Midnight at the End of the Universe pt. 2

One year ago,

Nothing was more conducive to Katherine McNamara’s sense of peace then to stand on the skeletal hull of the E.M.S.X Calamity and take in the immensity of space. Tethered to the International Space Station, the ship was being slowly assembled by the world’s best scientists and engineers. Katherine insisted on being part of the construction crew, helping to assemble her ship and get a feel for her.

Taking a brief break, Katherine looks out upon Infinity, and her heart swells with pride. “Soon,” she thinks, “We’ll leave our cradle and take our place among the stars.” All eyes of the world are fixated on the Calamity. The world’s most popular man, Thomas ‘Jax’ Jackson has used his fame and vast fortune to spearhead the production of this revolutionary ship and to keep all attention focused there. She has even heard backroom talk that he bought himself a role on the ship. “Like Hell”, she thinks.

Her radio squawks, “Uh Cap’n, your time outside is nearly up, better come back in,” She sighs, “Roger that, I’m coming in.” Slowly, she pulls herself along the handrails, past the other construction crew. Abraham Stanford pulls himself out of the superstructure of the ship. He’s covered with tools and wires crisscross his body. He spots her and waves.

Katherine waves back as she enters the airlock back into the space station. “Abraham is a madman”, she thinks as she door swings shut, “but no one knows the Hadron drive like him.” On her helmet’s Head’s Up Display, a note appears: A Dr. Drarm is coming up on the next shuttle. The next member of her crew. “Just enough time to shower and shave, then meet the new guy.”

Today,

Nothing frightens Katherine McNamara more than the prospect of spacewalking on the hull of the E.M.S.X. Calamity. Breaking out in a cold sweat, fighting back pants wetting fear, it always takes an act of willpower of for her to cycle the airlock and exit the ship. She silently curses herself for her intimate knowledge of the Calamity as the door slides open and she steps out into the abyss.

“This is wrong,” she thinks as she carefully attaches her safety line, then follows the handrails around the ship, “There is nothing out here. NOTHING. No Stars. No planets, No asteroids or nebulas. Where are we?”

The lights flashing out from her ship are almost immediately swallowed up by the void, providing next to no illumination. Fear is her constant companion. The utter blackness assaults her, making her feel infinitesimally small. Closing her eyes against the fear only makes it worse.

She slowly rounds a corner of the ship and finds Abraham Stanford anchored to the hull by a safety line. He has drifted out and away from the ship to the maximum length of his line, his arms and legs are splayed wide. The line is pulled taut.

“ABRAHAM!!!” Katherine screams over her radio.

No response.

Cursing, muttering every oath she knows, Katherine moves as fast as her fear allows her, hand over hand, along the rail. The distance seems infinite, the time it takes, endless. Her own laboured breath echoing loudly in her helmet, she finally reaches Abe. She knows she’s close to hyperventilating, which threatens her own safety, and she tries to control her breathing and get it back under control.

Feeling some semblance of normality return, the captain reaches out and grabs Abe’s safety line. “God damn you Abe, you’d better not be dead,” she says as she starts reeling him back toward the ship. She finally has him close enough to grab his arm. He screams.

“Ahh!” He turns around and faces Katherine. “You startled me Cap’n. I was just…appreciating this experience we’re having.” The reflective shield of his helmet is down. Katherine can only see her reflection, sweating and afraid.

“Dammit Abe, we’ve been calling you for a half hour! Your oxygen tank is almost empty, can’t you hear the alarm going off in your helmet?” He shrugs, then starts moving towards the airlock.

“Abraham is a madman,” Katherine thinks. A chill washes through her as she watches him effortlessly pull himself along. Then her eyes catch the void beyond and she hurriedly makes her way back.

As the captain re-enters her ship and cycles the airlock she can already hear the argument turning into a shouting match. “Cut me some slack Doc! I couldn’t hear you on the comm! I told you there was too much radiation out there and that it would interfere with communication.”

Doctor Isolde Drarm sharply retorts, “And I told you that you needed to keep your Extravehicular Activities short! Your leg is still healing and you need to rest! Your well being is my primary concern here. Please Abe, don’t push yourself.”

Abe sighs and runs a hand through his damp hair, “I understand doc, I really do, but the ship is my primary concern. There is SO much radiation out there that even a micro-fracture in the hull will cook us to ash in seconds. I have to go out there regularly to check every square meter of the hull.”

“So why were you just floating out there?” Katherine gently tosses her helmet towards Abe. It floats end over end across the distance. Abraham easily catches it with his right hand and places it on the rack behind him. Katherine frowns as his back is turned.

“Look,” he responds, “it’s strenuous work. I needed a break. Floating out there is like…I dunno, a sensory deprivation tank. It calms me.” He finishes putting his exosuit away and follows Isolde to the med room. Mac sighs and starts to peel her suit off.

A low whistle catches her ear. Jax is casually leaning against the exit, eyeing her appreciatively in her state of undress. Gripping her locker so hard it vibrates in her hands, she mutters, “WHAT. DO. YOU. WANT. JAX? Please let it be a foot in your ass.”

“Uh, sorry Cap’n,” Jax replies and looks away in a false display of modesty. “The Folks at Home are wondering how much longer we are going to be out here until we turn on the Hadron Drive and go home. It’s been two weeks now of us just floating here. It’s getting dull.” Buzzing around him are two small drones, his camera crew. Semiautonomous, wirelessly linked to the main computer and transmitting his every action. Keeping her eyes locked on the drones, Mac replies, “Isolde says she is almost ready to debrief us, didn’t you get the memo? Meets us later in the Science wing.”

