Things to Do on Pluto

Things to Do on Pluto

Things to Do on Pluto

SHORT STORY

How to spend your time productively on a remote outpost in the distant reaches of the solar system.

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Maintenance

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The beacons are in working order, though they never burn properly first thing, when the atmosphere is thin and the sky is like crystal. Every morning, I climb the steps to the gallery, coax the electrics back to full strength and gaze out through the observation ports for a glimpse of the day’s weather, weather that is always the same, frosty, motionless and silent, and the days stretching out across the plains like eternities of their own.

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Communications

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I check the logs diligently. There haven’t been any contacts to report for some time now. I know there must be ships out there in the void, passing to and fro, but so long as the signals are strong, they have no need to send a message. They can travel safely, unimpeded, through the emptiness.

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Leisure

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I often browse the newspaper with my morning coffee, even though I’ve read it a thousand times before. Repetition is a comfort out here. I read it backwards, or choose words at random, in the hope of teasing out some code I’d never noticed but which was always there, hidden within the familiar old bulletins of disappointment and despair, and sometimes it works. This is how I came to learn that the transit links were to be resumed, and my long shift out here among the stars would soon come to an end. I’m waiting for the timetables to be confirmed but every day I walk out to the landing strip and check it’s clear of debris, just in case.

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Exercise

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I’m having to go further to collect fuel now. At first it was easy to gather material on the borders of the camp but now I have to go ever deeper into the petrified forests and drag it in bulk, back over the ice. I have no complaints, I like the exercise. It keeps me vigorous, and so far I’ve always been able to find enough to keep the stocks replenished.

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Security

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I haven’t officially reported those footprints in the western valley. Not footprints, depressions in the ice, about the size of my own boots. I can’t be sure I didn’t make them myself. It’s not inconceivable. I don’t remember going that way, but memory can be tricky, and in this icy landscape, there are no limits to forgetfulness. It could have been one of the other keepers of course, although I don’t know what business they would have in my territory. All the same, I make sure to take my carbine with me these days, and listen more carefully to the silence between the volumes of ice, in all of its many configurations.

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Gastronomy

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Believe it or not, the provisions which seemed so plentiful at first, overly generous even, are actually starting to go down. I’ve taken to counting the stocks and checking the daily menus. It should be no problem. I can make adjustments and I must say, the quality of the preservation is remarkably good, even after all this time. The canned mutton and beans are nourishing. The salted biscuits make it all worthwhile.

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Stargazing

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During that part of the rotation when the sun comes back into view and the horizon rises over the frozen reaches of the outer belt, I sometimes light torches and mark out a reflective symbol on the unused football pitch. I train my telescope on that faint, distant furnance in the heart of all things, telling myself that, in my own small way, I am here, I am alive, and still answering light with light.

Things to Do on Pluto
Short story published 2024

Words and pictures
David Guest