“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

                                                                                                 - Nietzsche-


          And if you gaze long into the abyss… No – she wouldn’t think about that; that was the road to insanity.  You gaze out the window, and you think its staring back at you- only “it” can’t stare at you because “it” is nothing.  “It” is complete emptiness, an endless sea of black. 

          She shakes her head again.  Chocolate, lasagna, chocolate, broccoli – she had to get her mind off the emptiness…and the memories. Chocolate, steak, oh man, could I use a candy bar right now.  Thoughts of food led to drink, drink led to water, water led to oceans, and oceans… “If thou gaze long into the abyss…”

          “Come on, pull yourself together,” she muttered, then jumped shocked by the sound of her own voice after so many hours.  Or had it been days?  She couldn’t remember, it had been so long.  Each second felt like weeks.  How long had she been here?  How long would she stay?  She stared out at the nothingness again and thought back.

          It was her first assignment since the accident, a simple survey task actually.  Nothing all that important.

 <Probably don’t trust me anymore.  I’m such a failure, I…> but such thinking would get her nowhere and she forced her thoughts away, focusing instead on how she had came to be here.

Periodically the corps sent someone to check the outer territory.  Her job was to look for spatial anomalies, new stars, and to check the condition of the galactic cloud.  This was a necessary procedure, checking the galactic cloud.  It was assumed that gallium was a non-polluting fuel, but it had only been used for a few decades.  No one had thought CFCs were harmful at first either; it was only after the ozone was disintegrated nearly beyond repair that anyone noticed.  There was always the danger that gallium can do the same, only the danger here wasn’t to Earth’s atmosphere, it was to galactic stability.

          So there she had been, light years from nowhere, performing her survey.  For the first few hours everything was normal.  No anomalies, no stars, the galactic cloud appeared to be fine.  But the computer hadn’t finished analyzing the cloud yet, so she had settled back to enjoy the view.  It was breath taking; from her vantage point outside the galaxy she could see everything.  Swirls of color below her, sparkling with starlight, a myriad of designs, infinite beauty.  How glad she had been that she got to see this, the people back home didn’t know what they were missing.  In that moment all the warnings, the worries about being alone, about the danger one could face out here alone, had vanished from her mind.  Here she could forget everything but the wonder of the galactic plain.  She felt that this was what she had been born for, this moment.  Nothing else mattered.  This was the moment for which she had trained.  It didn’t matter that this was only a routine survey, it didn’t matter that she wanted to be an engineer and this was a babysitting mission.  It didn’t matter that the computer was doing all the work, or that she was alone.  It didn’t even matter that when she got back home no one would care that she had been here, and it wouldn’t further her career.  All that mattered was that she was here.  She was getting to see something few people ever saw.  This was the experience of a lifetime.  At that moment she never dreamed that something could go wrong…

          Suddenly bells had gone off in the back of her head, followed by the shrill sound of the ship’s alarms.  Something was passing close, dangerously close.  But even this had not frightened her, she had felt so content that nothing would have bothered her.  She adjusted the ship’s course slightly and turned back to the window.  Suddenly the on-board systems had gone haywire.  Lights and engines went off.  Only the life support was functioning, although how she did not know.

          Which brought her back to the present.

Here she was.  The unthinkable had happened; she was drifting in the extra-galactic void.  Her first step had been to attempt contact with any vessel that might be nearby.  However, a quick glance proved that communications had been shot.  She had then attempted to restore power and when that failed tried to restart engines only - that too failed.  Now all she could do was wait.  For the first hour or so she tried to figure out what had happened.  What could possibly have made the ship die like that? 

          A few possibilities presented themselves, a passing black hole or wormhole, a comet or shooting star too close, even an alien ship- it had been rumored that Xatelien ships sometimes drained power from other ships if they passed too close.  All possibilities, but none rang true.  This was something different; something unlike anything she had ever seen or heard of. 

          She had soon grown weary of this sport. 

