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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

"May the Gods always stand between you and harm in all the empty places you must walk."
--18th Dynasty Egyptian Blessing

Story By JA Baker[]

All The Empty Places
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written November 2020
Story Era Late Succession Wars Era

Land's End. It's a nice planet, but not exactly where I expected to spend the rest of my days, sticking out into the Periphery like the Combine's appendix.

So, how exactly did a former trauma surgeon with the Physicians of the Dragon end up on this gods forgotten rock? Well, a little thing called a Section 8 Discharge. Which, if you don't know, means I was judged mentally unfit for service. Why, exactly? Because I told them why I didn't want to leave after my unit finished training and equipping the local militia. Told them why I never wanted to make another hyperspace jump, that I'd rather put a gun to my head and pull the trigger.

I told them what I saw, in that mad space between spaces.

No, I don't suffer from Transit Disorientation Syndrome. In fact, I have never felt any headaches, mild disorientation, vertigo, nausea or diarrhea after a jump.

Most people see nothing when they experience a jump: the human mind just isn't designed to experience moving through another dimension. We can't process what our senses are telling us, almost like someone asking you to describe what the sound of purple tastes like. There aren't words for it. Others see a riot of sound and colors, some going so far as to describe it as the ultimate trip, akin to taking strong hallucinogenic. Others claim to experience... Visions, for want of a better word. They claim they glimpse the past, the future, or how things might be if they'd made other choices, took a risk when they plaid it safe.

Some claim they her singing, a phenomenon known as The Choir.

I never experienced any of that: from my very first jump, on my way to attend medical school, I saw shapes, fractals, moving in space. At first, I put it down to my overactive imagination trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, but as I made more and more jumps in the service of the Dragon, these visions became more and more vivid, until I could make out recognizable forms in the chaos. They seemed vague at first, almost as if I was looking at a child's first attempts at art, but over time, they began to take shape, becoming almost human like. I was fascinated by the experience, and I read every text I could find on the physiological effects of FTL travel on the human mind, trying to find a rational, logical explanation for what I saw.

Looking back... Maybe it would have been better if I'd just ignored them?

No, I became obsessed with them, to an extent. Every time I had reason to make a jump, I would prepare myself mentally to try and take in as much as I could. Convinced that I would be able to find order in the chaos and prove something. I wasn't sure what exactly, abut our perception of hyperspace. I'd have a small voice recorder and a pencil and paper with me, so I could take notes and make sketches immediately after. I did this for years, never once telling anyone about my obsession, out of fear of how they might react. Yes, there have been reforms, and doctors aren't looked down upon as much as they once where, and there is some equality of the sexes, but I was still seen as "just a woman" doing "women's work" by many.

As time passed, I started to notice two distinct aspects of what I was seeing. I was making out immobile forms that roughly matched where other people were sitting around the cabins, and other, more nebulous forms moving around them. I considered several options, ranging from the purely scientific, such as body heat or the natural electromagnetic field generated by the human body, to the more mystical, such as Chi or other metaphysical explanations. At a loss, I started to, secretly, observe the people around me after a jump. It took a long time, but fortunately, the regiment I was assigned to at the time was being relocated from the Davion front up to the boarder of the then only recently formed Free Rasalhague Republic, a long journey with dozens of jumps. As time passed, I noticed that those with the second forms around them during the jump seemed to take it harder, needing longer to recover from the experience, while those without them seemed fine.

I also noticed that the forms, previously little more than floating masses of... ever mis-tune a TV? Gotten nothing but a hissing jumble of black and white static? Well, that's kind of what they looked like, only made up of colors that don't exist in our world, and we don't have names for. Only, the longer I observed them, the more defined they seemed to become. They say that hyperspace jumps are effectively instantaneous, that they're over before you're mind can even register what's happening, and many believe that this may be a major contributing factor to TDS. But, subjectively, well, some people claim to have experienced entire lifetimes in that moment between here and there. At the risk of repeating myself, we're just not designed to experience hyperspace: it exists outside of the laws of physics that we evolved under. Well, personally, jumps seemed to take several minutes, subjective. Although, obviously, I had no way to measure it.

In the end, it was the long and winding road to Land's End that changed everything.

As I said, we'd been assigned to train up the local militia after a number of pirate raids, but it was considered low priority, so we didn't exactly have a Command Circuit set up for us. In the end, it took us maybe twice as long as a direct, straight line would have, as we made use of existing trade routs, piggybacking on any JumpShip heading in the right direction with open docking collars. While incredibly tedious, this did give me time to observe more and more jumps. With each and every one, the shapes became more and more distinct, the hazy interference slowly giving way to solid shapes.

Solid, humanoid shapes.

I don't know if I was becoming more a tune to the chaos. Or if my imagination was getting better at filling in the blanks, but I started to make out vaguely human looking forms. Moving around the cabin during the jumps, but it wasn't fluid motion; no, it was stilted, jerking, like a cheap holographic display trying to run a high resolution recording. They seemed to be leaning over people, pressing their hands, or what passes for hands, against their heads. Whenever they did this, I could see the shape of the person fade slightly, and the mysterious form become... more real, for want of a better word. More defined.

But the last jump... Oh dear God, the last jump...

It's been more than twenty years, and there are still nights when I wake scream, drenched in ice cold sweat, over what I saw that last time... The reason why I will never make another jump in my life.

They'd become almost lifelike by that point, dark shadows in the form of men, moving around the cabin during the jumps. I had kept quite as one by one, they took something from the others, left them... less than they had been before. I had kept quite as I watched my friends and colleagues suffer, too caught up in my little experiment to even think about saying something. Well, I'd been playing Capellan Roulette, and finally found the chamber with the bullet, because that time... that time they finally came for me. They moved across the room towards me, like a child's first attempt at stop-motion animation, shifting and jerking as they grew closer over what felt like an eternity. I couldn't move, couldn't scream or anything, but just sit there and watch as they came closer.

For the first time, I could see their faces... oh god, I feel sick just thinking about their faces. They were long, pale, a crude imitation of humanity. With flat noses that were little more than two slits over a thin, lip-less mouth. But their eyes, saints preserve me! They didn't have eyes! And I don't mean that there was just nothing there, but rather their eyesockets were empty, dark abyss's that just went on for ever and ever and ever with no end in sight. And still I could see them looking right through me, as if they could see whatever it was within me that they wanted to take... like they had taken it from all the others, and who knows how many before!

Their long fingers reached out for me, like lengthening shadows, unstoppable and inescapable!

I don't remember what happened next: I was told I came out of the other side of the jump screaming and thrashing about in my seat so violently that they had to sedate me.

They asked, of course, what had set me off, and I tried to play it off as an abnormally bad episode of TDS. They seemed to accept that, even though I had no history of similar experiences. I tried to put it all behind me. I threw myself into my work, doing my duty as a loyal servant of the Coordinator, but every day that drew us closer to leaving, closer to another jump, felt like the ticking of a clock counting down to my doom. So I went to my CO, told him what I'd seen, showed him all my notes, my years of work and observations. He thought I was joking, until I told him that I would not allow myself to go through another jump, that I would rather die. I turned down offers of tranquillizers, even sedation, therapy, everything. There isn't anything or anyone in this universe that could make me leave it.

So, that's how I got my Section 8, and watched my old unit board the DropShips and leave. All the while knowing just what was wait for them, in that place between places.

The End

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