Wish Upon a Wayward Star

By Jared Vaillancourt [creative writing bureau chief]

“Where are you going?” she asked. He opened his eyes.

“Home,” he replied. The holographic representation of the woman who was barely human cocked her head to one side, considering him. He smiled down at her. “Yours and mine.”

His ship was unnamed. He closed his eyes and considered it; centuries had gone by. Traveling at the speed of light, time didn’t move for him. Millennia had passed with each blink, as time and space took its toll on the immense explorer vessel he not only called his home; he called it his body. He looked down at the hologram from his perch high up within the core, blinking as the bright electrical impulses of his thoughts flowed along the long cords and wiring connecting the synthetic shell of his mind to the ship.

Jared Vaillancourt // The Runner

“I do not understand,” the woman replied, her accent so thick he almost didn’t understand her. The millennia he had spent mapping the galaxy had seen the human racechange into something he barely recognized; her life-sized hologram stood almost eye-to-eye with him two stories above the deck. Pinky fingers had become extra thumbs, ankles had become second knee joints and skin was no longer smooth and oily, but mottled gray and scaly. Secondary gills fluttered on her neck, distracting from the opal pendant everyone seemed to wear. He smiled at her; at least that gesture hadn’t changed.

“You’ll see,” he promised. The hologram blinked her bright black eyes. He looked ahead as the immense blast shield at the front of the core, unopened for centuries, responded to his thoughts and began to lift away. The woman’s hologram vanished as she turned her attention to the screens back aboard her ship. He smiled. Her ship was named the Iilar.

The blast shield revealed a true view of the stars beyond the decaying hull. The planet was alien to him, but he gasped at its eternal beauty nonetheless. Behind the blackened ball was a giant star at the end of its days, a dying leviathan of such sorrowful orange it tricked his coolant system to leak a stray droplet from his ancient, dried-out tear ducts. The woman’s hologram appeared.

“Are you sure this is the world?” she asked. A long, graceful arm draped with silk from a creature whose name he could never hope to pronounce gestures at the window.

“This planet has been stripped. The oceans hold no water and the soil can rear no life. The star has boiled away its atmosphere.” She looked up at him and touched her pendant. “This world is dead.”

“This is the world,” he replied. “I’m sure of it.” He closed his eyes and concentrated, sifting through systems the ship had never intended to use. Chemical thrusters and external guidance scanners had atrophied in the unforgiving depths of space, but he didn’t need the all the systems to be functioning optimally. The hologram vanished as she checked her instruments to confirm what he was doing.

Under his careful direction, the dying ship descended towards the burnt-out world. Gravity fought with guidance as he carefully angled the mas
sive bow towards the surface, gliding gently across the weak fields of the magnetosphere as the unnamed ship fell towards the forgotten world. The blast shield closed as rock and dust ascended to fill the window. He closed his eyes as the hull slammed onto the planet and the ship carved out its final grave.

“An island all my own,” he whispered. He reached up with hands that creaked and groaned in protest, shedding rust and coolant as he tore the cords and wires out of the back of his shell. Sirens and klaxons screamed mutedly as he ripped free from his body, falling to the deck and stumbling as his legs tried to remember what to do. He stood up as the blast door opened, revealing the shattered window. Carefully, minding his eroding body, he climbed out onto the hull of his ship. High in the sky, the immense sun made its deadly heat known. Soon it would all be over. He smiled.

“Kirithyee?” a voice asked. He turned to look back at the hologram, as she appeared to tower over him atop a scanner plate. Without the aid of the core, it took him a second to translate the word. Were there any air, the pet name would have made him laugh. He spread his arms wide and fell to his knees.

“Look at this world,” he whispered, his thoughts transmitted through the radio transceiver embedded in his neck. “You see a dead, decaying and doomed planet. You look into the sky and are wary of the star that moans its death throws. You check your instruments and scoff at the radiation and declare this place unfit.” He turned to look at her. “Do you know what I see?” he asked.

Her hand touched her pendant. “What?”

“Terra,” he whispered to the mountains east of the ship. “Gaia,” to the dried-up ocean to the west. He closed his eyes and angled his head to the dying sun. “Sol,” he addressed it. He bowed his head. Slowly he stood up and walked to the edge of the hull, climbing down the exposed inner compartments and burnt outer equipment until his feet touched the barren rock. He looked up at the hologram as she reappeared before him. “Earth.”

“The lost home?” she asked. “The world of our ancestors? This is our planet?” She looked around, her skin turning brown as a tear fell from her eye. Together, they watched the sunset. When it was over, he fell to his knees. The sudden cold brought cracks to his shell. She considered him.

“There isn’t long, is there?” he asked. She grabbed her pendant, squeezing it tight. More holograms flashed into existence as the crew of the Iilar appeared, each man, woman and pre-gender staring at him with awe and sorrow in their eyes. They saluted him.

“Welcome home,” their leader, whispered, her voice catching in her throat. Together, the creatures that had come from humans vanished, the bright star of the Iilar winking out as it fled the inevitable. He felt his hand reach down and pick up a stone before his body froze solid.

“Five billion years,” he thought as the Sun boiled and bubbled, “It’s good to be back.”

An hour after his death, the sun blossomed, and trillions throughout the galaxy cried at the beauty of the brilliant supernova.

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