Into the Silence – Chapter 55

When I joined the magbooters in the Altrun Collective’s special forces, they told us over and over again in training about the extreme disorientation that sets in when you vent out into space. Directions don’t make sense. None of the usual means for identifying your surrounding world have any meaning: all you can see are stars and the occasional piece of debris, all you can hear is the sound of your own breathing, all you can feel is the fabric of your synthskin padding you against the armor.

It isn’t like being underwater, despite what all the training exercises try to imply. It’s like being dead. Dead, and buried.

Alone.

I vented once. During a supplyline raid against the Farseer incursion. Captain of the freighter we were boarding had installed some ejection pods on a few of his port, starboard, and aft decks. My squad climbed aboard – multiple-point insertion, so we were all separated – and as soon as his crew noticed our presence, he jettisoned the supplementary decks. One of which still had me in it.

Buried. Twice. Once in the suit. Again in the ejection pod.

Mission was a success. But I floated around in open space for ten hours before they managed to track me down and reel me in. Five hours in the pod, clamped to its surface, and then another three in empty vacuum once the pod got blown to pieces during an ensuing firefight between our ships and the freighter’s escort backup.

Those three hours purged my mind, and maybe my soul, of any hope that death held anything more than emptiness.

I still believe there’s a God. I still believe in Jesus Christ. That he greets me every day in some form or another. Encouraging me to be a better man. All of it.

But death? Death is emptiness. Loneliness. Absence of all things. The long shadow cast by the brilliant light and the towering height of living. The longer I live, the more I fear death. The more I fear leaving nothing behind. Being forgotten.

At least when I was younger, I could say, “It doesn’t matter if I die. I’ll go to heaven then and be happy.” And then, even after that moment in the void, I could still say, “I am nothing now and I go to nothing after. What else is there to say? I haven’t had enough time to be of any use or consequence.”

But now?

Now I see my life, and all its wasted time, stretching out behind me. I see the rest of my life, and all its uncertain days, stretching out in front of me. And I feel the void – that absence of anything tangible – surrounding me still, in my memory. And I panic.

It’s that same panic that filled me when I vented out into the waiting swarm of shadows with the rest of the crew.

I don’t know how we survived. Those of us that did. The only possible method I can account for is that the shadows created some pockets of atmosphere for us to ride in, or through, or something. They insulated us against the void and ferried us through the emptiness toward our destination.

All I know is where I ended up. Alone. Sitting on a beach. But not a beach of golden sand and ocean spray. A beach of swirling silver stars scattered over a fathomless empty surface, with waves of light – violet, red, green, orange, yellow, and blue, each shimmering into the others – gently lapping at my feet. Like an aurora in the northern sky on some planets.

I stood there, on the line of these two impossible sights, and felt nothing. No wind brushed through my hair. No taste or smell of seawater filled my lungs. No flecks of surf splashed against my skin. I didn’t even fell awe. Just emptiness. The same emptiness I felt when I waited in the recovery room following Mearr’s attack.

For a brief moment, I wondered if I was dead.

Then I looked down, and I saw, on the other side of the swirling silver stars at my feet, the Farseer battleship and the swarm of shadows enveloping it.

I fell to my hands and knees and peered closer. There, in the distance, past the battleship, was our own lonely vessel. The rugged, boxy freighter that had carried us so far, swarmed over by shadows.

A small, choking sob caught in my throat. I forced it down and felt moisture gather in my eyes. But still, I felt nothing. These were anatomical responses to emotions I didn’t fell. Not truly. They were the expected responses, being pulled out of me. Whether I was pushing them out myself, feeling some obligation or another, or whether they were being extracted from my body by some unseen supernatural force, I couldn’t say. But my body made all the signs of remorse while I stared coldly down at a broken object of curiosity that had once been strange, then for a short time been home, and in the end was nothing more than a place to rest my head.

I was a wanderer. Through and through. I didn’t get nailed down or sucked in or locked up. I escaped. It’s what I’d always done and it’s what I’d done now.

Escaped.

