The Chronicles of Aallandranon
By Benjamin Allen
A Science Fiction-Fantasy Series
First American Edition
Copyright © 2016 Benjamin Allen. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2000 The Chronicles of Aallandranon, created by Benjamin Allen
This E-book is licensed for the personal enjoyment of interested readers. This E-book may not be re-sold for profit, but may be loaned at the purchaser’s discretion. This E-book may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for non-commercial purposes provided the E-book remains in its complete original form and all due credit goes to the original author, Benjamin Allen. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This story is intended for mature readers. Scenes depict graphic murder, drug use, and sexuality. This book is also a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales, are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons–living or dead–is entirely coincidental.
For my wife, Suyoung
And, for all who wish to become lost in the fantastical,
swept away by the miraculous, and bask in the extraordinary:
This series was made for you.
“You are under arrest for the deaths of 5,000 people aboard the Star Ship Enigma, and the total destruction of the Pluto Station.” Those were the first words Jonathan Tabith was able to comprehend after waking from four months in cryostasis. His vision was filled with fuzzy light. His head felt enormous. It took him a moment to realize that he was sitting upright in a hospital bed. He tried to move his right hand to massage the pain in his forehead, but it was handcuffed to the bed rail. “Do you know where you are? Are you aware of anything?”
Jonathan savored the fleeting moments his brain took to realize who he was and why he was here… and what he had done. The memories of murder, blood-lust, and the impossible feats he had accomplished refilled the spaces of his recollection. For once, he was glad to feel absolutely powerless.
“Your eyes are open so say something.” The woman’s voice from nearby spoke to him again. He didn’t recognize that voice. There was the muffled sound of movement. “He’s not talking.”
“We should jettison him from the airlock,” spoke a different woman’s voice. “He doesn’t deserve to live after what he did to Pluto Station.”
Pluto Station? Jonathan remembered the Enigma, but what had he done to Pluto Station? “I…” He tried to speak and the two listeners moved closer. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry for everything.”
His world dissolved into darkness.
Jonathan could see clearly when he opened his eyes later. His head felt at least half the size it had felt before. He was in an empty conference room aboard one of the transport vessels from Earth, still handcuffed to the hospital bed. He smelled the aroma of tobacco for the first time in eight years, and looked over to see a woman wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. She wore black slacks and rested her hand upon her knee with a dwindling cigarette between her index and middle fingers. The woman had neat blonde hair that had been done up in a ponytail.
“Feeling better?” She asked, raising the cigarette to her lips to pull the last few centimeters of its life. “We gave you some Fresolantium: a new drug we’ve been experimenting with on Earth. You remember Earth, right, where you were born?”
“Of course I remember Earth.” Jonathan spoke through a dry, groggy voice.
“My name is Detective Jocelyn Sizemore. I’ve been assigned to figure out the details of what happened on the Star Ship Enigma. All of the records from your Falcon class military spacecraft have been wiped except for the last order you gave to go into cryostasis. Now, why would you go and do a thing like that, Jonathan?”
“Because what happened is too difficult for you to understand.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not good enough for me.” Jocelyn finished her cigarette and put the butt in an ashtray on the small table beside her where a stack of Jonathan’s pre-Enigma files lay. “You gotta give me something, Jonathan. 5,000 people don’t just got missing overnight.”
“They’re not missing. I know exactly where they are… at least, those who are still alive.” Jonathan said.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” said Jocelyn said. “How do we find the rest of the Enigma survivors?”
“I wouldn’t even know how to tell you.”
Jocelyn looked displeased. “Can’t and won’t are two different words with the same meaning in your situation.” There was a long time of waiting for Jonathan’s response, which never came. “Okay, how about the Pluto Station. How do you explain that one?”
“As you know from the date of my cryostasis record, I couldn’t possibly know what happened at Pluto Station.” Jonathan said. “How about you fill me in and we go from there.”
