Void has a feeling. Real voids make one feel the absence of every insulating air, be it ever so violent a wind, ever so dust-laden.
Out there, beyond the air and the ozone and all that presses down on every sense with a soothing, soft weight and warmth, there is the void and its awful, splendid clarities.
He remembers his first sight of the space beyond the sky – remembers clearly the moment when first he knew – knew – that these were different things. How any 'bot could bear it was beyond him – the thought that there were so many among them made to live in such a place was unfathomable.
For where the sky ended played a riptide of untamed energies – clear, streaming in so fast they were static motion, howling in on their separate, endless gales to outdo anything he'd imagined could be. Pure energies – monotonous in their constancy, bewildering in their bursts and variations, and he'd felt as if every surface he possessed was ablaze with starfire. Space on average vibrates just two degrees above absolute standstill, as everyone knows – but in amid worlds and stars, he felt as if he were coming out of himself like steam, evaporating right out of his hide, which was surely going up layer by atomized layer. The sun had never seemed so monstrous, nor the stars so cruel.
He remembers Jazz grinning maniacally at him, his silver going orange and gold, and flecked here and there with blue and green, purple – docking lights, running lights, engine light, all of them tints against the sunlight and the radiance of a dying planet that washed over them, turning bodies into a hundred thousand blazing mirrors. He could see them flashing, like dust motes on a wind as they streamed towards the ships that awaited them.
Terrifying things, the ships – troop transports, mostly, pitilessly efficient designs. Most of their mass was unhoused generators to power weaponry, shields, and engines powerful enough to burn short-term, short-span wormholes into being. They moved through space like Xenox's strange runner – halfway, and halfway, and halfway, pause, pause, pause, reorient, keep moving.
No hollows, no holds in such behemoths, just those immense generators, and their inevitable crawl-spaces, nearly all of them exposed to void. No living quarters, no decks, just the sixteen long radial spines that jutted out a little fore and aft of the main mass, and around which locked the landers that would get unflighted soldiers down planetside and back again at need. Little more than four engine pods and carry-racks, the landers stacked all along those spines – fragile, lethal rings.
He remembers the feel of the little docking hollow on the carry-rack, sliding smooth and cold and metallic all along his back. Then had come the hot tingle, and the twist and wrinkle, as it trans-scanned and caught him, folded itself into his back and made him one with it – locked him to his life-lines. He remembers, being-ship – feeling all its – his, their – vibrations, and the roar and shudder of engines, the groan of that immense bulk as it (miraculously) moved, and the crackle of far, far too much power, like a blinding haze of light before and behind and all around him endlessly, for time beyond measure. He's never known the like, being-ship; he thinks it must be near what it is – was – to be-gestalt. Not even space flight in transition mode can match it, for then it is only him, and the radio waves of fellow travelers, all very separate.
He's seen a hundred thousand star systems waver into being from the back of a lander. He's been reprimanded just as many times for overriding stasis safety regs to try to watch, like an idiot, nearly blacking out on overload as they came 'screaming' into 'view' of sensors at close to lightspeed and with all the gentleness of running headfirst at speed into concrete so far as consciousness was concerned.
But just before the mind gave in to senselessness, there swelled that feeling of being vaulted to the stars that came rushing in with the darkness, and maybe he really would transform – become something wholly other.
Silly fantasies, but every soldier has to have them, and there were worse things to want. Space is vast enough to absorb all such desires, indifferently...
"What's it like, being out there, on a starship?" asks the gnat in the eye of the universe that calls itself 'Sam.'
What is it like. Space is a cold clarity – pure, unchecked, innocent violence, unwilled, unending. It is, and it is what it is, and cares not what anyone makes of it, and the ships and the lives and all the hopes and fears and waiting horrors that travel its night are nothing to it. He knows the likeness of that nothing in the slipstream image of himself that never returns, just vanishes with their wake to end somewhere as anonymous heat...
He wonders, then, and not for the first time, whether that visceral knowledge – the nothing that weighs like cold and wears away at 'inside' and 'outside', 'you' and 'me' – ever made the shot come easier off his gun, or the 'yes' come readier to his mouth when someone handed down what had to be a death sentence disguised as orders.
Bumblebee feels the earthy weight of the boy on his hood, and teeks the muted radiance of the night-sky above that speaks, in the hard edge winking and churning in it, of space beyond, and answers:
"It is nothing you can imagine. But when you come there one day, then we'll talk."