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Also, check out Station151 for the other half of the story.

Into the Light

cutting_torchThe air was filled with choking fumes and smoke from the cutting torch. Sparks and fragments of hot metal fell in fiery drops from the hatchway above, illuminating the smoky darkness with a bright red rain that sputtered and popped as it fell past my belted position in the chair. The hot fragments crackled and danced briefly as they struck the darkened viewport at the fore end of the cockpit. Then they went cold and flickered out. Hanging high above, I watched the light display with great anxiety and I occasionally squirmed and jerked in my seat as a random hot speck landed on the back of my head or neck.

The effects of the EMD were slow to wear off. I could turn my head a little and move a few fingers. Strapped securely to the seat and hanging face-first, a full ten meters from the front viewport, I was trapped, waiting. I twisted my neck around so that I could watch over my shoulder as the outsiders cut their way through the bent metal frame that held the hatchway door tightly shut. From my downward-facing position, I could only assume that the crash had buried the ship nose first.

As the flame and the shower of sparks neared the final cut at the base of the hatchway door, I could hear garbled shouts from outside the ship. Through the hissing and popping of the cutting torch, it sounded as if there were two or three individuals taking shouted orders from another louder individual. With all that Maxim had told me before he died, my assumption was that I had landed on Earth. This was my hope.

The hissing of the cutting torch soon stopped and I clearly heard a new round of shout and response come from outside. They spoke a mix of English and Japanese. If I hadn’t landed on Earth, I was certainly inside some common territory off-world.

A loud series of hammerings then preceded the sound of the hatchway door coming free from the bent frame that surrounded it. Cold air and soft light rushed in. I looked up into the light and saw through the cutaway opening to an overcast sky above. I was instantly puzzled. Beyond that hatchway was the Main Corridor that ran the length of the ship. It was gone. The entire fore end of the ship had broken away.

The stream of daylight was suddenly obscured by the head and upper torso of the largest LMO I had ever seen. He poked his head down through the open hole and peered through the dense smoke at me. His face was beefy, grim, and serious. He had dark, mottled skin and wore a black tight-fitting one-piece uniform with taut armbands that encircled his massive biceps. His thick fingers curled around the inside of the opening. If the metal was still hot to the touch, he didn’t seem to notice at all.

He stared at me, unblinking. Then he turned and shouted. “Ha! The probe was accurate. We have a live pilot.” This elicited a flurry of babble from outside the ship. “Get the strap assembly and haul him out.” His voice was deep and his tone was aggressive, almost military in nature. He turned back to the hole, leaned down, and peered through the smoke at me once more. “Do you understand me, Chikushou?”

I managed a weak nod in reply.

“Welcome to Bellingshausen,” he spat back, with a scowl.

Bellingshausen? Unable to speak, I knit my eyebrows, puzzled.

The LMO made an irritated clicking sound deep in his throat and glowered at me fiercely. “Alexander Island. Antarctica, you fool.”

I’m in Antarctica?

“What’s left of your ship has laid waste to an honored monument of The Director, Dr. Robertson and our Great Ancestor.” Then, with a very serious tone, he quietly added “You will be interrogated for this act of vandalism. Harshly.” The large LMO pushed himself away from the hole and shouted “Haul him out” to another LMO that quickly appeared over the hole and dropped down a long, thick and rubbery snake-like apparatus.

Much like the advanced-tech insect probe, the end of the snake strap had multipart eyes and a thin metallic slit for a mouth. It immediately went to work, winding its way around my body, and constricting tightly. When it had me secure, the face end of the snake quickly struck each belt strap once and with a flash of intense white light the belt straps snapped cleanly in two. Then, with a painful jolt to my injured shoulder, the snake snapped tight across my chest and began to hoist my body up toward the ragged hole that was once the hatchway entrance to the cockpit.

The strap snake worked quickly, pulling me upward and out. Once I had exited through the top of the hole, I could see the landscape and the destruction around the ship. The nose of the ship was all that remained. It was wedged deeply into the bottom of a large bowl-shaped crater of densely packed snow and ice. The exterior of the ship was a wreckage of bent metal, wires, and tubing. It was as if the head of a large black insect had been bitten roughly off and spat into the snow. I was horrified. The surrounding terrain was barren and cold. A thick blanket of snow and ice covered everything in all directions, but for a few bits of stone and an occasional patch of mud peeking through.

The LMO that operated the snake strap grabbed me roughly, dragged me from the opening, and fed me down to a group of LMOs on the ground. They all wore the same kind of black uniform. The snake strap was removed and I collapsed to the ground, still largely incapacitated by the effects of the EMD.

“Gah,” shouted a particularly gruff LMO, as he hoisted me from the ground and tossed me roughly to another LMO. They made a game of handing me back and forth, treating me with violent shoves and slaps. Finally, the muscular LMO called them off and I was thrown into the back of a rugged military-style snowtrack vehicle.

One of the smaller LMOs, obviously young, approached the back of the vehicle with a hand scanner. A shimmering green light emanated from the scanner and flickered across my body. The scanner squealed. The young LMO turned to his superior. “He’s wearing a device,” he reported loudly. “On his chest.”

