Humanity’s Best

Part 1.

 

Chapter 1

 

The air was crisp and cold in the mountains of Banff, Alberta the day she left him.

Carter Kincaid stood outside of his rented suite in his pajamas and housecoat, letting his tears freeze on his face. Brody, his dog, pawed sadly on the inside of the door. He whines in commiseration with his friend. Inside his suite, on the dining table sat an elaborate breakfast, now cold and soggy.

The day started off so well, he ruminated. He swept into the dining area with a tray of pancakes and fruit. His girlfriend, Laura, was seated at the table. She was immaculate, makeup expertly applied, nails professionally done, not a strand of hair out of place. A perfect counterpart to his general shabbiness. Dirty bunny slippers, torn purple sweatpants, and a stained t-shirt depicting a large skulled mouse and his idiotic looking henchmouse. Brody was asleep on the bed. She looked up in surprise at his entrance.

“Breakfast is served, my dear!”, he proudly proclaimed.

“Kincaid,” she exclaimed. She had a vaguely irritating habit of referring to him by his last name. “What is this?”

He gently placed the tray on the table and began to dish out two plates. Fruit, pancakes and butter, then smothered in syrup and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. It was so enticing that his stomach gurgled in anticipation. He didn’t notice the packed bags.

Laura sighs, then blurts out, “Kincaid, I’m leaving you.”

“Whuh, Whuh?”, Carter tried to respond around a mouthful of pancakes and failed.

She stood up and moved to grab her bags. She made it to the door by the time Carter had pulled himself together enough to react. He stood up and moved towards her, bashing his hip painfully into the table on his way.

“Wait! Ow! Dammit! WAIT!”

She stopped at the door, eyes closed in determination.

“What the hell, Laura? You’re dumping me here? Just like that?” Carter waved his arms in perplexity. “What about the weeks of counselling we’ve done? I thought we were doing better now.” He rubbed the painful bump on his hip.

“Kincaid. I love you, I really do.” Her eyes were still closed. “I don’t love who I become when we’re together though.” She opened her blue eyes and looked at him, tears gently welling on the corners.

Brody padded out quietly into the room, his sleep broken by the disturbance. He eyed them both with concern.

“I need to get out and experience the world before I settle down into a career and a family”, she pleaded. “You are content to simply, BE.” Her tone was accusatory. “If I stay, I’ll resent it. And then, I’ll resent you for it.”

Carter stared quietly, sensing the end. He nodded in acceptance.

“I have to go. Goodbye, Kincaid…Carter.” Then she left.

“You ARE my world” The words whispered as they left his mouth. He closed his eyes and leaned against the wall. Brody sidled in beside him, placing his brown furry head directly under Carter’s left hand.

And then the tears started to flow, and Brody offered all the support he could manage.

 

Chapter 2.

 

Deep in the mountain range, Brody wagged his tail excitedly.

The view of the mountains had always calmed Carter. The Teeth of the World, as he thinks of them. Growing up in Canmore, in the shadow of the Rocky mountains, he always felt at home in their presence. The trip to Banff was meant to share some of his passions for the Rockies with Laura. Instead, she left him.

Drawing an a ragged breath after hours of crying, he turns to Brody and says, “Well, Bro? These mountains aren’t going to hike themselves.” Brody whuffs in agreement and trots ahead. A rescue dog from a reservation near Calgary, Brody walks with a limp in his rear legs gained from hit and run when he was a puppy fending for himself. His coat, various shades of brown, stands in stark contrast to the pure white snow he ably plows through. His limbs are long, almost gangly, but he strides with assurance and poise.

Carter follows Brody along the trail, lost in thought. Returning to his apartment in Vancouver seems hollow. He only moved there to please Laura. His job as a mid-level supply manager there also seems empty. But his friends, Matt and Aaron, whom he met while living in Vancouver, that gives him pause. Maybe there was something to return to after all.

The hike is invigorating and Carter is starting to feel a bit better. The cold is getting to him, so he stops for a few sips of coffee from his thermos and puts Brody’s winter clothes on. Brody has caught the scent of a squirrel and he is alert, ears up, body taught and eyes keen, on the lookout for his eternal enemy. He looks adorable in his blue winter jacket and boots, so Carter takes out his phone and snaps a few pics.

“Well, I know one thing,” Carter ruminates as he watches Brody sniff around. “You’re never gonna leave me are you, buddy?”

Brody dashes off into the forest.

“Motherfu-” Carter dashes off after him.

 

Chapter 3.

“BRODY!”

“GET BACK HERE!”

Following his dog’s pawprints has led Carter far off the hiking trail. The trees here are old and imposing. The cold has increased, his breath is frosting the air in front of him. The mountains echoes his cries back to him. Carter stops and listens, then he hears it.

Barking.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” The words slip out between hurried breathes. “Leaving his leash off, what was I thinking?” He follows the barks as best as he can. His concern for his dog has driven out all thought for his own safety. Brody is a good dog, but a little dim. He couldn’t survive a night out here on his own, even if it weren’t winter.

Brody is in a semi-circular clearing, barking at a tree. Tufts of snow fall from the tree. The dog has something cornered.

“God dammit Brody! You scared the crap out of me!” Carter approaches and pulls out his leash.

He reaches out to leash his dog when he notices it. A low keening in the air. Brody stops in his tracks, frozen. Carter stops as well, frozen by the sight of the snow that had fallen on his dog. Snow that was now falling UPWARDS from his coat and into the air.

He turns and see that all the snow in the clearing has risen and is gently drifting into the sky.

The keening noise increases to an ear-splitting level. Carter cries out and falls to his knees. Brody yelps and lopes off into the forest.

In the summer of his twelfth year, Carter’s parents were killed in a tragic accident on Highway 1, the TransCanada highway, on a trip to Calgary for supplies. An R.C.M.P. officer approached him as he played with his friends outside of his house.

Carter Kincaid?”, the man asked as he removed his hat and knelt. “I’m officer —– ——–, I’m here to help you, but you need to listen to me-“

Carter shakes his head, pulling himself out of his reverie. His head is splitting and he is seeing stars.

“Uhh.. what the hell?” He checks his watch. Hours have passed. The sun is low in the sky. Carter stands up and looks around. No sign of Brody.

The snow!

A circular patch of snow in the clearing has taken the shape of an emoticon. A smiley-face.

Carter regards this. “Oh no. This is not good-” The punishing keening sounds returns.

In the orphanage in Calgary where Carter spent most of his early teens, various counsellors would visit him and try to help him work through his sadness and depression. With very little success. Today, a smaller woman with red hair is in the office for his daily appointment. She smiles as he enters and sits down.

“Good afternoon, Carter!” She has an accent he’s never heard before except on the television. British?

She continues, “I’m —– ———-, and you must understand, something very important has happened to you and you need to listen-“

“NO!” Carter screams into the snow. He realizes that he is facedown on the snow covered ground. It is dusk now, he is freezing. Everything in his line of sight is covered in red. The pain in his head is so overwhelming that he retches into the snow.

“This is not right… my memories…” Carter staggers to his feet and tries to leave the clearing.

The tree in front of his path has an emoticon carved into its trunk. Frowny face.

“GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” He screams at the tree as the keening begins again.

In college, in his dorm room, his favorite show was on. Space travel, aliens, first contact between races. It sparked his imagination like nothing else.

The Captain was on the bridge, about to deliver another stunning speech in his impeccable English accent about the nobility of the human soul and it’s capacity for knowledge and understanding. But instead he said, ” Carter Kincaid, you have been selected for a continuing mission, one which requires you to be the best that your species has to offer. Furthermore-“

Carter jerks himself out of the snow. It is pitch black, or perhaps he’s gone blind. He is no longer in any condition to care. Blind mammalian instinct to flee drives him up and out of the clearing.

Running headlong out of the clearing, the slope of the mountain guides him downwards, faster and faster. Ricocheting from tree to tree, his progress comes to a complete stop as he collides headfirst into a pine tree. The sound of his head cracking against the trunk is loud enough to wake up several birds from their sleep. They squawk in displeasure.

Carter crumples to the ground. A rag doll strewn in the snow.

Beside him, an emoticon forms in the snow. Sad face.

The tree Carter smashed into also forms an emoticon. Angry face.

“I HATE THIS GAME!”

A teenage Carter had finally been adopted. His new parents had purchased a video game console for him as a housewarming gift. He has not mastered the game about the travelling plumber.

He sighs and picks up the controller that he angrily threw across his room.

Well, that was not optimal”, he says.

We will get it right this time“, the plumber responds from the television set.

 

Chapter 4.

 Carter wakes up from a disturbing sleep.

He is warm and toasty. Brody is sleeping at his feet. Then he remembers.

Jolting up to a sitting position, he looks around. He is at the base of a pine tree he has no memory of seeing before. The ground in a circular patch around him is clear of snow. The grass is curiously green and vibrant. He has soiled himself.

‘Aw, man…”

Brody wakes up and regards him. Then he stands up and stretches then gives himself a good shake. He doesn’t seem to mind Carter’s unfit state.

He spots the footprints in the snow that he must have left the night before. The urge to flee propels him up. He still has his leash on him so he secures Brody, then he hurries out. He follows his tracks back to the clearing from the night before but circles around instead of crossing through.

His car is where he left it. Finding a garbage bag in the trunk to protect his car seat, he secures his dog and hops in the driver seat. His car starts and they drive back to the hotel at higher than safe speeds.

The staff and a few patrons give him a funny look as he enters the lobby with his jacket wrapped around his pants, but they shrug. He feeds Brody then takes a quick shower and  changes his clothes, the he packs hurriedly and checks out. The front desk clerk eyes him his state of dishevellement.

“Did you enjoy your stay?”, he asks.

Carter gives him a look, the angrily replies, “My girlfriend dumped me and then I passed out in the woods, do you THINK I enjoyed myself?”

The front clerk nods, having already moved onto his next client at the desk. Carter sighs, then he and Brody leave. The drive home takes a full day, with numerous stops for Brody to relieve himself and a short sleep at a motel halfway home.

Carter pulls into the underground parking of his apartment the next day, tired but happy to be home. Taking the elevator up to his floor, he and Brody step out into the hallway. The door to his apartment is open.

“The Hell?”

Brody whuffs and runs into the apartment. Seconds later, squeals of delight emanate from his place. Carter rushes in. Three women are surrounding Brody, petting him and cooing at him. Brody is loving the attention. Carter recognizes them. Kim. Sammie. Vanessa. Laura’s friends.

Kim looks up at him, “Oh, hi Carter!”, she says sprightly. “Umm, we didn’t think you’d be back so soon.” Around his apartment are moving boxes packed with Laura’s clothes and personal items.

Carter drops his bags on the floor and walks over to the fridge. He opens the door and pulls out a jug of chilled water and pours himself a glass. After taking a long drink, he turns to them, “So, you guys knew Laura was gonna dump me?”

Awkward silence.

Vanessa walks up to him and gives him a big hug. “We’re so sorry, Carts,” she says, “we kept telling her what a great guy you are, but she couldn’t be convinced. We’re sorry we kept it from you.” The others nod in agreement.

Sammie, the shy one of the group, speaks up. “We’d still like to be friends with you, if that’s not too weird for you.”

Carter eyes them all speculatively, the pain of his loss temporarily brushing aside his encounter in the forest. They never once seemed displeased at his presence during the many group activities they did together.

“All right, I could honestly use more friends here.” The smiles from the trio could practically light the room by themselves.

Brody gives a short bark, upset that the attention has shifted away from him.

A sudden rush of emotion chokes Carter up. “Thanks guys, but I had a tough trip. Brody and I need some time to decompress. Can you finish packing up Laura’s things another time?” They nod and start to gather their things.

They each hug him on their way out and Vanessa stops at the door. “We’ve got the rental truck for a few days, so there’s no rush. You’ve got our numbers, call any one of us if you need to talk.” He nods.

He has the door almost closed when Kim barrels in. “Sorry! Sorry! I’ve got this, Laura wanted me to leave it on the counter by the bed for you.” She hands him an envelope and leaves. He closes and leans against the door.

He sniffs the envelope. Sure enough, Laura scented it with her favorite perfume. He slides a finger along the flap and eases it open. Inside is a letter written in her exquisite hand writing.

“Dearest Kincaid. I hope this letter finds you well.”

Carter shakes his head in irritation.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t deserve forgiveness, so I’m not asking for any. But I need to do this. I’m going on a European trip of self discovery. A five day tour of High Fashion and Spirituality catered by haute couture chief Arture De’risore. by the end, I anticipate that I will be renewed and ready to re-enter the world as a-”

Carter tosses the letter and envelope into the garbage.

“I’m really starting to dislike hipsters.”

Later that night, as he is asleep on his bed, Brody quietly creeps from his dog bed onto Carter’s bed. Carter snorts, then sleepily swings an arm onto Brody who soon falls asleep.

An image resolves into being beside Carter’s bed. Shadowy. Uncertain in shape. The being stares at Carter for a time, then glances at the dog. The image wavers, unfocused, then solidifies into a shadowy humanoid form.

The form drifts silently from the bedroom into the living room. The form examines the room. Bookshelf partially filled with books, mostly graphic novels of popular comic book superheroes. Framed photographs of him and Laura during happier times. Large screen television with an older model gaming console. It’s gaze finally rests on the computer. An older model, but still functional.

