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Mason Yates
The Newfound Cosmopolitan


     There were seven of them in the spacious room, all crowded around a cluttered table next to (but not quite) at the center. A few of them were scribbling notes on pieces of blank paper. A couple of others were typing- click-click-click-click-clack-clack-click-click…- as fast as humanly possible on miniature laptops. One of them read a tattered edition of A Tale of Two Cities, while the last of them, a portly man with a thick five o'clock shadow on his cheeks, chin, and neck that went by the name of Marshall Dixon, smoked a cigarette at the end of the table. Through clouds of smoke, his blue eyes examined the ladies and gentlemen in front of him. They all looked hard at work, and he smiled at their naiveness, then chuckled, which turned into a coughing fit. By the time he finished and spat up a loogy, the eighth team member, a slim blonde by the name of Ann Boyd, strode into the room and took a seat at the other end of the table. She opened an issue of a magazine; its title (half-hidden by a tanned, sexy brunette woman's head) read: Cosmopolitan.

     "Why do you read that garbage?" Marshall asked as he stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray in front of him. He watched as he squashed the butt, then raised his eyes to look at Ann. As he did so, he noticed the others around the table had raised their eyes away from their work in the attempt to nose their way into the incoming conversation. "Hmm, Ann?"

     "I found it in the library," Ann told him. She lifted her eyes off the magazine and looked, in a hostile manner, at the man across from her. Doing so, she shifted herself in the seat. It felt a little better to straighten her back and bring her shoulders up. "It was in a box at the back, tucked away behind a couple of bookshelves. It's been a long time since I've seen one of these."

     "There's nothing ever really good in those," Marshall told her with a sneer. "Try some of what Ray reads. He's about halfway through that fucked-up edition of A Tale of Two Cities."

<  2  >

     Ray Delgado, a humble middle-aged man with gray whiskers and a balding head, found a bookmark and slid it in-between the pages he had been reading, then said, "I hate to get involved, but I think Ann has a right to read whatever she wants to read, Marshall."

     "Oh," Marshall chuckled, "I'm not saying she can't read it, Ray. All I'm asking is why?"

     Ann turned to look out one of the porthole-shaped windows on the other side of the room. The cosmos twinkled outside the thick glass, and far away from their spaceship spiraling through the void, there was a massive gas cloud blending a variety of colors together. She glued her eyes to it for a few moments, taking a deep breath, trying to relax herself. After several years onboard GalaxyEagle, she had gotten used to Marshall's attempts to get under her skin. She smiled. That soothed her. Forcing a smile always worked.

     "Why, Ann?" Marshall urged her to speak. "Why do you read that garbage?"

     "Well," she started with the smile still on her face. "Here's an interesting article titled: 'It Makes Sex Better When You Do This…' Then after, there's a dot-dot-dot."

     Marshall chortled. "What kind of shit is that?"

     Ann shrugged, her smile stretching across her face with every second. "I don't know, but you might find it fascinating if you were sweet enough to get laid."

     The smirk on Marshall's face vanished. His cheeks reddened, and his blue eyes looked at his fellow peers sitting around the table. A few of them, including Ray Delgado, who had placed his book on the table to listen in on the conversation, smiled as they tried to contain laughter. An absolute hatred for Ann settled in his gut. Something about her- for the life of him, Marshall had no idea what- made him despise her. He did not like her smile or her attitude. Not to mention, her confidence in her looks made him want to bloody her face and rearrange it into something of pure horror.

<  3  >

     Nonetheless, he contained himself. He would never do such a thing, but he did like to pick on her. Ann, he knew, was the "pretty sorority girl" type. And as far as he knew, she thought of herself as a goddess. She at least acted like one… and he despised it.

     "That cut into you, didn't it?" she said and laughed. "Serves you right for picking on me. Do you want me to read another one for you?"

     Aggravated, Marshall dug into his pocket for another cigarette. He put it to his lips, lit it, then nodded. "Go ahead."

     "This article," she started and pointed to a page nobody at the table could see, "reads 'Do You Know What Happens When You Die? Because I Do.' Interesting, right?"

     "Nobody knows what happens when you die," Marshall grunted and took a deep drag. A cloud of smoke exited his nostrils. "That sounds just like the other nonsense article you read."

     "It at least sounds philosophical," Mary Taylor, one of the team members with a laptop in front of her, said with a grin. "What does the article say, Ann?"

