“Sirah, Sirah,” a distant voice called her name.
Sirah tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids were not in her command. They were heavy as if they were made of lead.
She heard her name again. Sirah was too exhausted to care and wanted to go back to sleep. She didn’t recall when she retired to bed. She had possibly had a good long sleep, but her weary body was still craving for slumber.
“Wake up, Sirah,” the voice called again.
“Who is calling my name?” Sirah asked herself. She didn’t recognize the voice. She was too tired to think straight. Sirah tried to respond but couldn’t move a muscle as if she was heavily drugged. She didn’t know where she was and why the lady persisted in calling her. Nothing made sense. “Am I dreaming?” she thought.
“Wake up, Sirah. We’ve arrived at our destination.”
“Destination? What destination?” she murmured, confused.
“Yes, we arrived at our destination, Sirah.”
“What destination?” it made little sense. Sirah’s memory was blank. She couldn’t recall anything. Finally, she forced her eyes open. Though the room was dimly lighted, the intensity of the light forced her to squint. Her eyes were sensitive to light, and even that dim light hurt her eyes. Soon she found herself naked in a confined place. It wasn’t her usual bed! Instead, she found herself in a pod, surrounded by devices and wires and tubes connected to her body. “Where am I?” Sirah asked in a barely audible voice.
“You are in a stasis pod,” the voice answered.
“Why am I in a stasis pod?”
“This is a standard practice for long space travels,” the voice responded.
“Am I in space?”
“Yes, you are. You are an astronaut.”
“An astronaut?” she repeated, confused. Gradually, to some extent, she remembered her cosmonaut training and her time in the space lab in Earth’s orbit. “Yes, I am an astronaut.”
With a great effort, Sirah checked her peripheral. She was alone in a small room.
“Are you okay, Sirah?” the voice asked.
Sirah scanned her peripherals again. There was no other person in the room. “Who are you? Why can’t I see you?”
“I am Solace, the ship’s AI. And I don’t have a physical body.”
“Solace, the AI?” Sirah thought, puzzled. “Do I know you?”
“Sirah, you have been in stasis for a long time. So it is natural to be confused.”
“A long time?” her tired brain was trying to make sense of what the voice said.
“You were in stasis for the past three thousand years.”
“Three thousand years?” her brain struggled in grasping the enormousness of the time she was in stasis.
“Precisely, 2965 years.”
“What year is this?”
“5065!” after a moment of indecision, she scolded, “is this a practical joke?” She then remembered her colleague and friend Kurtis, which liked to make practical jokes. “Is this you, Kurtis, making a joke? It is not funny.” Expecting Kurtis to show himself while laughing at her.
“Kurtis has been dead for over 2000 years,” Solace said.
“Kurtis is dead?” she asked. The sad news made her feel melancholy. “How about the others?” Sirah struggled to remember their names. “Tara,…, and Anton?” her memory was coming back in bits and pieces. She recalled being part of a four-member expedition team, traveling toward the closest exoplanet to Earth, Alpha Centauri b, just 4.5 light-years away. The first human expedition out of the solar system, a twenty-five-year journey at a quarter of the light speed. They were traveling onboard the fastest manufactured spacecraft in human history, the Endeavor.
“Unfortunately, they all are deceased,” Solace responded.
“How did it happen?” Sirah asked. Her memory was still porous, like a slice of Swiss cheese.
“Four years into our trip in interstellar space, Endeavour dragged into and time-space vortex. A vortex that theoretically should not exist, invisible to our onboard sensors. And like a wormhole, it transferred us thousands of light-years off course, into uncharted space,” Solace explained.
Sirah’s head was heavy, and she couldn’t fully comprehend what Solace was telling her. But her memory was coming back. She tried to walk out of her stasis pod. But her weak muscles couldn’t bear her weight under the artificial gravity of the spacecraft.
“Be careful, Sirah. Your body is not ready for such sudden movements. Let me stop the artificial gravity first,” Solace suggested.
As the artificial gravity gradually diminished, she felt lighter and then weightless. Then she slowly managed her frail body out of the pod, floating in the air. Her muscles and joints were so rigid and weak that any tiny movement caused them to ache. “I remember the vortex now,” she said.
“When we came out of the vortex, which took roughly about an hour, we were in an uncharted space.”
“Lost in space.”
“Yes, we were lost in the space,” Solace responded.
