Eleri Lloyd was not someone you'd expect to be a colonist. She was on the shorter side, with dirt brown hair, casually blue eyes, and a frame that had once been described as "kindly", in an unkind way.
On Earth, she had been a housekeeper. Not even to a rich family. She had worked around her village in Wales, going from house to house to do whatever it was people needed. Cooking, cleaning, babysitting, etc.
But here she sat, billions of light years from home, and a few hundred years older for it, without a single wrinkle to show for it.
Cryogenic pods really were miracles for the skin.
She swung her legs, looking out over the vast darkness that lay just beyond her feet.
At the end of the universe, there were no planets. No stars. Not even meteors. It just... existed. An infinite void, just waiting for light.
The nearest star was half a million light years away. The nearest planet was five million light years away.
Eleri and her fellow colonists lived in a bubble. An artificial planet with no name, and less than two hundred people living on it. It was just slightly smaller than a dwarf planet. Yet it still felt too big.
The bubble itself made up most of the size, and the "island" within it had about a 6 to 1 ratio of plants to humans, or, more accurately, four pounds of oxygen for every two point three pounds of CO2 breathed out by each person a day.
Eleri's job was to keep everyone alive, more or less. She was still a housekeeper, but now she was a housekeeper in space.
Who'd've thought that a bunch of geniuses could forget to vacuum?
Her job was to go around to each dwelling—they weren't exactly houses. They looked like weird, concrete igloos—and make sure they were cleaned according to the specifications of that individual. Food was more of a communal duty, and luckily didn't take much creativity, as it was a lot of prepackaged food that required little more than adding water and heating.
"Once everything is stabilized," they said, "then we can make room for frivolous plants."
Eleri would have argue that rosemary and mint were hardly frivolous when it came to keeping one's tastebuds alive, but who was she to argue with the needs of the many?
Eleri's favorite part of it all though, was the dock.
Ostensibly, it wasn't for recreation. It was where the next ship would disembark its passengers and supplies. But Eleri couldn't help but sit on it and swing her legs out over the dark vastness that was the end of the universe.
Artificial day after artificial day, once her work was done and diner was had, she would sit out on the edge of the dock and look out into the emptiness.
Sometimes, she brought a cup of tea with her and entertained thoughts of pouring it out to see what would happen. Other times, she talked to the void.
"Cal did it again. How's a man so smart forget to brush his own hair?" Or, "Maria needs someone. She's getting lonely, I can tell. She was talking about her pet spider, Archie, you remember Archie from last time, right? Well, she was talking about him again. I think she misses that spider more than she misses her own mother. Course, it probably helps that her mother is in an urn on her shelf, but still!" Things like that.
She liked to imagine that the emptiness was where God lived, sometimes. That it was where he took his seventh day of rest, every week.
Eleri didn't view God through any particular lens. She had been raised with him as just sort of an all seeing figure, who made everything in six days and rested on the seventh. There hadn't been any churches or synagogues or mosques or other religious houses of worship near her village, so she had been instead raised on what her mother knew of Him. At the end of the day, that wasn't much. But the idea of God was comforting.
So she sat on the dock and dangled her legs out into the darkness and talked to Him like he was an old friend from home.
"I imagine my stories must get boring to you," she said. "They don't change much. Cal forgot to brush his hair again. Maria misses Archie. But there's some good news. The next ship is a year closer. 253 days until they arrive! Corey, you remember Corey, right? The radio operator. Corey said that by the time the ship arrives, I'll be allowed to plant my garden. They're even bringing me honey for my tea. And get this, they're bringing bonsai trees!" She slapped her knee and shook her head. "Bonsais! Melissa said its for our mental health, and I believe her. Taking care of this bunch of forgetful little ninnies is wearing on me. Be nice to take care of something that doesn't stain their lab coats copper sulfate green or potassium chloride purple."
She liked describing colors by their chemical components. It made her feel smart, the way they rolled off her tongue.
"I'll bring you one once they get here. I hope one of them looks like they way they do in the movies. All gnarled and green. I once saw a picture of one that was from an apple tree cutting, and it grew an apple in its first year." Eleri shook her head. "Plants. Darndest things ain't they?"
The bell for night cycle rang out, and Eleri stood up, dusting her hands even though there was no dust.
"See ya soon," she said. "I'll bring ya one of the bonsais when they get here."
Time passed in the way it did at the end of the universe. Measured out by the chiming of cycle bells and updates from the coming supply ship. Eleri started counting mornings by the creak of her bones and the ache of her joints.
The supply ship came, and with them, they brought bonsais and honey and potting soil. Eleri started her garden. She put drops of honey in the morning tea pot and rosemary in the packaged food. She took her bonsai to the dock when she went for a talk.
And then she didn't.
A new figure sat at the end of the dock. Next to them was a bonsai, and a teacup.
"So..." Maria felt ridiculous doing this. "Eleri's gone. I thought someone should come and tell you." She lifted the teacup in an awkward salute. "But I thought you might get lonely," she said to the sprawling darkness. "I know I'm not Eleri. But I'm not trying to be." She kept talking, filling the silence Eleri left behind as best she could.
When she left for the evening, she put the bonsai on the dock post. It stayed there. The dock too.
People came and went. Some passed, some left of their own free will. No stars bloomed. No suns rose. No planets formed. The project was eventually closed down.
But there they still sat. The bonsai, and the dock at the end of the universe.