I was twenty years old when I saw the Earth explode.

I watched from one of the escape pods as the blue marble dissolved into millions of flickering particles in the vacuum of space.

A few years before the end of Earth, a black hole revealed itself a bit too close to us. The scientists named it Leviathan’s Jaw. They think its presence impacted the fusion cores in the Earth’s crust; the ones which eventually exploded and ended humanity.

I don’t know how old I am now. I lost track of time. My food and water supplies are depleted and I’m surprised I still have power. I tried modifying the pod to maneuver it and change my trajectory, but the thrusters can barely fly against a light breeze.

I’m now on the edge of the infamous black hole, about to be sucked in. I’ve sent many distress signals, wondering if someone — or something — would receive it and respond.

No response thus far.

Now, with only a few minutes before I cross the event horizon, I’ll try one last time.

I stand in front of the communications panel, wondering where I should begin. I can’t decide if I have a lot to say or nothing at all, suddenly wishing I had done more with my life on Earth. I’ve had nothing but time in the pod to dwell on all the things I didn’t do. I was a bum with no ambitions. I never wrote a book or started a business. With the world at my fingertips, I never explored beyond my front door.

I take a deep breath and activate the recording device.

“I’m in an escape pod from the explosion on Earth,” I say. “If you’re hearing this, yes, it’s gone. Earth is gone.”

In the corners of my vision, darkness looms outside the pod’s tiny windows.

I am terrified.

“They said the fusion cores in the crust went chaotic and melted the planet after Leviathan’s Jaw appeared.”

I look at the two indicator lights to the side of the camera lens. One is red: the camera was recording. One is green: my signal was broadcasting.

“I’m approaching the black hole now. I’ll cross the event horizon in a few minutes. If anyone can hear me, please save me before then…”

I trail off.

There is a strange curvature to the blackness outside the pod as if I were in a glass fishbowl moving through oil.

I sigh and turn away from the recorder.

I look down at my hands. What would happen when I passed over the event horizon? Would I watch myself expand as each molecule of my being crossed over the colossal line of no return? Was it going to hurt? Would it be quick? Would I need to give a presentation to an auditorium of angels, begging them to let me into heaven?

It was all impossible to understand. My human brain unable to comprehend the impending pain of my atoms becoming infinitely compressible.

“This will be my last communication attempt,” I start again. “My name is -–“

Suddenly the pod jerks ahead in space with a frightening jolt. There is an explosion and the pod’s shell creaks in agony. I fly forward as unseen forces slam my body into the communications panel. Pain is everywhere; sudden and sharp. Muscles and joints I didn’t know I had feel like they are being ripped apart.

I try to push myself up but my back and shoulders are heavier than the rest of my body.

I must have just passed the event horizon.

The pod is shaking and vibrating. Even if I could get upright, I’d never be able to stand.

“Open the emergency panel!” a voice screams.

“What?!” I yell back. Was I hearing things? Was my brain screaming at me above the chaos?

The voice comes again, distorted and drowning in a static ocean.

“Open the panel labeled E-M-G! Open it or you’ll die!”

“Hey!” I shout at the voice. My mind wanting to express so many things with that one word: Who are you? How can you communicate with me inside a black hole?

“Open the panel!”

“There’s nothing in the panel!” I scream. I’d been through that compartment a thousand times. There used to be extra supplies inside, but they are long gone.

My world becomes pixilated; everything looking like an old video game as the pressure increases on my skull.

“Trust me!” the voice yells back. “There’s a compartment behind it!”

My muscles work against the forces of the monstrous black hole as I reach for the emergency panel. My hand grips the handle to pull, but I am jerked away as the ship shakes again. Tendons tear in my shoulder. I feel muscle strings rip as I start spinning inside the pod. My head and shoulders want to move through the roof while my legs and feet try to go the other direction. Zero gravity and full gravity at the same time.

“Hurry!” the voice yells.

Pain boils behind my eyes as if a burning steel rod is being pulled through my skull from temple to temple.

I grab a hand hold to steady myself and reach for the empty compartment.

“There’s a release switch in the upper right hand corner!”

My hands feel around the top inner frame of the panel. Indeed, there is a switch tucked up behind it. How did I miss this before?

I press the switch and the inner plate flies off, suddenly flipping around the pod in the open gravity like a throwing knife.