     Ann looked down at the magazine and flicked her eyes over the article. Marshall took an interest in watching her. He noticed how she held the newfound Cosmopolitan in both hands. A look of concentration overtook her facial expressions. Then, he analyzed her smooth jawline and straight blonde hair. It resembled someone from his past, but he could not think of who. Maybe, just maybe, it was the look in her eye that topped off that resemblance. But the confidence had a role, too. Ann acted like Atlas with the world on her shoulders. She walked in strides, shoulders back and chest forward sort of like… how his mother used to walk before she left home to make a new life for herself- a life without him or his father in it. That, he understood now, was why he despised Ann. And every second he looked at her, he saw his mother more and more. He turned away and winced, taking the cigarette out of his mouth as he did so. Smoke danced in the air and drifted towards the ceiling, but before it could reach it, it vanished into thin air. He shook away a desire to stand up and walk out of the room.

<  4  >

     "It says," started Ann from the other side of the table, "that after we die, we journey in an odd tunnel of blackness, racing towards a bright light. When we reach that tunnel, we find that it leads to our rebirth into the world at the same time period we left off."

     "What a load of shit," Marshall grumbled under his breath. "That sounds like some kinda conspiracy or something." He put his cigarette back up to his lips and took another deep drag. It relaxed his nerves, but the blood racing through his veins continued to boil a little. The hatred in his stomach churned. He wished it would go away, but Ann's presence ingrained that emotion in him. God, he hated her, and he hated to look at her, but he did so anyway. "Plus, I hate to tell an obvious truth here, but this mission we're on is a death sentence anyway. You all are naïve. The space program sent us this deep into space to die anyway. I guess we'll all experience death in- I don't know- a few years."

     "Who's to say the author's wrong?" Ann asked, ignoring Marshall's last comment. "You said it yourself. None of us know what's going to happen when we die."

     "She got you there," Ray cut into the discussion. "You walked yourself into that one."

     "Ray," Marshall started, "can you please shut your-"

     Before Marshall could finish with your trap, a piercing screech and a flashing bright light as red as blood cut him off. For the first time since Ann's entrance into the common room, Marshall felt his anger fizzle out, replaced by a terror. Above them, the red lightbulbs screwed in the ceiling blinked, and around the room, tiny speakers alarmed them of something. What it alarmed them of, however, was that something was coming… something bad. Marshall looked over to his teammate with the laptop. Mary Taylor typed erratically now. Soon, he knew she would have the answer. He found his hatred for Ann to be gone entirely.

<  5  >


     "What is it?" Marshall shouted after seconds of no answers to the questions roaring in his head. His thoughts were traveling a hundred miles an hour- hell, probably more than that. In the last thirty seconds, life had shifted upside down. One moment, he had been poking fun at Ann; a moment later, the alarms were roaring and flashing, signaling an incoming doom. It could be the space pirates (Marshall knew it sounded funny, but the pirates were actually quite dangerous), or, he thought with an expression of dread, it could be an incoming-

     "Asteroid," Mary Taylor said. "Impact in five minutes."

     "Yep," Mark Glass, the other crew member with a laptop, added to the conversation. "An asteroid a few hundred feet across. It'll knock us-" he gulped "-out of here."

     Marshall Dixon knew he had spoken too soon about dying in a few years from now. That seemed to be wrong. Instead of dying in a few years, death crept upon them now. He could feel- well, feeling it might have been the wrong word choice, but he sure as hell knew- he was about to meet his end. He had been right about one thing, though: they would all die on the space mission they had all been so eager to be a part of at one point in their lives. At that thought, he felt an odd heat race up and down his skin. His bowels felt like they had been turned to mush inside his guts and were ready to be flushed out of him. His thoughts were circulating with images of his past in his Midwestern home. He began to hear the voices of his parents, then started to feel nostalgic-

     He jumped to his feet before he could allow himself to get caught up in the incoming tide of emotions. It would not end that way, sitting in the common room with his mind elsewhere. It would not be like that. No. Not at all. He would die trying to save himself.

     "We can get to the spacesuits at least," he told his fellow crewmembers. "We can at least try to do something." Marshall hurried to the door. Behind him, he heard a few of the crew, in a panic, fidget themselves out of their seats. Then, as he raced down the hall, he heard their footsteps. It terrified him to know this might be the last thing he would hear: the footsteps of his crew as they, in an effort to save themselves, raced down the hall to the spacesuit storage room.

