Author: Madeline DeCoste
The silence is unbearable. So too is the darkness, so too is the light; all are absolute. The primordial and the pseudo-holy converge from all sides. Like warmth, like humanity, the stars and home are unreachable.
This is the wild, lonesome universe. This is outer space.
The astronaut’s radio has long since gone quiet. Even the strongest waves cannot come out this far. It was supposed to be an honor. The first manned voyage to OGLE-2014-BLG-0124L, the farthest known planet in the galaxy. It was a solo mission, the less weight the better, and he had been not-so-secretly delighted. Nobody to share the spotlight with, nobody to hog the glory. And then – a navigation miscalculation, a burned-out engine, a lost astronaut waiting to die. He cannot see the sun anymore, cannot pick his out of the millions surrounding him.
The astronaut drifts over to his radio for a last attempt, turning front flips and back flips and barrel rolls on his way. He has so few amusements in this cramped and sterile shuttle.
He says “Is there anyone there?”
He had meant to say something brave. He tries again.
“Is anybody listening?”
Nobody answers, not even a burst of static. He is alone, and the utterness of his isolation washes over him, high tide of his last ocean, and he sobs. The tears lift off of his young face and float suspended in the air. The harsh lights of his control panel shatter through them, sending fragments of rainbow scattering over his tomb.
His radio beeps with an incoming call. An incoming call when no living soul – no living thing, soul or no – should be within ten thousand light years of him.
There is a pause, and then the answer comes in no language spoken on Earth. It is melodic and primal and mournful. It is the wind whipping through rubble, a fire razing a prairie, a moon-soaked desert. It is whalesong and hawk-screech and fox-cries. It is the cry of a dying thing who will not die alone.
The song is incomprehensible and it means everything. The astronaut makes his way to the shuttle’s little window and peers out. He sees an alien ship, constructed of some purple-maroon material resembling sea glass. It is roughly conical, with three jet-plane-like wings protruding on either side. Pistons extend backward in the same incarnadine sea glass.
He cannot see the alien inside. Perhaps it is microscopic, or gaseous; perhaps the light works on it in different ways; perhaps the ship itself is the alien.
“I see you,” the astronaut says into his radio. “I see you.”
This will mean nothing to the alien, but it must be said. More song answers him. The astronaut’s life support is running out. The alien’s must be as well. And though neither can speak to each other, both are certain the other will not leave.
“Hi, friend,” the astronaut says. He is crying again, but he is smiling. The alien drifts closer and gently bumps his ship. They talk for hours, until the lights have gone out and air is hard to come by.
They will be holding hands when the universe takes them.