Science Fiction

It was a cloudless summer new moon, following a week of rain. A warm breath of honeysuckle tickled the tall maples into quiet song atop the cadence of distant crickets. Amidst that midnight symphony, a young couple lay side by side in a clover meadow, sighing into the star-spangled infinity.

The woman’s flaxen hair was a splay of silver in the starlight. The man turned onto his elbow and ran a finger along the skin of her arm, pulling goosebumps in its wake. He leaned closer to rest his lips on her bare shoulder, then dabbed his mouth closer to her neck, eliciting from her a soft moan. They entwined in the warmth of the fragrant clearing, fumbling to remove their light summer clothes.

When their passions had abated, they remained pretzeled together as the floral breeze dried their sweat-salted flesh. The crickets’ chirping had slowed with the falling temperature, and the couple began to shiver. They giggled as they shimmied back into their clothing in the dark. The woman wrapped her hands around the man’s firm bicep; rested her head on his shoulder.

The man kissed the top of her matted hair and whispered, “Do you really have to go?”

She tightened her grip, stroked him with her thumbs. “I’ll be back in a few days.” The moisture around her eyes coalesced into a tear that dripped onto his shoulder.


“Do you require an analgesic?” The disembodied female voice emanated from speakers in each corner of the room.

A middle-aged woman sat against one of the white, fiberglass walls with her palms pressed over her eyes. “No, thank you.”

“I am obliged to remind you of the system’s recommended operation. Extended usage can result in headache, nausea, loss of coordin ….”

“I know!” The woman’s shout was loud in the empty room. “You don’t have to remind me.”

There was a soft bleep, indicating the system had disengaged from conversation.

The woman stood, stumbled a bit, then began stowing various items. A helmet with a dark visor. Sleeved gloves adorned with electronics and sensors. A two-meter braided cable, looped and wound for storage. She pinched her fingers over her closed eyes and shook her head.


An arpeggio of chimes preceded the disembodied voice once more. “Yes, Ciera?”

“I think I will take that analgesic after all.”

“Certainly.” After a brief click and whir, a panel slid open on the first aid module adjacent to the door, revealing a small, paper packet. Ciera tore it open and popped the gelcaps into her throat, swallowing them dry.

“Thanks Abbie,” said Ciera. “Is it time?”

“Within the hour. The crew is already gathered in the aft viewing area.”

Ciera pressed her palm against the door panel, and it slid open with a hiss. She exited into a hallway. The ceiling obscured the gentle incline of the floor a hundred meters in either direction, but Ciera’s direction was up. A ladder ascended from the hall into a tubular passage above her head, lit by hundreds of LEDs.

The further she climbed, the further she could propel herself with each pull. Near the top, she floated the remaining distance until she emerged into a larger passageway, perpendicular to the ladder. Through the small, circular viewports that lined this conduit, the vast, rotating ring where Ciera had just been gleamed in the exterior floodlights.

Ciera began a slow drift towards the rear of the vessel.

“Landry! It’s about time,” said a stocky man with a bright white crewcut, as Ciera maneuvered into the room. The name Jacobs was emblazoned on the pocket of his pressed uniform. The crew were huddled around several monitors, looking somber. “I was afraid you’d miss it. Where were you?”

“I had … something I needed to do,” said Ciera. “Anyway, it’s not like it’s going to be much to look at.” The monitors were completely black, except for a small blue dot.

Jacobs scoffed and shook his head. “You went to see him again, didn’t you?”

“So what if I did?”

“You’re not supposed to make attachments in there,” said Jacobs. “It makes you vulnerable.”


Jacobs narrowed his eyes. “Well, I hope you have enough sense not to reveal this to him, in some endorphin-induced fit of confession.”

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ve got it under control.” Her pupils dilated as she spoke.

“Shh! I think it’s about to happen,” said one of the crew. Jacobs and Ciera joined the others.

On the monitors, a reddish hue started to bleed into the pale blue dot. Then a moment later, the dot became blinding white, several times larger. As the brightness gradually dimmed, it decayed to a glowing, yellow, misshapen smudge.

The weightless crew bobbed in the room, clinging to each other. Several of them were softly crying.

“God help us,” said one of the crew.

“From where we are, what we just witnessed happened twenty-three hours ago,” said Jacobs. “Mission Control sent us a farewell last week, before going offline for the last time. My orders were to play it afterwards.”

