Chapter 10. The Mission

Log Entry 18:58:12 – 02.03.2186

The lower deck was sweltering hot and reeked of their filth. I stifled a gag by clutching my throat. There could be no noise at this point. My guts trembled and I was soaked in sweat. I was at the bottom of the ladder, standing rigid, my back tight against the rungs behind me. My breathing was slow and shallow, as I tried to remain calm and in control. I could hear them.

I cocked my ear toward the soft rumbling in front of me. It was a faint noise now, like two animals pacing nervously in a locked cage. The sound came from halfway down the corridor. This whole level was engineering and systems support. The ambient noise made it difficult to hear clearly but the sounds came from the port side, maybe from within the Power Conversion Locker. I stepped away from the ladder slowly, making a soft shuffle as I dragged my injured ankle behind me. I moved down toward the noise. The pry bar was cocked and ready.

The darkness on this level consumed the available space. There was barely a dim flicker from above that lit the very middle of the flooring. The sweat on my palms made the pry bar slippery and I stopped once to dry my hands on my clothes and adjust my grip. Then, just past the entryway to the Power Cells Housing, I heard them again. The closed and locked hatchway door to the Power Conversion Locker was smeared with blood. I put my ear to the door. I could hear noises like padded footsteps pacing the room beyond. They were in there. It sounded like two of them, maybe three. Again, I dried my wet hands on my pants and hoisted the pry bar to my shoulder. With a free hand, I only began to reach to the hatchway lock, when a weak voice behind me spoke.

“Don’t.”

The unexpected sound was shocking. Instantly, I raised the pry bar high in the air and spun around to face the voice. Before I could shout, I heard a loud chirp, followed by a high crackling noise that filled the corridor. I dropped to the deck in a mangle of useless legs and arms. The pry bar clattered to the floor. Every muscle burned and twitched. I couldn’t move. Alarmed by the sudden noise, there was a great howling and rustling behind the hatchway door. I was paralyzed, incapable of reacting.

For a while, I lay flat on my back, twitching uncontrollably. My head was turned away from the hatchway and toward the dark figure of a man hiding in the shadows. He had been curled up in the corner, across from the hatchway, just behind me, out of sight. In his outstretched hand was an EMD pistol, the amber charging light barely illuminating his face. Keeping the pistol aimed at my useless body, he leaned into the dim light of the corridor for a better look. It was clear that he could scarcely believe what he was seeing. Neither could I.

Unable to move or control my muscle twitching, I lay there on the floor and stared up at his face. It was disturbing to look at him, just across from me. A human, just like me. He was gaunt and thin and pale. He was clearly injured, as I could see bruises on his throat, deep scratches in his hands and face. One of his eyes was blackened. Dried blood smeared one of his ears and matted the hair on the side of his head. He held his free arm across his chest, protecting some great wound that had his clothing soaked in dark crimson. Stains covered his outfit, his hands, and his face. He was extremely pale. It was evidence of great blood loss. His hands shook and his body shivered. His injuries were clearly life-threatening. But it was his face that caused me the most alarm. On that battered and thin frame, was a face I would never fail to recognize. It was my face. I was staring at myself.

I swallowed and made a noise in my throat.

“Why are they after you?” he asked. “And what do they want with us?”

I could do little to reply. Instead, I made a feeble gesture with my hand across the floor toward him. He drew away from my reach.

“If you come at me, I’ll hit you again with this thing,” he said, pushing the EMD toward me a bit further.

I gurgled. My tongue was starting to move around in my mouth a bit. There was more rattling and howling from behind the door to the Power Conversion Locker.

He gestured with the pistol toward the hatchway door. “That’s the last of them. I caught them going in, gave them a jolt with this, and locked the door. I’ve been here for… I don’t know how long.”

“You,” I managed to mumble.

He stared at me, his face blank.

“Who are you?”

“Why,” he replied. “Don’t I look familiar?”

“Yes,” I said. “We’re the same.”

He nodded wearily and then shook his head. In his eyes, I could see the weight of a great certainty and a terrible realization as well. He let out a long, exhausted breath, followed by a vicious coughing spell that brought up a great volume of blood that ran over his chin and soaked into his shirt. He fell back into the darkness of corner and let the EMD drop to the floor.

“We’ve been after you for a long time, Maxim.”