No! I was crushed. All that I had worked for had come undone.

“Find it. Take it,” replied the senior LMO.

As the younger LMO opened my shirt and peeled off the M-patch, the muscular LMO that had initially peered in on me approached the rear of the vehicle and stopped to look upon me once more.

“It is unfortunate that you are already suffering from many injuries,” he shouted, which elicited many laughs from the throng of LMOs. “I know the company interrogation team well, Chikushou. Once they see how you have destroyed our most-adored monument, they will be… let’s say… rather unkind to what remains of your flesh.”

As the large LMO stepped back from the vehicle to shout a few more orders to his crew, I saw the structure they spoke of. A monument had indeed stood in this place prior to the crash. It was now almost entirely flattened. Sturdy as it may have been, the massive negative energy burst that prevented the ship from connecting with the ground and exploding on reentry had reduced the monument and much of the surrounding landscape to a large bowl-shaped indentation. These bronze statues or sculptures were no match for the power that the ship gave off as part of the emergency impact countermeasure. And although the figures were twisted and half buried in the snow pack, I could make out three faces. Two of them were human. I recognized neither. The third figure… was Spegg.

The LMO guard slammed the door to the vehicle and I was once more enveloped in darkness.

[Communication Relay: 01MAR2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]

Impact at 18:57:09

white_knuckleThe blinding white light streamed mercilessly through the viewport, causing me to shake my head from side to side, desperately trying to avoid the assault. Outside the ship, a screaming, howling blast continued to gain in pitch and volume. I felt as if my ears would burst before too long. We continued to tumble out of control. All about the cockpit, there was violent shaking and rumbling and madness. The ship was coming apart. I felt helpless, strapped to a chair with useless controls in front of me.

I struggled to stay alert, in control. I clenched my fist, gritted my teeth, and shut my eyes tight. A massive jolt shook the ship and it groaned and squealed as the hull and the structure began to surrender to the outside forces. I wondered how long the ship would hold together, as it barreled through the turbulent wormhole toward that unknown destination. I wondered how long it would take. I wondered if it would kill me.

The outside pressure increased and the framework of the ship noisily protested. The interior pressure increased as well, squeezing me as if my body was clenched in a fist. The air was stifling. I screamed and screamed again but heard no sound over the shrill noise outside the ship. When there was no more breath in me, I seized against the belts that held me and went stiff. Then, without warning, the ship pitched violently forward, throwing me hard upward against the restraints. There was a loud pop, like a colossal bubble bursting. The ship felt suddenly motionless. The terrible howling noise from outside the ship quickly wound down and disappeared.

I took a few quick breaths and opened my eyes just slightly. Through the shallow slits of my eyelids, I could see that the light through the viewport had subsided. The running lamps in the cockpit were dark blue once more, signaling that the exotic matter pump was once again protecting the ship with a bubble of negative energy. A dull humming sound reverberated throughout the hull and a crisp crunching sound came from below.

I drew a single deep breath, closed my eyes again, and allowed myself to hang limp in my seat, waiting. Within a few seconds, the humming sound stopped and the ship fell forward with a gut-wrenching drop. The fall was brief, maybe fifteen or twenty meters, followed by a loud crunching slam as the ship struck something nose first and buried itself. My body lurched. My head whipped sharply downward with a snap. A streaking pain instantly ran through my neck and shoulders. The ship shuddered and rocked slightly as it came to rest.

When I opened my eyes, there was nothing. The cockpit was black. The intense light had all but blinded me. A host of ghost shapes in all colors, remnants of the intense light display, flooded my vision. I squinted and turned my gaze back and forth, trying to see through the dark. Slowly, familiar shapes and colors began to return to sight. The console lights winked softly at me through the darkness. The dim running lamps around the perimeter of the cockpit came into view. But there was nothing to see through the viewport.

There was a stinging electrical odor in the air. A soft hissing sound came from outside the ship, like hot metal in water. It was warm, too warm. Sweat rolled off my face and fell forward from my nose, dripping across the expanse of the cockpit toward the now darkened viewport. I then realized that I was hanging nearly upside down and face-forward toward the viewport. My one free hand roamed over the belt latches that held me to the chair. They were taut. If I depressed the latch release, I would fall forward all the way to the front of the ship, easily breaking my neck or my back.

While trying to find a safe way out of the belts, I stopped suddenly and turned an ear to the rear of the cockpit. Noises came from behind me. They were voices, quickly chattering, growing near. My mind spun. Who? The possibilities were endless. Then, a hissing, sputtering noise like a fiery-hot cutting torch broke the silence. A flash of light went up behind me, filling the darkness with a bright red glow. I smelled smoke. The chatter got louder. Then, with a clank, a small piece of metal fell from behind me and tumbled over the console base toward the front end of the cockpit. A hole had been cut into the ship and something was pushing its way inside.

