Space Travel is Pretty Boring, Actually

Space Travel is Pretty Boring, Actually

By Jane Brown

Dear Diary,

Mum’s new job had better be worth it.

I paused from writing as Mum’s voice echoed over the intercom, “Essie, can you bring me some breakfast, please?”

“Okay, in a minute.”

My eyes flickered to the windows. Yep, still the same super-scintillating scenery of BIG BLACK NOTHINGNESS outside, as we travelled even further from my old school, my old friends, my old life. I could probably paint the ship’s windows black and not even notice a difference. Space road trips truly suck.

I checked the time. The livestream of the intergalactic orchestra had already begun so I pulled up the footage and zoomed in on the piano player. Her graceful fingers danced over the holographic piano keys. It looked so beautiful and… effortless. However much I practiced, my teacher’s comments remained the same — “technically sound, but too mechanical, there’s no love”. That had been my first clue.

The second clue was the old-school app I’d discovered a few years ago. Actually, I hadn’t done today’s test yet. I pulled out my mini-vid and scanned the six images, then clicked on the three with bridges. Pass. That was good but… I felt nothing. It didn’t matter that I’d passed this test for 1035 days straight. I’d failed the first one and that had proved it.

I switched off my mini-vid and headed to the kitchen.

“Ship, how far away from Earth are we?” I asked as I spooned porridge into two bowls.

“1.347822 light years. Warning: chance of ship malfunction at 1.5 light years travel.”

“Oh, that doesn’t sound good. More details please.”

“0.000000000000000000000000001% chance of paint peeling from interior walls.”

I giggled. Okay maybe there was one good thing about space travel: playing with the settings on the ship computer. I’d switched it to Pessimism mode yesterday for fun.

I entered the control deck and handed one of the bowls to Mum.

“Thanks, honey,” she said, switching her eyes straight back to the navigation screen.

“Have you been up all night again, Mum? Everything okay?” Mum had been an insomniac ever since she’d left the army six years ago.

She patted my arm. “Yep. Still can’t believe our good fortune to rent one of these ships at such short notice. Looks like we’re well on track to arrive at Vluriod by tomorrow, before the new school year starts. I’m so looking forward to seeing Rose again.”

Rose was Mum’s oldest friend. She’d moved in with us after Dad died, to help Mum look after me. She’d given me a toy Zoroco—kind of like a virtual pet—to distract me from the sadness in the house. It’d given me so much joy, until the day it was stolen. Rose had moved to Vluriod about five years ago but still vid-chatted with us daily. She’d invited us to stay with her until we found our own place.

“95% of things never go to plan. Unexpected things always happen,” Ship said.

Mum shifted in her seat. “Essie, can we switch Ship back to normal? This pessimism mode is a real downer.”

Just then my mini-vid buzzed in my pocket. I retrieved it and swiped the screen. Holy moly!

“Hey, Mum, remember how you’re making me move half-way across the galaxy?”


“And how you swore you’d make it up to me?”

Mum raised her eyebrows.

“I just got a MarketSpace alert! We’re in range of a listing for a Zoroco. It’s a version five. Oh, man! I thought I would never in a million eons find another one.”

Mum sighed. “How much and where?”


 Mum and I stared at the oldest crappiest spaceship we’d ever seen.

“I don’t know about this,” Mum said.

“Strong chance of being hijacked, robbed, and scammed in this area of space,” Ship said.

Mum grit her teeth. “Do you really want this thing, Essie?”

I was about to reply, No, don’t worry about it, but then I thought about how scary it was going to be, living on a strange planet. A Zoroco would be an excellent security blanket.


We docked. An earthling man and a young girl came to meet us.

“Hi, I’m Baler,” said the man, beaming as he extended a dirty hand. Oil stains covered his shirt and he had long messy dreadlocks. A sharp contrast to the neat-as-a-pin girl standing next to him. He must have noticed our disdain because he pulled back his hand and smoothed his hair. “Please excuse my appearance. Been doing some ship maintenance.”

Mum nodded. “So, you have a Zoroco for sale?”

“Sure do. Still boxed! I’ll go get it.” He disappeared back into his ship.

“Hello,” Mum said to the girl. “What’s your name?”

The girl stared at us for a few seconds before responding with a whisper. “Star.”

“That’s a pretty name.”

Baler reappeared, huffing and puffing. “Here it is!” He proudly handed over a box.

I checked it out. Black and white stripes. Full head of hair. My heart was pounding so hard. I couldn’t believe I was actually holding one in my hands. And then I noticed the “Z” on the base.

My face fell.

