Ethan woke in his bunk. He had a migraine, and squeezed the bridge of his nose. His room was dark, and he could hear the knocking of pipes around him. He was traveling at 1000 times the speed of a rifle bullet on a spaceship the size of a small hotel, and in this ship resided small, damp, unfinished room. All I need’s some sunshine, Ethan thought, some sunshine and a nice breeze. This goddamn mission has us 20 light years from Earth, and instead of being adventurous I want to go back. We won’t be going back for years. But what does it matter without her? Ethan pulled a duffel bag out from under his bed, unzipped it, and removed a syringe and a small glass bottle. I wish I could talk her again, he thought in the darkness, but at least I have my savior. The bottle contained a clear liquid and he filled the syringe from it, and then shot the liquid into his arm. Hello sunshine, Ethan thought.
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“My name’s Rea.” Ethan looked at her face on his computer screen, amidst the mess of his Manhattan apartment. She looked small and gaunt, and her hair was dyed blue.
“I’m a little embarrassed,” Ethan said, “I’ve never done internet dating before, should we go somewhere?”
“I don’t get out much,” Rea said, “I’m not sure if I want to.”
“Changed your mind already?”
“This was probably a mistake,”
“There has to be something you like to do,” Ethan said, “How about a virtual sim? New dates can’t hurt you over the live wire.”
“Ok, let’s go to Venice.” Rea said, “The Venice sim is so peaceful. Sometimes I use it by myself before I go to sleep.” Ethan watched her put her headgear on through his computer screen. He watched her close her eyes. She glows, he thought as he looked at her in his screen. He picked his own gear off of his desk, and placed the bundle of wires and mirrors over his head.
“You’re taller than I thought,” Rea said. The two floated on a river in a Venice canoe.
“I guess my face isn’t a good indicator of my height,” Ethan said. Rea laughed. Ethan cupped some water next to the canoe with his hand and sipped it.
“You like drinking fake water?” Rea asked.
“I’m thirsty, it’ll quench my thirst for now.”
“But as soon as you get back you’ll feel like you just crawled out of the Sahara,” Rea said, “You’re essentially telling your mind that you drank water, when you’re really just sucking air in your apartment.”
“It’s ok,” Ethan said, “I don’t mind tricking myself.”
“Of course you don’t,” Rea said, “You’ve already tricked yourself into thinking I’m worth your time.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ethan said. She’s got the confidence of a bashful high school student, he thought to himself.
Ethan’s high ended. His skin felt chalky, and he felt nauseous. The first time I saw her, Ethan thought, I remember it now. Ethan stumbled out of his room and walked down a hallway with a grated floor. There were no lights in the hallway, and all Ethan could hear was the clanking sound made by his own steps. He continued walking until he reached a room with three empty seats in front of three wall-mounted computer screens. The screens were all processing information in lime-green script. Where are the three operators, Ethan thought? This has to be dangerous, and it is certainly very odd. Ethan left the control room, walked through a maze of dark halls, and entered into a large cafeteria. No one ate at the tables, and the entire cafeteria was empty. Even the employees who worked serving the food were missing. Strange, Ethan thought.
“Ethan! Thank you!” Ethan handed Rea a flower. They walked through a park, during a bright day. The brightness was so great it created whiteness on Rea’s skin.
“You like flowers? It was more of a joke, I got it off the ground when you weren’t looking.”
“Yes,” Rea said, “I think this one’s nice.” The flower was blue and yellow with a short stem.
“Let me tell you something,” Ethan said, “None of the new colonies will ever surpass Earth. I don’t understand it. They say we need to diversify our habitats, but what’s the point of moving so far away and then living in a bubble? I don’t care if all the ice continents melt, I’m staying here. If all the continents get covered with water, I’ll live on a raft.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little extreme?”
“At least I wouldn’t have to breath in those bio-dome gas mixes they get from the soil,” Ethan said.
“You could move to Andromeda!” Rea said
“Very funny, you can pay for the ticket.”
“You don’t have 3 million credits? That’s too bad.”
“Ha Ha. You know you don’t either. Worm-hole manipulating ships are too expensive.”
“I could stay here with you, anyways,” Rea said. “We’ll build a canoe, rafts can make you get wet.”