The form drifts over to the computer.

The computer turns on by itself.

The collected information of the world flows across the screen.

The form takes it all in.

The form learns a great deal.

Chapter 5.

Carter exults.

“Yeah! Suck it!”

Matt and Aaron shakes their heads in mock disgust at their friend’s over the top jubilation. It was their first boardgame night since Laura left, they were unsure of Carter would attend. But he did, with Brody in tow.

Matt’s wife, Karen, was out on a Ladies’ night with Aaron’s wife, Josie. Matt’s son, Jonathon, was delighted to have an evening playing with Brody, they loved each other. Barks and raucous laughter filled the hallway outside of Matt’s game room as the trio played games into the night.

Carter was withdrawn at first, seemingly unsure of himself, but the pair’s immature banter, slowly drew him out. They met at the local boardgame store and Carter fit into their friendship almost immediately, like a part they weren’t aware they were missing. They knew he was hurting, but they also knew that they could help.

Eventually, Karen and Josie returned from their outing. The guys left the game room to find Jonathon curled up on the couch with Brody, snoozing away. The ladies give Carter a big hug and Karen exclaims, “Carter, you’ve lost weight! You need to eat more!” Over his protests, she leads him into the kitchen and feeds him some delicious leftovers. Another hour goes by, with coffee and talking. And friendship.

Eventually, Josie leads a sleepy Aaron out to their car, and Carter leashes Brody and they prepare to walk home. Carter feels renewed. It begins to rain, lightly, then increasingly heavy. The streets are dark and poorly light, infrequently light by the occasional passing car.

Carter is happy. The last few days since his return have been upsetting and lonely. Kim, Sammie and Vanessa have been here and there to finish loading Laura’s stuff. Each time, one of them had brought him food. They did their best, but everything they did reminded him of the times they spent together with Laura. A night with Matt and Aaron helped tremendously. Even the rain felt cleansing against his skin.

The squirrel saw them approach.

It tensed in fear by the shrubs it was foraging through, then dashed across the street to the safety of a tree. Brody caught the movement, then unexpectedly dashed after his sworn enemy. His leash slipped out of Carter’s wet hand.

“BRODY”!

He barely had completed his shout when he saw the headlights approach.

Without thought, he dived after his dog.

A screech of tires on a water slick road.

A sickening crash and the sad yelp of a dog.

Minutes later, Carter opened his eyes. He is in the middle of the road. His dog Brody is in his arms, raised precariously over his head, whimpering and confused, but alive. The vehicle that was going to hit Brody struck him instead. The entire front end of it, an older model truck, he realizes now, has wrapped itself around him.

He is unharmed.

Shock and terror fill him. The rain suddenly feels ice cold. The air slowly fills with the smell of motor oil, anti-freeze and gasoline.

A voice speaks out of the darkness.

“Excuse me, but you really need to help the driver of that truck. He is quite badly injured.”

Carter squeals in surprise, almost dropping Brody. He awkwardly turns around as best as he can in the grip of the truck to see a woman in a long coat with an umbrella obscuring her face and protecting her from the rain.

“Whuh?…But…” His words fail him for a moment, then he recovers. “The truck HIT ME! I am literally stuck inside of its engine block!”

The woman taps her foot impatiently.

“Carter Kincaid!”, she says in a familiar english accent, “You are perfectly fine. The driver has sustained a severe concussion and broken his right radial bone and his left ulna, likely from throwing his arms up to protect his head. The steering wheel has also pushed into his chest, compressing his lungs. He is not getting enough air and will slowly suffocate without assistance. Now pull yourself free of the wreckage and help him.”

Feeling guilty, Carter nods his understanding. “Can you take Brody?” He offers the woman his leash. The woman steps back.

“I am sorry. I am deathly allergic to dogs.”

“Oh, sorry.” Carter looks around for a moment but there is no safe place to put Brody down. He shift Brody to his left shoulder and balances him with his left arm. Brody struggles but Carter calms him down. With his right hand, he plants it firmly on the right side of the truck end and pushes experimentally. Expecting little, he is very surprised to feel the truck slightly give way with a groan of steel.

He stares at the woman. “This is not possible! What is this truck made of, tin foil? There is no WAY that I should be able to move it like this, I mean-”

“CARTER!”

“Focus and save this man’s life!”

Jolted into action, Carter braces his back and pushes with his free hand. The truck folds open easily but with much grinding and crunching. He squeezes out of the wreck and  crosses the street and secures Brody’s leash to a sign post. He examines himself. Dirty, wet, but whole. The impossibility of the situation threatens to overwhelm him, but then he hears a slight moan from the cab of the truck.

In the truck is an older man, with salt and pepper hair tied back in a loose ponytail. He is wearing a jeans jacket with a leather vest over top, blue jeans and worn leather boots. His weathered hands and face show that he has seen many years of outdoor activity. Carter recognizes the man. He lives in the neighborhood.

The door to the truck is locked. He glances at the woman, then sighs and grips the door. His fingers ease into the frame like it was made of clay. In one tug, the door tears off. placing the door down, he takes a better look at the driver.

“Huh. No seat belt.”

“Nevermind that,” the woman interjects, “You’ve got to get him to a hospital.”

“Fine. I’ll call 9-1-1.”

“Is that a good idea? How will you explain what happened?”

Carter looks at the wreck. “I can’t.”

The woman steps closer, the umbrella still obscuring her face. “Carter, I can HELP you, but you have to trust me. And more importantly, don’t ask questions. I will explain later but for right now, go. That way is the hospital. Run.”

As Carter gently eases the man out of the truck, Carter’s eyes light up.

A three-dimensional image of the immediate area appears before him. Directional arrows pointing in the direction of Burnaby Hospital.

“WHAT IS THIS IN MY EYES!?!”

She cautiously responds, “Why, it’s a navigational system overlayed onto your Heads Up Display.”

“MY WHAT? WHERE? WHO ARE YOU?”

“Carter, please! I’m detecting swelling in his brain, you must get him to the hospital right away!”

“How? I’m supposed to run him there? I can barely run one block!”

The woman spins her umbrella nervously. “Erm, not quite. You may want to close your eyes.”

Carter feels a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“I am not going to like any of this am I?

Across his field of vision, the words Tutorial Flight Mode Engaged slide by. With a sickening lurch, Carter feels his feet leave the ground. His screams echo through the sky, followed by Brody’s distant howls.

Closing his eyes does not help.

Chapter 6.

The next 30 minutes are a blur.

Carter Kincaid finds himself soaking wet and sitting in a hospital exam room bed with a warm blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a piping hot cup of coffee in his hands. His heart rate is finally slowing down and the shaking in his hands is diminishing. The surrealness of his situation is slowly being replaced by normality.

A nurse walks in. “Mr. Kincaid, good news. Your friend is in surgery now and the doctor expects that they can drain the swelling with little difficulty. His other injuries will heal with time and rest. You did an amazing thing, carrying him here in this weather. Everyone here thinks you’re a hero.”

Carter droops his head lower. “I’m not a hero. I just happened to be there… in this weather…”

“Crap! My Dog!”

He grabs his jacket and races for the door. The nurse yells after him, “Mr. Kincaid! You need to fill out your friend’s admittance forms! You’ve also had quite a shock and need to rest!”

Carter yells over his shoulder, “I’ve gotta get my dog! I left him outside in the rain! I’ll be back to do the paperwork! Promise!” And he runs out of the building.

Half a block away, he finds a wallet. Stopping to pick it up, he opens it. Inside is a small bundle of cash, plus a debit card and credit card. Some ID belonging to a Gunner Krogh. A licence with a photograph of the man he carried to the hospital.

“This must be where I landed,” he muses. The idea now seems laughable. Adrenalin, hysteria, too many beverages at Matt’s place. The list of non-crazy alternatives grows in his mind. The rain has stopped. Carter tucks the wallet into his jacket and runs off.

Carter arrives at the scene of the accident some time later, curiously not out of breath for a sustained run like he just performed. He tucks that disturbing thought away for later. The police are on scene. They have a couple of cruisers with lights on full, plus a tow truck preparing to hitch up the damaged truck. A pair of officers are struggling to pick up the door that he so effortlessly tore off and place it in the back of the truck.

Brody is hiding a shrub as much as his leash allows him. Loud noises and flashing lights frighten him. He is very quiet. Carter considers that a small blessing as he discreetly unhooks the leash from the sign post and he and his dog causally walk away.

Safely back at his apartment, Carter hugs Brody fiercely. “I love you SO MUCH, you dumb dog, but you have to stop running away! My life gets so much worse when you do that!” Brody whines a little but accepts the rebuke. He licks Carter’s face in contrition. Feeling emotionally spent, Carter turns in early.

Carter wakes up and feels the need for water. He eases out of bed, so as not to disturb Brody, and walks to the kitchen. Illuminated by the refrigerator light, he takes a long drink of cool water. He idly notes the rain pelting against his windows. Raining again, not unusual for Vancouver in winter. He is crossing the living room to return to his bed when a voice breaks the silence of the night.

“Carter Kincaid, it is time we had ourselves a little chat.”

Carter squeals and leaps over his couch looking for cover.

Brody angrily barks and charges out of the bedroom, dragging the blanket that was covering him.

Carter desperately reaches for the lamp on the counter by the couch and flips the light on.

In the space between the kitchen and the living room stands a woman wearing a grey military style jumpsuit with orange striping for accents. Her skin is also grey, but a shade lighter. her jet black hair is short, slicked back over her hair. Her eyes are solid gold with black pupils.

“Brody! Kill!” Carter gestures imperiously towards the intruder. Brody looks towards the spot where his friend pointed. Then casually walks over. He sniffs the air, perhaps catching a whiff of something unfamiliar. He then turns towards Carter and sits. He cocks his head, waiting for clarification.

She smiles condescendingly. “I’m afraid your companion lacks the senses to detect me,” she says in an irritatingly perfect english accent. “And even if he could, he lacks the intelligence to-”

Whuff!

She continues, “and even if he could, he lacks the intelligence to-

WHUFF!

She stops and smiles a small, unpleasant smile.

“Carter Kincaid,” she looks side eyed at the dog. No response. “I am your personal holographic interface to the Confluence Induction Field that has been implanted in you to assist in your obligation as Sector Representative. Of all your species, you have been chosen to bear this glory and obligation. Congratulations.”

Carter stares blankly for a minute. Then he sits on the couch and grabs the remote for the television. He spins the remote in his hands for a bit, then balances it on one finger. He looks at the remote as it balances on his hand.

“So, that’s it then.”

“I’ve gone insane.”

Brody pads over and rests his head on Carter’s lap.

The grey woman stares for a moment, then disappears. She re-appears in front of Carter. Startled, he drops the remote. Her stern visage softens.

“Carter Kincaid, you are as mentally stable as anyone else on your planet, which does not say much. Your species is remarkably unbalanced.” The smirk returns.

“Your incident in the mountains was not a mental break, nor an aneurysm, as you deluded yourself into thinking. You encountered our Long Range, First Contact team and they chose you to fulfill their purpose.”

Carter rests his head in his hands.

“They? Who? Why?” Disbelief is written everywhere on him.

The grey woman sighs.

“Your species has trained itself to sit and watch for much of your lives, so here,” the television turns on. “Sit and watch this.” Images spin across the screen, wondrous and terrifying.

Brody falls asleep on the couch.

Chapter 7.

 

An endless black void filled the screen.

Then an expansion.

Energy and matter are flung out into the endless void in all directions. They interact in various ways. Stars, then planets, form. Galaxies are built. A particular spiral galaxy comes in focus. The focus shifts to one of the arms. One star, nine planets and a whole lot of debris zoom in. One planet in particular now. Mostly water, one moon. Then one landmass, cities and roads, the zoom continues.

One apartment. One room. One man on a couch watching tv with a dog asleep,

Then it rewinds. The universe at half the size. A smaller, denser galaxy than the Milky Way. The image focuses on a moon sized object hurtling through a planetary system. It is moving towards one planet. Mostly water, one moon. The rogue planet collides with the moon, shattering it into three large objects, raining hell down on the surface below.

The inhabitants of the planet grew up in fear of the three orbiting celestial objects. They were nearly extinguished in the collision. The sky fell on them.

Millenia later, the fear persisted. The inhabitants became industrialized, burning fossil fuels with increasing demand. Science allowing them to see farther and farther into their region of space. Then they saw it.

A rogue planet passing through their system. The species collectively held their breath as the object passed by harmlessly. Almost harmlessly. The planet plowed through an asteroid belt, dislodging a multitude of world ending missiles directly at them.

The species waited for the end.

Then the three shattered pieces of their moon swung into place. A rare celestial occurrence that none gave any heed to. Acting as a shield, the remnants of the moon absorbed the majority of the deadly missiles. The species was saved.

Fear turned to love and the concept of the Shield was forever ingrained in the species.

Rampant industrialization was curtailed in favor of beneficial research. The love of the Shield sparked a species wide surge in compassion, safety and understanding. Within a generation, a new, clean energy source was discovered. The Confluence Induction Field.

The Induction field provided unlimited energy. Reactors powered every aspect of their society. It allowed them to push free of the gravity of their world and into the stars. As their reach extended, the though of possible contact with unknown species thrilled them. How they yearned to share their knowledge with others and create a Unity in the depths of space!

