by Chris Swindell
The sun, small and white and nearly dead, is a pinprick in the sky. If it were alone, even at noon it would look like nothing more than a fat star. But, oh, it’s not alone. The firmament behind the guttering white dwarf is a riot of luminous colors, reds and pinks, electric blues and neon greens. It’s a small child’s painting, all reckless smears and wild swirls, lit up and hung across the heavens.
You disembark from the deepship. Outside, the world is a flat plane blanketed in a billion years of dust. And it’s silent. When the local star went from yellow to red, and then boiled away to white, it cast off its outer layers of gas, forming the brilliant planetary nebula that’s lighting up the sky. In doing so it also sterilized the surface of this world, vaporizing the oceans and ice caps, and stripping away the atmosphere, leaving it naked in the vacuum.
You leave a trail of footprints in the dust as you walk away from your ship. Looking back over your shoulder you can’t help but chuckle. It’s so lonely, so pathetic. It’s so utterly perfect.
You finally reach a small ridge overlooking what may have once been a riverbed, a roadway, or anything, really. You perch yourself atop it and take it all in: the flat gray expanse stretching to the slightly curved horizon, the sky above, churning with impossible colors.
The human race left this small planet ten billion years ago. Finding themselves alone in the galaxy, they quickly filled the gap. At its height, the Human Diaspora covered twenty trillion inhabited worlds in four galaxies. The races of Man counted themselves in the tens of millions, everything from Fourlanders and Fictives to Mimeoclaves and the Greff; Aabok b’Delquot to the Zzzz, with countless entries in between.
And after all that traveling, exploring, building, fighting, fucking, and dreaming, after all the wars and treaties, famines and harvests, horrors and beauties, there’s just you. You are the last, eight thousand years old and scarred and lonely, with the whole weight of human history on your back. You are the last conscious mind left in universe, standing on a nameless dead planet orbiting a dying star.
You lie down on the ground, and like a child, make an angel in the dust. And you laugh again, because it’s all so absurd and beautiful and pointless, as you turn off your oxygen supply with a thought.
And as the boiling sky fades to a gray that matches the earth below it, you remember a little poem, some ancient rhyme that your mothers taught you while you were still in the womb.
“Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.”
About The Author
When he was seven years old, Chris Swindell swallowed two pennies on a dare. This memory haunts him. He has previously been published in The Harrow (“Stolen Minutes,” 2008) and right here, at Space Squid (“Skintight,” Issue 9). You can find him at his twitter account confound_tales.
Fast-Paced Author Interview (at high speeds! risking dire consequences!)
- The Squid: Who would you invite for roadtrip on SHIELD’s hovercarrier?
- CS: Who would I invite onto a super-spy airship for adventures and high jinks? Easy: Leo Baekeland, the inventor of Bakelite. We would play with jet packs, get drunk, and talk at length about synthetic resins.
- The Squid: Now, say you’re a science fiction/fantasy action hero —a pretty sweet gig, by the way— tell us which one you are most like, and why:
a) Conan the Barbarian
b) Han Solo
c) Captain James Tiberius Kirk
d) Buckaroo Bonzai
e) Rick Deckard
- CS: I suppose I’m most like Capt. Kirk in the spin-off novels: we’re both chubby and balding, and neither one of us is canonical.
Illustration by emgaw from sxc.hu