Empty Space

The viewport irised open with the slowness of a languid, sleepy eye. A blinding slash of distant sunlight bounced off the frontal manifold. The ship turned and narrowed the shaft of light to a thinner and thinner beam until it was cut off by the angle, and returned the cabin to its previous dimness.

"Better," the captain whispered, and someone grunted in agreement. He blinked the afterimage away and stared out into the blackness of space.

At first there was nothing, just a blank velvet cloth that hung dark and silent in front of the ship. Then, as eyes adjusted, distant stars made themselves known.

"I thought you couldn't see stars in the vacuum?" The question came from one of the passengers who'd requested one of the limited civilian seats in the command module. The captain hated the privilege. It added another headache filled with safety and security concerns to his already overburdened list of responsibilities. But the cockpit passengers paid well, nearly ten times the list price of a first-class seat, so who was he to argue with the bottom line? It was thoughts like those that reminded him that he no longer piloted a military vessel, and that civilians weren't subject to the chain of command, or court marshal.

"That's a myth," he replied, and stifled a sigh. He'd meant to include the next bit of information in a pamphlet for the civvies, but forgot every flight. "The viewport also enhances what you see, triangulating and projecting the stars based on our relative positions. Here," he said, and tapped a pad on his console. The stars brightness boosted, and small tags grew and filled with names and astronomical information. It always drew gasps of awe from the civvies.

"Fascinating," the passenger said, "but it seems like your data is off, captain."

"Eh?"

"Look there, between Ol Denarius and Tribune 957. Shouldn't there be a star?"

The entire cockpit crew stopped what they were doing and peered forward.

"There," the passenger said. "Parallel to Denarius. There's just blackness where Sol should be."

The captain followed the imaginary line between the two stars. Sure enough, there was nothing but black space where once the most densely populated solar system in that arm of galaxy had been.


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