“The virus is spreading. You can’t cure it with a pill. You can’t prevent it with a vaccine. You can’t lie in bed and wait for it to pass.
It’s malignant. Cancerous. And it is always emotionally fatal. It preys through generations, cutting down weak minds and frail hearts. And what
really disturbs me, more than anything else, is that I never really noticed it until now. It’s so hard to see when you’re down there, immersed in
it, surrounded by it. You get almost blinded to it, even as it eats away at you. But from out here, it’s all so clear. I can see it as plain as day.
Out here, I’m free. More than that, I’m free to be me, and to just exist. It’s so hard to simply exist in a world that expects you to both lead
it and serve it. To both live for it and die for it. I don’t expect you to understand, because you’re still there, you’re still a part of it.
But I don’t need you to understand anything at all. This is something I have to do for myself.“
For a minute, there was silence. Then a sigh, and a harsh voice weighted with frustration:
“You’re right, Thomas, I don’t understand. No one in this room understands. And to be honest, I don’t really think you understand yourself.
What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense, and that scares me. We sent you out there because we believed you to be the right man for the job. Are
you saying we were wrong? Because, Thomas, if we were wrong, then you will have caused this mission and this company a great deal of embarrassment.
And that’s not to mention the financial and technological setbacks. No, I don’t understand you. Do you understand me? Do you understand what you
cost us all if you fail us?”
Thomas gazed through his own reflection, his face glistening amber in the porthole window. Beyond it churned a great vertical sea of orange. He
recalled his face from less than a week ago – oblivious, with no concern for any of what was now so obvious. Just the same as all the faces he left
behind. The qualities he now heard in that disembodied voice from the communication console.
“I understand it completely. I wish you could see the view from here. It really is remarkable.”
“Are you coming home?”
Thomas wore a protective visor to shield his eyes, and a suit designed to withstand solar extremes. The walls and windows of his ship, designed for a
one-man crew, were radiation-resistant, but he could still feel the intense heat seep through their advanced synthetic materials.
“I am home.”
His words hung with him in near-weightlessness.
The reply was direct:
“You are less than fifty miles from the Sun’s photosphere. You are not home. There is nothing for you there. The reward, the fame, the success –
it all awaits you back here on Earth. There is nothing to be gained out there. Only death. A meaningless death. You provide us with nothing, and you
earn yourself nothing.”
“I don’t want fame. There are eight billion people on that tiny blue dot, and not one of them has an opinion I care about anymore. It’s all so
insignificant. You say my death here would be meaningless, but what’s truly without meaning are the infinitesimal lives you all lead thinking that
anything you do has any importance at all. People kill people; it means nothing out here. People save people, and care for them; it means nothing. We
have such a grandiose view of our own importance, but that importance fades when you see it from so many millions of miles away.”
“I hear you speaking of us here as insignificant and unimportant, but need I remind you that, until six days ago, you were one of us? In fact, you
are still one of us. Nothing has changed. You are just an insignificant, unimportant human being who happens to be temporarily distant from the rest
of us. It doesn’t make you unique. You can’t change that. Unless you come back
. You of all people should know that real meaning is found in
understanding. We gain it by searching, and by uncovering the unknown. That’s why we sent you out there, Thomas – to uncover unknowns. If you
don’t come back, then all of that is lost, and it all remains meaningless. You will change nothing, for us or for yourself.”
There seemed to be so much life in that writhing wall of gas. Thomas couldn’t take his eyes off it. But the voice made a glimmer of sense. A passing
glimmer. A philosophical shooting star, quickly fading in the dark.
“How can we compare our limited search for meaning in the universe to the vastness of the universe itself? No matter what we discover, it all comes
to nothing in the end. So we discover how the universe works, and why it exists. Then we kill ourselves off. What has it all been for?”
“You can’t limit the human mind like that, Thomas.”
“The mind is
“No, the brain is limited, but the mind has no limits. The mind goes beyond what you can see, far beyond what you know exists. It reaches out past
everything that we have the ability to observe and measure.”
“That’s the problem. Our minds should be limitless, but we’ve become too scared to truly allow them to be. Instead, we contain the mind within
the skull, and never let go of those limits. Don’t you see? Look around you. No one lets their mind be free. It’s all systematic and controlled,
and monitored for any deviant behavior. What you say is true. But it’s not how the world works.”
“So come back and show us how to rid ourselves of those limits. If you’re in such a unique position to see those limits, then you’re also in the
position to show us the way out. Guide us. Lead us.”
The churning orange was rhythmic, soothing. Thomas put a hand on the communication consul.
“Where did we come from?”
The voice shed its frustration. In its place now flowed confusion:
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Me, you. All life. The elements we’re made of. Where did it come from?”
For a moment, all Thomas could hear was breathing. Heavy. Labored. Burdened.
The reply was just as burdened.
“Those elements…are formed in stars.”
“That’s right. Everything we’re made of was formed in stars, and spread across the universe when those stars exploded. We are stardust.”
“Thomas…please come home.”
“No. I told you before – I am home. There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry.”
With a click
, he cut off communications.
The voice stopped. All was quiet. Serene.
Thomas secured himself in his seat. One more click
at the command panel and forward thrusters, designed to slow the ship for its terrestrial
return, ignited in a brilliant display of sparks and flame. There was no going back. No reward, fame, or success. At least, none that the world would
The small ship slowed deep within the solar atmosphere. The thrusters stopped. The flames went out. Gravity now dominated. It was only a matter of
Thomas returned to the porthole.
“Thomas! Thomas, can you hear me!?”
Words from the tiny blue dot that went unheard.
“If you’re hearing this, respond immediately. Don’t fail us, Thomas!”
They faded into the void of space.