The woman had close-cropped, dark hair in an unfamiliar style. But Dez rarely recognized styles, be they clothing, hair or make-up anymore. It was the marker of all the time that passed while he was in-ship. That was its own time, both faster and slower than the time for those outside it. He lived his days normally, as any other, and on these worlds decades, sometimes even centuries passed.
So much changed that he often experienced a sense of vertigo when he emerged to see what there was of the universe. What did not change, what was constant as the stars themselves, was the urge. It was quiet in-ship, biding its time, knowing that its moment would come. But once he stepped onto these teeming planets, ripe with possibility, it could not be denied.
The woman did not notice him slipping into the flow of the crowd to follow her down the street. This city had streets, open to the elements, as Dez’s own home had. He could remember so little specific about it now. Somehow in-ship had become his default environment, what he associated normal with. Off it, the assault of color and noise, the press of people, the endless space extending on through vast constructions, was all foreign and other.
Most of those who went in-ship did so on one way voyages. They had their reasons. Others, a select few, such as Dez, lived in-ship, going from port to port, letting the centuries drift past. They would grow old in-ship and die there, a thousand years or more after their birth. It was a kind of immortality, though a meager .
And a sequestered one, for most could not stomach more than brief visits while in port to the worlds and what they held. Some drink and some companionship, though even those basic needs could become complicated by several centuries of cultural detritus, were all they were looking for. Most of his shipmates avoided it, staying aboard and interacting only with those on the docks, where they were treated as a kind of bizarre nobility. Dez always availed himself of the opportunities to stretch his legs and see what there was to be seen. As claustrophobic and nauseous as it was, there were things he had to see to.
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