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4.

“What the,” said Clay after a while.

Still they gawked. Starting on their port side and below, the realm of their sensors opened out like they were coming out of a forest and onto a frozen lake. They could see for ever and ever, but there was nothing to see. It was hard to say how they knew they weren’t just staring at a flat black wall, but they both had the distinct sensation of infinite distance. On the starboard side and above, at first, there was still the busy blur of relativistic space, with the confused photons coming to them at the speed of light even as they met them at the speed of light, while others from behind barely managed to catch up, only traveling few dozen meters per second faster relative to the rest of the universe, and yet meeting the combined fighters at the full speed of light. No wonder they were confused. But even they gave up and opened out, and then the doubled Ghosts were drifting in a blackness deeper than oceans, in a cosmos of vast extent, empty of all matter or energy but that belonging to Rachel Andros and Clay Gilbert.

“99.999999,” said Rachel. “Six nines.” They still gawked side by side, naked in their familiar little space, surrounded by uninformative screens interrupted by uninformative data displays. “Um, Clay,” she said after another while, “should we cut the thrust? We’re still trying to accelerate.”

“It does seem rather gilding the lily,” said Clay in a flat voice. “Considering we’re already setting records every second. And, um, this.”

“This,” said Rachel. “I’m not going to even ask where we are. Frickin’ neutrinos are pulling over to let us pass. I mean, no wonder it looks—!”

“What the bleep was that,” said Clay quietly.

“I mean, it looks weird because looks are determined by photons reflecting off things, and we’re running with the photons right now. I mean, maybe we’re finally so close to the actual speed of frickin’ light that we’re within some sort of quantum thing, you know, and so we’ve like graduated to oneness with the photons. Scary, huh? And I mean, there is this quantum thing, this one effect where a photon turns into an electron and a positron, and then back again, and it loses a little time in the process so it’s slowed down a tiny bit, so maybe we’re basically going the—!” She stopped. “What the bleep was that?”

They watched what the bleep was going on out there for perhaps five minutes in silence. It wasn’t going on all the time: just every so often, what the bleep would happen. They gradually, like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave, Rachel and Clay both began to get an idea about what they were seeing. They floated there naked in their combined Ghost, coasting along at a speed with which neutrinos had to hustle to keep up, as something seemed to move over here, and something seemed to move over there.

Move was not quite the right word. Move implied a continuous change of position through a real-number-indexed progression of intervening positions, a continuous function from [0, 1] into the three or whatever dimensional space in which Rachel and Clay found themselves. Move implied that the rules of motion they had understood as children in Maine and Canada were more or less inviolate. Those rules were already in shreds. But rules of some sort held, and over the course of five minutes or so, Clay and Rachel began to get some idea of what those rules were, and the things they were seeing began to make sense in a way that a screen full of static did not.

Rachel cleared her throat. Clay looked at her, then back behind him, as if something were lurking or creeping or sneaking. Then, gazing off obliquely into one of the infinitely many directions of black infinity, he said, “I kind of fancy decelerating.”

“You mean pull out of light speed somewhere.”

“Yes.”

“We have no idea if there’s a star about or what,” said Rachel, non-judgmental. “Is that okay?”

“Fine with me,” said Clay.

“Me too,” said Rachel, pulling back the sliders on both her side and his to maximum deceleration.

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