Now, hours after the accident, she was having trouble focusing.  Nothing had trained her for this, the intense feeling of loneliness, the ache for human companionship, or companionship of any kind.  How she longed for a cat or something furry to hug.  But there was nothing.  Now in the stillness she fought against creeping suspicions and the slow insanity that so often accompanies isolation.  She fought against the memories that had haunted her dreams so often recently.  Her eyes were once again drawn to the portal.  What was out there?  Was it all nothingness?  She could no longer see the galaxy; the ship had long since drifted away from that vision.  If thou gaze long into the abyss

Where had she read that; heard that?  In a movie; a book?  She couldn’t remember, couldn’t focus long enough.  She stared into the void and suddenly she thought she saw something pass.  She gazed deeper into the dark, trying to see something, a distant star, a ship, anything.  There!  Was it real or only her imagination?  She wasn’t sure, but something seemed to be looking back at her…the abyss will also gaze into thee.  Was that it; was the abyss staring back at her?  How would she know?  She had been too long without sleep, without sufficient food and water.  She raised a hand to the glass and stroked it, staring intently into the empty space.  And the abyss seemed to take shape, imitating a human face, and stare back at her.  It seemed to communicate with her.

          She remembered being a young child.  She was tinkering with a broken communications array in her living room.  And suddenly she picked up a signal, faintly at first then stronger as she adjusted the frequency.  The person was talking about what they were going to have for dinner.  Just then her parents walked in.  She had only been five or six, but she remembered the deep desire to do this for the rest of her life, to fix things.  That was when she decided to become an engineer. 

          Next she remembered career day in the third grade.  The teacher had asked each student what he/she wanted to be when he/she was older.  Most of the children wanted to be a teacher, intergalactic customs agent, or a spy.  Even among the advanced class she had far outdistanced the rest.  She had stood up and announced that she was going to be an engineer on a class 1-exploration vessel.  And they had laughed at her, she couldn’t understand why.  Why shouldn’t she want to do that? 

          Next she remembered parts of middle school and high school, always followed by ridicule those first few years, always befriending the friendless.  Then, in her sophomore year of the academy, things changed.  People began to respect her, even like her.  She even had a few dates, but she had not forgotten the people who had always been her friends.  She remembered her friend Susan coming to her in tears, crying that no one cared and that she was going to lose her assignment.  Susan had falsely been accused of cheating on her exit exams.  It had taken her three weeks to convince the board that Susan had not cheated.  She smiled at the memory, now Susan was the lead scientist on the lead research vessel in Astrocorps. 

          She remembered her first assignment, and how her partner had been so afraid to repair a ship from the outside.  She remembered comforting him, reminding him that everything would be fine.  Now he was one of the top extra-structural engineers in the corps. 

          Then she remembered her last assignment.  Routine really, but oh, how complicated simple things can be.  Her best friend had nearly been killed when she turned a knob too hard, and the whole thing had exploded.  She winced at the memory.  The humiliation and sorrow welled up inside her heart again.  How could she have messed up so badly, how could she- one of the most experienced engineers in the corps- have done that? Tears welled up in her eyes and she once again became aware of the abyss.  It seemed to stare at her in question and reach for her.  Suddenly the pain was gone.  The void seemed to be reminding her of all the good her life had brought.  That one mistake was more than covered by her kindness of the past. 

          Slowly she smiled.  She had come on this mission feeling it was just punishment, a dead beat assignment that she accepted because she no longer deserved to be chief engineer.  There was a clang as a larger ship attached to her own.  In her preoccupied state she had not noticed that her rescue had come.  The door opened and a young Lieutenant stepped in.  As he helped her up and collected her stuff he apologized for leaving her out there so long.  He was sure she must be nearly crazy.  Especially when she turned back to the portal and smiled slightly.

          “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee…”

          “Excuse me, ma’am?” He asked throwing her a questioning glance.

          “Nietzsche, lieutenant.  Beyond Good and Evil.  You should read it.”

          He stared at her, wondering if perhaps, she was not already a little off in the head.  But it was not his place to question.

          “Personally I find all this a little unsettling, certainly nothing to smile about.” He remarked.

          She grinned, before she would have agreed, but now…

          Now she wondered if perhaps she had needed to be sent out here.  Had needed her confidence restored.  She thought back to the problems on her ship, they were gone now, only recorded in the ship’s logs - and her memory.  She wondered if perhaps there was something out there.  Something that had known what she needed…and provided it.

She had gazed into the abyss, and it had gazed back, and she had found it not to be a frightening void, but a reassuring calm.  Here there was nothing to fear.  She had gazed into the abyss… and it had restored her.