I opened my eyes for the last time and stared into the burning sun that had swallowed an entire planet’s worth of life, snuffing out whole civilizations, destroying ecosystems, and extincting every species.

How insignificant it all seemed, at that moment—all of history lost to cinders and returned to the carbon from whence it had come. I recalled the first time I had left the planet’s tyrannic grip, fleeing the gravity atop a great pillar of fire that pushed me and my tiny craft past the thin membrane of oxygen that all living things relied on, spitting me out into the vacuum in my own tiny pocket of air, a little human in a bubble adrift in space. That time when I had looked back to the earth I’d left behind, seen the cradle of my birth filling the viewport in all its pale blue and brown and wispy white splendor, I’d realized for the first time the true meagerness of my existence. Was that the real gift of spaceflight? I’d wondered. A blossoming awareness of how truly small we were, despite all our great works, ambitions, and dreams. Despite lifetimes spent toiling away at our goals, all the loving and fostering of family, the seeding of future generations and hopes of establishing some kind of legacy, we were nothing. Invisible to the cosmic eye.

Seeing it all burned to ash seemed to underscore that understanding, as though it hadn’t been enough to know it, intrinsically, that I should have lived long enough to watch it all destroyed by the star that had nurtured all those generations of life, to eventually produce a being capable of imagining a life beyond the surface of the planet, to touch down on alien worlds and perhaps make a mark there, on the face of the unknown cosmos. The horror of seeing a real glimpse of the chaotic machinations that underlie the very universe itself, and to understand beyond all questioning that the design was not for us. That it did not care one whit about what we had accomplished.

I sighed and made one last check of my oxygen gauge. The needle had sat lifeless at the bottom of the red zone for some time, but like the old combustion vehicles of days gone by it was disingenuous in its display and hid secret sips of air beyond empty. I ran on fumes and a moment later I couldn’t taste anything at all. My lungs emptied; the star that filled my field of vision filled with other, tiny, silver stars. There was a slow vignetting of the scene as darkness faded in, and I died.

2014.12.24 – 2023.07.26

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