Through generations of exposure to the Induction Field, a Grand Change occurred. The species slowly shed their material forms and became living conduits of the Confluence Induction Field. It was they and they were it.

In this new form, faster than light travel was possible. Entire vistas of new worlds were discovered , and on a precious few of them, sentient life existed. The species eagerly sent diplomatic envoys to make contact and establish meaningful connections with their new neighbors.

It was a disaster.

The new species would not, or could not, accept that intelligent life existed in the universe that was not them. Genocidal wars were raged on each planet over the idea. Religous extremism, atheistic self-annihilation, sychophantic displays of power meant to sway these new “gods” lead to over a dozen worlds destructing themselves.

The species was unprepared for this reaction and mourns the loss of those races to this day.

A new approach was considered.

Travellers, sent in pairs, out into the vast reaches of space, would find worlds with intelligent life forms and single out an individual member. That individual would be connected with the Confluence Induction Field and given the mission of preparing their species for connection to the Unity. How that individual achieved that goal was left to them.

The television switches to an image of Carter Kincaid, on his couch, with Brody sleeping peacefully beside him.

Then it goes black.

Chapter 8.

Carter Kincaid dreams of flying.

Through cities, over oceans and high into the sky. Skimming the upper edge of the atmosphere, with the Earth below, Carter stretches his arms out and switches his view to the stars, taking in Infinity.

Freefalling back down, Carter swoops low over a teeming metropolis. The rooftops are crowded with cheering people. An enormous statue looms out over the bay. It is him. The crowd roars.

Carter! CARTER! CARTER!

Someone is knocking on his door.

“Carter! Carter! Carter!”

Carter groggily gets up off his couch and goes to the door. Peeping through the eye hole, he sees Vanessa. He checks his watch. It is late afternoon.

He opens the door with a yawn. “Oh, hi Vanessa! I was sleeping. What’s up?” Brody bounds over the couch and nozzles her affectionately.

She gives him a welcoming hug, but pulls back quickly. “Whoah! You stink! Take a shower soon!”

Vanessa takes out a set of keys and hands them to Carter. “Forgot to give these to you, it’s Laura’s old set. We’ve finished moving her crap yesterday.”

She eyes him speculatively. “Are you all right? You look a little rough.” She scratches Brody behind his ears, he is in heaven.

Carter stretches his neck. “Just, had a couple of weird days, you know?”

“Well, take that shower and join us tonight. The gang is meeting for drinks at 8 at the local. See you there?”

“Uh, sure!” Carter nods enthusiastically, suddenly aware of his stench.

She nods and moves in for another hug, but is stopped by the smell. She fist bumps him instead. “Okay! See you at 8!”

Carter closes the door. He turns and looks at the television and thinks of the information it gave him. No sign of the grey woman either. The shower calls to him.

One delightful shower later, Carter is walking back to the hospital, sipping an amazing coffee. The grey woman appears beside him.

“I think she likes you,” she observes.

Carter stops cold. He gently bops a clenched fist against his forehead. The coffee cup quivers in his other hand.

“All right, assuming that I’m not suffering from a schizophrenic break and I’m somehow still in command of all my mental faculties, and assuming that everything you’ve told me is true, why the hell are you giving me advice about my relationship status?”

The grey woman looks at him. “I am the greatest artificial intelligence that your planet will ever likely see, I can multi-task.” She smiles.

He shakes his head and continues on. The hospital is just around the corner.

“So, who ARE you? What do I call you?”

“I am your Personal Holographic Interface. Your Guide to the Confluence Induction Field. I’m here to help you adapt to the power within you until they become second nature.” She looks down and kicks a rock. The rock flies off with the force of a cannonball. Carter watches the rock with a look of surprise. When he looks back at his companion, he sees that the rock is still there.

“Mostly, I am here for exposition.”

Inside the hospital, paperwork awaits. Carter finishes the admission for Gunner Krogh. Visiting Gunner in his room, he sees that both of Gunner’s arms are in casts and his head is bandaged. An I.V. is plugged into him and a heart rate monitor as well. Carter feels terrible.

“Poor guy.” He stands by the foot of the bed and rests his hands on the bed rails. “I am so sorry, man. I had to save my dog.” He takes a seat and sits by Gunner for a while. He does not wake up. Carter takes out Gunner’s recovered wallet and flips through it. A photograph, old and weathered, of a younger Gunner seated on a motorcycle, with an attractive blonde woman in his lap.

“I need to call his job and let them know he’s injured. Where does he work? Crap, he can’t lose his job because of me!” He flips through the wallet one more time but finds nothing that helps.

“Dammit! Heal faster! Wake up!”

“I can help.” The grey woman walks into the room. Carter looks up. “That’s great! With what?’

“Both. I can run a search on his personal information to find out where he works. I can also scan his medical records and suggest ways to improve his recovery.”

Carter nods. “Do it! Uhm, Guide! That’s what I’ll call you from now on. Guide.” He nods again. She sighs.

“Gunner Krogh works at the Zeitgeist Pulp mill, in Richmond.” She rattles off a phone number for the supervisor’s office. “Gunner Krogh has diabetes, type two, loosely controlled, and a damaged liver, likely from excessive alcohol consumption, though no new damage, indicating that he has been sober for some time. Estimated five years. This is all in addition to his current medical issues.”

Carter blinks in surprise. “Wow, that’s impressive. What do you recommend we do to make him recover faster?”

Guide responds, “I suggest that you infuse him with a micro dose of Confluence energy, to supercharge his body’s self-repair systems. That will speed up his recovery significantly, but not so much to be suspicious.”

“I can do that?” She nods, “Just touch him and I will activate the connection.”

He touches Gunner’s hand. An image scrolls by in his field of vision, Healing Induction Initiated. Carter is about to let go but Gunner suddenly grips his hand. Carter looks up and Gunner is staring intently at him. Then his eyes gently close as sleep overtakes him.

Carter stands up and shakes his hands, unnerved. “I can just DO that? Heal people? What else can I do?” He rushes out of the room and into the hallway.

Guide responds, “At your preliminary stage of experience, very little. Enhanced strength, speed and kinetic resistance. More abilities will be available with experience. Like flying.”

Carter puts his jacket on. “But that healing thing, that’s something I can do right now? Whenever I want?”

Guide nods. “It is such a minor drain on your energy reserves that, yes, you can.”

Carter smiles. He spends the rest of the afternoon visiting patients in the hospital, shaking their hands and offering words of support. Eventually security escorts him out.

Chapter 9.

Carter Kincaid revels in his newfound ability.

Taking a day trip to Grouse mountain to hike along “The Grind”, as the locals call the hiking trail. Carter and Brody have stepped off the beaten trail to test his strength. Finding a boulder about a meter wide, he grips it firmly and heaves it up over his head. It moves easily. He tosses it up  six meters and catches it. Guide is resting on another boulder nearby wearing reading glasses and writing into a notebook. Brody is vigilantly examining each tree in the small clearing and marking his territory.

She looks up and adjusts her glasses, peering with her gold eyes at his efforts. “That is approximately an 165.5 kg stone you are lifting. Excellent work!”

“Now break it.”

Carter spins the boulder a couple of times, then puts it down. “Isn’t that going to hurt me?” He ineffectually tries to crack his knuckles.

“Unlikely. Your kinetic resistance should make it feel like punching a block of cheese. Just strike here.” A bullseye appears in Carter’s eyesight, with the center in a small blemish in the otherwise uniformly coloured stone.

Carter is thrown off by the notion of cheese punching, but winds up and swings with a shout. “Hah!” The rock shatters in two with a loud crack. Bits of rock fly out in all directions. Brody yips in surprise.

Guide smiles primly. “Well done!” She stands up and gestures with her hand. “See that tree other there? Jump over it.”

The tree is eight meters tall and stands apart from its tree friends. “Well,” he says, “It’s no tall building, but ok!” He shakes his head and takes a running jump. And clears it. The landing is a little different. Carter hits the ground with a crunch and rolls a few extra meters.

The world spins for a few minutes, but then Brody appears in his line of sight and licks his face in concern. Guide walks into view and bends down to peer at Carter. She adjusts her glasses, “You’ll have to work on your landings, it would seem.” Carter groans  miserably.

On their way back to the car, Brody bounds ahead. Carter rushes after but sees the object of Brody’s attention. A young girl in a flower snow suit and glasses is standing near a SUV and is squealing in delight at Brody’s arrival. She runs up and starts petting and hugging him. Brody is in his element here: the center of attention. Carter spots the rest of her family packing up their car

Carter approaches his car and opens the trunk. He pulls out a water dish and a jug of water and begins filling it. The young girl can be quietly heard whispering to Brody, “Just be quiet, OK? I’ll sneak you in the trunk and you can live with us.” She is petting and hugging Brody so much that it makes Carter’s heart hurt.

The girl’s family call her over and she reluctantly steps away. Carter hears her plaintive cries of, “But! But! The puppy!” Then the van doors close and in moments the vehicle pulls away. Brody looks on sadly. Then he turns and trots up to Carter for a drink of water.

“Geeze buddy,” Carter ruffles his fur, “You are a heartbreaker.”

After dropping off Brody at home, Carter heads out for a short visit with Gunner. It has been a few days since his last visit and he is feeling guilty about it. The other reason for his guilt is that his conversation with Gunner’s supervisor at the Zietgiest Pulp mill did not go well.

Gunner is awake.The older man is sitting upright in his bed reading a newspaper and wearing glasses. His forearms are in casts and his head is still bandaged but the bandages are smaller. Carter stops at the doorway. He looks up.

“Hello! You must be Carter,” he says in a deep baritone. He takes off his glasses. “The nurses talk a great deal about you. You’ve rarely been from my side, they say. have a seat.” He gestures to the seat beside him.

Carter’s heart is pounding in his chest as he sits down. Gunner seems much larger when he is awake. “Uh, the nurses talk about me? Hello, by the way.”

Gunner nods and tries to adjust his position in bed. He winces in pain and stops. “Ah! I keep trying to use my arms. Need to let them heal.” He settles back down. He rests his arms on his chest.

“They say that you talk to yourself when you think no one is listening.”

Sweat breaks out on Carter’s face.

“Yeah, yes well,” he responds, “everybody has their quirks, right?”

Gunner gently reaches for a cup of water on the stand beside his bed and takes a sip. He eyes the door before he continues.

“Is one of your quirks being able to stop a truck cold by merely standing in front of it?”

Dead silence fills the room. Carter is sweating profusely now. Guide appears on the other side of Gunner’s bed.

“He knows your secret,” she says. “Kill him.”

Carter explodes in a fit of coughing. “WHAT?”, he manages after getting himself somewhat back under control.

Guide shrugs. “Or not, I don’t care. How you manage your gift is entirely your responsiblity.” She disappears.

Gunner, for his part, has slipped out of bed and shuffled over to the water dispenser. He returns with a cup of cold water and hands it to Carter, which he gratefully accepts. Then he sits on the corner of his bed and watches Carter take a few sips.

“You were trying to save your dog. I understand that. I apologize for nearly hitting him. Him, or her?” Carter nods at the first one. “Ok, he looked like a mutt. Mutts are good. Purebreeds have too many issues to make themselves useful at times. They are not good survivors.” He nods at that.

Carter’s mind is racing. “You suffered a head injury. I think you hallucinated it. No one can take a hit from a fast moving truck and stop it cold.”

“Please believe that,” he thinks to himself.

“I don’t believe that.” Gunner slides back into bed as an orderly comes in with cart filled with trays of food. The orderly takes a tray and hands it to Gunner. On the tray is a plate with sliced apples, each with a dollop of peanut butter on them, and a small container of yogurt with a spoon. He smiles and nods to Carter.

“Why, Mr. Krogh, I’m happy to see your friend here today!” Gunner nods and takes a bite of an apple slice. The orderly takes the cart and wheels it out of the room.

Around mouthfulls of food, Gunner continues, “I’ve lived a hard life. I didn’t get this far by being unobservant.” He raises his shirt to reveal numerous scars across his body, including two small circular marks on his chest.

“I saw the fear on your face as you dove in to save your dog. Fear is natural, fear is good. Fear keeps you sharp. But you acted. You are a good man, I think. I haven’t seen many in my life. I certainly wasn’t when I was your age.” He smiles ruefully.

Finishing his apples, he puts the plate on his side table, and the yogurt as well.

“I was drifting in and out for a few moments afterwards. I heard you arguing with someone. Then I saw you bend the front of my truck like it was made out of cardboard.”

Carter nervously considers fleeing the room, but does nothing.

“It was my fault,” he finally manages. “The leash slipped out of my hand. I saved my dog but nearly killed you in the process.”

“But you fixed it somehow, didn’t you?” Gunner spins the empty tray in his hands. “The bonesaws say I’m recovering as though I were a man half my age. Your doing?” Carter nods glumly.

“You don’t know what the hell you are doing, do you, Carter?” Another glum nod.

Gunner sighs, then leans back in bed. “I’m getting tired. Do you mind getting me another cup of water?” Carter snaps up. “Of course! No problem.”

When Carter  returns with the cup, he leans forward to hand the cup over. Gunner smiles, then smashes the tray into Carter’s face as hard as he can. The tray shatters into pieces. Gunner cries out in pain.

Carter is unhurt. He shakes his head to clear off bits of plastic that had stuck to his face. He is dumbstruck.

