82. Explorer

In the cold emptiness of interstellar space, the lonely craft floated along its predestined course.

“Space,” Trey said, walking into the cabin with an extra bottle of beer in his hand. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Matt looked up at his shipmate, if only to receive the perspiring bottle. Goddammit, he came into space because he thought it’d give him some quiet time and peace of mind – and they just had to assign him to the most talkative astronaut there was. Trey sat on his bed, sipping from the top of the bottle.

“Three thousand years, and Germans still make the best beer in the world,” Trey raised his bottle as he spoke, as though proposing a toast. “There’s got to be a conspiracy behind this, that’s what I think. Someone wants Germany to be good at this.”

Matt popped the cap off his bottle and took a swig at it, savoring the cool liquid running down his throat, and then the heat that followed in its wake. “That’s coz they’re the only ones who give a shit about what their beer tastes like,” he said, “And they happen to be good at giving a shit about the taste of beer.”

Trey laughed at this. “That’s funny, man,” he said. “Ever wonder if aliens drink beer? I’d wager that aliens would make beer that makes German beer taste like dog’s piss.”

“Yes, we’ve all heard about the giant cloud of alcohol in space,” Matt stopped him before it went any further. “You’ve only said it five million times; we get it.”

“But dude, thank about it!” Trey leaned in close the way he did when he was ready to begin a lecture. “Humans invented beer, in the first place, because it was difficult to get clean water – and earth is already three-quarters water. Somewhere on some alien planet that’s all dried up, there’s an alien plant cranking out alien beer for their daily alien lifestyles of drinking beer all day long; and if it’s something they’ve got to drink all day long, they’ve got to make it good, right?”

“Right,” Matt said just to shut him up.

“Bam! Right there – best beer in the UNIVERSE,” Trey announced, “Sorry, Germans – it’s been a great few millenniums, but people move on. Maybe in another universe; try harder next time!”

“Maybe we are in that universe,” Matt said, “Where German beer is the best beer in the universe. Because incidentally, our universe may be the one where aliens don’t f–king exist.”

“A man’s gotta dream,” Trey shrugged and took another drink from his bottle. “Say, do you really believe in that stuff?” he asked, looking at Matt intently as he did. “The multiverse and shit?”

“Can’t say I do,” Matt said.

“I mean, think about it – a universe where things we a little different. Not too different, because that would be messed up; but maybe one where you didn’t choose to become an astronaut, and chose to become a hermit, or something. Can you imagine that?”

“A hermit instead of an astronaut?” now Matt laughed, “Son, we ARE hermits – just ones in funny-looking suits in a funny-looking hut that f–king moves through f–king space. Look around you, pal – not a soul within the next three billion miles! We’re the hermits of hermits – if ever a hermit there was!”

“I don’t know, man,” Trey gazed up as he daydreamed a little, “When I finished high school, I thought I wanted to be a Hollywood star. I was involved in theater and stuff, at that time. Then came the scholarship offer for astrophysics – and the next thing I know, here I am. Out in outer space, pushing the boundaries of exploration.”

“You think there’s another you somewhere out there,” Matt said slowly, laughing a little as he did, “Who’s living the life – starring in movies, a house in Beverly Hills, doing casting calls; all that shit?”

“Not just out there, man,” Trey said, becoming solemn all of a sudden. “Way out there – a whole new universe. One I’ll never get to see, no matter how far out into space I go.”

“Tough,” Matt said, and he emptied the contents of his bottle into his mouth, sloshing it all around before swallowing it all in two big gulps. “Life goes on, buddy,” he said, getting up to leave. “For you; for me; and the bloody human race.”

“In another universe; if the other you had one thing – one decision – that the other you would do differently,” Trey suddenly asked, “What would it be?”

Matt stood at the doorway for a long time as he thought about this, holding on to the empty bottle absently. There was an ache in his heart that he had once known as sadness, but he had kept that away and numbed his heart a long time ago. The ache came knocking, and his heart shut it out.


He looked up at Trey, an inexplicable hotness at the back of his eyes as he spoke.

“I’d never have left.”


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