This Long Vigil by Rhett C. Bruno. Originally published December, 2015 by Pervenio Corp. Approx. 20 pages.
Last June, I concluded my review for Rhett C. Bruno's ambitious bounty hunter novel Titanborn with the observation that he has introduced a universe that is fertile ground for additional stories. This Long Vigil, actually published back in 2015, While this emotional short does take place in the same universe, it is not connected to the story of Titanborn protagonist Malcolm Graves. Let's take a look at the blurb before we get to the review.
After twenty five years serving as the lone human Monitor of the Interstellar Ark, Hermes, Orion is scheduled to be placed back in his hibernation chamber with the other members of the crew. Knowing that he will die there and be replaced before the ship's voyage is over, he decides that he won't accept that fate. Whatever it takes he will escape Hermes and see space again, even if it means defying the regulations of his only friend -- the ship-wide artificial intelligence known as Dan.
The story here revolves around Orion's "last day on the job". We watch as he goes through the mundane motions of his daily tasks, eats the same nutrient-balanced food equivalent, and engages in games of riddles with Dan, the AI that overseas all the major operations of the Hermes.
And yet, something keeps niggling at the back of Orion's mind. Is it a feeling of doubt, of desire, or both? These feelings are exacerbated as he finalizes his choice for his replacement monitor. Day in, and day out, he witnesses births and deaths which occur in stasis tubes. It is Inhabitant 2781, the beautiful young female who is the forerunner in his replacement choices, that apparently spurs the escalation of Orion's desire to want.....well, to want more.
So, Orion has to make the first true choice of his lifetime. What comes out of it is a sobering, emotional tale. You might be expecting something with an element of danger, or perhaps the kindly Dan assuming a dictator role, but that isn't this story. This is a story that reminds us that the tough choices are often the tough choices because they do not come with guaranteed happy endings.
Orion is a nicely done protagonist. We can sympathize, for sure, with the frustration associated with a mundane life of set tasks. At one point I wondered, what is it that drives him to desire "freedom"? It isn't as though he is shown trying to gather additional intelligence on the "worlds out there". But, then you realize, it is basic human nature to try to see, learn, and know what is a step beyond the familiar.
As in his Circuit books, Bruno gives us an AI that is more compelling than the human character. Dan is a system akin to HAL or AUTO, As the story progresses, we wonder if his efforts at rapport are genuine, or set algorithms in place to maintain the mental sanity of the human element on the ship. However, as the story reaches its climax, it becomes apparent that the concern was in fact genuine (or was it?).
There you have it; a fully-realized, emotional tale packed into an economical wordcount. Give this short a read.
Buy it here.
Visit Rhett's site.
Recent TNL interview with Rhett C. Bruno.