[Communication sent: 03FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 15:46:17 – 02.06.2186

The muscle paralysis subsided slowly. I began to move again but my back and neck ached terribly. I felt as if I’d taken a tumble down a flight of steps. I stretched and twisted in a horrifying display of contortions. During part of my IDSA training, I had only seen a volunteer take a burst from an Electro-Muscular Disruptor. A room full of tough cadets winced and cringed as the subject writhed on the ground and tried to regain control of his body. The lasting effects were much worse in person.

As I strained and struggled to lift myself from the floor, the man with the pistol sat silent and trembled uncontrollably. His wounds were serious, soaking nearly every piece of his clothing with dark red. His condition was critical. He would die soon and there was little I could do to help. A sudden coughing fit seized him and he exhaled a great torrent of blood spray. The EMD pistol he’d been pointing at me earlier finally dropped from his hand. I only glanced at the pistol and made no move to seize the weapon. In his present condition, I doubted that he could even pick it back up again.

Across the corridor from us, more screeching and howling and racket erupted from behind the hatchway door. It reminded us that we were still in terrible danger. The two LMOs trapped in the Power Conversion Locker would beat their way through soon enough. I had little time.

“Maxim,” I said, leaning in toward him, trying to regain his attention. No response. His head hung low to his chest and a red trickle of saliva ran from his lips to his shirtfront. “Maxim!” I shouted. He twitched once, startled, and then he opened his eyes to me.

“You said that they’ve been after me for some time.”

“Yes,” he said, with a soft gurgle.

“How? Why? Why have they been after me?”

He made no reply. He stared at me with dark, sunken eyes. Beneath the pain and the exhaustion, I thought that I could see frustration and disbelief. For a moment, I thought to run to the Medical Lab on the upper deck, but I couldn’t be certain that he would still be alive by the time I would return. I had to question him now.

“Maxim, please!” I shouted again. “You have to tell me what happened here. Tell me what you know.”

Then, raising his head again and resting it against the corridor wall behind him, he spoke. “This ship, crew, the mission.”

“Yes?”

“We’ve been here for two years, waiting and watching for you.”

“My ship’s AI calculated a twenty-three month difference. Can you tell me why?”

“Something happened. I heard talk of a fluctuation. Disturbance kept us moving in and out of space. It drove them mad.”

I looked around at the damage to the interior of the lower deck. There was trash, filth, blood smears and physical damage everywhere. “They did all this to themselves?”

“Yes. They attacked me. They attacked each other.”

“What is happening? Why do the LMOs want me?”

“You are the only link they have to an alternate past in which they are a slave race. They want you… and all that you know… eliminated.”

“They came after me for what I know?”

“Yes. When I was a boy, they took over everything. You have the knowledge and the records that can do damage to all their efforts.”

I stared at him, this other Maxim, my other self, in absolute disbelief. His voice and his words felt like needles raking over my arms and chest. My chest felt like it was filled with stones. “Who are you really?” I asked.

“Maxim Akihiko Broussad, a camp laborer. I was chosen for this mission because of you.”

“You were raised at Atsugi? Your father was a U.S. Naval Captain, mother was a Japanese linguistics professor?”

“Yes, before the Development Plan, the hostilities, the labor camps.” His words ended in another coughing fit that sprayed blood across the floor between us. Some of it spattered my neck and collar. I closed my eyes but didn’t move. Then, his chin dropped again. His arm slipped from his chest and I stared in horror at a large hole in his chest. It was as if he had been impaled with an object and then torn outward as it was pulled from his body.

“Maxim,” I started again, reaching out to shake him by the shoulder. “What did they want to stop me from doing? What did they want to destroy?”

He didn’t answer. I reached out and put my fingers to the side of his trachea and felt for his pulse. It was very low and unsteady. His eyes fluttered once and he spoke weakly. “Go back through the wormhole. Deliver what they wanted from your ship. Give it to the people. Help them save us.”

“Help whom?”

He was momentarily lost again. His eyes rolled to the right and his jaw hung open. I grabbed his shoulder again and propped his head up. “Tell me!”

“Insurgents,” he said. Then he was gone.

[Communication sent: 06FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 21:20:16 – 02.08.2186

I watched a part of me die on the floor of a stinking, rotting ship. And two of the miserable creatures responsible for his death were just meters away, behind a locked hatchway door. As I stared at his lifeless figure, the anger boiled over inside me. The frustration and pain gave way to hate and renewed strength. I stood up. I decided that I was going to leave this ship and detonate the power core from the safety of my own vessel. But before that, I was going to end the lives of these two wretched creatures.

