The lights went out.
We were stuck in deep space. Travellers trapped in the endlessness.
And as we floated, we had no more to do but to look out from the round windows and contemplate the orbiting galaxies.
Bill stood by my side.
"This is the end." My commander said.
The stars reminded me of the freckles on Hilda's cheeks. Her wave orange hair.
"What are we gonna do?"
Bill didn't say anything. He turned back. Went up and stood on the bicycle. He rolled the pedals of the immobile machine that never got you anywhere, only kept you healthy and sane on the spaceship.
"Why are you cycling, Bill? We're stuck in the deep space. The lights are out!"
Sweat was pouring down his face. Bill kept increasing the speed. Spinning faster and faster until I was hardly able to follow his legs.
Bill stopped. His face covered in sweat. Bill was the type who never cried.
"Craig. Do believe in the afterlife?"
"Not really. I mean, I respect everyone who does, but I myself hold no such beliefs."
"Then death is the end?"
"I guess so."
Bill didn't comment further. He walked over, opened the greenhouse door. He entered and checked the moisture level of the tomato plants we brought from Earth.
"Bill, is there any hope?"
"None at all. We're too far along the way.”
"Then why don't we just end it all now?"
Bill walked to the next row where cucumbers were gleaming out from the soil. He leaned down and smelled the mud. I had a strange desire to do the same.
Smelled like marrow after a rain. Muddy soil, the formation of Earth grown through years of degenerated natural waste. Just how much of our planet is made up of this? How many layers of it, how much effort from how many trees through how many years? Incredible to think about. To think about the things we would never see again, and that used to seem so insignificant back then.
Bill opened the water. He splashed his face and looked in the mirror where his eyes met mine. Bill had emerald eyes and a stern face. Me, a brown eyed, brown haired, not particularly handsome, ten years younger of a man.
He walked on to the far corner of the greenhouse. I took his trail, getting in front of the mirror. It was hot in the greenhouse. My face was covered with sweat. All that was audible were our footsteps and the monotonous buzzing of the equipment with occasional regulational beeps. For an unknown reason to me, the soundscape always made this room even hotter. I leaned down to wash my face.
"Don't be shocked if you start hallucinating."
I payed his words no heed, but then I suddenly saw Hilda by my side. In the mirror. Naked. Her skin soft like the hot sands of Sahara. She whispered in my ear.
"Come with me."
I turned around to walk. Bill's hand stopped me from shoulder. I watched Hilda walk off from the greenhouse door that momentarily reminded me of the opening between the kitchen and the living room in our small house. The buzzing had gotten even louder, like it was the reason for the visions I was seeing. The water drips mixed with the sweat, they slid down my face. I felt a strange interference as she walked off. Something similar to having butterflies in stomach, yet much stronger, as if under a hallucinogenic drug.
"Bill, how are you so calm?"
He walked to the sunflower plants in the middle of the greenhouse, they had turned their necks toward the artificial lamp. I remember driving on the roads of Italy with Hilda. We passed between Padova, Venezia, Ravenna... and between those cities there were always fields where the same sunflowers covered hectares of fields, each of them larger than this entire spaceship. The flowers' necks were unilaterally facing the sun. The sun was so big from down on Earth, and so enough for any sunflower. Here, the sun was but a distant star, no different from all the rest. It feels too cold here for an Earth sunflower. Those of them here on the spaceship don't even smell the same, not even close to the ones we took pictures of along the way.
Bill caressed one of their necks.
"Why are you?"
Characteristically, he left the question open. But then...
"Craig, if it was up to me, I'd tell you that this is a no-return mission for you."
I stood there for five seconds or five hours, looking at his calm, mission oriented face.
“This was planned?”
He remained silent.
"You’re joking, right?”
Bill sat down on the wheely chair in front of his computer. He slid to a drawer. He opened it. Inside the drawer was a safe. Bill knew the combination. He opened the safe door and inside there was a large plug.
When Bill pulled the plug, the lights suddenly turned back on.
He rolled back to his computer and calmly switched it on, like nothing was wrong.
Uncontrolled rage. His calmness didn't help. I yanked out the tap from the sink and tried to smash Bill's head. The water whipped out of the hole.
Bill didn't even turn back. He pushed against the table and slid to the left.
The tap struck straight into the computer and left a huge crack on the monitor. I tried to hit him again but this time Bill simply ducked down. The tap flew from my hand straight toward the greenhouse door. It hit one of the walls and made a deafening metallic sound.
"Get a grip!"
"Bill, what is the purpose of this? And what the hell am I doing here? I left so much behind to join you! Explain, commander! Why me?”
"Don't worry. You're not the only one by far."
"What? I was told only one of the applicants for this project was going to be chosen."
