Author : Lisa Jade
I still recall the sorrow of the Project Head when he said I was leaving Earth. I’d questioned it; there were plenty of people more qualified than me. I wasn’t sure why they’d chosen me, or why they treated the Stasis Project like a death sentence.
It didn’t take long to figure out – nobody had signed up. It meant sacrificing everything – and everyone had reason to stay. Except me.
Eta Carinae burns brightly before me. It’s a crimson supergiant now. Though the ship assures me we’re out of range, I’m still unnerved. I only woke up a few days ago and I’m not sure how long I’ve been away. I try to do the math, but the numbers are too big and the results too frightening.
The star is at the end of her life. I’ve seen photos; great plumes of gas once sputtered from her core – she was once nine times bigger than Earth’s sun. But that was long ago. Now she’s a beast, drawing into herself, preparing for her inevitable demise.
I pace the ship’s walkways, wondering yet again about my return to Earth. If I’ll recognise it. If I’ll be frightened. If anyone will remember me.
The ship’s systems blare. The sound is familiar – the closest thing to a voice around here. Though I’ve been asleep for much of the journey, it still feels like I’ve been alone for a long time.
I turn my attention back to the dying star. This is why I’m here. Scanning, filming, measuring. Gathering data to help humanity’s study of the universe.
I sink to the floor. Eta Carinae. She’s gorgeous. Colours I’ve never seen swirl around a red globe like some bizarre, beautiful ballet performance. I reach out a hand and even through the Shields, I swear I can feel just the smallest trace of her warmth in my fingertips.
I think it was Dad who told me.
‘Everything is stardust’
I’d spent a childhood marvelling at the constellations painted on my bedroom ceiling. I’d thought that stars were people, thinking, feeling; and nobody ever told me otherwise.
But Dad’s gone now – gone even before I left. Mom, too. No siblings, no friends. I’d had nothing to lose, and that was reason enough.
Suddenly, I find myself smiling at her. I don’t recall seeing anything so gorgeous during my time on Earth. It’s sad that I’ll be the only one to ever see her, especially like this.
The systems screech. It’s happening.
I press my nose to the glass, drinking in every moment – every flicker, every surge emitted from her surface as she draws in on herself, turning blood red. The ship swelters under her heat as she strains to remain alive, like the death throes of a wild animal.
But it’s not enough; the supergiant explodes, sending out a shock that makes the ship jolt underfoot.
When I regain my composure, she’s changed. There’s nothing left but a paint-like swirl of magenta, the building blocks of life scattered about. It won’t last.
A small voice speaks to me. She’ll form a black hole if you wait too long. Turn around. Go home. I wipe the sweat from my face and pause.
Am I crying?
It’s just a star. It’s gas and fire and not much else. It’s not even a ‘she’.
Why the hell am I crying?
My hand touches the glass, and this time it’s cold. Her heat has dissipated, fading just as she did.
I can’t leave her. But there’s no point in staying. She’s just stardust.
“Set course for home.”