When Dad takes me base jumping on Little Hoth for the last time, I’m mad. Until I take the jump—it’s impossible to stay mad doing that jump. Between the low gravity and the extremely high cliffs, the fall lasts fifteen minutes, easy. We swan dive over the ledge and the white ice of the moon stretches out below us, an endless diamond shimmering. We turn one hundred eighty degrees during our slow fall and take in the sight of Big Endor, a swirling gas giant Dad discovered, blue as Caribbean water.
There should never be a “last time” for something like this.
I’m smiling when the booster rockets kick in and safely deposit me at the base of the cliffs. Dad notices and smiles behind his helmet.
“Wanna go again?” he asks.
I do. I can’t. There are too many last time moments to have and not enough time to cover them all. “Maybe again at the end,” I say.
We head back to the ship. His ship. It’s an Em Co. model Epsilon-9, old and clunky the way they like it in the burrow-wormer community. The blue titanium/palladium alloy hull of the modest, four-man craft is thick, heavy looking. Wormers affectionately call this model a Ladybug. Dad named her Guinevere.
“You think NASA’s going to let them keep the names you gave them?” I ask. I like Little Hoth and Big Endor, and it would suck for them to be called something dumb like KD655Cc.
“Probably not,” he says. “Copyrights and all.”
He fires up Guinevere. The entanglement engine whines, a growing hum as Casimir pressure builds. Soon, it creates enough negative energy to stabilize an Einstein-Rosen bridge. Dad hits the quantization button, entangling our location with another point in space. We jump.
We’re orbiting a terrestrial planet Dad’s friend Dresser found. We strap wings to our suits and glide in the dense atmosphere of Avernus, a sepia-tinted world with rivers and giant lakes of liquid methane.
My chirping alarm reminds us of the itinerary and gets us back aboard Guinevere. After strapping in, I idly touch the window glass. There’s a tiny gouge in it, made the time Dad jumped Guinevere into the same space occupied by a micrometeor. The rock was about the size of a grape seed and careening through space at 22,500 mph. The ship’s thick, clunky hull was designed to keep micrometeors out, which meant it was also designed to keep them in. The little meteor bounced around the small ship until it finally got lodged into the comm equipment. I wasn’t there, but he later showed me the tiny rock that could’ve killed him. He keeps it on a chain around his neck for good luck.
Dad notices where my hand is. “Hey, just like every other jump, whenever you want to stop, you just say the word.”
“Never,” I say. It may not be “documented space,” but I know every place he takes me, he’s triple-quadruple checked.
Dad jumps us to the planet he calls Novensides. It is barren, red and rocky with a thin atmosphere. Here, we watch the sunset, where the fine dust in the air makes the yellow star they call HD 209458 turn blue, completely opposite of the red sunsets back home.
“What about ‘to boldly go’?” Dad asks wistfully as he looks at the setting sun. “‘Infinity and beyond’? Whatever happened to all that?”
The unimaginable had happened. A terrorist acquired a ship everyone except burrow-wormers considered junk and jumped it into a tour vessel, killing himself along with over a thousand tourists and causing a transnational tragedy.
Burrow-wormers were peace loving, a bunch of hobbyists and enthusiasts swapping stories and star charts, making jumps into unmapped, unknown territory. They all knew each other and knew every model of the older ships, which hadn’t been built with jump regulators. Some of them got injured and some of them never made it back, but none of them wanted to hurt people. It wasn’t their fault—Dad’s fault.
The blue sun dips below the horizon, giving just enough light for me to see the twinkle in Dad’s eyes as he looks at me. “One more spot before the curtain.”
The last planet is a gas giant Dad simply calls “Saturn Lite.” The atmosphere is so dense, Guinevere is able to buoy in the upper reaches. The clouds below us are thick tufts of blue-gray cotton. Dad presses a button, and the airlock opens and the floor extends out to become a gangway. He presses another button and a railing pops up.
We go out to the custom balcony. In two hours’ time, we’ll be in our backyard looking at Guinevere. The firmware update the government force-fed her will kick in and the ship will take off on autopilot. When it reaches the thermosphere, it will make one final jump—this time into the heart of the Sun.
I imagine there will be a symphony of shimmering lights in the sky as hundreds of old ships the world over take their death jump, winking out of existence forever. I plan to record the flight, preserve the last moment of a golden era, of something too beautiful to articulate with words.
But that’s in two hours. Right now, we are on a planet orbiting a star called 85 Ceti, which is 410 light years from Earth. It’s an A-type main sequence star 2.4 times more massive and 48 times more luminous than the Sun. This star’s light is rising slowly across the planet’s rings, causing a resplendent glow. It’s an angel’s halo. Our small bodies stand on a small balcony amidst the vast enormity of it all.
“I’m going to miss this most,” I say, feeling at once both insignificant and integral to the cosmos.
Silence answers. I notice my dad holding his phone, recording my expression as I watch Ceti rise along the rings.
“Me too,” he says.
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