I grabbed up the EMD pistol at Maxim’s feet and swiped the pry bar off the floor. Still painfully conscious of my injured ankle, I hobbled to the hatchway of the Power Conversion Locker and put my ear to the door. I heard shuffling and growling from behind. They were trapped animals, mindlessly pacing the room. I took a step back, raised the pry bar, and banged loudly on the door. The trapped LMOs were instantly enraged. There was a hideous screeching and thrashing from the other side. I heard clawed hands tear at the door, and yet I was straining to keep my hands off the latch. I wanted to rip this door open and go after these monsters with every ounce of strength in my body. But if I disengaged the hatchway lock unprepared, the LMOs would come pouring out and overwhelm me in an instant. Already, their renewed banging and thrashing had the hatch door ready to come off the hinges.

The whole door shuddered with each pounding. They were incredibly strong and completely out of their minds. I beat back at the door with the pry bar, smashing and thrashing just as loud. The commotion on the other side reached a feverish level. One of the hinges cracked and began to break loose. I took another step back and checked the EMD pistol, making sure that the amber charge light was at full. Then leveling the pistol at the door, I struck out with the pry bar again and again. A loud ringing of metal on metal filled the corridor, followed by bellows of rage and pounding from the other side. Suddenly, the door came free at the top hinge and bent outward at an angle. I could see through to the other room and they could see me. The LMOs behind the door went wild at the sight of me. Their black-clawed fingers pushed through the small opening at the top corner, madly trying to reach me. These were not typical fishheads. They were hideous, a different type of modified organism altogether. Their skulls were elongated, coming to a slight point at the nose and mouth. Their eyes were wide and set close together, like hunting animals. These were only semi-intelligent beasts, probably soldiers of some sort. They were muscular and toothy and vicious and absolutely determined to tear me apart.

I began to quickly back down the corridor, keeping the pistol aimed high in front of me. Another ferocious slam and the door bent forward, almost in half. Another smash broke the latch free. The last shove sent the door skidding across the corridor floor and out they came. One turned toward me and raced at full speed, clawed feet clicking and scratching across the floor. My heart thumped steady as I lowered the pistol, squeezed the trigger, and sent out a powerful jolt to its center mass. The creature was instantly paralyzed but its momentum kept it moving forward a few more steps. It eventually collapsed to the floor and skidded toward me. As it came to a stop at my feet, I brought the pry bar down on its skull with all the force I could muster. The force of my blow barely made a dent in its tough flesh. I would have to come back to finish this one later. I stood to face the other.

To my horror, the other creature had leapt from the doorway straight at Maxim’s lifeless body and proceeded to tear it apart with long claws and teeth. It was completed engrossed. It fed and tore and gouged like a rabid animal. I was shocked. This was not typical of any LMO I had ever seen. I raised the pistol and shouted. It immediately snapped its attention to me. It turned its body, let out a horrific roar, and began to advance on all fours. As I stepped over the motionless body of the LMO on the floor below me, I wondered who would create such a creature and why? Slowly, it moved down the corridor. It was a terrible sight to see: covered in blood and bits of dead flesh, the creature eyed me like a small piece of prey. Then it charged me at full speed.

With only the pistol between this rampaging horror and myself, I was shaken to the core. I steadied myself and took aim. It was at that time that I noticed that the pistol was still charging up after the last release. At only a few yards away, I pulled the trigger and released a half-blast at the monster. Instantly, it was upon me and I found myself thrown to the floor with the angry beast on top of my body. The pistol was knocked free of my grasp and I immediately began pounding and stabbing at the creature with the pry bar, while it sunk its terrible teeth into my shoulder and began to tear me open.

[Communication sent: 08FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 13:22:35 – 02.11.2186

The EMD pistol chirped and sizzled but only gave the charging LMO a half blast, stunning the maddened beast just slightly. Its eyes widened and its body tensed. It struck me with full momentum and the force of the blow caused my legs to give out. My back and shoulders smacked the floor hard and I instantly had the wind knocked out of me. The EMD pistol was knocked from my grasp but I managed to hold on to the pry bar.

