In the "morning," I check in on the plants. I make sure they look comfortable, that they're watered and fed. I check on their progress. I aerate the Syntho-Soil. I write big numbers in little boxes on a clipboard.
After the plant chore is done, I do my daily exercises. I utilize the training equipment that was provided for me. I do so in perfect silence, aside from the delicate purr of the Grav-o-tizer and the soft beeps from the CommandConsolePlus.
And then, it's breakfast. Unless I was able to harvest something exciting from the crop, breakfast is always the same thing. Cooked egg substitute. A plastic-y biscuit. Fluorescent orange liquid from a tube.
And then after that, nothing. I have no other obligations until the next "morning." The rest of the day stretches before me, a dull panorama of stars.
The first time I read it was in high school. I was seventeen. I was starving for the little shapes on my horizon that seemed so far off. Everything felt like a joke that I was on the cusp of understanding.
The last time I read it was a week ago. I'm on an asteroid taking care of plants for the government, which may or may not exist anymore. I understand the joke now but turns out it's not very funny.
I'm not making that comparison simply because VHS tapes are a form of media that we often associate with nostalgia, though that fact helps make my analogy more tangible. What I mean is that, like a VHS tape, the more we pour over a specific memory, the more we rewind and replay that little fuzzy movie in our head, the more it warps and changes permanently.
It starts with subtle shifts: phrasings are slightly altered, colors are palette-swapped, a vase of flowers is nudged to the right a bit. But if you keep performing this action, these small changes start to pile up. The materiality of your memory is stretched and deformed like magnetic tape re-spooled too many times. Soon: day has become dusk, your mom's words are coming from your dad's mouth, and the television in the background is playing Seinfeld instead of Friends. It's still all very factual to you. The nostalgia-that odd glow in the chest, that directionless yearning-is still there. But what you're yearning for has become fiction.
I make my way to the complete other side of the Base and sit in one of the Ergochairs I've dragged there. The dialogue of the movie echoes through the empty rooms, off the Cryo-Shelves and past the plants twitching in the wispy airflow. It reverberates through the hallways, wraps itself around empty air, becomes distorted and contorted by the contours of my physical space.
By the time the sound reaches me, the words are indistinct and muffled and kind of hollowed out, though still remarkably human-sounding. I close my eyes and imagine that there are others here with me, just down the hall, holding a conversation. I do this every afternoon.
Right off the bat, your first inclination would be to choose your favorites. Those albums you've listened to a thousand times since freshman year of high school, how could you live without them? That one movie that always makes you cry, how could you possibly tire of it? That book of short stories you've marked to tatters, surely that would keep you sane?
But then you picture yourself, cross-legged and sunburnt on the beach, hair ratty and unkempt, and your poor mind endlessly adrift among the vast oceans of time. Your favorite pieces of media are places that you already know inside and out; you know their hidden pathways, their secrets, their tricks, their echoes, their beveled corners and implied dusty attics. What you need is something that will keep you busy, not sane. So then you consider bringing along the most sprawling, complex works you can think of. Infinite Jest. Gravity's Rainbow. Dwarf Fortress. The Godfather. Citizen Kane. The White Album.
But then you reconsider: maybe it's not the boredom that will get to you, but the loneliness. Humans are social creatures, after all, and if you could use your choices to somehow conjure feelings of communal life, of being a part of the human race, then maybe you could survive. Daft Punk's Alive. An anthology of timeless poetry. The Sims. Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Maybe a single-player version of World of Warcraft with all the expansions installed.
The point is, I've had a lot of time to consider the ideal angles for such a situation. This is all in retrospect, of course. In retrospect, you're able to pour over a decision endlessly, chisel away at its sloppy edges, weigh it against other decisions, all with the express knowledge of what will happen next.
But at least I still had some cultural tether to home, something I took for granted all my life. I wasn't participating in anything, exactly, but it had the aftertaste of participation. Sometimes I could almost trick myself into feeling like I was watching TV with friends, or perhaps a lover, curled up on the couch, sharing in these live rituals with other couches in other homes.
At a certain point, the broadcasts stopped coming in. I don't know if something terrible happened down there or if this was their plan all along. The last thing they streamed to me was an episode of America's Got Talent where a woman did a showtune variation of Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" and a man tried to make a big, showy entrance by roller-skating onto the stage.
He rolled too far, fell off the side, and tumbled into the darkness of the crowd, surveilled by cellphones making little movies of the moment so no one would forget.
We've all experienced this before, yes? You discover a new song, perhaps on the radio while you're driving down the street late at night, and it totally throttles you. It sounds like lightning and true love and everything that's good and righteous in the world. You go home and get your hands on it somehow. You play it again and again, sometimes multiple times in a row. And then it becomes overplayed. It doesn't have the same silvery pulse anymore. Now imagine an extreme version of that.