“After a year of unsuccessfully trying to find our way back, you all went into stasis to conserve food and air. Since then, I had been trying to find our way out of the vast, unknown space.”
“And you did it?”
“Yes, I finally did it. But it took almost three thousand earth years and many trials and errors to find my way out of the uncharted space.”
“And where are we now?”
“We are at the far orbit of Alpha Centauri b.”
“Really,” Sirah said elatedly and struggled toward the Endeavour’s command deck to watch the planet through its massive window. But she was too frail to pull her weightless body forward. Moving toward the command deck, just eighty meters away, was an arduous and hurting task.
“Sirah, I did my best to keep you alive for an exceedingly long time. So please don’t waste my effort,” Solace chided.
Solace was right. Her frail body was rigid and stiff, and a jolt of pain accompanied her tiniest movements. She could easily tear a muscle or tendon. “I feel like a hundred-year-old woman.”
“You are ways older than that. You are 2992 years old. Oldest human ever.”
“No one thought you AIs to not remind a woman her age?” Sirah said and managed a faint smile.
“Why shouldn’t I remind a woman of her age?” Solace asked, sounding puzzled.
“Because in most human cultures, it is considered as being rude.”
When she finally reached the command deck, she was exhausted, breathless, and all her body ached. A distance she used to cover in a few short minutes, this time took an agonizing full hour. It took a long time before she gained some strength to enjoy the view. A magnificent blue-green sphere like a marble in the pitch black of space was visible from the command deck’s large window, similar to the sight of Earth on the moon’s surface. “It’s beautiful. I wish my friends were here to see this majestic view,” Sirah said. A cloud of grief covered her face by remembering her deceased friends. “How did my friends die, Solace?”
“All biological life forms will die.”
“Thank you for the biology lesson. But why I am still alive after this long time?”
“I don’t know. It must be a miracle.”
“Do you AIs believe in miracles?”پ
“Of course not. It was just a figure of speech.”
“The pods slow the human body’s metabolism to a minimum, so a person’s life can be expanded by a few hundred years. But after a thousand years of being in stasis, your friends’ bodies began deteriorating at cellular levels, and one after the other, they passed away. I tried many things to keep them alive, but my efforts were fruitless. But you were resilient. After I lost the others, I dedicated my time to keeping you alive. I constantly observed your blood oxygen and its nutrient levels. I regularly stimulated your muscles with tiny electrical shocks to stop their atrophy. A combination of my efforts and your genetic makeup kept you alive, but I don’t have a solid scientific answer for your survival.”
“Thanks for looking after me, Solace,” Sirah said sincerely.
Suddenly, Sirah felt depleted of energy urgently needed to rest, so she sat on the closest chair to her, the captain’s chair. Customarily, excluding the captain, no one would occupy that seat, like a king’s throne that only belongs to the king. But after the death of her colleagues, now she rightfully owned the captain’s throne, she thought. The thought of being the captain of the ship, the only survivor, filled her eyes with tears.
Alpha Centauri b was an Earth-like planet full of life. Two-thirds of its surface was covered with blue oceans, and most of its landmass was covered with forests. But Endeavor’s scans found no trace of an intelligent life form on the planet’s surface. There were no roads, villages, or farms, nothing. It was a virgin planet, stayed safe from the harmful activities of an intelligent being.
“It seems we haven’t colonized this planet,” Sirah commented, with a barely audible voice. She was weak and sleepy.
“Yes, it seems.”
“How about Earth? You should have received some radio frequencies from the Earth?”
“In the past year that I have positioned Endeavor on Alpha Centaury b far orbit, I have received nothing from Earth.”
Concentrating on what Solace was telling her was getting more difficult. But she managed to ask, “what does it mean?”
“I am not sure. Human activities in past three millennia might make Earth unhabitable, and they all migrated to another exoplanet.”
“I see,” Sirah said, musing.
“Human race might be extinct!”
“Their greed might force nations into a big war, a nuclear war. And so it caused their extinction.”
“I see. In that case, I am the last human alive!” Sirah said with a sleepy voice barely audible.
“It might be true.”
The thought of being the last human in the vast universe could be scary. But Sirah was too frail to give a damn. She needed sleep. While listening to Solace’s comments, she gradually fell asleep, dreaming about Earth and her family there. While dreaming, her aged and degenerated organs shut down one after another. And Sirah, the oldest human and possibly the last of her kind, peacefully passed away on Endeavor’s captain chair.