The ping of an incoming message shattered the hallucinogenic calm of Dominic’s stupor, sending spikes of red noise twisting into the pure black that had surrounded him. He issued the mental command that quashed the message and returned to contemplating the dark expanse that stretched out before him farther than any human eye, or eye designed by humans, could see. Millions of stars glittered out there, each shining a promise of life orbiting it.
The view winked out.
She was gone, just like the stars.
Out here, in the dark void between stars, in a crippled space ship occupied by far too many humans, death was a reality for everyone. Not even the Sybarites pretended that it didn’t exist, though they did all they could to forget about it. Dominic knew that some among the Melders were so old now that they imagined themselves immortal, but many of those had been deemed mad by the Consensus and relegated to harmless immobile cases without access to the public network. No, the majority of his people were more afraid of a life of unending monotony spent in the same ship in which their grandparents had been born than they were of death. Some even took part in duels to the death, risking their lives for a cut of the betting pool and an opportunity to claim celebrity. In Dominic’s experience, nearly all of the participants in those Incarna duels participated primarily to escape the boredom of their unnaturally long and comfortable lives.
But death was not something that happened to people like Kamon. Sure, back when she had been a Council representative she might have presented a valuable political target for the Stewards, but those days were long past. They had ended when she retired from her office and joined her wounded companion in pursuing a simpler, more restful life.
Dominic scoffed at that now. It had been foolish for them to believe that they could escape the political complexities of the Council and become mere citizens of the Melder Consensus. To think that they could cheat death again in that way. Death would come for all of them eventually, if not violently, then in creeping stages as the aging hulk of the Drake finally broke down one compartment at a time, or in a long screech of twisting metal as the ship hurtled down a gravity well and twisted in on itself, or in a blinding flash as they all were incinerated by the surface of the distant star towards which they had been hurtling for nearly three hundred years.
The red message indicator appeared in Dominic’s vision again, accompanied by a subtle “ping” that was only audible to him. He sighed, soundlessly, his mouth and chest moving in a parody of an exasperated human exhaling, even though no air passed through his body and nobody could have heard the sound emitted by the speaker embedded in the back of his mouth.
If I really wanted to be left alone, I would have blocked all transmissions, he admitted to himself as he allowed the message though.