Their illumination fills the cockpit. Space is no longer dark and empty.
So bright that they are visible while scooping fuel in tight orbit around the sun: a dense wall of pinpoints scattered across the sky in vast quantity and without care.
It might take a lifetime to visit them all, catalogue all of the bodies that are in orbit, and find all the curiosities that are hidden away. A part of me would love to go and explore, but there is another, stronger, siren call to darkness.
The stars are now close enough together that route planning is taking its toll on the computational power at my disposal and it takes a few seconds to calculate the next route. I'm still over 9000Ly out from the core and the star density field only gets tighter from here. Something to keep an eye on.
And then a curious thing.
The density of stars just suddenly falls off as if I've thrown myself off of a cliff. The skies are clear and empty, with darkness once again dominating the the backdrop. Orienting the ship with the next destination brings a second surprise.
There is a tight cluster of bright stars ahead.
It is almost as if a surgeon's scalpel has cut away a volume of space. Not needed to make this part of the galaxy as it is clearly surplus to requirements. Imagination flares up and, for a moment, I imagine that volume of space tucked away in the galactic equivalent of a "lost and found" department.
I'll have to compare notes with Cmdr Ol, who has passed through similar box like volumes of space recently.
A few other curios and frustrations come to the fore. A gas giant with life in its upper atmosphere, a thin layer of turbulent water vapour.
That there is life on this scale and in this hostile a location speaks for the tenacity of life. The assumption that it is truly aware, or even intelligent, in a place like this is difficult to imagine however. Being born in such a place suggests a low glass ceiling on the size and complexity for this form of life. So I can't help but reflect on the privileged position that I have.
For my species the glass ceiling has been very high. At least... I assume it has.
A brief moment of disappointment when I find that I've mistaken a heavy metal planet with rings for a water world or even an earth-like. Hopefully that won't happen again. The clarity and structure in the rings is still a triumph over entropy though, and an elegantly beautiful view, so I don't begrudge the journey in-system to get here.
Finally, another beautiful waterworld that carries the recommendation from the ships computer that it is terraformable. Any life on this planet would not even know where to begin when looking for stellar constellations and heroes in the stars.
There are some rare Herbig Ae/Be stars that I can see up ahead - setting course and destination.