I know they’re waiting for us my love, the ones from the other side. At least I hope I know, since there’s no way back. And I want to know. More than anything. The chance to know is worth the all the uncertainty that’s been my companion the last few days of the voyage.
A rumble cuts through the silence of the ship and through my sleepless thoughts. I feel it vibrating through the mattress. Before I have time to more than half sit up, a message pings in my implant. Maneuvering rockets have engaged to avoid interstellar ice, Oort cloud debris from some lost star system.
I access the ship’s clock. Still an hour ’til morning. I lay back and pull the quilt over my shoulders again.
Not that I’ll get any more sleep. The darkness keeps me awake. The darkness and ice. I dig my toes deeper under the covers, hoping to escape the fright that seeps through me. My fingers grow cold, and I tuck them closer to my body.
I know this was always your fantasy, my love. A trip into the unknown, alone with a beloved, hurtling through the dark void together. I never understood it. Not much pizzazz as fantasies go.
“Why not something more exciting?” I’d ask.
“Love’s a journey of discovery spent together,” you’d say, “and what’s more exciting than that?”
But this journey is no fantasy. No idle imagining to bring spark to routine life. Here the embrace of cold and ice is as real as death. I shiver and snuggle closer. You don’t stir.
My implant pings again. We’re getting close to the Leak Point. Dark energy spilling into the universe from the other side is dislodging the ship from its course. Not something the autopilot can handle. Only from the bridge can I steer the ship against the streaming tide of energy and time.
“Back soon,” I whisper, knowing you won’t hear. I toss off the quilt and set my feet into the soft slippers by the bed, then pad the twenty feet to the bridge.
I check the time gradient–nearly two seconds per kilometer. Too much for ship’s engines. If we continue to walk up that down escalator we’ll just end up where we started. I plot a zigzag course, like tacking a sailing ship against a steady wind, willing it toward the place nature drives it from.
You should be doing this, my love, not me. You always enjoy puzzles. And math.
I don’t think I thought much about that before. Taking your abilities for granted I suppose.
At least, before you found the Message. Ironic that after such a long search, hoping to find other intelligence in the universe, we find intelligence beyond it. Intelligence revealed in the dark energy leaking into our universe from the other side.
The polarity of the energy streaming from the Leak Point isn’t random. It carries structured thought. Yet with all the dark energy, and all its immense capacity to carry data, there was only one sentence.
Everyone studied the Message. No one knew what it meant or who it came from. No one but me.
I shiver. At least, I’ll know soon. Speculating was never enough for either of us, my love. Understanding only becomes science if we test it. So test it we will.
Another ping. My implant reports we are nearing cross-over. The point beyond which there is no returning. It’s still not too late to turn back. Not for another seventy-two seconds.
I feel my heart thudding in my chest, and I think about the gentle life I’ve left behind. But, I don’t really have a choice. I must know. The Great Discovering is what life is all about, just as you say.
I enter the command to continue. A calming breath of air escapes me, and the fear that had been swirling like cold water around my feet recedes like a falling tide. I check the readouts one last time for problems. None. Ship day-glow isn’t yet rising with morning, and my eyelids are heavy. I return to our quarters and slip back into bed.
A spray of light from the bridge falls across my hand as I reach toward you, and my eyes catch on the pale skin stretched tight over my knobby knuckles. An old hand where a young hand was not so long ago. I wrap my arm around the pillow beside me and pull it close, nuzzling the cool fabric in the place your warm shoulder used to be, laundry perfume not quite equal to the scent of your hair. How I’d love to talk to you again, share just one more fantasy ride together. Brighten the darkness with you one more time.
I’d like to tell you that I get it now. I understand. Love’s a journey of discovery spent together, and what’s more exciting than that?
No safe fantasy journey now. Regardless of what I find, there’s no way back through Leak Point. It’s a one-way trip. But maybe, just maybe, it’s you who’s waiting on the other side.
Russ Colson lives with his wife, Mary, on a farmstead in northern Minnesota, far enough from city lights to see the Milky Way and the aurora borealis. He teaches planetary science, meteorology, and geology at Minnesota State University Moorhead and was selected by the Carnegie Foundation as 2010 US Professor of the Year. Before coming to Minnesota, he worked at the Johnson Space Center in Texas and at Washington University in St. Louis where, among other things, he studied how a lunar colony might mine oxygen from the local rock. He writes a variety speculative fiction stories and articles.