But it isn’t the flying panel that scares me. Or even my forthcoming death. It’s the massive syringes containing yellow goo.

No. I won’t. No…

“Now what?!” I scream, already anticipating the horrifying answer.

“Inject yourself with it!”

I’d rather die.

I grab one of the syringes. The cylinder is enormous. My hands almost can’t grasp it. The yellow goo glows in the capsule, aching to enter my bloodstream.

No. No.  

“Do it! It will keep your body from getting ripped apart!”

I look at my inner elbow, trying to see the blue veins. My vision begins to tunnel. There is no way I can hit the right spot in my arm.

The pain increases. Lights flash and blink. Alarms yell.

“You’ll get ripped apart if you don’t do it now!”

Something roars outside the pod.

I look down at my leg. The pod spins around me faster and faster. My guts churn.

“Come on!” The voice shouts again.

I jam the needle into my thigh and press the nozzle, shuddering as the goo enters my body.

I scream. I feel the warm goo as it works its way to my heart.

I pull the needle out.

BOOM!

The pod jolts again as another explosion propels me through the vast, frictionless void.

My hips and shoulders feel like they are dislocating. I wait for the voice to tell me what to do next, but it remains silent.

“What did I just do?!” I try to yell above the chaotic noise. There is no answer.

I pull myself back to a hand hold using every ounce of strength I have left. The pressure everywhere in my body is immense, like the weight of an entire ocean pressing down while something pulls me apart.

I’m going to die. I gave myself the shot too late.

I try to curl myself into a ball and pull my limbs back where they should be.

Just as I think the pain can’t get any worse, there is a slight decline in agony as the goo starts to do its job. My limbs warm and the pain dissipates.

“Hang on!” The voice is back. “We’re trying to get control of you!”

The spinning slows. Thunder claps outside.

“Almost got you!”

Then it is over.

The creaking and chaotic shaking of the pod’s structure was gone in an instant. The empty syringe floats like a dead parasite. A gooey, yellow residue drips from the end of the needle.

I take a deep breath and exhale. Breathe in again. Exhale.

“Are you alright?” The voice asks.

“I think so,” I say.

“Yes!” the voice shouts. “Yes! We did it!”

“What?” It was the only word which encompassed all my confusion. What just happened? Who are you? What are you? How did you not get my signal before? Where am I?

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“We’re so glad we found you in time!”

“Found me?”

“Found you coming through Leviathan’s Jaw!”

“The black hole?”

“No,” the voice replies. I can hear it clearly now. A man’s voice; soft and welcoming. “Leviathan’s Jaw isn’t a black hole.”

“Then what is it? Where am I?”

“It’s a bit hard to explain,” he says. “Look out the window.”

I look, and my heart stops.

I was looking at Earth.

“Uh….What’s going on?” I ask. “Earth is gone.”

“Earth One is gone,” the man replies.

“Earth One?”

“Yes, Earth One. That was the first Earth. What you see is Earth Five.

I feel like the pod is spinning again.

“Earth Five?”

“We’ve built a few,” he says. “Earth Two was a bit better than Earth One. Built in the same way, but with a few improvements. Similarly, Earth Three better than Two. Five will be the last. It has all the improvements of the previous versions.”

I take a deep breath. “I’m not dead? This isn’t some twisted corner of Hell?”

“Ha!” the voice laughs. “No!”

“Is anyone from Earth….One here?”

“You’re the only one who made it from Earth One. We’re still waiting for the others.”

I must be dead. My hands squeeze my knees to make sure I can still feel my body. The solidity of my being isn’t enough.

“And who are you?”

“Again, that’s a bit complicated. Too much to explain to you now. What you need to know is you’re safe. You’re coming to the perfect Earth. The most improved version ever made.”

I’m silent, not sure what to say.

“It’s okay. You’ll be alright.”

I realize I’m still clinging to the hand hold, afraid to step down as if the floor was a pool of lava. I slowly put my feet down, giving my blood a moment to flow normally.

“I’m not dead?” I ask.  

“No,” he says. “You’re very much alive.”

“I…” my voice chokes up. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear another human voice.” I feel tears behind my eyes.

“And we can’t wait to have you here on Earth Five,” he says.

“So what happens now? What happens when I get down there?”

“The world will be at your fingertips,” he says.

And this time, I’ll explore it.