Alone in Space
As Richard looked out the window at the vast expanse of space, he couldn’t help feeling more alone that usual.
He was now going on day 422 that he has been alone. That’s when Patricia, his last fellow shipmate has died.
Space was never ending, and even though he knew the ship would make it home one day, he knew he wouldn’t.
Some of his fellow travelers had taken their own lives. One in particular stuck out. His name was Ralph, and he was a very upbeat, optimistic person. He was the one who would keep everyone’s spirits up on their long voyage.
In the end though, despair took over, and he shot himself out the airlock and into the vastness of space.
A bittersweet feeling filled Richard as he thought about the horror of losing a teammate, and the silliness of the thought that Ralph was still out there floating in space, and probably would be forever.
Time faded away as he stood looking out the window. Had he been there an hour, several hours, or just a few minutes? He couldn’t tell.
He felt like a ghost, punished for past deeds to roam this empty ship for all of eternity.
At normal speeds, the team was to reach earth in only six months, but now the ship was just floating through space. He assumed the ship was still drifting towards earth, but he knew it was more likely that he was drifting in a completely different direction.
Even if the ship was still drifting towards earth, it would take years, if not decades to reach home.
They were the crew chosen to take this new ship on its maiden voyage. Reaching speeds that was previously unthinkable to man before, it now floated through space like every other piece of space garbage that has been floating in space for hundreds of years.
Man had walked on the moon and mars, and thanks to this new technology, man was going to be able to reach as far out as their imagination would let them.
Two ships were built, but only one was sent out. The other was to be a rescue ship if necessary, but it had been over a year, and if they were coming for him, they would have been here by now.
Richard walked the ship, going through the motions of seeing what systems were still up. Propulsion was still down, as he knew would be. Communications went down shortly before the engines gave out.
There was no beacon, no last message to inform the earth what had happened. One day they were talking to home, the next, silence.
He walked the halls he had walked a thousand times before, still hearing the laughter of his friends and colleagues, as they journeyed home, expecting a hero’s welcome.
Lights still blinked, either green, or red. The green meant air, the red was a reminder that there would be no way to change them.
As one by one, his teammates died, the few that remained would become closer, trying to hold onto whatever hope they could.
In the end, though, hope died piece by piece until Richard was the only one left.
He walked into the cafeteria, with its tables and chairs. Food was the one thing he was not short on. The replicators would make whatever he asked for, except companionship.
The interactive AI stopped talking the same time communications went out.
Richard grabbed his meal, and sat at the table.
He looked around the room, pretending that he was surrounded by all his colleagues. His imagination was the only thing that stayed strong in the blackness, and after a few minutes, he willed himself to see and hear his friends.
Once he had conjured up the ghost, he would begin to talk to the ones that chose to sit with him.
All the ghost were sad, filled with despair long ago. Even Ralph had run out of jokes, and just moped around, looking as if he wished he could die a second time.
Richard didn’t talk much himself. He just listened to the voices in his head talk about nothing important. He could have turned the volume off and just sat in silence, but he knew this was all that was left now, and the cafeteria was the only place where he was able to conjure the ghost of his friends.
After he finished eating, he said his sad goodbyes, and continued his walk around the ship.
As he walked down compartment B corridor, he stopped in his tracks. He heard something.
It was faint, and barely audible, but it only took a moment for him to realize it was a voice.
As he focused on it, he started to realize it was a voice he knew, but couldn’t remember. It was a woman.
She was crying, and pleading, though he couldn’t make out the words.
It seemed to come from behind him, so he turned and started walking in that direction, but as he walked back the way he had come, the voice seemed to still be coming from behind him.
Unsure of which way to go, he just started walking. Though the voice never got louder, he focused to hear what she was saying.
Then he picked up on a second voice, and a third. There seemed to be several people having their own discussion. They were talking to each other, instead of to him.
He was about to chalk it up to more voices in his head, when he heard the name Renee, and he stopped in his tracks.
