nother short story (from the Catastrophies collection), this time from 1966 by Ben Bova (back from when most of your weren’t even sperms nor eggs, and I (kiddies) was a potential-loaded kid of eight). It’s a great short piece that really catches the scifi theme of distance and time.
We start with Holman, a fellow wired up to a damaged star ship, racing away from the debacle of a battle where Humanity just lost to the Others. All we know about the Others is that they skirmished with humans once, put us back into the stone age, capped us with an artificial ice age to slow us down, then left us. But this time we’ve swarmed over the entire universe (spanning across billions of galaxies). We’ve figured out immortality and, standing at the edge of godliness, get ready for that last push to that higher meadow of human happiness. But then the Others came.
And in the mega-battle way out in the vast, they creamed us.
So Holman runs – the Others following but unable to catch him, not yet. Using his sleep-couch, he is able to span the countless years as he run, hopping galaxy to galaxy, not sure where he is going. His ship, a meddler, roots through his thoughts and angles him home. Back to Earth, the seat of his race.
Only to find it gone – stripped away, a cinder, the sun a small white sphere in it’s dead sky.
And that’s the rub – if you are going to go unimaginable distances, unless you have that kiddy-jumps of StarWars, it takes time. Buckets of time. Billions of years of time. So while he was away fighting the Others, the sun has expanded and devoured the Earth.
And so he runs and runs and runs, the Others following him while around him, the blackness of space takes on a certain “gray” aspect.
I really enjoyed this one – the end is sharp and simple. And through it all, you learn more about the Others and the Humans (boy, can you tell this was written in ’66 – I was siding with the Others by the end of the story). But it’s easy to forget, with tramp freighters and Federation cruisers zipping about the place, just how big space really is. And this book brought it home.
You can find on online version HERE. I’d suggest cutting and pasting it into word and editing for readability. But enjoy!