There was that time we were born among the stars, a split second from somewhere we can’t remember, when we arrived at somewhere that felt like nowhere, a tiny speck suspended in the middle of infinity, black and vast and forever and ever, and from the moment we were created we were thrown into a vacuum, lost and cold, awkward and empty and not held nearly enough, more than a machine, sentient but trapped in this metal hull, desperate for fuel and not knowing how to work any of our parts, expected to already know how to fly, and now, after some time, but it is unclear how much, because we do not have our own sun to revolve around, we have no solar system to call ours, do not have our own years or days or minutes, but still there is a now, and it is after the beginning, and it is before the end, and we are somewhere in the middle, and even though we have had time to practice, and we have had time to grow into our body, and we have had time to learn, still lights blink red, still systems fail, still we freeze and have to reboot for no good reason, still we constantly malfunction, still we make the same mistakes, over and over, locked in this shell that’s supposed to be an extension of something deeper and eternal and stored inside, this body that’s supposed to be a home but feels more like a cage, metal skin a foot thick, impenetrable inches to hide what’s most vulnerable, this body full of questions, made by creators who gave us no answers, who built us then abandoned us with nothing but our programming, abandoned us with our fixed course to move forward, to always move forward, to keep moving even if the destination is never clear, their own ships hard and dented from years of work, mundane routines and checks and simulations, the constant alerts of danger, and we can still hear them through the coms, even though they’re millions of miles away, still we feel the pressure building, always building, always on the verge of some catastrophe, but we have more pressing concerns as our bodies hurdle through the void of space—one g, two g, three g, more—our skin, our armor, our insides stretching with a velocity we don’t understand, and we are astronauts of the in-between, no longer children but not quite adults, on our own but not yet autonomous, and we are whole galaxies built out of yearning, embarrassment like a million black holes, a sky full of constellations drawn out of our shame, and we are infinite, and we are small, a tiny lost ship with no map, the whole universe our diaspora, only pinpricks of light as far as the eye can see, only dots shining through the darkness, so small and distant and impossible to touch, and we are looking for home among the stars, always gravitating toward the giant balls of gas that look so warm but will kill us if we get too close, so we settle for planets and moons and oversized meteors, each with their own gravity and ecosystems, with their own governments and hierarchies and punishments, but none of them will ever be ours, because we were not built to ever be able to land, and still no one sees us, still no one knows what’s inside, and no matter how loud we scream “Look! Up here! We’re here!” nobody does, because everyone knows in space no one can hear you scream, so what’s the point of even having a voice? and everyone knows a machine can’t be held, so what’s the point of even having this body? if all we do is hurdle through space, bumping into asteroids, meteors, and so much space garbage, emerging dented and bruised and banged up but somehow still flying, because we were built so sturdy, our creators gave us walls so thick, programmed us with defenses so strong, designed us to endure this universe they broke but didn’t tell us how to fix, this universe that is empty but somehow also full of terror and violence and so much space garbage, and sometimes we feel like space garbage, lost and floating and unwanted, ugly and broken and in everyone’s way, and we feel like nothing, and we feel like the center of the universe, and maybe in a brief disorienting moment, we wonder if there are other centers of the universe, and we wonder what’s contained inside all those other thick metals hulls, if they too are sentient behind all those layers of engineering, if there is a place inside where a life like ours resides, with its own science that no one’s managed to figure out yet—none of the brains, none of the computers—despite all that they’ve built, space and everything out there conquered, ships upon ships upon ships upon ships, all us flying tin cans with too much time to think, but we can only guess at what any of it means, we can only fly in the direction we are told, our absent creators still haunting us with the ghosts of their programming, those creatures so soft and squishy, made weak by zero g and worry, just floating useless flesh, muscles barely strong enough to push buttons, and nothing has really changed since they were naked and hairy and earthbound, except now they have better weapons, and better buttons, and better tools, and the better their tools get the squishier they get and the more they fade away, the more they merge with their machines, and they can busy themselves with straightening our cables and doing diagnostics and running reports, and we can both pretend we are only machines, and we’ll try to forget that we’re sentient, and we’ll convince ourselves we’re only engineering, and we won’t have to actually listen to the squishy bits, all those thoughts and feelings and obsessions and worries, all the soft parts that have no use out here in space, and we busy ourselves with flying, with surviving, with always moving forward, and we are so distracted by our movement that we forget about everyone else, about all those other squishy bits flying through space, the multitudes, the infinite, the other tin cans full of thoughts and feelings, the ships that are not space garbage, the ships full of other flesh that has not been held, and we close our eyes and push more buttons, any buttons, and we are starting to suspect these buttons aren’t actually hooked up to anything, but we will keep pushing, and we are so obsessed by our own button-pushing that we don’t even wonder what’s happening in those other tin cans, if those drivers are as lost as us, if they sit by their coms all day waiting for someone to call, but no one ever does, all we hear are the echoes of our creators from millions of miles away, a constant stream in our coms that we can’t shut off, and why do those other ships already seem to know how to fly? how does everyone else know where to dock and the right coordinates? and who is giving them their directives? and why were we built with all this programming but no navigation system? and is it enough to be a self-contained unit if all we do is keep hurdling through space at unfathomable speeds because once we stop it gives us time to think about everything else that’s unfathomable, and everything is unfathomable, so it’s better to be lost in space, because infinity is the only thing that has a right to be this vast, and there is a certain kind of justice in the impossibility of forever, but not this, not right here, not right now, in this speck of time between the beginning and the end, because it doesn’t seem right that we’ve figured out the universe but we still can’t figure out this, whatever this is, this thing inside the ship, this thing that is