“Your ship was lodged in an asteroid, an asteroid that’s trajectory was set for the Pluto Station. Since we had no record of an asteroid’s trajectory being in line with Pluto Station, no one was able to stop it in time. The station was destroyed two weeks ago, Jonathan. There’s nothing left, and you’re being held responsible.”
Jonathan glared ahead at this. “I was on my way back to Pluto Station and nearly out of power, so I used all of my Falcon’s remaining energy to push an asteroid at a trajectory that would eventually meet with my destination. That someone at the Pluto Station didn’t take counter-preventative measures with an imminent collision of space debris is entirely not my fault. I was trying to stay alive. Incompetence here is what led to the destruction of the Pluto Station, and that is sickening.”
Jocelyn looked like she needed another cigarette. “Our reports were clear of debris when the computer ran them seconds prior to the collision. Our alert systems went off, but the impact happened almost immediately. We were also in the midst of an important gathering after the tragic death of Gary Rudolph.”
Jonathan’s eyes widened. “Rudolph is dead?”
“Most definitely. He was hit by a bolide while out with a repair team. It hit Jimmy Golding’s ankle and nearly cost him his leg, but they saw Rudolph floating away. His life-signs were in the negative, and he had a hole through his suit.”
“That’s extremely unfortunate,” said Jonathan, thinking. “I wonder how fast I was going after….” He trailed off, looking at Jocelyn
She narrowed her attention on him. “The station was designed to withstand a catastrophic event so we were able to evacuate the station and get all the survivors onto C class star ships en route for Earth. And, of course, save your ass from the asteroid that caused all the damage. Imagine our surprise when it turned out to be you inside that ship. Now, everybody in the solar system is waiting to hear the outcome of the other catastrophic event that took the Enigma.”
“That is a long story, one that’s going to take too much time to explain from beginning to end.”
Jocelyn lifted her hand into the air. “We have six months until we reach Earth. Until we present your story to the five remaining members of the Pluto Council and hold a proper trial, you’re not going anywhere. Get the details of your story straight and tell me what happened after your departure from the Pluto Station a year and a half ago.”
Jonathan took a few minutes to consider how to explain. He had known that he would have to tell the people of Earth what happened and had prepared the majority of his story during his trip. But what happened… before… seemed like a lifetime ago. “All of this is being recorded, right?” Jonathan drawled, meeting Jocelyn’s green eyes. Jocelyn stood up and nodded. “Good, because I don’t want to tell this story more than once. I’ll answer questions, but this is all you’re going to get.”
“All right. Whenever you’re ready.” Jocelyn said. She took another cigarette from a dwindling pack in her breast pocket, and stuck it in her mouth. She put her thumb to the tip and pulled, breathing out smoke.
Jonathan took a deep breath. “It starts with the day of our departure….”
Jonathan Tabith opened his eyes to the titanium ceiling of his cabin at five in the morning. Pluto, with the ring of the Pluto Station circling it, slowly drifted across his window as the Star Ship Enigma performed routine tests. The distant shine of the sun glimmered from the center of the solar system against the backdrop of stars. Today was an important day.
He showered in his personal bathroom and dressed in his uniform with the red armband. In two hours, the Enigma would be leaving Pluto Station for Alpha Centauri. Jonathan had been waiting for this day for the last twenty-years. He slid his sleeve back and clipped the bronze Manica-Band onto his wrist. The holographic interface on the bracer glowed to life as it synchronized with his vital signs.
His room door slid apart as he walked under the sensor and then it closed and locked after he entered the dimly-lit corridor leading to the Bridge. Juan Langston’s door was open so Jonathan could see him meditating on a red carpet with his neighbor, Rick Daniels, seated at his side. The use of meditation had been promoted by the military throughout the last hundred years as it was proven to steady the mind and body. Since they were about to embark on a journey that could easily take the lives of the 5,000 people aboard the ship, a little relaxation couldn’t hurt.
