Trying to find the words.

The Void.  Cold, black, vacuous emptiness.

Probably the most common terms used to describe what’s out here.  Strange terms to use, when you think about it.  Seems like reaching for some romantic description of space, which is a weird word anyway, a word whose mere definition is just plain intimidating.  Something that isn’t a thing, so immense that it can’t even be measured accurately, stretching out in every direction (or contracting, who knows).  In our attempts to understand it we had to call it something.  So we came up with space.  Makes sense, I guess, since there’s a lot of it in it, and it can kinda mess with your head.

It’s definitely cold out there, that’s for sure.  There’s also quite a lot of black.  Without an atmosphere to scatter light, that’s the backdrop we’re left with.  Our brains want to see things through that scattered light, defining that something for us, so that we can identify that thing as having being, existing, and we can give it a name.  The first time humanity left their native atmosphere—one thousand, three hundred, and forty years ago this April by the Sol calendar we still use today—we struggled to make sense of the theater of the future, a scrim so dark and foreboding, powdered with tiny, diffuse specks, everything so far away that it took years for even the light of the nearest stars to reach the place of our origin.  Naturally, we’re dumbfounded at the emptiness of it all.  With all the black, cold, vacuum talk, the go-to favorite cliche name we use The Void, meant to imply absolute emptiness.  Turns out, that’s not really the case at all.

Lately I’ve been hanging out at a little pub in the Mikunn system.  A comfy little dive called The Black Hole in the Wall.  Catchy name, since the activity around here can suck you in.  The single station in Mikunn is owned by a couple brothers of former Imperial heritage.  Their dad was some lower class noble who racked up a lot of debt.  When collection came due, a little kerfuffle ensued, and the old man stayed behind and paid the price, while the boys made a break for it in this little mining station which they later named after their father, Spassky.  They brought along a small, dedicated following, and with their political upbringing they formed a little feudal government to run the mining operation they were left with.

The operation digs up a few decent materials for occasional haulage.  Indite seems plentiful, and I’ve made a few creds hauling it to industrial stations since I’ve been here.  The rocks floating around here don’t produce much of the rare stuff, gold never going over a few hundred tons, and maybe one or two tons of palladium or platinum might surface.  Still, a pilot can make a meager living in a pinch.  But it’s not the trade in a few tons of metals that have drawn in the diverse crowd here at the bar.

The two brothers, calling themselves The Dukes of Mikunn, have amazing social and political capabilities that have trickled out to the other neighboring systems.  Just before I arrived their influence had expanded into the HR 7327 system, and a small following popped up there, building the Duke’s influence with small trade requests and courier missions.  The Dukes managed to swing an economic boom, so quite a bit of money flowed through the system for several weeks making some so rich that they took to pushing things a bit farther.  Aggressive moves against the dominant HR Dynamic Commodities Corporation have become the norm in HR 7327, so much so that as of a few days ago they’ve gone into a state of lock-down and have been calling on defense forces to help the beleaguered system authority.

It’s hard to say if the Dukes are hell-bent on revenge, or simply gifted, but they’re making some significant moves to create a fair showing in such a weird, outback sector of the galaxy.  To one side, explorable space, no civilization out there, go too far without a fuel scoop and you’re adrift indefinitely.  The Feds are around, as they are everywhere, but the nearest Empire stations are around fifty light years out, and the closest Alliance outpost is almost two hundred.

Around a couple thousand years ago, back on Sol, some years after a group of explorers made their way to another continent on old seagoing ships, they started trudging across this newly discovered continent.  More and more of them made their way across the land, and eventually it got a cute little colloquial name, The Wild West.  Scattered across the western edge of the North American continent on Earth little allegiances were formed; corporations, governments, communities.  It drew all sorts of opportunists, outlaws, bounty hunters, miners, mercenaries.

I can’t say that this edge of populated space is anything like the old wild west back on Earth.  There’s been a lot of progress with technology, and there aren’t any natives.  I imagine, though, that the people back then saw a big open space much the same way the people today see a big open space.  Brains get a little frazzled trying to make sense of it, as if the human psyche can’t handle too much opportunity, and it breaks down a little as it goes looking for ways to understand it.  Looking around the bar, I definitely feel that way.

At the other end of the bar from me sits a big, lumpy guy in tight red underwear.  He’s got a heavy Gippsworld accent, and by his size I figured him a pig farmer, but he’s some sort of data analyst, or a genius of some sort.  Every week he posts these detailed charts and graphs to the local net, plotting the course of activity in the sector.  Between us, slumped over the bar, sleeps a guy whose wife took him for everything and jettisoned him out here.  The bar buzzes when the younger pilots pop in, waiting for their Vipers to refuel and rearm, and chatter up the place about the big kills they’re cashing in from hunting Anacondas that are easily five times their size.  Or did you hear the one about the bear in a flight suit that walks into the bar, orders a meal, curls up into a ball and sleeps for a while, then gets up, grabs a shovel, and walks out the door?  Yeah, me either, at least not until I got out to Mikunn.

You can look out at the black backdrop of space, and it can screw with your head.  But it’s certainly not some great and absolutely empty Void.

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