Author : Darrin Drader

I remember giving her one last kiss as I prepared to step into the elevator that led to the nine-stage rocket.

“Please, don’t do this,” she said. “I love you.”

I remembered laying out in the lawn looking up into the stars of the night sky as a child. I had grown up on a farm, away from the light of the cities. I could see the clusters of stars, and I had always felt drawn to them. So many times I had put myself at this moment in time, getting ready to launch.

“This is what I was born to do,” I said simply. And with that, I had turned and left her, and the planet, forever.

I’d signed up for exploration, but that was before we learned of the others. When their signals reached us, it became clear that they were jealous, petty, greedy, and worst of all, warlike. The idea of welcoming them into galactic society was repugnant. They exploited everything they touched, including each other.

The first five stages of the rocket propelled it out of the atmosphere. Once in space, the next three had sent it moving ever faster toward the edge of the solar system at relativistic speeds. This portion of the journey lasted the longest, and it was the loneliest. I couldn’t help but question whether I’d made the right decision to volunteer to die.

“They’re getting close,” the General had told me. “Despite social, religious, and political forces working against them, they’ve finally unlocked all of the science. It won’t be long now… It’s a hell of a thing to volunteer for, but we’ll remember you. I promise.”

Three weeks of remembering her, our love, and our life that would never be. Three weeks, cut off from the planet because they’d said it would be easiest for everyone if the only communication was an automated confirmation of success or failure.

The faster than light engines had kicked in once the ship had made it far enough away from any of the planets to cause damage to them. This portion of the journey lasted only minutes. Entire solar systems sailed by in the blink of an eye.

They could have sent an unmanned missile to do the job; however, such missiles weren’t able to guide the warhead in manually if the enemy managed to hack the main computer; and this species was far too dangerous to allow even a chance of survival. Given that communication moved at the speed of light, and the kill order was given decades ahead of when this species would likely achieve faster than light travel, it was entirely possible that they were already building their ships. Once our existence had been detected, it would be all over.

The engine cut out inside the orbit of the single moon. The enemy had referred to it as “Earth.” However, what awaited me was not what I expected. Instead of blue oceans and green continents, I saw only brown craters. Even the oceans had boiled away.

My four hands quickly worked the controls to disarm the missile, change the trajectory, and abort the impact. These idiots had destroyed themselves; my sacrifice was unnecessary. I didn’t have to die! I could return to her.

The planet’s gravity captured the vessel and I fell into orbit.

That was when I remembered that this was a one way mission. The faster-than-light engine was spent. They’d said it would be easiest for everyone if the only communication was an automated confirmation of success or failure…


Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows