Bleak, they told me. Cold, they said. That the stars don't look the way they do once you get off the ground. That the only truth I'll find is loneliness.
When my ship has only enough room for me and equipment, loneliness comes with the title and deed. People, I mused, were always different in secret. Sometimes, the only person they feared was the person staring back at them in the mirror.
I was lucky, I supposed, to be able to surround myself with good people.
I inhaled sharply through my nose, sniffed, and reached over to my notepad to scribble some notes about the passage of time in absolute zero, when the solar storms cease, and the dark matter matrix has been exploited for its holes.
Here, even light is afraid.
The Endemon, my vessel named for the first man to pull past light speed, hung in the Kartegan sector like a ripe plum seconds after falling. I quickly closed the window shield, and shook my head to refocus before I adjusted the nodes to scan for transplasmodic frequencies and discordant tachyon fluxes. Finding myself satisfied, I reestablished the link between my ionizers and pocket thrusters.
Space is flexible, but only finitely so. The Endemon wrapped itself in a cocoon of matter, condensing the free bosons around it until only a fraction of the mass of light remains in a small opening. Then, it twists, expends a neutrino stream through the opening, and follows in the wake. I've never witnessed it; we're supposed to keep the window shield closed and locked to minimize the effect of radiation on our sensitive organs. The Qiniccans have no internal organs, and they are encased in some sort of symbiembryonic plasma that denatures any half-life deterioration. Quite fascinating, the Qiniccans.
Of course, their planet is constantly bombarded by solar radiation. Their atmosphere was nearly stripped an eon ago, and they took the skies out of necessity.
As did humans.
I felt the familiar rumble of Nearspace, and I opened the window shield to the Alpha quadrant. I engaged the outboard thrusters and maneuvered my way to Enceladus. There was only one city on Enceladus, Etna, and it served the best replicated whiskey in the galaxy. I radioed out to the Enceladus Gravitational Authority, and cleared my ship for landing. From there, I had to take a skiff to the outskirts of the city, then a hoverbus to Anthe's Dive.
"Christ in a bucket," shouted Beorn, the bartender. His first name was Chuck, but he never answered to it. "Is that Taro?" My first name is Benny, but I don't answer to it. A few other patrons, Mack and Stiffler, Fran and Un'gun't turned to me and shouted and raised their glasses.
"In the flesh," I replied and found my seat.
"I thought you'd be gone a couple weeks at least," Beorn shuffled a double neat into my open fingers.
"But that was only, what, three days?"
"I didn't find what I was looking for," I shrugged. "Plus, in the Kartegan sector, a man can get awfully thirsty." I raised my glass. "Here's to the ever swallowing darkness, and this brilliant point of shining offal."
We drank into the night, to the point where I started ordering water. I had to be back on Rhegar 3 in the morning, then back out to Kartegan by 0700. I decided to wish everyone a good night, and I found my usual wayhouse. Ms Tinkette offered me some company, but I needed only a bed and a wake-up call. Gwinny was off that night anyway, and if I couldn't have her, I didn't need anyone else.
I laid my head down on the pillow, and let the slow fuzz of the mimicol tease and flirt with my sensibilities. It felt good to be back on solid ground, but I couldn’t tell the difference anymore between moving through a boson field or travelling around Saturn at 28,000 miles per hour. I let myself drift into a stupor, then sleep grabbed me. Funny thing is, once I tasted emptiness, once I navigated into the hole in the Kartegan sector, I ceased to dream. It's like the vacuum of space sucked everything out of there. I lose track of time when I sleep.
My wall panel beeped me out of my sleep and I got up, showered, and got a move-on.
I downloaded my new mission from the Rhegar 3 Check Station, then enabled my pocket thrusters as soon as I was out of live space.
The fabric of bosons encompassed my ship, then I was out again, drifting.
I tuned my autospread sweeps, then my red warning light started blinking. Then, The Endemon shuddered, and I was thrown against my harness. The readout from my screen fritzed and started smoking. I was pulled to my right at what felt like 3 Gs. My stick was shaking so violently it threatened to tear from its socket and blast a hole through the roof of the ship. My nose started to bleed, and I realized I had only one option.
My hand wavered between the command button for the boson envelope, hoping that my ship hadn’t suffered enough damage and could make it through to Nearspace without tearing us both apart, and my window to get a look at why I was spinning uncontrollably. Why my control panel was blinking.
Why the touch screens were flashing all manner of light, and why the air onboard had a smell like orchids.
I made a decision.
I had to open my window shield. I had to know what was outside.
I reached up, powering against the g-force, and fumbled for the lock.
It snapped, and I slowly slid my window shield, inch by inch, until I was staring directly out into the whole of something I couldn't understand.