Earth is a distant speck left behind in the vastness outside. A world on the furthest edge of my memory. A dream I sometimes think of in this eternal, lonely night. At times, I wonder if it’s not only a figment of my own imagination. Was there ever such a place? Were there ever blue skies and green trees and busy cities? Was there ever the sleepy village where I was born, with its crumbling church and cosy houses and the quaint pub where they celebrated my future mission a month before launching into space?

What am I to them now? At first, I was a flashy headline in every newspaper. A face suddenly everyone recognized. A smile and a wave to viewers glued to their TV screens before I stepped on the launch pad.

Time passes differently for me. The years on earth have not reached me yet. Now, I am probably something entirely different. A memorial plaque in a lonely village. A name written in history books. A hero to future children, caught in their desperate search for role models to guide and inspire them. A half-believed legend — the ghost-woman sailing the sea of stars, a lonely trailblazer who can never go home.

Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me and it is still early. I am still fresh in their minds. A forever empty space at the family Christmas dinner. Fire and a deafening roar. A silver point in the night sky, Icarus with wings of steel, forgoing the brightness of the sun for the darkness of the unknown heavens.

But these are idle thoughts and they do not matter, because I cannot reach Earth and Earth cannot reach me. There used to be transmissions at the start. First in real time, then the delay got longer and longer. The last transmission was . . . a long time ago. I forget when.

I still send my own messages, a dutiful reporter pathetic in her dedication. I have no idea if anyone can hear me — or if anyone cares anymore. Perhaps so much time has passed since I left Earth that I have become obsolete. Perhaps others followed after me, in faster ships. For all I know, some of them might have even overtaken me. Not that it matters. I will always be the first. No one will take that from me.

In the darkness of my small shuttle, I close my eyes and open my chest of memories, the one I keep in the hiddenmost corner of my mind, where the passage of time cannot reach. I take each memory in my hand, caressing it, encouraging it to speak to me. To sing me the song of the past. To put me to sleep, so I can dream of familiar faces and much-loved voices. To remind me that I am more than the dreamer who reached too far, the glory-seeker who leaped without looking down first.

“What you’re about to do, it’s less romantic than it sounds. Oh, it’s glamorous alright, but you won’t get to enjoy the glamour. In fact, it’s quite possible that after a very short while, things will seem extremely dull. And dark.”

I don’t remember who told me that. One of the doctors at the training facility, I think. I have often wondered if he expected me to pull out then. Perhaps he resented me. I was setting out for the adventure of a lifetime. Every single person on earth would soon know my name. And he — he would remain behind. A footnote in the grand endeavor of sending someone on a trip through the solar system — and maybe beyond, as far as the ship could go. No one cares about the footnotes.

Or perhaps he was simply trying to explain exactly what I was getting into. I had volunteered quite quickly, after all. He might have thought I was rushing into things.

I’ve remembered who it was. Doctor Horn, who monitored me while I was in quarantine before the launch. He was kind, but distant. He looked at me like I did not exist. When I pointed it out to him, he shook his head sadly.

“Well, my dear,” he said. “Very soon you won’t. Not to us, anyway. You’ll become stardust. Your legend will be more real than your existence here.”

Even then I could read between the lines. You’ll regret it. Not now, not immediately, but slowly, gradually, you’ll begin to regret it. You’ll curse your enthusiasm. You’ll wish you were back with us. Give it enough time, and you’ll regret it.

Plenty of time has passed. So much, that I have stopped measuring it. But I don’t regret it. Today, I sent a transmission to Earth. It was brief. I only said: Doctor Horn, I still don’t regret it. I don’t even know if the message will reach its destination, and Doctor Horn is probably long dead. He wouldn’t have believed me, anyway.

But wait . . . I’m telling this all wrong, aren’t I? I have been away for so long from places where time is a river, following a fixed course, that I’ve forgotten the rules of storytelling. You need a beginning, a middle and an end, am I right? And I’ve started right in the middle. Or maybe from close to the end.

The beginning, then. Close your eyes and imagine a picturesque little village, the kind that wants to look like a place from an idyllic past, while maintaining all the comforts of the modern world. A cobbled street. A house with flowers at all windows. A large dog roaming the front yard. A black cat paying occasional visits. A spot where nothing happened.

