The Traveler Returns

I began my journey in 2039. It was a Tuesday above the West African coast, with the dazzling arc of the Atlantic turning beneath me. It was an ordinary spacewalk. Micrometeors snapped my safety cable. I watched the shape of International Space Station Opera spinning as it shrank away from me.

Thirty nine minutes of air remained. A crackle of furious coms activity gave way to resignation. As the earth dipped beneath my vision and the haunting starscape replaced it, I recorded farewells to my family. The buzzing voices dimmed. The great silence embraced me.

Airless. Cold. No microbes to chew the flesh from my bones. My body withered inside the bulbous suit, like an ancient pharaoh encased in a tomb painted with arcane symbols: NASA, ESA, TESLA, the Vitruvian Man, flags, futile safety advice. Symbols more vast and inscrutable came into view: the constellations, flung like jewels across the bosom of the night.

My orbit took decades, but on my return from the dark side of the sun, Earth was not waiting. She had moved on, like an abandoned wife. I took my place among the other travelers: the frosty comets and tumbling asteroids that loop around the sun like a child scribbling on the walls of a cathedral. They had made their peace with eternity, but I was restless. Even after death, there is hope.

My orbit took centuries, but Earth was waiting for my return, like the dutiful widow. 

I am history now. Scholars send out drones to find me, the tractor beams dragging me home. She’s changed, Earth, my old bride. Rings crisscross her axes. Traffic shuttles from the reshaped continents to the orbital platforms. Tugs and yachts cluster at the fringe of her atmosphere, bound for Mars and the moons of Jupiter. The coms in my suit whine once again with chatter in strange languages, bulletins, retrospectives, the tragedy of ’39, Earth’s lost son returning at last like a mariner from the sea.

They ease me through the clouds, where the austere black changes to dazzling blue. My old friends, the colours, touch my desiccated corpse. Below, fields of green in which to be buried, on the world that my grandchildren knew.

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