New Frontiers, Part Two

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…)

New Frontiers

Floatation Tank

Floatation Tank (Photo credit: cybrgrl)

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.

Monitor

Monitor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Welcome to the future of privatized exploration!

Space Shuttle Endeavour landing

Space Shuttle Endeavour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear God, take off your red shirts, people, we’re about to hit the space front. “New Frontiers,” presented in the first of five (count them, 5) 1500 word segments to come over the next few weeks (why, probably five weeks to be exact–what a crazy random happenstance, no?) is a sci-fi short first penned in early 2010. It has, since, made the rounds of the literary front, and been met by the wall of rejection on every front. As such, I’ve chosen to fore go those continued rounds, and make the whole story available (in segments) here on the Waking Den, for you to take and enjoy or loathe at your leisure.

Critique is welcome. Thoughts are craved. But your enjoyment is what is most desired. So without further adieu…

New Frontiers

Some people don’t dream in cold-sleep. They’re the lucky ones, I think. Long as I’ve been flying I’ve had the nightmares. I could sleep for days just fine in my own bed, but you stick me in one of those metal monstrosities and it’s a freaking guarantee my subconscious is going to have a field day with me. Captive audience, you know—it’s not like I’m going anywhere.

The bits and pieces are dissembled, hazy. I see myself running, and it looks at first like I’m hunting. Deer, maybe. They look like animals but they’ve got the faces of all the people I left behind; all the people that should be rising with me about now. It looks like I’m chasing them, but they don’t seem afraid, and they never get any nearer.

This tiger, though, keeps chasing me. Isn’t that the damndest? Doesn’t even make sense. Never seen a tiger that wasn’t in a zoo or on TV. Guess they stuck with me though. There sure as Hell aren’t any tigers between the stars.

Still, I try to hide, I try to shoot at him, but I never manage to hit him. I can’t even rightly see him, but on he comes—I know it, in that way only hunters and dreamers can know, just as I know beyond all reasonable doubt for no reason that it’s a he. It’s always a he.

I’m running and running and he’s getting closer. I’m screaming at the top of my lungs for anyone to help, but then the trees themselves seem to rise up against me, and the vines grab at me, and this thing—this monster, it just tears into me like I’m a four course buffet and he’s the fat man the waiters have kept waiting for four freaking hours waiting for a reservation.

That was the first thing that popped into my head as the glass lifted, and the fog with it. I groaned as I woke.

I’ve always wondered why I never screamed. Just kind of a silent, grumbled resolution to my fate. I knew it getting in. They trained me to make sure the ship’s in running order. A dozen, a hundred people—but in this case, just fifty—depended on whether or not I did right by my calculations. With pressure like that, a few bad dreams are the least of my troubles. If I couldn’t handle them, I should’ve gotten in a different line of work years ago. It’s not like space is the only place for a good mechanic.

Wiping at the migraine the waking process always left me with, I wobbled, naked, into a sitting position. I gave it a few moments before I dared stand. A friend of mine once split his head on an overhead getting up too soon. Fifteen stitches, and mid-flight, too. Not exactly my idea of a picnic.

The floor was cold as my feet touched the ground. I could feel the ship’s metal sucking the heat out of my feet even through the smooth tile. No grass. No tigers. That was my first thought as I emerged from my cocoon. Yet it wasn’t just the floor—the air was cold. I blinked away the final chains of sleep, shaking the stiffness from my joints as I slapped a bit of blood back into my cheeks. I shivered a bit, but that was natural. Spend five years locked in a 7 by 3 refrigerator specifically designed to leave you with all the countenance of a popsicle and a little chill seems appropriate.

My clothes were in the locker across from my cocoon. Everybody had one. Standard issue. I gathered them up and put them on—also standard issue: a full-length baby blue jumpsuit with a pair of boots and a spiffy baseball cap with the TASRE logo on the front. Technically, I suppose, we’re all employees of the SENCOR Group, but the government technically is a part of this still and technically it’s their name on my paycheck so they won the honor of the cap.

Besides, I think it sounds better saying I work for the government than the guys currently getting sued by three different countries for anti-trust violations and employment of illegal labor.

SVG version of PNG Space Shuttle Logo/Patch.

SVG version of PNG Space Shuttle Logo/Patch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given, I couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like to try and fly without SENCOR. The government just didn’t have the dollars, either to pay for the machines or to buy the minds that SENCOR could. TASRE—the Trans-national Administration for Space Research and Exploration—was a mostly bankrupt institution, there as much for show as anything else. It couldn’t meet costs, so private enterprise did the work. It had been that way for more than a hundred years. That was fact. I didn’t understand the people that still griped about it.

