A manuscript that was co-written with Jeff Taylor c1990. Unedited Novelette.
The Icarus and Daedelus dropped through the atmosphere with mirrored precision, the surface of the planet below crystallising into vision as we drew closer. The brown smudge of desolation became clearer, defined by rocky outcrops and smattered with the remains of former habitations. Most of the population had left the barren world, once a rich variety of vegetation, or moved into the fifty or so geodesic domed conurbations that remained on the surface of the planet.
We flew on; our destination a faint blip on our monitors. Over the horizon rolled one of the travelling villages used to transport people from dome to dome; a huge chunk of metal moving slowly on heavy tracks. They took up to eight weeks to get between some of the outlying domes but were essential in the searing heat to protect the travellers.
Imneth, an oasis of life on that desolate rock that is imaginatively known as L-Cava 7, finally. The dome rose out of the rocky crags, its silver coating reflecting the local star’s rays and gleaming like a polished gem in a bed of ore. The outer doors began to swing open and the port captain radioed through requesting us to dock.
Then everything went quiet.
The communications channels faded and were silent.
The scanners lost all trace of Imneth.
And for a moment, only the rocks stood ahead in our flight path.
Agape, we stood transfixed and then flurried into activity. We slowed engines, and began to pull the two craft to a stop, but no sooner had we begun than Imneth was back.
We hovered, two miles from the welcoming port doors. Imneth didn’t appear quite so welcoming, the mouth of the port’s doors waiting to devour our ships like insects. We checked the computer records, but there was no record of any error. We ran a diagnostic, but all systems were operational and recorded no fault. Imneth called to inquire if we had encountered any problems. Logically, we hadn’t, except those which our eyes had told us. We asked them if they had recorded any anomalies in our flight path, and, after a short check, responded negatively.
Tentatively we flew in and landed.
Councillor Jones welcomed our two crews to Imneth and invited us to dine with his family that evening in one of the better restaurants overlooking the landing bay.
We decided to perform our landing checks straight away and then fully relax later, while our sister crew on the Daedelus decided to take a break beforehand. Everything checked out, except a minor glitch in our communications diagnostic, but we decided to leave that until the next day, despite Nash’s insistence that we sorted out the problem there and then. He was a stickler for the book, always on duty, a positive workaholic.
At eight, we sat down to dine with the Jones’. Vilcoich, our second reconnaissance operative was, as usual, late. The crew of the Daedelus were still finalising their checks, so captain London paged them on the short-range communicator.
“Marsh, London here. We’re all sat down at the Piazza waiting for you and the soup course is on hold. How long you going to be?” He looked up and smiled at our hosts.
” … aving a few pr … lems with our comm … ions. Can you …” The transmission was riddled with static.
“Say again?” prompted London.
“Something wrong with our set up, all readings are h … wire, even our loca … com … tors are faulty …”
“Can’t it wait?”
“No. It’s causing a drain on the … Can’t seem to sh … own. Crystal Freq … jumpy. Base loading inactive. Can’t seem to …”
The communications wiped out at that point, and we heard nothing more.
Vilcoich was coming across the landing platform carrying a document folder and looked concerned. He tucked the papers into the wallet and began to run towards the restaurant. He was shouting something, but the blast windows muted any sounds from the landing area.
Including the Daedelus.
It just vanished, and for a moment there was nothing. We sat open-mouthed while some of the other diners got up to move towards the window. Almost immediately, something big appeared in its place and instantly imploded sending shards of metal, some bigger than a man, hurtling across the landing platforms. London ineffectually shouted to Vilcoich to get down. Vilcoich was ripped apart by flying debris, as were fourteen others. Thirty more were injured in the ‘accident’.
Vilcoich’s notes, God rest his soul, were hurried recordings of the last few moments of the Daedelus, yielding little more than we already knew. The scan analysis of the field around the craft when it imploded was anything but coherent – scattered emissions, unexpected fluxes, shadow pulses – none of it made sense. The company quarantined the landing pad and began their investigation. Even the Icarus was checked with a fine-tooth comb. For three days they photographed, spectra analysed, tested, re-tested and measured. I watched from outside the cordon while very specialised equipment was shipped in and out. The pad was a flurry of activity day and night, from the suited bosses of the local company offices to white-suited analysts with notebooks. They had power drops each night at 2 am. Nobody let on any reason, but the whole spaceport suffered brownouts too. They told us to take a week off, but not go too far. We were tested for almost everything imaginable, and probably a few things they’re not telling us about.
Despite the natural feelings of loss we were suffering, we were told that we were fine and could resume active duty when our next mission came through. It was a great shock to all of us, we had worked with the crew of the Daedelus for the last two years and we were all firm friends. A brief commemorative service was held in memory of the missing crew; the corporation was very explicit about that and would not say they were dead, but did say they would be contacting their families to inform them of their loss. We were then placed under oath not to discuss the matter with anyone except authorised company officials, and only then on request. Something stank. The company put their blackouts down to equipment malfunction, which consequentially caused the ports brownouts. They said that nothing of any consequence had been found and the port was clear for service.
I went back to the Icarus and pulled up the corporate network, punched in my ID and zipped around the bulletin boards. I left a few messages for my other recon buddies in case they uncovered anything remotely connected to the incident. Naturally, I didn’t leave any details that were obvious, what hacker does? I tried to pull up files on the incident, but there were only scant news releases stating that Imneth had been closed for the last week due to electrical problems which made the site unsafe for active duty and that these problems had now been fixed and the port was open for business. I tried my recon access code to find some detailed information in the standard scientific records. Even this couldn’t gain access to any record of the incident, it’s like it didn’t exist. I tried a couple of backdoors, with no result.
It was two days before anything happened. The corporation sent its orders down for the next mission. A vessel had been picked up on long-range scan three weeks from L-Cava 7. Since we were the nearest recon vessel, we had to attend the craft. London requested back-up, but the corporation refused, stating that until the Daedelus incident had been fully resolved, we would have to continue on reduced manning levels. They offered a healthy bonus which London reluctantly accepted, despite our questioning the safety of the Icarus in light of the apparent instability of the Daedelus since no further reports were forthcoming from the corporation. Again he was told not to worry and that we would be informed if anything important came up. The corporation knew something they weren’t telling us. I’d received an E-Mail informing me that any unauthorised access to corporation files would be subject to disciplinary proceedings. They don’t normally worry too much about hacking, but in this case, they were taking some special precautions, including sending a duplicate letter to each of my ‘contacts’ on the net.
The three-week hop to the uncharted vessel was uneventful. We plugged into the cryogenic system and went into hypersleep. The programmed subliminals taught us the relevant details of the mission while we rested. We were awoken one day from the vessel and prepared ourselves as we do for any normal mission: Stacey checked with the corporation and logged our arrival and Nash navigated us with pin-point precision to local geo-dock one mile from the vessel. Captain London was as laconic as usual, the security team limbered up in the gym, and I waited, as always. It was harder this time, I had no partner to talk to, no other ship to communicate with. It was just me. Alone.
“OK, Callahan, you’re on,” called the captain.
Our scans revealed nothing apart from a dim fuzz around the central core of the vessel. This held us in mild curiosity but seemed little more than residual radiation rather than anything interesting.
I sent out the Remotely Operated Vehicle to check the ship out initially. It buzzed across the mile like an insect, tiny compared even to the small size of the Icarus. The view from its wide-angle lenses was breathtaking. The bulk of the black vessel soon dominated the view, it must have been tens of kilometres across. The view from the lens was distorted so I computer enhanced the parallax errors to reduce them, but this just made it worse. I tried a number of other options, but each time the vessel became more contorted. The black vessel began to sink, physically becoming submerged as if slipping below some invisible water line. I corrected the camera perspective and everything went dead. The ROV continued towards the vessel, reading only as a blip on my scanner, unheeding of my requests. Shortly, the screens sprang to life. The ROV was closer now, and the vessel filled the entire view. I halted the craft and rotated the lens. A docking bay of some kind became obvious near the remote and I pulled it out to view the whole of the derelict. It was no longer submerged and the image appeared somewhat less confused.
Strange encrustations coated the outside of the vehicle, all were matte black. although here and there were hints of the underlying metal, glistening like fresh dew on burnt grass.
“You reading this Stacey?” I marvelled.