But to where?

When I joined the magbooters in the Altrun Collective’s special forces, they told us over and over again in training about the extreme disorientation that sets in when you vent out into space. Directions don’t make sense. None of the usual means for identifying your surrounding world have any meaning: all you can see are stars and the occasional piece of debris, all you can hear is the sound of your own breathing, all you can feel is the fabric of your synthskin padding you against the armor.

It isn’t like being underwater, despite what all the training exercises try to imply. It’s like being dead. Dead, and buried.

Alone.

I vented once. During a supplyline raid against the Farseer incursion. Captain of the freighter we were boarding had installed some ejection pods on a few of his port, starboard, and aft decks. My squad climbed aboard – multiple-point insertion, so we were all separated – and as soon as his crew noticed our presence, he jettisoned the supplementary decks. One of which still had me in it.

Buried. Twice. Once in the suit. Again in the ejection pod.

Mission was a success. But I floated around in open space for ten hours before they managed to track me down and reel me in. Five hours in the pod, clamped to its surface, and then another three in empty vacuum once the pod got blown to pieces during an ensuing firefight between our ships and the freighter’s escort backup.

Those three hours purged my mind, and maybe my soul, of any hope that death held anything more than emptiness.

I still believe there’s a God. I still believe in Jesus Christ. That he greets me every day in some form or another. Encouraging me to be a better man. All of it.

But death? Death is emptiness. Loneliness. Absence of all things. The long shadow cast by the brilliant light and the towering height of living. The longer I live, the more I fear death. The more I fear leaving nothing behind. Being forgotten.

At least when I was younger, I could say, “It doesn’t matter if I die. I’ll go to heaven then and be happy.” And then, even after that moment in the void, I could still say, “I am nothing now and I go to nothing after. What else is there to say? I haven’t had enough time to be of any use or consequence.”

But now?

Now I see my life, and all its wasted time, stretching out behind me. I see the rest of my life, and all its uncertain days, stretching out in front of me. And I feel the void – that absence of anything tangible – surrounding me still, in my memory. And I panic.

It’s that same panic that filled me when I vented out into the waiting swarm of shadows with the rest of the crew.

I don’t know how we survived. Those of us that did. The only possible method I can account for is that the shadows created some pockets of atmosphere for us to ride in, or through, or something. They insulated us against the void and ferried us through the emptiness toward our destination.

All I know is where I ended up. Alone. Sitting on a beach. But not a beach of golden sand and ocean spray. A beach of swirling silver stars scattered over a fathomless empty surface, with waves of light – violet, red, green, orange, yellow, and blue, each shimmering into the others – gently lapping at my feet. Like an aurora in the northern sky on some planets.

I stood there, on the line of these two impossible sights, and felt nothing. No wind brushed through my hair. No taste or smell of seawater filled my lungs. No flecks of surf splashed against my skin. I didn’t even fell awe. Just emptiness. The same emptiness I felt when I waited in the recovery room following Mearr’s attack.

For a brief moment, I wondered if I was dead.

Then I looked down, and I saw, on the other side of the swirling silver stars at my feet, the Farseer battleship and the swarm of shadows enveloping it.

I fell to my hands and knees and peered closer. There, in the distance, past the battleship, was our own lonely vessel. The rugged, boxy freighter that had carried us so far, swarmed over by shadows.

A small, choking sob caught in my throat. I forced it down and felt moisture gather in my eyes. But still, I felt nothing. These were anatomical responses to emotions I didn’t fell. Not truly. They were the expected responses, being pulled out of me. Whether I was pushing them out myself, feeling some obligation or another, or whether they were being extracted from my body by some unseen supernatural force, I couldn’t say. But my body made all the signs of remorse while I stared coldly down at a broken object of curiosity that had once been strange, then for a short time been home, and in the end was nothing more than a place to rest my head.

I was a wanderer. Through and through. I didn’t get nailed down or sucked in or locked up. I escaped. It’s what I’d always done and it’s what I’d done now.

Escaped.

But to where?

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