I was in a three person pod. Our mission; to explore and set up a hydroponic laboratory on Kepler 186f. The probe had revealed an uninhabited paradise populated by a native species somewhat equivalent to Earth-bound reptiles.

Chances being that we wouldn’t return from Kep, I allowed my romantic feelings for the payload specialist to blossom. I don’t know if the commander harbored feelings of his own – and, if he did, I didn’t know for whom – or vehemently opposed our love, but he attacked Simmons. They both died.

I jettisoned the husks of my former team. My former friends. A lover.

The mission could not succeed with a single astronaut. It was simple mathematics.

I plotted a course for empty space and entered the sleep chamber. I set the dial for 1000 years.

I awoke in nothing, the pointillist masterwork of the Milky Way left somewhere far behind. I grew up with three siblings in the middle of Los Angeles, went to one of the most populous universities in the country, and trained at a NASA facility that employed thousands. On the rare occasions I was able to go camping in the wilderness, pines stretched into the night sky like fingers straining to close my eyelids, insects clicked and chirped a manic concerto. I had never been truly alone.

I entered one of the EVA suits and stepped into the black, neglecting to connect my tether. I tried to think of a word to describe the null vista, the sea of oblivion in which I swam, but such a word did not exist. Inky was too viscous; deep too claustrophobic; naught too mathematical. I decided that language was useless for a being alone in a void. Communication necessitated a community. It was enough to simply experience nothingness.

I couldn’t tell if my eyes were closed and, without any light source, couldn’t see the edges of my helmet. In the absence of physical stimuli, the human brain often creates its own. Like rain falling on rice paper, reality slowly dissovled. Ethereal lightning flashed before me, dissolving into hallucinatory floating orbs. I detected whispers in the roar of silent static, felt ghostly fingers playing over my skin. I started to lose my ability to keep time internally; minutes would unfold in a lifetime, hours raced by in moments.

“Is it real?” spoke a voice. My voice, though my mouth didn’t move. I must have been experiencing my inner thoughts as external stimulation.

“How can I know this aurora is a hallucination with nothing else to compare it to?”

“If this isn’t real, how do I know any of my experiences were? What if my whole existence has been in this void, interspersed with fanciful hallucinations?”

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