The orderly races back into the room. “Mr. Krogh! What happened? Are you ok?”

Gunner is holding his arms up, eyes pinned shut in pain. “I dropped the tray, Greg. I tried to grab it and smashed my arms against the bed frame. The tray shattered. Carter here is helping to pick up the pieces.”

Greg the orderly nods. “Ok! I’ll get the night nurse here right away!” He turns and runs out of the room.

Carter bands down and picks up a few pieces of debris. When he stands up, the shock has worn off.

“What the HELL, man?”

Gunner is rocking back and forth, grimacing against the pain. He forces his eyes open and looks at Carter.

“Forgive me. I needed absolute proof about you, I am sorry that I doubted.”

Carter takes his pile of broken tray pieces and dumps them in a nearby garbage bin.

“So, are you indestructible?”

Carter sighs. “No, just highly undamagable.”

A nurse rushes in. She starts examining Gunner’s arms, then stops and turns to Carter.

“Sir, you should leave. Visiting hours are nearly over. We’ll take care of your friend here, even though he clearly wants to stay as long as possible!” She turns back to her patient.

Gunner replies, “It’s only because I enjoy your sponge baths. I have never felt so pampered before.”

Carter turns to leave, but Gunner stops him one last time. “Come back tomorrow friend! We have much to discuss.”

Carter Kincaid leaves, wondering just what he has gotten himself into.

Chapter 10.

Gunner Krogh lost his job.

That was the news Carter meant to deliver, but he was blindsided by Gunner`s demeanor. He gave Gunner the bad news the next day when they met, but Gunner seemed not to mind.

“I have some funds saved, I will survive,” he said. “I always do.” He turned to look at Carter, “I think I am where I need to be next.” Carter Kincaid felt reassured and uncomfortable at the same time.

A friendship grew between them. Carter was relieved to have someone to share his story with and Gunner found something that he had been looking for: a renewed purpose. Brody was afraid of Gunner initially, but was won over by his quiet assurance.

The two week vacation he had planned with Laura that went straight to hell, had ended. Carter went back to work at his uninteresting job with it’s uninteresting people. The office life no longer held his attention.

Talking to his Guide was also frustrating. He had no idea what to do with himself.

“Carter Kincaid,” Guide said, tilting her head as she awaited his response, “Humanity is on the verge of extinguishing itself. You, as chosen representative of the Unity, have the responsibility to unite your people and lead them away from this path. Towards us. Towards Unity.”

Carter angrily replied, “But how? How can I stop a world full of hate and distrust?” Switching on his television, he is swamped with news of genocide, hatred, greed, environmental disasters, weather catastrophes.

“By being a shining example of what the best of humanity can be. Or by conquering the planet and subjugating the populace. Or by leaving humanity behind and joining the Unity. Or, you could burn the planet down and then join the Unity. The choices are nigh limitless.” She smirks.

“Carter, you are the sum total of your world’s experiences.” She is leaning with her back against the kitchen counter. “Every incidence of war, famine, plague, peace and plenty is etched upon your existence. You simply CANNOT make an incorrect decision here in regards to how you deal with your planet: any choice you make is exactly what your species has conditioned you to make. You are perfect, at least in regards to what your planet needs.”

Again, that irritating smirk.

By the end of his shift on Thursday, Carter is ready to quit. Gunner phones him while he is taking Brody out for a walk and trying again to make sense of his life. He had been thinking about calling Vanessa.

“Carter, my friend!” Gunner’s deep voice resonates from Carter’s phone. “We have been talking a lot about Purpose. Yours and mine. I think I have found something to help us in both our quests.”

“I need you to go to the Shipyards in North Van, and I need you there by 11 pm.”

Carter slowly responds, “Gunner, what’s this about? What is going to happen at 11?”

Gunner takes a long time to reply. “Once, long ago, I was a different man. I have still maintained some of my connections to that old life. I…”, he hesitates, “I made a choice today Carter. I believe in you, my friend.”

“Go to the docks, and listen. Just…Listen. And find your purpose. We both have a long night ahead of us. I burned some bridges tonight. If I survive, I will contact you. Good-bye.”

Carter looks at his phone for a moment, blood suddenly cold. He and Brody hurry back to their apartment. With Brody safe, he calls Gunner.

No answer.

Carter drives over to his house. A small, older house whose best days are behind it. No answer at the door and the lights are off. He checks the clock on his phone. Time is running out to get to the docks.  He makes his way there.

Heavy clouds are rolling in off the ocean. A squall. Carter sits in his car a block away from the dock. The clock on the car radio reads 11:00. He is nervously tapping his fingers along the steering wheel. He looks to the passenger seat. Guide is there.

“Carter. It’s time.” He leaves the car. It begins to rain, then sleet.

The shipyards are busy, and well lit. Massive argo containers are being loaded and off-loaded from ships and onto tractor-trailer trucks. There is a great amount of noise.

Turning his back against the wind and sleet, Tries to listen. Machinery. Engines idling then revving. The wind whistling past his ears. His own anxious thoughts spinning around and around in his head.

“HOW CAN ANYONE LISTEN TO ANYTHING WITH ALL THIS NOISE!!!”

Sound Filters engaged.

Sudden silence.

“You can do that?” he turns to Guide. She is bundled up in winter clothes and is holding an umbrella. She gives him a dirty look.

“No, Carter. YOU can do that.”

“Now, what do you want to listen to first?”

Carter thinks for a minute. “Uhm, give me it all, then we’ll take off one sound at a time.”

Moments pass by as the man and the hologram pare down all the available noises until one, or several identical noises catch their attention. Crying.

Weeping and crying.

“Oh no…Guide, where is that coming from?” He already knows.

“I’ve marked the containers, six of them on your Heads-up display.” Guide has a look of concern on her face.

Carter fights back the very strong urge to run away. He shakes his head. “I can’t go in there like this. I can see dozens of cameras.”

Guide walks over to him and places a hand on his shoulders. “I can take care of that. No one will recognize you.” Carter looks down. His clothes have changed. A grey military style jumpsuit with bright orange striping and a cape, dark orange with grey striping.

She smiles. “I noticed the vast collection of comics you have. I thought you would approve.” He smiles and nods. She continues, “Your Heads-Up display will shield your face and mark your current objectives. Just act, and don’t second guess yourself.”

Carter Kincaid runs and easily jumps over the four meter tall fence.

And into history.

Chapter 11.

Gunner Krogh was bleeding and cornered in an underground parkade.

Taking cover behind a parked car, He takes stock of his inventory. A custom six-shot revolver, chrome plated and shoulder holster. A gift from an old friend. An old friend now lost, taken by death. Opening up the cylinder, he shakes out six empty shell casings. He pockets them in one and pull out six new bullets from his other pocket. His last six.

In his chest pocket, he finds his favorite pair of old shades. Round, black, very old. A key FOB for a truck. A pack of his favorite cigarettes, unopened. and a zippo lighter. He hasn’t smoked in five years, on the order of his doctor. He keeps the pack on hand for a specific situation. The situation of his imminent death.

He thinks about lighting up now.

Gunner notices footsteps walking into the parkade. Three pairs. He finishes loading the bullets into the gun and clicks the cylinder into place.

A voice calls out, “Krogh! You can’t keep this up forever, old man! All this running around is bad for your heart!” Raucous laughter from the other two.

Gunner drops his head in concentration, mapping out in his head the exact position of each car in the lot and attempting to pinpoint his assailants location. Then he pops up and fires. two shots.

There is a cry of pain, then the sound of a body hitting the pavement. Then the return fire. He drops back down as the car he is using for cover is peppered with bullets. He listens. Assault rifles set to full auto. They mean business.

He looks at his gun. A relic, like himself. The sleek chrome finish is tarnished and worn. Two shots gone, four left. He regrets leaving his glasses at home. Pride telling him that he didn’t need them. In the old day, before his eyes went, he would have been able to tag all three. The hard way it is.

He takes careful aim, and shoots out the light over his head. Three shots left.

Bullets rake his cover. A tire flattens. “Don’t try anything funny, you crazy bastard! We’ve got you pinned down! It’s over.”

Gunner takes a breath, then pops out of cover, firing off two quick shots, each striking a parkade light. As he suspected, the other shooters have taken cover. One shot left.

The return fire catches him in his right shoulder as he tries to duck back into cover. His custom jacket blunts some of the force of the multiple impacts, but a few bullets break through. His right arm, his shooting arm, is useless.

The parkade, however, in engulfed in darkness.

Gunner pulls himself up and back against his cover. A pair of lights flash out in his direction. He pulls off his belt and uses it as a tourniquet on his right arm to staunch the blood.

“OKAY!” He yells out. “Okay! You got me! I’m throwing my gun out.” With his off hand, he tosses his gun into the center of the parking lot.

A voice yell out, “Stand up then, Gunner. A quick end is the best we can do for you.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Gunner takes out his old sunglasses and places them on awkwardly with his left hand. Then he slowly and painfully stands up and moves into the open. His back against a row of vehicles and he is facing the entranceway.

The flashlights swing as new ammunition is loaded into their rifles.

“Dead in a parking lot.” The flashlight on his right flicks directly in his face. “Not the way I’d want to go out, my friend. But then, people in our line of work rarely get to choose the manner of their exit, do they?”

Gunner nods. “Took the words right out of my mouth.” He turns on the FOB concealed in his right hand.

The parking lot floods with light as the truck he was standing in front of activates all of its lights. The men cry out in shock and confusion as they are blinded. Gunner, facing away from the truck and wearing sunglasses, is spared. He has only moments to act.

He lunges forward, towards the shooter on his right. With his good hand, he grabs the rifle in the shooter’s hand and pulls the trigger, haphazardly spraying bullets in the direction of his ally.

It works. The second shooter is shredded by gunfire. He topples to the ground.

The remaining man struggles to pull his gun away as the clip runs empty. Blinking furiously, trying to regain his sight, he swings his rifle wildly, hitting nothing.

“You son of a bitch! You’re not walking away from this!”

Gunner lurches away from his swing, then steadies himself, lining up his next strike. With a sure swing, his sturdy steel-toed boot connects solidly into the groin of the man. He drops heavily.

Staggering a little, Gunner walks over to where he threw his gun. Picking it up, he notices several new scuff marks on it. He tsks. One shot left.

The man has rolled over and onto his hands and knees. He wretches a little. He manages to squeak out, “You think we’re done with you?”

He glares into the barrel of Gunner’s weapon.

“This is just the beginning.”

The last shot echoes throughout the parkade.

Gunner Krogh lurches towards the truck and slides into the driver seat. He leans over and pulls out an emergency medical kit from the glove compartment. He binds his wounds as best as he is able and swallows a couple of painkillers.

Plugging in his phone to the truck, he hits the autodial number for a SANDOZ. The number rings three times, then a sleepy voice answers, “Krogh? I was just about asleep.”

Gunner replies, “Wake up, I’m coming in hot. I’ve been shot, a couple of times.”

A string of expletives stream out of the phone. Then, “Fine! I’ll get the suite ready. Short notice means double the fee, remember?”

“I remember. Just get ready.” Gunner hangs up. He looks at the clock on his dashboard. 11:20.

He starts the truck and drives out, carefully maneuvering around the corpses. As he exits the garage, he dials one more number: 911.

“Hullo?” His voice and tone changes. “I was driving near the shipyards in North Van and I heard multiple gunshots. It sounds like a warzone in there!”

Sleet pelts against his truck as he drives away into the night.

Chapter 12.

Officer Kiala Mc Connell laughed at a joke her best friend shared with her.

Patrya Smith leaned in close as she doubled over with laughter at the table in the late night coffee shop that they frequented at during Kiala’s shift. The staff eyed the pair distastefully. Snow slowly built up outside.

Kiala lifted up her drink and took a careful drink, still giggling at her friend’s sense of humour. Her fiery, unruly hair strained to be free from the confines of a tight ponytail and patrolmen’s cap. She took a look over to her cruiser. Inside sat her partner, Jim Constable, diligently working on a crossword puzzle. Officer Constable, she loved that name, and gently teased him about it often. He was in the car, wanting to give the women some time together and he enjoyed his puzzles.

“K, you are wasting your time walking your beat, when you should be working with me in my studio.”

“Oh hell no! I’d rather be taking mug shots than family portraits”.

Patrya insisted that Kiala was wandering down the wrong path in life but understood that her friend’s service fulfilled her in a meaningful way. Kiala was immensely impressed with how talented a photographer Patrya was, and how successful she became. But they both agreed that while they made a formidable pair, working together would be a terrible idea.

Patrya takes out her ever-present camera and snaps a picture of her friend holding her beverage in both her hands, framed against the snowy window. Then she pans around the cafe, taking in the late night humanity in all its various colours. Kiala watches her friend and admires her ability to find beauty even in the mundane.

Then Kiala notices a confrontation occurring at the main til. A man is leaning over and haranguing the woman at the station. The conversation is becoming heated.

“I am gonna sue this place for discrimination!”

” I told you sir, we do not sell cigarettes! Please leave.”

Kiala steps up, “Is everything all right here?” As she approaches, a palpable cloud of stale alcohol emanates from the man. He turns with an angry look on his face but it vanishes into a disgusting leer.

