good,” she said. “Where do you get green lettuce?”
“Um,” I said, “all lettuce is green. That is how it grows on Earth, except there it is greener and not freeze-dried.”
“Lettuce is black on Epsilon Eridani III. Most plants are black there. You can only see the amazing color patterns if you wear infrared glasses. Most animals and insects see in infrared on Eridani III, so no plants are really colorful to humans.”
“Sounds depressing,” I said.
“Well, I grew up that way. How much difference can colorful plants make?” she asked.
“Women like to get colorful flowers,” I said. “In fact my wife used to love it when I brought her flowers, especially when there wasn’t a holiday. I brought them to her because I loved her.”
A wave of disappointment washed across Alison’s face. “You’re married?”
“She died in an aircar accident,” I whispered. It was all I could do not to cry. “We argued the last time she and I spoke, and now she is gone.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Alison. She paused for a moment, but apparently thought it was okay to say what she was going to say. “I know how you feel. I argued with my parents before I left on the Fortune. With time dilation, I thought I wouldn’t see them again. I don’t know what happened to them or anyone else I left behind. I felt guilty about it for the whole trip to Earth. That’s probably the reason I started wetting.”
“But now you can go back home in about six months and see them within the year,” I said.
“That’s true, but Mom and Dad are almost seventy. I hope they are still around when I visit again.”
We finished the meal and by the time we started on dessert, the conversations had moved to lighter subjects. “They usually just spray paint the leaves of existing trees and flowers when they do movie scenes that are set on Earth,” she said. “Of course now with FTL, they can now bring real Earth plant seeds to use in sets.”
“They’ll probably need to use special lights if they want them to grow,” I said. Suddenly an awful smell filled the air. I wrinkled my nose and then looked around for the source of the smell.
“Oops,” said Alison. Her face turned red and she smiled slyly.
“You didn’t?” I asked astonished.
She took one last bite of her dessert and then stood up. “I’ll go shower,” she said. She turned and waddled away with an obvious bulge in the back of her EVA diaper.
The next day I caught her in a wet diaper. “Alison,” I asked, “are you trying to get to the bathroom on time?”
“I am wearing a diaper,” she said. “I don’t really need to worry about getting up to use the restroom. Besides you don’t tease me like the other crewmembers of the Fortune.”
I sighed. “You know you can become dependent on diapers if you don’t try to avoid accidents. You don’t really want to deal with diapers when you get to the beach on Earth and want to wear a bikini.”
She nodded. “You are being nice about this. I still might have accidents, but I promise I’ll try to make it to the bathroom.”
“Good,” I said. “That is all I ask.”
After that she made more of an effort to get to the bathroom. She still used her diapers at night when she was in bed, but I didn’t notice her sitting in a wet diaper as often during the day.
When we had been together for almost five months, the incoming ship alarm went off. I raced to the control room and Alison followed behind.
“What’s that sound?” she asked.
“Our ticket to Earth,” I said. “We can tow your ship back to Earth so you can sell your cargo and then arrange passage back to Eridani. You might even make enough on your cargo to buy an FTL drive for your ship, make repairs, and head back home to see your parents.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” she said.
I picked up the mike. “Gemini, this is Triton Station. Please state your ETA and intentions.” I waited for the time for the round trip communication.
“This is Gemini. ETA is six days and our intentions are resupply and relief for station personnel,” the voice from the speaker said.
“There is a straggler ship in orbit around Neptune,” I said. “Will a trip to tow it back to the inner system be possible,” I asked. “The ship’s hull was breached and most of the crew were killed, but one surviving crewperson was evacuated to the station. Will passage for her be possible?”
I waited for the communication lag again.
“Yes,” said the transmission from Gemini, “we’ll clear some room for an additional passenger.”
“Here that?” I said as I turned to Alison. “I told you they would…”
My voice trailed off. Alison was gone.
“None of the crew of Gemini could find any trace she was on the station at all,” said Dr Emily Gleeson. “Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know. She had to be on the station somewhere. No space suits were missing and the shuttle was the same way I left it when we arrived from the Fortune,” I said.
“Where was there to hide on the station?” she asked. “Never mind. Please finish your story.”
In the final week when I was awaiting the arrival of the relief ship Gemini, I search the station from top to bottom looking for her. She was nowhere to be found. I searched the galley, the lounge, my quarters, the restrooms, and even the sanitary tank reservoirs. The latter was the most disgusting place to look, but I didn’t care. I had to find her. I then checked the shuttle. It was in its slip and it was empty. The cleaning bot I had put on the chair had even cleaned Alison’s pee stain. It was still trapped in the immaculately cleaned shuttle and fled through the door as soon as I had opened it. Obviously no one used the shuttles. I also checked out the suit lockers. All the suits were accounted for. I suddenly had a horrible thought.
I quickly readied a suit and put it on. I then exited the station through the only airlock in that building. What if she had left without a suit? I walked all around the station, even though I knew she couldn’t make it ten feet without a space suit. Triton’s outdoor temperature was almost 400 below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. I finally went back inside.
The crew of the Gemini found no sign of her either. Finally, I had to
get on the ship and go home alone. Instead of going to Mars I was sent straight to Earth.
“So what is the official story about where she went?” I asked.
“She never existed,” said Dr Emily. “You made her up.”
“But she was there. I saw her. If she didn’t exist, then who put away the supplies? Who did the deep cleaning of the station? Who did I talk to for almost five months?” It was a ridiculous idea the Alison Randall did not exist. “I suppose you are going to say that the SS Fortune doesn’t exist.”
“No,” said Dr. Emily, “I’m not. I am going to say that Alison Randall never came down from the Fortune once you saw her.” She pushed a button and a wall panel moved aside revealing a view screen.
“Watch the view screen.”
A camera moved around the inside of the SS Fortune. The floating camera came to a door that said, “Spine.” An arm reached up and opened the door to reveal another airless compartment beyond. Inside a body floated. The figure was frozen in the moment that air had escaped the compartment. She was trying to pull on a space suit but hadn’t got it pulled up higher than her legs. She only wore a t-shirt and an EVA diaper.
“They all died two months before they reached Neptunes orbit. That’s Alison Randall floating there. She was dead all along. Your brain pulled her image off out and used her so you wouldn’t have to think about your loneliness.”
“It can’t be,” I said. “Who wet the co-pilot’s seat in the shuttle? Surely the video log in the shuttle caught that.”
“It did,” said Dr. Emily. “It showed you knocking your coffee over onto the co-pilot’s chair.” She pulled up another screen and I saw the coffee cup fall over and create a circular wet spot on the chair.
“No,” I said. “It’s not her.” I pointed to the other view screen. “That is some other girl. Alison came back to the station with me.”
“Look,” said Dr. Emily.
The body rotated until I could see her from the front. The nametag area of her shirt said Alison Randell. She looked the same as Alison, but her skin was a bluish shade. She almost looked like the way my wife when they dragged her body from the crashed aircar. I felt empty then and I felt just as empty now.