The flash

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The engineers at the International Space Station were still peacefully snoring when a bright flash filled the black emptiness, radiating from the station's many solar panels.

The sight was so bright and powerful, for a second it might have seemed to an attentive observer as if the Sun exploded and turned into a supernova.

But it wasn't any cosmic activity – not known to humans, at least, not yet. It was the price one pays for instant transportation from the other side of the galaxy. It appeared just for a fraction of a second before disappearing and nobody noticed or paid any attention to it.

Nobody, but one little boy in San Mateo, California.

It happened so, that at that precise moment in time (by Earth standards, anyway), he was lying down on the ground – the grass tickling his neck and legs – and watched the night sky, trying to count as many stars as he could, while slowly drifting to sleep. It was his second day at the school field trip and the other boys next to him now stopped talking. Even the teacher's voice in the distance, rambling something important about astronomy, was slowly fading away. As the boy looked over the Big Deeper one more time – a constellation he had recently memorised thanks to the night walks with his mother – observing its curves and excited about how bright its stars were in this part of the city, almost as if somebody poked holes in the sky, he suddenly lost sight of two stars.

As he squinted his eyes trying to figure out where the stars went, he saw it. The flash. It appeared for what seemed like a millisecond and disappeared towards the Moon, like an inverse falling star, leaving a blue comet-like trace.

'Wow,' he whispered involuntary, eyes widening, turning to his left. 'Did you see that?'

His best friend Dennis – a black boy from Zimbabwe whose parents immigrated to the U.S. when he was five – was already asleep on the grass.

The boy sighed and turned back and kept looking at the sky for what seemed like an eternity, hoping to see it again, but didn't.

Then he peacefully fell asleep, dreaming about space, distant planets, comets flying across the sky, galaxies moving, exploding, collapsing on each other.

Years went by. The boy had graduated from school (straight A's), then went on to college for his media degree (parents were proud), and got a job after college at a prestigious newspaper in New York City.

But the memory of that flash never quite went away.

He thought of it during night time (most often during his insomnia periods, as it helped him ease off the anxiety and fall asleep).

And whenever he tried retelling the memory of the flash, people thought he made it up. No scientific journal or online blog ever mentioned anything like it, not with the mysterious trace it left, pointing towards the Moon.

'The Moon is too far away,' they said.

'You wouldn't have been able to see any comets, and if you did, there's no register of it in the public archives,' an astronomy Ph.D. once told him during a masterclass on lunar activity in college.

It was comforting, in a way, to know that there was something about space people still didn't understand – a mystery of sorts. That flash reminded him of childhood and seemed peculiarly important to him. As if it was a secret only he and the Universe shared.

What he didn't know yet, was just how important it was.

Of course, that boy-turned-man-and-decent-reporter-dreaming-about-space-travel was me. 

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