Jonathan took the stairs leading to the Primary Life Support Hall. He stepped off the bottom stair to the rubber path leading through the bright green grove beneath the artificial sun on the ceiling high above. He walked between the large genetically engineered evergreen oak trees that filled the room. He saw Stephanie Rawi, the head of the ship’s environmental control department, typing on a touch-pad as she observed a tree that was yellower than the others. She had long red hair, brilliant blue eyes, and a naturally fair complexion.
“Good morning, Doctor Tabith.” She smiled at him.
“Morning, Doctor Rawi.” He nodded, looking at the tree-limbs swaying with the steady stream of wind that pumped through the room periodically throughout the day as Rawi surveyed her notes. “Is there any way I can be of assistance?”
“Not unless you can explain why this tree grew with an imbalanced cytokinin to auxin ratio.” Rawi cocked her brow at the clueless expression on his face. She smiled. “I’ll be fine, thanks for asking.”
“Sorry, my botany skills were subpar at best.” Jonathan laughed. “Hard to grow anything on Venus.” He started toward the lift nearby.
“Good luck if I don’t see you again before the launch.” She called as he turned around on the lift.
“Thanks, good luck with the tree.” He said. She adjusted her glasses and nodded. The lift doors closed and he descended to the Engineering Hall.
In the Engineering Hall, hundreds of uniformed people hurried through the many corridors between the reactors and computer terminals. Jonathan made his way around the cat-walk and entered the foreman’s office.
Chance Trillian sat at the desk looking uncomfortable as he scratched the collar of his suit. He met Jonathan’s eyes. “Morning, Doctor Tabith. I hate going through Life-Support to get here. That artificial sun always makes me itchy.” He had short, brown hair and blue eyes. Chance had been born with a rare skin disease that made him more susceptible to the sun’s UV rays. Before leaving Earth, he had undergone a skin transplant that was supposed to permanently cure his disease. After getting his PhD in Aeronautical Engineering, Chance was one of the first engineers to sign on with the Enigma.
“Sam’s putting out fires,” said Chance. “Captain Joyce told him he’d be off the ship if he didn’t have the reports on his desk by five this morning. Sam forgot, even though he had the reports ready on the desk when I got here. Hope the captain’s in a good mood.”
“Where’s William? I need to go over a few points before launch.” Jonathan said.
“Really? You’re being anal-retentive. Everything is just as perfect as it’s been for the last three months. There’s no point you could cover that he hasn’t.”
“You’re probably right, and I briefed him and Sam Hartigan already so it should be fine.”
“Engineering is covered.” Chance assured him. “Go enjoy the launch from the Bridge.”
Jonathan took a deep breath. “Fine. Carry on.” He continued to the other side of the Engineering Hall and rode the tram to the Core and Observation Deck. The doors opened to the massive neon purple core that consumed the center of the Core room. Terminals surrounded the base where twenty engineers were crowded for last-minute checks and tweaks. Jonathan had spent most of the last few days in this room, calibrating the core for the level of energy that the ship would need in order to get out of the solar system.
He followed the path that wound around the room and core. He couldn’t help thinking about the amount of power the core held–enough to destroy half the solar system if it were to destabilize. Both the ship and the Pluto Space Station had crippled him financially, but it was necessary to see all of this come to fruition.
Jonathan entered the Observation Deck, a long domed-glass corridor leading from the Primary Functions part of the ship to the Operations. The corridor was filled with people moving from one part of the ship to the other. Everyone from the Primary Functions had a green armband. Each person Jonathan passed once he exited the Observation Deck was wearing a red band for Operations. The captain and the executive officer had blue armbands. The medical officers’ armbands were white, and the maintenance and flight officers’ armbands were orange. He walked past the Medical office and entered the Bridge.