Speaking as the man who has to fix these buckets of bolts: do they want us all flying inferior machines that can’t pay for their own repairs? Love or hate the company—they’re the only way we’d ever get off the ground.

Drama. It’s what’s for breakfast—but all I could think about, all I could dream about, was coffee. Sweet, delicious coffee. That, and getting to it before anyone else. I shambled over to the machine we’d set up before we went under, plugged her in and fiddled with the grounds, set a pot to boil. It didn’t even occur to me that no one fought me for the right.

Modern medicine had extended the average human lifespan to about 120 years. We had ships that could crack apart asteroids and small moons to suck out the rich, mineral filling within. Yet I still had to brew my own goddamn coffee. Where’s the justice in that, I ask?

Only slowly did the silence creep into my awareness. So at home had I been with it, lo these many months, that its assault was a subtle sort of insidious. It was a tingle on my neck, a spreading numbness, sharp, that wormed its way between my shoulder blades and plucked me like a chicken. Waiting for my coffee I realized it, that concrete feeling of nothingness—the absence of motion, of sound, even smell. In the void, I twisted and found my pre-conceived world devoid.

I was the only member of the crew awakened from their cocoons. For that matter, I was the only person awake at all. Likely, that meant there was a little mechanical problem somewhere onboard the ship. No need to wake the others when I was the only one able to do a thing about it.

No one was to wake alone, though. Standard operating procedure guaranteed that even in my single-purpose waking, the captain and the first mate should have woken with me. They did not, and I knew it—their pods were right next to mine. Coffee forgotten, I wandered toward the cocoons, only lately aware of how pervasive the chill was, and how it clung, remorselessly. I began to feel a pinch of unnerve, for all my efforts to ward it off.

That could have meant a malfunction in the pods themselves, or the ship’s primitive “A.I.” Artificial intelligence was a little much to describe it, but there was no better way. It was just a computer that ran processes while we slept. An over-glorified auto-pilot, nothing more, though some putz had given the machine a voice.

I knew some people that might have immediately jumped to the conclusion of a crazed, bloodthirsty uprising of robotic proportions at the heart of this particular terror. Being a sensible man, I didn’t even entertain the thought.

A thick pool of white mist remained wrapped around the bottom of the pods. I ran my fingers along the glass, trying to peer inside. I went to the captain first, wiped away the frost that hid him from me. Eyes closed, he slept soundly still, or seemed to, white-faced, gone. I pressed the pad alongside his pod, trying to utilize the manual release. It made no sound of recognition, no sign that it drew life either. It was cold, and that was beginning to become a little disconcerting.

“Angeion,” I called, hoarsely at first, not realizing the state of my own deteriorated voice. The second time it came more clearly. “Initiate defrost on the captain…get him up.”

Silence. Even more disconcerting. I repeated myself, but the response from the computer was the same. Angeion gave me nothing, nor any sign she ran at all. The only sign that anything functioned at all was the gentle, yet somehow not reassuring flicker of the lights overhead, which, I noted, had dimmed since my own departure from the pod. Furthermore, they weren’t the yellow-gold lights that marked the day-to-day operations. Everything was basked in a bitter white luminescence, shallow, pale—the emergency lights. The backups.

Things were worse than I’d assumed, then. That could explain Angeion’s lack of contact. If the system had gone down, we might need one of the techies up and running to get her up and running. If she was down that would be an impossibility—and that logic applied to my waking as well, meaning that she couldn’t be down. Greatly reduced in power, perhaps.

Disconcerting, very disconcerting.

The Other Parts:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

From the Dreamscape

Veiled dancer. Terracotta figurine from Myrina...

Veiled dancer. Terracotta figurine from Myrina, ca. 150 BC–100 BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The final chapter, as continued from part 1 and part 2:

Disconnect. Static ambience…a one, two, three stumble into disarray. Everything cuts out as the dark one crosses the threshold, and the world spins around him.

The floor is on his back–or is his back on the floor?

To the sharp, drawn-out shrill of a woodwind, the portal closes behind him and vanishes entirely–shutting out all shreds of light beyond. Hands stretch along the stone, but there is nothing. He rolls and presses, scrambling for the escape, but nothing remains.

Only the overwhelming presence of absolute silence. Like a tomb, but without even the flies to keep him company.