As I fumbled for the fasteners on the belts again, the buzzing began. It sounded like a large insect, buzzing and darting through the air behind me. I turned my head from side to side but couldn’t turn far enough to see what it was. It then hovered into view off to my left. It was a large insect, but only partly organic. Commonly, it was known as an advanced-technology organism. It looked much like a damselfly, with four long translucent wings, a three-part body, a long, thin, segmented abdomen, and two large compound eyes that glowed green. The thin wings beat so quickly that they gave off a ghostly white blur.

As it hovered in mid-air before me, the eyes grew bright, flickered, stopped, and flickered again. It was registering me. I had seen this before, in a demonstration of advanced robotics that evaluated potential targets for military forces. The insect probe made a high electronic squeal as it reported back. The chattering on the outside of the ship turned to shouting. I quietly drew a deep breath.

The robotic insect moved closer and dipped slightly in the air before me. I didn’t move. I waited for it to do whatever it was going to do. A sequence of tiny lights on its back turned bright amber. Even before insect sounded the familiar warning chirp, I knew what was about to happen. The electro-muscular disrupter it carried with it filled the air with potent electric crackle. My muscles overloaded, convulsed, and went completely lifeless.

Immobilized but conscious, I hung limp in the chair as the insect flew away and the voices outside the ship grew louder. They began to cut their way through the hatchway above.

[Communication Relay: 25FEB2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]

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]

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 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 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 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 21:20:16 – 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 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 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 16:41:32 – 02.01.2186

The noise had stopped almost as soon as it had started. Bent over the hatchway ladder guard, above the down ladder to the lower decks, I strained to hear it again and identify the source. Turning my head from side to side, alternately switching ears, I struggled to make out the faintest whispers of movement over the natural hum and thrum of the ship. Heat rose from the decks below and warmed my face and neck. It was an odd heat, like wet warmth from living growth. I watched droplets of warm sweat fall from my face to the darkness of the decks below. I heard nothing.

When it first started, it was a series of dull poundings from far below, like someone battering a hatch or a bulkhead with a sizable object. Although muted, it was certainly a metallic bang, as you would expect from metal-on-metal behind a closed door. This was no ship noise. It was too erratic. Someone or something was trying to get in to or out of an enclosure.

I stood silently, unmoving on the upper deck, next to the fore-end personnel lift. I was at the top of the ladder that descended down to the lower decks. I didn’t want to activate the lift, for fear of drawing attention to my location. I didn’t know what was going on below and I wanted to execute the search as stealthily as possible.

Bang! Bang! Bang! The noise came again.

Did I hear a voice this time, a muffled shout? Was this a lure, a trap? This strange ship held more than its fair share of secrets and dangers. The pry bar felt warm and heavy and rough in my hands, but I longed for a weapon of more substantial reach and effectiveness. An LMO is bred to be tough and capable of working in harsh environments. Most LMOs are docile and even fearful of humans. The dead one in the corridor was a different type. Were it not injured from some earlier scuffle, I would have had a difficult time subduing it with a blunt object alone. I longed for a hand-held EMD, otherwise known as an electro-muscular disruptor, something common to survival packs on pods. But the pod on this ship had been launched. There was nothing to scavenge from.

I must be cautious!

I hooked the pry bar into my waistband and over my belt and stepped carefully over the ladder guard onto the downward ladder. I could scale the ladder system straight down to the lower-most deck, stopping at the mid deck to listen again for the source of the noise. My heart began skipping beats and my palms were sweating. This was a descent into madness. Every fiber of my being wanted to stay topside, but there was no place to hide, not for any length of time. Soon, whatever haunted this ship would see the mess I had made of the LMO in the corridor and set after me. It was best to take matters into my own hands, play the game my own way.

I started slowly working my way down the length of the ladder. At the half-way mark, I stopped briefly to listen. I didn’t want to step down into a waiting ambush. Again, I heard nothing. Then, without warning, the ship gave a terrible, jolting shudder. I was thrown from one side of the ladder to the other. I momentarily lost my grip and slid with a rush down to the floor of the mid deck. My feet landed first with a bang and my right ankle rolled with an audible pop. The ship shuddered wildly again and I was thrown to the floor in a full-body sprawl. The pry bar shot from my waistband and skittered across the smooth deck into the darkness, rattling and clanging all the way.

In the dim light of the mid deck, I rolled over on to my chest and waited, listening carefully. No sound. No movement. Then, one last minor rumble from outside the ship vibrated the deck again. The pry bar rang like an alarm bell on the hard floor ahead of me. I held my breath. My chest began to ache.

Something will hear! They will come for me!

I hugged the deck until the vibrating ceased. A few seconds seemed like an eternity.

When all was calm again, I took a few deep breaths and steadied myself. I was fairly certain that these were the same violent tremors that seized the SM5 and threatened to rip the survival pod from the ship weeks ago. I wondered if the bizarre gravitational deformity had returned to claim this new ship. I also wondered how much time I had before it was too late.

I slowly rose to my feet and staggered after the pry bar. At first step, a searing pain ripped through my right foot, telling me that my ankle had been seriously injured in the fall. I hobbled the last few feet to the spot on the floor where the bar had landed and snatched it up into a high attacking position.

