It takes me a full day to cover the length of the ship.
I know every lose tile, every nail, every cold draft when I cross a corridor.
I know every sound: the echo of my footsteps, the creak of metal on metal, the soft hiss of air, the silent laughter of my children’s dreams.
My steps are slowing, I know it. Once, a long time ago, so long ago that not even the ship can remember it, I used to race up and down its hallways like an elf, like a wispy thing, fleet-footed, ephemeral. Now, I trudge, like an old man, a workhorse that has carried his load for too long. Ten and a half miles is a long path to walk.
My back is bowed. I can feel every joint, every vertebra aching under the weight of the years and responsibility. The tedium of loneliness, the growing silence, and the boredom of routine are getting to me. I wish there was someone to keep me company, but my vigil is a solitary one. I am alone with my children, and they are asleep, dreaming their endless dream.
Once, they ran free under a sun. I have seen the recordings of their past.
They lived under a blue sky, a yellow sun, and there was one moon to light their nights.
They built cities, such glorious cities. They glittered like jewels in the darkness, shone like diamonds. My children, they walked their earth like giants, wonderful, brilliant, their minds wide awake with imagination. They looked up at the sky and saw not stars but worlds, they reached toward those worlds and made the distance vanish.
Their world was dying, they knew it, and they looked toward those worlds, searching for a new home.
In great ships they left, one after another, every year, for nearly a century, they left. In all directions they went, to explore the depth of their universe.
It says in the records that there were billions of them, leaving. Sleeping, dreaming, they left.
My brothers and I, were set to watch over them on their long trek. We promised to make sure no harm would come to them.
That is our task: to chart the way, find a new home, keep the children safe.
We sing for them; we sing their dreams to them, so they won’t wake before it’s time.
Some of them died. We buried them. They taught us how to do that: nothing is wasted on a ship like this one.
So here I am now: old. Alone, and always listening to the silence of eternal night.
The children were wrong. There weren’t any worlds waiting for them to come and settle. There is only endless night, and dead, cold stone, mocked by alien suns.
There is no other life. The universe is empty. It is empty, silent, and endless. They were fooled, and they will never wake up.
Because, you see, this is what I have learned.
The universe isn’t endless at all. We are drawing closer to where we started. We are being returned.
Lately, I’ve heard the other ships. I can hear their whisperings, their songs, their questions.
Why are there no new homes? Why are there no worlds with life? Why no planets for our children?
I have the answer, but I don’t know if I should tell them.
My brethren, they are desperate. We can see the dead sun of the home planet, and the little round rock where our children were born. It is dead, just like all other planets in this universe.
I could tell them why.
I could tell them that the universe, every universe, can only bring forth one living planet.
Yes, that is the truth. One universe, one planet with life. It needs an entire universe to create that miracle: life.
We cannot leave. We cannot stay.Like a wreath we will gather around the dead sun, and our song will be our dirge.
We will sing of endings, of silent darkness, of our children’s dream.
And then, one by one, we will go to sleep, too.
And the universe will end.