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Of all the stars they’d surveyed, the Pilot liked intrinsically variable stars the most.

Every star breathed, from franticly spinning neutron stars to cool, tenuous red giants, but variable stars were hearts in and of themselves. They were slow hearts--the fastest one he’d seen yet only beat once in a third of a sub-cycle--but it was a rhythm the Pilot could have orbited for an entire Maxima without ever growing tired of its presence.

Although this particular variable star was at an ebb in its pulsation, it was so bright and massive that the captain had been conservative when deciding on the distance of their closest pass. They were trailing a comet as it passed close to the yellow-white supergiant, collecting readings from the brilliant tail with probes and the occasional shuttle. It was simple work for the Pilot to keep the Dancer’s distance consistent and watch for any odd readings from the comet or the star, so every spare moment he had was spent following the slow, steady fall of the pulse. He thought if he wanted to he could follow it down so far he would reach a point where the galaxy held its breath and all of time stood still, everything waiting until the star was ready to finish the beat and brighten once more.

There was a signal from the shuttle. The researchers were done with their readings of the comet and on their way back. Unfortunately the Dancer’s next objective was some distance away, in a small planetary system with no variable stars in the vicinity.

He had a few minutes before the shuttle would land and the captain would give the order to go to warp. He spent them with his fingers on the star’s deepening pulse, and dreamed of the space between stellar heartbeats.



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