As I slowly moved backwards to the ladder, I scanned the darkness for movement. There was none. I reached out and grasped the nearest rung with my free hand and stepped on to the ladder again. Slowly, I began to move downward to the lower deck. As I descended and my head disappeared below the mid deck flooring, I heard the voice. It was a long howl of anger and frustration. It came from below.

[Communication sent: 01FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 20:48:17 – 01.29.2186

When my attacker stopped wriggling and gurgling on the floor under the hammering of the pry bar, I dropped to my knees. My breath came in ragged gasps and my heart beat furiously. For a while, I sat and watched the blood slowly pool around its upper torso and creep across the floor toward me. I kept the bar held high, in case it made any last moves. When I was certain that it was lifeless, I let the pry bar fall from my aching hands. The bang and clatter from the bar against the deck shattered the silence.  It was then that I realized that there could be any number of other things like this on the ship. I grabbed the bar again, rose up off my aching knees, and quickly hid myself.

The dim green lighting illuminated very little down the long corridor to the fore end of the upper deck. I stood and watched for hours, partially hidden behind the corner of the entryway for the Equipment Lift staging area. During that time, nothing appeared. But nothing looked right either.

The lighting was all wrong, far dimmer and greener than the normal full-spectrum lighting on ships of this type. It hurt my head to stare it it for any length of time. There was also the presence of the thick and sticky green residue that clung to every vertical surface and smeared up the flooring. The smell was awful, choking. It was decay and waste. It was as if the whole ship had become a vile, overgrown aquarium of sorts, sans water.

“An aquarium?”

I suddenly realized that the dead LMO on the floor had more to tell me still. I quickly slipped over to the Emergency Use container and retrieved a retractable scalpel from the med kit and brought it to the body.

Although Living Modified Organisms are common stock for certain business entities and industries, there are only some twenty-three thousand “licensed” LMOs in service. Each type is developed with highly-specific characteristics that meet the needs of the corporation that has the technology to create, grow, train, educate, manage, and track each of these assets. There are a very small number of advanced bio labs on Earth that can create this type of life form. They are highly valuable assets and are tracked as such. Tracking is facilitated by a sub-dermal chipset sealed in a 20mm silicone tube. And each of these tracking chipsets is implanted under the dermis between the shoulder blades.

The chipset is the first key. The chipset is one small piece of the answer. And, after fifteen minutes of cutting and digging, with my hands covered in dead flesh and warm fluids, I realized that I could not find a chipset at all. There was nothing there. This thing did not come from a lab. This was not a licensed LMO. This was something different, something new.

I stood up from the body and tried to shake the filth from my hands, sending splatters of fluids across the floor and all over my clothes. Disgusted, I bent down and wiped my hands off on the body. I then began to make my assumptions.

This LMO could not have been part of the mission on this ship. The ship had either been overtaken at some point during the mission or overtaken prior to departure. I didn’t know which was more possible and I didn’t know which was more infuriating. No reasonable answer was apparent. I was at a complete loss. My mind drifted.

It was quiet. Quiet enough that I could hear residual ringing in my ears from all the recent noise and calamity. For a while, the absence of noise was almost blissful. I almost closed my eyes. It was then that the banging from the decks below started.

[Communication sent: 29JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 18:50:21 – 01.27.2186

When it stepped into the corridor and spoke to me, I could not have been more surprised. My skin went cold. Little beads of perspiration rose up and down my back. There was terrible nervousness in my guts, the kind of sensation you get when you’re faced with a potential for great danger… and no available escape.

It pointed at me with a long finger and spoke again, showing a wide grin of tiny teeth. “How did you get back here?”

At the aft end of this level, there was no place to easily retreat. I raised the pry bar to shoulder level and held my ground. This particular LMO was clearly not Spegg. Where did it come from? How did it get here? There was no logical answer for any of this. I then realized that, as shocking as it was to see this one creature, there was probably more danger here than I could imagine.

“Who are you?” I said, low and aggressively.

“You forget something,” it replied, glancing quickly between my gaze and the end of the pry bar.

The LMO took a half-step forward and I shot out my palm to warn it off. “Back away. Back away now!”

“You are not to look me in the eyes, Chikushou.”

It seemed strangely fearless. I adjusted my grip and gave the pry bar a threatening jerk forward, testing its resolve. It barely flinched at all. A very bad sign. Again, it gave a quick glance at the pry bar and took another half step toward me.

“Baka!” It shouted, with a spray of white spittle. “You belong to us.”

“Enough of this!” I shouted back. “Back away and identify yourself!”

It hunched its back and squinted at me menacingly. It showed even more teeth. “I will not take orders from you,” it hissed.

“Yes, you will, hatchery filth!” I shouted back, as I leaned into the empty space between us.

“Gah!” it screamed, and jumped for my neck with both hands open wide.

