By any reckoning, he was getting old. He’d been there for the settlement of the moon. He had seen the terraces of dusty rock slowly terra-formed, slowly turn into his furthermost memories. He had taken a vacation on the now abandoned colony on Jupiter. He had been a pilot. He had been a businessman. He had seen death. He had seen his world change again, and then again. Each permutation had never quite sunk in. He was rather nostalgic, or at least he told himself that as he watched films on an antiquated television screen. Something about the flatness of the image made him feel secure. He didn’t care for holograms or sense-emulators. He was one of the few people who remembered when earth felt like a home, instead of a barren orb covered by glass domes and ice shelves. Sometimes he thought he could remember, as a small child, taking a hover to the mountains.
These were different times however. And he knew he’d had a good life by most standards. He was thankful that modern medicine had let him prolong his life. He didn’t like to think about his age, but last time he had checked his birth-date, he’d calculated somewhere around one hundred and fifty. Despite this, he was beginning to feel hollow, uncomfortable in his body. Most people around him had either decided to go to rest, or had found new entertainments that let them forget their past. He had chosen neither, and lived as somewhat of a novelty, frequenting resorts and telling stories of times before the ice age. His body appeared youthful, though he felt quite the opposite. He had many women. They found him mysterious, charming. Though eventually, he spent most of his nights alone.
He was sitting on a terrace in some high-end cafe in what he thought was once Brazil. He’d never been especially attentive to geography. The waitress, a human not a droid, was waiting for his order. He’d lost himself in reflection and her questioning voice interrupted his reverie. To avoid seeming absent, he blurted the first word he thought of, “Vodka.” – and after a pause- “Ice. Vodka with ice.” The waitress graciously nodded her head and was gone.
Now fully aware, he considered his surroundings. This cafe was hundreds of feet above above the top of the business sector’s silver peaks. He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten here. He thought the cafe might be resting in an anti-grav field, or perhaps it was only a spire. The other customers seemed out of place. Then he recognized the oval insignias on their sleeves. It seemed that a whole troupe of freight-ship pilots had chosen this spot for a friendly get together. He didn’t care. He went back to looking at a dome in the distance, one enclosing a large patch of rain-forest which had somehow been preserved all these years.
The waitress returned, setting down a glass. The click of glass on glass triggered some strange and half-forgotten feeling in him. “Now is the time”, he suddenly thought to himself. “Now is the time”, he repeated in his head. He gulped down his drink, slide his paycard across the table and got up. He flicked his wrist switch and leapt off the edge of the cafe. He liked the feeling of free fall, and waited a few seconds before turning the dial on his wrist. His speed began to decrease and he gently touched down in a busy street. “Yes” he thought, “Now is the time.”
The shipyard was outside of the dome. He wore a breath-suit since the air outside of domes was fatal to human lungs. The area he had crossed was where societies’ poor lived, shut up in boxed shaped tenements, forced to wear a suit to ever leave. He’d heard that many died in accidents. Opening an airlock at the wrong moment was certain death. The shipyard was located out past the last of these tenements. His hover slid by piles of refuse and lifeless fields strewn with boulders. The sun was setting through the chemical filled atmosphere. He smiled when the rays of light touched him.
The blinking lights of the shipyard rushed towards him. He cut the engines and with well practiced agility, jumped out of the seat and walked through the gates adorned with neon lights. The shipyard’s owner, named Carol as he’d found out during their brief telecast conversation, was already striding towards him as he took in his surrounding. Behind the shape of Carol’s deep yellow suit stood piles of discarded ship parts. Old engines mixed in with cranes, fuselage, oxygen tanks, remains of ship cabins and circular duraplast windows.
Carol extended his gloved hand, and a pleasant “How do you do sir?” came through his head-speakers. He extended his own hand, covered by dark grey fibers, and shook Carol’s.
“As I mentioned in our correspondence, I’m looking for the fastest most compact ship you have around. I have a liking for the old Mar’s Circuit race ships and you’re the only one I’ve heard of who maintains old ships in good condition.”