“Crystal clear Rog. It’s big enough for three Icarus’! Hold on, we’ve got an ID coming through,” said Stacey from the comms room.
“What is it?” I asked, concentrating on the forward view from the ROV, watching the surface of the mammoth craft drift slowly past.
“It’s a deep systems research and colonisation vessel.”
“Yeah? So what’s it doing here, and why doesn’t it look like one of ours?”
“It was privately constructed, and the designer was a bit, er, eccentric.”
“You’re telling me? Damn thing looks grown.”
“Part of it was, most of the black stuff is dead plant matter from what I can tell.”
“What was it’s name?”
“Nice name, pity about the ship.”
“Er, not quite Rog. Caliban was a magician’s son on a Greek island; a deranged and somewhat deformed character. From the Tempest, I think.”
“Oh. Never mind eh?”
The ROV approached the mouth of the docking bay, which automatically lit up.
“Whoa, not as dead as we thought!”
I directed the ROV inside the gaping maw. I felt a little relief to see that the inside of the strange vehicle was somewhat more conventional than it’s exterior.
“I’m picking up static on my monitors, anything I should know about?”
“Uh, uh. Nothing out of the ordinary from where I’m sitting Rog.”
“Thanks Stace. Just what I like to hear.”
The probe travelled down a large corridor, and then all the telemetry went dead.
“Shit! Lost the ROV,” which meant I had to don my suit and cross over to the lifeless Caliban floating temptingly one mile from us.
“Yes Nash,” I replied
“Communications OK?” His monotonous duty voice hung heavy.
“Comms. Check! Suit checks out. Ready for hop over.”
“OK. Mission is green. Vitals recording, mission recording on my mark. Three. Two. One. Mark. OK Callahan, over to you.” By the book, as always.
“Hi, Rog. You be careful out there, you hear?” Stacey’s thoughtfulness touched me, as it always did. She was a great woman, a fully trained linguist with a heart of gold. I paused for a moment.
“Thanks.” I said softly.
“And if anything unusual happens …”
“I know, pull out and get straight back here. Thanks Stacey. See you in a couple of hours. Rog out.”
“Icarus out. Good luck Rog,” closed the captain.
The airlock swung open and I floated out into space. Its emptiness and beauty never cease to amaze me: the sheer scale, its very presence by being so devoid. I hung just outside the Icarus and took it all in. I could have hung there all day.
“Callahan? Any problems?” queried Nash.
“Er, no.” Nash had caught me unaware so I punched the jet controls and flew over to the Caliban’s docking port, a little embarrassed.
“Going in. Looks like whoever was here ain’t no more. How long ago do you think they left?”
“Ion trail analysis running now, have the results for you in a few minutes Rog.”
“Cheers Stacey. You know, you’ll have to explain that ion trail thing to me one day. It sounds a bit flash!”
“You got it Rog!”
“Is that a date, then?”
“Rog,” she said sheepishly.
I passed through the airlock at the back of the docking bay into the corridors of the vessel. Everything was on a huge scale. My instruments showed a normal air consistency, so I removed my helmet.
“What’s happening to picture, Callahan?” quizzed Nash
“Air’s clean over here Nash.” I slung the camera under my arm and proceeded towards where the probe’s telemetry had ceased.
“I’m at the cutoff point now,” I hailed.
“You should be coming up on the computer facility according to the design plan we’ve pulled back from archive,” Stacey responded.
I walked further down the voluminous corridor, a detached light emanation kept pace as I proceeded. Most ships know where you are, but they know mechanically – doors open as expected – but this ship knew where I was, the light almost anticipated my movements, and then threw up one of the most unexpected, if nauseating, sights I had come across.
I came upon the core of the giant craft’s computer when the asteroid struck. To say that I felt nauseated at what I found would be a gross understatement. It was an enormous tube, at least a kilometre long, and almost half in diameter. Along it was studded thousands of small nodules that disappeared into the distance. At first, I didn’t recognise them until I looked closely at the nearest examples of their kind. They were mammalian brains, mainly human, but some were of lesser animals. I can only assume that the human brains were being used for the higher functions of the system, and the others were used for the more mundane functions. Each brain was plugged into the wall of the tube via its spinal column, to which ropy muscle could be seen to be attached. The tube was spun slowly, and this gave a pseudo gravity that held, what I assumed to be, a clear nutrient fluid to the wall. As the asteroid hit the vessel, the brain nearest to me was jarred free from its socket. It took all my will power not to be sick, for it was then that I found the use of the muscles. The long cord slapped around in the fluid, trying to find its socket again. It probed the sockets nearest to it but found they were already taken. The sight was horrific, but not more so than when the cord touched my hand. For in order to closely observe the wall, I had gotten down on my hands and knees, and looked over the side of the gangway! The muscle-bound column was extremely agitated at this point and had started to thrash about in the liquid that was supporting it. Throwing the clear mucus-like substance into the air. Then it touched my hand. My last memory at that point was of the gruesome thing slithering into its hole, like some obscene sea snake. Then the lights dimmed, and I involuntarily slipped into a deep sleep.
It was several hours before I awoke to the bright lights of our medical facility on the Icarus. They had sent a rescue team down once my brain wave patterns subsided, and it was just in the nick of time. The asteroid had ripped a hole in the outer skin of the vessel and the residual air had seeped out causing my unconsciousness. The chief medical officer insisted I rested for at least 24 hours in quarantine. They were running some tests on the goo that had come from the other ship, and that I had on my clothing when they picked me up. It was just to be sure. Lying in the med fac was mind-numbing. It was bad enough travelling through space in cryo suspension, but at least the brain could be stimulated with your preferred dreamscape. So here I laid, conscious, restless and eager to run another reccie on the other vessel.
The 24 hours dragged by, but everything checked out. The goo was a kind of nutrient as had been expected, rich in oxygen and proteins essential for sustaining life, which left quite a few awkward questions. If the goo was capable of sustaining the brains, why was the air so rich in oxygen? Our scans of the vessel had revealed no other life signs other than the brains, and these only showed up as a mostly homogeneous fuzz on the viewer. Why were there walk-ways crisscrossing the vessel? The inhabitants, or creators, obviously required solid ground to move along. Was the ship built and then sent into space? Or did it have more secrets? I had to get back.
It took nearly two hours to clear the mission with the captain of the Icarus. I suited up as the air content of the other vessel registered low on our scanners. Health and Safety issued me with the usual med pack, and a few self-defence tools: plasma rifle and shotgun. We drew close to the entry port of the other craft and I hovered across from our airlock made my way straight to the computer core. The ambient light rose again as I entered so that I could see more clearly. There were no power sources, no light tubes, the light just went up. I scanned the pods, but they were dormant, sleeping. The sheer scale of this core made my head spin. I dropped to my knee and something flashed in my head. It was too quick to say exactly what it was, but it had the shape of a man but was disfigured in some way. I looked up rapidly, my gaze to be greeted only by the empty core. Noise? Yes, noise. I didn’t know where it was coming from, but all around me, I could hear it, dim and distant, eerie and menacing. I scanned the brains but there was no change.
“Stacey, come in?” I called the Icarus.
“Nash responding, how can I help you Rog?”
“Nature’s call. What’s up Rog?”
Can you hear anything over the mike?”
“Are you recording?”
“Standard procedure, you know that”
“Playback and analyse, see if you can pick anything up low frequency”
“OK, Nash out”
A few moments passed. The agony of waiting was unbearable. The noise, the random clicking and buzzing, grew louder but still, its source remained elusive.
“Rog, got that analysis for you. Nothing doin’. No sources across all spectra. Suggest you run a diagnostic on your equipment and put it in for test once you hop back. Nash Out.”
“OK, Rog out”
The sound faded and was gone again. The silence that replaced it sent shivers down my spine. I felt I was being observed, something inside told me to leave, but this find was so intriguing. The scanner showed the brains dormant.
I began moving towards the centre of the core hoping to find more clues as to the creators of this computer. I moved cautiously, looking about me as I went, plasma rifle at the ready. I came across some device at the end of the walk-way, it was about eight feet long, five wide and two high. It had no form of transport but seemed to contain some instruments. They were locked inside its bulk and only revealed to me by the scanner. I guessed it was some kind of locker that the former inhabitants carried about. Suddenly, the noise resurged, louder and more urgent than before. I looked up, expecting to be struck from behind. Nothing. The sound ceased. I turned around and waited, listening. Nothing. Whatever it was it had gone, a quick scan showed only the dormant brains.