“Well, hello officer!” Her dislike of him increases by an order of magnitude. ” I was merely trying to elucidate the ignorate help here about the slipshod quality of service they are currently providing. I’m sure an educated woman such as yourself can appreciate such eloquent assertions.” He smiles, unaware of how often he slurred during that disjointed speech.

She mentally sighs. “Sir,” she glances at the nametag of the woman behind the til, “Maxine here asked you to leave. I suggest that you follow her instructions.”

The man stands up straight. “I will not leave until I am satisfied.” He reaches out a hand to place on Kiala’s shoulder. “Unless, maybe YOU can help with my satisfaction?…”

Patrya snaps a few pictures, “Uh oh, bad move man.”

Kiala snatches his hand just as it touches her shoulder. “DO”,

She twists his arm around, “NOT”,

He gasps out in pain, “TOUCH”,

He suddenly finds himself in a reverse arm lock, “ME!”

She drags him to the exit and shoves him through the door. “Have a good night sir, I would hate to write you up for drunk and disorderly. Go home.”

The man awkwardly stumbles out, rubbing his arm with a hurt look on his face. Then he wanders away into the storm. Patrya laughs.

Maxine thanks her for her help, and Kiala returns to her seat. Patrya shows her the action photos she took. Constable walks in, shaking snow from his hat. He looks concerned.

“We gotta go, Mc Connell, Something big at the North shipyard.”

Kiala gets her things, “Big? Turf war?”

Jim shakes his head. “We’re on point. Up to us to find out.”

“Wait,” jumps in Patrya, “Turf war?” She stands up as well, camera in hand.

“Don’t even think of following us, Pat. Your mom would kill me if you got hurt.” The wounded look on her face tells Kiala that Pat is listening. Patyra sits down. “Fine. Jerk.”

As the cruiser speeds away, Patrya counts down from sixty, then gets up and leaves. Soon her car takes off into the night in the direction of the shipyard.

Patrya catches up to Kiaka and Jim as they are slipping on their bullet proof vests just outside of the Shipyard. Explosions ripple through the air as well as bullet fire, being slightly baffled by the office buildings in between and the heavy downfall of snow and high winds.

Jim glances her way as Patyra exits her car. “Told you,” he says to Kiala as she moves to the trunk of the cruiser. She opens it and pulls out two shotguns, then hands one to Jim. She angrily says, “You better hope you don’t get shot, because if you do, I will kill you.”

Patyra is scanning the area with her camera. “Look! By the gate!”

The officers peer through the downfall and see that a dozen woman are clustered around the gate. A few are trying to climb the chain-link fence. None are dressed for the weather.

‘That’s not good.” Kiala pulls out a set of bolt-cutters from the trunk and starts running over. “Call it in, Jim! We’re gonna need everyone!” Patrya follows.

Patrya gets some stunning shots of her friend opening up the gate and guiding the women towards her cruiser and Jim. An explosion throws off her next pic, but her third shot shows Kiala firing her shotgun at someone out of frame.

A shot of Officer Mc Connell charging down between cargo containers.

Another photograph of her, from ground level as she is leaning out from behind cover and firing her shotgun.

A graphic photo of a clear area between crates, filled with unconscious men armed with assault rifles. Piles of bullets are spent in the snow.

Her next photograph, which local newspapers will call,

“Mystery Man rescues Enslaved Women”,

And which History will one day call,

“The Day the World Changed”,

Reveals:

A container tipped over from its place on the second row, precariously balancing one end on the top of the ground level container.

Officer Kiala Mc Connell standing out in the open, Her shotgun pointed at the person on top of the container. Her normally determined face is frozen in a look of shock and fear.

A man is standing on top of the metal container, impossibly holding one of the container doors over his head. The door has been ripped off the tipped bin. He is dressed in an outlandish grey outfit with bright orange striping and a cape, similarly grey and orange, blowing in the wind. His head is covered in a highly reflective helmet that is covering his face but leaves his mouth open. He is turned from the container entrance and faces Kiala, his mouth is open in surprise.

From the open door of the spilled container, scared women are crawling out to freedom.

Chapter 13.

Carter Kincaid is having a weird day.

Now he is standing in front of a police officer pointing a shotgun at him.

It was all going so well: Leaping the fence and making his way to the nearest marked container. A pair of workers confronted him about not being allowed there. It was simple to rip open the door and show them the caged women inside. The workers ran off then.

Armed guards arrived. Carter threw up his hands in self-defense. That didn’t stop them from opening fire.

Bullets. So many bullets.

Carter couldn’t stop himself from diving for cover. His speed and mobility vastly superior to those of the guards. He leapt away over the containers. The weather gave him a great deal of cover, the guards had trouble pinpointing him. He made it to the second container and pried it open. Women, dirty and screaming at him in languages he didn’t understand. Trying to direct them to safety was not working, their fear and lack of communication driving them to the edge of hysteria.

Guide informed him that guards were converging on his location, which was putting the women in danger. He slapped his hands together to get their attention. The shockwave blasts throughout the entire shipyard. All of the other machinery comes to a slow halt as the other workers and guards realize that something is wrong.

Carter stared in shock. The women in the container were cowering and covering their ears. He has their attention. He points to all of them with one hand and with the other, points towards the gate. They understand and leave.

More leaping. More guards. Two more containers were opened.

A poorly timed leap put him in the center of a group of guards. They opened fire without hesitation. Carter cowered as the bullets rained down upon him. His screams echoed through the facility. Then the bullets stopped.

He was unharmed. Completely. He was standing in a snowy field of spent ammunition.

He looked at the guards. They were staring in fear at the impossible man in front of them. Then they started to reload their rifles.

“STOP!” Carter leapt at them, fear and anger propelling him. One after another, he shoved the men into the adjacent containers. They each hit heavily and slide unconscious to the ground. Soon, he was standing alone.

With the fourth container open and the woman freed, Carter leapt towards the last bin. He landed in the snow and slipped. Struggling to right himself, he noticed a group of guards approaching. They were holding something in their hands. His Heads Up display identified the object as grenades.

They threw. He leapt, too slow. The explosion propelled him into the top container, crashing into it and tipping it off the bottom container. He could hear the cries of pain from the trapped women inside.

“I AM SO SORRY!” I cried into the upturned container. He scrambled up and watched the guards spread out. Taking them out took time, and more explosions. But they fell.

Jumping back up to the tipped container, He ripped off the door and shouted to the women that they were safe. He was exhausted emotionally. Then he heard a woman shout, “Freeze! Police!” He spun, still holding the door over his head as he saw a police officer holding a shotgun toward him. He also heard the click of a camera.

“Uhh,” He looks around. The area is clear of armed guards. It is very quiet now but for the blowing of the wind.

He gently puts down the door, leaning it against the bottom container. Pointing to the open bin, he says, “These woman need medical help.”

“Help is on the way,” she confidently declares, her momentary shock dissolved. her aim is steady. “Now get down here.”

He hops down.

Kiala Mc Connell can clearly see her reflection in the stranger’s helmet. The snow isn’t sticking to it to it at all. He is smiling nervously.

Another camera click.

“There are dozens of armed men, all unconscious. Did you do that? How?” Staring at herself is making her feel self-conscious.

Carter looks around. He ventures, “Luck?” He can hear the sirens approaching, many of them.

“Look, I heard these women crying for help. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.

Guide walks out from behind the officer. “Carter, you need to make a choice. Stay and reveal your abilities to the world, or leave. Choose quickly.”

“Where can I run?” He looks around. There is just the bay and the street, and the street was quickly filling with police and other response teams.

“Who are you talking to?”, Kiala demands. Radio in the helmet perhaps? “Stop That!”

Guide responds, “Well, I suppose that you could activate your Trainee Flight System and leave. I’ll plot a course for you to safety.”

“Oh-kahe,” Carter  replies through gritted teeth.

He lifts off the ground.

“What the FUCK?!?” Kiala steps back in awe.

Patrya snaps dozens of shots of  this scene. The costumed man lifting off and flying out into the bay.

“I got it!” Patyra fist pumps victoriously as she runs up to her friend. “All of it!”

“I…” Kiala steps back, “I don’t believe it.”

“You don’t have to believe it, baby! It happened! We’ll be famous!” Patyra does a little dance in the falling snow.

Officer Mc Connell merely stares into the sky, certain that her world has just gotten stranger.

Chapter 14.

Within twenty-four hours, the world took notice.

The talking heads on television circulated Patyra Smith’s photograph, making her the most sought after photographer in the world. The internet was aflame with commentors arguing for and against the validity of her photo. Her work was conclusively proven as often as it was disproven. Her work number was ringing non-stop with reporters clamouring for an interview.

Patyra hired a publicist, a local woman named Kahleesi Jones to handle her social media. Kahleesi was a firebrand, worthy of her namesake, and made short work of those looking to defame Patrya, while cultivating worthwhile contacts in the media with usable soundbites and press clips. With her guidance, Patrya smoothly ascended the ladder of fame.

Officer Kiala Mc Connell was placed on administrative leave following her part on the incident. She was forbade from even mentioning that she was there. She was interviewed multiple times by various departments. given surprisingly thorough medical examinations on numerous occasions and refered to half a dozen psychological experts. Her face was also plastered on the internet and various media sources. The Vancouver Police department did their best to conceal her identity, but the world found out eventually.

Her small apartment in west Vancouver was flooded by paparazzi and she was forced to enter witness protection for her own safety. She was infuriated by this invasion into her personal life. Stalking across her small, dingy motel room, she stopped in front of a tall full body mirror. She looked at herself and saw the scared, uncertain woman who stood in front of an imposing man with a mirrored helmet.

With a roar of fury, she spins and strikes out with a perfectly executed roundhouse kick to her ‘face’. The mirror shatters into hundreds of pieces. She steps back and sits down upon her bed. Armed officers charge into her room. The find her with her face in her hands, trying to come to grips with what she experienced and her own reaction to it.

Gunner Krogh convalesced in Miles Sandoz’s underground medical facilities. Calling it a ‘facility’ was an overstatement. A concealed bomb shelter with decaying, obsolete equipment, Sandoz offered a neutral location to get medical services without unwanted questions. For a price. Gunner was now looking at a severe financial deficit with limited promise of recovery.

But it was worth it. Flipping through the newspapers showed him that his faith was rewarded. Kincaid was revealed to the world. A God existed among men. Things would never be the same.

Carter Kincaid hid in his apartment for two days straight after that night, certain that the authorities would knock his door down at any moment. Brody was afraid for his friend, and paced uncertainly for long periods of time. There were a few ‘accidents’.

His friends Matt and Aaron phoned him, just to check in on him. He failed to return their calls. Vanessa called as well. And again the next day. Work phoned as well, he missed his shift on friday. He called them back with a weak excuse about feeling under the weather.

Carter dragged himself into the shower on the third day. Brody was excited, hopeful for the return of his friend’s old self. Exiting the shower, he headed to the fridge. Largely empty. He was suddenly starving.

The knock on his door startled him so much he nearly dove through the wall and into his bedroom. Brody barked excitedly.

“Carter?”, Vanessa called through the door. “I can hear Brody! Are you ok in there?”

He opens the door and lets her inside. Brody is beside himself with joy. She nearly gags with the smell of stale dog and stale man. “Oh my God! Open some windows, please!”

He rushes to do so, and Vanessa looks at him, pale and unkempt. “What the hell happened to you Carter?”

Carter has the windows open and takes a deep breath of fresh air. The snow has already melted and humidity is in the air. “I’ve…I’ve had a rough couple of days…”

“Dammit, what did Laura do to you, you are a mess!” She moves to hug him, carefully smelling him before committing. Unable to explain completely, an emotionally exhausted Carter starts to weep gently.

“Come on, you doofus,” she says affectionately, “Let’s take Brody for a walk.” Brody yips in encouragement.

After a pit stop for a delicious coffee, the trio are off and walking through a nearby park. Carter feels fortified by the caffeine and the company. He experimentally reaches out with a hand and brushes it against Vanessa’s. She takes it and squeezes it with reassurance.

“Thank you for this.” He looks out as Brody frolics among the mossy trees. He looks awkward, with his long limbs and large frame, almost cartoonish. But his grace is undeniable. Brody looks back at the pair and barks, encouraging them to follow him farther along the path.

“Have you seen the news lately?” Vanessa shifts the topic. “Everyone is going crazy over the flying man! So weird, right?”

“Yeah,” he replies, “I honestly don’t know what to make of that.”

She looks up into the sky. “Is he a superhero, like in the comic books?” She looks at him, her eyes are brown and very deep. He finds himself falling into them. “Can he save us?”

Carter Kincaid is lost in her eyes for a moment, but recovers. “Maybe he’s not here to save us. Maybe he is here to inspire us to save ourselves.” He stops in mid-step.

“What’s up?” Vanessa is a half-step ahead, still holding his hand and is nearly pulled off her feet by his sudden change.

“Well, I think he’s inspired me,” he says. “Can I, MAY I, kiss you?”

She leans in and they kiss.

She pulls back, still holding onto him, “Thank you for asking, Carter Kincaid. I’ve had far too many douchebags just lunge in and kiss me like I’m some sort of bullseye. I’ve gotten pretty good at the side head tilt to evade those unwanted attempts.”

Carter smiles. “I’m not perfect, but I am trying to be better.”

