This is a story that grew, and grew up, for everyone who was brave enough to go as far as they could, and look back for a while.
You can make a world out of anything.
The furled petal-lines of the rose-bud blur, as I twirl it between my fingers, pretending I’m spinning a universe into being. Then something catches my eye, through the window. I walk over, drawn to it, rose forgotten. The International Space Pre-Colony has a clear view of the continents today.
A couple of Colonists are already there, and we greet each other, quietly. Then we all watch, for a while, as the Earth spins beneath us.
I hold my breath. We’re right over Africa. Somewhere very far below us, is home.
It’s silly to stare like this, we all know that. It’s not like we’ll ever see anything, from all the way out here, but the windows draw us anyway.
I smile, privately, as the others break away for whatever it is that Colonists do up here, remembering my first, loud, bright flight, in a window seat of passenger jet.
That aeroplane could probably have fitted comfortably on one tenth of one wing of the passenger shuttle that brought me up here. I guess me and aeronautical engineering grew up together, or bigger at least. I was so small when I first flew, those years ago, that the ocean we passed over seemed like eternity.
I remember trying not to blink, back then, over the water. I kept hoping I’d see something, a whale or a cruise-liner or a giant squid or something.
Something big enough for me to see, even from all the way up there.
I curl the baby flower into my palm until I hear it crackle, and then breathe out, misting the glass.
That was before I started the Pre-Colony Training of course. When I first got up here, ‘too small to see’ started to mean something a little different.
The fire in my home town was too small for even the regular paper. I only knew about it at all because of the subscription to the neighbourhood gazette that my mom got for me.
(She says she went direct to the publishing office for that. I can just imagine: “It’s for my daughter you know. The scientist. Yes, that’s right, the one up in Space.”)
So I read the article about the fire.
It really was very small. No-one was burned horrifically, not much property was damaged, and it only took one life.
It only killed the old man whose stove it was that started it.
Little wonder the newspaper wasn’t much interested.
Mom said that she didn’t, not even once, in passing, talk to that old man.
Which seemed strange to me, strange for my Mom, I mean.
(She spoke to almost everyone, you see. Mostly about me: “yes that’s it. It’s my daughter that’s the famous Colony Planner! Imagine! My little girl. She’s doing something with plants, I think. Seeing how they grow without air, or something. For the Colony, you see. So we’ll have a food supply when we go up there. When some of us go up there. They’re starting with experiments on roses, she says. Growing roses, just like the two of us have been doing for years, right here in this garden. Growing roses in space.”)
So how little she knew about, yeah, that was odd…
It was odd that Mom didn’t know him, the old man who died, 78 years old, from a heart attack, in the fire. Who died sitting at his kitchen table and staring at the flames that had engulfed his stove.
He’d just put the kettle on.
I know he was old. He’d had a good run. 78 is a lot of years. I know it wasn’t painful, at least not much. Heart attacks are sudden. There’s not even enough time to be scared.
I know people won’t miss him, he was too new to the street to have real friends, and Mom says there wasn’t any family.
I know that we’re supposed to keep our emotions back, in reserve, for the big things: the Oil war, genocide, multi-drug resistant pandemics in places we’ve never been, kids starving to death in places we’ll never go.
Or the really big ones, like when it’s a car you recognise in the pile-up by the corner.
But there aren’t big things really. There’s the universe, and that’s big. We go further and faster, Mars, the Colony here. The Virgin Galactic consortium even says they’ve got extra-solar explorer ships in the works… but it just gets bigger.
Even from Mars, the whole Earth fits into the ‘too small to see’ box.
I think we could go as far and as fast as we wanted, and even then, everything that every human has ever built or thought or done, will be too small to see.
So it’s all small.
Small, like the rose in my hand now, freeze-dried and lifeless. Small, like this miniature rose that budded in the lab, just doing it’s thing normally, one of our control group roses that budded and then froze instantly, because one of the other trainees forgot to fix the temperature.
And I’m sorry.
Old man, little rose, I’m sorry.
Even for small fires.