Prompt: A dialogue-free story, rich with memories, of the sufferer of a mysterious ailment of the future while they are in quarantine.
One personal item was all they would allow. Many considered his an odd choice, but they couldn’t talk to him anymore, ask him why he picked something so reminiscent of his condition. All communication had to be done through written messages, and only when absolutely necessary.
They didn’t do food requests anymore, as his appetite had completely gone. He just sat there, on the most comfortable hypoallergenic cushions they could provide, staring at the ceiling, at the glowing spots he had specifically requested as his one personal item.
If you wanted to know about him you had to go into the file, and to get to the file you needed a fourth level security clearance. Someday, when his remains had been parsed, examined, and quantified, the footage would be released as a right of the public. It could’ve been hundreds of years before the seals were broken. It was more likely the facility would fall into disrepair first, and his strange corpse would simply be discovered, like a cave full of giant crystals or a species thought long extinct.
The file said his name was Dennett Nolan. It said he was thirty-three years old. It said he was the sixty-seventh voyager in the latest version of his nation’s space exploration program. It said he was always first to volunteer on the most dangerous missions and expeditions. It said he had saved twenty lives with a space walk and repair job done in the midst of a solar flare.
It said his most recent mission was by far the most ill-advised, but also the one that had to be done. It didn’t mention the raw, gnawing, pulsating curiosity that had forced mankind into it. They’d never seen such an unusual planetoid. The file said its code name was ‘the geode’, an obvious choice given its unassuming appearance but hollow nature.
They’d done their due diligence with probes, which had revealed the plethora of crystalline growths on the inside, mostly black, white, gray, and purple. Of greater interest were the glowing spots inside each, glowing with their own fierce heat. Each time a probe ruptured a crystal it was instantly destroyed. They needed the judgement of one of their voyagers; they needed a human eye inches from such an anomaly, using poetic language that could be slapped on mugs and shirts for the next century, while the real information was squirreled away in bunkers and filing cabinets.
Dennett had shown no fear. No self-preservation. The universe had rewarded him in kind. He didn’t even have to touch the crystals when he was in there. Something beyond the dawn of his species had placed an invisible trigger. The spots in the crystal had moved of their own accord, shooting out, piercing his suit and body like bullets. In one side and out the other.
His suit’s automatic layered repair module had sealed him before depressurization, but the damage was done. Several of his organs were perforated, including kidneys, liver, and lungs. It was a miracle he even made it into the medbay back aboard the station where he now sat, awaiting the end. The universe did grant him a small favor, in the form of a rapid regeneration before his true symptoms kicked in.
The scans revealed several masses, on the trajectory lines of the perforation points, settled in the middle of his body. They glowed much the same way as they did in the crystal. They gave off incredible energy, yet did not destroy his surrounding cells. They were, in fact, invigorated. The same could not be said for his mind. He was never afraid, not even now, but his thoughts and responses were slow. His pupils were always wide, at the edge of their ability, as if he stared off to the actual edge of the universe.
Dennett sat in his cushions, in his final hour, and looked up at the plastic stars he had requested. They turned out the lights for him, so he could see them glow against the ceiling. Ten minutes of the final hour were spent staring at Ursa Major, the first constellation he’d identified as a child, through a telescope built of cardboard and recycled glass.
There had been dreams about bears traipsing across the sky, leaving black holes as footprints. He would wake up in the middle of the night, having wet his space shuttle pajamas, grab at the cockpit design around his collar, and struggle to breathe. Even as a child he knew what was out there. He knew it was all but nothing, that Earth, its people, and any other Earths out there, were the only specks of meaning. Nothingness was a great bear that ate meaning, that didn’t even leave footprints in its name, that crushed meaning’s with its own.
The next ten minutes of that final hour, as his skin went pale and his cells started to leak into each other, was spent looking at Cancer the crab. He’d pointed it out on a camping trip when he was sixteen, with his other arm around the shoulder of his first girlfriend. She didn’t like space. She understood it was empty just as well as he did, but she rejected the notion of throwing herself into it, of letting the current decide her fate.
When they broke up Dennett had the most violent argument in his life. He’d screamed at her, the first time he’d ever screamed at all, about her rodent-like philosophy of burrowing until you couldn’t see the sky anymore. When she left he continued screaming, straight up into the night air until someone called the police, thinking he’d been assaulted. He’d screamed himself raw even as the officer wrapped her arms around him and brought him to the ground, stroking his hair as if he were a child.
The next half hour, back in quarantine, under chemically-treated stars, was spent staring between them, at the ceiling. He pondered the ultimate question as the new miniature stars inside him absorbed what was left in his chest cavity. Was he a part of it? Did he get to be a participant in the universe? Or was he simply fuel?
What had created the tiny stars did not concern him. They likely had their reasons, and they were likely as silly as any of humanity’s for penetrating the safe skin of Earth’s gaseous bubble. He knew he wouldn’t be conscious once their gravity grew and they used his body as fuel. He just wanted to know if there would be a label, somewhere in the metafiction of physics and heat, that said ‘Dennett’.
The final sensation burned, but it was like the last glowing ashes on the fire. It wasn’t pain. It was heat death, something the old universe would have to become familiar with itself. He leaned his head up against the wall. He didn’t need to look down at his shirtless chest to know what was there, what the people behind the glass stared at like a distant constellation or its footfalls.
He knew they could see the light of several microscopic stars growing under his skin. It had likely gone from red to yellow as their intensity increased. His mind faded. He had a star for a heart now, and it burned him up, mind, memory, and body. Would the stars keep traces? Would they always be the stars of Dennett?
His body collapse, but the ashes never hit the floor. They were absorbed into the miniataure system hovering where he had sat. The stars of Dennett had cured themselves of their organic shell, and they had until the final collapse to dwell on his contribution.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Osephyr during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!