I opened my eyes for the last time and stared into the burning sun that had swallowed an entire planet’s worth of life, snuffing out whole civilizations, destroying ecosystems, and extincting all of the species.
How insignificant it all seemed, at that moment, the history all lost to cinders and returned to the carbon from whence it had come. I recalled the first time I had left the planet’s tyrannic grip, fleeing the gravity atop a great pillar of fire that pushed me and my tiny craft past the thin membrane of oxygen that all living things relied on, spitting me out into the vacuum in my own tiny pocket of air, a little human in a bubble adrift in space. That time when I had looked back to the earth I’d left behind, seen the cradle of my birth filling the viewport in all its pale blue and brown and wispy white splendor, I’d realized for the first time the true meagerness of my existence. Was that the real gift of spaceflight? I’d wondered. To be made aware of how truly small we are, despite all our great works, ambitions, and dreams. Despite lifetimes spent toiling away at our goals, all the loves and fostering of family, the seeding of future generations and hopes of establishing some kind of lasting legacy, we were nothing. Invisible to the cosmic eye.
Seeing it all burned to ash seemed to underscore that understanding, as though it hadn’t been enough to know it, intrinsically, that I should have lived long enough to watch it all destroyed by the star that had nurtured all those generations of life, to eventually produce a being capable of imagining a life beyond the surface of the planet, to touch down on alien worlds and perhaps make a mark there, on the face of the unknown cosmos. The horror of seeing a real glimpse of the chaotic machinations that underlie the very universe itself, and to understand beyond all questioning that the design is not for us. That it does not care one whit about what we accomplish.
I sighed, made one last check of my oxygen gauge. The needle had sat lifeless at the bottom of the red zone for some time, but like old combustion vehicles of days gone by it was disingenuous in its display, and hid secret sips of air beyond empty. I was running on fumes, and then I couldn’t taste anything at all. My lungs emptied, the star that filled my field of vision filled with other, tiny silver stars, then there was a slow vignetting of the scene as darkness faded in, and I died.