It was sort of a timelapse history of humanity's first leap to the stars, all told in conversations between one of the project engineers and a simulation of his best friend. There was no warp speed, but stargates worked, so we had to be the gate builders with no shortcuts. Ben stayed behind to protect the project base on the Earth gate end, Cruz took ship and was going to sleep all the way to their nearest neighbour. But everyone that shipped out left behind an experimental imprint, an upload, that could run in then equally experimental VR. That way they could lend their expertise even while they were gone. So Ben started talking to that Cruz, and all we see of their world is these two, an aging engineer who starts out a dreamer but comes to think he missed his chance, and his eternally optimistic best friend, captured at the single moment he gave everything to give humanity hope.
So there was worldbuilding and politics, there were gates built on every continent before the ship left to carry their other halves to the new world, and initially investment was high, but it was going to take almost a generation to get there, and the gates came to represent what their olders had thrown away instead of investing in them. Inert lumps, the masses weren't believers, had no reason to be. And then one day things Ben comes in looking awful, low and like he hasn't slept in an age, and he has to explain to Cruz, they bombed the gates. Some set of radicals bombed the gates. And some of them didn't get through, and some only did superficial damage, but one continent? They used radiologicals. And that gate is now going to bake anyone who tries to use it. They bombed the gate and humanity is 1/8 closer to stuck here, and there's no fixing it, and he's just... so tired. Of guarding these things, and waiting on a future that's... it's going to be so alien to everyone who tried to build it.
So Cruz says show me, and Ben updates the VR. So now it's running like google maps, streetview plus, simulated three dimensional environments, all sorts of good stuff. But there's nobody else in their sim, it wasn't designed that way. So there's just these increasingly alien aesthetics in the new buildings. And Cruz likes wandering around as much as the next guy, but, he also knows he's in a sim. With really good physics. And a suit they used this to teach him to use that's meant to compensate for muscle wasteage but at full strength? Pretty much makes makes him a superhero.
So Ben, not to be outdone, brings his latest designs in to test out, and he's built himself dragon wings. So they're charging around this empty world, Cruz bouncing off buildings, Ben flying down streets that really never meant for this, and it's all golden awesome.
And like, it doesn't change the world outside, but that's not what talking to your friends is for. Whatever the world does, Ben has this. And he has hope again.
And then gate day arrives... and passes.
And then the extension.
And then all their margin.
And now? Now Ben is really low. Because his darling optimist best friend can't see it, can't change that much, the program would call errors on it. As far as he's concerned there's a dozen, a hundred, reasons for delays. They could still be on course. Have a little faith.
But Ben pretty much thinks he's lost his best friend. So he starts treating sim Cruz different. He's not just waiting, keeping on like they ever did. He's moving on.
So he kisses him, and Cruz kisses back, and it's golden.
But it's years. Years after gate day. Cruz the same young man he ever was, Ben getting distant and focused on the world outside. Thinks this is some kind of escape, all the things he never had. Doesn't believe there's future in it.
Then comes the day that light speed will show them what happened to the ship. And Cruz and Ben watch the feeds together. And it's textbook, it's perfect, the ship is exactly where it's meant to be, but only the automated stuff ever happened.
So the simplest explanation is Cruz just never woke up.
And Ben could hear that and go one of two ways. He could give up - on his golden time with his best mate - or...
But that's where the messages end. That's the last time the sim was woken up. There is no more.
On that end.
Years later than expected, out around a cosmically close star, Cruz wakes up, now the adverse condition is finally cleared out of the ship. And he gets his messages. And despite the sim's fears, he is incredibly happy with all the sim's choices. He'll take them on. He'll call them a memory. And he's walking around grinning, and his crewmates are like, why? Didn't Ben just dump you?
And Cruz is just, no. No way. You don't see it?
Ben is on his way.
He'll be here with the backup crew.
We just have to make it good for when he gets here.
So when the working day is done, now Cruz curls up with sim Ben, keeping him updated on the work they're starting, the planetary surveys and placing the gates, in total confidence he's on his way there.
Because Cruz is ever the optimist, and Ben is the engineer.