Three days later, and the sea is rough as the Vancouver Translink Seabus leaves the downtown core for its daily trip to North Van. It is rush hour and the passengers are anxious to get home. Another storm is blowing in.

The harbour it travels through is littered with the debris of over a century of development. The rough water dislodges some ancient piece of a seafaring vessel that sank a long while ago. That ancient item swiftly rises to the surface. The seabus is unfortunately in the way.

The crash is felt throughout the vessel. Warning Klaxons sound at all levels of the ship. The passengers start to panic.

“What the hell was that!”, the The Captain shouts. One of his officers shouts back, “Our port pontoon struck something with enough force to puncture her! She’s taking on water!” Panic is rising in his voice.

“All right, call it in! With this weather, we’re in danger of sinking fast!” He turns to another seaman, “And start handing out the life jackets!”

The passengers begin screaming as the rough water starts to seep into the main deck. The crew look on with fear. Minutes pass by with no sign of emergency response. Each wave the ship crests tips the vessel a little more, and water flows in faster.

Suddenly, the vessel levels out.

The crew and passengers look out through the port side windows and see a miracle.

A man in a grey jumpsuit with orange striping and a cape, with a mirrored helmet is holding onto a massive metal chain. The chain is attached to a large anchor and the anchor is imbedded into the frame of the ship. Impossibly, the man is in mid-air and holding the chain, which is supporting the ship.

“HI!’, he yells.

“I CAN HOLD THIS STEADY UNTIL HELP ARRIVES!” And he does.

Rescue ships arrive and helicopters as well, covering the flying man with dozens of spotlights. The rescued passengers. as they transfer to the other ships, look up with wonder and fear. News helicopters start to circle.

“HEY! YOU WITH THE CAPE! WHO ARE YOU?” One of the news crews brazenly yells out.

Carter Kincaid is fighting off a panic attack. Floating, in mid-air, with the world watching him. He is reminded of something Guide said to him, about “being a shining example of the best Humanity can be.” An example… He swallows down an urge to vomit.

Increasing the volume of his voice so that everyone can hear it, he replies,

“I AM THE EXEMPLAR.

End Part 1.

Midnight at the End of the Universe pt. 6

Isolde Drarm grew up alone.

Her intelligence set her apart from the other children her age. They never knew what to make of her. Sometimes they teased her. Usually, they left her alone.

Mathematics, literature, even music. They all came so easily to her. She advanced through the education system rapidly. A prodigy, they called her. Praise rained down on her, but only, it seemed, when she excelled. Companionship however, eluded her. She was always alone.

It wasn’t until her freshman year that she found her first friend. Hustling across the campus, anxious to not be late for her next class, she collided with a fellow student. Alika was her name. She was setting up a stage for a public meeting for the university’s LBGTQ alliance. Flustered and riddled with anxiety over the incident, she apologized again and again. Alika smiled and accepted Isolde’s apology, wringing out a promise to attend her next speech.

When Isolde was able to attend Alika’s next speech, she was impressed. Alika had a natural grace and eloquence that made her seem mesmerizing. Unperturbed, even when a small group of trolls started heckling her, Alika stated the mission goals of her group without missing a beat and received a standing ovation.

Isolde shyly spoke to Alika after the meeting and was again amazed at how gifted a speaker she was. Alika had a gift at understanding people, at seeing to the heart of them, and helping create a connection between the two. Isolde, without fully understanding it, was falling in love.

Their friendship was deep and insightful. Alika helped Isolde to understand herself and her complex feelings. Being several years her senior meant that Alika could not return fully return Isolde’s affections, much to Isolde’s dismay. But, she eventually accepted it. Alika was the first to give her the nickname “Izzy”.

Izzy received a curious text from Alika one night. Izzy was doing an all night practice session before an important exam. The message said that Alika was woken up by a strong smell in her room, but the thought of getting up to find out the source of the odor was making her dizzy. Her last words were that she was going to ignore it and try to sleep through it.

Isolde managed an A+ on her exam. She hustled over to Alika’s dorm room to tell her the great news to find one of Alika’s other friends crying in her room. A stroke had killed her friend overnight and Isolde’s world collapsed.

Struggling to make sense of her best friend’s death, Isolde threw herself into medical science, her other passions forgotten. Her need to understand Life and Death pushed her into the top of her field. And other related fields. The possibility of life on other worlds and what form that might take sparked her imagination.

Life on Earth was lonely without her friend.

Onboard the Remembrance, the massive, rotating space station, Captain Katherine MacNamara was luxuriating in a zero gravity shower. Squeezing rinseless soap and water from pouches onto her body, then towelling off the excess moisture, Katherine hasn’t felt this clean in months. The Calamity had run out of personal cleaning products some time ago.

Exiting the shower room, Katherine floated over to the closet of the officer’s quarters she had discovered. Opening the doors, she discovered it full of uniforms. Rifling through them, she found that they closely matched her size. Donning a fresh uniform, she continued her search of the room. No personal items, no pictures, no name on the door. A blank room. Were the clothes and cleaning products shipped ahead of time? Who unpacked them?

As she left the room, she saw Isolde leaving a room farther down, also in a fresh uniform. A smile involuntarily broke across Katherine’s face. Izzy was radiant, even with a frown upon her face. Isolde saw her and smiled back. “They have toothpaste, Mac! I brushed my teeth!”, she exclaimed.

“I know! It’s amazing!” Mac floated over. “Everything is here for us! We can live here comfortably, and once we make it to the command area, we should be able to find out what happened to the crew and occupants.” The stress of the last 8 months and the terror of the void slowly was slipping from her body. She gently takes Isolde’s hand in hers, “Come on, let’s finish this.” Isolde nods and together, they leave.

“Officer’s quarters are here,” Katherine muses, “so Command should be just ahead.” The officer’s deck has numerous features that the pair pass by: workout room, small cafeteria, a break room filled with games and screens, and a small corporate branded coffee shop. “Everything for the officer on the go,” Isolde mutters. She motions to tie back her hair, but remembers that she cut hers short last month. Phantom hair syndrome.

“Why is this station here?”, she asks.

“Why does it have exactly everything we need?”

Mac turns to her, “This is a miracle. A Godsend. A chance to start over.” Her eyes soften. “We can start over Izzy, a fresh start”. She smiles.

Isolde looks at her, longing and confusion warring inside herself. She pulls her hand away from Katherine. “Too many questions…”

Isolde moves on, past her captain, to the command deck.

The door is locked. Electronic passkey. Isolde looks at Katherine and motions to the scanner. Katherine takes out her old passkey, the one she used on the International Space station, and taps it on the scanner. To both their surprise, it beeps pleasantly and changes color to green. The door opens.

The Command module is impressive. Row upon row of computers monitoring the day to day life of the Remembrance. Comfortable chairs. Plenty of room. Cheerful aesthetics. The Commander’s station is majestic: three banks of screens, terminals surrounding a deluxe chair. The entire station at one’s fingertips. Mac slides into the seat.

Running her fingers over the console, Mac feels connected to the entire station. The hairs on the back of her neck start to rise. A faint noise catches her attention. Barely audible. She’s heard it before, when they first entered the station. So familiar…

“Hey Mac”, Katherine is jarred out of her revery by Isolde. She is floating by a bank of monitors. “One of these monitors is picking up sound from somewhere.” Katherine starts punching in commands into her view screen, zeroing in on the source. A flashing icon catches her attention. Command level access required. Curious, she punches in her ID.

Isolde, after flipping through two dozen cameras, discovers Jax in the auditorium. Jax is singing a love ballad to an empty theater. Isolde listens for a while, impressed with his skill. She turns to Katherine, “Captain, I found Jax. He’s the source of the noise.” Katherine looks up from her screen that she was reading intently, annoyance clearly written on her face.

“What is that idiot up to? Where is Abe?”

“Uh, don’t see him anywhere.”

Katherine’s eyes keep flicking back to her screen.

“Izzy, go grab Jax and then see if you can find Abe. Come back here once you’re all together. I found something that could be big.”

“Yes sir,” Isolde salutes sarcastically and leaves the command room.
Euthros peyya

 

The title makes to sense to Katherine but the contents of the information packet thrill her to her core.

The Remembrance has a massive Hadron drive and the crew had orders to use the time dilation effect from activating the drive to “ride out” millions of years as the black hole collapsed and “spat out” a new universe. Then the Remembrance would seed life on nascent worlds using genetic material stored in the central hub of the station.

“Seeding new life…” she mutters as information flashes across the screen.

“Izzy and I could live together, again and again, across thousands of worlds, throughout history!”

Pulling up a file on the central hub, Katherine feverishly plots a course to the genetic sample storage area.

Isolde makes her way to the auditorium as Jax continues to sing. He stops occasionally to perform skits. The external speakers of the auditorium have been turned on and Isolde can hear every word, every inflection. Jax can uniquely modify his pitch and tone to appeal to a variety of audiences. As much as she hates Jax, she is impressed by his ability. “No wonder he was the most famous man on earth.”

The Auditorium is fully illuminated as Isolde approaches, flood lights shining on every corner and into the “sky”. The doors are locked, however. Shouting futilely against Jax’s songs, Isolde finally storms off in search of a communication console, cursing herself for not equipping a communicator when she was in Ops. She waits a surprisingly long time at the console waiting for a response.

Katherine finally appears on-screen, the image behind her shows that she is no longer in Ops. “Oh, hey Iz, did you find the others?”

“I’m at the stadium but can’t get in. No sign of Abe here. Where are you?”

Katherine smiles, “I found something amazing! Forget the others and meet me in the central hub, R&D area. Oh, and swipe your access card, I’ve improved your security rating. You should now be able to enter all areas of the station.”

Isolde complies, confused at her captain. “Forget the others? That’s not how we do things. For better or worse. we’re Family. The only ones we have left.”

Captain MacNamara sighs and relents. “You are correct Lieutenant, I apologize. Just meet me here and we’ll find Abe together.” She switches her screen off.

Isolde looks at the blank screen for a moment, then swipes her access card. With her new status, she easily accesses the cameras and runs a search for Abraham Standford, starting from the cafeteria where they were last all together. Jax is singing a power ballad in the background.

The security cameras are ubiquitous throughout the station, and provide unparalleled imagery of the events that happened.

Abraham, looking sad and forlorn, sings an obscure and slightly disturbing song.

Thomas Jackson turning and assaulting him viciously.

Thomas throwing the prone body of Abe out of the cafeteria.

Abraham’s body floating through the empty central corridor.

He seems to come to near one of the elevators, a complete wreck.

He drags himself onto the lift and activates it.

Abe exits the lift and painfully makes his way to the E.V.A quarters and then climbs into a suit.

He exits the station and spacewalks to the nuclear cannon machinery.

He enters the cannon via an access port and waits patiently as the cannon powers up and fires, disintegrating him instantly.

The blood flowing through Isolde Drarm turns to ice as Jax hits the high note in his song. She looks back to the auditorium and spots that the main doors are now open. Breathing heavily, her senses fully aware, she cautiously moves towards the elevator bank.

A Meditation on the Self.

I am a writer. But I am now blocked.

I was writing a story. Chapter by chapter. Week by week. I have been unable to finish my work. I sometimes sit and stare at my unfinished work, mentally punishing myself for my inability to end the story.

The words are there. I cannot make them leave my mind and take their place on page.

I am depressed.

The depression is not the result of my not finishing the story I’ve written.

I suffer from depression. It has been a lifelong condition, it seems. My constant companion.

I grew up in a house filled with abuse. I was abused.

Was is the cause of my depression or would it have occurred regardless? My thoughts spiral along the path of self-doubt: the path that abuse sets before you. The thought pattern that abusers drive into you.

I have spent years fighting the grip of depression. I have sought help from counsellors and doctors. I am on medication. I daily wage a silent war to confront my darkest thoughts and challenge them, striving to change them into positive or at least, neutral thoughts.

After years of therapy and medication, I have come to the conclusion that I will never be rid of my constant companion. At best, AT BEST, I have learned enough techniques to keep the darkness at bay temporarily. Muted, but never eliminated.

Some days, it is a snicker behind my back, on others, a scream that drowns out all other thoughts.

Spending time with my friends helps immeasurably. With them I can laugh, and joke, and for a time, forget. Talking about it helps as well. I spent far too many years internalizing my suffering. Developing the strength to speak of my experiences has been liberating. Even writing these words down here has been helpful.

The wave of depression will break. The writing will continue. I will be myself again.

I am Ellis.

Midnight at the End of the Universe pt 5

A thunderous rumble tears through the E.M.S.X Calamity. A screen sputters and flares to life in the darkness. An image of Abraham Stanford resolves slowly, switching from black and white to full colour. He is speaking.

“I’ve never had a lot of use for religion. Science has been my guiding star through life. It might have been an adverse reaction to my childhood. My parents and family are all extremely religious and they really expected me to follow in their footsteps. When I told my folks that I wanted to go to M.I.T., they just about disowned me.”

“Near the end of getting my Masters of Aerospace engineering, my dad came to me and told me of a Festival that was about to occur in my small coastal hometown. The Festival only happens once a century and is supposedly older than the colony of european settlers that eventually became the U.S.” He shrugs in disbelief.

“I couldn’t make it. I was so close to completing my masterpiece, the theoretical miniaturization of the Hadron collider that eventually led to my berth onboard the Calamity“, he gestures around to the room he his in. He shakes his head. “The look my father gave me. The disappointment in his eyes haunts me to this day.”

