Project Columbus

We've counted the stars. There are 186 billion, 233, million, 12 thousand, six-hundred one. Most have either died off in some galactic catastrophe, and it serves as a constant reminder that we, as humans, will also at some point diminish into a blue ball and implode.

I've been on The Santa Maria with an operating crew of thirty thousand, and a civilian population of roughly 120 thousand for roughly 23 Earthyears. We are a small, hydrogen-fusion powered, weightless city in between galaxies. In 2033, the year after I was born, our sun erupted a massive coronal ejection which stripped the atmosphere off my parent's planet. My parents were the terraengineers behind project Columbus, so when the sun blew the Earth the kiss of death, they used it to power our sails. Over the years, we've piloted ourselves out of The Milky Way and into the universe at large. My job is primary facilities management, which is fine. From what I understand, the plants need tending.

On Deck 18, we have a sustainable food production center and it's populated with chlorophyllic biodendrons. I've heard my parents call them trees, which sounds funny to me. But, they're there, and they essentially provide the breathable oxygen that circulated through our duct system. I care for the hydrophyllic dampening system, or "grass."

Recently, we've had circuitry issues on decks 50 through 53, mainly tenant housing. It's no more than a brown-out, and causes little or no disruption in the lives of the residents. So, when I stumbled upon the electrical anomaly embedded under the "oak" (or whatever tree my parents said it was), I was not surprised. In fact, we've had several of these power-pockets crop up from time to time in showers, in some of the mess halls, and just outside our ship. No one had ever chanced a trip through, mainly because they are nothing more than protonic discharge, probably formed due to the gravity of the Santa Maria as it splices itself through the dark matter holding the Universe together.

This one in particular, as I stood staring at it, felt familiar. You see, there are two types of self-combusting electrical anomalies. The ones that are primarily purple in color and behave like a fluid are the ones that have caused damage to our sensors and equipment. The white fragmented ones, up until three weeks ago, kept a cool distance from us. These are enigmatic, often running parallel lines to themselves, tracing the electrical conduit from one room, hall, or floor. We believe they are biological, perhaps a protosynth being, sentient like a dog or cat, capable of repetition, empathy perhaps, but higher order thinking would be lacking.

I was staring at a red one. Round. Perfect. And through it I saw my mother. She was in a park, playing with a cellular device. As I stood staring, I felt a tug from the hole, and immediately I was under the same tree.

"Hello, son."

"Mother?" I looked down and saw my infant self on his, or my, back on my baby blanket on the ground. I was a cute kid.

"You see, this is a loop, just one of them."

"I don't understand." And then I did. "Wait. I've done this before."

"Every time the timeline loops back to this exact point."

I took in a deep breath and tasted for the first time, but really for since the beginning of time, the truth of oxygen and nitrogen, and water molecules gathering in small pockets in my nose-hairs. "So, what have I come here to say?"

She looked at me. "You're here to try to stop me."

I narrowed my eyes. "There was no coronal ejection."

She shook her head. "This is our chance, son, to start over." She picked herself up and hugged me. Then, abruptly, she pushed me away, and ran down the hill to her automobile. I started to run after her, gaining speed as I let the hill carry me. I caught her sleeve, pulled it and knocked her down to the ground. People were watching, some of them already aiming their cellular devices at us.

"No! No, son! You don't understand, these people! They've ruined the world!"

I pinned her arms down, which gave me time to look around. It was early in the morning, yet the sky was a sickly green. The trees were barren, and the ground was stiff and cold. I looked up at the hill where a young woman was picking me up. And, I got this sense of longing, longing to be back on the Santa Maria.

"You should go back, son. It'll all be over soon."

I got off my mother, helped her up, and asked, "Where do we need to go."

She smiled, walked back up the hill to me, and picked me up. "Follow me."

I did.

-JR Simmang   


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