<  6  >

     "I don't think this is going to work, Marshall," Ray said from behind, "but I think it's one hell of a good idea."

     "It's the best chance we got," Marshall told him. "I don't want to die just yet."

     "I hate your guts," Ann started, "but I have to admit that I'm with you on that. There's a few of them who never left the room, though."

     "Fuck them," Marshall said. "They were in too much of shock to do anything."

     "It's sad," Ann said.

     "Leave them to sit there," Ray told her. "It's probably no better than what we're doing."

     "At least we're trying," Marshall said.

     Mary Taylor joined in now: "It's nice to see us all getting along now."

     Marshall almost opened his mouth to say something in return to what Mary had said, and he had been about to say something nice and sweet, but before he could raise his lips, they found themselves in the spacesuit storage room. The NASA suits were hanging from hooks in the wall, all of the suits side by side with helmets, gloves, headsets with microphones, etc. They sparkled in the overhead lights, and Marshall took a moment to stare at them before he lunged towards an extra-large suit and began putting it on. Around him, the red bulbs flashed, and the siren wailed. It felt like a race against time. It was a race against time. Somewhere in the open void, a chunk of rock hurtled towards them, ready to, as Mark Glass had said, "knock us out of here." Marshall gulped and hurried with his suit. Just as he got finished putting it on, he heard something. The rock was getting closer and closer.

     "Help me," Ann whined in a desperate manner. "Please, zip up the back of my suit."

     Marshall did not think. Several minutes ago, if asked to save Ann, he would have said no chance in hell, but now, he did so. He reached over, zipped her up really quick, then pressed one of the buttons on the side of her helmet. Then, he tapped a button on his. "Do you hear me?"

<  7  >

     "Yeah," returned a voice. It sounded as if Ann was inside his suit, but he knew she could be heard only through the headset attached to the helmet. "Good thinking, Marshall."

     "I try," he heard himself chuckle. It felt like a quick reverse of emotion. He didn't feel a single ounce of hate anymore. Instead, it felt like there needed to be some compassion before he died. The last thing he wanted was to die with sadness in his heart. "Brace for impact!" he said. He looked around him. Mary was just about finished with her suit. On the other hand, Ray still needed to put on his helmet. Marshall stepped to him, but… a loud screech and jolt knocked him to the side. He tried pressing the palms of his gloved hands to the sides of his helmet to cover his ears, but, of course, it did not work. Something invisible dragged him out of the room. He felt it like a dust bunny being dragged by a vacuum. A strange chill raced up his spine. He hit a few walls. A snap in his leg signaled a bone break. His body, a human ragdoll now, lurched itself out into space. Before his very eyes, he saw the huge chunk of rock- the asteroid- rocket past him. Then, he felt something- a piece of shrapnel, debris?- hit him on the side of his helmet. But the pain did not last long. A swift darkness engulfed him whole.



     Marshall felt the strange sensation of floating before his eyesight revealed why he felt the peculiar feeling. In the blackness of unconsciousness, he felt like a puppet on strings, suspended, weightless. His whole body felt limp, as well. He tried to move, but no matter the effort, it felt a bit like trying to move a truckful of cinderblocks. In other words, it felt impossible. He gave up. As soon as he stopped trying, though, his eyesight returned. The universe opened itself to him; it twinkled and expanded for as far as the eye could see, no ups or downs, or lefts and rights. It felt a bit too bizarre to be real. Below him, an endless abyss stretched deeper than the earth's oceans. Above him, the abyss stretched much farther than the earth's skies. In the distance, the gas cloud he had seen earlier on board the spaceship continued to float and collide its colorfulness. He tried to spot the rocket, too, but he could see nothing. Just black, along with the speckling stars too far for him to reach- not that he wanted to reach them anyway.

<  8  >

     Nonetheless, they were pretty. They reflected off his helmet as he drifted, and as soon as he gathered his strength, he lifted his arm. It was comical to reach out to them, but he did so anyway, letting his fingers stretch. Tears trickled down his cheeks. Then, he heard the voice in his helmet.

     The feminine voice sang. At first, the words were inaudible, just muffled snippets, but as Marshall listened closer to the voice, he started to understand. It came off as Latin or Greek first, but English words were what she spoke. A familiar tune… one from long ago, centuries. But all works of art never die, and this song, he knew, was a classic. "On the Road Again." She sang in a quiet tune, whispering it to herself, probably unaware that Marshall listened in. He smiled. An overwhelming happiness grabbed him. The tears dried on his cheeks.