The end of the gangway was shrouded in darkness, which was strange from the ambient light of the core. The noise I had heard had come from all around me, but it seemed to be more prevalent from this dark maw in front of me. I drifted along the gangway and entered the darkness. The ambient light increased, again from an indefinable source. Although it seemed to be weaker here, and sometimes flickered. The corridor I had entered was of great size, as with the rest of the craft, but it was dank. And thin, wiry, moulds grew in the corners. And this too changed, as I progressed. the corners smoothed out, and more growths started to appear. Then I remembered the scan of the vessel, the core had shown up as a fuzzy smear over that part of the craft. Life signs of any description had not shown up elsewhere. I tried my radio.
Frowning, I turned and started to head back the way I had came.
Static. Then silence.
I accelerated into the core, panic beginning to grip me.
“Rog? Jesus Christ. Where the hell have you been! We lost your suit telemetry! Just switched off! Jesus, we nearly sent in an armed squad to get you out! What the Hell happened!”
“I lost contact from my end, there must shielding around here.!”
“What do you mean, shielding? What have you found?”
“A lot more life than the scans showed up! And before you ask, it’s mostly mould!”
There were murmurs, snippets of hurried consultations.
“The boss wants you out. Now!”
“What! I can’t leave now! There’s too much to explore!”
“Callahan? You get back here now! That’s an order!”
‘Shit!’ I thought, heading back to the airlock. There was just too much here to explore and we get pulled like some kind of light switch. I slowed my velocity. If I had to return, then it would be at a slower pace.
The vision flashed in front of my eyes once more, just as I left the core.
It was two days before I regained consciousness. Is all I remember was instantaneous shooting pain and then nothing. They can’t tell me what happened any more than I can tell them. They found me on the locker, my helmet sliced off. I was barely conscious and lucky to be alive. My biopsy checked out and there were no signs of cuts or bruising. Whoever they are, they’re curious or I’d be dead now, and they know we’re here.
24 hours passed.
The console flashed into life. It was a message from the corporation.
“Continue recon mission as directed in brief Q7. Understand your difficulties due to reduced manpower, but cannot authorise support vessel at this time. Investigation committee has released no information on the L-Cava 7 incident at this time. Keep up the good work.”
“Captain London, Sir, it’s the … Daedelus ?” Stacey looked across at the captain.
“Open channel, ship-wide Stacey.”
” … rus, Icarus, this is Daedelus. Do you read ?” The transmission paused, interjected by static. “This is comms officer Brown, we read you on our long-range scanners. Come in Icarus …” The transmission was eaten by noise. Stacey tried to capture it, but it was gone.
Nash, Long-range scan,” ordered London hastily.
“But Sir,” opposed Nash, “the Dae …”
“Long-range scan Mr Nash,” London commanded forcefully.
“Aye Sir,” resigned Nash and pressed up the long-range scan.
“Well?” queried the captain impatiently.
“Nothing, not a blip,” replied Nash flatly. “If I may speak openly?”
“Go ahead,” returned the captain, half expecting what was to follow.
“We all know the Daedelus imploded back on L-Cava 7. This must be a freak radio bounce that we’re picking up from some earlier mission. There’s nothing on the scans and no more signal. We all sympathise with the loss of your academy graduate partner Wells, but you’ve got to let it go. We know you can cope, Christ, you’ve shown us all that in the past. Don’t let us down now. There’s only one ship out here instead of two, and we’re not at full complement. Captain, Tug,” Nash relaxed a little and eased off the speech, “we’re not going anywhere at the moment, take a nap. We can cover it from here. The company did offer you compassionate leave to attend the funeral. You should have gone; this hulk could’ve waited.”
The captain held back the emotion that welled inside him. His eyes washed over and he stood up. “OK,” he managed and retired to his quarters.
All was quiet again as we sat musing over L-Cava 7 and the hulk that hung lifeless and full of secrets a mile from us.
I was looking out from the main observation window at the hulk when the Daedelus pulled into view and took up its standard recon position on the opposite side of the hulk. It was a few moments before the realisation of the sight sank in. I jumped back from the window, knocking into Hodges as he walked by.
“Hodges. Look!” I pointed eagerly out of the window. “The Daedelus”.
“Where?” he questioned looking past me.
“Out there,” I affirmed, turning to be greeted by an empty sky hanging.
“L-Cava 7 getting to you, man. Chill out! You recon guys get hyped on adrenalin and when nothing’s happening you go believing your greatest fantasies. She’s gone and she’s not coming back.” Hodges turned with a hint of disgust at being interrupted on his way to the dining area and walked away. I rested on the bar by the window and stared at the empty space where the Daedelus had been a few moments earlier. We’d worked with the Daedelus for almost six months now and I suppose you do get attached to your partners, despite what the academy teaches you.
Momentarily, a flare spat from the far side of the hulk. It rotated a few degrees and came to rest once more. The bridge erupted into action. I turned and climbed up to the commotion. Stacey was logging the entry and begun performing calculations, while Nash was calling security on readiness.
“Get the captain,” he ordered to me.
“What was it?” I asked, but Nash just looked at me until I departed for the captain’s quarters.
There was no answer when I knocked the first time, nor the second.
The door was locked from the inside. I paged the bridge.
“Nash, it’s Rog. The captain’s not answering and his door’s locked from the inside.”
“Huh? OK, come back up and we’ll page him from here.” Nash was busy analysing figures when I returned and he motioned to page London. I flicked the switch to open a channel to his quarters.
“Captain London, this is Callahan. Are you, Er, awake, Sir?”
“Captain London?” I repeated more audibly.
“Captain London. Wake up. This is an emergency. Please report to the bridge, situation amber.”
“Stacey, I’m not getting anything, can you run a scan on the captain’s quarters”
“What do you mean you’re not getting anything?” she queried.
“He’s not answering, run a bloody scan!”
She tapped a few buttons and entered a code.
“Nothing. He’s not in there”
“But his door’s locked from inside?” I offered. Nash stopped analysing and looked up.
“Then where the hell is he?” he bellowed.
“I don’t know!” I stepped back defensively.
“Sorry.” he held his palm out, fingers up. “Sorry, we’ve just had an unidentified explosion from an external source on the hulk and now the captain’s gone. Guess I’m a bit jumpy.”
“I know, I saw. Did you get any scan readings before the explosion?”
“None,” replied Stacey.
“Have you plotted any trajectories or ion trails or anything?” I didn’t really know what they did in ballistics, it wasn’t my field, but I had picked up a few snippets along the way.
“But there’s nothing out there,” stressed Stacey.
“Ma but …”
“What’s the point?” asked Nash.
“Just a hunch,” I replied casually.
“What’s your game Callahan?” Nash’s eyes narrowed and he leant across the chart projector. He paused for a moment, then turned to Stacey.
“Any ideas Stacey?”
“Run a scan then, ion trail analysis,” he said dejectedly.
“Bingo, sort of,” exclaimed Stacey a few moments later. Got an ion trail leading from the explosion to a site a mile from the hulk on the other side. The emanation point exactly matches our own, but in the mirror image.” She was puzzled and could make nothing of it except that the trail matched the explosion time according to the decay path as she later explained.
“The Daedelus,” I commented, smiling slightly. There was a silence for a moment. “Don’t be a fool. She imploded on L-Cava 7, then exploded killing 16 people, if you remember,” stressed Nash.
“Explain to me the message?” I asked.
“Already done, a freak b …”
“Bounce. Yeh, yeh. I know. Then explain to me why I saw her moments before the explosion pulling into standard recon position on the other side of the hulk in the exact mirror image position to us?” Stacey and Nash stammered for an answer. “I pointed it out to Hodges, but the ship had gone.”
“Must’ve been your imagination,” said Stacey. “L-Cava 7 not getting to you is it?” she asked, concerned.
“That’s what Hodges said, and I thought he might be right, but what about the ion trail, the explosion. And where the Hell’s the captain?” I got a sharp pain down the left side of my neck and cricked my head forward. “Ow!”.
“What?” Stacey stood up and moved over to me.
