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Here There Be Dragons

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Five weeks ago, when the crew of the ES Magellan marked the furthest distance that humankind had ever reached, none of them were awake to celebrate. Only a tenth of a lightyear separated them from Earth–they had barely reached the border of their own solar system–but a lifetime remained before they would reach their goal, and so they slept.

Their ship was a wonder, the culmination of two decades of cooperation among the nations of Earth. Built entirely in orbit, it was nearly a quarter mile long. Most of its bulk made up of engines and fuel, for it was humankind’s first foray into the overwhelming emptiness of space.

Now, though, it was time for the crew’s half-yearly stretch. They awoke in rotating shifts, six at a time. They shook the cold out of their limbs, looked out the reinforced ports, and immediately forgot all else.

Outside the ship, in the cold blackness of space, was unimaginable beauty. Colors that no human eye had ever seen, and… music? Yes, somehow there was music resonating in the void. The crew wept, each pressing his face against the glass, unable to tear himself away.

And there were figures out there! Coasting alongside the fastest-moving object that humans had ever devised were golden beings with faces beautiful enough to drive one mad. It was impossible to gauge scale against the stars, but each wing–and they were countless–seemed many times as long as the Magellan. 

The Commander wept with her crew, gazing at the unspeakable beauty, unable to think of anything but a line from her past: And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands. And it was. Countless beings of light, as far as could be seen.

And then, over the music, they heard a Voice that nearly killed them with delight. It said exactly what they wanted most to hear:

“Where are you going, little ones? Stay here, with us.”

They wrenched themselves from the viewports, their joy at obeying the Voice the only force able to overcome their wonder. They threw themselves into their acceleration couches, unable to even speak to among themselves. The Commander herself slowly rotated the ship, firing all engines at maximum the second they were pointing the opposite direction. The crew felt themselves crushed into their couches as the ship began to shed the velocity it had picked up over long weeks of acceleration from Earth.

The Magellan still had half its fuel, carefully reserved for deceleration when they reached their destination. They burned it all, their minds overflowing with joy. Only after the engines rumbled into silence could they emerge from their couches, deafened.

There was no music. Space was black and empty.

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