When it happened, the only person on board was lying in her bunk, staring at the white paneled walls above her. The lights from the rest of the spacecraft shone through the black curtain surrounding her. She had to admit that she was homesick; she loved space, not to get it wrong, but she missed the feeling of dirt beneath her feet and the brush of wind against her cheek. She probably should have turned back two weeks ago, when they told her too, but alas, her ambition had gotten the better of her. She just wanted to see beyond the stars, to whatever was out there. Even when they told her that it was dangerous, she insisted that she could. So now she was miles and miles from home, floating on a lonely spacecraft, headed out to who knows where.
She sighed, checking the device next to her, the glowing screen illuminating her dark bunk. At this rate, she could get a few hours of sleep before the next instructions would come from Earth. She rolled over, putting on her headphones and turning on the familiar sound of violins and cellos. They reminded her of home, reminded her of playing in the orchestra in high school when she was back on Earth. Another wave of homesickness swept through her, but she pushed it away, concentrating on the familiar melody that flooded her ears.
It was because of this that she finally drifted off to sleep, lost in a cradle of her memories. And the reason that she didn’t hear the crackle and beep of an incoming message from Earth.
After a few times, there was a crackle and a man’s voice rang out through the console, but it didn’t reach where she slept. “Earth to Commander Starlight. This is a Code Yellow. We are losing your signal. Please check the Control Room navigation panel.” But she didn’t hear, from where she was tucked away in her bunk.
The radio crackled a few more times before it finally went silent, the message lost in the space as she slept on and on. She was honestly exhausted. It was tiring being the only person to man the ship, steering it day and night, repairing it when it went wrong. She hadn’t wanted anyone else to come with her, a decision that she was sorely regretting now. Especially since she wasn’t certain if she had done the repairs right last night—was the red wire supposed to go in slot one or two? She had been too lazy to check the manual, too tired to read it correctly even if she did. Oh well, not much could be done about it now. She was lost in her dreams as the spaceship disappeared farther and farther into space.
It was the sound of the beeping alarm that finally roused her. She cracked open an eye, pulling off her headphones. It was then that she realized that she had slept for seven hours, way more than she had meant to. She had only meant for it to be a quick nap. She stretched, jumping to her feet as she checked the console, her heart dropping as she did so.
She couldn’t tell what exactly was wrong, from first glance, but something definitely was. There had been several incoming transmission from home base, all of them over the course of the last five hours. Worst of all? She was over 80,000 miles off course, drifting farther and farther into the darkness. She groaned, sitting down in the chair as she prepared to steer back on course. It was then that she noticed the flashing red sign on the dashboard. Warning: Control Room Overheating.
A dull clunk echoed through the spacecraft, as the lights flickered a few times before they finally went out for good.
“No, no, no,” she muttered, rushing to the other side of the cramped spaceship, prying the door open to a wave of smoke. “No, this can’t be happening.” She should have turned back when they told her to. If only she hadn’t been so eager. The red emergency lights clicked on, illuminating the small room with an eerie looking glow. In the faint light, she could see the panels smoking in the back, small sparks catching, flaring orange in the faint light, sucking up the precious little oxygen she had left. She swatted at them, making the flames go out in a burst of dark smoke, but it didn’t stop more from catching.
Reaching for the radio, she fiddled with the knob before pressing down the button. “Commander Starlight to Earth. This is a Code Black. I repeat this is a Code Black.” There was no reply, other than the crackling of static. She covered her nose and mouth with her shirt, coughing as she did so. It was hard to see what the damage was, but she knew it was bad. She tried again and again, pressing down the little black button, repeating the message over and over again as the smoke thickened.
“Commander Starlight to Earth. Can anyone hear me? This is a Code—” her voice faltered. Was there really any point? Even if they managed to hear her, what could they do? No one could reach her in time. The little spaceship was done for. This was really the end, wasn’t it?
Abandoning the control room, she bolted the door shut, praying it would stop the spreading flames for a few more minutes. But she knew there was nothing for her to do. The door was already melting, the plastic hot to the touch. Smoke curled from under the doors, flames licking at the floor underneath.
“I’m sorry,” she said out loud to nobody. “I should have turned back.” There really wasn’t anything for her to apologize for, but she did it anyway. A weight seemed to lift off her chest as she prepared herself for the end.
As the flames raced up the side of the ship, the smoke filling the small spaceship, she gazed out at the millions of stars glowing faintly in the distance and the Earth slowly fading away behind her.