rating: +19+x

Zeno hated his job. He always prayed that one day the sun piercing through the glass dome of the observatory would all concentrate together and burn him like a bug under a magnifying glass, but it only ever seemed to make him sweat. To call it 'luxury' would be a misnomer— one that Zeno had unfortunately fallen victim to when signing up. It was the end of the universe, yet they couldn't even afford air conditioning!

…ah, yes. Being in charge of counting how many distant stars are going supernova whilst watching the government scramble to mass-produce spaceships was also quite demoralizing. If only they could afford antidepressants as well!

Still, Zeno managed to show up each day in spite of every single one of his moronic brain cells that was screaming at him to stay in bed until he'd be able to count the supernova of his own sun.

So he sat there, right in his little spinny chair, watching as stars fizzled out like fireworks in the sky. His thoughts flowed like molasses. Sometimes, seeing that twinkle in the distance made Zeno feel a bit enlivened. Finally, something happening!

Otherwise, he tuned out, waiting for one more—

"Zeno? Hello? Anyone in there?"

Zeno blinked, and he was suddenly very aware of the numbness in every limb of his body— sitting in a chair for hours on end tended to do that— as well as the presence of a long-haired woman waving her four-fingered hands in front of his face. "Ah. Hey, Hawth. Sorry, erm… how long have you been in here?"

Zeno couldn't tell if the expression on her face was of bewilderment, concern, or a horrible concoction of both. "Five minutes. You've just been staring up there ignoring me."

He turned away. "Sorry. It's your shift, right?"

Hawth simply nodded, taking a quick look down at her watch.

"Guess you want your chair then." As Zeno made an attempt to stand, he suddenly remembered all his muscles were completely asleep, and fell to the cold metal floor.

"Are… are you okay?"

"Yes," Zeno said, desperately wishing for the sun to explode.

"Let me help you back up and I'll grab another chair, okay?"

"No, I'm okay, I'm really heavy, so—"

Hawth effortlessly grabbed Zeno, plopped him right back in his chair, and went down the stairs, appearing in a few minutes with another, which she sat in right next to him. "How many worlds ended today?"

"Hopefully only a few."

She raised an eyebrow. "Were you not watching?"

"No— just, you said worlds. Most of these suns don't have any planets orbiting them."

"You sure about that?"

"It's… what I tell myself sometimes. Makes me feel better about all this." Zeno uncomfortably shifted in his chair.

Hawth sighed and looked upwards. "I get you."

"Forty, though."

Hawth's mouth opened to reply, but then she turned away. Zeno knew just what she was going to say, though. Just a few days ago, he'd only see one or two at the most. The universe was dying. He couldn't ignore that anymore.

Usually, the silence of the observatory felt calming. Zeno could lose himself in the stillness of the stars. But now, with another person, it felt suffocating. So he spoke:

"You work down in the bay, don't you?"

"Yeah. I take night shifts there. Usually there isn't much to do but load up another ship or two." From the sound of her voice, she seemed eager to break the silence as well.

"Sounds like you spend all your time working. Do you… sleep at all?"

Hawth made a sound somewhere between a groan and a grumble. "Do you?"

Zeno paused. "Not really."

"I try to keep myself busy. Make myself useful, y'know? It's the most I can do."

"Feels like you're dealing with this better than me."

She stifled a laugh. "Trust me, you're doing better than most folks. I knew a guy who stuffed himself in the tiny cargo hold of one of the rockets going outwards. Didn't know he'd get jostled around so much and ended up with a cracked skull. They had to throw him out into space so he wouldn't rot."

"That's… not good."


They both looked up to the stars for a moment just in time to see another star in the distance fizzle out in a blue glow.

"I… talked to some of the science guys. Said our sun is due to pop any day now."

Zeno didn't answer. He was already lost in his own world. After a while, his eyes closed, and his mind drifted off into nothingness.

In his dreams, a siren blew. Red light filled the entire landscape. Screaming in the distance.

He opened his eyes, but saw nothing. Two arms wrapped around him, and he floated forwards.

A moment later, a sudden force pressed down on his body. A thousand explosions, concentrated directly on the core of his body. The light faded away. Everything went quiet.

And he felt still.

Zeno woke up to see Hawth sitting on the edge of another bed across from him, staring down at the floor. She barely noticed when he sat upwards, rubbing his head. "You're up."

The room was tiny, with barely enough room for the beds as-is. There was a hatch to his right, and a closed window behind him. He reached for it, and pulled it upwards slowly. There was only darkness. The deep void of space he'd seen so many times before, yet no stars littered it.

"All of them. All of them went off. I… I don't know how we even escaped the blast. Most of us didn't." Her voice seemed to quaver as she spoke. "Happened right after you fell asleep. I almost left you behind."

Zeno simply shut the window, feeling his heart wither in his chest. "What now?"

Hawth stood, her head almost hitting the low ceiling. Pulling open the hatch, she crawled through it slowly, and Zeno followed.

The cockpit reminded him of the observatory. Seeing the vast depths of space blast by as the ship shot forward towards its destination. In the middle of the windshield, a star so bright it felt blinding as he stared at it. "We're going there."

"There's… there's nothing else?"

"Nothing else."

Zeno took a step backwards. A bead of sweat dripped down his neck. "But— but what if it's nothing?"

"It's all we have left."

He wanted to look at anything else. The control panel, the walls, even the empty void. But his eyes were glued to the light.

Hawth began to speak about rationing and supplies, yet Zeno couldn't hear a word through his flooding thoughts. His lungs began straining for air, and the light just seemed to get brighter despite his blurring vision. Yet he still couldn't help but watch, even as his heart threatened to burst out of his chest.

And like a black hole, he collapsed.

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