The Bridge was a large room with three stories beneath the massive front window of the Enigma. The bottom story was for flight controls and basic ship operations where Ryan Thompson and Clara Wallace were positioned in the pilot and co-pilot seats. Patrick Spalding was seated at the operations terminal going over diagnostics. The second story was for Tactical and Defense. George Freeman sat at the defense terminal, monitoring the ship’s defense system. The third story was information. Gene Sherri ran the Information Center, so everyone was used to hearing her voice when it came to interacting with the Enigma Network. At the podium on the third story, Executive Officer Stephen Adams stood at Captain Richard Joyce’s side.
“Finally rolled out of bed, Doctor Tabith?” Captain Joyce smiled. He had thin, graying hair and the confident charisma of a military leader.
“Just nervous about today.” Jonathan said.
“Don’t be. Everything is running smoothly.” Joyce replied.
“Everyone keeps saying that,” Jonathan said, approaching the weapons terminal, “though I’m sure there’s something someone’s forgotten, something that got neglected or slipped between the cracks, like the weapons being shut off. What if we had entered the Oort Cloud without the weapons being online?” He turned the weapons support on.
“That wouldn’t have happened,” said Captain Joyce. “Have a little faith in Mr. Freeman’s capability.”
“Thanks for the support, Doctor Tabith.” Freeman said sarcastically without looking away from his terminal.
Jonathan checked the shields, making sure they were keeping the ship protected from radiation as well as small space debris. All was as it had been throughout the last year since the Enigma’s initial launch. The power, the conundrum Jonathan had fretted over for years, had remained at a constant flow from the core. He could hardly believe they were an hour from launch without a single problem. He had created the Enigma to be flawless.
“Since you have nothing else to do, Tabith, go down to the Flight Dock and give this to the new recruit.” Adams slipped a touch-pad into Jonathan’s hands.
Jonathan took the pad through the doors nearby. The Flight Dock was directly under the Bridge, so he wouldn’t have to go far. He took an elevator to the level below where dozens of large aircraft were stored. The Hawks, which lined the docks to the left of the pathway, were small fighter aircraft whose purpose was to clear away asteroids or scout questionable regions of space. There were a number of Falcons–a five-man surveillance aircraft–on the level beneath the Hawks. The larger Freighters were for transports, and they could hold close to a thousand people in the event that they needed to disperse a small populace from the Enigma. The ultimate goal was to find a habitable planet while maintaining a space station in that planet’s orbit. Within the transport Freighters were all the means necessary to do just that, including terraform technology.
The lift lowered to the bottom floor. It took a minute as the room was so large. Below, men in mechanized cargo loader suits moved large boxes of equipment from the loading docks to the climate-controlled storage units. Jonathan approached the recent arrivals line, which currently contained only one transport Freighter. A group of officers exited and started down the ramp. The last was a young woman with long, curly brown hair and blue eyes. She was still wearing her black academy uniform with the gold trim, which meant she had been pulled straight out of class.
“Janice Temps.” Jonathan approached. When Janice saw Jonathan, her face went two shades lighter.
“Jonathan Tabith.” He shook her hand. “You did graduate, right?”
“I was rushed, but I was at the top of my class for ninety-five percent of the course before they told me they needed to draft me an hour ago. I know how to run this ship all by myself, so you don’t have to worry about that.” Janice said.
“Confidence: I like it, but I like experience a lot more. Get familiar with the flight crew and get started on rotation. Here’s your debriefing.” He gave her the touch-pad.
“Hey Tabith, I have a bone to pick with you!” A familiar woman’s voice called from one of the catwalks surrounding one of the transports being worked on by the maintenance crew. She stepped onto one of the lifts and descended. Elizabeth Newman glared at Jonathan as the lift dropped to the floor. She had long blond hair and hazel eyes. Her armband was orange for maintenance. “A chance to one-up my old science partner on his own creation–don’t mind if I do! I believe you owe me about a hundred and twenty grand.”
“I’m afraid you’re standing on everything I own.” Jonathan chuckled.
