John drifted in an immense void, unable to control where he was going. He had no contact with anyone else, and no idea if anyone knew he was even alive.
Not long ago he had been a traveller. An astronaut, he would have been called in another time, but in his time such things were more common and words like “astronaut” seemed unnecessary. He had been a traveller, moving with his family to another part of the galaxy. They were being transported through space, moving thousands of light years of space to reach a new home on a distant planet. They had no idea it was all about to end.
One morning he had attended a briefing on safety drills, along with the rest of his family. These were held regularly on board the ship to ensure everyone was ready in case of disaster. The first drill was always to get a protective suit on.
An instructor had stood in front of his family, demonstrating how the pieces of the suit fit onto the body. “Alright,” he said “everyone just go through the motions, then check the person beside you.”
John began to put his own on, and moved quickly then the rest. Seeing his son Jim, a boy of five, struggling with the suit he bent own to help.
“No no,” the instructor rebuked, “do your own first, then help others. You can’t help much if you can’t breath.”
Nodding at the instructor, John moved away from his son and reached for his own mask. He snapped the last straps into place.
He had no idea what had happened next. He recalled putting the suit on, then nothing. He woke up alone in space with no sign of the ship or his family and no idea how much time had passed. He dimly recalled a loud noise on board, something like metal scraping, but he wasn’t sure if he had simply imagined it afterward. There was no way for him to ever know.
He guessed there was an accident, or perhaps something struck the vessel. By some miracle, enough of his suit survived to keep him alive. However, he had no food, and he knew his oxygen would run out eventually.
Really, it was no more than an accident that he had survived. If he had been a second earlier, he wouldn’t have been ready, if it had been a second later, he would have been taking the suit off. By all reason, he should have been killed along with his family.
Part of him wished he had been killed. While the thought of an instant death with no knowledge of it even occurring was terrifying, it was better than the slow death in space. There was nothing left but to wait for a painful, lonely death as the feeling of loss at his family’s sudden passing filled his heart. He mourned them constantly.
He thought about simply ending it, smashing the mask on his suit with his hand and waiting for space to kill him. He knew there was only a thin layer of glass that kept the vacuum of space out and his suffering alive. However, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Though he knew it would be better than the slow wait for death, the idea suicide seemed impossible for him to grasp. He couldn’t let himself go down without a fight. He knew in reality he was going to die soon, but in his mind he was immortal, and he couldn’t imagine it happening. A hope he knew was impossible came back every time he thought about killing himself, and forced him to keep going through it all. This hope, whether a curse disguised as a blessing or a blessing disguised as a curse, kept him from death. At the same time, he knew his mask was made to withstand space, and he wasn’t sure if he had the strength to break it.
Now he floated aimlessly through the emptiness of space. He still hoped to run into another ship, or perhaps even a planet or a star where people lived, but there were none in site. All he could see was a deep, eternal blackness.
However, after several hours of drifting, he noticed something. Something had begun to change. The change was so subtle he wasn’t sure it was even occurring, and even then he had no way to comprehend it. He could not relate anything to it, or put it into words. The best he could say is that the darkness was moving. Somehow, it appeared as if space itself was alive.
He knew this was not quite right, that what he imagined was impossible. Nothing in front of him could truly be alive. But something had begun to take shape. A portion of the darkness had changed, becoming darker than the rest, blacker then black. It wasn’t that it lacked light, it seemed to absorb the light around it, so that it became darker then what should have been possible. It made black seem light by comparison, and a void seem full. The blackness billowed out, and began to take form.
And it was moving. Specifically, it was coming for him.
This moving nothingness stretched further in each direction then John could see. In space you can see almost anything, no matter how far, as long as it is large and bright enough. The human eye can see a star that is thousands of light years away, and a galaxy even further. However, this thing, or better this lack of anything, appeared to cover all of space, leaving nothing visible and disappearing into at all edges of what he could only call the horizon.
It was too large for him to see or even to determine if it had a shape. However, in his struggle to understand what he knew he never could, he began to see it as a massive, living being. Portions of the billowing darkness appeared to change shape and color, forming gigantic eyes that glared at him through space. He saw arms reaching out of it, massive shapes that were coming to grasp him. He couldn’t tell if the incomprehensible size of what he saw was playing tricks on his mind or if space itself had taken the shape of a demonic, ravenous animal.
In his terror, he flailed his arms and legs, struggling to get away from it. He knew that there was nothing he could do to control his movement, and no way to get away from what he could only thing of as The Beast. It seemed soothing to make it something tangible and understandable, even a gigantic animal, rather than think of what it truly was. It was nothing, but less than nothing, an all-consuming nothing that was coming inevitably toward him. Even if he could somehow control his drifting, there was no where he could go that was out of its path and no way to stop it. Whatever it was, there was no escape from it, and he was certain would inevitably claim him.
