The Diamond hurtled through the ether. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn passed without notice. Neptune and Uranus soon followed.

Next came tiny Pluto and the other denizens of the Kuiper belt—MakeMake, Haumea, and thousands of cold rocks with only letters and numbers for names. Twisted, broken, misshapen bodies. Known for their uniqueness, scale, and remoteness.

Then came the scattered disk, with its eccentric bodies. Small, icy denizens that, led by tiny Eris, seemed lost in their way. Lonely wanderers.

The Diamond’s destination was the next star. A new frontier.

Finally, the ship passed the Oort Cloud, resting place of comets. The only boundary that remained was the heliopause. The extent of the sun’s influence. The start of interstellar space.

The Diamond’s destination was the next star. A new frontier.

Astronaut Bates’s eyes were fixed to his chair-mounted displays. He and Devitt were the only passengers. Former sleepers, awoken for a monumental occasion: humanity leaving the solar system. They nestled inside suspended chairs with only a narrow viewport in front of them. Their window on history.  “Crossing the threshold in one minute.”

“Still looks black.” Devitt squinted. “Lots of black.”

Bates chuckled. “What did you expect?”

“Don’t know. A wave, a spark…fireworks? Something.”

Bates snorted. “Ten seconds.”

They quietly counted down. Waited. Watched.

Bates lifted a microphone to his lips. Prepared to signal home. Then his displays went crazy. Arrows spun. Graphs flashed. “Velocity decreasing!”

“Slowing? What the—?”

“Yeah, by half. No wait, by three quarters.” Bates poked at his display. Swiped and tapped. Panicked. “Engines are disengaged! We’re drifting.”

Devitt checked the window. Still black. Black with a dusting of stars. “We have momentum, right? Still on course.”

“No, we’re stopping.”

“Stopping?” Devitt swiped and tapped. Confirmed Bates remarks. “Call Earth. We have to figure—”

“They can’t help. Too far. It’ll take too long.”


Devitt laughed. “Almost sounded like a knock,” he said. “A knock at our door.”

The astronauts exchanged looks. “What was that?”

Bates shook his head. “I’m going to reengage the engines. See if—”

Another, softer “thump” then—through the window—the sense that the distant stars…inverted.

“Did you see—?”

A tapping sound echoed through the ship. They looked toward the sound. Behind them, on the ship’s starboard side. Near the hatch.

Devitt laughed. “Almost sounded like a knock,” he said. “A knock at our door.”

The sound repeated. Twice. It was coming from the hatch.

Bates gawked. “Do I get up and open it?”

Devitt shrugged. “Maybe.”

Bates grumbled, unbuckled, and made his way to the hatch. After a few seconds, the interior door slid open. He engaged his helmet and stepped into the airlock. The door closed behind him. He watched the circular exterior door. Waited.

Another knock.

He swore, braced himself, and touched the control. The door slid away.

Beyond was a white room, and standing in it was a slender blue… something. Looked like a man, with arms, legs, and a face. But also seemed different somehow. Shorter and lankier. He—it—wore a black cap on its head. Smiled.

“Devitt, you won’t be—”

“I’m sorry.” The blue man raised his cap. “We simply aren’t ready.”

“Ready?” Bates squinted. “For what?”

“For you! Schedules, overruns, that sort of thing. Simply couldn’t keep up.”

Bates wanted to slap his own face. Pinch himself. Something. “Devitt? Can you come here?”

The man smiled again. “Please remove your helmet. It is quite safe.” He bowed. “I’m Steward, by the way. Welcome to the Extent.”

“Are you saying our observations were fake?” Devitt said. “Not really there?”

Five minutes later, they were inside (outside?) the Extent. From the white room, Steward led them through a series of long, silver hallways. The entire way, he talked about scope, materials, and workforce.

The astronauts remained silent. Certain they were still dreaming.

“And there’s controversy,” Steward said. “Debate about expansion strategy.”

They reached a place where the walls disappeared. To their right, was a giant latticework of girders and another long hall. To their left and ahead, a seemingly endless curved, black structure.

It reminded Bates of a studio façade. A decoration made to look like a building where there was none. “So, you’re an—”

“Alien?” Steward laughed. “A whimsical idea. Of course not.”

Bates looked ill. “Then what are you?”

“The supervisor here.” Steward frowned. “And not a very good one, I’m afraid. Always behind.”

Devitt pointed to the structure. “And this?”

“The boundary?” Steward gestured with arms. “Yes, it goes all the way, um, around. Contains…” He cleared his throat. “Well, everything you’ve ever known.”

Bates found his voice. “But the science—”


Bates squinted, shook his head. “When we test, and observe. Make theories.”

“Ah,” Steward said. “Quaint ideas about knowledge. Tests and theories. Observations.”

Bates stared at the structure. It seemed to curve into infinity. Up and down, ahead as far as he could see.  “But we’ve used telescopes. Studied other stars. Whole galaxies.”

“Are you saying our observations were fake?” Devitt said. “Not really there?”

Steward clapped his hands together. “You found our projections believable? I hoped so, but…” He shrugged. “We only hear secondhand. Meaning sometimes gets lost.” He smiled, then motioned to the right. To the hallway leading away from the structure.

“We’re just not ready for that. So, for now, you’ll be here.”

Bates glanced at Devitt, shook his head, and followed.

“We’re going to another star,” Bates said.

Steward sighed. “I’m afraid not. No. Not possible.”

They reached an open door. Beyond was what appeared to be a furnished apartment.

“Not possible?” Bates said.

Steward shook his head. “We’re just not ready for that. So, for now, you’ll be here.”

Devitt’s face reddened. “Here? We can’t stay here! We have a mission. People counting on us.”

Steward shrugged. “Either here, or the higher ups decide. They have places prepared for you… but… you may not want to go.” He leaned close. “Eternal places. Places where the temperature is known to be…unpleasant.”

“What?” Davis said. “What nonsense is—”

Bates shoved Davis’s shoulder. “This will be fine.” He motioned toward the apartment. “You’ve done enough, Steward, thanks.”

Devitt fumed. “But—”

“Let’s go, Devitt,” Bates said. “Inside.”

Steward clapped his hands. “An excellent choice.”

Back on Earth, telescopes saw a bright flash, then darkness. Many mourned, but some planned.

They needed more time. Time to get it right.


Explore more Deep Space flash fiction in the latest issue of Havok magazine!

Meet the Author

Kerry Nietz is an award-winning science fiction author. He has over a half dozen speculative novels in print, along with a novella, a couple short stories, and a non-fiction book, FoxTales.

Kerry’s novel A Star Curiously Singing won the Readers Favorite Gold Medal Award for Christian Science Fiction and is notable for its dystopian, cyberpunk vibe in a world under sharia law. One of Kerry’s most talked about writing is the genre-bending Amish Vampires in Space, which was mentioned on the Tonight Show and in the Washington Post, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Newsweek called it “a welcome departure from the typical Amish fare.”

A refugee of the software industry, Kerry is also a husband, father, technophile and movie buff.

Follow Kerry on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.