What is the nature of a nightmare? How do we escape when we cannot wake? The real world is filled with its own fair share, as our gruff protagonist is soon to realize. What do you think is wrong aboard the Angeion? Feel free to share your thoughts, and enjoy the second part of New Frontiers, a sci-fi short set in the age of space exploration…
(In case you missed Part One of the story, be sure to catch up here. You’ll meet Jake, and see a little more of what this flight really is…)
Disconcerting, very disconcerting.
I drummed along the glass, rapped more heavily at the base, listening to the dull hollow it beckoned from within. I could have screamed my lungs out and the man would have never heard me. I saw the man—my friend—watched his featureless face stare blankly back at me, but my mind drifted.
I saw him, but my thoughts turned to my wife, Jane, a ship’s length away. If the power was out here would it be…? The nonessential crew were housed at the other side of the ship, out of our way. That could mean their salvation. Silently, I prayed that this was just a local short. My eyes tugged a little more fiercely toward the door, but I forced focus. There were more than just the captain here.
I tried the science officer’s pad, but it was as dead as the captain’s. The short little fat man looked on and on, past me and into the darkness. I tried Ronesey’s—another of the mechanics—but no luck. Then I moved to the first mate’s.
Behind the frost stood an image of such abject horror I felt the empty contents of my stomach churn at the sight. Unlike the others, Kate was not passive in her slumber. Her face, her perfectly preserved face, had slunk against the viewport of her pod, her hands, like claws, set to tear upon the glass, and finding no leverage to make their mark. Her eyes, frosted over now, were bloodshot, wild, but half-lidded as though with great weariness. Her body had shrunken since she went in, the skin shriveled. She was an emaciated figure, more skeleton than woman—and she was staring back at me, pleading to me in her silent end.
She had woken, at some point, and by all accounts, it looked as if she had…starved to death in her pod. I felt the reflux burn at the base of my throat, and I flinched away. The computer had tried to wake her, or the process had been disrupted somehow—but the door, the door should’ve opened for her, as it had opened for me.
What if I…?
The implications to that were sickening all over again. Kate had died trying to claw her way out of what had become her cell, and died horrifically in the effort. This skeletal creature was not the woman I knew, and now, never would be again.
I fled. The lights sniggered out behind me. The door still opened automatically for me, and I thought, dimly, at the impossibility of this venture if any of them had lost power as well. The doors were designed to contain blasts, halt fires and completely seal off one area of the ship from another. They were a good six inches thick, and if they were barred to me I held no hope of opening them.
I don’t know how long I ran. I was still winded from my time in slumber, my body out of shape from lack of movement. I suspect it was not far. Yet I had to get out. That was the only drive. The only thought. I couldn’t look at that face—those faces of people I had known, laughed with, shared a brew or a meal with for the better part of the last two decades. They were good people. They had families.
Oh God, the children—Kate’s children. I felt my stomach heave again. What would they do now?
When I found myself again, I was huddled in the hallway, beneath the flickering lights. The path I had taken was dark now—the lights shut off automatically as I moved out from under them, to conserve energy. I stood in a narrow spotlight, ringed by darkness on all sides. What was familiar seemed alien, distant, and not a sound rose to break the monotony of it. I breathed, tried to steady myself.
I might have gone to Jane. My fears demanded it—that I go check on my wife, confirm how localized this disaster was. The loss of my friends was tragedy, the loss of her would be…irredeemable. Yet my fears also stayed me. The problem, I reasoned—I needed to fix the problem before anything else. The longer it was left to fester, the more trouble we could all be in. If I didn’t look, if I didn’t see, my fears remained, but so too did hope. If I didn’t go, I didn’t have to face my nightmares.
Besides, the nonessentials had mechanics and techs of their own. If I could get to Angeion’s controls and initiate defrost I could potentially still find the help I needed.
I needed to get to the bridge.
Yet I never realized how foreboding a place the Angeion could be. In the light, it was all white walls, illegal posters, clean, sterile floors. In the darkness, it was menacing, a roving shadow, full of twists and turns—a maze of frosty tigers, loitering just at the edge of my vision. The automatic lights illuminated my steps, but everything beyond was darkness. The grates, though symmetrically sound and designed toward a graceful, balanced flow, now tripped me up and clung at my legs, like slavering monsters reaching up from the sewers of my terror.
Behind each corner, there were faces—the faces of the crew. Captain. Kate. Even Jane. Silent, watching, reaching out to me—gone. Too much too soon. The mind wasn’t meant to take such things in stride. I had to focus. The walls rose up around me and slid off into the darkness, and I, following as a blind man feeling his way into that familiar sanctuary, slid off after them, retracing my memories to find my hopes.
Fortunately for my ailing mind, the ship design was simple enough. All roads led to the control, and all roads led back. They intersected at numerous points, but there were no senseless cutoffs, no architectural faux pas to slip me up. As long as I kept moving forward, I would get where I needed.
I needed to get to the bridge. Both of the cold chambers were near the stern, where some vessels kept their escape pods. I laughed at that. Most advanced vessel in known space, and the bloody thing couldn’t spring for those. Pointless, really. The ship was built to spring forth man into the great dark unknown—the kind of space where, if anything goes wrong, you bet your ass no one would ever get to you in time to help.
That’s the point.
This was the charter, the exploration, the new frontier. We die, simple enough: that means the place is a no-go. Bad for business. Bad for the company economically, but they took the hit, and they moved on. That was how business worked.
We may have been astronauts, scientists, and godforsaken mechanics, but Christ alive, you better believe we were businessmen too, hats aside.
We were just the ones they sent out to chart new space, mark planets—find new places to strip mine, or if we’re lucky, new homes to populate. Those were rare. The rarest. Hundreds of years since man first reached the stars, and all we’d ever found were two others, like enough to earth. Potentially a third now, if the probes were right. That’s why we were out here.
Out here—no, there was no escape. To jam that false bit of hope onto the tug would’ve been nothing but a drain on energy, and a drain on cost. You screw up out here, you’re dead. Simple enough. No point holding out hope for redemption.
The words were true enough in my mind, but in that moment, they twisted about my stomach like a knot. They were bitter on my tongue—and as I stumbled into the med bay, I had to wonder if the flickers didn’t already mean the end.
I saw Kate’s face again. Wasted thing.
A monitor flashed as I stepped into this new room, however, in contrast to the shadowed horror of the halls beyond. I rushed it, the barest glimmer the brightest light in mine own eye. My fingers ran the monitor as lovers might embrace after years apart—as I would embrace my wife again—and the screen turned for me, brightened, came to life. The monitor shone white, so hotly it burned my eyes, but I stared anyways, in drunken joy, watching as it twisted from its blank, flickering repetition—“System Error”—to the login. The details flowed easily enough, and the words rolled across the screen, then disappeared, and all the knowledge of Angeion’s universe appeared at my command.
“Welcome. Jake. Felv-min. Chief. En-gi-neer,” the bodiless voice intoned, welcoming me back to life with its vacant, docile expression.
I wasted no time. Immediately, I ordered up the analysis of the ship—the reasons for why I had been awakened. It retreated into itself to find my purpose, and came back quickly enough.
“A-pol-o-gies. Critical system err-or. Analysis denied. Chief Engineer Jake Felv-min woken at 4 years, 2 months, 7 days mission operation time for analysis and repair operations. 1600 hours. All personnel are directed to the bridge.”
- New Frontiers, Part One (cianphelan.wordpress.com)