With the full weight of the beast on top of me, I felt overwhelmed and trapped. The LMO wasted no time. Like a feral animal, the creature bit and tore into my left shoulder with unbridled ferocity. I opened my mouth to scream but I heard no noise. The LMO made a loud guttural sound as it dug in. Rows of sharp teeth cut through fabric and flesh and muscle and pierced deeply into the bone. I was stiff. Muscles failed me. At first there was no pain – just shock. I closed my eyes tightly, clenched my fists, and winced. Then the pain set in. It was a terrible, agonizing fire that ran like a scalding river through my entire body. My left arm was useless.

The intensity of the pain may have saved me from a terrible end. With a great gasp, I opened my eyes and saw the pry bar clenched tightly in my right hand. I would not die under this creature. I pulled all my strength, jerked upward, and threw my body weight up over the LMO. With the spike end of the pry bar, I began stabbing at its eyes and face, causing huge gouges to open in its flesh. It released its bite on my shoulder and began to wail. Suddenly, I found depth in the soft eye socket with a sturdy downward jab. The spike sunk deep into the eye and I forced my weight down on the back end of the bar. The LMO let out a squealing screech and began to writhe uncontrollably underneath me. Even without the use of my left arm, I held it down. It tore at my chest with its claws and I saw bits of fabric and flesh come away in its hands.

“Die, you miserable wretch!” I screamed, as I worked the pry bar back and forth, grinding all the way down to the base of the skull, destroying the brain tissue and widening the eye socket horribly. Blood spray and fluids gushed forth. I continued to grind.

As the LMO’s screeching began to subside into soft gurgles, it sprayed white spittle across my face and clothing. Blood from my shoulder wound ran steady into its face and onto the floor underneath us both. There was a vile smell that rose from its mouth and the open wound I had created. Viciously, I continued to churn the spike in its skull until the beast’s convulsions subsided. “Come on, already!” I shouted. Near death, the flailing arms and kicking legs ceased. The LMO stopped moving.

I was out of breath. Sweat dripped from my face. My heart pumped furiously. I was almost at a point of total collapse. Blood was everywhere. I pulled the pry bar loose from its skull, with a squishy sucking sound. I then pushed myself off the creature and stood over the body. My shoulder burned, as if pierced by shards of hot metal. Although I was certain that the LMO was dead, I kept the pry bar held high. I couldn’t move my left arm.

As I looked down at my wounds. Blood ran in rivulets from my hand to the floor. I felt sick and light-headed, a sure sign of blood loss. I had to get help. I had to get to the Medical Lab on the upper deck. But before I could move, the ship gave a violent shudder and the lights dimmed throughout the lower deck. I slipped sideways in the blood slick beneath me and fell hard on to the body of the dead LMO.

[Communication sent: 11FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 21:19:46 – 02.13.2186

For the longest time, I felt entirely lost. Wounded, bleeding, and exhausted, I climbed and crawled my way through the darkness and the filth of the lower decks, moving ever upward.

The gravitational forces increased their hold on the ship. The whole vessel trembled and shuddered with increasing intensity. These were the same gravitational disturbances that nearly caused my ship to break in half. It made my balance and footing difficult to maintain in the dark. I stumbled a few times but managed to stay on my feet. I had to reach the Medical Lab. I wasn’t going to let myself bleed to death. I also had to leave this stinking ship. I didn’t want to go wherever these space-time ruptures were taking it.

My shoulder wound was severe. The muscles ached and the flesh burned. I could smell the blood and I could feel it running down my wrist and hand. I couldn’t move my arm. Injured in the earlier fall, my throbbing ankle also had me hobbling.

I will make it. I thought. I will get off this ship. And I will find a way to punish Spegg and the rest of these vile creatures for what they have done.

Throughout the ship, the emergency lights appeared damaged. They gave off almost no light at all. When I reached the mid deck, I was exhausted and dizzy. I felt around for the personnel lift but couldn’t find it in the dark. I returned to climbing. By the time I reached the upper deck, the ship was being hammered from the disturbances outside. Tumbling trash and debris filled the corridor and battered my legs as I made my way toward Medical.

Upon arrival, the lights in the Medical Lab instantly activated. The bright glare momentarily blinded me and sent me stumbling backward into the corridor. Even though most of the ship was in near darkness, the Medical Lab had its own back-up power to feed lighting and equipment. As I made my way in, I put my hand out in front of my eyes and squinted. I was weak and my shoulder was bleeding profusely from where the LMO attacked me. I was light-headed and cold. A white-out clouded my vision, surely an effect of the continued blood loss. Fortunately, the room was organized for easy access to all supplies depending on the injury type. I quickly located the med lockers that housed emergency injury supplies and tore through them. I needed a coagulant to seal the wounds and stop the bleeding and some stimulants to keep my heart beating. I came away with a spray bottle of hemostatic aerosol and a fistful of ergogenic stim autoinjectors.

