And So the Stars Also Shall Die by Wuckster

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I'll tell you what the worst part of interstellar space travel is. It isn't the relativistic effects on time of moving at faster than light-speed. Not for me, anyway. My wife left me for another man shortly before I signed up for my first mission and took the kids with her. About four years passed for me on that trip, while a few hundred years went by back home. Suffice to say, everyone I knew was long dead. It didn't matter too much to me though. I'd never had many close friends and I wasn't about to shed a tear for that cheating bitch. I did get the chance to visit my great great great great grandson in the retirement home. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, if a bit senile. After that it really wasn't a big deal to go on the next mission because I didn't know anybody at all anymore.

I've encountered a few aliens on my journeys, but truthfully most of them have been the extraterrestrial version of cows. Sure, they may have a few bug eyes or tentacles here or there, but essentially they're just herd animals and harmless for the most part. There was that one planet filled with hyper-aggressive acid-spewing crustaceans, and that had been far from pleasant, but in retrospect narrowly escaping with my life had been kind of an adrenaline rush. It had certainly been an adventure.

Even the boredom of long space flights isn't the worst part. You can choose to go into suspended animation, if you'd like. Then it feels like no time passes at all. If you do opt to stay awake, there's no shortage of entertainment. There's enough movies, books, music, and video games to last several lifetimes. If there are other crew members and if they're not total wasteoids, you can kill some time talking to them and drinking some booze. But for the most part I prefer solitary missions.

To me the worst part is you can never know for sure when you take off if the star you're headed for is still going to be there by the time you arrive. It takes a long time for the light from even nearby stars to reach us and we can only know they were there hundreds or thousands of years ago, depending on how far away they are. I've made the lengthy trip more than once only to discover the star in question had already gone supernova and burned itself out. It happens more often than you might think. If you're really unlucky the star might have collapsed in on itself and you'll find yourself arriving at a black hole. If you can't put the brakes on in time, you're really screwed. That's never happened to me, but I did have a colleague who got sucked into one. Rumor has it you can still see his ship just inside the event horizon.

I still can't describe the disappointment of discovering you've traveled many light years across the void of space only to arrive at a burnt out husk of a dead star. The first time it happened to me I thought something had gone wrong with the navigation system. But multiple checks confirmed I was where I was supposed to be. They've got state of the art machines these days that can do mind-blowing physics computations in fractions of a second. They can send you to the exact point in space where the star will be at the time you get there, but they can't tell if it's still going to actually exist. To go all that way for absolutely nothing is just a soul-crushing feeling.

But something different happened this last time. I was on a solo mission investigating a newly discovered star, but by the time I got there it was gone. I was cursing loudly and making preparations for the long trip home, resigned to returning empty handed, when a spaceship suddenly materialized nearby. It had a strange design full of harsh angles that didn't appear like anything in nature I was used to. It clearly wasn't one of our ships.

Like I said, most aliens are dumb as bricks. Nobody's ever encountered another space-faring race, so this was an amazing discovery. I tried hailing them with the communications system, but received no reply. Evidently they didn't use the same sort of ship-to-ship signaling technology as we do. I watched the alien ship through the viewscreen for several hours as it just hovered there. Nothing much seemed to be happening, but I couldn't just leave without attempting some sort of further investigation.

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