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Beyond Our Grasp

Simon Pan is a Canadian writer of speculative fiction and an undergraduate student in medical sciences. When not writing or studying, he is busy staying active or collecting overdue library fines. In 2021, he was a recipient of the Lions Mountain Literary Scholarship for Young Writers and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction and Cast of Wonders. You can find him on Twitter @_SimonPan.

There will come a time when you will wake at the edge of death's grasp in the cold and lonely ocean of space, and you will sit by the multi-layered window on your tiny space shuttle as the remnants of who you are stitch themselves back together. Eventually, you will wonder:
Am I free?
But of course there will not be an answer, because if it were so simple then you would not have made the decision to leave Earth. You will reach for the cracked watch your daughter gave you and find it frozen, caught perpetually in time.
Then you will remember the then and there, the daughter who traveled with you to see the end, and you will rise from your steaming cryochamber as violent coughs rack your body. Shivering, a naked baby reborn into this curious world, the taste of blood will flood your mouth as you relearn the steps and the movement and the familiar drum of your heartbeat.
You will reach for the small glass chamber beside you and hit the release hatch to reveal a soft, brown face within. Your daughter will gasp as she comes awake, running her hands over her body and reaching for anything to latch onto: the dark, wet hair of her wig and the grey suit made by nameless people from a nameless time.
"Papa?" she will say as she glances around, taking in the white walls and the flickering lights and the glowing face of the supercomputer suspended behind you. "What time is it?
You won't reply--the words will take the longest to figure out--and she will follow you to the wide window. There, you will face the featureless black expanse and your thoughts will echo over and over:
Time, what is time?
Then, you will understand your mistake. Then, you will remember how that is everything that you are not, that you left all that is human behind--the wars and the pain and the loss and the broken, ash-choked husk of a planet once called Home. And here, drifting about in the dark universe, you will realize that none of it matters--just as you spot the superheated, glowing gas disc ahead and the total nothingness within. All of that heat and friction and those swirling particles that will seem like a cosmic dance.
You will smile and tell her, "We made it."
She will lean her head against your shoulder with a fit of coughing and you will be together once more. Parent and child, watching as the disc draws closer and closer, arms open in a final embrace.
She will glance at you with red, swelling brown eyes and murmur, "will it be worth it?"
And you will whisper against her head, "yes. It has to be."
"We'll be together, forever, right?"
"Yes."
And though you will have told her so many times before, she will ask, "how?"
You will try your best to explain. You will tell her about the stretching of spacetime in the presence of great masses and all sorts of strange-sounding laws and she will nod her head as if she understands as your spaceship drifts closer and closer, picking up speed. That reddish glow and that sphere of black yawning ahead will seem to inflate dramatically, the curved lines of spacetime making no possible sense to your human brain.
"I'm scared." She will touch your arm with trembling hands and your heart will lurch at the sight of her cracked, blistering fingernails. "Maybe we can turn back and find someone. There has to be someone out there who knows how to fix us."
But it will be foolishness, and your daughter will know this. There will be no hope of saving your radiation-ravaged cells, no hope of finding anyone, not when your people has destroyed every star system within ten-thousand light years of Earth.
"There's nothing to be scared about," you will tell her as you stroke her scalp. "We're coming home."
"Home," she will repeat, tasting the syllables and tossing them around in her mouth. "I miss the others."
The others. What a strange thought, you will think. That those faces that seemed so familiar should now be unreachable, beyond a curtain of time, dead and gone for thousands of years and the only people left who remember them now drifting towards the unknown.
"Me too."
"What will it feel like?"
"No one knows." You will give her a reassuring smile. "That's what makes this so exciting, isn't it?"
It will be comforting, that your people should be able to destroy all that was and yet this enigma will still lie untouched, unexplained, unreasoned. All too soon the black hole will rear up its elegant jaws and your daughter will go stiff and silent in your arms as you stare into that void. You will relinquish everything then, the pain and the misery and the fear, everything except for the thrilling curiosity at the heart of who you are. You will wonder then, for perhaps the last time, all the things in the universe beyond our grasp. When the blackness becomes absolute it will make you think of sleep, and your daughter must then realize this because her body will loosen in acceptance.
"Sweet dreams," you will whisper. An old, senseless thing to say, but then this will be a new, senseless world to explore.
As the light will swirl around you and distort into ribbons of color, it will all make sense; you are not a child of man but a child of this wonderful cosmos. And if there was once someone like you, then there will be more someones to take your place, formed from the same cosmic matter that made you possible.
And finally, you
will be
free.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 22nd, 2021


Author Comments

I wrote this story at the end of high school, during a period of great transition in my life. At the time, I found myself agonizing over matters that I'd never given much thought before: the future, not knowing what I wanted in life, my own identity as a result. I kept telling myself that it was all just meaningless in the grand scheme of things, that the universe is so much bigger than one person's worries. It might not have been the best way to cope, but it's what inspired this story!

- Simon Pan
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