Author : Liz Lafferty
Jonathan Wolf had grown old in space. His craft chugged across the Milky Way on its return journey to Earth. As the first solo explorer and the first man who’d left the galaxy, he was anxious to return home.
Potential candidates had been selected based on hereditary aging DNA. His family members had routinely lived into their hundreds and prior to his departure, one of his uncles had reached the age of one hundred and thirty. He would be long dead by now.
The other trait happened to be one of his strong suits. He enjoyed being alone. The mission involved mind-numbing, insanity-inducing loneliness, unless one had prepared both his mind and his body against such predispositions. He’d rejected the idea of a mate. Why inflict further torture when one outlived the other, as would eventually happen. In the depths of space, he didn’t believe he could endure the absence of a cherished partner. He’d work alone. He’d study. He’d read. He’d explore.
The craft library was stocked with media, all digitalized from Moses to Plato to Hawking. The bay area of the craft was largely empty. A few rocks from distant planets. He was especially fond of a glow-in-the-dark purple specimen he kept in his night room.
His mission had been a failure, or at least a failure by mission standards.
He had found no one. His only discovery: the universe was a vast, empty place. Space was aptly named.
Twelve years ago, he’d lost contact with Earth. There’d been no incoming messages, though he believed his messages still got out. Since most information about space was theoretical, he’d had to theorize about the disconnect. Messages could have gotten lost, scrambled, gravitazationlized.
Or maybe they simply vanished into the ether.
As he sailed into the solar system, the familiar planets came into view. Saturn and Jupiter, beloved twins, their trajectory nearly aligned. Efforts to hail Earth failed. If he hadn’t gotten used to twelve years of silence, he might have been alarmed. Instead, an excitement unlike anything he’d felt since the day of his launch hummed through his veins, making him feel light-years younger.
The gentle hum of his craft soothed him as he neared Earth’s planetal rotation.
John scanned the limited horizon of his viewing screen. Earth should be coming into view. But wasn’t. He ran the program for the star date to determine Earth’s location. A small cluster caught his eye. The white cheese pocked moon came into view. Without its planet. The computer scanned, confirming his suspicion. The moon wandered, ripped from its gravitational anchor by some unknown event.
John blinked, allowing the weight of his emotion to darken his hope. There was no one. The Earth was gone.
He couldn’t be the only one. Others must have been sent out. They would eventually come home, too. He would wait. John Wolf set his craft to orbit the sun in Earth’s orbit – every 365 days. If he lived the rest of his natural life, he might get to see another human again.
His only mission now was to make sure the next person who stumbled upon him was not left alone in the universe.