One foot after the other, he steps toward the wide plaza at the building’s center, visions of a duel and of roses bloomed beneath bursting galaxies moshing through his head.

Candlelit flickers make dancers of the shadows. They take an altar for their stage, and at first there is nothing but the shrine. It is vacant, its only markers the plain red cloth draped across its barren surface, and the mountainous mass of beaded necklaces, their shattered loops forming the colorful peaks of devastation.

Nevertheless, the light strikes it remarkably, pouring down in vibrant beams of sapphire and emerald as cast by the stain glass sky hovering just above it. Depicted therein, a blasted and burning ship sinks into a storm-tossed sea, a sanctuary island of vibrant life settled just out of reach.

All hands will go down with the ship.

He steps forward into the room and his boots clap loudly against the stone, echoing between the pillars and the rocks that hold the building aloft. An equally brisk “shh” reverberates in response.

Spinning on his heels, an explosion of reality greets: the light enraptures him, smothering the expanse of the room and blinding him in liquid absence. Blobs of color dancing through burned eyes take the shape of familiar faces, and the room is populated at last–the die cast to the gentle swell of the drums. There is thunder in the tuba of the earth’s fair roar–and he cannot but consider that he has been here before, and this world, and this room, and all before him is nothing but the end of time.

Purgatory, perhaps? Or the dream of living?

Dozens of identities bow to the rhythm and the roar, and as their hands fold across the seams of shadow-licked robes, the rumbles of the earth settle into dust beside. Only one of them looks up, watching with eyes long-struck. They are the ocean, and the sky–the ripple of all, clouds and waves and passion long contained. He is bared to her. He is speared before her.

The dancer.

A smile crooks her head into the bow, and with the fading of her eyes, so too fades the light of the flames.

He finds his feet. There is only forward, or there is nothing–he is weighed, faltering beneath the heavy hand of shadows lurking, but he throws himself against their walls, bloodies himself on the strain of his own momentum. His hand is in the air. His hand is air. His hand is in her hair and he throws back the cowl that would hide the light itself.

Heads move to the motion, all masks and eyes. There is no retreat. Her skin, porcelain beneath the light. Sad light. Mournful light. Her slender neck is bared, and the breath of music itself holds to the touch upon her skin.

He cannot feel.

And the masks smile.

From the Dreamscape

Camden, New Jersey is one of the poorest citie...

Urban decay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A continuation from part 1:

There is a girl, dancing. Alone in the pitiless darkness of the moonlit night, the wind catches her hair and sways her swirling body to and fo as the leaves of the endless rows of circling trees begin to whistle and hiss. She rides the storm. She slows with every crack of the thunder’s whip. Back arches, lips part; her arms rise as if in composition, as her legs angle, her body silhouetted against the inky backdrop for an instant as she pitches her body into the sky.

Trailing through the brimming storm, strong legs touch down, feet slipping into the muck. Her body folds, crouching, eyes shut as she clutches to herself. A flash of lightning gives to total darkness.

There is nothing left of the body or the woman.

The dark one finds himself standing alone amidst a wide, desolate city. A tomb of grey–the sky is as dead and soulless as the walls that bar him in. Nothing bares itself to him save the forward path.

From realms unseen, the song enters into a furious upturn. He stumbles and the drums thrum and boom to a ferocious beat; the tubas swell beneath them, all breath sucking inward as the cacophonous strikes come deeper and swifter, supported by the soft, though hastening gathering of delicate high-pitched caresses–a legion of flutes, building to some unknown climax.

A note holds as he scrambles into the light. The city itself holds no sounds beyond the confines of his own shallowed breathing. A man could lose himself here, for detail is lost. Everything looks the same. Only height seemingly denotes any difference in the buildings arrayed before him, the high towers stretching into the nothingness of the sky until they, too, are lost.

The climaxing brass dies away as he begins to shamble inward. The percussion drops into a low, gathering repitition as the woodwinds press forward their own assault, consuming the city in a crescendo of caressing breaths.

In the emptiness of his paths, there remains nothing for him. His eyes shift, searching. A door beckons.

From the Dreamscape

Eye death

Eye death. Non-commercial use. (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Two figures lurch across an open field. These brothers come to stand mere feet apart, eyes locked as their hands steady above their belts. There are guns, somewhere, and knives eneath these, but the hands do not betray the moments–they know their duty to the instant, and so they wait. Morose reflections in a quaking mirror. One dark, one light–the clothes and the motions distinguish them, but no other differences pass between.

