I got the message that you are dead, and on your way out to me.
I know. You wanted it to be a surprise. But Marcie continues to send me regular updates about everything you say and do. Or by now, I guess, everything you said and did. Marcie is, well, Marcie. I admit, even now, I still wanted to know what happened to you, what was happening to you. When she told me about the cancer, I found my hands clenching and unclenching.
I even cried. It’s hard, out here, to cry, after a few months: low grav and tear ducts, maybe, or just not being near people. So hard that I couldn’t, at first, even recognize the slick feel against my skin. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. I thought about you, thought about sending a message. Even thought of signaling I.R.I.A.N. and asking to go back. If I could go back.
I never really described this place, did I? To Marcie, or anyone else. Certainly not to you. It’s not quite like one of the I.R.I.A.N. ships, of course, much less like any of the great spheres and satellites, the little moons we drop as we explore, as Koro liked to say. (Yes, I still think about Koro. More than I think about you. But let’s not get off the subject.) None of their amenities, either. There’s a chromatic shower that allows me five minutes of tepid water per day, or eight minutes every other day, if I prefer. A small Kon Garden that I haven’t managed to kill off yet, for the occasional real tomato or passion fruit that reminds me of other meals. A treadmill/rowing machine; the usual film assortment on a decent-sized screen. A large adjustable bed. Puzzles. Music.
Oh, the light.
I didn’t know what real light was, until I got here. Oh, I thought I did. But in every other world I’ve been on, every other world we’ve created, eventually, the light ends, leaving us looking at a dark and cold sky, with only scattered stars.
That’s wrong, of course: the universe being what it is, an infinite place of infinite stars, we should only see stars. Instead we see darkness: the dust and filaments that cover the stars.
Except at places like this.
Everywhere I turn, move, go, I am bathed in it. The sphere has filters set up, of course–I’d go blind otherwise–and even in the center of the sphere, layers below the surface, I still can’t bring myself to take off my protective goggles. Partly fear, partly habit. But even with the goggles on, even down in that center, I see it. I feel it.
I have not seen a night since I came here, except in pictures and videos from elsewhere. They look wrong, but then again, so do all the pictures and videos I have of days elsewhere, with you, or with other people. I am seeing them through goggles, of course, but I am also seeing them through this endless, circular light. I study. I write. I record. I rarely sleep. I watch the new stars. I burn with light.
Would this light have the same effect on you? I don’t know. Time and light, I assume, are different for you now. I don’t know what you can see, or even if you can see.
I think of pushing that button by your bed.
I think of leaving here, of enduring night again.
Instead, I aim this message at you.
It might miss you. It will probably miss you. Marcie’s warning couldn’t have left much before you did, even given the time needed to transfer your memory waves to pulses, to set up the signal to send you here. For all I know, right now you’re just outside this capsule. And even if you are farther back, the odds of one set of photons hitting another set of photons in the vastness of the universe, even while travelling on the same standardized Zarh wavelengths–I don’t need to do the calculations.
But I have to try. For the chance, however slim, that what has happened before will defy science, will slam this message into you, and permanently scatter your photons into that dust between the stars, to ensure that not a single one of your photons can find its way to me.
If I can push this button.
If I can find it, in this light.
Mari Ness worships chocolate, music and words, in no particular order. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in multiple publications, including Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Uncanny, Fireside, Nightmare, Apex and Strange Horizons. She lives in central Florida. For more, follow her on Twitter, at @mari_ness, or visit her website at marikness.wordpress.com.