I backed up to an exam table and sat. The stimulants came first. I snapped off the tops of two injectors and stabbed my thigh with the needles. After a few seconds, a warm sensation came over me. My face felt flush, hot even. I then realized that the stimulants would set my heart racing, causing more blood loss from the open wounds. I pulled the short needles from my thigh and dropped the spent cartridges on the floor. I opened my shirt front and peeled the fabric back from my injured shoulder. It made me almost physically sick to look at the damage to my body.

The wound consisted of dozens of deep perforations in a semi-circle around the entire shoulder. The wounds were irregular, jagged. The beast had dug into my flesh with its long teeth and tore viciously from side to side. As the shirt came loose from the wounds, the blood began to pour again. I grabbed the bottle of aerosol and sprayed an even coat of thin whitish foam across the front and back of my shoulder. The foaming agent went to work immediately, thickening and expanding in and around the wounds. The resulting mass was five or six millimeters thick, pink in color, and dense like foam rubber. I looked down at my hand. It was pale. I tried to make a fist. There was no response. I was worried.

Another tremor seized the ship, sending the contents of the open cabinets in the Medical Lab across the floor. A noise, like a cavernous growl echoed throughout the entire ship. The disturbance that Maxim spoke of was threatening to shift the ship again. If I didn’t disembark soon, I might be forever trapped… helpless and lost.

Get moving.

[Communication sent: 13FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 17:28:12 – 02.16.2186

the_missionI was in the Med Lab. My hand was shaking. I reached down, clutched the edge of the exam table, and held on firmly. With two full stim injections coursing through my system, my heart thumped vigorously in my chest, my eyes widened, and my hurried thoughts became absolutely clear.

I had to leave. This foul, ravaged ship had multiple dead LMOs strewn throughout. They came here to kill me and erase what knowledge I had about their past. Since their arrival, strange gravitational disturbances had been threatening to either tear the ship in half or deposit it in some unknown place in time and space. Over the course of nearly two years, it drove them murderously mad. Unbelievably, my own body, a version of me from some alternate timeline, was lying lifeless on a below deck, a victim of the LMO’s hostility. They tortured and murdered an innocent man. The last words of that dying man still echoed through my head. He urged me to get something of importance from my own ship and take it back to an as yet unknown group of insurgents. Although the particulars were hazy at best, my immediate mission was entirely clear.

I am getting off this ship.

There was little time to waste. The ship routinely shook and rumbled like it was skidding across a rocky plain. Inside the Med Lab, a volley of supplies emptied from the cabinets and shifted from one end of the room to the other. In the wave of debris, I located a container of pain suppression injectors. I grabbed the tumbling container, opened it, and put a handful of the injectors into my hip pocket. I also tore open a surgical drape packet and made a makeshift sling for my injured arm. With a double-dose of stimulants running rampant through my system and my wounded shoulder dressed, I finally felt strong enough to evac the ship and make my way back to the SM5. My fear was that I would not have enough time before this ship shifted again. And I did not want to find myself lost in time and space.

I moved to the Med Lab doorway and started down the main corridor. Choking dust and flying debris filled the passageway. An electric smell hung heavy in the air. Another violent trembling was followed by a loud metal-on-metal squeal that came from somewhere in the belly of the ship. In the dim light, I thought I saw a bulkhead bend outward into the passageway. The doorway to the cockpit was roughly 35 meters from the doorway to Medical, but the shaking and lurching of the ship made it all the further to travel. Once inside the cockpit, I could use the onboard systems to call up the SM5, and formulate a plan to move again from ship to ship. With no survival pod available, it was likely that I would have to make the journey in one of their Heavy Evac suits… if there were any suits left onboard at all.