"Nearly all of you are participating, Craig."
Bill took a piece of cloth and covered the dowsing water from the broken sink.
"One day, as if out of nowhere, there appeared nearly two thousand space objects that you would associate with flying liquids. Somehow, the Earth managed to draw all of them toward itself. Or maybe the object were hunting for our planet and found it. Either way. Each of them is situated at the same distance away from the Earth. This is merely one of them: IG-u45. We turned off the lights because the spaceship would need to be in total darkness upon entering the field. Now, we are inside."
I opened the greenhouse window. What I saw was unbelievable. A gaseous liquid filling the entire space. Like a thick layer of yellow clouds preventing you from seeing anything beyond, like mist hiding the horizon of the sea. Beside everything, it was crazy beautiful. Something you don't even see in science fiction movies. Almost a biblical ether. If human soul had a form, I think it would appear this way.
"And what is my job in here?"
"Those objects, what we call lumosas, pose certain threats to the Earth. They get closer each day. That is what the general public doesn't know. Although so far the lumosas are not visible with the naked eye, it is a matter of weeks before they appear in our night skies. And imagine what panic breaks out when that happens."
"What do they want?"
"The objects? It's like they are on a hunt for human life. If the advancement continues at this rate, the lumosas will get too close and swallow us all. Besides, we still aren't sure how many of them are yet to come to join the rest. We have to exterminate every last lumosa before the others have time to locate our planet by sensing each other's signals."
"I still don't understand what I am doing here."
"There is a strange characteristic the lumosas have that scientists have just discovered and still can't logically explain. When we had just started trying to fight them, one of the lumosas imploded and disappeared. A certain Dr. Fletcher had a panic attack, broke the command center, opened the spaceship door and jumped out into the lumosa's core. And after that, there was no trace of the lumosa i-Rx98 to be tracked. We had tried many techniques before and after the incident, nothing else seemed to work. We tried dropping animals into the liquid, sending all sorts of humanoid robots... It was hungry for the human soul and the human soul alone. We've already taken all the mentally ill and those near death, of course without anyone on Earth being aware. They'd probably call it a massacre. Maybe rightfully. But we had no other choice. We made the society believe it was a strange virus that took those people's lives. So after all of our so-called "cheaper" human resources had expired, professor McArthur decided to look for volunteers. Unfortunately, you became one of our resources."
Me, a resource?
My mind flew back to when I was sitting in the kitchen with Hilda. She had cooked omelettes with tomatoes. She liked to slightly burn her omelettes. And my childhood smell of the oil and freshly squeezed tomato juice always filled the entire house whenever she cooked that breakfast. I think in a silent way, Hilda recognized all the nostalgias I felt. Hilda could always read me.
We liked our breakfast with coffee. Freshly brewed. She had woken up first to go to the market, since we were out of coffee and cigarettes.
She was sitting on the wooden kitchen chair in my white shirt. I was against her, topless.
And here I was now - a resource.
We were discussing my departure later on.
“Only for a week. You know what a dream of mine it has been to be out there, Hilda."
She was standing in front of me, on the spaceship, commander Bill was no longer in the room.
"Don't go. I have a bad feeling."
Back in the kitchen. I got up, I took her by the face and kissed her mouth. Her lip was trembling. It turned me on so I bit her lower lip so hard it bled. I then gently kissed her another time, sucking the coffee infused breakfast out of her breath and playing with her frisky hair.
I looked at her as she tried to smell the sunflowers on the spaceship. The yellow petal turned part red and a crimson drop slid down its wing when she got up with a look of disappointment.
"It's my dream Hilda, I’ve got to go."
She turned around and walked toward the door.
I watched her walk out of the kitchen or the greenhouse.
“Even if you don't care about the rest of the world, Craig, you wouldn't want to let your Hilda die, would you?"
"That is not fair! It isn't fair of you to bring me here without warning."
"But would you come had you been worn?"
I felt an Earthquake under my feet.
The ocean began to vibrate. So did my insides. I saw Hilda. With a wooden chair, sitting on this liquid substance reading her Catcher in the Rye. She looked back at me and smiled. Most literally, the same earthquake happened inside of me.
"We're inside." Because I broke his computer in this room, Bill walked over to the training hall and connected with professor McArthur.
"Did all go well, commander Stark?"
"Yes, the ocean is reacting, we are ready to drop the subject."
The sunflower was clear of the blood from her lip. It was looking for the sun that it would never see again.
The doom in which I would disappear looked overwhelming.
Nevertheless, I didn't believe it was the end. It couldn't be... I didn't believe that the goal of my grand mission in this world was to merely become a peace of meat shot from a cannon. And for that, I jumped into the infinite with a cry of joy.