Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 24

(Continued from part twenty-three)

The galaxy was simply stunning. More engrossing, however, was the indescribable blackness that surrounded it. It was unfathomably deep, not only in color, not only in distance, but in time. I was looking at an infinity, incomprehensible but staring me in the face.

I stared until my eyes hurt. I realized that I hadn’t blinked at all, and they were watering to compensate. I pushed myself backward onto the mattress and closed my eyes. I remained there until my they felt normal again. Then I sat back up, remembering to shift my gaze from time to time, which also induced me to blink.

The galaxy secured my attention this time. My ship was at the outer fringe of it and slightly above its central plane; enough that I could see the shape of the whole, with handfuls of stars still visible above me. After a few back and forths my eyes had returned to their habit of blinking, which removed that concern from my mind.

There were so, so many stars. The estimates I’ve heard are a hundred billion, and I believe it. Everywhere I looked there were stars upon stars upon stars, deeper than I could see and I’m not sure how much deeper after that. But this was not like looking at a photo of stars; these were real, unmistakably round, each with its own position, brightness and contrast with nearby stars… and nearly all, I knew, had planets around them. The effect went beyond any photo of any resolution.

As for the distance, there was nothing to give me a feeling for it, but I know the next closest start to Earth is about 4 light years. Taking that as an average (everything else about our solar system screams of ‘average’), that meant 24 trillion miles between each dot-like star and its closest neighbor. 24 miles a million times, and then that distance a million times. I grasped the number easily, but the physical reality of it… my grasp was partial… very partial.

Almost immediately I understood the parallel to what Jens said about my mind and my inner parts not being synced: My mind could do the math and understand, perfectly, what it all meant; my inner parts were straining to feel what it really was.

But was it possible for my mind and soul to sync up on such an extreme thing as this? I searched my feelings and came to believe that it was so, no matter how incapable I felt at the moment. Given some direct experience, I was sure I could get a feel for it. Here and now I was like the first fish to crawl up on to the dry land; everything was strange and foreign. The next generation, however, would see it as normal and would acclimate to it. Humans do that, and will continue to do that.

* * * * *

I thoroughly lost track of time while sitting at that window, and never really recovered it in that world. Seated at that window, the concepts of hours, days and even weeks lost their meaning. I was observing systems that changed at million-year increments. A few spins of a planet were nothing, and felt like nothing.

Looking back, I suppose I spent 5 or 6 hours at the window, uninterrupted. Then I pulled myself away, dimmed it almost opaque and went to the bathroom. I decided that I needed to clear my head, and so I did some vigorous exercise; it’s a trick that has always worked for me, and it worked there as well. Then I showered and heated up another of the pre-packaged meals. This one was a variation on steak and vegetables, and it was quite good. I had several plum-like fruits to finish the meal.

Once I was finished eating and cleaning up, I installed myself at the plasma screen with the schematics and entertained myself for perhaps another 5 or 6 hours. All of the notations on these drawings were in some other language and numbering system, but it was all quite rational and as comprehensible as it could be under the circumstances.

The ship was indeed egg-shaped, stretched a bit longer than our typical chicken eggs. The the living quarters and the shuttle bay beneath it took up the fattest part of the egg, with storage or cargo space at the bottom of the egg as well as immediately above my living space. I had half a mind to explore the cargo areas before my time ended, but it seemed like they were depressurized, and so I wrote that off.

The top section of the egg, and the sides all the way down to the fattest point (save the window, when open) were filled with what I think was a non-Newtonian fluid… the kind they can use to catch bullets. This could have been a gel rather than a liquid, but the way the details showed them (these were almost like the details on our blueprints), was in small sacks squeezed into compartments. That made me think it was more liquid than gel. But that’s just a guess.

So, then, the ship had an angled and hard outer layer to deflect any small debris, and a non-Newtonian fluid layer to catch anything large and fast enough to penetrate the shell. I presume that the ship was able to detect anything really big and route around it.

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