He began to panic, and in his fright his limbs became frozen in place. He remained still as he watched the mammoth being of darkness descend upon him. He was helpless before the eternal and all-consuming void that moved like a deadly but starving animal on the hunt. And he was its prey.
Suddenly a light appeared. It seemed to close to him, only a few feet away. He knew it wasn’t a star, as it was far too small and hadn’t been there before. It held the rough size and shape of a man, and for a moment he felt comforted staring at it. It was familiar in a way, and for that moment he forgot about the void. He struggled to move toward it, twisting his limbs as if he was swimming, though he knew that he could not influence the direction he floated. Even though he knew this, however, it felt comforting to think he had control over himself, and his actions could somehow move him toward the light and away from the Beast.
He stared into the light, feeling safer with something near him aside from the darkness of space. It began to change. Beams of light moved up and down its sides, leaving solid shapes behind them. The image took form as a tall, man like creature. “Man like creature” was how John would have chosen to describe it, but the only thing that distinguished it from a man was that it was in space without protection. From its appearance alone it was a brown haired, middle aged man, well dressed and seemingly lounging as if he was on a non-existent chair.
John stared at it with his mouth agape. For a moment he forgot about the Beast and about being in space.
“Well?” the creature said.
“Wh…what?” John stuttered.
“I presume you want something. You may as well ask for it,” the creature replied, sounding bored. Though it seemed impossible for him to be speaking, the sound still filled John’s ears whenever it moved its mouth.
“What are you!?” John almost shouted.
“What am I? Don’t worry about what I am. It doesn’t really matter, does it? You have a problem, and I think you want a solution.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I am talking about that,” the creature said impatiently. He pointed at the encroaching void.
John looked back and forth between the infinite nothingness that was slowly coming toward him and creature in a business suit directly in front of him, struggling and failing to understand either.
“What are you talking about? What is that?” John asked.
“That thing, is nothing. It is the infinite nothingness that existed forever before you and will exist forever after. You, along with all of your kind, have existed for the briefest amount of time, an incomprehensibly small existence for an incomprehensibly short time. Then you will be claimed by that thing, and you’re existence will be forgotten in time and space. You not only be dead, you will no longer exist, and cease to have ever existed. What isn’t now may as well never have been, and to say you ever even did exist in a meaningful way is almost an exaggeration. You will become nothing, and even nothing will not notice your passing. And it is because of that thing, that void. But, if you wish, I can save you from it.”
John listened, trying to understand what he had heard. The Beast was still coming toward him, and seemed far closer than it had before. He knew that soon it would take him. He horrified at the thought of being claimed by it. The idea of being pulled into the vast nothingness and becoming part of it made him shudder. All his life, everything he did, everyone he knew, all gone forever as if it had never occurred. Simply nothing but utter oblivion. It was a fate worse than death.
“You can save me from this?” he said, pointing at the seemingly unstoppable void.
“I can. It is my trade, in fact, and my job, though I do it mainly from boredom rather than anything you would think of as financial reasons. This is why I appear as something you may understand as a businessman. But if you don’t want it, or will take too long to decide, I frankly don’t care enough not to leave you to your fate.”
“No please don’t!” John cried. “Wha… what do I have to do?”
The creature smiled. “It’s simple. I want you to smash your mask. I want you to kill yourself.
John stared at him in shock, unable to believe what he had heard. Had it really asked him to end his own life? “What!? Why would you want that?” he demanded.
“Think of it as a trust exercise. You prove you trust me enough to do something that would kill you, and I let you live forever.” The Businessman chucked, “anyway, it will amuse me, and I am the one with the ability to save you. Do it, or don’t and rot here in space while that void consumes you, I don’t care.”
John pondered the options. The truth was, he didn’t trust this creature. He had no idea or even understanding of what it was, and it demanded that he do something that could end his life simply for its amusement while trusting the creature would save him. He thought back to all he had gone through before, the idea of suicide…. It was still beyond him. “I can’t,” John said, almost in tears.
The creature turned away to go, leaving John in the darkness.
“NO WAIT!” John shouted. The Businessman faced him again, staring apathetically towards him. Though what it was asking was horrifying, he couldn’t let it go while the Beast was still coming toward him. “Wha.. What are you? Are you a God?”
The strange Businessman laughed out loud. “GOD?! HA! You think I am your god? You really do think there is a god waiting for you at the end of all this, do you? Just smiling and ready with open arms? Do you really think anything like a god, with power enough to create a universe, would care about your tiny existence enough to give you an afterlife? You prideful little creature, no god would ever want you, and there is none waiting.” He convulsed with laughter.
