Infinite Velvet – Part One

Fiction

Tuesday, 7am UTC

Infinite blackness is a term well suited to most regions of space, and it was no different here out at Cluster 67. As long as you looked away from the habitation module, anyway. Peaceful, terrifying and vast.

But that was how Reginald Heft liked it, and the primary reason he’d taken this stint at the loneliest outpost in the galaxy. The curriculum wasn’t varied, meals were simple and the company was rather limited. Bliss.

He glanced down at the readings in his suit. He would often float there for hours just staring into the void, but right now a light was blinking on the heads up display, calling him back inside. His fingers played expertly over the propulsion controls, sending little jets and bursts of energy darting out from the big unwieldy costume and sending him spinning gently back towards the station. Once he was close enough the onboard computer took over and matched him up to the docking port, the hiss of the seals drowning out his own sigh. He could have stayed out there forever if it weren’t for the few responsibilities he did have out here.

Clambering out of the suit and into the softly lit corridor he heard portions of the little station waking up around him. A circle of pale light winked into existence on the wall beside him and tracked him down the hallway. Glancing sideways, he grinned. He did have one companion out here, but it was the type of person he could get on with.

“Good morning, Reg. I trust your EVA was to your liking?” The Computer queried. The voice was a female one: warm, keen and intelligent. The circle of light pulsed gently.

“Beautiful as always Em. What’s on the agenda for today?” Reg answered, reaching the main control room and stretching.

He knew that answer already, it was the same as every Tuesday (he assumed Em had the days right, he would have had no idea without her), but they had fallen into the habit of it and it was hard to stop. He’d come to enjoy the little rituals.

“I’ve prepared you a great schedule today Reg. You’ve got some lab tests for an hour, then an hour of PT followed by a review of the sensor data. I’ve taken the liberty to synthesise some popcorn for the latter. After that the day is yours.”

He was sure he could hear her suppressing a giggle after the last comment. He smiled again. “Thanks Em, sounds great. You really know how to spoil me. I’ll see you in the lab.”

The light dimmed for a moment in recognition then popped out of existence as quickly as it had appeared. Wandering over to the comms screen Reg checked for messages and that the station vitals, then strolled over through to the tiny laboratory to carry out the day’s tasks.

His job was to run a few basic experiments, examine datasets collected by the satellite array that fanned out around the station and provide a human check on the automated systems.

By now he worked almost on autopilot, and it gave him time to think the thoughts he banished from his mind while out in the blackness. He’d been here for six months now, and barely a single message had come through from back home. Three had been questions about some of his reports, which he had answered with quick clarifications, two automated happy birthday messages (the ones where you just tick the box and it sends them out to everyone you know on their big day to show just how much you care), and a tax reminder.

Not that he minded exactly, he’d come out here to escape the noise of modern life, but it would have been nice if maybe someone had cared enough to say hi once in a while. And if not just someone, at least….

Exactly the sort of thing he’d come out here to avoid thinking about. He shook his head angrily and realised Em had asked him a question. Focussing, he got on with the task in hand.

Later

Reg sat back in the soft beanbag and clasped his hands behind his head. With a wave of his hand, the picture window expanded and the infinite velvet of space was once again revealed. The lights dimmed around him and he let out a deep breath he felt like he had been holding ever since he got back inside the vessel.

He was nothing but a speck inside a tin can hurtling through nearly empty space, whisper quiet, surrounded by a near vacuum. He allowed himself to relax again, the tension flowing out of his limbs. He concentrated gently and emptied his head of clutter. It was just him again. He closed his eyes and slipped into another state.

He opened his eyes.

He was alone still, suspended in space, but with no suit, no ship and no station. The galaxy stretched out around him, wispy and unimaginably huge. He leant to one side and was flying, shooting, soaring through the aether! Stars whipped past him as he gained speed, faster and faster.

Time stretched like a rubber band, curling, bending and snapping back on itself. Light, darkness and something akin to neither rolled into one and clothed him. He was universal. He was omnipresent. He was cosmic.

A tone pinged.

He really opened his eyes. Blinked. Hours had passed.

The meditative state was something he had learned before he came out to Cluster 67, and he found it immensely fulfilling. It was amazing what cognitive feats you could achieve lying down. The tone pinged out again.

“What is it Em?” he yawned, getting up. His mental adventures made him very tired.

“I’m not sure how to say this Reg, and I apologise for interrupting your reverie, but there’s movement in bay three. We appear to have a visitor.” She sounded almost embarrassed.

He stared incredulously through the doorway of the observation room, “We appear to…we have a…”

But he never finished, because at that moment a figure came around the corner of the hallway. A short, plumpish figure wearing a pinstripe suit. And it was singing.