Pacing, pacing. Eyes close to the crunch of hard grass.

The twin illusions stop, fingers dancing along the surface of their weapons. Both draw, though only one fires before the instant has passed them by. The man in white lumbers and sways, clutching at his throat as thick rivulets of scarlet cascade down his pale flesh to dribble at his feet. Hope smothered in crimson denial–the reflections shimmer and fade as one image drops into the dust.

Darkness stretches as a shaking hand stretches out to him. He stares into the eyes of the fallen, but pays his hand no heed. Eventually, it slackens and falls, desperately scratching at the dirt. The shadows are cold. Though smiling beneath crazed eyes, the survivor’s dry hands fold hot and delicate over one knee. He’s stifling a laugh.

Poor fool. Certain things are set in stone. You cannot change what you aren’t destined to achieve. At any rate, you don’t have the will to do so. Checkmate. Endgame.

3…2…1…

Now departing…life.

A low, thundering note begins to stir as one cold, clammy hand reaches down to tangle in the soft locks of the broken reflection. Fingers coil and toy.

The image vanishes altogether.

Scene shift. Reel missing. Technical difficulties: don’t mind the wait. The beat is stirring, the tempo gathering as the bass begins to build.

A storm stirs.

(Part 1. To be continued.)

Short Story Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from a little story I just whipped up this morning, after a touch of reading on the rather lovely – *cue sad laughter* – state the media’s in. Always good to have a healthy reminder now and then, but in this case, it spurred a touch of the creative in me, and this is the beginning of that result. I won’t claim it’s perfect, nor anywhere near finished – but these are the first 450ish words of the 2,000+ word work I have going at the moment. I’m not even all that pleased, to be honest, with how it’s turning out at the moment…certainly not one of my finer works, and not my usual style, but a little external opinion’s always good to have with these uncertainties.

It’s a modern piece, grounded in my native Michigan. All companies and people and likenesses therein are imagined, not real, so please don’t go hunting around for skeletons in the closet. Any likeness they share with real people are purely coincidental…yada yada. You know that shpeal by now, I’m sure. As for the story itself, it’s a modern piece, supposed to address Media Consolidation, and its detrimental affects on society, as well as some of the little horrors we all-too often have no idea are racing by, right under our noses. This opening section primarily just sets up some of the main figures of our little piece here…

So without further adieu, I give you the introduction to what is ostensibly being called: “When all else fails.”

*

Time never much mattered to Daniel Doriddy. It came, it went, and always there was more besides—the established realization that as one breathed, it was unlikely that, in the next moment, that breathing would simply cease altogether. Life was a steady variable, and it, as time, seemed constant, abstract, intractable.

Death had never meant much to Daniel either, more a concept than a reality. He had never killed, never known anyone who died, and gave no thought to the limitations of his own all together timely existence. He thought in the moment and of the moment, and thought to remove himself as thoroughly as possible from any thoughts of past or future.

Yet at 12:03 p.m., on the first Friday of the fourth month of the year, his name became synonymous with death. Death consumed him, altered him, broke him—and the man, the voice, became the spokesperson of corporate murder. In 2015, more Americans had an opinion of Daniel Doriddy than of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Barack Obama.

Without ever trying, he was a man that changed the world, and neither he, nor they, would ever forget it. For a man that had never worried of the past, Daniel became defined by it.

It all began with a train.

At approximately 11:00 a.m., a train with the letters “BON” inscribed across the side of its cars left its yard outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, bearing with it nearly 400,000 gallons of a thick, greenish compound not so unlike anhydrous ammonia in bearing. Yet this was a new product, a new tool, even, some within the company had argued, a new weapon – or at least, it could be used as such, they claimed, before a defense committee. For the train, it was a trek made on average twice a month, and though the contents changed, the men handling it remained ever the same. Five men were always onboard: two transporters and the conductor, coupled with two additional men that identified themselves as security, answerable solely to the company itself.

Bon, as the company was known, or Bon Chemical, as its stockholders knew it, was an old company, founded in the midst of the Vietnam War. It specialized in chemicals both mundane and military, though it preferred to keep the latter under the table. Unlike some of its competitors, it had kept itself somewhat confined to rather rigid and efficient security protocols, which had long guaranteed a record of safety and reliability in their work.

Yet even the most cautionary cannot account for sheer dumb luck, and on that day, it played its hand, and many people were drawing cards.

*