Until it did. Or, rather, I did. Picture this: the endless sunlit days. The lazy evenings by the river. The certainty that tomorrow would be the same as today. That nothing would disrupt your routine. That all the troubles of the world were beyond the borders of the village — unreal and unreachable. It was comforting. It was wonderful. It was stifling.

I escaped. Terrified by routine, I clung to the dangerous. The non-conventional. Before I knew it, I was selected out of eight hundred hopefuls — all young, all eager, all chasing that blast to glory and a name among heroes both ancient and modern. They called my ship Trailblazer. They called me the Way-Opener. Because this is what I am. I have opened the paths between stars for the rest of you. Won’t you come follow me?

Before leaving, I went back to my childhood home. I was welcomed with open arms, the hero of the hour. When I saw my mother, I asked her about a lullaby she used to sing to me and my brothers when we were little. Her mother had sung it to her in turn, and so on. I remember falling asleep to it and dreaming of the stars. Always dreaming of the stars. Wasn’t that prophetic?

Then came the middle of the story. You do not have to imagine that. I’m sure you’ve seen it at least once. The interviews, the well-wishes, and then the launch. Me, standing in front of the hatch, waving and smiling. With bright smiles to conquer the stars. That was what a headline said. My picture was plastered all over the world, from billboards to bookmarks. My last picture, the last time anyone would see me. This is how I wish to be remembered. A wave and a smile and the stars in my eyes.

During the first days, transmissions from Earth were frequent. I was given updates and briefing and asked how I was adapting to the new situation. But there were other messages, too. Well wishes from people from all over the world. And songs. The children would sing me songs. Simple songs, funny and ridiculous at times. I hum them occasionally.

There have been no songs from home for a very long time. Now my world is one of silence. Unless I close my eyes and listen carefully. Then the distant stars will sing to me. It was not the kind of music we’d easily understand. I found it hard to swallow, at first. It was too much for me, too majestic. Too terrible. But now I see it differently. It is a lullaby. Completely unlike the one I was used to all those years ago but comforting all the same. Warm and welcoming, telling me I am home. This is my home now. The vast universe opening up in front of me.

Earth is a picture in my memory. As the years pass, it loses its colors. The images have become black and white. As time goes on, they get grainy and vague. I wonder if it is all really the way I remember it. Have I added something that was never there? Have I forgotten an important detail? It is hard to see it as real.

I love my earth, but I cannot explain that love. It is affection for things forever lost. An image distorted by longing and nostalgia. Sweetened by distance and time. It is pure. Unattainable and unreachable. This is how I choose to see it. This is how I choose to love it.

What I have around me now — that is real. The darkness and the stars, the swirling patterns more beautiful, more terrible than you can imagine. The silence, and beyond that silence, the faint echoes of a distant song. I am the first of my kind to hear it. For now, it sings only for me. Later, if you come this way, you should listen carefully. Maybe the stars will sing to you too, if you let them.

We are getting close to the end of the story. I am old — older than one of my kind has any business being. I am a ghost and a legend. The memory of a smile on the last sunny day I would ever see. I am the dream you all hope to reach. But I am tired.

Tonight, I will close my box of memories. I lock it carefully, since I do not want any more to spill out. They must all remain hidden: the quaint little village. The countless admirers who did not know whether to wish they were me or be glad they weren’t. The ascent towards the heavens, on a day so long ago, it could have happened to somebody else (in a way, maybe it did).

I only leave out the songs. The lullabies of my childhood. The nursery rhymes. The flowing of the river near my backyard. I allow them to mingle with the song outside, until they become their own melody, unique and fragile. And I think about my last transmission to Earth. I will not say anything this time. But, if you listen carefully, you might hear my song. Treasure it. This will be the last you will hear from the Trailblazer. From now on, we will walk alone.

If you do hear the song, spare a thought for me tonight. But don’t think of me alone and drifting, a legend who has lost her way. Remember only the Trailblazer — how we soared in the midnight sky. Remember only my smile on the day I said farewell.

Let the notes of the song of the stars lead you to me. I will be waiting for the day you will join me. We will travel the dark paths together and sing all the lullabies we knew back home.

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