Chapter 20

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The man in the black suit hung from two hooks like a slab of meat, breathing slowly. The slight pull of gravity stretched his long legs to the floor, elongating his spindly body to even more alien proportions. His face was pale, pocked with brown spots where decades of cosmic radiation had taken their toll. The only light came from the faint strips of luminescence running near the floor. There was no sound.

The man's awakening was an incredibly long, subtle process, beginning with slight twitches in his extremities that slowly became exaggerated shrugs and desperate flailing, His breathing quickened.

His eyes flicked open with a gasp, his back arching and the hooks pressing painfully into the ports on his back. Almost at the same moment, the overhead lights came on, bathing the small room in a sterile light.

The black-suited man breathed deeply, slowly becoming accustomed to the feeling of wakefulness. The last time he'd been lucid was almost two weeks ago. The light stung his weak eyes. He slowly, gingerly pulled out the feeding and waste tubes, shuddering at the wet sound they made as they left the ports in his back.

It took the better part of an hour for Black to regain his senses. He floated slowly and carefully toward the door, which taunted him from a world away. At least the gravity was easy on his joints.

The air outside his room was metallic and stale, from year after year of being recycled through the same aging system. Glass surrounded him on all sides, reflecting his elongated face back at him. Beyond that, there was nothing but dark stones and a grand universe of stars.

The black-suited man gazed out at the galaxy spread out before him from his little box of oxygen. It was like a great cloud, the individual points so numerous that they melded together into a monolithic wall of light, far too large for any human mind to comprehend. Even Black's own brain struggled to come to terms with the sheer distance stretching above him.

The rock underfoot was tiny and pressed close by comparison. The nearby regolith was illuminated softly by the interior lights of the station creating a cramped pool of white in the middle of a bowl of darkness.

It was a confusing contrast, between the endless openness above and the constricting confines of his ability to move freely. Imprisoned by the limitations of his own frail body.

With a disgusted grunt, Black looked at the floor and was whisked away from the station. He felt the pull of acceleration on his gangly limbs. For once, his joints weren't throbbing with pain. He watched the asteroid fly away, its irregular shape appearing only as a ragged hole in the glow of the stars. The sun appeared from behind the rock, momentarily blinding him. When he opened his eyes, he looked out over Tycho Crater on Luna.

Earth watched him from the empty sky. The grey lunar surface and the bright blue-white disk of the planet drowned out all the stars. From this distance, humanity's touch was invisible. It was perhaps more incredible that there was no sign of the starfaring civilization even this close to its home planet. It might as well be a barren ocean world.

But Black had more important things to do than ruminating over mankind's collective footprint. He moved through the near vacuum, down to the peak standing at the center of Tycho. As he approached the surface, he saw the hair-thin tracks of a transport rover leading from the crater rim. Otherwise, Tycho was empty.

The peak rushed toward him, and he passed through it as if it were less than air. He suddenly found himself in another box of atmosphere, deep under the grey stones and seamlessly incorporated into the crater's shattered bedrock. Its walls were pristinely white, the floor carpeted in blue. No other identification was necessary.

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