Some promotion, Alyssa thought as she stared at the shimmering pinpricks of light through the viewport window. I’m beyond hope of anything here.
“I don’t see the spatial anomaly I’m supposed to investigate,” she said as she shivered against the metal bulkhead. She didn’t care how well they built these space stations: space was cold, and there was no cure for it except the light and heat of the sun.
Unfortunately, she specialized in the darkness. That’s why she was sent to this forsaken outpost on the edge of the heliosphere. Into the darkness, beyond light and life, where the sun was a spot on the horizon.
“It’s there,” Tobi pointed to a small area where no stars glowed. “The area thirty degrees north of the station.”
She squinted. “Are you sure it’s not an area where there are no stars? There are lots of them around.” She gestured at other areas where the lights were less clustered.
“You have to use the instruments to see how that area is different.” He motioned for Alyssa to follow him to his computer in the corner of the cramped workstation, where he tapped open screens to project readings of the area. “I’m going to fast forward this loop so you can see how the particles, radiation, and gravitational waves are different in that area since the sun entered its active phase again. It takes the blast of a solar flare to show the distortion.”
“Look at this!” Emilyn said as she ran the projection of the space station being built over Enceladus. “That’s where we’re moving so I can be made normal, just like you.”
“Won’t you miss home?” Alyssa asked as they sat in a ray of sunlight streaming through the window of her pink bedroom.
Emilyn nodded. “I’ll miss the sun, and I’ll miss you. But Daddy said the money from this job would be enough for me to have the robot treatment to make me better. They do it in space because there isn’t anything out there that can make me sick while I’m healing. Being normal is worth being away from home for a few years.”
“It’s more than a few years. Even with the hyperdrives, it will take at least five years to get there,” Alyssa said. “Nanotechnology takes time to rewrite your genome, too. This treatment takes years! We won’t see each other again until we’re grown up.”
Emilyn pushed her crooked face into a smile. “I’ll be cured then, and we can really be friends. We’ll be beyond my limits.”
“We’re already friends! You don’t need gene therapy for that. You’re like a sister to me. I’ll miss you. Don’t go! You can have a full life right here on Earth. Our treatments can give you a normal life.”
“No, they can’t. Those treatments just trick my brain into believing it’s like yours, but it won’t be true. I don’t want to live with a genetic disorder, Alyssa. I want to be cured. I want to be whole, like you.” Emilyn paused, looking out of the window at the trees swaying in the breeze. “I’m sorry, Alyssa. I won’t forget you. We’ll meet again. I have to get better, and you have to finish school and get a job as a scientist. I can’t go where you’re going, and you can’t go where I’m going. Don’t worry. I’ll be better someday and then we’ll be best friends again.”
Alyssa looked down. “I won’t be whole without you.”
Emilyn hugged Alyssa. “You’ll be ok. You have your family and lots of friends. You’re smart and will make more friends through school and work. I won’t unless I get the treatment. I’ll always be a dumb freak, and eventually, we’ll grow apart because you’re smart and will get an important job, and forget about your old, dumb neighbor. I have to change if I want a future, Alyssa. You know that. I don’t have a real chance at a full life without it. I’ll be lucky to live into middle age unless I get the treatment. I don’t want that. I want to be well, smart, and to get old like everybody else.”
“Emilyn, you have always been special to me. I don’t think you’re a freak or dumb. I think you’re the kindest soul I’ve ever met, and that’s more important than smart. But I see how other people treat you, so I understand why you want the nanotechnology treatment.” Alyssa took the crystal globe off her dresser and handed it to Emilyn. “Take this with you. It will remind you of home, and of me.”
“I can’t take this! It’s your prize from winning the State Science Fair last year!”
“You can because it’s a gift,” Alyssa said. “Keep it to remember me. You can give it back when we meet again.”
Emilyn smiled her crooked smile as she took the small globe. “Until we meet again, my friend.”
“The large solar flare that came through last week showed that the spot has grown by twenty percent since we saw it during the last active solar cycle,” Tobi said.
Alyssa shook off the childhood memory as she stared at his scans. “Have you been able to detect any readings from it?” Alyssa asked.
“Nothing,” Tobi said. “It’s like a black hole, except doesn’t affect the space around it. It just pushes it out but doesn’t do any real damage. There are stars behind it. We just don’t know what it is, what it does, or what’s happening there. Everything just goes around it.”
Alyssa raised an eyebrow. “It goes around?”
Tobi shrugged. “It’s a hole in space that doesn’t do anything.”
She walked over to the window and put her hands on her hips. She saw it now. A round, dark spot hovering over them, ominous in its silence. “Is this similar to other anomalies that we’ve seen in the solar system?”
Tobi walked to the window and stood next to Alyssa. “You mean like the one that the Miranda Mission was studying ten years ago?”
“We lost an entire settlement, and nobody knows why,” Alyssa said. “They just disappeared. So did the spatial anomaly they were studying. It was there one day and gone the next. Literally.” She paused, staring at the spot. “I studied it as part of my doctoral thesis and it looks very similar to this. Darkness without disruptions, like a hole in space.”
