It’s all over now. It’s finally over. Well, the waiting is over anyways and that was what made these last few months (years?) on the terminal feel like purgatory. Now it’s just The Rest, as they’d always mentioned there would be.
Nothing but the sharp intake of breath could be heard as the group of Travellers made their way back to the row of couches opposite the oppressive screens. The portholes behind the couches felt dark and isolating, not bright and welcoming as intended (“A World of Tomorrow!” was still faintly visible painted on the utilitarian wall). The travellers were still here for now; no longer were they shrinking from the hollow booms from the live feeds, but was the silence worse?
And how long would those screens stay lit, did they think? There had been other bets; the last of the deoderant sticks in year T68, when the wing with the gym broke down beyond repair; the last teddy bear was gifted to a small child when the abandoned-circa-T102 nursery wing was closed to improve oxygen load for the rest of the Terminal. A half measure that did in fact save some time, but time for the Ground Humans to blow each other up more?
The bet today was when the picture would turn off (and by the hoarse “TOLD’yaso! HA!” heard echoing down the hallway one lucky Traveller would be getting an extra ration tonight for guessing the accurate blast time), but the decline of the monitors from static to nothing would signal the coming of the Darkness and no one wants to be the winner of that particular guess, lest someone shoot the messenger.
In fact, betting itself was frowned upon by the Elders; they thought anything that gave excess to one was something that took away from the Kindnesses we would have together in this floating casket. They’d known the downfall of the screens would be the end of Life since before the eldest Traveller could remember, and most of the Travellers couldn’t remember how long they’d been Travelling for anymore. Space Travel had a tendency to muddle the mind, if you let it. No days or night cycles; unnecessary luxury since year T77 because shit really hit the fan when there was The Mutiny.
They thought for sure that they would have been able to see the blast from their position – and they had – but they hadn’t been able to see any details; just the yellow-red-white-blue flash, the vacuum of the dark afterimage, and the eventual sizzle into a grey, mediocre nothingness that signaled it was time.
The communal exhale, much like that last petulant expulsion of dust that marked the beginning of the end, carried the weight they’d all been carrying since they first embarked on this mission. This fruitless, wasteful mission; the reason for their damnation and imminent death.
The experts’ had estimated that once their connection to earth was severed, the Travellers would have maybe 24 hours before the navigational system called it quits. Without the satellite reference points, they wouldn’t be able to correct course, and the oxygen exchangers and other various mechanical whatchamacallits that demanded input from ground control in order to remain cycling properly wouldn’t get it. Now, there was no ground, and the remnants of any ground that once was would be careening into space to collide with whatever they came into contact with. The Travellers hoped, increasingly-humbly, that if that happened it would at least be a big enough piece that it wouldn’t be a concern for long.
Ever since they Arrived on this once jet-propelled, now loftily floating terminal a mere 192,000 kms between what was once Earth and the Moon, they had debated over whether any of The Last Efforts humanity has attempted made any difference. I guess at the end of the day, could anything have made a difference because by the time they realized and widely acknowledged the harm they’d had caused, it was beyond the point of recovery. Stupid Humans. Was this just what humans do?
Many Travellers lived by The Lore that Humanity was a virus, one that contaminated everything it touched. A failed experiment left on Earth by the Bright Ones, an attempt to hide the shame of their viral bastard.
No, the outcome would have been the same because Humanity knew better and still did nothing. They’d been warned years ago that these things would happen if they didn’t change how they behaved. They disbelieved the Bright Ones, saying they were wrong, foreign, not to be trusted. They could see what they were doing but they remained selfish and passive, complacent in their demise, a child throwing a tantrum and destroying the very thing they demanded in the process. They made their bed and they didn’t want to lie in it..
In the same tantrum, they also realized the virus-that-is humanity could be transplanted to a nearby star, to remain dormant until another suitable host home was found. Except they failed that, too, because the blasts happened before they were able to locate the suitable landing space. Humans couldn’t even fuck up another planet properly. They could not hold their shit together long enough to save themselves. True to their nature to the end.
The Terminal was nowhere close to within range of autopiloting to the moon, and the systems would not hold out until they reached… somewhere else. They had some pods still; those would ensure when things got hard enough that it wouldn’t take that long, but it still wouldn’t be pleasant by any means. Of the original 275 pods on board, only 30 remained. Thankfully the Travellers numbers had been affected by illness. Reproduction had ceased years ago, although The Elders were unsure if that was from malnutrition or a sheer lack of wanting; no one complained.
The damp-eyed Travellers quietly shuffle down the hallway to the row of pods waiting for their occupants one last time. The systems were all crying out in their desperate tongues of metallic tings, flashing lights, and deep, comforting hums. The ventilation system screams, the oxygen sensors finally dip from 23 to 22, to 21, and with a startling lurch to 19, the hushed Elders make the decision to move the remaining Travellers to the Pods, as a Last Kindness while there’s still time. The few remaining family units stay together, hushed voices, darkened eyes, knowing that it’s the end of the end, whispering their secrets, and being unafraid; thankful, relieved. There have been generations on this Terminal, and some knew nothing but this.
They climb into the Pods, floating calmly in the cool gel while the systems flutter on, registering life for the first time in years. Beyond the testing boot-sequence every fourth Sunday (decreased from the nightly testing of the early years of Terminal life,) using the Pods for relaxation had been a luxury the Travellers hadn’t been able to afford for years. Unsanctioned usage was grounds for expulsion, because fewer mouths meant less hardship on the Terminal. No matter, now.
The Elders climbed into their Pods and uttered a sigh of relief; this felt like home to them, and they knew how safe everything would be. Early Terminal days meant this was where you rested nightly, to ensure your body would be perfect for the landing. The landing that never came, because after launch the Wars began. No matter now, the Wars were over. Some Elders had seen the beginning and end of this War, and others.
The younger Travellers had never felt the Pods, never experienced the weightlessness. They were fearful, but they were brave because they had to be brave to have survived over the years. They climbed in now and for a few moments there were shocked gasps and giggles; this was such a luxury, one they’d never imagined. The sound of laughter had been forgotten in these hallways. A last Kindness for the Terminal. SIlver linings.
Once they were all settled in, the doors ajar, some holding hands between family Pods and some singing, some crying for mothers who had long passed, before the systems sang and desperate measures were taken. Some already looking to be asleep; resting and swaying gently in their Pod, a low vocal hum emanating from the most relaxed. Almost choral.
The Eldest cleared their throat, gesturing for a moment of Kindness before they sealed their doors and said goodbye to the Terminal who had been their home for the 187 Earth years, to the travellers in their ages ranging from 12 to 96, and to the Brightness.They looked to their neighbours, locked eyes for a moment in a way that said “I see you, as you are. I trust and share myself with you in this moment”, and when they had said their goodbyes, as the Oxygen sensor crept to 18.5, they sunk into their respective Pods and slipped into Darkness