The void of space. Dark. Empty. Lit only by the pinpricks of starlight as I floated in the vast emptiness. Alone.
Oxygen running out, blaring blood-red on my heads-up display. Time to die…
The animal in us can’t conceive of death, of a world without us. As I waited to die I realized that my death did actually mean my world’s death. Not the objective world we all share, but my subjective world. The one filtered through my eyes and my experiences would die with me. My world could not exist without me.
I felt ready for it. I had wanted to live on the frontier and now it was time to die on the frontier. What else could happen? My ship destroyed. My comrades dead. My com damaged — I couldn’t even call for help. Alone in the cold, vast silence of space.
As the oxygen levels decreased, as my end grew near, the stars changed. They went from tiny white pinpricks to these rainbow smears of color, sparkling and lovely. I understand the biology; as my O2 levels plummeted, my brain started dying, and that dying was beautiful.
I grinned like a drunk and giggled, the sound echoing in my spacesuit’s helmet. I licked my lips, my tongue fat and slug-like, my mouth tasting of metal.
I reached out with my mind to those rainbow stars, the color spilling forth as if someone held a prism in front of each of them. So beautiful… the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The last thing I would ever see. I beseeched them to take me, to make me one of them. I wanted to join them and be alone in the vastness of space, lit by an inner light.
Eventually the rainbows started to fade and all became darkness. Sadness, and finally, a spike of fear reached my dying brain.
Consciousness came back with a jolt. I was on a ship surrounded by smiling people; they had found me. The lights were so bright they stabbed like tiny knives into my brain. I closed my eyes. I didn’t speak. I grieved.
I wanted death by starlight. I wanted the stars to take me. I didn’t want to be back in the same life. I wanted to be among the stars and the starlight. I wanted to be the starlight.
I didn’t speak for a week. They subjected me to tests and doctors and counseling. But what was there to say? The world didn’t seem right until…
I saw it as a doctor flashed my eyes with his little penlight for the zillionth time. A rainbow smear of light. I blinked and laughed like a giddy schoolgirl. I got off of the examination table and looked at the lights in the ceiling. If I turned my head the right way, there it was, that prismatic explosion of color. Starlight.
After that everything changed. Each breath became a joy. The most mundane activity — eating, making my bunk, doing a routine systems check — became an adventure. Everything haloed in that rainbow light, if I just looked for it.
The doctors say it’s a result of my oxygen deprivation. But I know better. The stars, they took me. This world is not the world I left. I am not the person I was.
I died. I was reborn. It is all starlight.
Robert J. McCarter is a programmer by trade and an artist at heart. He has used acting, fractals, photography, and writing as his media, and describes himself as a “restless creative.” You can read his blog at RobertJMcCarter.com. Robert is the author of several novels and his short stories have appeared in New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Haiti and 100 Stories for Queensland.