The Observatory

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Space has fascinated man since we first looked into the night sky. To enter the stars and fly among them was one of man’s greatest dreams.

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into space. In 1969, the United States of America landed on the moon. In 2077, the U.S, Great Britain, and France colonized Mars.

Finally, in 2182, the United Nations of Earth began launching one-way expeditions into the distant depths of space in hopes of mapping the universe. The ship, manned by a single astronaut, would go in one direction until it ran out of fuel and drifted on. Eventually, the astronaut would die, but the ship would continue on until it was pulled into a black hole, entered the gravitational field of a planet or a star, or was otherwise disabled.

In 2198, one man who hated his life volunteered to be an astronaut. He had nothing left to live for on Earth, and wanted to die, but not without doing something to improve the world. On May 5th, his late wife’s birthday, he set out into the unknown.

*

Years passed aboard the ship, and the astronaut patiently awaited death. The ship was stocked with enough food and water to last twenty years, which is about a year longer than the fuel would last. The astronaut wasn’t going to die anytime soon.

One day, not that he could tell one day from another, an alarm within the ship sounded, and a red light flashed on and off. He knew immediately that this meant he had entered the gravitational pull of something, and was being taken off course. The astronaut took the controls and tried to steer back on course, but the pull was too strong.

The alarm got louder, deafening him. Finally, the cabin began to depressurize, and the astronaut passed out.

*

The astronaut, before his wife and daughter had died in a tragic accident, had worked at a department store. Specifically, he stocked the warehouse. So, when he awoke in a room that looked like the warehouse of a department store, he recognized it immediately.

Somehow, he had been launched from his ship, and his parachute, after deploying, had gotten caught on the rafters of the warehouse, so he was suspended ten feet from the ground.

The astronaut awoke groggily, trying to wet his throat. His head ached, but not terribly, and other than that, he felt fine.

The room he hung in had dark lights in the corners, casting an eerie blue light around. At one end of the room were large doors that would be used for unloading trucks. At the other side, a single, almost lonely-looking wooden door stood.

The astronaut gritted his teeth, braced himself, then detached his parachute from his space suit. He fell and landed in a heap. His legs burned, but didn’t feel broken. After lying still for a few minutes, letting the back of his head rest on the cool concrete, he slowly stood.

The astronaut walked to the doors that were used for unloading trucks. He had no idea where he was, but he figured looking outside might give him a clue. He grasped the door from the bottom and pulled upward.

When the door slid up, he took in a sharp breath.

Beyond the door was a spiral galaxy. After a moment, the astronaut realized it was the Milky Way. It seemed extremely distant, certainly millions of miles away, as he could see the entirety of it, and a lot of the dark space around it. Despite there now being several thousand stars in view, the light level in the room didn’t change at all. Slowly, he let the door drop back to the floor.

The astronaut backed away, shaken. Where was he? He turned and walked slowly to the wooden door he had noticed before, his head filled with wonder.

*

Behind the door was a large room. The astronaut immediately became aware of an almost distant machine-like humming, something one might expect to hear in a factory.

Inside the room were several glass cases, several feet by several feet, all the same size. Each wall was covered in them, and there were hundreds more running in maze-like formations throughout the center of the room. Some glass cases were dark, while others had light emanating from them.

The astronaut walked to one and looked into it. Inside, he saw what looked like a desert landscape. However, he couldn’t make sense of it, because instead of it appearing as something set down in the case, it looked more like a TV display. The landscape was seen from a few hundred feet above the ground, and on the desert floor, several large, ant-like beings crawled along the shifting sands.

He turned away, fear and confusion pulling on his stomach. He looked at another glass case, and in the same type of view as the first, he saw a bustling city, not too different-looking from New York City or Chicago, but instead of humans walking on the streets, grey-skinned beings that slithered along on tentacles moved about.

“Beautiful, is it not?” came a voice behind the man. The astronaught turned and saw a man several feet taller than him dressed in a grey pinstripe suit. His black hair was slicked back, and he was clean-shaven. “They are called the Durmas.” His voice was low, but warm and caring.

“I’m sorry…” the astronaut said weakly. “I don’t understand.”

“Those beings that you see in that case there, that you were just looking at. They call themselves Durmas, just as your people call yourselves Humans.” The man in the suit stuck out his hand. “You may call me the Observer. I have not seen one of your kind here in a long time.”