     "Beautiful," he said after a few minutes of listening to the female sing the same lyrics. "I haven't heard that one in such a long time."

     The female gasped on the other end of the headset. She, just like him, probably floated in the void, too, a suspended, weightless puppet, directionless and purposeless. "I didn't think…"

     "Anyone survived?" Marshall finished for her. "I was knocked out for a while."

     "Three or four hours," the girl said. "It must have been a while. Is this Marshall? It sure sounds like Marshall."

     "Yeah," Marshall said. "Who am I speaking to? These headsets distort the voice a bit."


     "What are the odds?" Marshall chuckled. "I'm sorry, Ann. I… I don't know why."

     "It's okay," Ann told him. "Thank you for helping me with my suit. Without you, I'd have died. You gave me a little bit longer."

     "Maybe it was best if you would've died, though," Marshall told her. He turned to look at his surroundings in hopes of catching sight of Ann floating out there somewhere, but nothing was in his field of vision except for the gas clouds and the stars. "Maybe it's best just to finish it, so you don't have to be alone out there in the cosmos."

<  9  >

     "I'm not alone," she said. "I have you in my ear."

     "For how long, though?" Marshall asked her. "You have to be close by. These radios do not pick up anything too far off." He shook his head. "What are the odds of this, though?"

     "If I drift far enough away," Ann started and gulped, "does that mean I won't be able to-"

     "Get a signal?" Marshall finished for her. "Yeah."

     Ann cursed on the other end. "That's just perfect. I can't see you out there."

     Marshall craned his neck to look around again. "I can't see you either."

     "We have to be close, though, right?" Ann asked.

     For the first time in his life, Marshall felt the need to be close to Ann, felt the need to be a friend to her, felt the need to wrap his arms around her and embrace her in the biggest hug he had ever given anyone before. Odd, he thought, since just a few hours ago (had it really been hours?), he had wanted to smash her face in and destroy her confidence. But, in all reality, he wanted to destroy any resemblance of his mother in her. That, he now knew, was why he really hated her.

     "Yeah," Marshall answered her question and scanned the void for any signs of life. "You have to be super close. I can hear you just fine, actually. It sounds like you're right next to me."

     "Maybe space allows the radio waves or whatever they are to sound closer than we really are," Ann told him. "After all, it seems like every day earth gets a signal from far out in space."

     "Most of those signals are just a bunch of bullshit," Marshall said and continued to turn.

     "What do you mean?" Ann asked.

<  10  >

     "I mean," Marshall started, "a lot of those signals tend to be some sort of anomaly."

     "I don't believe in coincidences, Marshall," Ann told him. "I try to believe in something. It's a little odd that something comes from nothing, right?"

     Marshall continued to spin as he floated, his eyes searching for her out there in the black. It made him dizzy, a little nauseous, but he could not help it. "I guess so," he said after a second.

     "You really think what that Cosmopolitan issue said was bullshit?" Ann asked.

     "The one about what makes sex better?" Marshall asked and chortled into the headset.

     "No," Ann giggled. "The one about what happens when you die."

     "The rebirth one?" Marshall asked.


     Marshall shrugged. "I think it's a bunch of nonsense, but I guess it's always possible."

     "I like to believe that anything is possible."

     "That's optimistic thinking."

     "It's better than realistic thinking," Ann said. "I bet when the first humans looked up at a star, they thought they'd never be able to get any closer to it than they were at that moment. The world needs unrealistic thinking to push the capabilities of humankind."

     "I guess that makes sense," Marshall admitted. He spun around one more time before the thought of looking up and down crossed his mind. He did so, first looking up and seeing nothing at all, then looking down. It took him a minute to spot her, but when he did, he could not look at anything else. There, suspended in an infinite lacuna of space, Ann drifted in the opposite direction, her body growing smaller and smaller with every second. It sent a chill down his spine. He reached out to her but grabbed nothing. "I see you."

<  11  >

     "Where?" Ann asked and spun around, her body looking like a tabletop to Marshall, who continued to watch from above. "Where are you? I can't see shit."

     "Look up," he whispered again, unsure of why in such a quiet voice. He guessed to enjoy the moment because soon, he knew, Ann would disappear into the void, lost forever. "I'm a tiny speck, probably."

