You can’t even find the Sun.
From here, this floating rock lost in its ice-slow dance, it appears little more than a pinprick of spiky light, whiter than snow, whiter than the fragments of your crashed probe as they turn in their endless tumble.
Everything tumbles here.
You can feel your lips curve in a bitter laugh – to travel for billions of kilometers, past the orbit of Earth, past Mars and giant Jupiter, past the golden clouds of Saturn and Titan and the frozen tempests of Uranus and Neptune, past the cracked heart of Pluto, onto this marzipan rock.
You reach out and manage to touch the side of the rust-colored rock. It can be the first time in billions of years that anything but sunlight and the occasional lost cosmic ray touched the red layer that covers this place.
It feels final, in a way.
To fall right at the end. What was it that caused the crash? Might have been anything but a short circuit to a minor mistake in the coordinates, to a simple accident of chances.
Whatever the cause, what happened is that your flying probe hit the asteroid too fast and too lose and it exploded in a thousand fragments like a soap bubble crashing against a wall of steel.
You were among those fragments, and you floated about, mercifully dragged in by the asteroid’s measly gravitational field.
It feels a bit like when you were young, and you did not want to come back home after a long day of playing outside, and you dragged your feet all the way across the courtyard until you came up and hugged your mother.
And now as you look at your arms, stretched out by the thick insulation of your suit, you can almost feel like it’s trying to hug the two-lobed shape of the asteroid.
You ended up right there, perhaps it’s because it’s close to Arrokoth’s center of gravity.
You still preferred its original name – and now you lay between the two lobes: Ultima and Thule.
Once again, it seems like the universe has a wicked sense of irony.
You look up. Your vital readings are starting to go in the red, but it’s a miracle enough you managed to survive up to this point anyway, between the crash and the long hours spent floating about.
Your human heart picks up pace, even though it is tired. So tired. Its instincts fights against what is inevitable – it knows that there is just a few millimeters of insulation and oxygen between the void of space – and it does not want to die oh no no no no no you surely do not want to die, especially not out here and especially not on Christmas Day.
This was supposed to be a festive day, in more senses than one. You can only imagine the cries and the shouts of the people back home as they had witnessed the crash.
You had always thought you were the one destined for this mission: this tiny asteroid, so ridiculously shaped, like a snow man eternally floating in the backyard of the night sky, had been the last place visited by the New Horizon probe after it sped past Pluto, all those years before. A chance encounter that would, most likely never be repeated.
As a child, you thought that to be the most incredible coincidence: that on the first of January, the probe would pass by a rock shaped like a snowman.
And when the chance presented itself… you were supposed to take a slow tour of the asteroid, pick up info on its composition and history. This rock is a fossil that looks back to the very first day of the Solar System, one of the building blocks from which one day the planets, the moons, the Earth itself would crawl out.
And now you are going to lay here with her.
You stretch your arm out, as far as you can, trying to grasp one of the tumbling shards of metal that used to make up the probe. Some are still coming back, shooting like lazy stars as they streak through the sky. You are laying on the part of the asteroid that catches light, so the sun must still be between one of these stars… but are those stars or the pieces of the probe?
Is that a glinting light reaching out from Andromeda or a flash off a piece of steel and carbon?
At the end, the effort tires you out more than you could believe possible. You lay down on the rock, letting the asteroid carry you with itself.
The flashing lights inside your helmet are turning crimson, and soon enough they blink out of existence.
Your suit is too tired even to scream.
You can definitely understand her.
But there is a bit of liberation coming from that.
Ah, this is your chance, though.
Perhaps not all was in vain. You came here to know this piece of lonely rock and perhaps…
Your hand reaches for your helmet’s latch.
Perhaps you can definitely know each other a little better, in the end.
This place came to be from the merging of two smaller asteroids. Ultima embraced Thule and they decide to slip into the galactic courtyard on their tiptoes, unknown even to their very shadows. You sit right in the place where the curve of one bends into the ridge of the other, a glistening canyon that must not be one kilometer across, a U-shaped valley that’s just as tomb as it is cradle.
That’s it then.
Ah, but wait.
One last thing for the people back home.
You still cannot locate the sun…
But is it really that important? Among the millions of sparkling stars one of the is a pale blue dot.
You stretch your hand above your head and wave at them: Merry Christmas!
The instruments must surely be picking it up.
You always thought this was supposed to be a Christmas present gifted to you, but maybe… maybe it’s the other way around, and you are Arrokoth’s very own gift, with a delivery four billion and a half years in the making.
Your hand comes closer now, reaches for the metal latch of your helmet. You can see its shadow cover your eyes for a moment – a brief hesitation, one last pulsation of instinct – and then you open the latch.
Air hisses out – for a moment, dispersing into a cloud of mute molecules, too distant to scream to each other.
Cold and the vacuum creep in.
The lack of pressure feels like your skin and your eyes are inflating from the inside, so you give one last look at the glass-clear dome of the sky, the stars, the pieces of the probe. You pick one in your palm and hold it close against your chest.
And then as your breath spurts out of your lungs, crystallizing in ephemeral snow, you close your eyes and wear a smile, turning marble as your skin start to ebb its heat into the cold embrace of space.
But what’s to be afraid of, even?
You are the perfect gift.
And with your last thought, you are now sure that Arrokoth, Ultima and Thule, are going to enjoy the new company for the next four billion and a half years.
Author’s Notes: Merry Christmas! Perhaps I ought to write something more cheerful for a day I generally love and enjoy to the best of my ability, but I just had this idea and wanted to put it out. I hope you enjoyed it, I certainly liked writing it a lot! Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll have a great Christmas Day!