Musaira Deshu lived an unremarkable life as such things were measured. She worked for a company that provided the processed food and other supplies for several planetary and asteroid mining conglomerates. When she was introduced to people they invariably commented on how interesting her job must be, associated with such interstellar daring. Space travel, with all its attendant consequences, was still a novelty for most people, who would never so much as think of leaving the planet surface, except to visit a thermospheric resort.
Musaira was in fact one of these. Her job was in payroll and compliance. The closest she came to space was when she calculated the taxable benefits for those off planet, who had different exemptions than those on. She was completely fine with this. The job was not what one would call exciting, but she took satisfaction in it and considered herself quite good at it. She was married and had a young daughter, and much of the joy she found in life came there.
One day, on her way to work, she was nearly hit by a falling pane of glass as she walked by a tower that was under construction. Workers had been installing the windows above and had left one resting against the ledge on the roof. Somehow a gust of wind caught it, lifted it up, and sent it tumbling down to the ground. The police, when they investigated, said it was just poor luck that it had happened, though they expected the construction company to be fined for failing to take the necessary precautions.
For Musaira the incident was a revelation. The glass landed right beside her as she walked by the tower. She could feel the brush of the wind as it passed by, and had actually looked to see if someone was reaching out to get her attention. She turned in time to see the glass shatter and let out a scream, jumping back. In spite of the shards of glass spraying in all directions around her, she wound up with only a small cut on her left hand. People farther away than her ended up with cuts and bits of glass embedded in their flesh. One man even lost an eye.
It was extraordinary, Musaira thought. How could she have come so near to dying and yet escape untouched? People said it was luck, a sign, or providence. She felt it was all those things and more. As she walked into work after filling in the police reports, she decided then and there what she would do. She went to one of the recruiters who worked in her office and asked him to sign her up for the longest duration voyage available.
He was dumbfounded by her request. “Your husband will be dead by the time you get back. Your daughter might be too.”
She would not be dissuaded. All the psych evals came back normal and the conglomerate happily agreed to sign her up for training. There were limited numbers of people willing to sacrifice the entirety of the lives they had built on a glorified supply run through space. Many of her colleagues were concerned about her, wondering what could possibly have inspired what they saw as a rash and horrific decision. They did little to intervene, assuming that once the tedium of the two months of training set in and she had time to think further on the enormity of what she was doing, she would change her mind.
Musaira did not though, and when the day of the ship launch came she said goodbye to her still disbelieving husband and her daughter—who at three was too young to comprehend what was happening—and went to the launch pad. The other astronauts had friends and family there to say their goodbyes, but all of hers had stayed away, uncomfortable with the seemingly unbelievable decision she had made. But as she stepped aboard and strapped herself into her chair for the launch, Musaira felt no regrets. Her entire being vibrated with joy at the universe that lay before her.
The journey to the asteroid being mined at the edges of the solar system and back to the planet took nearly six years of her time to complete, enough time that the sharp excitement and newness of each day gradually wore smooth, until it was neither exciting, nor interesting, but simply existence as it was. They encountered few problems, completing the mission as intended, and returned to the planet without fanfare or celebration.
Musaira though felt an immense satisfaction at all she had dared and accomplished. She regretted nothing, though now she felt she might like to remain upon the planet and carry on with her life there. Seventy years had passed in the time she had been in space. Her husband had died, after marrying another woman and having two more children. Her daughter had gone on with her life as well, though Musaira was reluctant to investigate too much, not wanting to interfere with her new existence.
Instead she resumed her old position in payroll and compliance with the conglomerate. All her old colleagues had long since retired and there had been changes so vast that she found it disorienting simply to walk down the street. She was now a person out of time, unfamiliar with the most basic of cultural references and shorthand everyone took for granted. After a year back on the planet she shipped out again, this time on a vessel that would be gone for ten years.
When she returned home after that journey she was nearing fifty and was too old for the conglomerate to consider for other voyages. She had made more than enough money to last her for the rest of her life, and so she decided to retire to a tropical island and spend what time remained to her there. She bought a small hotel and ran it, settling into the routine of these new days. A widower came to stay for a week and ended up not leaving. After two months he moved out of his room and permanently into her apartments. Ten years passed in an instant and she felt as though she had never been anywhere else.
One day a woman, in her late thirties, arrived and stayed for a week. She was reserved but pleasant and Musaira felt certain that she knew her, though that was obviously impossible. Everyone she had known in her past lifetimes was long dead, and everyone she knew now was here.
The woman caught her staring at her at breakfast one day and said, “You don’t recognize me at all do you?”
Musaira shook her head.
“I don’t know how many lifetimes I’ve waited for this moment.”
Musaira nodded, understanding at last. “More than most I would imagine.”
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