“Nothing, think I pulled a muscle or something. It’ll be OK.” I sat down.
Everything in my head was turning topsy turvy. I looked at Stacey, and saw after-images, as she dragged her hand towards my face. I suddenly felt as if I were going to lose sight of the conscious world yet again! I had been doing this a lot, lately, and I couldn’t help feeling that maybe there was something wrong. Something that the auto-doc didn’t show up in its scans, something subtle and different.
“Callahan?” Said Stacey, supporting my head. “Rog? Rog!” Panic started to edge her voice. “Rog! Speak to me! Nash, get over here, now!”
“I’m fine.” I said, waving my arm weakly. Nash moved into view.
“Looks like stress sickness, seen it before. Can’t say I’m surprised!”
“He shouldn’t be fainting this often though!”
“Affects different people in different ways I s’pose.”
“Why didn’t the auto-doc show it up?”
“Doesn’t show on a scan, it’s almost purely psychological!”
The conversation carried on as if I were not there. I felt like some kind of spectator from another world. Then my father suddenly came to mind. It’s strange how a totally unrelated subject can spring to mind, but this seemed oddly relevant.
“They live in the between worlds.” He had said. I was a young boy at the time, and it was my first camping trip. And my father had told me my first, and only, fireside horror story. It was one that his father had told him, and so on back through the family. Even into the nineteenth, and twentieth centuries! The story was about an ancestor, who had found the things that lived in the spaces between the worlds. Later versions of the story wove in the new science of Quantum physics and string theory, that seemed to explain what had happened. And where the creatures lived and came from. It was said, that the creatures lived between the worlds in the spaces between the particles. They were worshipped by ancient cults of man, and still were, even today! The story was of an ancient ancestor of the family, who had sailed on a steamship on the Pacific ocean of Earth. He, and the crew he was a part of, found a floating ship. Onboard were two people. One was dead, and the other was clearly insane. The madman had told of a gigantic island, of “Strange Geometry”, and of the enormous creature they had disturbed. During the late twenty-first century, the story was added to a little more. A scientist, using a modified deep-sea mud crawler, had penetrated an undersea cavern. His story told of what looked like a gigantic city, of fantastic proportions. And again, in his curiosity, he disturbed a creature of astounding size. The scientist, using the mud crawler, battled the creature of the abyss, but was destroyed. The following explosion apparently destroyed the city, leaving a crater at the bottom of the Pacific roughly the size of Canada (As it was then). That was really where the story ended, but my father went on to link the abandoned ships we had started to find with these horrifying creatures. The last part was conjecture and fiction. But I slept poorly that night and awoke screaming in the arms of my father.
I couldn’t help thinking of the Daedelus, and where it was. I was pretty sure it hadn’t exploded, but things were hazy. And I needed desperately to sleep.
Being one of the ships recon people gave me the privilege of a relatively comfortable cabin. I had across the main wall, a holograph of what was directly outside. I would often find myself sitting quietly in the dark, watch the stars outside. This is how I found myself now. Relaxing, and watching the stars flicker. This side of the ship was far more highly shielded and did not have any ports opening into space. It was this side of our vessel that faced highly radioactive worlds, or suns, as we orbited them. The gentle hum of the atmosphere regenerators soothed me, along with the warm drink I held in my hand. From here I cannot tell whether I am dreaming, or what happened was real. I suspect it was real, for I hold a hastily scrawled message in my hand.
I had dozed off, and the splash of my drink across my legs awoke me to a quite startling sight. Across from me floated the Daedelus. There were no lights on, bar one which flashed periodically. It took me a while to figure out that the light was being triggered in a message type fashion. Hastily I got to my feet, and took a piece of laminated plastic from a folder, and proceeded to decipher the message. Another thought and I had pinned down the code. I should have guessed this first, but such things never occur to one when they happen. The Morse code message read as such:
“S.O.S. <long pause>
COMMUNICATIONS DOWN <long pause>
NAVIGATION DOWN <long pause>
END <end of message>”
Then they simply disappeared! I wrote down the last word, and looked back to see that they had gone! I must now begin to doubt my sanity, for craft the size of the Daedelus cannot simply vanish! And I must assume that my message is the result of a fevered dream, from which I must have done something akin to sleepwalking. I slept soundly after this, waking only at the sound of my door request. Opening the door, I found Stacey standing there. Her face wore a masque of confusion.
“I … I’ve seen Paul…”
“The captain? Where!”
She struggled to keep her composure.
“He… He was outside. And yet… he wasn’t! Everything feels twisted … I”
I managed to catch her as she started to sink towards the floor.
Everything was suddenly happening at once! Then to confuse things further, Nash started to shout over the intercom.
“Rog! Rog! You still on board! For Christ’s sake answer me!”
“Yeah, I’m still here. Get Williams down to my quarters, Stacey’s just collapsed. Delayed shock I think.”
“OK, I’ll send him down. But I think you’d better get over to the derelict. I just saw someone go in. Everybody’s accounted for except the captain.”
“I’ll suit up as soon as Williams gets here. Callahan out.”
Something strange and inexplicable was happening. And suddenly the destruction of the Daedelus became a link in a very long chain.
I arrived at the airlock and opened the oversized door. This section of our vessel was not subject to our pseudo gravity. If anything, this made suiting up much easier. All I was required to do, was to step into the servo-controlled suit and seal it. The airlock was large and contained a number of small exo-bot’s used in the maintenance of the exterior of the ship. I used the black glass carapace to fit my skull-cap. Looking at myself, I noticed something flickering behind me. Taking a deep breath I slowly rotated my body around.
Nash looked down at his console, watching the internal diagnostics run. He felt unnerved. He had seen the figure enter the derelict with his own eye’s, but no airlocks had opened. Damned strange. That was why he was running an internal diagnostics, and general sensor sweep. He happened to be looking out at the derelict when the power surge was detected in starboard airlock 5. The system’s diagnostic didn’t show it up, but the sensor sweep showed a fantastic energy discharge in the lock. The lock where Callahan’s suit was currently located. Suddenly the ship shuddered, and pressure alarms started screaming throughout the craft. Spinning around in his chair, Nash’s arms flailed at the keyboard.
Alarms were still ringing when he arrived at the airlock. Hodges and Dobson were already there when Nash arrived. Both appeared to be in shock, Dobson sat against the wall with a look of total disbelief on his face.
“What happened, I had pressure warnings all over the place! Rog..”
Hodges shook his head and pointed to the armoured window in the door.
Brilliant red crystals clung to the quartz surface, glittering in the flashing alarm lights.
“Oh my God!” Whispered Nash. He tried to look through the spattered window, but couldn’t see past the crystallised blood. “There was a failure on the door. The external door control IC shorted. The system thought the airlock pressure was at zero and blew the door. I… He couldn’t have felt much. It was an explosive decompression…” Mumbled Nash in a daze. He switched off the alarms. “I’ll go out, seal the door and re-pressurise the lock.”
Nash looked into lock five and tried desperately to hold onto his stomach. Throwing up in a suit was not recommended at the best of time. You can drown in your own stomach acids just as well as in water. Manoeuvring gently he extracted the offending IC and replaced it. Leaving the lock, he moved around to the door mechanism and closed the door. Something brushed past him as he watched the door shut. Following it around he started to gag. It looked like a piece of intestine, it’s ice crystal coating shimmering in the lights from his helmet. He made it back to lock four, and threw up as soon as the lock had re-pressurised.
Returning to lock five, he saw that everyone else had arrived. I’ve disabled the heaters in the lock, it’ll be real cold in there so I brought a few coats. Everyone solemnly took a jacket and put it on. Nash took a deep breath and opened the door. A cloud of freezing cold air washed out over them, as they looked inside. Callahan’s suit gently twisted in the air, and large red crystals hung in the air. Pieces of splintered bone trailed long red icicles as they span lazily in the air.
“Oh my…” Said Williams, looking about with wide eye’s.
“What the Hell happened?” Said Stacey.
“An IC Shorted. The lock computer thought it was depressurised and opened the door! I… I practically saw it happen. I.. I’m sorry I have… I have to leave.” Said Nash retreating rapidly, holding his hand over his mouth.
“Well I’d better take some samples,” said Williams, donning a pair of surgical gloves and grabbing a large chunk of frozen flesh out of the air.