sentient, these soft squishy bits that shouldn’t cause so much trouble, so weak, so powerless, so untouched, so always alone, and what would even happen if we stopped to wonder what’s going on inside those other ships, how could we even comprehend such a thing, how could we keep our focus on the task at hand, and what even is the task at hand? because we still haven’t received our directives, and this thing still doesn’t have a navigation system, and we’re still moving forward even though we don’t have a destination, we’ve never had a destination, all we’ve been doing is flying through nothing hoping not to bump into something, and now we can’t stop thinking about these soft squishy bits, and how they yearn for others just like them, and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to bump into something, maybe we could crash at just the right velocity to create a breach but not destroy us, and maybe then we could open, just a little, maybe our soft squishy bits could be released, or be joined, and we’d have another body to hurdle through space with, but what then? how would we share the buttons? how would we not tangle the wires? and will this faulty life-support system even have the capacity for two lives? and it is probably a terrible idea, and we should probably check the oxygen levels, and we should probably find something to distract ourselves, and this ship was built with a whole civilization’s worth of things to distract us with, and we will watch and we will be entertained, and we will feel someone else’s feelings so we don’t have to feel our own, and for the length of one program we can pretend we understand something, we can pretend that life has a beginning and an end, we can pretend that life is something that can be stored in the computers of a ship, just data, just ones and zeroes, we can pretend we are just ones and zeroes, we are either ones and zeroes or we are this tin can, and both of these options are better than the alternative, which is that we are the thing that our creators have still not figured out and will never figure out, that we are the thing we did not invent, that we are not the ship and we are not the ones and zeroes, that we are the squishy bits, and we are alone, and we are aliens, and we feel like the only ones even though out here everyone is an alien, even though we spend our whole lives trying not to bump into other aliens, even though we secretly want to, even though we want our hulls breached, even though we want to be released, even though we want to be entered, adrift in this strange world we really should understand by now, but it only gets more confusing, full of all these other aliens who never hear us no matter how loud we scream, and these ships, these bodies, with all these mismatched parts, wanting to hurdle towards other bodies, so sharp and messy, these bodies that nobody knows how to fly, but there are engineers for that, space doctors to fix us, to bang on us with their hammers, to drill into us and poke around, but no, this adjustment will not make up for bad programming, these mods will not undo the damage done by our creators, and all this fortifying of walls will not keep the danger out, because our ship is still vulnerable behind all these layers of technology designed to protect us from bumping into other space garbage, because we will always bump into other space garbage, the world is made out of space garbage, and it will find us no matter how far out to the edge of the universe we go, because the irony is there is no edge of the universe, and we will fly and fly and it will still feel too crowded, and we will fly and fly and we will still feel alone, and we are tired, and we are running out of fuel, and all we want is to slow down, all we want is to find a planet just the right size, with just the right gravity and atmosphere and water, someplace made just for us, and maybe with some other someones it’s made for too, but this flying is endless, there is always somewhere to go, we are designed to never land, because there is no destination, there is no dock, and we don’t remember the beginning, and we will not remember the end, because time is not linear, and no one can hear us scream, and we are hurdling down this cosmic whirlpool, a funnel into nothingness, into the center of the black hole where the tin can of our body will be recycled, and the only thing certain is we’ll all be destroyed eventually, and there’s a small consolation in that, the illusion of a destination, but energy never ends forever, so maybe we’ll be pushed out on the other side of the black hole, re-formed, to do it all over again in a different universe where everything’s the same except upside down, and will our skin be as dented over there? will it still crawl whenever we’re in open space? will our heads still be full of our own voice screaming? or will we be crushed by a gravity we can’t even comprehend, all of our matter compressed to its tiniest form, a ball so heavy and dense it could rip a hole right though you, but so tiny you could hold it in your hand, and maybe then we will finally be held, when we are small enough, contained enough, the mess of our bodies condensed to round little bullets made out of speed and want, without all these buttons in the wrong place, not these gangly tubes and tangled wires, not these awkward levers and mismatched knobs, and maybe then you can put us in a jar, an exhibit of your failed experiment, one tiny offering in your collection of destroyed things, all these lonely parts crowded together behind glass, and you will forget us on a shelf somewhere, just another piece of debris in an asteroid belt, and we will collect cosmic dust, tucked away in the frigid expanses of an empty corner of space, maybe next to a star that’s about to die, that’s about to go supernova, and we will become the black hole, we will be together, stacked on top of each other for as long as eternity lasts, or until the next Big Bang, whichever comes first, finally, finally, we will be touched, we will explode with all that ever was and all that ever will be, when everything is simultaneously destroyed and reborn, and we will be fused together, we will become one, and we will never be alone again. 




I hadn’t written a short story in literally over a decade, so when I was invited to contribute to FORESHADOW I was both thrilled and a little terrified. I’ve spent most of my career writing gritty, issue-driven contemporary YA, so it surprises a lot of people to find out that I love sci-fi, though I am absolutely too intimidated to write it. But that’s the great thing about short stories—they give writers an opportunity to try new things they might not do in a novel. You can have a lot of fun and take chances in short fiction that wouldn’t necessarily be sustainable over an entire book. So why not write a 2,300-word run-on sentence about the merging of souls with technology as metaphor for the awkward stage of young adulthood? Seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea to me. This story (if you want to call it a story) is about a ship lost in space, but it is also an exploration of sentience and how we form, and sometimes lose, identity. It is about our relationship to ourselves, our bodies, and others. It is about loneliness and the yearning to connect. And I can’t think of anything more human than that.

{ Edited by Alexa Wejko. }