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.

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