The name Renee seemed familiar, though he couldn’t quite place where he knew the name from. It was not a name of one of his former colleagues, but a name of someone he should know, like a childhood friend who had been important to him.
The voices continued to talk. The woman’s voice seemed to be pleading, and the others were just sobbing, while pleading similarly.
Richard tripped on a door jam, and cursed. Not to be deterred, he held out his hands, using them to guide him so that he could focus on the voices better.
Children’s voices, he thought. I can hear children’s sobbing and talking too.
A part of him wanted to stop listening, but the only alternative was the silence of the ship once again, so he pressed on.
“Please, doctor,” he could make out a woman saying.
The reply was still muffled.
He focused on her voice. He was straining so hard to hear, that he was afraid he was going to give himself an aneurism.
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” he heard her say.
“I’m sorry,” A man replied, and then became a mumble again.
Then off to his left he hear, “I love you, grandpa”.
Grandpa? He thought. What am I hearing?
Richard didn’t have children, much less grandkids. All he had left back on earth was…
He stopped in his tracks.
What did I leave back on earth? A wife? Friends? He asked himself.
He couldn’t remember.
How is that possible? He asked himself again.
He could remember the many conversations he had with his fellow travelers, and he knew he must have talked about his friends and family back home, but for some reason he couldn’t remember that now.
A bright light came a across his vision and suddenly he was staring at a group of people surrounding him a what looked like a hospital room.
And as soon as it appeared, it disappeared, and was once again standing in the hallway that made up the Compartment B Corridor.
He spun around, expecting to find the source of the light.
He began to walk around the ship, looking for the source of the sounds and visions, but all he found was emptiness.
After a while of no longer hearing the sounds, and the vision not returning, he walked back to the cafeteria, to sit alone once again, surrounded by his long dead friends.
Another month passed, and he hadn’t heard any voices since that day in the corridor. Every day, he would walk down the corridor, hoping to hear those sounds again.
Though the sounds had frightened him at first, he now longed to hear them again.
His days were becoming more and more unbearable, and the voices, while frightening, seemed familiar, though he still had not been able to place them.
Then, as he was about to give up on ever hearing the voices again, they came back, but not in the hallway, but on the bridge and they came through the radio.
He jumped when he first heard the squelch of the radio, and then excited when he heard voices through the static.
His heart raced as he hoped he had regained contact with earth once more.
As before, he strained to hear what the voices were saying.
“..love you,” he thought he had heard.
He quickly grabbed the microphone. “Hello?” he asked.
“I love you,” the voice said through the speakers.
It sounded like a child, which was confusing. It seemed like a child was speaking through his radio.
Richard backed away from the console.
It’s finally happened, he thought. I’ve finally completely lost my mind.
He was able to chalk up his cafeteria conversations to just being lonely. He knew they weren’t really there. He knew he was really talking to himself, but this was different. He did not recognize the voice coming over the speakers, and the voices he heard in the hallway.
They seemed familiar, but he had no idea who they could be.
He walked quickly away from the bridge, not wanting to give into his sanity any longer. Was he lonely? Yes. Did he long to have someone to talk to? Yes, but this is not what he had in mind. He went from feeling hopeful of being rescued to feeling like he was in a horror movie.
No matter how far away from the bridge he walked, he couldn’t seem to escape the voices. They weren’t as loud as they were through the speakers, but he could hear them, as though they were now whispering in his ear.
All of a sudden, a bright light surrounded him, and he was once again lying down, looking up at the ceiling of a hospital room.
He couldn’t wrap his mind around what was happening. He felt like he had entered someone else’s body, and was looking through their eyes.
He wasn’t able to move, so he was limited to what was in his field of vision, but he did see the same people coming in and out of his sight.
He didn’t recognize any of them, but whoever he was at the moment, they seemed to know him.
They approached one by one, saying how much they loved this person, and missed this person.
Having been alone for so long, Richard started to wish he was this person.
As he felt like he was coming to the surface in the hospital room, it all quickly disappeared and he found himself once again alone in the dark of this empty ship.
A great depression filled him, and the thought of going on any longer alone was an agonizing one.
