The sky glitched.

It was just for a moment, but I know what I saw. And, when you study the stars as I do, it’s hard to miss something so terrifying as the Earth disappearing from view.

However, no one else seemed to notice, and even my own parents wrote it off as fancy.

“Rhoda, the red planet is notorious for causing hallucinations. There’s something about the endless red sand that messes with the eyes- I don’t know. I’m sure you just blinked and missed it.”
“No, mom, I didn’t just ‘blink and miss it.’ The Earth was gone!”
“Honey, the Earth can’t just vanish! Now, go do your homework.”

Somehow, I was the only person in the colony who saw the Earth vanish from the skies, so it was my job to solve the mystery. I got on my government-sanctioned computer and began looking for reports of the Earth disappearing, stars being out of alignment, and any other sky-related phenomena.

I couldn’t find anything helpful, so I sighed and began to wonder if it was my imagination. Maybe the oxygen in that part of the compound was lower than normal. Or- as my mother had said- maybe I just missed it. So, I pushed it away and carried on like usual.

Now, I lived in Martian Colony 25436-B, which is directly under the path of the Earth’s orbit, so I had a pretty good view of the blue orb. It seemed normal, but I couldn’t help but feel uneasy whenever I looked at it.

That night, I was asleep in my room when I heard a knock on the window. It happened again, so I rolled over and came face-to-face with a man who looked like a homeless person from 21st century Earth. His gray uniform was tattered and filthy, and his hair and beard were so far out of regulation that I could barely see his face. He pointed at the window, and I opened it.
“You-you’re the one searching for the disappearing Earth, right?”
He wrung his hands together frantically as I nodded.
“Yes! Did you see it too?”
“Yes, but we mustn’t talk here. Come.”
He began walking down a nearby alleyway, and I slipped into my jumpsuit and quietly crept from the window and followed him. The Earth watched us as we navigated the back paths of the compound, finally coming to a stop next to the walls of the dome. I saw his camp hidden away between forgotten storage boxes, and he pointed to a wall behind him that the settlers had carved from the side of a red cliff. I gasped as I looked at it.
“Is that a…?”
“Door? Yes. I’ve been trying to crack it for years, but I never can. However, on the night the Earth glitched, I finally cracked the code!”
“Did you make the Earth glitch?”
He held his hands up.
“Oh no. No, no, no. I don’t have that kind of power.” He paused and looked at me slyly. “But they do.”
“They? Who are they? What’s going on here?”
Before he answered, the man bent down and grabbed his sleeping bag from the floor.
“You’re here to learn the truth, right?”
“Are you sure? Because once you know, you can never unknow.”
I nodded my agreement, and he moved his sleeping bag to reveal a space in the wall that seemed different. Bending closer, I saw a bunch of tiny pinpoints of light moving as they tried to project a coherent picture onto the square. Beyond, I saw something akin to a white marble floor, but it was hard to confirm. I turned to the man.
“Ok, you have my attention.”
“Good, because I want you to see what’s on the other side of the door.”
“Wait, what? Why me?”
“You’re smaller than I am. Hiding will be easier for you if you need it. Which I’m not saying you will- I’m just saying I don’t know.”
His nervous ramblings made me nervous, so I shook my head.
“Maybe this isn’t a good idea. The people in charge obviously put this door in for a reason- why do you think they’re anything but storage beyond it?”
“Because this is where we entered the colony! Don’t you remember?”
“No, I don’t remember! I didn’t exist yet!” I began pacing as I looked around to make sure we were alone. “You want me to open a door that either leads to an alien world or the cold nothingness of space. None of those are good options.”
“Yes. If the walls are nothing but a projection, then we may not be on Mars at all! Think about it.”
I promised him I would and left for the safety of my bed, my head full of what-if scenarios as I thought about it. The man was crazy-that much was obvious- but what if he was right?

A few hours later, I was at breakfast when a news bulletin flashed across every screen in the colony. It said that “an unknown colonist had attempted to break the colony wall, resulting in the immediate termination of his life.”

A picture of the man from last night popped up, and I felt an odd sense of dread as I read about his death. He had lived in secret for who knows how many years, yet the one time he tells someone of his theory, he’s dead? It didn’t make sense, and I vowed to investigate further.

True to my word, I visited the man’s camp as soon as the colony went to sleep, but his things were missing. Turning, I saw that the door had a sliver of rock tucked into the bottom, and I felt a rush of fear and excitement as I gently pushed on it and watched it open.

A long, metal hallway led into the unknown, and I crept down it, jumping as the heavy door shut behind me. A sign on the door read, “Simulation A9- Mars Colony 25436-B,” and I sucked in a breath as I continued down the corridor. A faint light shone in through a window, and I paused to look. I saw more trees and flowers than I’d ever seen in my life- save in the greenhouses- and that’s when it all came together.

We were on Earth!

Running back to the door, I saw a red button labeled “emergency shutdown,” and I slammed my fist into it as hard as I could. Alarms began blaring in the hallway, and I covered my ears as I awaited the other colonists.

And, on the other side of the door, the sky glitched.

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