I maintain that I am not a good man. No, that’s not quite true. Good perhaps, but certainly not the best. I have my doubts about myself. About life. About the future and it’s meaning for me. But so does everyone, I suppose. Especially here.
No, I don’t think they envisioned this sort of existential crisis when they first started building the Hope. What a pretentious goddamn name. I wonder what little prick in the marketing division came up with that gem. Hope. A better name would have been Ambition. That’s what this is, after all. A great ambition in the form of a behemoth vessel with colonial intent, hurling itself toward a distant star. And here we are, somewhere in the middle, just waiting to arrive.
Or waiting to die. It’s true. Our destination, a lonely rock in Sector 419, is exactly three human lifespans from Earth. Three generations. The first takes off, the third lands, and we? We only wait.
And so men like me, the mostly good on our mostly good days, we have a drink. There is a particular bar for men like me. An unassuming room at end of a corridor on the third deck of the fourth zone. It is a nothing spot, but it is everything. Absolutely everything to men like me.
And sure. Sure, there are other bars of higher standing, finer drinks, and better crowds. There are other bars to be seen in and noticed. But that’s not why we come here, to the minor tap far out of the way. We come here for the bartender. We come here for Miranda.
“Hi’ya toots,” I say, taking my usual seat.
“Who let you in here?” Miranda teases. But only by half.
She is not a beautiful woman. Her shoulders are too rounded and too hunched. She has the same sad-puppy face of Eleanor Roosevelt. But she is the most beautiful woman. Though no one can ever quite figure out why.
“Miranda, darling, run away with me.”
“Yeah? And go where?” she says with a huff, pouring my drink without needing to ask.
“I hear there are some lovely little condos down in the fifth zone. Deck four. Very discreet.”
“If your mother could hear you talk.”
“She always loved you.”
“I never met her.”
“Still,” I tease, “I hear these places got fake fireplaces and the whole nine.”
“What do I need a fire for?”
“You got a better offer?”
“I like my life fine,” Miranda says, pouring someone else’s beer, “I don’t need it mucked around with by wild dreamers like you.”
“No,” I say, “Not me, I’m no dreamer – that was our parents. They were the real dreamers. The builders… Our children, when they finally reach 419, they will be the great explorers.”
“Your children, I haven’t got any.”
“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” I muse, admiring the translucent ambery liquor, “Really terrible.”
“You’d rather be an explorer.”
“I’d rather achieve something.”
“Haven’t you?” She points to the rank on my uniform.
“More than that. We’re on a mission we didn’t start and won’t live long enough finish. No choice and no glory….and of course the kiddos will do great things, but what are we doing? We, the interim?” I say, slipping into lower feelings, “A whole generation marooned by the decisions of its forebears.”
Chairs shuffle down the bar. The clink of glasses. A dozen conversations rimmed with laughter. And I sit staring into the deep-end of my glass.
“Joseph, look at me,” she says. I look at her.
“Has there ever been a time when that wasn’t the case?”
I think through my warm and troubled fog. Reluctantly, I answer.
“I suppose not.”
“Mmm. So quit your whining.”
I can’t help but laugh. Miranda the mother-Valkyrie, always ready to provide a swift kick in the ass.
“You want to know what the interim generation is doing?” she says, “Surviving. Living. Doing everything it can so that future you envy so badly can exist.”
Her baggy, iron eyes leak fire; reducing me to the smallest parts and rebuilding me completely.
“This is why I come here,” I say, weak and smiling, wishing I could think of something more profound. But there is nothing. And it doesn’t matter, because she already knows. I drain my cup.
“One more for the road?”
“Absolutely not,” Miranda scolds, but only by half, “The captain of the Hope isn’t allowed to be a drunk.”
So there it is.
I pay my bill. I leave a tip. And live.