Hope. It is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? It is free of cost and gets us through the darkest of times. We can even call it our best companion. And, why shouldn’t we? It stays with us till the very end. It’s not its fault that we masochists can’t hold onto it.
I hardly remembered the boy I used to be. But I did remember the man he wanted to become. It was funny how I was not even close to that. If anything, I was the farthest thing away from it, 73 million lightyears, to be precise.
People still looked up to me, though. They praised me for who I was – a Class A Deep Space Astronaut. It was funny how far I had come in a career I resented.
Earth was crumbling. All the resources were exhausted, economies were collapsing, people were dying, etc. In short, the world was beyond repair. This is why the UN declared an Emergency. All the capital and human resources around the globe were redirected to essential services. Deep Space Exploration Program was one of them. It was a ‘concerted effort to fix the irremediable.’
I started as a resource soldier at the age of nineteen. My primary job was to mine for resources (metals, clean fuels, etc.), amongst other things. Then, after a while, people were required in the deep space exploration program, so I was thrown into that. A skill manager there put me into pilot training. She thought I was good at it for some reason.
Over the years, I successfully lead over 25 extra-terrestrial resource mining missions without as much as a single complication. After that, I was promoted to Class A and given my own unit. Only a handful of people were there in the Class A club, but I was the fastest and the youngest one to get in.
But did I care about all of that? Absolutely not. I didn’t give two fucks about any of it. I did what I did not because I wanted to, but because I had to. To survive, or whatever. I didn’t hate the job in particular, though. I hated the world in general for what it had become. It ruined my life and then just left me for dead.
My team and I were supposed to go to a planet 4.58 million lightyears away from Earth. Our main task was to explore and lay the groundwork for its mining. But, the wormhole we came through got unstable, and we ended up 73 million lightyears away from home, in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Exposure to the unstable exotic matter had fried all of our ship’s systems. We had no way to contact Earth, or... Basically, we were just good for nothing. We were fortunate enough that primitive hardware-based technologies like oxygen filtration, heat, and refrigeration survived, or we would have died within a few hours. But that was bound to happen anyway.
We had been stranded for a week, yet no one came to rescue us. Which meant that no one was coming for us in the first place. If they were, they would have come by then. The ship’s oxygen levels were falling dangerously, and the food and water were running out. The heat systems were running out of fuel as well. At best, we had just about two days left to live.
That is when all hope was lost.
According to our calculations, one hour at our location equaled four years on Earth. That meant that we had been missing there for centuries. Of course, that’s if humanity survived for that long, to begin with.
The prospect of not having a home was taking a toll on me. Before, there was hope. Hope that someday everything will get better and I’ll find what I was looking for. But, now that that hope was stripped away from me, I broke down.
I remember that day well. I was in the Geography Lab, lying on the couch...weeping and drinking. My nose was running, and my clothes were all weird. I was a mess. That is when my geographer and engineer walked in.
“Chief, you okay?” Egor, the geographer, asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Oh, you’re definitely not fine. I have worked with you longer than anyone else on this ship. But, in all these years, I haven’t seen one emotion on your face, not even a smile. And now you are crying. So, something is definitely bugging you. Besides the obvious, of course,” said Zoe.
“Chief, we are all gonna die in a few days, anyways. So, you might as well open up your heart. Let it all out,” said Egor.
“This isn’t what I wanted. Any of this.”
“This what?” Egor asked.
“This. All of this. This life, this world, this career, this stupid fucking Class A badge,” I said as I ripped the badge out and threw it away out of frustration.
“Woah, Chief! That badge is a badge of honor. You’ve earned it. You have done so much for the world. You’ve...achieved so much. All that means nothing to you?” Zoe asked.
“I didn’t want to do it. I just...did what I had to do. This is not the life I wanted.”
“Then what did you want, Chief?” Egor asked.
“I wanted to be a painter. I had it all planned out, you know. I’d go to art school, meet a nice guy, fall in love, become successful, get married, start a family. I had so many fantasies of doing all that cliché relationship stuff, of having an ordinary happy life. But that will never happen now.
I survived all these years because I had hope. Hope that someday everything will go back to normal. But, that’s all gone now. Now, we are all gonna die within 48 hours, and I won’t get to experience any of that.
I will never know what it feels like to have someone by your side. What it feels like to be in love. Or what it feels like to have a child depend on you. None of that. Just a lonely insignificant death. No one will even find our bodies.”
“Everything will be alright, Chief. Don’t you worry,” said Egor and hugged me. And, just like that, I started sobbing into his chest. Years of pent-up feelings were coming out.
The next thing I remember is waking up in my bed. A couple hours had passed by. I was feeling much better, considering everything. I guess it’s true what they say. You shouldn’t bottle up your feelings.
I went into the lounge area, which is where everyone usually did nothing, but no one was there. I checked the labs and the rooms, but there was still no sign of anyone. The last place I expected them to be in was the cockpit.
“What are you guys doing in this dump?”
“Looking at that asteroid,” said Saad, pointing in a random direction. I squinched my eyes and tried to focus. Since I was a bit hungover, it took me a while to see it.