With no time to dodge its attack, I took a half-step back to shift some of my weight and brought the pry bar down quickly and savagely. The weighty metal bar connected with the LMO’s left eye socket. It was a soft sound, much to my surprise. The socket caved in and the eyeball burst, spraying a sticky fluid across the floor. Under the force of the blow, it dropped to its knees. Its hands reached up to the ruined eye socket. Then, with a quick screech of alarm, it reached out for my leg. I jumped back out of reach. I brought the bar down again, this time connecting solidly on the top of the skull. The LMO collapsed to the floor. Its mouth was curled in agony. It let out a screaming gurgle, loud, very loud.

The pry bar connected again. And again. And again.

[Communication sent: 27JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 18:00:01 – 01.25.2186

The exterior hatchway for the airlock disengaged and moved inward. The eerie greenish light from the interior of the ship flickered and spread across the dim space in the airlock. For a moment, still hovering outside the hatchway entrance, I hesitated. I knew something terrible was wrong inside this ship. The fear held me. I did not want to go in.

I tightly gripped the handholds on either side of the hatchway, frozen. I shut my eyes. I pictured myself getting out of this damaged suit and in to a semblance of safety. I told myself that this was my ship. We identified it by the numbers. Relax!

Then, without warning, the reserve oxygen tank ran empty. No lights. No alarm. No air.

The choice was made. I pulled myself into the hatchway and sealed the door behind me. My chest began to burn. I worked quickly. From the internal access keypad, I dialed in the chamber compression and stabilization codes. Atmosphere began to fill the little room. Without further hesitation, I disengaged the inside collar locks and removed the helmet. I took a deep breath and collapsed to my hands and knees on the floor.

The air in the chamber was cool and fresh. I thought that I could easily pass out for a few hours before continuing. But it was the mystery beyond the airlock that kept me nervously alert.

Looking through the port hole into the aft end of the ship was like looking into a laboratory where a greenish-grey bio-experiment had gone wrong.  It was as if great volumes of fungal material were encouraged to grow on every surface. But no… it wasn’t fungus. It was something with a more-defined cell structure, crawling out of control. I wondered what could possibly cause this discoloration, this madness? In all of this confusion, I knew that I had to get moving and I knew that it would be best to be quiet.

I stood slowly and worked to silently disengage and remove pieces of the Evac suit. I clenched my teeth and winced, as each piece clicked or popped or hissed as it came free. As I worked to keep quiet, I also pondered the questions. This ship had become… what? A giant Petri dish, a growing region, a habitat… maybe? What would I find beyond the airlock hatchway? Who would I find here?

Soon, I was free of the suit and standing in the airlock wearing nothing but my basic duty clothes. The damaged Evac suit was just a pile of components on the floor. I felt vulnerable.

I approached the porthole and slid again to the floor. I strained to look straight up and beyond the hatchway. I was looking for the Emergency Use container just above the door. Inside this container were a number of emergency prep and rescue items for the immediate treatment of airlock-related injuries. There was also a large metal pry bar in the container for use when the hatchway was irreparably jammed. There was nothing on the ship that could be made quickly into a weapon. This is the item I wanted from the container. I would take no chances.

Griping the hatchway release, my hands trembled. I slowly rotated the handle until I heard the dull “thunk” of the bolts coming free of the doorway. I poked my head out into the corridor. Thick and sticky green residue filth covered every inch of the inside of the ship. The smell was horrific. I reached up to my throat with my hand and stifled a powerful retch. All along the walkway down the corridor were scattered footprints, as if there was a massive struggle, a battle. There were handprints and full-body smears all along the walls.

Without another thought, I quickly stood up in the corridor and threw open the clasps that held the Emergency Use container shut. I dove into the container with both hands, feeling all the way to the rear of the compartment. Random items from the container dropped noisily to the flooring. I didn’t care. The pry bar came loose in my hands. It felt heavy, powerful. It had raw bludgeoning power. I grinned as I turned to the corridor behind me. I stopped. I had been heard. My grin disappeared. A hobbling figure emerged from the shadows.

It cocked its head to one side, as it regarded me with big, black eyes. In a gurgling, high-pitched voice, it spoke. “How did you get back here, Chikushou?”

[Communication sent: 25JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 17:35:43 – 01.23.2186

I didn’t want to move. I felt strangely safe, spread out across the surface of the ship, tethered to a couple of vents. I was breathing heavy, gasping. My heart rate was elevated. Stinging sweat rolled into my eyes and blood was still pouring from my mouth. I lifted my helmet and glanced around, checking my location. The helmet display was blood spattered, nearly unusable, but from the impact site to this location, I knew that I was still starboard. I could make it to the crew airlock from this position. I estimated a distance of forty-five meters.

Get up.

How much air was in the reserve tank? Thirty minutes max? I tried to guess how much time had elapsed since I switched tanks. Fifteen? Twenty? I had to slow my breathing down. I had to get inside the ship and out of this wrecked Evac suit.

Move!

I gripped the line from the safety tether assembly tight and moved my left knee forward. I couldn’t get to my feet. My right knee and leg were locked, seized in an expanded pressure containment blister.

