About to die. And so on.
We’re all going to die.
The Sahara is your back yard, so’s the Pacific trench; die there and you won’t be lonely. On Earth you are never more than 13,000 miles from anywhere, which as the man said is a tough commute, but the rays of light from the scene of your death take little more than a tenth of a second to go … anywhere!
We’ll die alone.
This is space travel. Imagine a flat world, a piece of paper, say, with two spots on it but very far apart. If you were a two-dimensional triangle, how would you get from one spot to the other? Walk? Too far. But fold the paper through the third dimension (ours) so that the spots match exactly—if you were a triangle you couldn’t see or feel this, of course—and you are at the proper place. We do this in the fourth. Don’t ask me how. Only you must be very, very careful, when you fold spacetime, not to sloosh the paper around or let it slide: then you end up not on the spot you wanted but God knows where, maybe entirely out of our galaxy, which is that dust you see in the sky on clear nights when you’re away from cities. The glittering breath of angels. Far, far from home. The light of our dying may not reach you for a thousand million years. That ordinary sun up there, a little hazy now at noon, that smeary spot.
We do not know where we are.
At dawn there was an intensely brilliant flash far, far under the horizon, and about an hour later the noise of the thing; I figured the way you do for thunderstorms, the lag between light and sound: one-hippopotamus, two-hippopotamus, three-hippopotamus, four-hippopotamus, five-hippopotamus—there’s your mile. Seven hundred miles. That’s over a thousand kilometers. In the event of mechanical dysfunction, the ship’s computer goes for the nearest “tagged” planet, i.e. where human life is supposed to be possible, then ejects the passenger compartment separately. Lays an egg, you might say. We won’t be visited without a distress call, however, now the colonization fever’s died down (didn’t take long, divide five billion people by twenty and the remainders start getting clubby again).
Goodbye ship, goodbye crew, goodbye medicine, goodbye books, goodbye freight, goodbye baggage, goodbye computer that could have sent back an instantaneous distress call along the coordinates we came through(provided it had them, which I doubt), goodbye plodding laser signal, no faster than other light, that might have reached somewhere, sometime, this time, next time, never. You’ll get around to us in a couple of thousand years.
We’re a handful of persons in a metal bungalow: five women, three men, bedding, chemical toilet, simple tools, an even simpler pocket laboratory, freeze-dried food for six months, and a water distiller with its own sealed powerpack, good for six months (and cast as a unit, unusable for anything else).
At dawn I held hands with the other passengers, we all huddled together under that brilliant flash, although I hate them.
O God, I miss my music.
Joanna Russ, We Who Are About To …