Step by step, I carefully picked my way through the obstructions. I favored my wounded ankle with each footing. With my one good arm, I alternately felt my way along the dark passageway and used it to protect my injured shoulder when the shaking became rough. Near the end of the passageway, I was violently knocked to the floor. A stunning impact rocked the ship, as if we were struck by a large object. A stasis chamber, dragging a tangle of connection wires and feed tubes burst through the doorway of the Chamber Lab and skidded across the corridor to smash into the Observation Lounge hatchway. Sparks and a spray of fluids trailed the runaway chamber. I could hear a hissing from the Chamber Lab and the oily odor of stasis gas began to fill the air. This was not something I wanted to breathe. I quickly rose to my feet, held my breath, and made the last few meters to the cockpit in double time. Stepping out of the corridor was a relief but the cockpit had little comforts to offer.

Normally, under any type of physical assault, the cockpit would be awash in red lights and sirens. During my trip down the corridor, I wondered why the onboard AI hadn’t set off every alarm on the ship. Everything was coming apart. The answer was in the cockpit. The crazed LMOs had done their damage here as well. The AI interface was beaten and completely dark. The consoles were wrecked, screens were shattered, inputs smashed. Very little appeared lit and working. I saw one blinking console buried under a small pile of fragments and litter. I swept the console clean.

There it was. The display showed my ship, the SM5, with distance and coordinate information. Overwhelmed, I collapsed in the chair in front of the console and stared at the data. This vile ship had been drifting further and further away for the entirety of my time aboard. The distance between here and the SM5 was now over 1300 km, much too far to reach in an Evac suit… alive.

I wasn’t going anywhere.

[Communication sent: 16FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 18:48:05 – 02.19.2186

view_port_spaceI sat transfixed, as the ship shook and trembled with increasing ferocity. In the cockpit, the fragments of smashed equipment and litter from nearly two years of abuse by the crazed crew vibrated and tumbled along with the ship. I ignored it all and leaned forward to stare at the data on the screen before me.

The distance between the LMO ship and the SM5 was now over 1300 km and there was no reasonable expectation that I could make the distance in an Evac suit without running empty and asphyxiating out there in the space between the two vessels.

I couldn’t make the distance. I couldn’t return to my ship. I couldn’t retrieve anything. I couldn’t…

In a fury, I leapt up from my seat and placed a savage kick to the underside of the console that did little more than return my injured ankle to an exceedingly painful state. I fell back into the chair, angrier than before. Suddenly, it was quiet again. In between bursts of disturbance from outside the ship, I could hear the soft hum of the few working consoles left undamaged by the rampaging LMOs. It was a moment of calm. The cockpit was warm but it reeked of LMO stink. It was an odor like a stagnant fish pond on a hot day.

My ankle throbbed madly. There was still a burning sensation in my shoulder from where the LMO bit me. I thought that if I was doomed to stay on this ship then I might as well be pain free. I pulled a pain suppressor autoinjector from my hip pocket, popped off the cap with my thumb, and struck my leg with the tip. There was a soft snap, followed by a sharp sting, as the needle pierced my clothing and the skin beneath. After a few seconds, I pulled the needle from my leg and let the spent cartridge fall to the floor among the piles of litter and fragments of what was once flight control and navigational consoles. A warm trickle ran up my spine. Most of the pain quickly faded away and I began to feel a faint sensation of weightlessness.

In a momentary state of ecstasy, I stared out of the viewport at the stars and the vast expanse of space beyond. The view was breathtaking to behold. To the port side: a super massive black hole, growing larger every minute. It had us in its grasp and it was going to swallow this ship whole. To the starboard side: a beautiful blue star field, a billion tiny specs of light, swirling about in a mass of luminescent gases. Somewhere out there was the SM5. At this distance, it was just a splinter in the dark. I longed to see that ship again. Thanks to Spegg and the other LMOs, I knew that I would not.

I can understand the LMOs wanting me dead. As a race of bio-engineered workers who escaped this reality to forge a new history in an alternate timeline, they felt the need to eliminate me and what knowledge I had about their past. But the LMOs also wanted something from my ship, something tangible. They came a long way and endured a maddening wait to retrieve it. Without any viable means to make the ship-to-ship excursion and locate the object that the LMOs were after, I will never know what drove them to that state of madness.

I have failed.

Now forever separated from the SM5, the question haunted me even more. What could they have possibly wanted to take from my ship? What made the SM5 so special? Realistically, there were only a handful of things that differentiated my ship from this one: dead LMOs, garbage, and me. Of course there was also Maxim, my other self. And the more I thought about Maxim, lying dead on the floor of the lower deck, the more frustrated I became. He was, in all aspects, a complete version of me. Down to the cellular level, he was me. Our paths were different because of our history. His was a life of labor and servitude under the LMOs. Mine was not. But he was certainly all me. We were no different than these two ships, with one exception: history.

