Eyes search in the darkness while galaxies swim in and out of view. Dark hues of blue, green, and purple shine brightly in the silence. The Astro 2 slowly slips through the empty expanse of space, so full of stars, yet cold, cruel, and reassuring. A pale face stares back at me, slightly vibrating on one of the many vast windows of the star ship. The dying vehicle gives one last halting shudder. We have been in space for almost five years now and the engines are dying. Never-ending war is waging inside our bodies and we live in fear of change, yet bored at life’s constants. Humanity’s lost voyage is finally coming to an end. Resources are running out and hopelessness is closing its iron fist around our dreams. Many of my close friends have already succumbed to the ever-changing spirit of death, constantly finding new ways to devour our polluted cells. It is likely that a main aerator on our ship will soon fail, leaving us to suffocate in the immense vacuum of space.
I have heard fearful murmurs that the medics are dying faster than most due to overexposure to lethal viruses, the produce of civilization. Some are already dead, and most of the rest are in various stages of their bodies being invaded by never-ending sleep, being digested, and certain death. As you may fathom at this stage of our supposedly short trip into space, nothing is going according to plan.
I walk over to my kitchen and request a mug of tea containing the amount of antibiotics required to keep us living despite the battling viruses that we contain. It takes longer to appear on my counter than usual, but after around a minute, a panel in the wall slides open and the steaming mug slides out. I sit at my windowsill for hours, sipping tea and gazing at the stars. My watch reads 1:23 p.m. Earth time and I slowly stand up from the windowsill, groaning at my stiff limbs, a result of the virus beginning to take over my body. I walk to my bed and slide into the sheets. I almost immediately slide into the deep, dark depths of sleep.
Wind rustles my hair and I begin to run. My feet are cool and damp on the misty grass. A sense of freedom rushes into my veins and I continue to run into the beautiful meadow towards my old home on Earth. My lungs burn and my eyes are overwhelmed by the beautiful green of the grass, the yellows and pinks of the blooming flowers. The sun rises above the horizon and it paints a breathtaking picture of lovely shades of orange, yellow, pink, and red. I stop running and just gaze at the colors and the fading stars. Something is wrong. I had never seen stars until the day I went into space and I cherish them, but these seem as if they are laughing maliciously at me, the lone figure standing in the meadow. I frown at the disappearing stars and I realize the temperature, which is steadily rising. I snap my head toward the rising sun and the trees at the outskirts of the meadow are on fire. I begin to run and the adrenaline in my veins should allow me to go faster but it is as if I am running through burning oil, my feet slippery on the damp grass and hot from the fire. The fire is going to overtake me and I am afraid, so very afraid. I am no longer in the picturesque meadow, I am standing in the midst of the war-torn, destroyed view outside my bedroom window, inside my Earth house. I reach my door. I frantically try to open it but it’s locked. I turn as I am engulfed in flaming despair.
I realize that this must be, has to be a nightmare. There are no existing meadows like the one I was just in, on Earth or anywhere else. I will myself to wake up, my eyes sting fiercely from the smoke and I’m collapsing on the burning ground in a coughing fit. If this is a dream, which it must be, it seems extraordinarily real. I want this, whatever this is, to be over. My skin feels molten and my mind is consumed by the pain of the fire. The heat begins to dull and the world around me goes dark.
I lie in the inky blackness for what seems like days, in a perpetual in-between ground between sleep and hazy consciousness. Each time I wake it seems as if I am immediately knocked out once more. In one of these periods it occurs to me: Is this punishment for what humanity has done to the Earth? We have taken this beautiful, unique planet and turned it into a battleground for our selfish, brutal wars. Punishment is such a human concept. I also hear muffled voices, afraid, shouting voices. This scares me more than anything, I am alone and I fear I will never hear the voice of someone I love ever again.
It is over. I sit up and the pain in my aching body is gone. I am no longer alone in the darkness. A woman in an unfamiliar uniform sits in front of me behind a neat desk. I look around but the woman, desk, and the chair beneath me are the only occupants of the large room. She pulls out a binder and opens it to a blank page. She asks in a soft voice, “And you are?” I mumble, “Uh, I’m Angelo Peterson.” “Where were you last?” she asks, giving me a gentle smile. “The Astro 2, I think.” “Ah,” she says, “we’ve been getting many new arrivals from that particular ship recently.” “Where am I?” I ask. “What’s going on?” “My condolences,” she says, giving me a pitying smile, “but you’re dead.”