Alone, Art felt a deep sense of peace as he looked out at the stars. Often, on his way to an ore rich basin, he’d stop his truck and gaze out at the firmament. Ten years ago, he’d sold up and staked his claim on B271, one of the huge, mineral-packed asteroids located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. It was a decision he’d never regretted.
Apart from the Hermes vessel which arrived once a year to collect his precious metals and bring supplies, it was just him out here. That suited him fine. He was tired of people, of his overcrowded, noisy, and violent planet. He wanted no part of any of it.
Yet, as he gazed on the firmament, something wasn’t quite right. It took him some time to realize, but one by one, the stars were disappearing. At least, that was how it appeared to his own eyes. Surely, such a thing was impossible. He jumped back into his truck and activated the sensor board.
~ * ~
There was no doubt. Checking and re-checking his instruments only supported what he’d seen. Throughout the galaxy, the stars were winking out. The process appeared to be accelerating. He opened an emergency channel with his home planet. In theory, he should hear back immediately, which out here meant a little over six minutes. Nothing came. He tried again, then again. There was only silence.
He was sending another message when a blip caught his attention. He stared at the monitor in disbelief. The sun itself had vanished. There was simply a void at the centre of the solar system. Stunned as he was, he couldn’t help react when the warning light flashed. The truck’s power cells were draining away at a terrifying rate. He fired the engine into life and sped back to base.
~ * ~
Along the way, the route markers winked out one by one, and he just managed to make it to base when his vehicle died. In the low gravity and the heavy environmental suit, he stumbled inside as fast as he could.
The other side of the air lock, he ripped his helmet off and got out of his suit. He reached for a bottle of high-priced whisky he’d been saving to celebrate that big find. These weren’t exactly the circumstances he’d envisioned, but if this wasn’t the time for a drink, he didn’t know when.
He was a third of the way through the bottle when the heating failed. Close behind came the air filtration system. Half drunk and now truly terrified, he staggered to a drawer and pulled out a laser. It should have been fully charged, yet the power cells were leaking energy fast.
He placed the weapon to his temple. He didn’t have the courage really, he knew that, but the alternatives were freezing or asphyxiation. Neither seemed appealing, and this is what would happen if he waited much longer. The weapon would be useless. Then, the lights flickered out.
As he tried to summon the courage to pull the trigger, Art realized the worst thing wasn’t the cold or the thick cloying air. It wasn’t even the darkness. It was being alone.