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.

Midnight at the End of the Universe pt.1

Onboard the E.M.S.X. Calamity, all is chaos.

Alarms, Klaxons, flashing lights.

“Re-routing power from Auxilliary!”

Smoke, sparks, hissing, rumbling.

“Fire suppression systems coming on-line now!”

“OH SHIT! OH SHIT! OH SHIT!”

“Mac! You’re on fire!”

“Not now! Trying to deactivate the drive!”

“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”

“Somebody shut Jax the fuck up!”

The heavy sound of a fist striking flesh.

“I can’t shut the drive down! We need to kill it at the source!”

“Aye, captain!”

A figure unbuckles itself from its safety harness in the flashing lights and begins floating. A skillful kick sends the figure floating down a dim passageway.

“Pressure loss in multiple sectors! We’re bleeding air!”

“We can’t do anything until Abe gets the drive down!” The captain turns her head away from the control console for a brief second. “ABE! Tell me you’ve got it!”, she screams.

Tense moments go by. An unconscious man lists in his safety harness.

A groan shakes the entire vessel, metal grating against metal. The sound vibrates through each crew member, through their bones, through their minds. It seems to go on for an eternity, each crew member crumbling under the onslaught.

Then it ends. The vessel is swallowed in darkness.

Captain Katherine McNamara snorts and jerks violently in her harness, the action rousing her from her slumber. She had been dreaming a dark dream. Looking at her console, that indicates the health of her ship, the Calamity, she see that a few of the coloured indicators were red, a large number were yellow, and a happy few were green. Her left arm ached from burns sustained when a panel shorted out and ignited part of her uniform.

Satisfied that certain death was not an immediate concern, Mac turns and examines the rest of her crew. On her left, asleep, is Lieutenant Isolde Drarm. Astrobiologist and Chief Medical Officer of the Calamity. Isolde yawns, then opens her eyes. She regards Mac with a sleepy smile, “So, are we dead yet?”

Grateful that Isolde’s irreverent sense of humour is still intact, Mac smiles back. She slides her hand slowly down the right side of Isolde’s face. Isolde snuggles her palm for a moment, then notices the burn on her Captain’s arm. “We need to get you down to Medical soon, before infection sets in.”

“Later”, Mac sighs, “You need to head down to engineering and check on Abe. I’ll check on Jax” She turns her and examines the other unconscious crewman. Isolde salutes, then unbuckles herself and launches herself down the corridor.

The unconscious man seated at the communication hub is dressed head to toe in product labeled garments. The Great Thomas ‘Jax’ Jackson, pop star and idol of millions, slumbers in his harness, a slight bruise forming on his left cheek. Katherine can barely conceal her disgust that such a glory obsessed person is on her ship. She impatiently checks his vital signs, slightly disappointed that he is still alive, gives him a solid pinch to wake him.

“Ah! Not the face!”, he rocks in his seat, jolted awake. He immediately reaches for his cell phone and uses the mirrored surface of it to check his face and adjust his hair. “Dumb science bitch sucker punched me,” he mumbles, fingers gingerly touching the slight bruise on his face.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” The words drip with menace as Captain McNamara turns slowly and stares Jax down. Jax immediately looks away and fusses with the camera controls at his station. “Uh, nothing. A little concealer will make it disappear. No one earthside will notice. Say, why are the screens down? My audience needs an update.”

“Abe had to power the drive down,” Mac replies, irritated, “we’re running on backup for the moment. Don’t worry, you beloved fans haven’t been out of contact for long.” She starts cataloging the alerts on her control panel, diligently ignoring him. Jax tousles his hair this way and that, trying to make it look the exact right amount of disheveled as was popular back home.

Abraham Stanford, engineer and technical officer is curled up and floating listlessly in Engineering, snoring loudly. Isolde looks fondly at him, she makes a mental note to check on his sleep apnea soon. As she moves to examine him, he jolts awake.

His eyes roll back in his head, his body goes rigid and he begins shaking violently. “Mmmgh! Mmmgh Grgh! Vvrh!” Spasms rock his body. Isolde rushes to him, and watches helplessly as his right shoulder dislocates with a pop. “Abe! Abe!” Isolde flips open her portable med pack and starts filling a needle with relaxants. Abraham’s right knee cracks under the force of a strong spasm, a bulge appears in the knee and a red stain follows, spreading quickly.

Isolde grabs Abe and slams him against a wall, holding him as steady as possible, and injects him with her syringe. Abe, spittle flowing out of his clenched mouth, slowly starts to calm down. His mouth falls slack and opens, allowing several bloody, shattered teeth to float free. Isolde watches them for a split second, then activates the communication panel nearby. “Medical emergency! Abe is down! I need help!” She pulls out a knife and cuts off the right leg of Abraham’s uniform, examining the damage as she waits for backup.

Katherine and Jax float into the room. The captain nimbly floats over to Isolde and Abe. A floating tooth bounces into Jax. He recoils in disgust, then flicks it away. Isolde gives a brief update then adds, “We need to get Abe to Medical. I’ve got him stable enough for transport.” Mac nods, then says “Ok, Jax, help Isolde with Abe. I’ve got to stay and get the power back up.”

A “Ewww” escapes Jax as he clumsily helps maneuver Abraham down the circular corridor. The captain turns and faces the power core. Isolde had carefully strapped Abraham down on the exam table when the emergency lights flick off and the regular lights switch on. “Christ, about time,” Jax exhales in relief and pulls out his cell phone. He turns on the camera and starts recording. “What up Earthlings? The Calamity has been calamitied!