The astronaut took the Observer’s hand and shook. The astronaut felt odd, looking up so far to meet the Observer’s eyes.

“What is this place?” the astronaut asked.

“Hm,” the Observer said. “I have answered that question exactly three thousand, eight hundred and seventeen times, and I still find it hard to decide each time what the answer is. I suppose this time, I will go the easy way and call it The Observatory.”

The astronaut looked around. In each case, he could see either a landscape, a planet seen from space, or an entire galaxy. He then looked back to the Observer.

“So, who are you, then?” asked the astronaut.

“I am the one who created the universe and everything in it.” He began to walk away, but slowly, silently beckoning the astronaut to walk with him. He clasped his hands behind his back and looked in the glass cases as he passed. After a moment, the astronaut followed.

“Are… Are you God?” the astronaut asked, incredulous.

“Not as you would know it, no,” the Observer said, a smile on his face. “I created the universe and your Earth, as you believe God did. However, I did not do the other things you believe he did.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am not the God you have read of in your Bible, or Allah you have read of in your Quran. I did create all you know and see, but I never have listened to your prayers and desires. I have never taken your curses to heart, and I have never spoken to those who claim to have been contacted by a God above. I did tell Abraham to kill his son, nor did I send Jesus to your world.”

The astronaut glanced at a glass case that showed a planet entirely covered in ice. “Why don’t you? Listen to prayers, I mean. Is it that you can’t?”

“I can. I hear them all the time, if I choose to. And I certainly could do what people ask of me.”

“So why don’t you?”

The Observer glanced at him, an amused smile on his face. “Many reasons. There are more beings in the universe asking for things than I have the chance to hear. In the time it would take me to grant one wish, several billion more would pile up. As well, some wishes are beyond what is fair, and would tamper with another being’s free will. I could not do everything all beings in the universe wanted and make all happy, so I choose instead to do nothing.” He looked at a case that showed a jungle inhabited by monkey-like creatures with hundreds of limbs. They danced from branch to branch, calling out to each other, but the glass cases didn’t seem to convey any sound.

The astronaut looked up at the Observer. He wanted to ask something else, but decided not to.

“You wanted to ask me about the meaning of life, correct?” the Observer asked, apparently having read the astronaut’s mind. The astronaut nodded, and even though the Observer was turned away from him, he knew, and he spoke again. “The meaning of life is a concept that you humans alone have thought of. There are exactly one hundred and forty three sentient species living in this universe, and only one has questioned the point of existing. That being said, there is no one meaning.”

The astronaut’s heart fell, feeling a little disappointed.

“Do not be upset by that,” the Observer chuckled, smiling again. “The meaning of life, as you would put it, is whatever you make of it. I understand that this might not be a fulfilling answer, but it is the only one there is.” He glanced back at the astronaut. “What did you believe the meaning of life was before arriving here?”

The astronaut looked at his feet, unsure of what to say. The luxurious red carpet he stood on was spotless and beautiful. He looked at that a moment, then spoke. “I was never really sure. I guess… I thought it was to find someone to love, maybe make a name for yourself before dying.”

“And you did the first, I know.”

“Yeah, but the woman I loved… and my daughter… they both died recently. Well, I guess, not recently, because it had to be a few years ago now, but it feels so fresh… I can see it all so vividly, almost like I just saw it a minute ago. So I guess I’m not sure what the point of living is anymore.”

The Observer stopped, turned around, and looked at the astronaut. “I am sorry you had to experience that. I want you to know that I did not choose for that to happen. As I mentioned, all beings have free will, and there is no predetermination. Your wife and daughter were not destined to die then, and I did not choose for it to happen. That is just how it happened to work out.” He looked away, his eye glinting. The astronaut could tell the Observer would like to save everyone, but didn’t want to disrupt things. “I love all my creations. I wish I could keep everyone happy, but I simply cannot.” He turned and continued walking, and the astronaut almost thought he heard the Observer say “I am sorry.”

The astronaut followed again. He stopped beside the Observer, who was looking at a glass case that showed Earth.

“You humans are an interesting race, you know.”

“Are we?”

“Indeed. Only fifteen other races have ever waged warfare, but no other has ever gone into such large-scale fighting. Your World War Two was quite the spectacle to watch.”
“You say that like it was a TV show,” the astronaut muttered, a little angered.

