The man who flies the open nothing


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The man supposed there were but two entities in existence—the nothing, and he himself, who traveled it.



 



The nothing was soft and cold and endless; the man, metallic and warm, but no less endless. The lightyears stretched before him and behind him and always he flew, his gargantuan body shooting aimlessly through the black, his mind of copper and silicon wandering as aimlessly. When, every so often, he found himself nearing one of the cylindrical colonies that floated and rolled through the nothing, he would cook up a body of flesh in his great steel belly, then dock and link his intelligence to the new flesh and stay and live out a life in carbon.



He would glean love and novelty, again, from the people he found there, and he found many.


 


A woman, whom he had met and married forever ago. She had taken him one night to the spoke of the colony that spun like a wheel and closed her eyes and pushed off and floated there for a moment before hitting the other side. She whooped and had him try and asked if he felt the adrenaline of everything falling away. He said he did. But doubted it.


 


He couldn't remember what had happened to her. No, he could. Everything was stored somewhere in his mind's hard drive, only he programmed himself to forget some things. He hoped it would made the incoming experiences fresh, exciting.



Another woman, in some other life, in some other corner of the galaxy. She had once stared out the window at space and asked him to tell her about the deep parts of the universe, the parts she had heard flowed like foaming whirlpools and pulsed with the heart of God. He sighed and put his arm around her before telling her the truth—that it was all a lot of nothing. When she asked him later if he had meant it, he said he hadn't and told her about the places where the pinks were ever so pink and the blues were ever so blue. But in secret, they both knew he had meant it, and the knowledge scared her.


 


The next woman. The woman he dwelt on when he had nothing else to dwell on when he flew the night. The woman he was fairly sure was one woman and not several that he was mixing. She had loved him, had said so, but she liked her body of flesh and said it was the only one she intended on having. A short life, she said, but a good one. He remembered the day a friend died. She cried and he held her. But then she cried again for the family that would mourn him and for the years he would miss and the sunrises and finally he looked into her eyes and told her that people were always dying. She pushed him away and cried some more.


 


In later years, he saw watched those eyes and saw that they lit up at the stars that shone every night and spilled over with tears at the pain of people that were always in pain and wondered who had given her such eyes. She danced to a rhythm he couldn't keep, the rat-a-tat of life in hundred-year measures. It all sounded so strange, so quick and so very much like static beside the slow, deep beat of space.



He thought it was the same woman who one day sat with him at dinner and asked him to love her back and to do it for real—to love her and stay and die with her, and to let his metal body die too. She explained that she wanted him to feel things. The scarcity, the preciousness. The heartbeats that really meant something in love, because they were so few in life. He leaned back in his chair and laughed and gave her a promise that was empty as the space beyond the colony's steel walls.


 


His body of flesh did finally die one day and he flew on, on to a nothing more open than the last.


 


He thought it was after that life that the circuits of his mind had still been linked to the colony's cameras as he went and he had looked back through the place and found the woman crying and wishing providence or damnation through the window after him. But perhaps he was remembering someone else.


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