“This isn’t a Zoroco. It’s an imitation — a Zorokoo.” I cleared my throat and tried to stop my fingers shaking as I handed it back. “Come on, Mum. Let’s go.”

“What?” Baler examined the box closely, then hit his head with his hand. “Oh, man. You’re absolutely right. There’s been a mix-up. My pluto-brained brother visited yesterday and this Zorokoo is his. He must have taken the Zoroco home by mistake. Let me call him.”

“No thanks.” Mum and I turned and walked back to our ship.

“Wait! It’s a limited edition. Gold edged. Tiny engraving in the bottom. My grandfather was an antique collector — it took him years to find it. You’ll never have this chance again.”

I paused. Dammit. He was right. I’d been searching for one forever.

“Why are you selling it then if it’s so rare?”

He sighed and gestured around. “I need the money. Listen, my brother lives on the planet, Tulo. It’s only 0.0003 light years from here. Hang on, let me call him.” He pulled out his mini-vid and dialed.

Instantly, a tiny hologram of another dreadlocked man appeared. “Bro! What’s up?”

“Hey man, you friggin’ took my Zoroco yesterday.”

“Huh?” The tiny hologram shook his head but then rummaged around behind him and pulled out a box. “Ohhhh. Dude. My bad.”

I moved closer and enlarged the holographic image. My eyes widened. It was an authentic Zoroco. No doubt whatsoever.

“Tell you what,” the hologram brother said. “You bring my Zorokoo here right now and we can swap them over.”

“Got it,” Baler said and hung up. He turned to us. “Why don’t you two wait here till I get back? Shouldn’t be long.”

Mum whispered to me, “We don’t have time for this.”

I grabbed her hand and looked at her with my best puppy dog eyes. “You promised, Mum.”

She groaned. “Okay.”

Baler grinned. “Star and I will leave now. Should be back in ten Earth-hours tops.”

“What?” Mum gaped. “Is your ship really that slow?”

Baler nodded but then stroked his chin. “You know, there is another way we could make it quicker. Your ship is ten times faster than mine.”

We all turned to look at our ship.


“Wow, this ship is The Bomb,” Baler said, taking a seat next to Mum in the control room.

“It’s not bad,” Mum replied, laughing.

I saw the glint of metal in her pocket. Good. She’d armed herself. Baler just seemed like an idiot. But scammers were getting cleverer every day. Luckily, my mum knew how to protect herself. Ten years in the army would do that to you.

I looked at the girl standing in the corner of the room. “Come on, Star. Let’s go get something to eat.”

Star and I sat at the kitchen table and ate our noodles. I watched her tiny delicate fingers work the chopsticks perfectly.

“So, how old are you, Star?”

She looked up. Said nothing.

“Where are you guys traveling to?”

Her emotionless eyes stared back at mine.

“What’s your favorite color? Favorite animal? Favorite planet?”

I was determined to get her to say something. Anything.

“What’s 144 multiplied by 7?”


She spoke! And she got it right! Amazing. She only looked about six.

I tried again, “199044 divided by 513?”


Wow. She didn’t even pause that time.

“That’s some pretty neat math skills you got going on.”

She beamed. “Thanks. But it’s only because I’m a robot.”

I choked on my noodles. “You’re a… robot? H-h-how do you know that?”

“Baler told me after my mum got cancer and went to the hospital. They’d had a little girl previously. A real girl. But something happened to her. I think she died. So they got me. An android.”

Whoa. I had never met an android before. There weren’t many around anymore after they stopped construction due to the protests. I had so many questions.

“Did you suspect you weren’t human before he told you?”

“Yes. I couldn’t remember anything about my early years and people always said I spoke funny. I was top of the class for math and science but I never did well in music, no matter how much I practiced. My teacher said I was too mechanical.”

I nodded. “I know the feeling.”

“Are you an android too?” Star looked at me quizzically.

I paused. “I’m not sure. But I think so.”

“You mean your mum hasn’t officially told you?”

“No. She insists I’m not.”

“Well, let’s find out. Ship, protocol thirty-two analysis please.”

What the hell was this? I’d never heard of that protocol before.

“Acknowledged,” Ship responded. “Scanning complete. Currently on this ship are two organic lifeforms and two artificial lifeforms.”

And just like that, time stood still, the room spun, and I had concrete proof. I was a robot.

But before I could process anything, an ear-piercing scream sounded from the control deck. Mum. I sprinted there as quickly as I could.

Mum had Baler up against the wall, a knife to his throat. Baler screamed again.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“She found out, didn’t she?” a little voice came from behind me. Star.

“Huh?” I turned to face her.