He made his way to the cafeteria, where he wanted to spend one more afternoon with them, and inform them that he would be throwing himself out the airlock afterwards.
First the first time in a year that he laughed. He joked with all of his colleagues about how the journey started exciting, and teared up over the losses they had shared.
Surprisingly, none of them tried to talk him out of taking his own life. Since they were all figments of his imagination, he took it as no part of him was holding on to living.
Once he felt he had said all that he needed to say, he took one more look around at all of his lost friends, and solemnly walked out of the cafeteria.
He made his way to the aft airlock, and stood looking out the porthole into space. He wasn’t having second thoughts, but he wanted to take in as much as he could before he passed.
As he reached for the door lock, something caught his eye off to the right. He turned his head and saw a little girl of around 8, holding a stuffed bear and staring at him.
He recognized her from the visions he had been having.
They stared at each other, her an old man. Her a little girl with curly hair.
He was unsure of what to do. None of his apparitions had followed him outside the cafeteria, and she was a part of his mind he didn’t recognize.
After a moment, she stepped toward him and held out her hand.
Hesitantly, he took it.
As soon as he placed his hand in hers, she turned and led him down the corridor.
He didn’t resist. For some reason, it felt natural to allow this little girl to lead him.
Every so often, she would turn back to him and smile. Each time he smiled, he felt more comfortable.
They turned a corner and he stopped in his tracks. Before him stood a door he had never seen before, yet looked like it belonged there and had been there all along.
He looked at the girl, and she looked back. She smiled and pulled him lightly towards the door.
“What’s in there?” he asked.
She just smiled and said, “You.”
He didn’t know how to respond to that, but she seemed a little confused by his hesitation.
“What do you mean ‘me’?” he asked.
She just continued to just stare and smile at him.
He wasn’t afraid of her, or what could be in the room. He was just unsure if this is what he wanted. Part of him wanted to enter the room, and part of him wanted to end all the madness by ejecting himself out the airlock.
In the end, he decided to give the room a chance. He could always kill himself later.
He took a deep breath and walked towards the door.
It opened with a swoosh, and he walked in, the little girl just outside the door behind him.
The room was a standard crew quarters room. There was a bed, bathroom, desk, monitor, and small kitchenette.
What stuck out was the holiness it was. Most crewmembers had some framed pictures of their families, but they were mostly digital. In this room, there was maybe a hundred pictures in actual frames. All of them were in frames, and all full of someone’s happy memories.
The little girl entered the room with him, and he jumped a little when the door swooshed closed.
“What is this place?” he asked.
“You,” she said with a smile.
Confused, he turned to the pictures and started to look more closely at a few of them.
Though he couldn’t place them from his own memory, he recognized some of the people as the ones who were in that hospital room when he found himself looking up through someone else’s eyes.
He slowly made his way around the room, closely studying each one. The little girl was in a lot of them. There were also people he didn’t recognize in a lot of them as well.
He turned back to look at the girl.
She just stood there smiling at him, as if she knew a secret he didn’t.
She raised her arm and pointed at the wall of pictures.
“Look,” she said.
Trusting her, he turned his attention back to the pictures on the wall and began to study them again.
Without realizing it, he began to mumble.
“Mary, Tom, Elise,” he trailed off.
As he walked around the room, he continued to say more names, and then something even stranger happened.
The pictures of people he didn’t recognize started to morph into the faces of some of his former colleagues and friends.
He couldn’t explain what was happening, but the world around him seemed to fade, and it felt like a fog was being lifted from around him.
He began to remember things he had long forgotten.
These were his friends and his family. Mary was his daughter, Tom was his son-in-law, and Elise was his…
He turned to look at the little girl, his eyes quickly filling with tears.
“Grandpa,” she said, and ran into his arms.
He held her tight and spun her around, happier than he had ever been in his life.
As he held her, his memories came flooding back.
He had been sick for a while. Alzheimer’s.
He put her down, and began to look at all the pictures again. This time, as he looked at each one, the memories associated with the people in came flooding back.