He pushed a button on one of the control panels.

Absolution, Mission Control. By the time you hear this, we’ll all be gone. No one ever said we were poets, so we can think of no better send-off than to leave you with these immortal words from the late Dr. Sagan:

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

And now, you’re all that’s left of us. Godspeed, Absolution. Mission Control, out.

The transmission ended to muted sobs.


Dawn’s early light began to brighten the room with a dusty red. The young couple were pressed against each other beneath a downy comforter. The man combed the woman’s hair absently with his fingers.

“Penny for your thoughts,” he said.

The woman turned towards him as if to respond, but was silent.

“It’s just … you seem distant. Is something wrong? Did something happen on your trip?”

The woman winced, then turned away and sat up, the comforter falling from her body. The man rubbed his hand across her smooth, naked back. “I can’t do this any more, Roman.”

“Can’t do what?” Roman’s eyebrows drew together. “Lora, talk to me.”

Lora dropped her face into her hands and wept. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “You deserve better.”

“Hey,” he said, “stop that. You mean the world to me.” He sat up next to her and lifted her chin with his finger. “Lora, I love you.”

Lora sprung from the bed and turned to him. “How can you say that? You don’t know me. Not really, I mean. I … well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

Roman stood and took her into his arms. “I know enough. You’re the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met. I know I want to spend my life with you.”

She mumbled against his shoulder, “You wouldn’t say that if you knew the real me.”

“Come on. Everyone has some baggage. But it doesn’t make you any less beautiful.”

Lora pulled away. “You don’t understand. This,” said said, as she waved her hand over her body, “is not really me.”

“OK, now I’m confused.”

Lora sighed. “So am I.” She began pulling on her clothes. “I think should just go.”

“But you just got back! Lora.” She continued dressing. “Lora, hey. Stay with me.”

Lora hurried to the door. Giving one more glance at him she said, “Sorry, but I can’t.” As she closed the door behind her, she whispered, “Because I love you, too.” Then she tapped a pattern on her wrist, and disappeared.

Roman threw open the door and jumped onto the porch with the comforter wrapped around his waist. Despair moistened his eyes as he looked in every direction, then shouted, “Lora! Come back!”


Ciera yanked the cable from the port implanted at the base of her skull, then threw her helmet across the room.

“Please handle the equipment with care,” said the disembodied voice.

“Cram it, Abbie.”

“Was there something unpleasant about your recent experience?”

Ciera huffed. “You might say that.”

“Would you like me to arrange a therapy session?”

“Abbie, just switch off please.”

A soft bleep echoed in the room.

Ciera rose from the memory foam chair and stretched, working out a kink in her shoulder. She picked up the discarded helmet and turned it around in her hands, examining it. Her reflection on the opaque black visor was stretched and distorted, but she ran her finger over it, then over her own face.

“He would never want to be with me,” she said aloud.

She exited to the hallway, and began walking along the gradual incline, looking in the windows to each room as she passed. In front of one door she stopped and pressed her head against the glass, watching. Inside the room was a man — the approximate likeness of Roman, but somewhat gaunt. He was confined in a jointed, mechanical contraption of hydraulics and gears, and surrounded by cables, tubing, and electronics. As she watched, the man appeared to be walking in place. She closed her eyes and her shoulders sunk.

“You really need to stop this,” said Jacobs beside her.

She turned to him with a start. “Jacobs! You scared the crap out of me.”

“This,” Jacobs said, as he motioned to the door, “is why they said to avoid attachments.”

Ciera rolled her eyes. “Don’t start, OK?”

“Oh, I’m starting. The chamber is only supposed to be for entertainment purposes. God knows space is boring. I’m worried about you, Landry. Of course I’m worried that you’re going to burn the specimen. But I’m even more worried that you’re going to lose your grip on reality.”

Ciera turned and crossed her arms. “His name is Roman. Don’t call him ‘the specimen,’ all right?”

“But that’s what he is. Or what he ought to be to you. It’s our mission. You remember our mission, don’t you?”

“Like any of that matters any more. What are we even doing here, Rick? Do you really think there’s any chance of this working? Seriously?”

“I admit it’s a long shot,” said Jacobs, “but what choice do we have? The fate of humanity rests on our shoulders now. We owe it to everyone we just saw die.”

“Maybe I don’t want that much responsibility.”

