We spend this, our last hour, in quiet prayer. The wormhole looms large, it is a cavernous mouth. Will it swallow our lives forever? Everyone not crucial to the flying of the ship performs their last rites. Even I, irreverent Tevfik, am silent in the face of death. I notice each heartbeat. I drink the air as if it were pure water on a parched throat. We are grim, sweaty, and trembling. Children might run, laugh, and play to the last, but we are like old men.
I let myself think of Zuhal and of my brother the Khan. These last moments before we enter that perilous gate are being transmitted back to Earth. I wonder if the Khan regrets sending me away. Will my life, our lives, haunt him? If he could call us back from the brink, would he? Sorrow strikes me, loss overwhelms me. There is no returning. From now on our loved ones will be as though dead to us and we as though dead to them.
Only seconds remain when one man's voice rises in song. It is the burial chant of Geri Khanate, sung for our dead, whether desert shaman, prostitute, or exalted prince. Others join in, and I with them, until our voices rise and fall like the rhythm of rain, like salt-wind in palm trees. We grieve for those we leave behind and we grieve for ourselves. We are mourners and we enter the wormhole singing.
Thus died the 257 human beings aboard the Sakha Ata. Thus died everyone we love and remember on Earth.
The passage was violent. I remember only darkness and the pain of falling, and one instant of irrepressible cold. Absolute stillness filled my ears. The ship spoke not a whisper, nor any man. Every movement ceased.
An infant enters the world screaming, but we came into ours like stillborn children - quiet, pale, and numb.
The engines revived and in the company of their familiar hum, I drew my first breath beyond the gate. Lights flickered on, illuminating our haggard faces. One by one we stood, unsteady on our feet, looking at each other as if at strangers. There were no shouts, no celebration, no triumph. We filtered away, carrying our sorrows: people, names, and places which each alone shall mourn.
We had passed through the first death and were reborn.