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.

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 theĀ 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