“It’s gonna hit us,” said Zoe.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I just know,” she said.
“Well, at least, this way, it will be instantaneous.”
“That’s a valid point,” said Bethany.
“How long until impact?”
“I’d say ten hours,” said Zoe.
“Okay... Everyone, listen here. Wrap up your business, whatever it is...if any. We’ll all gather here T-30 minutes from impact. Dress good, people. It will obviously be an open casket.”
Those somewhat ten hours were the longest ten hours of my life. Accepting death is one thing, but waiting for it is far worse. I cleaned my room and packed everything. I don’t know why, but it felt necessary. After that, I dry-cleaned myself and wore my uniform.
All of us gathered in the cockpit way before time. We all sat in our seats and talked about our lives for the rest of the time. There wasn’t much, though. Just work, missions, and...that’s it.
Finally, it was time. The asteroid was here. Saad started the countdown, and I closed my eyes. Three... Two... One... And, boom.
Everything went quiet. There was nothing but darkness around me. I was in what seemed like a void, pure emptiness. And, the silence... It was deafening.
I felt no pain, no anger, no pulse, nothing. Just dread. It was like standing in the middle of the jungle at midnight. Terrifying. Was I in hell? Or heaven? I didn’t know. But, it was agonizing, the loneliness. And, apparently, you can’t fall asleep in death. It’s not an option.
I don’t know how long I was there, but I could feel my mind breaking. Just the prospect of spending eternity like that is enough to break you.
Suddenly, there was light. It was like a dot, twinkling, at a far-off distance. And, I could hear something too – the faint sounds of waves and seagulls. It was overwhelming to feel the presence of something else in existence.
I started walking towards the light. I walked, and ran, and then again walked. I kept walking for what felt like years. But, giving up wasn’t an option. Eventually, I could feel it getting closer to me, the light. And, the sound of waves was getting louder as well.
When I finally got close enough, I could make out that the source of light was some kind of an orb. It was also the source of the wave sounds. When I touched it, my hand went through. It was spine-chilling, but I somehow pulled myself together and walked in.
I was blinded by the light, and then I woke up.
There was a small window in front of me, and I could see the sky through it. It took me a second to realize that I was in bed. Then I felt it, a breath at the back of my neck and the hands wrapped around me.
I gently untangled myself from the firm grip and got up. I saw the man who was holding me. He had tanned skin and short dark hair. He was also shirtless. I could have admired his form all day, but I had more pressing issues. I had no idea where I was besides in a wooden cabin.
I walked out of the cabin and was met with the most beautiful beach I had ever seen. It was mesmerizing, the caramel sand and the blue water. The sky was a seamless gradient of purple and orange, so it was hard to tell if it was dusk or dawn. But, the landscape was breathtaking nonetheless.
The cool sand against my soles, the gentle breeze against my skin, the sound of waves and rumbling trees falling in my ear, it was all magical. It had to be heaven, I thought.
A few minutes later, I went back into the cabin. The man was still sleeping like an angel. When I looked up from him, I saw myself in the mirror. I didn’t recognize myself at all. I looked much younger, and I was skinnier than before. And, I had a beard. And medium-long hair! And, the scar on my forehead was gone.
I took my shirt and shorts off only to discover that my abs were gone too, and so was the scar on my thigh. I also noticed something else. There was a ring on my finger! Shocked, I pulled the quilt off the sleeping beauty, only to find a ring on his finger as well. I was fucking married to this guy!
I was processing everything when something dinged – a phone. I didn’t recognize the model. But, it unlocked the moment I picked it up. It knew me, I guess. The wallpaper was a picture of me giving the sleeping beauty a piggyback ride.
I got dressed and sat on the stairs outside the cabin. It took me a while to figure my way around the phone. I didn’t recognize the OS or any of the apps. But, I was familiar with one thing – Gallery.
The pictures in the gallery were exhilarating. In this life, I had already done everything I wanted to do. I was a successful painter. Dated for years and then got married. I even had kids, a boy, and a girl. As soon as I found about them, I had this uncontrollable urge to know their whereabouts.
I went in to ask the sleeping beauty about them, but when I got in, he was already looking at me, all confused. “Where were you? Come back to bed. It’s still too early,” he said.
“Where are the kids?” That was the first time I heard my own voice. It was different, less hoarse.
“What do you mean where they are?” he asked. When I didn’t say anything, he got up from the bed and hugged me. “Hey, we dropped them at your parents’ house. Don’t you remember?”
“My parents? They are still alive?” I accidentally blurted out.
“Of course, they are! What are you talking about? You sick or something?”
“Let’s go back to bed. Come on. You are probably sleep-deprived. We went a bit too crazy last night,” he said.
We went back to bed, and this time, he cuddled up to me. I had never felt such peace before. It was truly blissful. I had the best sleep of my life that day.
The other version of me was as alive as I was. With time, our consciousnesses merged, and we became one. While he got the inspiration for his art, I got everything I always wanted.
Death is inevitable, yes, but it is not the evil everyone makes it out to be. In fact, it is the best thing that ever happened to me.
A/N: I hope you liked the story. Please let me know your thoughts. :)
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