The girl giggled as she watched Richard’s smile grow with each picture he stared at.
How could he have forgotten all these people and all these wonderful memories.
He remembered his late wife, his daughter, her husband, his granddaughter, and all of the friends he had throughout the years.
He felt renewed. He felt like he had been given his life back, and then it came back to him.
This ship wasn’t real. He had never been to space. What was real was that he was lying in a hospital bed stuck in this ship his mind created.
Now that he remembered everything, he wanted nothing more than to return to these people and give each one of them a lasting hug.
He turned to the girl to instruct her to wake him from this and return him to his family.
When he turned, the girl knew what he wanted, and the smile faded from her, being replaced with sadness.
“I want to wake up,” he said. “I want to go back to my family and friends.”
Tears filled her eyes as she shook her head slowly.
His smile faded as realized she wasn’t there to bring him back.
“But if I’m going back, why are you here?” he asked. “What is all of this for?”
She pointed at him and once again said, “You.”
He looked around not fully understanding what the purpose of this room was.
“If I’m not going back, am I to stay in this wretched ship, forgetting everyone I ever loved?” he asked.
She slowly shook her head again.
“Then were am I supposed to go from here?” he asked.
She pointed to the door they had come through and said, “When you’re ready.”
He turned to look at all the pictures and then back to her.
“What if I’m never ready?” he asked.
It wasn’t his friends that was keeping him in that room, it was fear of what was on the other side of that door. He felt that when it opened again, it wouldn’t be the inside of the ship from where he came from.
“What’s behind that door?”
The little girl shrugged again. He could tell it wasn’t because she didn’t know, but because she couldn’t tell.
“Will I disappear if I walk through that door?”
She shook her head, her saddened face replaced with a small smile.
“Will I be alone, like I am here on this ship?”
Again, she shook her head, smiling a little more.
“Will I see these people again someday?”
“Can I stay just a little longer?”
Richard turned to look at all those pictures, running each memory through his mind. He stayed in that room for weeks.
He felt like he had been alone for so long, that he didn’t want to walk away from all that he had forgotten.
Elise stood silently in the corner as he jumped from picture to picture.
She laughed when he told her about the funny moments. She teared up when he told her about someone’s passing, and she giggled when she heard stories about how silly he had been at times.
Richard knew that it was not Elise that he was chatting with, but another figment of his imagination. Even though she wasn’t real, she still seemed to enjoy hearing the stories he told her about her.
Time seemed to fly by, but as he told each story, he felt more and more ready to move on.
When he had told all the stories, and relived every memory, he turned to the little girl and said, “I’m ready.”
She smiled as she walked to him and took his hand in hers.
As she led him to towards the door, he stopped and said, “I’m afraid.”
Her face held a compassionate smile as she pointed behind him.
He turned, eyes turning wide and filling with tears.
All the pictures on the wall had been replaced by the people themselves. They all stood there, smiling at him.
He turned to look at the girl.
She smiled back and nodded.
He turned back to all of his family and friends, smiling.
He walked into their mists and began to hug each of them one by one, receiving a warm embrace in return.
Unbelievably, he felt even more joy as he hugged each of them than he had when his memories were returned to him.
After he had taken his time hugging and talking to each one of them, he turned and knelt in front of the little girl.
“Thank you,” he said, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“I know you’re not real, but I want you to know I love you very much,” he said. “And if you could tell my beautiful granddaughter, Elise, that I love her so much and I miss her, I’d appreciate it.”
He felt her nod against the side of his head.
He released her from their hug, and stood up, taking her hand once again.
“I’m ready,” he said, looking down at her.
She smiled back and led him to the door.
It opened with a swoosh, the light that was coming through was blinding.
He turned once more to see all of his friends and family waving at him.
“Will I see them again someday?” he asked, waving back.
The little girl looked up at him with a huge, warm smile, and nodded.
He turned towards the door, gave Elise one more loving look, and walked through.
Light surrounded him and enveloped him. He was home.
While Elise slept, and dreamt in her bed at home, a smile crossed her face.