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.
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.