     Below, Ann tilted her chin upward. "Oh, my God."

     "You see me?" Marshall asked.


     "We're drifting apart."

     "I can see that."

     "I don't think we have much time before our headsets are unable to reach each other."

     "I hear you just fine right now," Ann said with a tremor in her voice. "You think that-"

     "I think that we've been lucky so far," Marshall told her. "I'm sorry for everything."

     "Don't say stupid shit like that, Marshall," Ann said. "You act like we're both going to-"

     "We're going to die soon," Marshall told her in a calm tone. "It's inevitable."

     "We still have a while."

     "Not too much longer, though."

     "That's negative thinking," she said to him. "What if that article proves to be true?"

     "Then whoever wrote it knows more than any of us."

     "You're not excited to restart a new life?"

     Marshall chuckled. "Are you?"

     A minute passed before Ann said anything. "I mean… I guess I can make different-"

     "I don't think we get to make different choices," Marshall interrupted her before she said anything. "I don't think we remember our past lives. Because if we're all just different versions of our pasts, then why aren't we all doing better. We're constantly failing and failing. We fail a lot before we learn from it, Ann."

<  12  >

     "I guess that's true," Ann said after a moment of contemplation. "I've failed so much."

     "We all do," Marshall said, "but at the end of the day, you've accomplished so much, too, right?"

     "I guess so," Ann said. All the while she talked, Marshall noticed that she stared up at him. Her body drifted away into some unknown part of the universe. "I guess I did a lot, but I also fucked up more than I can count. I repeated the same mistakes over and over."

     "It takes a while before we learn from them."

     "You're right," she said and looked back down. "I guess it's all a work in progress, but I sure hope that wherever I go next, it's going to be easier."

     "I don't think it will be," Marshall, always the pessimist told her. "I think it'll be worse. I don't know, though. Who am I to say?"

     "I think it'll be better," Ann told him.


     "Look… bright… of…" her voice stuttered on the other end of the line. "… it'll be… I'd think of it…"

     Marshall felt his heart lurch inside of his chest. "Ann," he interrupted her again. "I think I'm losing you, Ann. We're drifting too far apart."

     "See… you… on the other…" Her voice dwindled into nothingness. And Marshall felt a need to watch her body as it vanished into the black. He saw it recede into a tiny speck, then into nothing. The void swallowed her whole. He tried to shout back into the headset, hoping to catch a couple more words, but it was useless. She was gone. Tears flooded down his cheeks. He tried to swim towards her, but space dominated him. He floated in his own direction, and she went in her own direction. And as they did so, Marshall watched the spot where he had seen Ann vanish, feeling the need to stare and wait for something to happen. Nothing did. That was until he felt a pull on his body, then heard the liquid sound behind him.

<  13  >

     Marshall turned around just in time to see the circular gaseous ring hovering right behind him. It must have been as large as several doorways stacked on top of each other, and its width, if Marshall guessed, might have been as long as an ordinary car. He drifted- no, it felt like some kind of force pulled him- towards the gaseous hole. The liquid sound rose in volume. A warm sensation brushed his skin. His helmet reflected the ring- but only the outside of the ring, though, for the inside was as black as night. It beckoned him forward- not that he had a choice in the matter. Marshall felt like screaming, but nothing came from his lips. He wiggled his arms. His feet kicked. In the end, he gave up. There was nothing he could do.

     It happened too quick for his mind to comprehend it, but he went into the gaseous hole an astronaut with a spacesuit on, then came out into a blurred world with no clothes at all on. There were noises in the distance, figures all around him, and he felt an odd warmth all over him. Time became muffled. He tried to reach out for something, but his arms felt so tiny… so weak. It was an extraordinary feeling but also scary all the same. He wished to be back with Ann, talking and trying to become friends with her rather than enemies, as weird as it sounds. But the memory of Ann began to slip from his mind. The memory of crashing in space began to distort itself, too. It all departed from his thoughts, blasted like an atomic bomb had been set on everything he knew.

     When he began to cry, he understood. Instead of gentle sobs, he felt the need to open his mouth and wail… and when he did, it came out like an infant's cry. And his last thought that he would ever have of his past life blinked into his head like a lightbulb flicking on: Ann Boyd with the Cosmopolitan magazine in her hand, reading the title of an article. "'Do You Know What Happens When You Die? Because I Do.'"

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