“Hi, Alyssa! I miss talking to you in real-time but am glad that we can send these messages faster now that the Jovan Relay System is operating. Maybe we’ll be able to have an actual conversation instead of sending video letters soon.”
Emilyn’s face beamed, looking beautiful in the ethereal light of Saturn glowing through her port windows. Clearly, the gene therapy was working. She was absolutely radiant, and her joy was contagious even through the computer screen.
“I’m proud of your doctoral thesis on spatial anomalies being accepted. That sounds fascinating even if I don’t understand all of that science, but you’ve always been smart and I know you can do it!
“I know I promised to come back to Earth once my treatments were complete, but I’ve learned so much out here between my treatments and my studies, and have decided that I want to be a patient advocate. Mom and Dad said that’s a perfect job for me. I love to help people, and my experiences have given me insight into helping others deal with the anxiety and stress of living and working outside of the inner solar system. As Mom says, we may be reaching for the stars, but we’re still human! We have to learn how to live beyond the sphere of Earth for humanity to survive and thrive in this expanding universe.
“I’ve accepted an offer to serve on the Miranda Mission as a student intern to the group of doctors and psychiatrists studying how to help people cope with living in the outer solar system. I’m sorry to keep moving further from you and from Earth. I miss the light and warmth of the inner system, but so does everybody else, and we have to learn how to live without it if we want to colonize the solar system. There are too many people for all of us to be on Earth, so somebody has to stay out here to get things right for the rest of us. There’s also something strange near Uranus, and they’re scared. I want to help them feel better so they can solve that mystery. Maybe it will fit in with your thesis and we’ll see each other again out here! Maybe we’ll be working together someday. Who knows what might happen? I still have your globe. I will return it to you. I might not know what tomorrow brings, but I know that I’ll see you again. Sometimes, you have to go further away to come back home.”
“There are a lot of mysteries in the universe,” Tobi said. “That’s why we’re here.”
“Yes, it is,” Alyssa said, squinting at the dark spot. Something was there, something small. It looked like a reflection of light. “What is that?”
“What is what?” Tobi asked.
The station rumbled. The lights flickered. Tobi rushed to his computer. “It looks like we got hit with a massive gravitational wave. These readings – is that dark matter?”
“Dark matter,” Alyssa mumbled as she pressed her head against the glass, staring at a small light flashing in the center of the dark spot.
We won’t see each other again until we’re grown up.
“The spot grew by two hundred percent. It’s right over the station!” Tobi yelled as the gravitational waves buffeted the station.
I won’t be whole without you.
Alarms clanged as the darkness spread around the station, blotting out the stars.
“That dark spot is emitting dark energy. It’s engulfing the station. I’m not sure how long structural integrity can withstand the waves hitting us –“
“I’ll be better someday and then we’ll be best friends again.”
The lights winked out, wrapping Alyssa in silence. She spun in the darkness, trying to orient herself in the rumbling station.
Alyssa blinked at Emilyn approaching, her white dress glowing in the surrounding darkness. “I’m healed. The time arrived to meet again.”
“Emilyn!” Alyssa rushed to her cousin to embrace her, but Emilyn’s form wavered in pixelated light.
“Being healed means being free,” Emilyn said.
“The dark energy,” Alyssa said. “What is that?”
“The end of an old universe. The beginning of a new one. You’re the theoretical physicist. I’ll let you figure that out here in the beyond.”
“The beyond?” Alyssa asked.
“Man was not meant to be imperfect,” Emilyn said. “We were created to be perfect, but something went wrong. Something broke us, and fragmented our reality. Now we’re bound by space and time when we were meant to be limitless.” She held up a perfect hand and studied it with her symmetrical face. “The treatment worked. Now, I’ll treat others so they can be whole as well. You can help me. We’ll work together as best friends like I always wanted.”
“Am I dead?”
Emilyn smiled, her face radiant with pure joy. “No Alyssa, we aren’t dead. We are on the verge of new life without limits, without barriers, without the binding of time that breaks us.” The area around them illuminated streams of light weaving around in limitless patterns. “It’s time to make your theories a reality. No limits. Just life.” She opened her hands to reveal the crystal globe. “I told you we would be together again someday. Step out of the darkness, my friend. Embrace the healing energy that will chase away your darkness, and join me in the light.”
We have to learn to live beyond the sphere of Earth.
Alyssa took the globe in her hand, its light embracing her in warmth and peace that chased away the darkness, leading to the healing light beyond the darkness of her mind. Her eyes glowed as the light spread.
Sometimes, you have to go further away to come back home.
“I see now,” Alyssa said as she saw golden light shining from the blue sky overhead. A wind blew over her, rustling the trees of her childhood yard where she and Emilyn spent hours playing in the sun as children. “Everything is new.”
“Yes, everything is whole again.” Emilyn smiled and embraced her only friend. “Separation is over. Welcome home.”