I woke to a pounding on my door. The door request was flashing feverishly and sweat-soaked my clothes. I sat up, a wrenching pain tore at my gut. I vomited and cried out in pain. The hammering paused momentarily, I was aware of voices outside the door, but before I could focus on them the banging started again. My head reeled and I slumped back onto the floor. Agonising spasms spread outwards through my body. I felt my face grimace with pain.
Again I screamed.
Again the hammering stopped.
Tears trickled from my eyes. I could take the pain no longer and dearly wished to fall unconscious. The banging began again, even stronger.
“Tom, what the fuck is happening! Halls, get this door open. NOW!” bellowed the voice. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. The pain sent shivers down my spine and my ears rang. Vessels broke around my eyes and in my nose, and blood began to trickle from them. Each vessel burst with an explosion so intense it was as if my life was ending. The pressure grew in my head and it felt like my skull was collapsing. I had curled into a foetal ball now, the spasms pulling at every sinew in my body. I choked and vomited again. Rolling onto my side I squinted towards the door. It wasn’t my quarters as I had expected, but some other room. There was a twilight glow in the place, dim and unsubstantial. No apparent source. Where the Hell was I?
“Fuck!” I issued in pain.
“He’s alive! Where’s the arc kit!”
The frantic action from outside the door subsided momentarily but the emptiness of my pain was soon accompanied by the electric buzz of the welder. The arc spat metal and light into the chamber. It was an empty room except a couple of bots behind me. I doubled in pain again and spat bile.
“Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!”
A few moments later the heavy door that separated me and my comrades was dragged away from its new opening. Several figures rushed in and swarmed around me. My vision failed me and I think I passed out.
“Rog?” The intercom buzzed into life. “Rog? Yoo-hoo!” I awoke with a start, spilling the remnants of my coffee across my legs. I couldn’t have been asleep long as it was still hot. I up from the bunk.
“Huh … Hello?” I managed. My head pounded with the memories of what had just been the worst nightmare I could ever remember.
“Hi Rog! Come up with anything on that old message yet?” Stacey’s chirpy voice eased the nausea a little.
“Message? What message?” I was still groggy and the room hadn’t quite stopped moving. Nothing was quite still, things at my peripherals moved uneasily in small, subtle shifts. It was like being drunk.
“You know that old sub-space code. You said you had some old texts that would shed some light on it. Are you OK Rog?” Stacey sounded a little concerned.
“Yeah, er, yeah. Think so,” I mumbled, lolling forwards towards the intercom. “I … er, I’ll have the … for .. in … minute.” I slumped onto the floor and threw up.
“Rog? Rog?” She was panicking a little.
I crawled up the console and flicked open the channel.
“Sorry, still a little drowsy. Think I, er,” my head hurt real bad, “er, stood up too quick.” I was sounding out of breath.
“I’ve sent Williams down to you, he’ll give you a shot.”
“Quack, Quack,” I jokingly managed. Stacey laughed tentatively.
The door opened a while later and Williams woke me from my vid-monitor.
“You look peaky,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Yeah,” I managed, trying to focus on him. “Where am I?”
“Sorry? Oh! In your quarters. Anything you want to talk about?” He gave me a shot with his tranq-gun and sat on my bunk.
“Not really. Bad dream I guess.” I was becoming a little more coherent now.
“You’ve been through a lot in the last few days, weeks if you count L-Cava 7, and we’re not all unscathed by that, I can tell you for nothing.”
“OK, doc. I’ll let you know as soon as I think of anything.” I interrupted him before he could reel off his frequent long-winded psychological evaluations of the situation. I’m sure he felt isolated, being the only doctor on board, never married and now in his forties. I don’t remember him ever mentioning a girlfriend either. I felt sorry for him, but I couldn’t cope with that right now. I just wanted some peace.
“Oh, OK then.” He stood up. His manner suggested I had hurt his feelings. He picked up his case, resting his hand for a moment while he composed himself. He took a calming breath and left the room.
“Get some rest,” he advised softly as the door closed behind him.
I returned to my console and looked for the message Stacey had mentioned. I found a crew log laminate with a few scribbles on it. It looked like the scratchings of a madman, a hodgepodge of dots and dashes. I guessed that was it. I dimly remembered something about a flashing light, then it struck me. Morse code. Morse code? what the Hell was that.
“Computer. Run a library check on Morse code.”
“Morse code: noun. The alphabet or code in which letters are represented by combinations of long and short signals. Morse: the originator of this form of language in the twentieth century, originally.”
“End readout. Do you carry a Morse Code translator?”
“Yes, I have the capability of translating such a message.”
I fed in the scribblings and within microseconds, the computer displayed a translation:
“Pipe it through to Stacey’s terminal.”
“You got it Rog,” concorded the computer.
“Stacey, I got that message for you, the computer’s patching it through.”
“Cheers Rog. How you feeling now?”
“Better. The doc gave me something to tide me over. I’ll be up to the bridge shortly.”
“OK, See ya!”
I cleaned up the coffee and made my way to the command centre. Stacey met me down near security, unexpectedly.
“Hi Stacey, what brings you down here?”
“I don’t know.” Each word hesitantly fell off her tongue. She really didn’t know. “I … I’ve just been to the airlocks. I saw … Paul?” She looked dazed and began to faint. I lunged forward to catch her and gently rested her against the wall. She was barely conscious. “He’s in, I saw him in …” she stammered, “‘lock five.”
“Who? The captain?” I questioned.
“Nash, get Williams down here. Stacey’s fainted. We’re at security.”
I checked Stacey to see if she’d be all right while I checked on her sighting. Nodding, she waved me to go. “Security!” I shouted. “Prep to airlock five.” Dobson’s head appeared around the door.
“What?” he queried.
“Airlock five. Prep your team. Think it’s London.” I stressed each sentence so he could understand it. It often took two attempts to get anything through to him. He turned and started ordering his men, but I was already en route to ‘lock five.
I arrived just after the airlock door closed and locked. Peering through the four inch plate glass into the twilight hues that danced in the flickering airlock lights, I saw a figure suiting up. His back was to me, and I couldn’t make out who it was. The hair definitely looked like
London’s. I stood, transfixed for a moment. My mind played on what the figure was if it turned round. An image flashed in my head: a disfigured man turned, and the image was gone. I flinched, and it brought me to my senses. I punched open the channel to the airlock.
“London,” I remembered my place despite my confused emotions, “sir. Is that you?” The figure began to turn slowly in the pseudo gravity in the ‘lock. I didn’t want to look, but couldn’t turn away. He picked up the video helmet and faced the airlock door. Transfixed I stared at him, and he stared back at me. He moved to the viewing window to fasten his helmet.
He waved. “Get out!” I cried over the intercom and tried feverishly to open the airlock. The security team came running around the corner in the corridor.
“Callahan, what are you doing?” shouted Hodges.
“London’s in the airlock, it’s gonna malfunction,” I yelled back.
The twilight became near darkness and the captain looked around. A spark flared on the exterior wall and he lunged towards the operating mechanism. The outer door swung open, and the airlock decompressed, explosively. His face epitomised agony only for an instant, it seemed like seconds were hours to me. Every feature on his face distorted and stretched, and finally ripped apart. The blood and muscle beneath revealed for an instant before it, too, was torn into fragments and thrown about the airlock. The cold of deep space froze any liquid that escaped the torn arteries, fragments of half-covered bone spun rapidly out and clattered around the metal walls, blood-spattered across the viewing window. I reeled back, turning away. I covered my mouth as my stomach welled up, but could hold it no longer.
Hodges, Trump and Dobson arrived moments later. Trump comforted me while Dobson turned to the viewing window.
“My God,” he exclaimed, turning away disgusted. Even his stomach was not used to this carnage.
“What is it?” asked Hodges innocently.
“Don’t look,” advised Dobson.
Without heed, Hodges looked into the airlock. He could just make out the slowly spinning fragments of the body beyond the now obscured window, the crystallised flesh frozen to the walls, and the limp suit of the captain drifting out into space. “London?” he asked almost matter-of-factly.
“Jesus. Don’t you have any feelings,” I blurted.
