“Fifteen minutes out,” said the navigator sitting next to him in the SpaceX Dragon 2 capsule as it moved towards the International Space Station, glimmering some distance ahead of them. That distance, he could visually see, was slowly closing. Mission control chimed in, said, “Approach to ISS nominal”. Higher and to the left in the small capsule window a three-quarter Moon hung, and to the right of the moon, a bright dot. The bright dot was moving.
“I have a visual on asteroid 680671 Sinole,” he said, “Right where we expected to see it”. After a minute of silence, Mission Control again, “Astronomy section reports 680671 Sinole continues on course well beyond the Moon’s orbit and will not cross Earth’s path. No worries.”
“Twelve minutes to ISS dock,” the astronaut to his left, the navigator, announced. “Approach continues nominal,” agreed Mission Control. Two more astronauts to their right and left completed the row of four, three men and a woman. Behind them, he could sense the silent fifth astronaut in the row behind them, which could accommodate up to three.
Wait, wait, he thought. Five astronauts? I only remember training with four, including myself. Why were five there now? He couldn’t remember a role for a fifth. He thought about turning to look but knew the seat wouldn’t allow him to turn his head that far. He remembered the fifth astronaut boarding the capsule, assisted by the ground crew like the rest of them.; nobody thought it unusual. He hadn’t thought it unusual. Why was he confused now?
Disorientation might indicate a problem. He checked the gages on capsule oxygen and pressure levels. Everything looked fine. “Ground, what’s your read on crew health?” He felt his navigator turn slightly to look at him, curious why he’d make the request, then check the gages himself. “Crew health is nominal, commander. ISS approach also continues nominal,” ground reported.” Navigator turned back to his own station. “Eight minutes,” he said.
“Everybody awake?” he asked, only half joking. The other three in front chuckled and responded to the affirmative. “What about you back there?” he asked.
A couple seconds. “Fine”, came an acknowledgement.
He thought, this just feels weird. He looked again at the asteroid. Its course seemed to have curved. Now this is just too weird. “Control … “, he began, then came an unexpected flash of intense light. “What in the hell!” someone cried out. They squeezed their eyes tight for the several seconds it lasted. Static burst through their headsets. “Control!” he shouted. The light faded away.
The ISS was gone.
“Control!” He looked for debris. There was none. No sign of an explosion. It was just gone. “Control please acknowledge!” He looked to the asteroid again and saw that it had moved closer to them. Much closer, and it suddenly seemed too artificial to be an asteroid. “Control!” Static.
“They’re no longer there,” came the voice from the back row, the fifth astronaut, speaking so calmly, even soothing. “No one is.”
He let that sink in a moment. The other three astronauts next to him seemed to be unconscious. He tried to switch frequencies on the radio.
“It’s not the radio,” the voice came once more. “They’re gone.”
Very peacefully the voice said, “It’s okay. It’s alright. It wasn’t your fault. We made a mistake; design flaws. We decided to undo.”
“Nobody felt, even thought, a thing. We simply returned everything to a previous state. Like it never happened.”
He shook his head, fought back nausea. “Like what never happened?”
“Humans,” the voice said. “We made mistakes in the design.” He looked at his hands, quickly turning them, examining. “No, not in the physical,” the voice said, “Although we should have given you greater tolerance to radiation variance. No, you were too resistant to diversity, too resistant to change, too self-delusional, among other things. We left too much to what you would call ‘survival of the fittest’, and it proved ultimately maladaptive. Homo sapiens were soon to be replaced. We didn’t like how it was evolving so we decided an undo was in order.”
His head spun. He had to fight to control his breathing, then felt a calming wave engulf him like a tranquilizer taking hold. “But we’re still here…”
“Yes, as are the crew of your ISS. They are safe. You and your colleagues will be as well, shortly. You will live perfectly comfortable lives; we wanted living examples in case we decide a redesign is possible.”
“Who are you?” he asked, No answer. “Were we really that bad?”
“No,” the voice said. “We kept all your literature, all your art, and all of your music. THAT part was unexpected. And frankly, because of it, we don't know what the hell to do.”
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.