A Different Light
"If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive." - Eleonora Duse
He sees it break away from the horizon, lifting toward the sky with deft strokes, an invisible artist's hand streaking the colors, changing each shade almost too quickly for his eyes to catch.
He focuses with all his strength, drilling his eyes into the sight, as if testing it for vision or mirage. When he realizes it's real his breath catches, heart slamming against his ribcage.
The sky is piercing red against vivid blue, colors unnaturally bright, off from the familiar tones and hues of earth. He feels tears seep into his eyes, salt burning, aching with the awe, the beauty. He finds he's holding his breath, as if intaking and exhaling air will distract him from the moment, that he'll miss a precious second.
It's a sunrise, the first one he's seen since Earth, glowing with hope and promise, and he longs to reach out and touch it, to wrap his hands and eyes in the colors and hold onto it forever. He wonders how many times he saw one before and never took any notice of it.
The others press their fingers and faces to the glass, but he holds back. As they run out he stays back, standing inside, looking through the glass until the sunrise fades into a clear blue sky. He's the commander, after all, and the commander can't leave his post, can't indulge in mindless pleasures when he holds the lives and safety of hundreds in his hands.
He doesn't go out.
He opens the windows and lets the air in, breathing deeply.
It's clean and fresh, not artificially circulated and filtered as they've breathed so long. It smells like country air, filling his lungs, bursting with life, and his heart swells with a quiet joy somewhere deep inside him.
The others go out in it as if on a beach on Earth, sun tanning, playing tennis. He fleetingly wishes he could join them. And then he reminds himself that he's the commander and it isn't his place to go out, to enjoy himself.
After a while he turns his back on the sights outside and returns to his work, the empty monitors and screens, the cold and sterile blinking buttons and the strips of lifeless paper. He doesn't look back out again.
But he leaves the windows open.
It's raining, such a simple and natural thing that he can't explain why hot tears spring to his eyes, or why his chest hurts.
It falls in sheets from the sky, and he wonders if it's warm or cool, whether it comes with the muggy heat of a summer storm or the gentle breeze softening its path. It blurs through his eyes, gentling his view of the land and for just an instant he imagines it's Earth, green and full of life, reaching out and welcoming, anything but the hard and rough land outside.
The others run out into the rain, laughing, dancing, splashing in it, reveling in the freedom, the memory of another time, of a home now gone.
He wants to join them, to hold the precious droplets in his hands, to feel it on his face, washing away the years, to drink it like the finest wine.
But he's the commander and he stays inside and only watches.
Watches and wonders what the rain tastes like.
He watches the sun slip behind the horizon, fading into the dust for the last time, slowly dying.
It's the last sunset in this world, and even if he hadn't known he would have sensed it anyway.
There's a horrible finality to it, a hideous beauty enfolding them, a dirge for faint hopes and lost dreams. They'll go on, seeking another place, chasing another hope. They may even find it.
But in that instant, as he watches that last sunset, all he can think is how he never saw the sunrise, never walked in the air, and never tasted the rain.
And those moments may have been the last chance in his life to do those things.