“He said to me as he left that by turning my back on my family, I will become ‘diminished’. That I’ve lost my place in the glory of our God. Forever.”

“I’ve never understood that. I mean, I’ve travelled the world over, when I was displaying the model of the Calamity and her inner workings. Everywhere I stopped, I took the time and spoke to holy men. I spoke to Christians, Bhuddists, Judaists, and dozens more. You want to know something creepy?” Abraham leans in close to the camera.

“Not one of them knew of the faith of my people. Not one.”

“I even had a chance to speak to a Ngangkari of Australia. He had no clue either, but he did tell me that there was a darkness out in the world, waiting. Waiting? For what?” Abe shakes his head and returns to his seat. “I grew up listening to tales told by my grandparents. Insane tales. Crazy. Were they all members of a cult? What bullet did I dodge by not going back with my dad?” He smiles and leans back in his seat.

The screen abruptly cuts out.

Aboard the Remembrance, Isolde Drarm is silently following her Captain, Katherine McNamara as they explore the kilometers long, slowly rotating space station. Her belly is full, but anxiety is making her feel slightly nauseous. As Mac stops and takes a long drink from a nearby fountain tap, Abraham’s last words ring hollowly in Isolde’s head.

“Death is coming for us.”

Since leaving the shopping district, the pair have been travelling through what seems to be a manufacturing area. Warehouses stacked upon warehouses, flowing from ground to ceiling overhead, then back to ground. Zero gravity makes optimal use of space here. The entrances are all locked. Electronic passkeys are required.

Katherine pulls out a small flashlight from her utility belt and shines it in several windows. “Dammit! Resource manufacturing at out fingertips and we can’t get in!” She pounds her fist against a door. Isolde looks at her, fear is sinking it’s claws deep into her. “It was a bad idea to leave Abe alone with Jax. Abe hasn’t been right since his breakdown. Combining that with Jax’s near sociopathic level of narcissism, the results could be explosive.”

Jax has acquired several cosmetic products and personal care items from a convenience store and is now busily applying them, as his own supply was dangerously low. He has not left the shopping and entertainment district yet, against the Captain’s orders. His companion Abraham is floating among the aisles, mournfully staring at the products on display. He picks up a magazine and flips through the pages.

“Jackson, have you seen this?” Abe holds out the magazine towards him. “The date, look at the date. It’s the same month as when we left Earth.”

Jax tears his gaze away from the mirror that he is using and glances at the magazine. “Big deal, bro. Rags like these are never up to date. Sad, lonely people read them because they have nothing better to do.” He moves the mirror around at various angles, examining his handiwork. He is pleased.

Abraham floats over to a nearby counter. He grips the top, braces himself, and pulls against the top with all of his deteriorated might. The countertop holds firm against him. “This all seems so real,” he mutters. He leans back and stretches out, cracking and popping audible along his spine.

“You know, all of this reminds me of stuff I heard as a child.” Abe leans against the countertop and looks out along the main walkway of the station. “The Universe is Alive. It has will, cunning, and determination. My folks used to say that one day, the Universe will Wake Up from its Endless Dream, and us humans, everyone everywhere will cease to be.”

“By performing the holy litany at the proper times, and making the necessary sacrifices (of what?),” Abe shudders, “my people believed that they were keeping the Universe asleep. They believed they were saving us all.” He picks up a pack of chewing gum and flicks it aimlessly down the corridor. “What if, when we turned on the Hadron Drive, we killed the universe before it had a chance to wake up and become whatever it was supposed to become? What if the universe, whatever remnants that are left anyway, is angry?”

“Crazy right?”

Jax is flipping through the magazine that Abe gave him, totally uninterested.

Abe pulls out a locket that has been hanging around his neck and opens it. Inside is a tiny photo of his daughter Jane, smiling and holding a bunch of flowers. Dandelions in full bloom. Her favorite. “My father taught her an old song, how did it go?” Voice raw and out of practice, Abe sings.

The song is old, older than Abe realizes. The words speak of a solemn promise, of servitude unending and of maintaining the Eternal Slumber ere disaster falls. The song conjures images of a world too fantastic to believe, of a world where creatures older than Man arise from the sea and teach mankind the importance of maintaining the Rites of Slumber and performing the blood sacrifices of livestock and occasionally humans. Abe has heard this song throughout his lifetime, the words are only that. Words. But to others?

Jax just about manages to cave Abraham’s head in with a stool. Tears are bubbling around his eyes. and a few drift away around the convenience store.

“Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!”

Abraham’s head bounces off the countertop. Jax flails about, pummeling Abe with any limb that gets close enough to reach him. Each blow pushes him away and he struggles to regain his position. Soon droplets of blood float randomly around the store. With a grunt and a heave, Jax throws Abraham’s near lifeless body out of the store and gently floating down the walkway.

The Song. The SONG. Rampaging through his head, drowning out all of his vapid, self-centered thoughts. The Heretic dared say aloud the Holy Words?

Jax grabs his head, uncertain. “Whuh…what just happened?” His heart is racing, blood is pounding, his hands are shaking. And covered in blood, he just now noticed. Looking around, he see the drops of blood floating aimlessly around the store. Frightened, he kicks out and leaves the store.

Abraham floats gently down the corridor, bouncing off walls, floor and ceiling. A pack of chewing gum ricochets off of him. His eyes slowly open.

A tiny hand reaches out and grabs the packet. Expertly, a stick of gum is removed and unwrapped then placed in a tiny smiling mouth.

“Hi Daddy,” Jane Stanford says around a large bubble she has blown.

“I’ve missed you.”

Thomas Jackson floats through the entertainment area, dazed and confused.

“Abe!”

“Abraham!”

“Where did you go buddy? Something weird happened and I need some help!”

As he drifts past a large theater, a noise catches his attention. Quiet, but slowly increasing in volume.

jax!

Jax!

JAX!

JAX!

Cautiously, Jax enters the theater. As he enters, cool air conditioning caresses him. The smell of beer and fast food waft over him. There is no one around and yet Jax can feel an excitement in the air. A familiar tune is playing over the PA system, one of his songs. With a smile on his face, Jax moves towards the center stage. Spotlights sweep across row after row of empty seats. The main stage is awash in multi-coloured lights. Three massive screens flash with images of Jax at various points of his career. On the stage is a microphone on a stand.

Jax happily floats over and takes his place on center stage.

The crowd roars and the station rumbles.

“Calamity?”, Abe croaks, fighting back tears. “Oh, my daughter, my beloved, I never thought I would see you again.” Slowly, painfully, he reaches out to embrace her. He finds his left arm doesn’t work as well as it used to, but no matter. She is here. With him. As she warmly returns the hug, they both break down into tears.

“I told you that I would always be waiting for you to come home papa, even when I was sick, don’t you remember?” Jane sniffles and wipes away her tears. “We’re all waiting for you, grandpa and grandma and all our neighbors from home. Everyone we knew, expect for mama, I don’t know where she is.” Jane looks around concerned.

“Calamity, Jane my dear,” Abraham coughs violently. “I’m hurt, badly.” Jane kisses her father lightly on the cheek. “Don’t worry Papa, I know where we can fix you! Follow me!” She skips off towards the lifts. Abraham agonizingly follows.

At the central hub, after a long trip, Abraham exits the elevator to find his daughter putting on an E.V.A. suit. “What are you doing? It’s not safe outside!”, he yells. The exertion of yelling makes him light-headed. He is very cold. “Papa,” Jane says with all the impatience of youth, “It’s ok. I’ve had all the training. C’mon, put your suit on and let’s go!” Abe sighs, and slowly suits up.

Exiting the station with his daughter, Abe takes in the enormity of the Void. It has always felt oddly comforting. Jane leads him to a second hatch with numerous warning signs plastered about it. She opens the hatch and crawls inside. Abe looks at the signs for a moment, then follows.

With the last of his strength, Abraham pulls himself into the base of a large cylindrical tube. He drifts against the side, it is very warm but cooling swiftly. It reminds him of something but he is past the point of caring.

“Daughter?”, he gasps. “Will we finally be together?”

“Yes Papa,” she nods solemnly. “You and me together forever.”

The base of the cylinder opens up. Machinery is revealed. Massive amounts of energy are generated. The entire cylinder lights up.

“We’ve forgiven you. Welcome Home.”

The cannon fires.

An Amusing Aside

In addition to writing strange fiction, I also write of events that occur in my day to day existence. One such event occurred today:

While performing my duties as a bus driver, a transit personnel trainer boarded my bus. He was here to do a Driver Evaluation on me as I drove, he explained. “Just drive like I’m not even here”, he says.

I express my surprise. 13 years on the job and this is the first time a Driver Evaluation has occurred. I start to drive, but a thought starts brewing in my head.

13 years. Driving in snow, rain, and heat. Through floods and stampedes. 13 years of dealing with buttheads and outright hostile passengers.

WHO THE HELL DOES HE THINK HE IS TO JUDGE ME?

I AM THE GREATEST BUS DRIVER THAT EVER LIVED!

AND ANOTHER THING, HE CAN GO STRAIGHT TO HELL WITH HIS-

“Uh, hey Ellis, I finished your evaluation. You did great! Really impressive driving out there. Good job!” The trainer got off my bus and walked away.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t overreact.

Midnight at the End of the Universe pt. 4

“That’s it? What the hell is it?”

“Shut your mouth Jax, or I’ll shut it for you.”

“Guys! Let’s keep it together for a little longer ok?”

“So much lost…music…poetry…we’ll never see it again…”

“Abe, focus! We don’t need your fucking…just…just FOCUS alright? Give me your opinion on what we’re looking at.”

The air in the control module is rank. The oxygen scrubbers are wearing out. Numerous lights across the Calamity are flashing intermittently or simply burnt out. The crew look empty. Haunted.

The journey took two months longer than anticipated.

Abraham leans closer to the screen, his eyesight is worsening, and squints. “Let’s see…radiation is Gamma, X-ray, Neutron, Alpha, Beta…” He turns on another screen and types in some commands. Reading the information displayed, Abe rubs his eyes, then says, “This is a directed Nuclear explosion.”

Jax is incredulous. “What? Some asshole is dropping nukes in space?”

“No! Well, yes, I suppose.”

“That’s insane! Who would do that and why?” Katherine turns to Abe, sizing him up. Perhaps he’s finally gone, she wondered.

Isolde speaks up. “Perhaps it’s a sign. There is nothing out here beyond Nemesis. For anything to catch our sensors, it would have to be pretty big. Maybe it’s meant for us. Like a Lighthouse.” Her hair is growing back in after shaving it a month ago.

Katherine grabs her own hair in her hands. She pulls them away, a clump of hair in each hand. She barely notices. Her attention is pulled to the screen in front of her, “We can see it!”

An enormous Wheel spins clockwise in the void. Dull grey, running lights flickering along the hull. Four spokes lead inward to connect to a Hub. From a large tube in the center of the Hub and another on the opposite side, a massive flash of energy blasts out into the void, temporarily blinding the crew.

“Christ. That’s a man-made ship! There are survivors on there! With supplies!” Katherine slides into her seat, relief shaking her to her core.

“Yeah! Yeah! YEAH!” Jax dances around as much as he can in zero gravity.

Isolde hugs herself, tears forming bubbles in the corner of her eyes.

Abraham sighs and rests his head against his screen.

“Let’s find a docking port and meet my fans,” quips Jax.

The approach is tense. “What kind of diseased mind puts the docking port right next to a nuclear cannon?” Mac’s knuckles are white as she carefully maneuvers her ship to a port at the base of the cannon. The cannon fires again as the ship is locked into place. The entire vessel is rocked. “All right, we’re docked and locked.” Katherine releases her grip on the controls.

Isolde stares at a monitor. “Sensors are detecting atmospheric pressure on the external door. Replenishing O2 supplies.” Impatience ripples through her body. Clean, fresh air wafts through the ship. Everyone takes a deep breath.

“Shotgun!” Jax leaps down the corridor to the docking port. “Wait you idiot!”, Mac yells. “We’ve got a dozen safety protocols to run through before we exit the ship.” She unstraps herself from her chair and moves after him. “Ah, fuck it.” Protocol has degenerated significantly over the last eight months.

Abraham shakes his head as if trying to wake himself from a dream. “This…this can’t be real.” He looks mournfully at Isolde as she begins to unbuckle herself. “After all this time, after everything we’ve done, suddenly we find a space station? That was built by man?”

Isolde, impatient to be gone, waves him off. “We NEED this Abe. Our supplies are gone. This the miracle we need right now.” She floats off down the corridor.

Abraham watches her go. He runs his hands along the console at his station. “A miracle,” he sighs. Then he unbuckles himself and slowly follows the rest of his crew.

The crew of the Calamity exits the ship for the first time in eons. “I was expecting fanfare, parade music. Something.” Jax peers down the corridor that leads away from the ship. It is empty. A light blinks from a panel at the far end. “Hmm, not enough rotational force to generate gravity. I should have noticed that earlier, stupid.” Isolde shakes her head in disappointment. She is tired, malnourished. They all are.

The panel is connected to a large door. Katherine taps the any key and the screen lights up. A message reads:

“Welcome to the Remembrance.”

“We have been waiting.”

The entire station rocks slightly as the cannon fires again.