For the most part, these suits can sustain crippling damage and remain puncture resistant. The greatest fear, in regard to suit damage, is always breach and decompression. Where my right knee joint struck the side of the ship, it didn’t hit hard enough to compromise the integrity of the suit, but the impact sensor units detonated the inflatable decompression prevention bags nonetheless. This is a common Occupant Protection System meant to cushion violent impacts and seal potential suit punctures. The suit engineering jockeys back at JAXA refer to these components as “smack packs.” They work well at keeping Evac occupants alive, even if it means hampering mobility.

Focus!

The helmet display went dark again. No more systems updates would be available. No way to tell if suit systems bordered on complete failure. The lone headlamp flickered more erratically. I felt that the worst was about to happen. I had to get inside.

Crawl!

Using the hooks from the safety tether to secure my every movement, I crawled slowly toward the outer hatchway to the crew airlock. As I made my way, meter by meter across the surface of the ship, I wondered what I would find on the inside. If Spegg or… someone else was in the interior the ship, I had certainly spoiled my chances for a surprise entrance.

My chest ached. I was sweating profusely. My arms felt like lead weights. But, soon enough, I found the hatchway. From the exterior, it’s a nearly-seamless oval shape with a small port. Since there was damage to suit communications and the AI link was unresponsive, I couldn’t call for assistance with the hatchway. I had to manually open the ship from the exterior through the hatchway controls access panel. Working quickly, I began dialing in a manual override sequence. After the override was accepted, I could vent the interior and push the hatchway back. Breathing became suddenly difficult. The reserve tank was nearly depleted. I worked quickly. Almost there.

As the vents evacuated any atmosphere inside the airlock, I found myself staring through the port, past the airlock and through the monitoring port on the opposite side. I could see into the aft end of the ship. Something was wrong. Horribly wrong. The interior color… it was… green?

[Communication sent: 23JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 17:42:12 – 01.22.2186

It was a terrible, sickeningly-loud noise. Impact! The alarming sound of metal meeting metal, as the Evac suit slammed into the side of the SM5. My chin and mouth smashed into the inside collar. My upper torso lurched violently forward against the interior of the chest plate. I let out a burst of breath and spattered the inside of the helmet with blood and saliva.

For a moment, the blow left me stunned. I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly, everything went black. Complete darkness. I panicked, shuddered and forcefully drew a deep breath. The pain in my chest was terrible, a stinging red burst across the entire chest wall. Then, there was a brief flickering light. I saw the blood on the helmet and movement outside.

Damaged by the impact, three of the four headlamps on the exterior of the helmet had gone dark. One lamp at the top left of the helmet was flickering erratically. In the brief glimpses of light, I could see that I was sliding, ascending the side of the ship. I still had momentum from the approach and was now completely out of control. I heard loud scraping and thumping, as the Evac suit battered and tore across the exterior of the ship.

In a complete panic, I struggled to stop my movement before I reached the extent of the curvature and slid off into space. I didn’t know if the suit had power enough to maneuver, as the helmet display had gone dark. I wasn’t about to take any chances. I reached out, flailing for a handhold. The momentum was too great. I had no power, no strength to hold on to anything. In my scrambling, I managed to snag a vent extension with the large hook from the safety tether assembly. With the line lock engaged, I snapped to a sudden halt and smacked the exterior of the ship again. Jarred back to life, the helmet display lit up, awash in red graphics and text.

“Suit status, damage report,” I ordered, still spitting blood. There was no reply.

“Status report, respond.” Nothing came back from the AI. No noise, no static, no signal. I was alone.

I reached out with the secondary hook and locked in. I was secured.

Now, I just had to get to my feet.

[Communication sent: 22JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 16:54:12 – 01.20.2186

I remember it so well. In the dead of night, while the weather was warm and the stars shone brilliantly in the night sky, I secretly slipped into the outdoor pool at Atsugi, the base where my father was stationed. I was ten years old.

In a few strokes, I reached the center of the pool and rolled onto my back. There I floated weightlessly on the calm water, under the stars, enveloped in the blackness of night and the brilliance of the twinkling lights above me. I was so young. At first I felt insignificant and exposed. Then I realized that I was part of the whole grandeur of the sky, the galaxy. I too, was one small part, one little light. I lost track of time, there under the blanket of stars. As I stared into the depths of space, my mind drifted away. I wanted so badly to close my eyes and let the night sky fold around me forever. My eyelids grew heavy. I was tired. I was almost… asleep… and then the red lights came on and the alarms blared.

My eyes fluttered open for a second or two and were assaulted by the red warning lights flashing across the helmet’s display. It was too much to read. I couldn’t focus. It said something about gas mixtures. There was a graphic showing the tanks in the Evac suit. Red lights and streaming data were everywhere, blinding me. The AI was shouting, volume was up to an ear-splitting, emergency level.

“… AGAIN, WARNING. OXYGEN MIXTURE IMBALANCE. DANGER OF LOSS OF CONSCIOUSNESS. WARNING.”

My head, my eyesight, my thoughts so blurry. I couldn’t think. My tongue felt swollen. The AI continued to shout… something about impact.

