Moved: poem first written 20/12/2016, article previously on another page on this site.
I used to (and one day will again) play a fair bit of Elite: Dangerous, which is a large, open-ended spaceflight simulation game. It is engagingly complicated, has its own culture and lexicon, and can be played in a number of styles. From frenetic combat or industrious mining, to long-haul trading or deep space exploration, there’s plenty of approaches to playing the game. The culture surrounding exploration particularly appeals to me particularly. Players, known as commanders, can spend days, weeks, or months (real time) exploring the reaches of the galaxy, seeing in-game wonders that no player, or even the game’s developer, has seen – in complete isolation from the rest of the game’s community.
This hermit-like wandering lifestyle eventually comes to an end though, when players return to the space stations of human/player-colonised space in the ‘bubble’ of stars that surround the ancient cradle of humanity; Earth. They do this to bank their exploration data and trade it for in-game credits, change to a new style of play, or simply call and end to one journey before starting another. Feeling creative one afternoon, I wrote the following poem in tribute to these explorers.
A note on some of the terms in the poem: ‘O7’ is a common term used by way of greeting in various space games between online players. In text format, as above, it looks like someone saluting, see? It can be read either as ‘salute’ or ‘oh-seven’. Also, ‘the black’ is a common, and affectionately used, term for deep space in the sci-fi/gaming community. I first ever saw it used in Firefly, a beautiful but short-lived sci-fi TV series. Anyway… the poem is below.
Ode to the Explorer
To the wild-eye commander, in from the black,
Suit graced by wear, helm adorned by use.
O7, friend, tell me of your time,
Of the stars beheld, and moons on which you trod.
Speak of nebulae, of moments hanging,
Timeless drifting, engines cooled,
Of sights beheld, marvel-filled.
Remove your mask, let loose your unshorn hair,
Murmur softly of the peace in which you dwelt.
Sit with me awhile.
Coffee grasped in hand, a hunger in your stare,
Blow softly on rising steam and re-join our bubble home.
Tell me of your trusty steed, faded paint on a star-bleached hull,
A companion true, a home away, the machine in which you slept.
Vastness spied through a fragile screen,
A thinness framed ‘tween here and there,
Ever present, recalls of a journey’s start.
With rusty voice, tell of when,
Long ago, you felt that here was far enough.
That place from where, with rueful smile, you knew return must come.
Of plotted courses, leaps and bounds, the black reduced with time.
Of startled jolt, of broken spell, when upon the scanner shown,
Was fellow Man, a Commander near, a presence long unfelt.
Explorer’s calm replaced by quiet fervour, suspicion in your eyes,
A jump to hide your trail, swollen data banks’ hushed cry,
The frantic rush, of docking found, of the thruster’s howl into descent,
Exhilaration washed with calm when the final clamp slams shut,
Of safety found, forgotten warmth, of a shelter in the night.
Already, I see, your gaze drifts far.
The star port hum and busy clatter,
Fill your ears with a jarring note,
Outward your mind turns again,
Onwards and away.
Take care my friend, keep safe, fly true,
I will see you again, next time you come.
Or not, perhaps, for adventure bites,
And I feel the sting myself.
Yet our paths may cross again someday,
In some distant reach, as yet unknown,
A moment’s pause in our lengthy search,
For realms withheld from all but us.