“Sorry, man, I didn’t think. I …”
“Didn’t think don’t cut it!” I leapt up and pressed Hodges against the airlock door. “He’s dead! He’s fucking dead!” I was losing it. Twenty minutes ago, there was some hope, he was just missing. Now he was dead.
“Callahan, back down.” Dobson moved into my field of vision. I released Hodges for a moment and punched Dobson squarely on the jaw.
Not expecting the blow, he fell to the ground and checked his lip. A small crack had opened at the side, oozing blood. Trump moved to strike.
“Leave him,” called Hodges from the floor.
“OK, Callahan, back off. That’s one charge of assault,” he said getting up from the floor.
Hodges was pinned against the wall again and waited for the situation to evolve.
“Well?” I pressed my face up to his, waiting for an apology, waiting for some feelings to show on the iciest man on the crew.
“I, er, I’m sorry!” He feigned a little emotion. He knew it wasn’t enough, but I could see he thought he knew how I felt deep down. But he should have tried harder. My anxiety, my emotions, my anger all climaxed in an instant and vented themselves on Hodges. Swiftly I kneed him in the groin, and as he bent double took his hair and smashed his face down into my waiting knee. His nose cracked satisfyingly against the bone and blood smeared my trousers. I punched him in the gut. Once. Twice. He reeled in shock and pain and slumped to the floor.
“Fucking cold-hearted bastard!” I kicked him repeatedly. Dobson grabbed my arm and pulled me back, spinning me around. He landed a punch on my jaw which felt like a sledgehammer. The world stopped for a moment. He spun me around and pressed me against the wall in a half nelson.
“Trump, get the cuffs on him!” he called.
In a few moments, I was bound and regretted my actions. Williams padded around the corner and surveyed the scene.
“Nothing to worry about, Williams, just a little disagreement,” said Dobson, casting a look of disapproval in my direction. “See what you can do for Hodges there, and then we can concentrate on the airlock.”
Williams looked through the now opaque glass and smiled slightly. He tended to Hodges for a few minutes and then called the bridge.
“Nash,” he said meekly, “we’ve had an incident down at airlock five.”
“I know, the instruments went crazy. Where the Hell is everyone? I’d come down but the bridge can’t be left unmanned. Stacey took off like a frightened rabbit, I haven’t seen Callahan for ages and he’s not in his quarters, and I can’t raise security!” He was sounding a little frantic.
“We’re all down at ‘lock five. There’s been a bit of a scuffle. Hodges is injured and he’ll be out of service for at least a week, if not longer in active terms. I think his ribs broken, but I can’t be sure until I get him back to the med lab. From what I can make out from Stacey’s condition and what’s going on down here, we’ve had an explosive decompression in the airlock. London’s now deceased, which puts you in charge.”
Shock washed over Nash and he sat back. Williams continued, “It seems like he entered the airlock and was on his way out somewhere when something went wrong and the outer door opened. I doubt if he felt much, it would’ve happened very quickly, God rest his soul. Callahan seems to be the cause of the commotion on this side of the ‘lock, and he’s currently being held in charge, I suspect. Trump and Dobson are OK. I expect Callahan is probably suffering trauma, he’s undergone a lot recently with the two incidents on the derelict, and his recent nausea. Now with the loss of a close companion, I think he’s finally cracked.”
“No shit!” quietly muttered Trump. Dobson shot him a cold glance.
Williams continued without pause. “I suggest we take him down to the med lab and run a full psych eval to fully appreciate the problem before we rush into pressing charges, or any such nonsense.” He looked at Dobson, pausing expectantly for a response.
“Whatever you say, Williams.” Dobson disapproved a little, but Williams had lost him about five or six sentences ago, and his desire for revenge had waned.
“Nash?” Williams called over the intercom, looking up.
“Yeah.” The thought of being in command of the Icarus was still sinking in. “Yeah, whatever.”
“Stacey will be in the lab too for a while until she’s recovered from the shock of seeing London after we thought he was missing. She doesn’t know he’s dead yet, so I’ll keep her isolated from the others. I’m going to need to take some samples. Can you override the outer ‘lock five’s door and close it so we can recompress the chamber? Seal it until I’m ready to go in, we don’t want any curiosity.” It was like a treasure trove for Williams, bits of neatly frozen entrails ripe for further dissection. “Oh, and keep the temperature down, it’ll be easier to clean up.”
Nash tried to seal the outer door, but it kept re-opening. Running a diagnostic, he found a blown chip in the door mechanism. It would need someone to go outside and replace the device before the door could be sealed. He paged security.
“Dobson, can you get someone out to fix the IC on ‘lock five. There’s a full diagnostic in the computer.” He still sounded subdued, a mixture of shock and grief. Within a few minutes, the door was sealed and the pseudo gravity slowly pulled the floating debris to the floor like some putrid rain.
I was in the lab for a week, Hodges would be there for a little longer until his ribs healed. Stacey had returned to duty almost immediately but was convalescing after the news of London’s death was broken to her. Williams was analysing his samples and running DNA matches to identify the body positively. His report stunned the crew of the Icarus.
London was not dead. The body in ‘lock five was Tom Marsh, the captain of the Daedelus.
There were too many questions to ask, and there were too few answers. Whether this had anything to do with the derelict or not, I could not tell. I have spent the past week under sedation, a forced rest imposed by Williams. I’m not quite sure what to think of Williams now. When he conducted the tests on those body parts that remained from the decompression, his face was spread with glee. It was the first time I have ever seen him enjoy himself and to be honest, it frightened me. Sometimes I would think that he knew a lot more than he was telling the rest of the crew, which was terrifying. What plans has he made? Where do we fit, and where does the rest of this mystery? It has become too hard to think, Williams has given me another shot of his sedation fluid.
“Roger? Rog? Can you hear me?” Slowly I opened my eyes. Stacey was standing over me, looking down.
“How are you feeling. Williams is gonna let you out now. He says that you suffered temporary insanity. Something to do with all the stress you’d been through.”
I groaned and sat up. I have to admit that I did feel good. The past few weeks had been a great strain, and the enforced rest had definitely done me good. I soon found myself looking out at the derelict. The gigantic hulk rotating slowly in space. The matte black surface in which nothing reflected. I don’t remember how long I was watching the object, silently spinning in infinity. I had to see more of the inside. The section I had started to explore seemed to be growing, or even grown. And why a matte surface? The amount of radiation that the craft absorbed would be fantastic! So what did it do with it? I had seen London die, and yet Williams had said it was Marsh. Maybe there was a connection? I had to find out, and the only way to do that was to return to the derelict. Nash wouldn’t let me, so I’d have to do this on my own. It was a gross dereliction of duty, but it had to be done eventually. I merely saw it as an acceleration of the inevitable.
Luckily I managed to leave the airlock before Nash realised who it was.
“Callahan! You get your ass back in here now!” The sound of his voice implied that he was absolutely livid. Turning my headset on and off, I made it look like I was having comms problems.
“And don’t give me that ‘I’m having problems with my comms’ crap either! I can see you from the bridge.”
Sighing, I decided to come clean. I was about to begin my soliloquy when Nash started shouting again.
“Calla…” The comms link went dead without warning. I turned around and looked back at the Icarus. Around the vessel was a deep, strangely coloured, haze. It flickered in the same way as a heat haze, but that is plainly impossible in deep space. Fascinated, I watched the colour deepen and the Icarus disappear. I must have suffered temporary insanity from the shock, as I think I saw something appear in its place. The object I do not have the vocabulary to describe, but terrifying is the closest I can now manage. It only survived for a single, split second before exploding in the same way as the Daedalus had. I avoided the fragments of wreckage which span outward from the epicentre with a few swift movements of my hover pack. Now, I was alone in the vacuous abyss.
It seemed less comforting, less marvellous, and wholly more sinister than it used to. The silence was more evident than ever, now that my security had gone. I had no place to go home to and the solitude was almost unbearable. I watched another couple of rock fragments drift by the hulk, and began my approach. Air was limited in these suits, despite the recycling facilities, and if I was going to spend some time here, I might as well do it in the relatively safe surroundings of the derelict.
Without warning, the EMP hit from the explosion. My suit kicked in a depletion field to protect me and the electronics. It helped, but in the few microseconds without protection, the pulse tore into the circuits. My head up displays lit up like a Christmas tree; warnings, failures, whole batches of circuits were blown: neuro assist, scanners, life support.
