Beyond the Dark

I

Fleshing out, oily and black, into eternity, there breathed the sempiternal emptiness of space, and I stood firm, mesmerised by this void. The black infinite reaches were set out in all paths before me; infinity of stars - glistening like gods; infinity of worlds - tumbling in orbit; infinity of mysteries and curiosities and questions - infinity of the unknown. The endless bounds of the darkness that sat still there right in front of me, right here and right now, was hypnotising. I was stupefied. My life felt like that of a humble insect, scurrying and minute, in the indomitable palm of incomprehensibility itself.

A chill scuttled through my blood. I felt dizzy. My mental and psychological selves had not been tempered for this degree of vastitude.

What was, admittedly, my own very first venture from my home upon the terra firma of Earth, was also the Victoria's maiden voyage. For a ship, she was thoroughly grand – and by far the most giant, extravagant, and advanced human construct ever to set forth from the unyielding vaults of our populous, smoggy atmosphere. From snippets of news and over-dramatic speeches I had half-listened to, I gathered that her purpose was carefully vague. She was to “play our intergalactic part” (as if we hadn't done enough damage already), “explore new concepts and scientific ideas” (involving our military, naturally), and to set our “human mark among the universe” (though I suspect there was a struggle to avoid using the word “scar”).

But despite my cynicism towards the politics of the feat, I couldn't deny I was at least a touch enchanted to be a resident on the Victoria, and I made a mild promise to myself that at least I could do some good here. Better a drop of good than her being sent out here filled to the brim with soldiers, about as useful to the universe as a bottle of acid in a desert.

Though I was shamefully ignorant of the particular details of her day-to-day operation, the ship required hundreds of technicians, mechanics, electricians, and dozens other types of workers just to keep her in running order; and she also had to be stacked with a somewhat suspicious and coarse contingent of military men, who marched or stood around the ship with an undeserved air of authority, wholly ungratified by the Victoria's other inhabitants; officials most of whom perambulated each corridor with eyes of greed and pomp upon everyone, conspicuous and distrustful; and professors and scientists of every and all conceivable branch of study, all absorbed eccentrically, but at least innocently, in their own dear interests and unaware of all else.

And lastly there was me – Isaac Thompson.

I suppose my own place in those three classes would lean towards the latter category, albeit in a more dull and disappointingly sane sort of way. I was the Victoria's linguist. The place I had applied for on the ship had been established with the premise that, upon inevitable extraterrestrial contact, the ship on the whole was not allowed to be so arrogant as to not, at least, possibly be able to speak their language – which, with me as no mere novice in the field, was not a likelihood. Considering the volume of foreign life-forms occupying the same spatial grounds, and the sheer certainty of contact, the occupation appeared a demanding one. But my internal sloth reassured itself blissfully acknowledging that – fortunately - most civilisations spoke our tongue just as erroneously as the majority of its native speakers. Because of this, and because our journey was still young, the majority of my time was free.

And it was now that I was wasting that free time alone on Victoria's Observation Deck, looking out helplessly on the eternity laid like an artistic and ancient mosaic before me. At least I was alone, but my loneliness was disturbed by the swift airy sound of the door behind me swiping open, followed by the silence of brief hesitation, and then slow, solid footsteps approaching besides me.

'Breathtaking, isn't it?' spoke a voice, in a tone like rigid hot honey, as its source and a face I recognised – Richard Alvares, Victoria's captain – was now standing just to the left of me. I nodded politely. I wasn't sure what to make of the man.

A time-worn middle-aged hardy sort of fellow, he had the texture of grey pebbles – both smooth and rough, stern and pallid, with a countenance of command and superiority, and a confidence born from rank. His right eye was covered with an eye-patch, which I half-suspected was there only so he could feel mysterious, and its visible left counterpart was a dry and papery eye, rolling about apathetically like an indifferent marble. From head to toe he wore literally nothing but jet black – black shoes, a black suit, his hair was jet black (though gradually greying). Even his eye-patch was black. To give him due credit, he did seem like a perfectly lovely man, but he always maintained a serious and strict attitude, and it didn't help that – as if to add to that image - his arms were always crossed. No matter where he was, what mood he was in, or who he was talking to, they would be folded firmly, and I don't think I ever saw otherwise. I imagined whimsically to myself that perhaps he had a terrible accident in his early life, and had accidentally super-glued them together, and not a single doctor had ever managed to get them unstuck, and that they would be that way till death – which explained his constant seriousness. I facetiously felt a twinge of pity for him.

'I don't believe we've met?' his eye rolled and lunged about and barely managed to focus on me.

'No. No, we haven't.' I said simply.

'Oh,' I continued after a brief and awkward pause, realising my rudeness, 'I'm Isaac Thompson, Victoria's linguist and general, uhh... Language expert.'

'Captain Richard Alvarez,' he replied proudly with emphasis on the “Captain”, 'It's a pleasure, Mister Thompson. I've heard you're a talented man.'

In reply, I gave him a short, half-hearted – though a tad unnecessary - list of all the languages I had fluency of, and thanked his following compliment of my abilities graciously. Though the abyss between our personalities meant neither of us had but sparse comments to say to each other, we both made some attempt at conversation.

'Where is Victoria bound first?' I wondered curiously out loud, ignorant of our path, and still staring out - now picking out each distant star as a possible destination as it drifted past. Though it didn't feel so, the vessel certainly must have been travelling at an absolutely obscene speed, especially in comparison to the tiny little cars and bikes and earth-ships that flew and flit to and fro back home, and they had been the only other real vehicles I'd ever seen in my short life-time. But she was reaching through an environment in which all that was visible was so distant that even at an obscene speed, all was brushed gradually past, and it felt as though we were in a great mechanical turtle, its engines humming as it trudged softly along through the cosmic garden.

'We have supplies to set down at our own colony on Keplar-22b.' he recounted officiously, his arms still folded and his eye rolling again, 'Then, from there, we travel to the Hyrth-Mophilian planet of Zhysha,' at this point I silently began to recall my extensive knowledge of said civilisation's official languages, 'to represent humanity at the celebration of three hundred years of strong relations between us. And then we're allowed free reign until further orders are transmitted through.'

'It sounds. . . Organised.' I responded, trying to disguise it as a compliment. He rolled his eye at me and nodded in assent.

'I apologise, Mister Thompson.' he began warmly in his hot honey voice, and I turned to him, 'I would like to stay and talk, but I am required to check in and make sure everything has been running smoothly since take-off. I take my leave. It was good to meet you. Please, come to me if you have any trouble.'

I thanked the man accordingly, watching him and leave, and enjoying once more the solitude of this lonely Observation Deck. I nestled myself in my thoughts, prodding and probing them like ink sacs of profundity, and attempting to discern my true feelings towards it all. As I mentioned previously, my mental and psychological selves hadn't been entirely prepared. How could they have been? No mortal could ever be completely prepared for the bewildering nothingness of being up here. But though its intimidating form clasped at my consciousness, what I couldn't ignore was that this new life was a parade of opportunity and freedom for me. An escape from my earthly bounds. As many had said before - “Space had made man immortal”. And though I refused to show it in more than the unseen curling of my lips, I was excited.

I shouldn't have been.

The End

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