“…a contemplation on solitude and distance.”

Lois Tilton

“(To See the Other) Whole Across the Sky” by E Catherine Tobler

The problem being the crewing of cargo ships across interstellar distances, deemed necessary in case the automatic systems happen to fail. Because more than one human confined in such conditions has a strong tendency to result in some sort of disaster, the solution turns out to be loners, humans who prefer to avoid the company of others. Yet total solitude can be just as problematic, so the singleton-crewed ships are paired with others to provide a bond of communication.

While suicide remains a concern in certain circles—circles that will never reach the uppermost levels—we are used to anhedonic wonderlands, to agoraphobic serenity. With a communications unit for holographic interaction, we do what we do best: talk behind our aliases as we ensure the natural hum and shiver of the machines around us. For a loner, this is the precisely perfect occupation, a diet of minimally-invasive companionship that can be closed at a moment’s notice.

A fine example of literary SF. In a way, it’s a love story. Or a contemplation on solitude and distance. The single-crewed ship is anything but a new thing in SF, but rarely is it done like this.