When I look through the window, Orion stands with his sword in his left hand, not his right. The distress call reached us just hours ago, but after studying the console, I think the call’s been broadcasting for several years. The lights are all dead and there’s nobody here; the entire craft is cold and deserted. Every now and then I think I hear whispers, and I scold myself for getting spooked. My partner suggests that maybe the company sent out an unmanned vehicle by mistake, and I’m just about to tell him what a stupid idea that is when—
We hear what sounds like a gigantic animal roaring. It sounds terribly angry. The sheer force of its shriek rings painfully in my teeth, and I can tell from how my partner’s holding his hands to his helmet that it hurts him, too. Then I realize the noise isn’t echoing off the interior walls of the ship; no, it’s coming from beyond the hull. The thing making that noise is floating around out there in the black Cyclopean void, and it sounds big enough to swallow an entire red giant. After forever, the hellish sound dies away…and my partner and I move to look outside the window above the ship’s piloting console. My muscles resist doing this as much as they can; they seem to sense that if I look outside, I’ll die. But I just can’t resist peering into the Unknown.
We must both be holding our breath, for all I can hear is the blood pumping in my ears. Finally, we both reach the window and muster all of our strength to look outside. I know I’m not going to like whatever I see, but I have to look. As we gaze through cold glass, I see the stars – wonderful, glorious pinpricks of sanity. From what I can tell, there’s nothing outside the ship but stars and empty space. Was it all just a dream? Are we losing our minds to the void?
And then it happens. First one, then another, then another. All across the vault of heaven, the stars are blinking out. Before we know it, backwards Orion is gone; then backwards Canis Major; then the entire backwards Zodiac. It’s as if they were never there in the first place. By the time I’m able to fully process what’s happening, every last one of the stars is gone. We’re floating blind in total darkness now, and our flashlights are the only source of light in Creation.
We stand there for a numbing eternity, too stupefied by what we’ve seen to move or say anything. Then something growls from outside the ship – it must be the same damned thing that roared just a moment ago – and our flashlights die.
Now all is dark. Now we start to scream.
It’s the only way we know we’re real.