He turns the camera around, covering Abraham unconscious on the table and Isolde, expertly tending to his wounds. She notices his camera and scream, “Get the FUCK out of here, you idiot!” She snatches the camera out of his hands and flings it out of the room. It floats down the corridor, spinning end over end.

Jax chases after the phone and catches it. He turns it over and sees a handprint in blood across the screen. Isolde’s hand, Abe’s blood. He turns back to Medical, “Bitch. THE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW!”

“My people!” He turns and floats to the second floor access hatch. Living quarters. Thanks to significant sponsorship, Jax’s quarters are the largest of the group. Screens line every wall, each black with the words NO SIGNAL flashing on each. “Dammit,” he sighs. “Record! and transmit as soon as we reconnect!” The screens light up, each showing an image of Jax as he floats around the room. Faint music plays in the background. His latest hit song.

“Well folks, this is Jax! Live, kind of, from the E.M.S.X. Calamity.”

He starts undressing, his well toned body glistening in the warm lights of his room. Flexing as he takes his clothes off, the cameras watching his every move.

“The Hadron drive worked, I think? I mean, I don’t know the specifics, but it was supposed to create a stable micro-black hole in front of the ship while the two stabilizing “pins” kept the black hole mobile but active.

As he spoke, smart devices in the computer system picked up on his speech and supplied helpful visual images;

The large crescent-shaped design of the E.M.S.X Calamity,

The Hadron collider built into the superstructure of the ship,

An animation of two molecules spinning along the collider and slamming into each other at the mid-point of the distance between the two crescent ‘tips’,

A miniature black hole forms there and begins to suck in the Calamity,

The crescent tips glow with a visible energy, pushing the black hole ahead of the ship, while the gravity of the black hole pulls the ship towards the black hole.

An endless loop.

The speed generated is immense.

“A Carrot leading a Donkey, that’s how they described it,” Jax concludes, as he slips into another branded uniform. “Time dilation slows us down while the rest of the universe keeps going on. A few hours for us is a few YEARS for everyone back home. My fans will be going through a mid-life crisis and falling in love with my music all over again!” He smiles.

Jax pulls himself down into a seat in front of a mirror and straps himself in. several makeup kits are secured to the table in front of him. He begins to touch up his face.

“Anyway, our shakedown tour was to take us from our starting point of the Moon, out to Pluto, currently on the far side of our Solar System. While we’re there, I personally am going to go out and drop a flag on that mofo #demiplanetnomore”

Jax begins to thanks his many sponsors, it was through their generosity and his fame combined that the Calamity was funded. Various ads appear on the numerous screens lining his room. Jax’s smiling face is reflected back at him a hundred times stretching into infinity.

At the medical suite, Captain McNamara glides in. Isolde turns, taking off bloody gloves, “Captain, Abraham is now stable. He’s sleeping for now, I’ve done what I could for his leg, he’s going to need a replacement for his right tibia. I’ll need your authorization.” Mac nods in acquiescence. “I’ve also pulled his damaged teeth and am 3-d printing a new set for him.”

“Captain,” she says, “I’ve never seen a reaction like that in Abe before. I initially thought Epilepsy, but that would have been caught in training and he would have been washed out of the program. CT scans show nothing unusual. MRI is scheduled next.” She tosses her gloves in a biohazard container.

“Is it the Hadron drive?” Her eyes lock with Katherine, steady, calmly. Katherine floats over to Abe, strapped to a bed, and studies him. “Izzy, I don’t know.” She takes Abe’s hand in hers, “the earthbound Hadron collider has been functional for years. It’s been studied back and forth. There should be no surprises left. But, he was pointblank at the source when he shut it down. Something could have hit him through the shielding.” She lets go of his hand. “Or maybe he was adept at hiding his condition. Either way, we’re stuck out here with him. We need to watch him.”

Isolde floats over to her and they embrace. They kiss briefly, tenderly. Mac pulls away, “Do what you need to do to get Abe up. Then I need you on the bridge, we still don’t know how far we made it. We could still be floating around the moon.” She smiles and pulls herself out of the room toward the bridge.

Some time passes. Mac, Isolde and Jax are in their seats in the bridge room fiddling with their control panels, each lost in thought. Mac turns and says, “Everyone, here is the situation: The Calamity was in orbit around the moon. We activated the Hadron drive and it malfunctioned immediately. We managed to disable it but it blew out all power except backup. We are now blind, no radio or sensors of any kind. We have the means to repair or replace them but it will take time. But we are alive, and that is a great thing. We have the supplies to last three times our mission length. We can stretch that out to six times with our combined knowledge sets. We will make it home, I promise you that.”

Isolde smiles and nods. Jax flips a few more switches at his console. Cameras light up, showing him in his seat and the occasional shot of the others at their seats. He looks up and says “Hah! Got it!”

“Mac! Uh, I mean Captain, I know the only reason I’m here is due to the financial backing I brought, but I am a trained communication officer. I made sure that I had it covered.” he pushes himself back from the console. “I’ve been working for a while now on the external cameras. Hardware, software, it all checks out as fine, fully operational. So here you go:” He hits a button and on all their screens the image is that of complete and utter blackness extending away from various points of the ship.

“The cameras are working fine, I promise you.”

“So tell me, WHERE ARE ALL THE STARS?”

End part 1.