Chapter 21

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George was floating against his restraining belts, studying the planet in the immense distance. The shuttle's pilot was sitting beside him, waiting fitfully for the landing order from the Admiral. He seemed impatient. A few minutes ago, he had tried to strike up a conversation with George, but it didn't go well. Now, the two sat in silence.

At some point, Shen's agitation spiked, and he started yelling into his radio. George ignored the noise, and continued to observe the surface of the planet. He thought he noticed a dark smear across the uniform red-brown. Perhaps it was the colony.

Shen stopped talking and began to prepare for a deorbit burn. Before he could finish, the dashboard flashed red and an alarm wailed through the cabin. There was a shower of pings against the dropship's skin, like rain on a roof. The thin whistle of escaping air joined the growing cacophony.

There a flash of black and Shen was gone, along with half of the dropship. The air exploded out of the gaping hole, sweeping George's body against the belts and sucking his lungs empty. He groped for his helmet as his ears popped and his eyes burned. The world was silent in that moment, and George never heard the click of the latches. He lost consciousness.

George opened his eyes

It didn't quite matter, since he saw absolutely nothing when he did so. The only sensation was a pounding headache. George couldn't even feel the crash couch and restraining belts keeping him in place.

Naturally, his first task was to complete a full visual survey of his surroundings. Twisting his body to gain some rotational momentum, he began to spin slowly, scanning the darkness for any sign of light. He found none.

After several uneventful hours, George felt something. It was a warm breeze, soft and quiet, whispering through his ears. He shivered as it passed, despite the heat.

The breeze kept blowing, and George soon grew accustomed to it. Once again, the hours slipped by. It was only much later that the first of the stars began appearing among the wisps of dark. George could not be sure of their nature, and so he quickly retracted his initial label and thought of them instead as simple light sources. They numbered in the thousands, a swarm of brilliance among the oppressive black.

Each of the light sources was blindingly bright compared to the surrounding darkness, and each varied slightly in color. Most were orange and yellow, a few brilliant white or blue, and the dimmest were red. George watched them as he climbed, and weighed his options. He could investigate one of them in greater detail by letting go ladder, but he might not be able to return. There was also a fair chance that the light hid some sort of danger, and might injure him if he approached. Acting on impulse instead of reason, he leapt from the ladder toward a nearby light source, an orange one with a faint halo of blue and white.

As he floated closer, the sphere seemed to grow larger, much larger than it had appeared from the ladder. He tried to go back, but the lack of a solid surface made him helpless to his own momentum. He touched the light.

In that moment, George found himself at the edge of a galaxy. It was a barred spiral, showing the graceful curves of starry arms and the faint dark mist of nebulae. It was immensely peaceful despite the vast number of stars swirling through it. George was calmed by the sight.

The galaxy for a time before spontaneously erupting into a visual confusion. George saw every color he could imagine, along with several he thought he shouldn't, all twisting and dancing in agony. George found it very difficult to stare into the chaos. He closed his eyes.

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