Tatters of a dream last night…
On a ship with family and many strangers, fellow evacuees. The stars are bright through every port like daylight. So odd the heavens are black amid them. All those suns, you’d think, should make the sky blue….
People have cubbyhole bunks with sanitary stations and closets beneath down ramps from the Great Room over which boundless cosmos arches and more stars than I can possibly count in a billion years.
Most are asleep, the lights off and view ports smoked to mask the celestial brilliance from space weary eyes, to make similtude of earthen night.
Alone awake, I wander through the ship, through common areas, down ramps, through navigation and service areas, enjoying the serenity of others’ sleep in this timeless place.
Many are the ramps empty and roped off. Those I walk slowly past, more softly even than those I know people are sleeping in.
Lights on a console in an especially dark room catch my eye as start to walk past and a sigh from the dark arrests me.
Inside the door, I have to wait for my eyes to adjust and then I see him clearly, the man on the hospital bed, the faint light from the console casting the hint of a halo around his short-cropped blond hair.
I can’t tell if his eyes are open or not, but think perhaps they are, for his energy reaches out for me as if with sudden awareness and then, too, do his hands, one with its train of IVs, glimmer of silver streaming up to the bag that hangs above him.
I’m surprised that he’s alone in here when most sleep spaces on the ship are filled to capacity. There’s room in here for at least four more standard hospital beds but all are tucked into their drawers so maybe he’s the only patient who needs one now?
I step closer and notice the sheen of his fevered brow and the gleam of his eyes now following me. “Who are you?” he asks.
“No one,” I answer, “But a wanderer in the endless night. And you?”
Long silence. A sigh. “No one,” he answers. “I’m only here to die alone in space.”
I laugh as I sit down beside him on the edge of the bed. “In a ship this crowded? You wish!” and he laughs a little with me, both of us aware of the temporality of the potentially hollow claim. It was a much more crowded ship before people started dropping like flies from the mysterious wasting disease. The doctors could do nothing more than make the dying comfortable in the few days left to them.
“You’ve never been alone in a crowd?” He asks.
“Yes,” I admit and gently lay my hands in his. “But you’re not. I’m here.”
“Yes. No One the Wanderer in the Endless Night is here,” he jokingly agrees and his hands tighten on mine showing more strength than I thought he had left in him. “And you’re not the only one. But the others are a crowd I’m not yet a part of, clustered here so close around me I can hardly breathe.”
He begins naming names, a few I know, many I don’t, and I realize he’s speaking of the dead. I’m struck speechless at the way his gaze wanders the room, focussing one at a time on the ghosts I know he must be seeing.
“I can’t imagine where they mean to take me,” he says as the last name has faded on his lips. “We’re all so far from home. Stay with me a while?”
“Sure,” I tell him, “I’ll stay.” I squeeze his hands for reassurance.
A long silence later, long enough that I’ve almost drifted asleep sitting there, I hear his sharp intake of breath and glance with concern at his shadowed face, and he says so softly I have to strain to hear the words, “I’m going now.”
I hadn’t expected him to tell me that or that he would even know as none of the others I’d watched with did. They’d had no strength left in their bodies within the hour of their deaths. They’d simply drifted off, often in the midst of incoherent sentences. My No One Here to Die to Die in Space, but not Alone, is still gripping my hands as if at the edge of a well he’s fallen into, as though I had anywhere in my power the ability to pull him yet from the abyss.
A shift, a lurch so powerful that I wonder if our ship has crashed headlong into something, and suddenly I’m no longer in the sick bay holding the hands of a dying man. No. I’m somewhere else entirely, still holding tight my charge, but we’re outside in the open starfields together, flying through an awe inspiring expanse of endless sparkling beauty and color, and no longer is he a dying man, but a glorious being of light, free of the ship of the confines of a body worn. There are glimpses of other worlds, other times, the faces of all we’ve known and loved through many lives, and the environs of home as we knew it in our times of comfort and happiness.
It was an eternity of a moment, taking my breath away as with him for this timeless time I explored… and then I was back in the sick bay of the ship holding the cooling hands of a man whose body had died and whose soul lived on in wonderous scapes elsewhere and everywhere.