“I mean no disrespect. I was not rooting for one side or the other, and I did not revel in the slaughter. I just simply found it interesting that an entire planet could somehow turn against each other.”

The astronaut just looked on at the planet where he had fallen in love, had a child, had been completely and utterly broken. It was bitter for him to see it again.

“But that is not the only reason I am fascinated by humans. You are only one of seven that have any type of concept like ‘love.’As well, you are only one of nine that have traveled into space, and humans have by all means gotten the furthest. You are the only being ever to physically reach the Observatory.”

The astronaut looked up quizzically. “What do you mean?”

The Observer looked down at him, warmth in his eyes. “Sometimes, when someone significant moves on from their world, I will call them here, so we can chat. Of the people you have known of, I have spoken to Julius Caesar, George Washington, Adolf Hitler, and several others.”

“What do you talk to them about?”

“Several things. Most of the time, it is what his or her motivation for the change they made in the world was.”

“What did Hitler say was his reasoning?”

“He thought he was making the world a better place. He truly believed that those he slaughtered were a danger to the world. It was a case of good intentions, bad execution.” He paused for a moment, then added, “No pun intended.”

The astronaut glared at him, but the Observer continued. “When he came here, he had had some time to think about it, and ultimately regretted it. He still saw the groups of people he killed as below him, but he decided he did not have the right to take their lives. He was an intelligent man, Adolf. He just made a lot of big mistakes, so he thought.”

“You don’t think so?”

“I do not have the right to say one way or another. The right choice is entirely relative to the person making it. If he believed it was a mistake, it was.”

The astronaut thought about that.

“Humans are not the only beings I have spoken to. I have spoken to the Durmas, as well as the Garveys, and the Pquils, and several beings from each species. But, as I said, they come here when they die and move on. You are the first to actually stumble upon it.”

The astronaut looked away from Earth, and saw instead a landscape that showed black soil and giant pillars of twisted metal jutting from the ground.

“I spoke to your wife, you know,” the Observer said quietly.

The astronaut looked at him suddenly. “You did?”

“Indeed I did.”

“Why? What change did she make that you wanted to talk about?”

“She didn’t make a change. I just get lonely sometimes, and I decided she was an interesting person to speak to.” He smiled sadly. “She was wonderful.”

“She was,” the astronaut said quietly, a tear running down his cheek.

The Observer smiled, then put his hand the astronaut’s shoulder, consoling him. He left it there while the astronaut cried silently.

*

The Observer and the astronaut spoke for a long time. In the astronaut’s time, it would’ve been several years. In the Observer’s time, it was mere seconds in the grand scheme of things. Finally, one day, the Observer said, “I believe it is time you continued on with your mission.”

“Are you sure?” the astronaut asked.

“Yes. As much as I have enjoyed talking to you, your destiny is to continue on.” The astronaut looked at him, questioning in his eyes, but the Observer winked and laughed.

The two went into the warehouse-like room, and there sat the astronaut’s fixed ship. It was positioned right in front of one of the truck loading doors.

“There are many things to discover in this universe, my friend,” the Observer said. “I hope that you can see some of them before your time ends.”

“I hope so, too,” the astronaut said, slight sadness in his voice. “Will I see you again?”

“It is always possible.”

The astronaut smiled at the Observer, and the Observer smiled back. Suddenly, the astronaut hugged the Observer. The Observer was taken off guard but, after a moment, returned the embrace.

“Thank you,” the astronaut said.

“There is nothing to thank me for.”

The astronaut smiled, then entered his ship. As the ship left the Observatory, he glanced back and saw the Observer waving, smiling sadly. Then, he was gone.

*

The astronaut flew through space for many more years. Eventually, he died quietly in his sleep. It was a painless death, one that any being would be happy to have.

As his ship continued on through the darkness, the astronaut was called back to the Observatory, and he and the Observer talked again, about everything that there was to talk about. The astronaut learned all there was to know about the other sentient species in the universe, about the creation of everything, and what the Observer hoped the future would look like.

“I think things will get brighter. For everyone,” the Observer said one day. “I hope they do, at least. I would like to see a day where there is no more grief or strife, and there is only happiness for all time.”

The astronaut thought that sounded like a fine idea.

 

Andy Conrad