Carol replied, “Why, you pay me much respect. Rarely do I get customers who appreciate the intricacies of the old models. Indeed, I have one of the few remaining race ships you’re looking for. She’s a beauty though, and I’d be loathe to part with it. Could I interest you in something comparable, yet not so much of a novelty for me?”
He paused a moment before replying with a secretive smile, “Yes. Perhaps the exact model does not matter for my purposes. I simply mentioned the Mar’s Circuit race ships because they were very memorable for me. Indeed, I will take whatever you recommend.”
Carol nodded and motioned with his hand. The two set off towards the far end of the yard. Behind a half crushed passenger shuttle, sat a slim triangular scouting ship, with a helm suited for three people at most. It’s single engine comprised most of it’s size putting the rest of the ship above the height of Carol’s head. He nodded and firmly spoke, “This will do.” They haggled for the sake of form for a few minutes, finally settling on a somewhat moderate price. Back inside Carol’s establishment, he punched in the appropriate registration and swiped his paycard on the tablet Carol held out to him. After they’d exchanged pleasantries, he went outside, set his hover to auto-return and walked back to his newly purchased ship.
He opened the hatch, settled himself into the pilot’s seat, switched on the oxygen generator, counted to thirty waiting for the toxic air to drain, and flicked open his helmut lock. The fresh air in the cockpit was heartening, he grinned and engaged the main thrusters. The ship rushed to respond to his touch and he felt excitement again as the neon lights of the shipyard withdrew, soon becoming just another speck on a ground littered with artificial settlements. Even these lights disappeared as he passed through a layer of clouds and was greeted instead by the quickly receding line of sunlight as it crawled along the earth’s surface.
A few minutes later, he received a transmission from air-control requesting certification. He quickly responded with his pass-code and the shimmering barrier which encircled the planet parted for his ship. A few minutes after that, he was in orbit with the satellites and remains of space debris that hadn’t been incinerated flicking past in his periphery. He took a few moments to appreciate the sight before keying in his coordinates, rolling back his pilot’s seat, and closing his eyes.
A few quick beeps jerked him awake. He felt a gentle warmth and saw varying hues of redness on his closed eyelids. He had almost arrived. He opened his eyes and saw the glowing circular shape of the sun fill most of his vision. The ship was slowly growing warmer as the surrounding space became increasingly hot and the sun’s shimmering rays made rainbow patterns all around the cockpit, refracted through the duraplast window. His eyes began to tear from the brightness. With a grimace, he kept his eyes open anyway. As he zipped through space towards this huge ball of flame, he began to feel it.
This feeling, this is what he’d been lacking. No miracle of science could replace or satisfy this need of his. As the sun’s rays began to burn his skin, he burst into smile. He felt at home. The brightness was overwhelming. With a great effort, he pushed the thrusters too maximum. The sun had filled the whole expanse of his vision. There was nothing but the most intense whiteness. His throat was suddenly dry. He was full of ecstasy, full of completion. “This is finally it”
he thought “This is the end.” He relaxed his body, clumsily flicked the release on his seat and let his body zip backwards against the back-wall of the cockpit. The impact winded him and he let himself go limp, limbs splayed against the heated metal.
The heat and light were so intense that he felt dizzy enough to faint, but with a strong exertion of his will, he managed to stay aware. The ship began to shake violently. It was getting very close. His eyes couldn’t withstand the intensity, and neither could his skin or hair. His skin began to go up in flames. His hair stung his face as it was transformed into ash. His eyes only registered the light in fragments. Despite this, he felt no pain. He felt the greatest happiness. He felt conclusion wash over him. Suddenly, the ship’s outsides shattered, and he was plummeting into pure fire. He was inside the sun. In a last second of semi-awareness, he felt his bones incinerate, his limbs instantly erased from existence, his organs reduced to pure energy. He felt himself reach the center of the sun. He felt himself cease to exist. Finally, he was at home.
This story is written in the sci-fi style by necessity. Thusly, it should be understood that this is not a typical story about a dystopian future. This story is about the prose, and the ideas. And in that sense, I would hope that it be treated simply as fiction without any contextual biases.