History…

“History!” I shouted. Finally, I understood.

Each of the ships had a different history. The SM5, my ship, had a database that included, among all things, a complete historical record. As deep-space explorers, these ships carried an entire record of human history up to launch date, just in case some aspect of past events or some tiny piece of humankind was needed as a reference against future findings. Therefore, the SM5 had a complete record of the LMO’s history as well. Maxim told me that the LMOs wanted me dead and to erase any history of their lives as a slave race. With all the chaos and pain, I never made the connection to an actual history, a recorded history. The SM5 had all the recorded data that the LMOs wanted to erase and I could still retrieve that data at this distance.

I launched myself from the chair and moved to the blinking console with the coordinates of the SM5 out there in space. Using the interface to access the onboard communications, I opened a ship-to-ship channel with the SM5 and accessed the main systems. The AI launched an access entry barrier. My personal identity code allowed a bypass.

Working quickly, I accessed the historical data and queued up the entire record. I wanted everything, a comprehensive history with as much detail as I could store in the time I had before the supermassive swallowed us alive. More than anything else, I needed a record of the entire LMO program from earliest experiments in transgenics to the creation and licensing of all 23,574 LMOs in service. But I was not going to leave anything to chance. I queued up the entire historical data record. I also selected all of my personal log entries and the entire data file on the SM5. Lastly, I pulled my own personal files and those file pertaining to Spegg. It would take time to transfer the data. Looking out the viewport, it was evident that time was something I did not have. I selected a transfer point on the local console and executed the transfer order. The data began to stream.

I couldn’t leave the data on file here in this ship. It wasn’t safe. Soon, we would be crossing over the event horizon and entering the supermassive. If this was a wormhole, as Maxim stated, I had to be prepared for any eventuality. In case of a massive electrical disturbance, I wanted to keep the data and supporting files copied to a removable medium. The data was collecting rapidly and I began to frantically search the console stations for a storage medium. As the cockpit shared space with most all of the systems in the ship, there was a large supply of holographic data transfer patches made from flexible photosensitive material. The data management and technology personnel called this an M-patch. Each patch was its own self-contained system, so I could save all the data I needed, peel off the backing and stick the ultra-thin data patch to my arm. I could wear the patch in a powered state for as long as I had body heat to keep it functioning.

In a cold, inactive state, the patch was rigid. I pressed my thumb to the activator and held it there until the center began to glow. The patch quickly appeared on the console screen. I selected the data transfer point and pointed the stream toward the patch. Connection made, I watched as the historical record and files began to transfer to the patch. It would be quite some time before the process was completed and I could then stick the warm, pliable patch to my skin for safekeeping. Anxiously, I watched as volumes and volumes of data streamed to the patch.

My nervous thoughts turned to the collision course with the supermassive black hole. Our speed was increasing. Time was running out. Maxim suggested that this deformation would act as a wormhole and that the ship would pass through to another place in time and space. Would I have enough time to gather all the files? Was I missing anything? Would the pull of the supermassive disrupt the transfer of data from the SM5? And, realistically, what were the chances I would survive any of this?

Zero? Less?

[Communication sent: 19FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 11:52:12 – 02.22.2186

into_the_worm_holeBone-shaking fear and anxiety: these were my initial responses, when I first saw the supermassive black hole from the observation deck on the Shinkai Maru 5 nearly three months ago. From thousands of kilometers away, I watched, stunned by its ferocity.

The great and ancient maw swallowed any matter unfortunate enough to come within the grasp of its gravitational pull. With its mindless and unforgiving appetite, the supermassive now loomed just outside the viewport, pulling the ship ever closer toward the crushing gravity down in the throat of the beast. Now, the fear and anxiety would be fully realized.

My free hand was shaking and my gut nervously churned. This ship was built and prepared with countermeasures against such gravitational deformities, but never fully tested in the field. When the pressure began, only a momentary burst of exotic matter would separate the ship from one of the most-frightening forces in the universe. If this was a wormhole of sorts, as Maxim said, I was in for a rare experience.

Like a stone skipping across the pond, the ship struck the rise and fall of the gravitational waves toward the center of the supermassive. I fought to fight to keep my eyes open and my thoughts focused on the job at hand.