I had to get to the derelict and hope the air content was still balanced; the thought of no fresh air began to smother my lungs. I punched the jet controls, they spat fuel and died. I drifted off course, their last attempt causing me to move at a tangent from the ship.
“Directional control: Failed,” displayed the head up, and that too crackled into nothing. The hiss of the communicator fell silent.
I had a few minutes good air left, and then only a short while longer until I finally suffocated. I drifted over the alien vessel. It held secrets which were so close, but might as well be a few light-years away. I could do nothing but watch, wait and die. My colleagues had been the lucky ones, a quick death. But not me, here I was thinking about all the good times, the people I’d loved, the missions I’d run. A tear fell from my cheek and the air started to run low. The suit visor tinted a little to indicate the problem; it was one of the few manual overrides they featured nowadays, and a reminder I could well have done without. My mind started to falter, it span then seemed to stop. Everything became unclear, my eyesight blurred and wandered. I could not focus on anything in particular for too long, especially the black shape below me. I blacked out for a few moments and awoke again. I had passed the vessel and took the last few glances at its far side.
Black. Matt Black. The epitome of Death herself. Here she lay, waiting for her next customers. She’d shaken them firmly by the hand. All sixteen of us, and me the last. What plans did she have for the rest of the company? They knew about her. Would she come for them too, or just wait as a spider does for the fly?
“Bitch,” I uttered, but she couldn’t hear me. No one in space can.
Wait. A spark, a flash of light.
Down there, by the side of the hulk. Frantically, I pulled a flare from the side of my suit. The lack of oxygen had numbed my muscles and I fumbled the tube away into space. I cursed my ineptness, and carefully pulled the second flare from its fastenings. I only had one more left after this and didn’t want to waste it. I pulled the release and sent the flare burning towards the derelict, and waited.
A few moments later, the figure jetted up towards me as I faded in and out of consciousness. I opened my eyes to be greeted by a corporation visor. It bore the standard logo and hid a face inside. My eyesight had almost failed me and I couldn’t quite see who it was. Its lips were moving. but I couldn’t hear. It took me in its arms and flew back to the derelict.
I must have passed out on the way down. I next remember waking up and feeling very nauseous, lying on the floor inside the derelict.
“Good, you’re awake,” comforted a voice.
“Who … Where …?” I murmured, having no strength to do anything at the moment.
“It’s OK Callahan, you’re damned lucky to be alive.”
The voice was familiar, but my head was pounding. The lack of oxygen and fatigue that had set in was still playing havoc with my senses.
“It’ll be a couple of hours before you’re fit to do anything, so just rest up. I’ve got a few rations, but …” He stopped.
“But what?” I asked faintly. There was a short pause.
“But you should rest. Do you want a drink, rehydration is probably the best thing for you right now. That and rest.” He moved over and slowly came into focus.
“London?!” I could hardly believe my eyes. I cried and laughed at the same time and hugged him with what little energy I had.
“Yes Rog, rest first, questions later. There’s a lot I have to tell you, and I hope there’s a lot you can tell me. Maybe then we can piece this jigsaw together.” He rested my head against his folded suit and I drifted into a deep sleep.
When I awoke, Paul was not in the room, nor was the other vac suit. I looked around me for clues, but there was nothing. I checked the suit I was sleeping against, and it was London’s; it bore his rank and name. There were two standard protein pills and a drink laid out on a small tray next to me. I rolled over cautiously and picked up the pills with my left hand, observing the room all the while. I sniffed them and tentatively put one into my mouth. It tasted fine. I popped the other and downed them with the water from the flask. I stood up slowly and wondered where he could be. I was in a room, about fifteen feet square, on the other side of one of the ship’s airlocks. I walked over to the inner door and pressed the access button. The door slid open gracefully.
I recoiled in terror.
My unexpected gaze was met by some creature, some half-human, half insect. It’s white, bulbous eyes stood out against its ochre skin. A slime glistened across its surface and it took an ungainly step into the room. In its arms, it held Paul, probably dead, and bleeding profusely. His face bore dried scars, open and festering. His clothes were intact, but blood was dripping from his back. There were wounds I could not see, deep and fatal. His left leg was bare, the trouser neatly cut just below the groin. The skin bore similar incisions along its length. The right leg was untouched but was clearly broken across the thigh. It put him carefully down in the room and stepped back, hanging its head as if to apologise.
“What have you done,” I bellowed, almost crying. Finally, I had found someone I could trust and talk to. Finally, I had some chance of unravelling some piece of this mess. And now that had been taken away. I stepped towards the creature as if to challenge it, but an uneasy fear made me withdraw. “What have you done.” I cried and fell to my knees.
It lifted its head slightly. A confused buzzing welled in my head, strangely familiar, and yet different this time. Before it had been warning, while this time I felt it was saying sorry. The thing stepped back and the door slid closed. I stumbled over to Paul and fell by his side, and took his hand to my chest.
“Why?” I was crying now.
His head moved slightly. “Get out!” he hissed in his last breath.
The shock of losing my only companion staggered my brain, and hours passed like minutes as I knelt there holding Paul. My mind was in turmoil, the strange alien creature, Pauls last words. I remember hearing someone scream and then sobbing; but everything seemed disjointed, out of phase…
At last, I managed to control my emotions. So much had happened to me that I had not been able to free my pent up feelings. The outburst that occurred at Pauls death, cleared the path to my future. I had many, many clues to what was happening to me and I began to methodically piece them together.
It was exasperating, too many things had occurred and there were not enough links between all of the clues. Something had tried to get from somewhere else, but every time it tried it exploded. The only things that I had ever seen explode like that, were anti-matter bombs. They merely released a cloud of anti-matter particles from a magnetic bottle into its casing. Simple, and tremendously destructive.
My knowledge of high energy physics is extremely limited, and I suddenly found myself floundering in a quagmire of Quantum physics and super-string theory. I managed to simplify a model of the universe. To me it was like a giant mirror, my world lay on one side and an opposite world existed on the other. But if that were true, when the Daedalus and the Icarus disappeared something should have appeared in their place. Something had tried but had exploded. But then the two craft should have been returned. Which was the right side of the mirror? My ‘mirror’ theory underwent a major restructuring at that point, and the result was a crystalline view instead of a flat two-dimensional view. This made things far more complex but seemed to fit better. My crystal had a billion facets, each mirrored. Each facet was a separate dimension, as well as being a separate reality. And as they were dimensions as well, each facet could possibly be a dimension within another facet. As we have the three dimensions, with Time being the fourth, they are facets of other realities! So although the Daedalus and the Icarus had apparently disappeared, they were in fact still out there! With their crews wondering what the hell was going on! I felt proud of myself, but soon realised that although I knew where both the craft were, I had no way of getting to them! I was still trapped on this death ship, with my deceased captain, and strange alien creatures, some of which wanted to kill me. Where could I go, how could I hide. There was nowhere to run, and that hurt the most. I was so close to safety, a mere few thousand metres but the wrong dimension.
I looked around at the bleak, grey room. The interior door stood open, the twilight corridor beyond at once foreboding, and beckoning. I laid Paul’s head to rest on his suit and pack and covered his face in respect. The hours passed like minutes as I sat and watched the twilight flickering in the distance. I could hear clearly now, there were sounds coming from within the ship. Movements, distant thuds, soft and menacing. What were these beings up to, and why here? I became accustomed to the occasional shadow being cast just a few meters away in the connecting corridor. They didn’t seem to know I was here. I waited for time to pass.
For something to happen.
For someone to come.
A figure appeared in the doorway as if from nowhere. It was a being I had not seen before. Bipedal, yet black and glistening. Some sort of carapace covered its body. It rose up on its legs, almost telescopic in their action. A head swung out from fleshy labia where one would expect a neck to be. I leapt to my feet instinctively and backed against the far wall. The protrusion was covered in some kind of sticky substance but bore no features except a few dark wrinkles in its flesh. It looked around the room and fixed its ‘gaze’ upon me.
I froze, daring not to breathe.
It stepped into the room, ungainly, yet swift and stood before me.