Abraham gently runs his hand across the screen, his face reflected in the screen looks ghastly. The door opens. A long hallway extends in either direction gradually bending along the curve of its circular design.

“I just want this to end,” whispers Katherine. Exhaustion hangs off of her like a shroud. Her crew does not hear her. She taps the communication button on the panel; “Hello! This is Captain Katherine McNamara of the E.M.S.X. Calamity! We’ve been lost for so long…we need help!” There is no response. “Please, PLEASE, respond!” Katherine hangs her head, shivers. Something is breaking inside her.

Jax floats past her, into the hallway. Peering down one way, he shouts “Elevators!” Then he points the other way, “Over there too!” Abe moves in and disappears down a corridor. Isolde moves to Katherine and raises a hand to place on her shoulder, to offer support, strength, compassion. She stops, uncertain. It has been so long since they were together. She pulls her hand back. The crew waits in silence.

Abraham returns to them from the opposite hallway. His skin is pale and sallow, his uniform is covered with stains of uncertain origins. “There are elevators connected to every spoke, numbered but no identification as to where they go other than to the outer circle.”

Jax is combing his hair. Of all the crew, he is in the best shape. His uniform is spotless, with crisp creases and numerous product ads. He finds a reflective surface and studies his image. His last drone camera broke down a month ago and Abe wouldn’t fix it. He smiles wistfully, he looks good and it’s being wasted on his wreck of a crew. “One Lift is the same as another, right? Let’s just take one and see where it leads.”

Katherine looks at him. She hates him so much. “Fine. Let’s find the first one then. Number 1.” He shrugs, and the crew moves along the corridor until the elevator marked “1″ appears. “Where is the crew?”, wonders Isolde. “Some sort of stasis maybe? How did they survive, uh…I mean…”

“How did this station survive the end of the universe?”, replies Abe. Isolde frowns at him, but has no response.

The doors to the lift open as they approach. Sullenly they enter. Vertical safety bars line the walls and a large window on either side of the door. A panel on the inside of the elevator shows two options: 1 and 2. 1 is currently green. “Well, that’s easy enough,” Katherine says. She presses the button marked 2. The doors close and the lift moves.

Moving away from the hub, the windows occasionally reveal an external view of the enormous station. The trip is silent, each crew member is lost in thought. Katherine thinks she can almost hear a jingle playing quietly in the background. “It sounds so familiar.” she thinks, “Can Izzy hear it?” She looks over at her lost partner and sees her staring out the window. Starvation crimps Isolde’s frame but she is still gorgeous, will always BE gorgeous. A bittersweet smile crosses Katherine’s face. She looks away.

Jax is about to lose his temper when the lift finally slows down and stops. The doors slide open and reveal an enormous hallway lined with the occasional potted plant, garbage bin and water dispensers. This stuns the crew momentarily, but just as quickly, the spell is broken when as one, they all push out of the elevator straight towards the water dispenser. Each takes a long, desperate drink. Fresh water has been non-existent onboard the Calamity for quite some time.

“I see shops!” Jax is staring aghast at a long section of hallway. It is filled with stores: grocery stores, beauty supplies, a movie theater, restaurants, coffee shops, knick-knack stores and many others. All devoid of occupants. “I don’t understand any of this,” Isolde says as the others move into the grocery store. The grocery store contains many pre-packaged containers of food in sealed cold storage. The doors open easily and the crew gorges themselves on partially frozen food.

Mac smiles, her belly full. “We can stay here. Even if there aren’t any others here, we can stay.” Jax floats by, “I HOPE there are other people here. I need to get LAID.” Isolde places her empty container of food in the recycling bin, “We need to keep moving. We have to find a command module and find out where this station came from and if there are any other people here.”

Abraham slowly moves over to the recycling bin and places his container in. “There are no survivors here.” Mac glances his way, “What makes you think that old friend?” She emphasized the word ‘Friend’ sarcastically. Abe doesn’t notice. He is looking up and down the corridor. He says, “This, ALL OF THIS, is a rest. A reprieve. We murdered an entire universe. For our crimes, we deserve death and Death is coming for us. This is our Last Meal.”

Mac scoffs. “You’ve gone mad, you’ve been made this whole time. Now we’re finally in a place big enough to ignore you if you decide to kill yourself again.” Isolde gasps. Jax looks up, a slice of meat dangling from his mouth. “Captain! That was totally uncalled for!”, Isolde shouts. Her words startle Mac, she looks at Isolde for a time silently.

“You’re right lieutenant. That was uncalled for. Abraham, Please accept my apology.” Abe stares away, unhearing. She shakes her head. “Fine. Look crew: we have a lot of distance to cover as we search for survivors. We’ll do it faster if we split up. Drarm, you’re with me. Jackson, take Stanford and go left. We’ll go right and meet on the far side. I’ve noticed communication stations scattered about, we’ll use them to stay in touch.” She turns and heads out. Isolde looks at the two men and mouths the word “SORRY”, then she follows.

The station rocks under the force of another cannon blast.

Midnight at the End of the Universe pt. 3

Thomas Jackson, dressed smartly in a high-ranking military uniform speaks to the viewer, his voice like rich velvet.

“The E.M.S.X. Calamity is perhaps, the greatest work of human ingenuity in our history. Never before has humanity united as it has for the creation of this incredible technology. Hundreds of our greatest minds worked together tirelessly for years, fusing science and technology into what will become the ship you see here,” He gestures beside him, a 3-D image of the Calamity appears and the ship changes shape, from one design to the next.

A Naval ship from the mid twentieth century.

A large Disc with a pair of cylinders extending away from it perpendicularly then switching to parallel.

An enormous sphere with a small convex area.

Designs slide by, grotesque and wonderous, sublime and insidious, one after the other into the hundreds. Finally, the image stops on a crudely designed ship drawn in orange crayon. Circular, with a module opposite the Gravitic Inversion pincers. From a window inside the module a stick-man waves hello. Hearts coloured in red float above the stick-man’s head.

Underneath, in blue crayon, is written:

Daddy at work. Hope he comes home soon. I miss him.

Somberly, with his voice carefully modulated to express maximum sorrow and empathy, Jax says, “Jane ‘Calamity’ Stanford submitted this design. Her father, Abraham Stanford, was an essential member of the orbital construction crew. His generous pay cheque was being spent to furiously fight the cancer trying to steal his daughter from him.”

“Sadly, the Cancer won.”

An image of Abraham appears, huddled over a screen, The screen shows a graveyard under blue sky. A crowd dressed in black looks attentively at the screen. Abraham slowly speaks, “My Calamity was an anomaly. The fire of life burned too hot in her young body. Ever inquisitive she was, she had a thirst for knowledge that surpassed even my own. As soon as she could hold a utensil, she was dismantling every toy she had, trying to understand the HOW of things. How does this work? How does that? What holds it all together?”

He smiles, “Once I walked into your room. You were crying, perhaps a nightmare. I stepped on one of your deconstructed toys and stumbled. I fell with a large crash, and woke everyone in the house up.’What a Calamity’, I said, and laughed. And your new name began.”

“You are gone now, my daughter. In the Old Ways, your body would be weighted with stones and sank beneath the seas near our ancestral home.” The crowd by the graveyard look uncertainly at each other. “The Old Ways are dead. There is only the Future now. Goodbye, my Love.”

“And thus,” concludes Jax, “is the origin of the E.M.S.X. Calamity told.” He crisply salutes.

“Please press ‘Continue’ if you would like to know more about this one of a kind vessel.”

The storage area has been successfully converted into a greenhouse and hydroponics garden. At the center floats Isolde Drarm. Her uniform is worn. Her hair is long, much longer than before. Coaxing new life into these old plants has been getting harder and harder. Between what they can grow, and what they can recover, the situation is stable but starting to decline.

Thinner than she was at the start of her voyage, Isolde kicks off gently and floats down a row of plants, checking each carefully for signs of disease. Muscle atrophy is a serious risk, as is skeletal deterioration. As Chief Medical Officer, her standing orders for extra sessions in the workout room were seldom heeded, even by her. Except for Jax. His narcissism demanded nothing less of himself than physical perfection. Which was fine by her. The less time he spent leering at her the better.

It’s safe here. The others rarely venture into this humid area. The sessions with Abe were difficult both on him and her. Trying to reconnect with him, trying to rekindle his interest in living weighed heavily on her. Her words to him seem increasingly hollow. Is she changing his mind about life, how important it is to continue living, and how vital he was to the crew of the Calamity, or was he changing her view, that life was finished. That there was nothing left, nothing to go home to, no home to go to. If only she could talk to Mac…

Abraham Stanford tried to commit suicide.

Five months into their estimated six month journey, Abe left his quarters during his rest period. He calmly drifted down the corridor to the E.V.A. room. Deftly, with a sure touch from having practically built this vessel with his own hands, he bypassed the sensor security protocols that prevented the exit from opening for an occupant without a registered spacesuit. He closed the interior door and looked, for the last time, at the ship he once so loved. Then, he activated the exterior door.

Nothing happened.

He tried again. Still nothing.

He punched the door. Again. And again. Until his fists were bloody pulps and he was pulling in ragged breaths. It wasn`t until he realized that his breath was not calming down, that it was getting harder to breathe, that he turned around.

Watching him from the viewport of the interior door was Captain McNamara and Lt. Drarm. Abraham launched himself at them. He ricocheted off the door and drifted slowly backwards. As his world slowly spun into darkness, he gasped, “There…is… nothing…left…” Isolde carefully reintroduced oxygen back into his chamber. Together, they gently moved his unconscious body back to his quarters.

The object they were travelling towards was officially named EMSXC-247×2. Jax called it “New Hope” out of a sense of irony. It was the only other object left in their observable universe. It emitted a steady pulse of radiation that was mostly drowned out by the background radiation coming from the singular, universe consuming blackhole that they created and orbited. Jax called it, “The Nemesis”. Mac wishes that Jax would just shut up sometimes.

The Calamity was not built for long distance travel. The Hadron Drive was her primary means of getting around. The Hadron drive would never be used again.

Small thrusters, used for fine maneuvering, gave the Calamity the push she needed to get under way. A six month journey was laughably optimistic. Onboard, resources were inventoried, then allocated. Some were sacrificed to create new resources. The cargo bay was slowly transformed into a botanical wonder. Work gave the crew purpose. Then Abraham snapped.

The twice daily excursion to inspect and maintain the hull fell squarely on Katherine’s shoulders after that. The toll it took on her was immense. The absolute nothingness of the void outside the ship terrified her beyond words. But, she continued to perform the inspections, there was no one else who could.

In her dreams, the Void has shape. It tortured her and tormented her. She ran, but could never elude it. It wrapped tendrils of icy death around her neck. Screaming herself awake in her tethered cot, she saw Isolde beside her, her eyes wide with concern.

“Mac! Are you ok?” Isolde reaches over and activates the lights.

“I’m fine Izzy…I’m fine. Just had a bad dream.” Katherine rubs her face with her hands. She has aged noticeably: wrinkles are appearing on her face, dark circles under her eyes, streaks of grey showing in her hair. Her hands betray fine tremors.

“Mac, the E.V.A.’s are killing you. You need to let Jax and I handle some. It will take some of the stress off of you.” She runs a cool hand through Katherine’s hair. Mac shoves her hand away.

“Jax wouldn’t survive two seconds out there. Besides, I can’t risk having him fuck up and possibly killing us all. And I can’t send you Izzy, you don’t know what it’s like out there. You’re too important to the crew. I can keep the ship together, but you keep us together.”

Isolde smiles, then shakes her head. “You are no good to the crew if you have a breakdown. Please, let Jax and I run some simulations at least to get us ready for an E.V.A.-”

“Enough!” Katherine turns her head. “Just get Abe well enough to resume his duties. You have your orders LIEUTENANT, I expect you to carry them out.” She turns out the lights then adjusts herself back in her tethered cot and closes her eyes. Isolde looks at her for a moment longer, then carefully extracts herself from the cot. She floats over to the locker where her clothes are stored and takes them. Quietly she puts them on and leaves the quarters, her eyes are red with unshed tears.

In Katherine’s dreams, the Void is waiting.

In his luxury quarters, every screen is alight with footage from his last concert. Thousands upon thousands of fans are screaming his name, “JAX! JAX! JAX!” Jax is in the middle of the room, naked, reliving the adoration of his fans. He is rock hard.

The concert ends, the screens darkens and the room lights up. His erection falls.

“Gawd fucking dammit! Two women left in the whole damn UNIVERSE and neither will touch me with a ten foot pole!” The one good remote camera glides up and down his body, recording his every movement. He looks over to a clear case attached to his desk that holds the remains of his other remote and sighs. ‘Accidentally’ walking in on Captain McNamara as she undressed for an E.V.A. trip seemed like a good idea at the time. She beat the holy hell out of him and as further insult, shoved his camera so far up his ass that he had to go to the medical lab to get it extracted.

“Space madness, that’s what it is,” he fumes. The others look and smell like shit, but not him. exercise, pursued with near mania, keeps him in top physical form. Anything for his fans. “Abraham went batshit crazy; our dear Captain isn’t far behind. Who’s left? ME!” He calls up an image of himself in a military uniform.

“Captain ‘Jax’ Jaxon, I like the sound of that!” His hands wander over his body as his erection returns, the camera recording every bit of it.