“Tough shit, Ciera!” He spun her shoulder to face him. “You need to get a grip. You knew the mission when you accepted it, and as long as I’m in charge, I need to know my crew are on the same page.”

“It’s … different now.”

Jacobs groaned. “You’ve compromised your objectivity, Ciera. You need to step back from this.” He nodded at the man inside the room. “I’m ordering you to confinement for two weeks so that you can get your head on straight.”

“What?” Ciera recoiled. “You can’t do that!”

“I most certainly can. Two weeks, and then we’ll reassess. Do I need to get security down here, or are you coming with me?”

“But ….” Ciera glanced one more time at the man in the room, then lowered her head and nodded.


“Lora!” said Roman. “I thought I’d never see you again. Where have you been?”

Lora fell into his outstretched arms and clutched him tight. “I’m here now,” she said. She pulled back and looked into his gray eyes. “I have something to tell you. A proposition, actually.”

“I like propositions — especially coming from you.” He kissed her nose.

“Well, you may not like this one,” she said. “Maybe we should sit down.”

The couple sat facing each other on a loveseat, knees pulled up between them.

“You’re probably going to think I’m crazy, but try to keep an open mind, OK?”

Roman took her hand and nodded.

Lora took a deep breath. “My name isn’t Lora, it’s Ciera. Ciera Landry. I’m a biologist, managing life support systems on an important mission. And you,” she placed her hand on his cheek, “are one of the lives I’m helping support.”

Roman raised an eyebrow.

“You’re twenty-five years old now, which is exactly how long I’ve been on this mission.”

“But … you’re only twenty-five yourself.”

Ciera scrunched her nose. “Not exactly. I’m actually forty-eight.”

Roman let out a nervous chuckle. “Right. OK, what’s the punchline?”

“No punchline. The young woman you see before you is a computer-generated illusion. Right now I am sitting in a room on a spacecraft, plugged into this virtual world. And you — the real you — are in a room a couple hundred meters away.”

“You’re right,” said Roman, sitting back from her. “I do think you’re crazy.”

“Please,” she said, “hear me out. Have you ever heard of a rogue planet?”

Roman shook his head.

“It’s an interstellar planet that is not under the gravitational influence of a star. Well, until it gets close enough. And that’s just what happened to a planetoid called Holcroft-Wagner, when it drifted inside our sun’s heliosphere.”

“What does that have to do with us?”

“Everything! You see, the unfortunate thing was, Earth had the spectacular misfortune of being in exactly the wrong place when Holcroft-Wagner settled on its gravitational trajectory.”

Roman swallowed. “But … this is Earth.” A bead of sweat began to trickle down Roman’s forehead as he motioned around the room.

“It’s a simulation of Earth, yes. Once a consensus of scientists had verified our doom, humankind — for the first time in history — unified behind a single cause. We only had fifty years, and we did it in twenty. We created this simulation, as a way to preserve the human experience. And we installed that simulation on a new starship called the Absolution — which is where you and I are now. A lifeboat, so to speak.”

“And Earth?”

Ciera’s face fell. “I watched its destruction only weeks ago.”

Roman stood and began pacing. “My family?”

“Everyone you have ever known was modeled by a supercomputer.”

“Including you.”

“Except me. Sort of. What you see is simulated, yes. But I am quite real, I assure you.”

“So who are my real parents?”

“I could get the files of who donated the gametes, but you were artificially gestated.”

“This is a very convoluted method of breaking up with someone, you know.”

Lora laughed. “I don’t want to break up with you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” She stood and touched his arm. “I love you, Roman. I just don’t want to hide any more. No more lies.”

“But this whole thing is a lie. Assuming for a moment you’re not psycho. Being together is a lie by necessity.”

“Not if you come join me on the Absolution.”


“So he agreed,” said Jacobs.

“Yes,” said Ciera. “Although I think part of him just wants proof that I wasn’t blowing smoke up his arse.”

“I’m taking a big risk doing this. We’re supposed to bring up replacement crew in the nursery, not in the simulation. What if he loses it?”

“I’ve got a good feeling about him,” she said.

“I bet you do.”

“Not like that.” Ciera blushed. “Well, OK, a little like that. But I mean, I think he’ll adjust.”

They turned to look at Roman in his haptic approximator. His arms were crossed, and he was tapping his foot as if to say, I’m waiting.

