Vagaries

Space Pilgrims and the Astrobiological Lingerie

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Whether we like it or not, human arrival on other planets will someday become a reality. Play along and let’s assume you’re alive and well that day. You’ve been selected and the ship’s pilot is anxiously revving the thrusters, letting you know that it’s now or never. Should you decide to go, take these weird-ass panties, you’ll need them.

“Good, you got in! I’ll explain on the way.”

“What’s with the visceral undies?” you ask once the spaceship has safely left Earth and the acceleration stops pushing you back into your seat. Your curiosity is genuine, I can tell from your slightly dilated pupils. That or the excitement of having left your planet for the first time.

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“It’s standard gear issued to all planetary pioneers. GASA’s been using them for years.”

“GASA?” you inquire, your pupils having returned to their normal size.

“Been living under a rock or something? The Global Aeronautics and Space Administration, the guys who put you on this ship.”

“No one put me anywhere,” you reply. “I wanted to go.”

We’re off to a bad start already.

“I’m sorry if I came off as rude,” I hastily add. “I shouldn’t let my assumptions curb my politeness.”

As the tension wanes, I come to the realization that sometimes I’m a decorated asshole. You’ve joined the others in silent contemplation of the vast, star-studded emptiness.

Hours pass and despite traveling at more than 370,000 mph, it feels like we’re barely moving. Our ship is a Class Delta Transplanetary Spaceliner capable of accelerating to 0.48c. At that speed, we’ll have reached our destination in a little over 8 and a half years, assuming everything goes well.

Alpha Centauri B. That’s where we’re heading. We’ve known for a long time that one of the 14 planets orbiting this Sun-like star is a near perfect replica of our immensely overcrowded Earth. Spectroscopy readings show the percentage of atmospheric gasses is slightly different but apart from that, things look promising. I’m no expert but they wouldn’t have sent a spaceship they spent the past 22 years building and upgrading if they weren’t certain about the planet being habitable.

AARK, they call it. I don’t like the name, but that’s on account of my hard feelings towards double vowels. This creaky behemoth built with materials that exist nowhere in nature, silently peeling the proverbial rubber through freezing voids—this will be my home for the foreseeable future. And I’ll be sharing it with 124,000 shipmates. No one said conquering space would be easy.

A slight tap on the back snaps me out of my thoughts.

“I’d like to resume our conversation.” She’s back and she’s pretty, to say the least. “I had decided on avoiding you, but for some reason, I couldn’t stop wondering about those panties. Now I’m afraid my own are in a twist.”

And here I was thinking the vacuum of space had stripped us of our sense of humor. Man’s mental faculties are resilient.

“Hey! You’re funny!”

Open mouth, insert foot.

“I mean, I see you’ve retained your appetite for comedy. Not everyone does that.”

“Like you,” she quips.

“Not true, I know jokes. Like the one about Orion’s Belt.”

“What about it?”

“It’s … a waist of space.”

Her lack of reply was starting to get uncomfortable when she burst into laughter, the echo gradually subsiding further down the empty compartment.

“This is definitely the worst joke about outer space I’ve heard in outer space. It’s also the first one so I think there’s room for improvement. That being said, I truly hope your descriptive skills are better than your jokes.”

Through the viewport behind her I could see a cloudy marble gleaming in the distance. The cradle and grave of almost anyone who’s ever existed, big and small, kind and wicked altogether. It would be the last time I ever saw it and frankly, it felt right. The creed of all living things is to propagate and nowhere is this trait more visible than in humans.

“About the panties,” I continued, “you’re going to need them on New Earth if you want to survive.”

“Go on,” she said, making no effort to restrain her amusement.

“It’s actually a crucial piece of equipment and could have been shaped like anything else. The planet we’re going to is–tropical would be a good way to put it and for the sake of necessity, clothing will have to be scant. I guess the engineers designed them to look like panties for practical reasons.”

“Or as a practical joke!”

“We’ve got corset tops too. But standard procedure dictates we tell you about the panties first.”

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“These ones I like more. Why do they look so weird?”

“Form follows function. There are traces of hydrocarbons in New Earth’s atmosphere and these wearables incorporate bacteria that are able to convert these chemicals into edible matter. It’s completely safe for human consumption; at least until they get agriculture going. The panties perform a similar role, but using algae and cyanobacteria that convert sunlight into sugars.”

“Yeah, but why make clothing out of such important equipment? They could’ve shaped them like giant leaves or something. Hang them outside, let them do their job. Having people wear them just doesn’t make sense and they sure as hell don’t look comfortable to me.”

“I quit trying to understand fashion a long time ago.”

Laughter filled the halls once again, while the AARK imperceptibly continued accelerating to half the speed of light.

                                      

Inspired by this.

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