0036: The Trouble With Epiphanies

With What Strange Eyes? #9

“You’re a fast driver,” Lamont said as he pulled a chair up to Carter’s desk, setting his coffee cup down on the polished surface, next to his portable recorder. “It’s something that surprised me about you.”

“Please, come in,” Francis quipped dryly. On his desk was a small televiewer screen that was patched into the ship’s microfilm library. The screen cast a pallid glow over his features as he stared at it grimly, slowly turning a knob on his desk’s console to advance the film.

“Back in Mars,” Lamont continued, “When you rescued me from the spooks, I noticed how complicated that company car of yours was. A real technological wonder, that.”

“A prototype,” Francis explained, turning his eyes from the viewing screen with a curious expression. “A field test for some of the technologies we use on Westward. Why are we talking about my car?”

“I’ll wager,” Lamont speculated as he took a sip of his coffee, “That it could have taken us all the way to Utopia with the punch of a button, no steering required.”

“Something like that,” Francis admitted.

“But you drove it yourself the whole way. You even piloted it manually to the United Space tower.”

“I like to drive,” Carter explained, leaning forward and folding his hands on the desk.

“Exactly my point,” Lamont smiled slightly, tipping a finger toward the captain.

“So you have one?” Francis asked.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you pushed the accelerator pretty hard tonight,” Observed the newspaperman, nodding his head in the direction of the command console outside Carter’s office. It was now staffed by two members of the night crew.

“They’re a top-notch team,” Carter said flatly. “They can take it.”

“This hurry you’re in,” Lamont asked, “Wouldn’t have anything to do with Epiphany, would it?”

Carter scoffed. “Don’t be coy. Of course it does.”

“We can’t radio home,” Lamont pointed out. “Nobody in our Solar system knows what we’re doing right now.”

Francis reached across the desk to tap Lamont’s recorder. “The same fact applies to your newspaper. But you’re still writing. Why?”

“Posterity,” Lamont shrugged. “And so far it’s kept me from being told to clean the toilets.”

“Posterity,” Francis repeated, ignoring the quip. “That’s why we’ve got to move quickly now. In less than three days, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the Epiphany event. A single moment in time that ended our global war, threatened our species, and set us on the course that’s brought us here, to the doorstep of a new era.” He gestured past Lamont, where the planet loomed darkly beyond the command deck.

“Isn’t this enough?” Lamont asked.

“No,” Francis insisted. “No it isn’t. History will remember what Westward does on Epiphany. The day we set foot on that planet will be remembered as humanity spreads across the stars. We will never have this chance again.”

“A chance to do what?”

“To change the meaning of Epiphany. For 50 years, it’s been a day of mourning. We put black patches on our arms and wallow in gloom. This is our chance to change all that. Make Epiphany a day of hope, a celebration of progress.”

“There is,” Lamont reflected soberly, “A value in mourning.”

Carter sat back, his jaw working with repressed emotion. “Those are the words of someone who isn’t old enough to remember.”

Lamont lifted his palms, conceding the point. There were a few minutes of silence. Lamont drank his coffee and Francis returned to his microfilms. Outside, the two young technicians exchanged muffled bits of conversation as they oversaw the control console. A new figure entered the scene: A stocky young colonist in his orange coveralls, a cleaning unit strapped to his back. He took a few steps past the control console and stopped in his tracks, captivated by the sight of the planet below. The colonist deck was at the top of the ship, and in a close orbit like this, much of the planet would be blocked by the ship’s hull.

“It seems unlikely,” Lamont said, pushing his chair back and strapping his recorder over his shoulder, “That this planet will support a colony.”

“Perhaps,” Francis acknowledged. “But we still have a lot to learn about it.”

Lamont nodded and stepped toward the door. Then he paused and turned to look at the captain again. “The trouble with epiphanies,” he said thoughtfully, “Is that they rarely teach us the lesson we were expecting.”

Francis gazed steadfastly at his screen, his features having taken on a ghostly aspect. “Good night, Lamont,” He said.

Lamont slid the office door closed behind him. Nearby, the colonist had pulled a wand from the cleaning unit and was working his way along the edge of the glass wall, his eyes still drinking in the spectacle below. 

“Newspaperman,” the colonist said as Lamont made his way toward the exit.

Lamont realized that the colonist could see his reflection in the glass. He stopped.

“What are they saying?” The colonist asked. “About what it’s like down there?”

Lamont pulled a cigarette from his pocket, exchanging a glance with the pilot at the console. “So far,” he said brightly, placing the cigarette between his lips, “The reports have been glowing.”