Jacobs nodded, and turned of all the lights in the room. Ciera stepped next to Roman, trembling. She removed the visor from his eyes, pulled out his earplugs, then reached around to disjoin the primary cable from behind his head. She stood back, watching him closely, periodically glancing at his instrumentation.

After a couple minutes Roman’s eyes fluttered open.

Ciera stood before him with with tears in her eyes said, “Welcome aboard.”

Roman smiled.

August 14, 2021 17:37

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Zelda C. Thorne
12:03 Sep 02, 2021

Great sci-fi story. You painted a very believable reality for these characters, the dialogue felt natural and the story progression did not disappoint. Well done!


Jon Casper
14:23 Sep 02, 2021

Thank you Rachel!


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Beth Connor
20:52 Sep 01, 2021

Great sci-fi! Someone brought up your name as an excellent writer, and you did not disappoint.


Jon Casper
09:05 Sep 02, 2021

This comment really touched me. Thank you so much. What a great thing to know -- that I've been talked about (in positive terms). I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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Diedre Knight
20:40 Aug 24, 2021

The atmospheric intro prose was compelling. I actually pulled up a chair ;-) I really enjoyed the pace and flow as vivid descriptions brought the story to life.


Jon Casper
08:57 Aug 25, 2021

Thank you Diedre. I'm pleased that you enjoyed it.


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John Hanna
01:08 Aug 23, 2021

A great story. I especially liked the short but authentic description of moving along in the ship.


Jon Casper
10:07 Aug 23, 2021

Thank you John. I appreciate the compliments. Glad you enjoyed it!


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Michael Martin
20:02 Aug 22, 2021

I really like this; the first part was a bit too "flowery" for me, if I'm honest, but once it got into a good groove, I kept wanting to read. You did an excellent job of feeding little tidbits throughout so that each time I felt like I had a good grasp on what was going on, the story veered sharply. I went from "romance story" to "she's in an insane asylum" to "futuristic sci-fi where a version of the holodeck exists" to "apocalyptic story" and everything in between. And at no point did I feel like you were pulling wool over my eyes or thr...


Jon Casper
10:13 Aug 23, 2021

Michael, thank you for reading and for the kind words. I'm glad that the unfolding of the story was effective. I can definitely see an incongruity in tone between the opening scene and the rest. I had wanted to convey the allure that the VR world would have to someone in the abyss of space, but I think I went a bit over the top! :)


Michael Martin
14:56 Aug 23, 2021

To be fair, that incongruity may have worked for others, I'm just more of a straightforward writer/reader. I know others like the descriptive scene setting a lot, so take my feedback there with a tiny grain of salt!


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Jon R. Miller
09:29 Aug 18, 2021

Wow! Another excellent story! Ciera's characterization was perfect, I thought. I love how you incorporated Carl Sagan's immortal words as well. :> This has made me think again, like your previous SF story. :> I look forward to more stories from you!


Jon Casper
09:53 Aug 18, 2021

Thank you Jon. I really appreciate the compliments, and I'm glad you liked it.


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Jude S. Walko
04:41 Aug 17, 2021

Wow powerful. Got me thinking about life as a simulation, the illusion of Maya, and the end of civilization as we know it. Perfect reading material for a pandemic when billionaires are going to space. Great job creating characters who I sympathized with immediately, even though I barely knew them, much like Roman fell for "Lora"/Ciera. I'm not even really a sci-fi fan, but this one just hits different.


Jon Casper
09:46 Aug 17, 2021

Thank you for the thoughtful comments, Jude. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed the story!


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22:24 Aug 15, 2021

I really like this story! The dialogue feels very smooth, and the characters are unique and well-thought-out. Keep writing :)


Jon Casper
21:41 Aug 17, 2021

Thank you Silver Pen. I appreciate the compliments!


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Keya Jadav
18:16 Aug 14, 2021

A story well portrayed. I liked the way you switched plots and at last, beautifully intervened them. The method of revelation was perfect. I did not come across any grammar or punctuation errors, so this is basically a direct hit. Great Work!


Jon Casper
18:18 Aug 14, 2021

Thank you for reading. I appreciate the kind words!


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Jon Casper
17:40 Aug 14, 2021

Credit to the late, great Carl Sagan for the quote (https://www.planetary.org/worlds/pale-blue-dot). Hopefully it's OK to include.


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