“What?! But… I thought that was what you were? Wasn’t that what you said?”
“No, you idiotic, insignificant excuse for a creature. I am not a god. There is no god. You think a god that cared about you would let you exist in same universe as that?” He laughed again, and pointed at the Beast. “THAT is your god. Nothingness is your god. Nothingness is infinite. Nothingness lasts for ever, and extends everywhere. You came into it, a cosmic accident the cosmos has forgotten and will soon destroy without even noticing, and will be claimed by it. From nothing you came, you are nothing and into nothing you will return. To it, you already don’t even exist, and it doesn’t know you ever did. I am not your God. I am simply a businessman. I can offer you respite from that thing, and allow you to keep existing. That is all you need to know. In a moment, you will cease to exist for all of an eternity, with no sign you ever were. Or, I can stop it and let you continue on. That is all.”
John stared at him for a moment. The thought of breaking his mask was still terrifying to him. However, the Beast was closer now, so close it was almost touching. He knew he had to make a decision soon, and didn’t really have a choice. “So… you will save me from it? How do I know it isn’t a trick?”
“I will, and I guess you don’t,” the Businessman said, looking away from John and into space. “Look, I am almost out of time. I don’t care at all if you trust me or not. Do you want me to do it, or not?”
John stared back and forth from the Beast to the Businessman. He didn’t quite understand, but the horror of being consumed by the void was too much to handle. Slowly, he nodded his head. “Yes,” he said,” I do want you too.”
The Businessman grinned. “Good. Then smash that mask that is keeping you alive. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you have the strength.”
John paused for a moment. He still had no idea if the creature was being honest, and the thought of dying in space was horrifying. However, he knew he had no option. He swung his hand at the glass, and saw it crack slightly. He tried again. The cracks grew, and he began to feel sick with fear. He knew that soon there would be nothing left keeping him from a thousand horrible deaths in space. All it would take was one more swing and he’d be dead if this thing didn’t keep his word. The terror began to make him shake. He didn’t want to swing his hand in a life ending move, but knew he didn’t have much time left.
He sung again. The glass shattered, sending shards driving into his eyes and skin. He screamed in pain, and the sound was silenced by the void. The air was sucked from his suit, and he felt his lungs collapse as he began to suffocate. All heat left him, getting replaced by the absolute cold of space. The pain was excruciating, and if he could think he would have wished for death. He knew he would be dead in seconds if nothing happened. He stared at the creature, hoping it would save him.
The Businessman began to chuckle, then to laugh out loud. It was a cruel, horrible laugh, like someone who has succeeded in a terrible crime. It sent chills down John’s spine. “The funny thing about you humans,” he said “is that you all seem to think existence is a good thing.”
John stared at it in shock. The Businessman began to transform, changing from something recognizable into something horrible. Dozens of tentacle-like limbs spurted out from his chest, twisting and turning with multiple joints and ending bizarrely human hands. His eyes grew and multiplied, appearing all over his body and matching the limbs in number while the rest of his face disappeared. What resulted was a writhing mass of sharp jagged angles, formless and constantly changing shape as the dozens of limbs moved and the eyes peaked out at seemingly random intervals.
The Beast touched John, but nothing happened. It retreated back into space, and slowly disappeared forever.
Death never came. But nothing else changed either. The pain, the cold, the suffocation was still there. Every second seemed like a year. He suffered through pain that should have killed him.
John struggled to comprehend what was happening. He knew had had made some horrible mistake, but did not know what it meant. He tried to take back his words, but found he couldn’t move.
“Now changing your mind now!” the creature laughed. His voice came from all directions at once, filling John’s ears and his mind. “You wanted to see an eternity, and you will.”
John finally understood what he meant. The horror at the thought of eternal existence in the void of space, with never any chance of ending or hope, filled him. He wished now that the Beast would come back, that the void would claim him, that he could finally die. Oblivion seemed like a paradise compared to his suffering.
But nothing came. The creature watched him struggle, laughing as it did.
“I must thank you, this really has been amusing,” it said. Another light had come, and began to rotate around it. “I hope you enjoy your eternal existence,” it said, and left the same way it had come in.
John continued to float through the eternal void. He didn’t fully understand what had happened, and doubted he ever would. Perhaps he had encountered some kind of demon, or the devil if there was one. Perhaps it was just some kind of prank played by a superior species. He had no way of knowing, and guessed it didn’t really matter.
He remained as he was, unable to change anything. He was constantly suffocating, and the cold was cutting into his skin along with the glass from his shattered mask. Every moment was unimaginable pain that should have killed him, and would have killed any mortal man. He wished he could die, as death would be better than even a second of it. But he knew he never would. Nothing would ever kill him. He screamed eternally into the night, a silence which nothing would ever hear.