“DISTANCE TO SM5 IS THREE HUNDRED METERS. IMPACT ALERT. TWELVE SECONDS TO IMPACT. WARNING.”

Then, a moment of clarity. I was in the suit. I was traveling from one ship to the other. Something was wrong. My eyes shot open. The black shape of the other SM5 sped toward me at nearly twenty-five meters per second. I was heading for an impact that would certainly rupture the Evac suit and send me careening off the hull into space.  I would decompress in seconds and spiral out of control. I was a dead man.

I took a deep breath. The air was sweet and strange. The AI was still screaming at me. Without another breath, I shouted over the noise and confusion

“Purge suit environment and switch to reserve tank mixture!”

“ACKNOWLEDGED.”

There was a deafening hiss and the suit went immediately cold. I began to shiver uncontrollably. Jets of gas streamed from exterior suit vents in all directions. For a long second, nothing else happened. Now that I was hyper-alert, I panicked and wondered if there was any reserve tank mixture available. In my mind, I quickly retraced my steps in the process of re-tethering the Evac suit prior to departing the ship. Did I check the reserve tank? I couldn’t remember. Before complete terror seized me, the suit gushed with oxygen from the reserve tank. I took one deep breath. It was a perfect mixture.

I shook my head inside the helmet. My vision cleared and I was able to focus again. Looking forward, I saw the hull of the other SM5 dead in front of me. I had to stop. Momentum was too great. I shouted at the AI again.

“All forward braking at once!”

The suit let off a gaseous nitrogen discharge from all forward ports, slowing the speed of the approach. It wasn’t enough.

“Brake again,” I shouted. “Continuous!”

The suit gave off a flood of nitrogen from the forward ports. The gas release was so great that I couldn’t see the SM5 dead in front of me through the exhaust cloud.

There was a terrible collision.

[Communication sent: 20JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 08:55:12 – 01.19.2186

Nervously, I took a deep breath, as if I were about to submerge myself in water. I was standing in the airlock, preparing to depart the SM5 and make a solo excursion across a huge void. The hatch to the ship was sealed behind me and the Extra Vehicular Hatch was still closed in front of me. I was tethered to the Umbilical Interface and I had a steady flow of O2. Beyond the EV Hatch was empty space, a massive expanse of dark nothingness… and the other ship.

I have been with JAXA and the International Deep Space Administration for decades. I’ve made more stand-up EVAs with an umbilical than I can count. Still, I filled my lungs with air and pursed my lips. This is an old habit I’ve never been able to shake. Holding my breath, I activated the equalization valves and pulled the hatch lever. The hatch moved inward and slid smoothly to one side of the compartment.

“CREW LOCK EVA HATCH DISENGAGED,” the ship’s AI reported.

“I know that,” I replied.

“ACKNOWLEDGED.”

I grasped one of the internal handholds firmly. With a nervous hand, I reached to my side and pulled the umbilical away from the Heavy Evac suit. My stomach fluttered. Red light flooded the compartment. A warning light flashed in the helmet’s display. Suit support functions and reserves began a countdown.

“WARNING: EVAC SUIT UNTETHERED. RECLAMATION FUNCTIONS WITHOUT ADDITIONAL CREW MEMBERS IMPOSSIBLE.”

“I know that as well,” I stated.

“ACKNOWLEDGED.”

I began to tremble. At first it was slight, a nervous shiver in my hands and arms. Then, quickly, my whole body was shaking uncontrollably. I gripped the handhold as tightly as I could.

Leaving the protection of a ship is a frightening experience. In orbit around a planet, you don’t normally want to find yourself in unprotected space, as the risk of having your suit (and body) perforated by space debris traveling at 7.7 km per second is fairly high. Here, there was nothing but empty space between myself and the other ship. I had maneuvered the SM5 into a position that was near enough that I could travel the distance on the meager propulsion system the suit offered. It was also far enough that any strange emergence of unexpected gravitational anomalies – like the event that wrenched away the survival pod – won’t threaten to destroy my ship.

“Target distance count, please.”

“DISTANCE TO SM5 IS FIFTEEN POINT EIGHT KILOMETERS.”

Although the shaking hadn’t subsided at all, I gathered my strength and launched myself from the hatchway door of the SM5 as best I could. I met the nothingness head on.

[Communication sent: 19JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 17:55:12 – 01.17.2186

I burst into the cockpit, after a dead run from the aft end of the mid-deck and fell to one knee behind the main systems bank. Near a complete collapse, I braced myself up on the back of one of the seats in front of the main console. I was taking deep breaths and rubbing my chest, trying to calm down. I was shivering with cold, exhausted and physically spent. My body felt as if I’d run the entire two-month IDSA fitness and conditioning stress series in a single day.

“Object SM5 off port bow status, data and vitals on visual,” I ordered, breathlessly.

Information on the other SM5 came flooding in. The main console display screen was immediately awash with data and records. It was too much information for a single display.