I swiveled around to the console next to me. As the data transfer countdown came to its end, and the files and records from the SM5 were now in my possession, I quickly opened my shirt font and stuck the warm M-patch storage medium to my chest. The patch registered contact with my skin and the center pulsed with a dim light. The historical record and files from the SM5 would be safe for as long as I was alive. If there was any actual insurgency working against the actions of the LMOs at the end of this terrible trip, I would have data they could use in their effort. This is what Maxim told me before he died.

With a deep breath, I swiveled my seat back to face the viewport and locked in. I stared deep into the mouth of the beast. For an instant, the black center of the deformity seemed to bulge outward. All around the perimeter of the cockpit, the dim white running lamps that signaled normal space travel conditions turned dark blue, as the exotic matter pump created a bubble of negative energy around the entire ship.

I stared down into the dark opening outside the main viewport. It was a huge black cavity, wide and deep. I quickly belted myself in. The display units streamed an endless torrent of alerts about the coming whirlpool of gravity. I reached to the console and switched them all off.

It began. The hole opened wide to swallow the ship and we dropped into the bulging blackness.

From my observation, the light from the stars distorted and stretched into a thin white line around the rim of the great black mass. The dark mouth bulged outward even further. We fell through the surface. The ring of starlight then appeared to break off into two separate streams that scattered quickly to the periphery. We were gone, completely folded into the darkness.

I felt that I lost both feeling and connection with the space and substance that surrounded me. I could not close my eyes. I saw what appeared to be folds of black fabric wafting and rippling around us. There was no sound and no vibration. Weightless, I felt myself rising slightly from the seat of the chair but I was held in place by the belts on the seat. My feet felt as if they were meters away from my body. My thoughts and my mind were hovering far above. I didn’t breathe and if my heart was beating, I could not tell.

If this was death finally coming for me, it was perfect… sublime.

Awash in the calm, my thoughts were of home. I remembered warm breezes on a summer day in Japan. Overhead was a great expanse of azure sky and clusters of white cumulus clouds. It was a beautiful day. I was a young boy again, running through a field of tall green grasses toward a small fishing pond near Mt. Takahata. I saw the blue hydrangea with perfect snowball flowers lining the edges of the field. As I ran, I could smell the sweet scent of clover underneath my feet.

Near the pond, I saw my uncle Setsuo waiting for me on the dock. I saw him waving to me. His funny anglers hat made me laugh. I raced to meet him. He raised a spare fishing pole over his head, encouraging me on. “Faster, Maxim,” he shouted to me. “The fish are waiting for you. Faster!

I loved my uncle Setsuo dearly and I was so happy to see him again. My heart swelled. Tears of joy streaked my cheeks and the warm wind blew them dry. I ran faster, closing the distance. He was so near to me. I could see the warmth in his eyes. I could see the happiness in his broad smile. I could hear him calling me again. I was almost there. I almost was.

But then… the ship began to suddenly wobble and vibrate, tearing me from my thoughts. Something was wrong. Around the cockpit, the dark blue lamps that signaled the active state of the exotic matter pump began to flicker white again. I heard a tearing and wrenching of metal behind me and a loud hissing. A brutal thrumming sound engulfed the cockpit. Then, an explosion rocked the ship forward. I was thrown violently against the belts that held me to the seat. The noise was so loud that I screamed in pain and terror. My ears instantly began to ring. All around me, it felt as if the ship was tumbling out of control and breaking apart. I was helpless.

The blackness before me suddenly gave way to three quick bursts of bright light. It was a blinding white, unbearable to my eyes, yet I could not shut them. I was frozen, fixated. The ship shook more violently, vibrating my chair so ferociously that I thought that it would break free from the decking. I heard another explosion, followed by a shrill howling outside the ship. The running lamps in the cockpit flickered once more and turned ruby red, signaling an oncoming event of some devastating nature. White light streamed through the viewport and engulfed the entire cockpit in its blinding radiance. I finally shut my eyes as tightly as I could against the excruciating light.

»»transmission end««

[Communication sent: 22FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Next Chapter: 11. Alexander Island

Return top
Digg it Mail to a friend Mixx it! Mail to a friend

transmission details:

A communications specialist in the year 2185 is abandoned in deep space by a deranged Living Modified Organism, setting up a series of events that lead him back in time to a ruined home world ruled by a wealthy eccentric, a scientist playing God, and the very creature that first stranded him in space.
Generate PDF