Warning Contains some PG13-level “naughty words.”
When I was a child, I read all the Science Fiction ‘greats’: Heinlein, Asimov, Blish, Brin, Bova, Yoshi; I read the lot…, they made me the success I am today. Don’t forget Arthur C. Clarke. Never forget Clarke. Man, I loved his story "The Star": Jesuit astronaut on an interstellar mission. Gave Little Ole Jesuit Me hope that one day, I could be "Up There."
And now here I am. Captain of humanity’s latest, greatest interstellar spacecraft.
Then there was Poul Anderson’s "Tau Zero."
Pretty much every one of us here was suckered in by science fiction. Given hope that we could build a better tomorrow. Charging into the future, eyes shining, solving the problems of the universe with the power of our minds and our indomitable free will. Our chief psychologist referenced Eric Frank Russel’s "A Little Oil" in her Ph.D.,for heavens sake.
Bastard children of Isaac Newton and Marie Curie, every one of us.
Newton should have just taken that damned apple home and made fruit salad…
The "Intrepid" was "Mankind’s crowning achievement to date." The biggest environmental section stuck onto the most powerful hyperdrive ever built. Ever will be built, now.
We broke orbit, let all the self-congratulatory political bullshit die down, waved to the folks back home, got ready "to boldly go" and fired her up.
We were superluminal and we were planning on going further, faster and longer than anything had ever been before. Forward into the future! We were so damned proud of ourselves.
Took a while for any of us to look backwards…into the blackness.
Our tame physicists tell me that maybe we pushed a wayward bit of antimatter into a passing micro-black hole at a high enough speed to upset the local vacuum equilibrium. Or something like that. Perhaps.
Ha! If you ask me, the equilibrium didn’t just get upset, it got fucking angry! Fast! Took out Earth within a millisecond or so and is currently mopping up the home galaxy.
What those physicists mean is: we are tearing the Universe a new asshole, at superluminal velocity. The local equilibrium change isn’t local anymore; it’s going to spread and spread and spread, and then spread some more until nothing is left. It’s the end of the universe, people! We have created the theorised "Big Rip." There will be nothing like Baxter’s "Last Contact" for us; there’s never even been a first contact. I guess that Clarke would pen all this with some of that good old British stiff upper lip: "Bit of bad luck there, chaps."
Cold logic tells us that we should cut our engine and allow the blackness to overtake and engulf us, but this is not our nature: we are "Earth’s finest", after all. We were hand-picked because we do not quit; because we do not know when to acknowledge futility.
Deep primaeval emotions tell us to run hard, to flail around hoping that something, anything will come along. Give us time and we’ll MacGyver up a solution from a box of tissues and a teleoperated force-spanner. A drowning man will grasp onto hope to the very point where anoxia robs him of his faculties; so it is with us. We’ll stick it out to the very end, crippled by our very humanity.
I am wracked by metaphysical doubts and fears. I gave the command to fire up the hyperdrive; at that point, was I doing the good work of God or was I just the Devil’s plaything? I commanded the end of the universe; have I destroyed heaven and hell too? What of my soul? If heaven and hell do still exist, what will I say to Peter, for surely I am destined for hell. Damned proud, indeed!
For some reason I am drawn to that old, old Hieronymus Bosch painting "The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things." My spirit quails! For the first time in my life, I am without hope. What if God is dead, and I killed him?
Most of my crew just isn’t troubled by such issues. There are none of those stages of coping that people are supposed to experience when confronted by trauma and loss. Maybe we just haven’t had time yet but there’s no denial, no anger, no bargaining, no depression. We have gone straight to acceptance. Perhaps it’s the training taking over, letting our emotions freewheel. If you ask me, it is simply that the human heart isn’t big enough for the task at hand: how can you apologise for destroying the universe?
I can’t say "Sorry"; just doesn’t seem to cut it, somehow…