“All screens merge and display,” I ordered.
I stood up and took a step back as the screens through the cockpit, as well as the holographic display over the viewport came alive with the merged data. All displays functioning collectively, I could see the whole ship end to end. All systems, throughout the ship, appeared to be functioning but there were sketchy details on life support, power and crew vitals.

“Show me crew status and vitals.”
“DATA UNAVAILABLE AT THIS TIME,” replied the ship’s AI.
“Data update estimation.”
“UNKNOWN. PLEASE STAND BY.”
“Saiyaku,” I cursed.

Not even the frontline of current processing capacity and calculation speed works fast enough, when you’re waiting for valuable information. What was happening here? Was I confused? Seeing things?

After the discovery of this identical SM5 earlier, I dashed from the upper deck observation lounge back down to the Evac gear compartment. I tried to quickly emerge from the Heavy Evac suit without adequate decompress and immediately collapsed to the floor. I was completely spent after twenty-plus hours of ship repair in zero atmosphere. I shivered uncontrollably and vomited on the gear compartment deck. When I could eventually get on my feet, I re-tethered the suit for power re-charge and raced to the cockpit. Here I stood, looking at data on what was my own ship. This, somehow, was another SM5. And it was floating just 2,843 km off our port side.

“NOTICE: SCAN DATA SHOWS ANOMALIES.”
“Anomalies?”
“ON-BOARD COMPUTER SYSTEM DATE IS NOVEMBER 28 OF 2187.”
“November 28, 2187? Confirmed?”
“DATA IS CONFIRMED ACCURATE.”

I had no response. I stood silent. The SM5 floating out there was nearly twenty-three months older than the SM5 I was presently stationed aboard. I was exhausted and weak but I didn’t think that I was delusional. This had to be seen. After the Evac suit re-powered fully, my plan was to make a ship-to-ship excursion. I would find out what secrets this other SM5 was hiding.

Already, I had my suspicions.

[Communication sent: 17JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 11:23:14 – 01.15.2186

The work repairing the damage done to the ship was arduous and time-consuming. Given the extent of the damage and the available repair materials, it almost seemed pointless. The Heavy Evac suit, although power-assisted and climate controlled, is incredibly uncomfortable to work within for extended periods of time.

As a complete EVA suit for all external ship needs, these rigs are outfitted with a variety of technologies and tools. In the case of a complete disaster, where micrometeoroids completely perforate the ship and the power core threatens to ignite a vast region of the space you’re in, the Heavy Evac suits allow one to move in and out of the ship to adjust or repair just about any physical, electrical or mechanical problem. You can also log in to the ship’s systems and execute ship-wide commands. Although you are contained to a large, heavy, armored suit, the technology does have its advantages. The helmet, for one, features a variety of parallel display options, including low-light, no-light, infrared, ultraviolet, and enhanced-focus vision modes. It was this technology that allowed me to make a unbelievable discovery.

Having patched breach holes in the main corridor, medical lab and the aft hold, I stood in the upper deck observation lounge, with the patch gun in my hands, applying a composite sealant bubble to a breach in the port-side hull wall. The breach holes were large and they extended through the entire hull. The sealant only covered so much space. More work would have to be completed from the exterior of the ship. I knew there wasn’t enough sealant on the SM5 to complete the job. All I could do was patch up enough to get parts of the ship in temporarily-habitable condition. Fear of secondary decompression, when the sealant failed to hold, was overwhelming. I was nervous, tense, and tired.

My arms ached, wanting to drop lifelessly at my side. Sweat rolled into my eyes and stung. I blinked rapidly, cursing the suit designers for failing to adequately anticipate the stress one feels after twenty hours of suit containment. As the patch gun ran empty, I stepped back from the breach and watched as the composite material sunk into the hole and tried to form a mend. Little bubbles of wayward sealant floated weightlessly around the room. Occasionally, they came into contact with the Evac suit, a wall or a piece of furniture and quickly stuck, spreading rapidly into a grayish smear. If I had enough patch material, the sealant would meld with the hull’s microencapsulated healing agents and form an integrated patch section completely undetectable from the surrounding material. With the sealant finally depleted, I could only wait and hope.

The last of the patch material struggled to transform, conform, and integrate around the breach. Exhausted, I turned to the observation port and stared out at the emptiness that surrounded me.

“Magnify by ten,” I instructed. The helmet zoomed in. Nothingness. “By twenty.” There it was.

A shape, dark and motionless caught my eye. The helmet adjusted focus and zoomed in further. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I stared at the object for a moment longer and the greenish augmented reality display in my helmet activated. The readout highlighted and acknowledged the object as the Shinkai Maru 5, just 2,843 km off our port side. I stared at the ship. My ship!

“Object identify,” I command.

The ship’s AI voiced the response loudly “SHINKAI MARU 5.”

“Negative. Ident error,” I replied. “Confirm object identity by code,” I ordered.

The AI response came again:  “IDENTIFIED SHINKAI MARU 5. IDSA DATA CENTER CODE RXJ1242 DASH 11.”

For the longest time, I stared at it, unblinking, in rigid disbelief. The spent patch gun fell from my hand and floated away.

[Communication sent: 15JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

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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.
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