“This scumbag is a liar,” Mum said, jamming the knife in closer. “His name’s not even Baler. Ship, what kind of scam are they running?”

“Scam could include: human trafficking, hijacking, hostage situation, drug muling, blatant robbery or murder.”

“Hang on, hang on,” Baler pleaded, a terrified expression on his face. “It’s none of that! Trust me.”

Mum took the knife away. “Explain.”

“He’s taking me to the decommission plant on Tulo,” Star said.

Mum glanced at the girl. “She’s a robot?”

Baler continued, “We ran out of fuel en route and got stranded. Every other ship ignored us because I had no money. I had to think of a different way to get her there.” He sobbed. “The deadline is tomorrow.”

Mum nodded. “Bit drastic. You could have just told us the truth, you know. So, I guess there’s no Zoroco then?”

Baler’s gaze dropped to the floor. “Sorry. We put a whole heap of listings on MarketSpace for a range of toys, hoping it would bait someone passing by. I made some fake holo-vids of my brother too.”

My heart sank. No Zoroco. But something else was troubling me more than that. “Decommission plant? You’re… killing Star?”

Mum and Baler exchanged glances.

“Essie,” Mum said. “The anti-AI protests on Earth worked. All androids are being decommissioned. The government set a deadline for them to be brought into designated plants to be retired humanely. Any that aren’t there by tomorrow will be tracked down and killed in cold blood.”

Baler sobbed again. “I couldn’t bear to see that happen to my little Star.”

I stared at the girl. She looked so sad but also seemed resigned to her fate. Then something clicked in my brain and my heart stopped. “Ship, which planets have a decommission plant?”

“Tulo, Maranji #3, Salara, and Vluriod.”

Oh no.

“Mum, are you taking us to Vluriod to decommission me?”

“Oh, Essie. How many times do I have to tell you? You are not an android!” She crossed the room and wrapped her arms around me.

I broke free. “Mum, the ship confirmed it. It said there were two artificial lifeforms on board.”

Mum’s eyes widened, then she looked down at the floor.

I waited but she didn’t say anything more.

“Fine, if you won’t admit the truth, I’ll just have to prove it.”


I locked the airlock door behind me and pressed the button to begin decompression.

Mum banged on the window. “Essie, stop this! You’re going to kill yourself!”

“No, Mum. This will prove it. Everyone knows androids can survive low pressure.”

Baler and Star appeared behind Mum. Baler had his hand over his mouth and looked like he was about to be sick.

“Decompression commencing in 10 seconds,” said Ship. “100% of humans not wearing protective suits will no longer be compatible with life.”

“Essie!” Mum’s face was red, tears streaming down. “Stop this, now!”

I turned away. I was right, I knew it. The clues couldn’t be wrong.


“You’re not a robot, Essie.” Mum whispered.

“7… 6…”

“It’s me. I’m the other artificial lifeform.”

I froze. “What?”

“When your dad died fighting in the long war, your mum — your real mum — died too. But the army made clones of its soldiers in case of situations like this.”

“Like what?”

“Orphaned kids. They knew there was no extended family to care for you. They activated me, synced your mum’s memory with mine and sent me home to you. I’m an android, a perfect clone of your mother. And a robot.”

My head throbbed.


I quickly canceled the decompression and opened the door.

“That’s why Rose stayed with us,” Mum continued. “To make sure the transition went smoothly. And now we’re going to Vluriod so Rose can look after you once I’m… gone.”

“I can’t believe it. I thought I was the robot but I’ve been raised by one? How did I not know?”

“Essie, your mum’s memories, her personality, everything was synced to me. I am essentially your mum.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head.

“Would you rather have been raised by a stranger?”

I opened my eyes again and looked at Mum — the one who had been there for me through so much — when I’d twisted my ankle, when the kids at school had bullied me, and when I’d fallen apart when Dad didn’t come home.

I thought about what it would be like tomorrow after we arrived on Vluriod. I looked at the Zorokoo in Baler’s hand. Everyone knew they were just as cuddly as a Zoroco, in fact they were almost an exact replica, apart from the logo.

A lump formed in my throat. “I love you, Mum. I’m just glad I got to spend these extra years with you, whichever weird way it happened.” I threw my arms around her and hugged her tight. And that’s when I realised I wasn’t quite ready to say good-bye just yet.

But that was tomorrow’s problem.


About the Author:

Jane Brown is a programmer and short fiction writer who lives by the beach in Australia. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Etherea, PodCastle, Martian Magazine, and elsewhere, and she was a finalist in the 2021 Aurealis Awards for Fantasy Short Story. She can be found on Twitter at @janebrownau.

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