This is Part 3 of a sci-fi series in this blog known as “Good Night”. Part 1 and part 2 are below this post. Sorry about the delay, guys! (If anybody actually missed reading the series, of course.)
They … should have sent…a poet, thought Pete.
Though the view was something he had seen countless number of times, or at least more times than any of the crew in the ship; it never failed to amaze him. Out there, beyond the glass were innumerable points of nebulous light, not twinkling, like those on Earth; but shining consistently, as though strong and sure. But the thing which quite stopped his breathing was the faint band of misty light that stretched across the large window in both directions.
In Latin, this band of light was known as the Via Lactea.
The Hindus called it the Akash Ganga. The Ganges of the Sky.
The Chinese called it the Silver River.
To astronomers, and the rest of the world, it was simply known as the Milky Way.
To see the Milky Way from the polluted skies of Earth is quite impossible, unless you are away from the lights of the city; where the stretch of milky whiteness could be discerned. In space, it is easily apparent to the eye – Pete could imagine the Milky Way as some sort of meticulously crafted three dimensional image, suspended in glass. As he watched form the window, his eyes gradually adjusting to the darkness, even more things became visible. Just to the front of him shone the constellation of the archer, Sagittarius; in the direction of which lay the burning center of the galaxy – albeit obscured and bisected by a distant lane of gas and dust. Near the constellation, he could see the open cluster, simply known as M7 – a dense collection of thousands of stars; which looked like a live snapshot of swarming fireflies. Or like pieces of shining jewels when viewed through water. He even thought he could see a tiny, oval patch of dim light, which was actually the Lagoon Nebula; a colourful river of collapsing molecules and star formation.
This, was a view of the grandest scale of things. As he watched, he had a faint sensation of a tingling in his spine. His hands loosened as his muscles grew tired. A plethora of conflicting emotions washed over him…the first one was the sharpest and most terrifying. As there was no “up” or “down” since the gravity-loss, it took little imagination to shift his perspectives. His mind fixed on the easiest interpretation of the surroundings – the feeling that the slice of outer space in the window was “below”, and that he could easily “fall” into the infinite abyss of the sky was all too predominant, and it felt overwhelmingly dizzying. Imagine, he thought, the gap below growing larger until space itself would engulf your whole…
He involuntarily tightened his grip on the rails, although he knew that such a thing could never happen. Next, the window to the outside was completely invisible and transparent – this fact sure did make him feel open in an otherwise completely closed spaceship, but he still knew that he was in a closed world, separated from the harsh vacuum outside by the strong glass. Thus, he was visited by feelings of both liberation and confinement in the same instant.
Pete closed his eyes and paused to clear the mess in his brain. The pink after-images of the stars still shone beneath his eyelids.
“You know, I felt the same about this place as I think you do,” said a voice behind him.