Furious, Mac swings her jumpsuit over herself and buttons herself up. Attacking him would only make her look terrible to the viewers. Giving Jackson extra leeway was hammered into her by her superiors. That leeway will only last so long. Jax floats away and Mac smiles grimly as she waits for her opportunity.

“Christ, I’m bored,” Jax says as he does zero gravity yoga in the science lab while his drones video every stretch. The lab is empty but active, several screens are flashing information at high speeds: radiation analyses, long-range sensor sweeps, structural analyses of the Calamity, several hundred Hadron drive simulations and psychological profiles of all the crew. Jax notices none of these, the perfection of his yoga forms and his own narcissism renders him blind to anything but himself.

As the others enter the lab, they here a triumphant “Hah!” Jax has perfected the Kala Bhairavasana. “Fuck Yeah! You dicks know how hard this is to do in SPACE? I am a GOD, bitches!” The rest of the crew just stare at him.

Isolde floats past him and towards the main bank of monitors. “Now that you’ve filled the lab up with testosterone, shall we begin?” Nimbly tapping the keyboard, several monitors light up, showing several possibilities. “Let’s go over the facts: Two weeks ago, we activated the Hadron Drive at noon Greenwich standard time. Almost immediately, the drive malfunctioned. Abraham went down to shut the drive down at the core. The resultant internal shockwave rendered the entire crew unconscious. We awoke 8 hours later, in an unknown region of space. There are no discernible cosmic phenomena, no stars or planets or anything we can detect with our instruments, there are however deadly levels of radiation permeating the area. All of you have come to me with your theories about what happend to us. Let’s hear them now and then the Captain,” She nods politely towards Katherine, “will give us our orders about what to do next.”

The crew look at each other uncertainly for a moment, then Jax clears his throat and speaks. “It’s obvious what happened here folks,” he picks up a pen and speaks into it as if it were a microphone. His drones buzz up around his face for dramatic purposes, “the Hadron drive opened up a rip in the fabric of space and time and we travelled through it. We are in ANOTHER DIMENSION. We just gotta turn that baby back on and tear ourselves outta here and back home. Mike drop.” Jax drops the pen, it just floats there in front of him.

Stunned silence.

Abraham speaks up, “uhm yeah. I’ve been studying the drive and my theory is that when we turned it on, it went into overdrive.” Abe floats over to a console and types in a command. The screen lights up, showing the projected flight plan of the Calamity, leaving the moon and heading to the edge of the solar system. “This is what was supposed to happen, but look here,” the projected flight plan shoots out farther, past the edge of the solar system, past the Milky Way, past the nearest galaxy, then past all known space. “I think we have travelled farther than the expanding universe. We are so far out now that light from the oldest sun, from even the Big Bang itself, hasn’t reached here.”

Awestruck silence.

Katherine floats forward, sliding up next to Isolde. “I appreciate the ideas. You’ve all put in a lot of thought into our predicament. Isolde and I have gone over the accident, we’ve gone over the Hadron drive, even the one back home. Something has gone wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.” Her hands ball up into fists and her head drops, casting her eyes to the table in front of her. Isolde, her eyes full of compassion, gently places her hand on Mac’s shoulder.

Mac clears her throat. “The Hadron Drive worked perfectly. A singularity was opened in front of the Calamity as it was supposed to. The Hadron Drive maintained it, as it was supposed to. The Gravitic Inversion Field generated in the prongs of the ship worked as it was supposed to, keeping the singularity ahead of us. The error that occurred, the fault that happened was with the ship.” She pushes a button and all the screens switch to the external image of the ship.

The Hadron Drive runs through the ship, is a critical component of the ship, was designed to be perfectly level. And it was, initially. Stress fractures in the superstructure appear as the ship is towed out to orbit the moon. They go undetected. When the Hadron Drive is activated, the singularity is created, then spirals out of control.

The moon is pulverized, then absorbed by the singularity in seconds. In an hour, Tidal forces are stripping the atmosphere from the Earth, spiralling towards the growing black hole. On board the Calamity, mere seconds have passed, the first alarms haven’t started yet. The Calamity powers the black hole, accelerating its growth, it’s Gravitic Inversion field keeping the ship away from the black hole. The ship appears to be moving backwards at unbelievable speeds.

The Earth dies, consumed by the black hole created by it’s finest minds. The solar system follows it some years later. On board the ship, the first sparks begin to fire from an exploding console. By the time Abraham Stanford reaches the Hadron Drive in the engineering room, The Milky way is largely consumed. The super massive black holes at the center of the galaxy are absorbed and augment the power of the Calamity’s black hole. The monumental black hole is now self-sustaining, growing more powerful and pulling all matter towards it. Galaxies are consumed, then, ultimately ALL GALAXIES. The crew of the last ship, the Calamity, are unconscious. The screen turns dark.

The silence extends for some time. Disbelief. Fear. Confusion. Each crewmember silently absorbs the information. Jax breaks the silence, “Jesus Christ. JESUS CHRIST.” The drones buzz around him, searching for the most flattering shot. “Are…are you sure?” Isolde is hugging herself. Katherine responds, “We’ve been running the simulations for the better part of a week. We don’t have a better solution.”

Abe begins to laugh. A snort, then a chuckle. It builds into hysterical laughter. Jax nervously moves away. “That’s why there’s nothing out there? BECAUSE WE KILLED IT ALL?” Isolde, tears forming in bubbles around her eyes, moves to him and tries to calm him down. “WE KILLED THE UNIVERSE!”

Captain McNamara closes her eyes against Abe’s outburst. Choking back sobs against the enormity of their actions, she stammers, “We need to remain calm, we have to keep going, we can’t give up-”

“HEY!” Jax is jabbing his finger at a screen. “There is SOMETHING OUT THERE!”

End pt.2

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