This story is by Johnathan Vega and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They said that in order for humanity to survive we needed to leave our home and venture out into the void. It was one of the great truths of our age. Fossil fuels and overpopulation had created a home so toxic that our only hope was to leave. An eviction notice for the ages.
That’s when the Daedalus was announced to the world. The first in a fleet of ships that would take us to a new home. All we had to do was get in line and ensure all of our data was satisfactory to the various government entities. All approved citizens were guaranteed an entry in the passenger lottery. With no familial connections left to speak of, I figured giving it a shot couldn’t hurt.
We knew that we would be leaving it all behind. We would sacrifice so much in order to keep the species alive. The men in the advertisements made sure to paint the future’s new direction with optimism and hope, as if the desperation of the moment was something to shrug off.
I hadn’t really expected to be chosen as my life’s work centered around preserving the lost art of diagramming sentences. It very much took me by surprise when the woman in my vid-window congratulated me on such a momentous occasion. The smile almost touched her eyes as I scrawled my signature on the digital line. I didn’t care enough to read the fine print first.
Apparently the research had determined human bodies just weren’t naturally inclined to weather the extended period of hibernation necessary for the trip. I squinted up at the light as my gurney arrived in the operating room. The nurse placed the mask over my nose and mouth and had me count backward from 100. Just like in the movies, I was out before I could count down to 99.
I thought eight hours was rough in a car. I had no way to rationalize 84 light years. The prototype faster-than-light drive in development alongside the Daedalus would not be ready for field testing for years so we were stuck doing it the old fashioned way. I much preferred it that way, sleeping away the next three centuries opposite the business end of a controlled bomb rather than spitting in the face of physics by taking a shortcut.
I don’t know how long I had actually been asleep. The black never went away. The dreams came even during the times I could have sworn I was awake. I couldn’t move my arms or legs. I was weightless with no sense of…anything, to be honest.
I dreamed of white rabbits diving into holes. I dreamed of purple tulip fields and yellow suns. I dreamed of the moment I came alive inside my mother’s womb, the quickening that signaled my entrance into the world of the living senses.
Weightless darkness masked the passage of time until suddenly everything lit up. My world erupted into white and red light. I tried to squeeze my eyes shut but my eyelids wouldn’t shut. I tried to raise my hands but my body refused to respond.
Flames, unbound by the restraints of gravity, flowed like water through the empty space before my capsule. Tendrils of fire danced along the glass of the capsule opposite mine, leaving black scorch marks after its caress.
Cables floated loose and broken, sparks erupting from the severed couplings. Jets of fire surged from an obscured wall as invisible gases mingled with the shower of electricity.
Lights flickered on in the row of capsules before me. Searing white light shown down on the occupants. I couldn’t truly grasp what I was seeing.
Suspended, either in zero gravity or some life-sustaining medium, was a person. Essence of a person may be a better descriptor. It stared at me with unmoving eyes, pink brain hovering above, a mess of spinal nerve fibers dangling from below, tendrils branching out where limbs once attached.
The conflagration lit the glass of my capsule brightly enough to show my reflection. I tried to recoil in horror but was powerless against the sight of my own unblinking eyes staring back at me. My pulsing cerebellum and swaying white nerve clusters were now the only claims I had to humanity.
Capsule after capsule, each occupied by a unique central nervous system, receded into its own alcove, a panel closing behind it. I watched the chaos in action before me slide out of view as my own enclosure pulled away from the mayhem.
The sea of stars exploded into view. The curtain of darkness was so filled with shimmering dots of light that I couldn’t make out any of the constellations I knew from childhood.
No Sagittarius. No Ursas. All were flanked and hidden by the endless star field.
As my enclosure tumbled I could see my star ferry. Massive rings spun around what must have been the command section. Blue-white glare shone forth from the opposite end of the miles-long body of the ship.
Jagged fissures appeared along the main body, flames momentarily shining before dying in the vacuum. Steel and other pieces of engineering twisted and snapped, ripping the fore section onto a different course than the disintegrating aft.
I expected a wave of atomic fury to erupt as the engines went critical but I was disappointed. Instead, the dying hulk continued to hemorrhage bodies both whole and systemic. The flames continued to spring to life and die just as quickly.
The silence seemed to take on a new existence. One moment I oriented to the vast abyss, the next I watched my fellow humans spread out among the stars in lifeboats of their own. Time lost all meaning as the ship vanished in the night. My capsule ensured I continued to exist, to experience each and every passing moment out beyond the reach of humankind.