Ethan ran through a hallway adjacent to the cafeteria. The hallway was finished with medal along its edges and a large window covered the entire outer edge. The hallway was dimly lit with small lights shining up from the floor where it cornered with the wall. I’ve got to find someone, Ethan thought. Just what the hell is going on? Ethan looked out the window and stopped running. He noticed that in the open space outside, there were no visible planets or stars. Instead, there was empty blackness. I don’t understand, Ethan thought. He ran to some sleeping quarters and looked in at the bunks. The beds were done up neatly, and no one was inside. He ran to an area where animals from the colonies were kept, and found only empty cages with no humans attending to them. Ethan looked in various other rooms, and saw no one. Only one place left to look, Ethan thought.
Ethan and Rea sat on a park bench. The sky was red and it was dusk.
“You take me to this park all the time,” Rea said.
“Of course,” Ethan said, “I like it out here. I thought you did too.”
“It’s ok,” Rea said, “Better than home. But I don’t think you want to come back again with me do you? I can tell that lately you’re less interested in me.”
“It’s not that,” Ethan said, “forget it.”
“Then what is it? You don’t really talk to me anymore. Sometimes I even feel like I’m talking to a Replica.”
“I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s been almost two years...”
“That doesn’t mean we’re married, there’s no excuse for clinging to me like this.”
“What are you talking about? It’s because I like you.”
“Well, why don’t you write about it or something? Like in that little journal of yours? Just lay off me.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Rea asked. “I’m leaving now.” Rea walked away, and Ethan watched her go amidst the bare trees of the park. Winter was just beginning.
Ethan entered the captain’s room. The captain sat in a swivel chair in front of a pilot’s window and a large control board. The captain’s head was tilted downward and he was facing away from Ethan.
“Captain Aidan,” Ethan said, “I’m glad to see you.”
“Ethan--,” The captain turned around his chair.
“Captain, everyone’s gone. I’ve searched the entire ship. We’re alone, and I don’t understand it.”
“Ethan, I can explain. I was flying some time ago, when my instruments stopped working. My vision outside the ship became black, and I couldn’t find my crew. I don’t know how long this has been going on, because I suspect that all my instruments since the change have been unreliable. I sat and pondered in this room for what seemed like days, even weeks. And then I came to a conclusion. Have you ever heard of a black hole?”
“Yes, it’s a dead star that collapses on itself. Its gravitational force is so strong it sucks in all matter, including light and…”
“Time,” Aidan answered, “I’m afraid our time has become distorted, as I led my crew into a black hole. I suspect that no one died; that we just can’t see each other. But don’t ask me to explain that. I don’t even think Einstein fully understood the effects of a black hole.”
“What do we do now? Is there any chance we can get out of this?” Ethan asked.
“You’re asking the wrong person,” Aidan answered, “As far as I know, this has never happened to a crew before. Of course, it’s never been documented for anyone to learn from. Do you have a family?”
“No,” Ethan answered, “I had someone once though.”
“It’s too bad. You only get so many chances I guess”
“I suppose you’re right,” Ethan said.
The ship shook, and Ethan fell to the ground. Ethan’s vision became impeded as he was tossed around on the floor. When everything settled, he looked around the room—and found himself alone.
“I’ve been trying to call you for days,” Ethan said into his phone.
“I know,” Rea answered.
“I wanted to say that I’m sorry.”
“For what? You were just being honest.”
“It’s just that I don’t understand you, Ethan. It’s almost like you want to be alone. And you don’t let anyone close to you.”
“I don’t want to be alone. I want to be with you. I love you.”
“Goodbye Ethan.” Rea hung up her phone. Ethan listened to the dial tone for a minute. His apartment was strewn with books and magazines. Food wrappers lay everywhere. Ethan took a frozen meal out of his freezer with the words “Fried Europan Fish” on the box. He put it into his microwave and turned the microwave on. He also looked for his syringe.
Ethan sat in Aidan’s chair. He felt a tingling sensation throughout his body, and he hadn’t shot up since he’d woken up. It’s ok, Ethan thought, it’ll be over soon. Ethan looked out the pilot’s window, and noted sheer blackness. No more emptiness, Ethan thought, it’s ok. Something’s coming, I know it. I can feel it changing. The darkness around Ethan began to get interrupted by sporadic flashes of white. Ethan sighed. The ship and the captain’s room dissolved into a bright, sunny day. He saw Rea’s face in front of his, and she was smiling. The sun beat down on the two, creating brightness so great that everything was white.