A vortex of a thousand rabid butterflies churned his gut and his body flailed frantically, trying to grab something, to step on something, to regain lost balance in the wake of these sudden visceral primordial sensations. A subterranean groan grated his ears as his lungs strained to gasp in breath while screaming. His heart ached to splitting from the electric jolt of these simultaneous realizations unified into one like a direct impact from the divine lightning hammer.
Having nothing here but himself, he made this the focus of his attention, and set about controlling it. Trying to recount the preceding moments, partly in a feeble attempt to disprove the reality of his perplexing situation, he couldn’t remember if he’d seen the countdown timer go all the way to straight zeros before it disappeared. In any case, it clearly had, and he was no longer there.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness and the heralds of hypoxia, those flashing specks of phantom light receded, he saw that some dim specks remained.
For a while he watched the distant stars scroll by as he revolved slowly in weightless suspension. None of them were familiar, he could recognize no constellations.
So this was the edge of the error range in that fundamental equation that lay at the heart of the teleportation device, he thought to himself. The engineers who built it were all confident that this possibility lay well beyond probability. But the physicists who’d dreamt it up, those wizards of matter and energy, knew it was there. As one of those physicists, he had known there was a chance that the blink–the instantaneous relocation–wouldn’t land him in Lab B, the intended target, but the promise of this technology that could open up all horizons and make every place reachable was too enticing–and so too was the chance to be the first teleported man too enticing.
That same miraculous insight that allowed the technology to work, the realization that, with the right manipulation, the universe could be tricked into thinking that each point in space was the same as any other, was also its greatest flaw. With the tremendous quantities of energy concentrated to densities well beyond natural phenomena that were needed to focus the machine on the intended target, all it had taken, presumably, was a picosecond drop or disruption in that energy flow for the focus to be lost, and without focus, every single point in the universe became equally likely to be his destination as any other.
Of course, if he’d known that he’d end up marooned between the stars, far from any planet, far from any sun, in who knows what region of the galaxy, or what region of the universe, he would never have stepped into the departure chamber at Lab A. But here he was, and regrets are useless when there’s only three minutes of oxygen left. He forced himself to appreciate the peculiarity of the transportation method that required the departure chamber to be void of all matter but the payload, therefore necessitating that he make the trip in a sealed suit with its own oxygen supply, leaving him with a few precious breaths at the end of his life instead of having his last ripped from him in this deep vacuum of deep space.
In one sense, it was the safest place he could be. No predators, no natural disasters, no murder, nothing to fall on him–just nothing at all. Possibly his suit could fail, but since there was nothing to make it fail–here there was nothing to make anything do anything but himself–that was as unlikely as spontaneous heart failure.
Rescue, even if he waited a trillion years, was impossible. Finding a fraction of a speck of a shaving from a needle in a haystack would be easier than finding him in the random spot in the universe that he’d been dropped.
There would be a short time during which he would definitely not die, and then after that he was definitely going to die.
Three minutes of fresh air left, he thought to himself, and then a few seconds of fading consciousness. And then? How long would his body drift in nowhere, radiating out his heat until it dropped to the universal 3 kelvins, and how long would his nearly absolutely frozen corpse hang, motionlessly falling, pinned to nothing, without anything at all to molest it? Perhaps it would remain mummified until the very last days of the universe, when the atoms themselves ultimately tired and fell apart.
He thought of his future there, buried between the stars, ascended to the heavens to endure eternally among the constellations. Did that make him like the mythological gods whose great deeds in life earned them a fixed place in the firmament? As the only solid matter in a space potentially greater than any galaxy, he was indeed by far the most powerful being in his realm, and certainly in comparison to any of the isolated helium nuclei he could call his neighbours he would be considered a god.
The god looked out at his world and the night that surrounded him. His night stayed; there was no Sun to warm his backside, as the Earth has, and no hope for a dawn. Only night that would pass away to yet more night as he rotated like a miniature planet.
But the Sun is just a star, special only for its proximity, and his world was filled with stars, none occluded by any planet. If night means being in the shadow of your planet cast by the Sun, then he would declare himself his own planet, and all the multitudinous stars shining on him his suns, thereby placing him in eternal day. It would be day more gloriously bountiful than the fleeting periods experienced by those still trapped on Earth. Not eternal night, but a miraculous uninterrupted teeming quantity of day!
He felt hot. Though his destiny was a deep freeze, for now his body was still metabolising, slowly burning through its food, generating heat. His environment was neither cold nor hot: temperature is a property of matter, and his environment had no matter. The vacuum around him instead was a barrier to heat transfer, an unfathomably thick layer of insulation.
Realizing his oxygen supply had depleted, he felt relieved to have come to terms with what he now knew was his fortunate fate.
One last thought touched his consciousness as the starfield before his eyes began to be replaced once again by the twinkling bright points of hypoxia: a billion billion sunrises every moment, and all of them utterly dim.