Beads of perspiration welled on my forehead and trickled into my eyes. The stinging was almost unbearable, yet I dared not blink. It watched for an age. It knew I was there but didn’t know what to make of me. After much deliberation, it turned to leave, casting a glance over its shoulder to see if I had done anything. It turned to leave and was confronted by one of the ochre creatures that had bought the captain back to me. In an instant, the two had locked in combat. An intense buzzing filled my head and I fell to my knees, hands covering my ears to try to muffle the noise. But still, the sound grew. For a few moments their struggle continued, and finally, the ochre creature was victorious, though injured. It stood up and looked at me. Although I felt uneasy with the situation, I knew it was waiting for me to do something. It glanced right and then launched itself at me. Before I could dodge it had seized me in its frail-looking hands which had brought such a vicious end to the other creature and leapt back towards the doorway. After a moment stunned by the action, I wrenched my arm free from its grip and struck its head.
We stopped just through the doorway. It turned its bulbous eyes and I felt it look into my mind, cry into my mind. “No.” This word lingered in my consciousness and transfixed me for a moment. While I gaped at this ability another of the black creatures appeared in the corridor. Deftly, the ochre beast that held me stepped aside and knocked it to to the floor and set off at great speed along the corridor. We turned this way and that and finally came to rest in a large chamber somewhere else on the ship. It put me down and stroked my hair almost fondly. I sat bemused at the whole affair. This creature had actually saved me. It was as if it had moved me so they would not know where I was.
Then it was gone again. The distant sounds of occasional movement interspersed with the odd thud returned to fill the aural void that remained.
This room was darker than the others I had seen on the ship. Its walls were still cold and grey but bore signs of oxidisation along their joins resulting from condensation build-up at some earlier point in time. This was to be my home for the next three days, as I later found out, for the ochre creatures, my ‘friends’, kept me here almost under lock and key. I had tried to explore once only to be captured and returned to my ‘home’. They moved me twice over the next three weeks, similar incidents occurring each time the others found me: One or two friends would appear, defeating the assailants and moving me to a new safe house. They fed me on some kind of nutrient soup every couple of days, and often they observed me as I ate, slept and performed a man’s usual functions. I wasn’t sure if they knew what they’d got but were keeping me safe like some endangered species.
A thought struck me deep at this point. Brains. I was obviously being spared that ordeal, but what were they waiting for? It was obviously the others, the black skins, who wanted me as their trophy to add to their collection. So why were my friends here, obvious in their minority – this ship had been claimed (or built?) by the enemy.
I had much to think about, and nearly had a heart attack when my suit radio started to hiss. “SsssssssRog? Rog? Can you hear me? I’ve got your suit telemetry! Rog, please answer. Rog?” I was too stunned at first, to even speak. It sounded like Stacey’s voice so much! “Stacey?” I croaked her name without even realising it. It made me sound as if I was on the verge of collapse, even though I was in perfect health.
“Rog? Where the hell are you?”
“I’m in a small room somewhere onboard. London’… London’s dead.”
“We’re coming in to get you.”
“No! You can’t get to me. Just stay outside and talk to me.”
“Security’s already half-way across. They’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“No. Call ’em off, they’re just gonna get themselves killed.”
“Rog, for Christ’s sake they’re armed to the teeth!”
“Look. Just fucking call’em off! I’ll try’an come out to you. It’ll be safer that way.”
There was no answer.
“Oh my God Roger. Oh God… “
I hadn’t heard the screams because I was talking to Stacey on another frequency. All I heard was a shocked silence, interspersed with a quiet sobbing.
“Stacey?” I tentatively inquired. “I know, it’s difficult right now, but you’ve got to understand there’s some kind of race war going on over here. Don’t send anyone across, I’ll be okay. One group of the aliens seem to be keeping me alive for their purpose, while the others seem intent on killing me. I know this doesn’t sound too comforting, but I am alive, and I hope to be with you soon,” I tried to reassure her.
There was no reply.
I restrained myself from mentioning the captain and continued.
“How’s everyone back on the Icarus? All well I hope?”
I waited for a reply.
“Sorry Rog,” came the tearful reply, “I just drifted off.”
“Call the corporation for assistance. Things have got out of hand, and I think they can muster some kind of aid.”
“But they said they didn’t have any ships.”
“To partner us in reconnaissance,” I said, extending her sentence. “This is different. I’m sure they can send a small cruiser here, armed, and quickly, to resolve the situation. I’m suiting up and on my way.”
“Good luck, Rog. God’s luck be with you.”
I walked to the door and peered out. Not a soul stirred. Distant sounds told me that the right corridor was unwise, so I turned left and proceeded quickly away from my captors. After a few minutes, I had arrived outside the internal door to the landing bay. I fastened my helmet and stepped through. Looking out into space I called in.
“Stacey, I’m coming home.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” buzzed a heavy voice in my head.
I turned around slowly and looked into the eyes of… Nothing! There was nothing there! Again, I turned to leave the airlock.
“You will not leave alive. If you proceed beyond the threshold of the airlock you will die.”
I turned once again at the buzzing insistence inside my head. And again, I looked upon an empty airlock. “Why! Why can’t I leave?” I shouted over the comm. The buzzing modulated its frequency. It, it was laughing! “Because you’re eye’s lie to your mind! You see what is not there, and yet you do not see what Is there. I repeat to you. Leave, and you will die. Slowly…” I looked out of the airlock. The Daedalus was temptingly close. A matter of a few hundred metres separated us. I turned back to the airlock and stared into the dead features of London. “Don’t go Callahan!” He reached up with a dead arm and pointed outside. “There is nothing there. Beings of the firmament, the base strings live out there. You have slipped between the folds of space-time into the foundations of this universe. If you leave the shelter of your mind, this airlock, you will be destroyed.” I shook my head in disbelief, and yet, and yet I could believe what this corpse was telling me! “The crystalline structure of the universe is not perfect. There are flaws in its mirror-like complexities. These are marked carefully, as they are fluid within the confines of space-time. They move and weave through space. Your scientists believe that the super-strings that drift in the void are leftover from the beginning of the universe. This is not true. They are escapees from the firmament, they trail destruction across galaxies and star-systems. Their routes are guided from out there.” He pointed outside once more.
“Why should I believe you? Why should I believe the ghost of a dead captain?”
“Because I am not a ghost. I am a facet of your mind given shape in this place of quantum realities. You are at a turning point. You may make the decision. At this moment in your relative time, you are neither alive nor dead. You are a quantum probability. You are in the ultimate position to change the outcome of your future. You are the cat in Schrodinger’s box. A dead cat cannot lift the lid on its own, but a live one… You must decide. The lid of the box is behind you. Make your decision, and pay the price of its outcome.” I looked around my ‘box’ and suddenly saw scraps of flesh, bone, and spacesuit. Bending down, I picked up one tear of metallic cloth from the floor nearby. It was a name tag. My name tag. I was both alive and dead at exactly the same time, just like Schrodinger’s cat. But if this was my box, my facet had informed me that the open void behind me was the lid. If I stayed here, then my life was in the hands of some unknown being who would arbitrarily decide my fate. Calmly I walked towards the inner airlock door.
“You have chosen wisely.” Laughed the buzzing voice in my head. I reached the wall and turned around to face the stars, and then I fired the newly refuelled thrusters on my pack. The stars beckoned to my presence, I had to comply…
They wavered and shimmered, diffraction lines seared across my eyes flicking backwards and forwards. Constantly changing, and rearranging themselves in ways that threatened to tear my sanity from my soul. Then I found myself drowning in an all-encompassing light, and the Icarus faded into view from my ravaged sight.
Around me, I now saw a shimmering, sparkling, halo of energy dissipation. Much like the sparkling reaction of anti-matter with the ever-present hydrogen nuclei that pervades the inner space of solar systems. I had escaped the crack in the universe that I had fallen into, and I assumed that the ‘halo’ was the result of my climbing the entropy slope out into my own reality. Slowly the halo dissipated, and I was finally cloaked in the darkness between the worlds. I looked back at the enormous spacecraft behind me. The matte black enigma that had drifted at more than light speed into this system, and had then come to a complete stop relative to the local star. Maybe it sat at the bottom of that crack in the universe, and we were looking down at it from a great height. Or maybe it physically existed in our continuum but was somehow inextricably fixed to that great fissure. It is hard to imagine cracks in spacetime, maybe they are like cracks in a block of solid glass or crystal.
The Crystal Mirror