New Frontiers, Part Five

All things come to an end, though the light at the end of the tunnel may not always lead to sanctuary. Discovery–is it worth the price we pay to reach it? That is for each to decide their own selves. As for the Angeion and its crew, we come now to the end of their story, and the revelations it brings…

What have you thought of this glimpse into futures far from realized?

(For Part One, be sure to catch up here. You’ll meet Jake, and learn a little more of what this flight really is…
For Part Two, witness the first threads of the horror Jake now faces aboard the Angeion.
For Part Three, a destination looms far nearer than it should, and the truth emerges: sometimes waking can be a terror greater than any other…
For Part Four, is salvation anything more than a dream?)

New Frontiers

“Give me Jane,” I murmured, watching her through the monitor. I knew not which was her, in truth. All the pods were laid before me, and all watched behind their looking glasses, but I could not see in. “Wake them. Please God wake them.”

The command flashed three times across the screen. Processing. Each time, processing. I hit it. “Wake them.” System failure. I hit it again. “Wake them goddamnit.” I was finding my voice, but the computer was not. Angeion repeated the system failure, big bold red letters emblazoned in my mind.

Then: Non-essential crew decommissioned to preserve power. 4 years, 8 months, 22 days.

Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bo...

Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1850) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words hit me like a punch in the stomach. I cursed God and Hell and every saint I could remember, right along with the computer and the company and anyone else I could think of. I screamed my voice hoarse. I beat the screen, tore at another, howled and screeched and stamped my feet as I tried feebly to tear the captain’s chair from its welded binding on the floor. The computer watched, and waited, and the silence listened to the sounds of a grown man breaking, like I was nothing.

This was the mother of the children I had never had. I could picture them at night, sometimes, when I would sleep. They always had her eyes. The woman I had called my own since that first final. Gone, just like that. She wasn’t human. She wasn’t even necessary. Yet somehow, some ungodly way, I supposedly was. These hands, that knew nothing. This mind, that saw nothing. These were necessary. These were “essential.” The system was broken.

That was it then. The screen scrolled a final detail, but it was meaningless. 4 years, 12 months, 19 days operation time. 2400 hours, earth standard. I woke, as we were all supposed to wake. This was the moment of our revival, the time when all the world was supposed to be before us. So it was, but before me, not them. The ship dipped forward into peril, and I could but watch, a broken man, leaned into the emptiness of a chair. I had never seen anything so blue before.

I thought of all the people back home that would never know. My parents, Jane’s parents, our brothers, sisters–they would never know what happened to us. The company would send a letter, one page, detailing how sorry they were, extending their condolences without ever saying anything more than “accident” to state how we had gone. That was their way. It was just as well. When you don’t know, you assume it’s quick. You hope it was quick, because you don’t want to reconcile suffering into your life. It’s bad enough to lose them–you don’t want to put that extra horror into it. It was best to leave them that small mercy. Let them think I had gone to my end with grace and dignity–or quietly in my slumber. The rest. . .well, I didn’t even want to know the rest. It was bad enough living it.

Thus rode the hours on a railway straight to Hell. The stars slipped away into the dark, and inch by inch, this planet rose before me, until it encompassed all that I could see. It had been nothing once, a thought, a dream beyond the edge of knowing–and now it was everything, and I was nothing before it. The computers blinked and screeched in protest. Alarms rattled as the final preparations began. Warning bells, demanding staunch resistance to our own decay. Yet there was only I, and I could do nothing to prevent it.

The cold came, gave way to heat. Lights flickered into dark across the board–only the engines burned, only the bridge remained. The ship lurched to one side as we struck the air–we would not merely drift. The ship was too precisely aimed. All the calculations were in check. It was merely the human factor we were lacking.

Fires flared around the edge of my vision, frost broiling off with bits of steel–wings, frame, mass. Some clattered against the glass and fell away, others became mere blips along the dying monitor, another sound, another memory. We were being devoured by our own ambition, the world itself rising up against us. I saw her in the flames. Dancing. The lovers waltz, two flickers, moving as one amidst the devastation. The glass fragmented as the nose dipped–the resurgence of pressure forced me back into the chair, a puppet caught, pulled taught against his strings. I felt as though my flesh would surely tear itself from my bones, that everything would be torn and burned by the memory of those lovers intertwined, burning into nothing as the air consumed us.

Jane never could dance, and nor could I. We never did learn. I suppose we’d always meant to.

Amidst the pop of blood vessels, the cracking skin and the flaming chill–such fire is this!–I beheld all salvation’s taunts. Through the clouds, the mountains loomed tall and proud, black as night, their caps tipped with the snow of antiquity. I saw all the veins that ran beneath, the rivers and the rock, strength of nations and of notions not before beheld. I saw the foundations she would have loved, the top and the core, all manner of life brimming through the depths of this hallowed unknown. Beneath us swam the rivers and the oceans, the grasses blowing in the wind, stretching beside the sea, growing long beside canyons, the trees. All was glowing emerald life, and sapphire breath, a world of possibility, unknown, unseen by all but me besides.

Before me laid paradise, and I, the first eyes to see it, though they tinged all possibility in scarlet. Behind me laid all the fire and force of Hell, and I brought it burning on that ride, to Heaven. It would die as it had lived, unknowing of the pains to come. They say an asteroid killed the dinosaurs. All in nothing. Nothing but me. I am become Alpha and Omega–the Beginning and the End of Eden. Yet I am Man, just Man.

There is no salvation here.

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