Elizabeth crossed her arms and looked Janice up and down. “Fresh meat? There should be some extra uniforms in the Lock-up. Get changed before someone sees you and thinks you’re on the wrong ship.” She pointed to an open doorway across the Flight Dock.
“It was good to meet you, Doctor Tabith.” Janice smiled at him, and then followed Elizabeth’s direction and entered the Lock-up.
Elizabeth Newman grabbed Jonathan’s hand and tugged him into motion. “Come on.” She narrowed her hazel eyes to his as she led him to a nearby corridor behind a tall stack of boxes. Everybody was either busy working or getting ready for the coming event. She pulled him into a vacant foreman’s office and began kissing him and running her hands through his hair.
“Do you have time to help me, Doctor Tabith?” She whispered in his ear as she unzipped her uniform.
“I’ve got all the time in the universe,” said Jonathan as he pulled his lips to hers.
Jonathan returned to the Bridge. Joyce and Adams were on the first floor, prepared to give the order to launch when ready.
“Figured we’d wait for you before we launched into deep space.” Captain Joyce said.
“Resume the mission as scheduled.” Jonathan said.
Joyce nodded. “Take us out, Thompson.” Freighters, Falcons, and Hawks flew alongside the ship, firing rockets into the empty space above the Enigma: vessels from Pluto and Earth, giving the crew of the Enigma a final send-off. Jonathan found an empty seat and sat down.
“Trillian, how’s everything look? You doing okay?” Adams asked through the communicator cuff on his wrist.
“Doing fine, Sir: one-hundred and ten percent efficiency.” Chance Trillian’s voice echoed from the communicator.
Adams found a seat at the back of the first floor of the ship. “We should clear the Kuiper Belt and Scattered Disc, and enter the Oort Cloud in five hours.” Adams said into his communicator so that everyone on the ship could hear him.
Beyond the front window of the Bridge, the Enigma waded between the many floating shards of frozen gasses. A globe of space cleared the area around the Enigma as floating space debris intercepted the shield and either dissolved or deflected away. They could see the light of Alpha Centauri as a tiny glimmer in the distance. There were actually two suns, but from this position in space they looked like one. They would be the Enigma’s guiding light for the remainder of the trip.
The ship was on high alert throughout the next five hours. Watching the Oort Cloud approach was incredible. A sea of comets floated across their view–one that extended around the entirety of the solar system. Each comet moved in perfect sync with the others, soaring on the sun’s outer heliosphere. The light reflecting off the comets shined on the faces of everyone on the Bridge.
“Thrusters to full power. Set coordinates, Thompson.” Captain Joyce ordered.
“Yes, Sir.” Ryan Thompson said, looking from his terminal to the window above. It was simple point-intersect algebra, which the computer of the ship projected automatically so Ryan simply had to plug in the coordinates and they would be able to slip between the mesh of comets streaking in formation about the solar system.
“How are we looking, Sam?” Joyce asked through the communicator.
“Running cool.” He replied. “Give her all you need to punch through and get us on our way.”
“Weapons at full support, prepared for any oncoming projectiles.” George Freeman said.
“Try to avoid shooting anything unless we have no other choice,” said Jonathan. “It could trigger a massive chain reaction that would turn our shields–and us–into dust. If it’s a big enough chain reaction it could disrupt the entire solar system.”
“Shield is fluctuating between ninety-eight and a hundred percent.” Freeman said.
The Enigma moved between the giant, bright comets with ease. Each comet whirred noiselessly within its position in space. It was much simpler than Jonathan had anticipated. Several men had supposedly passed through the Oort Cloud, but few could have gone farther and lived to tell the tale.
“We should be through the Oort Cloud in less than a five days.” Jonathan said. “So long as we’ve got eyes everywhere for that time, we’ll be fine.”
The alert system went off overhead. The few lights positioned over the room switched to red. It startled even Jonathan, and he had designed the alert system himself.
“The system’s freaking out because of all the projectiles.” Clara said.
“We’re fine, but… I guess the ship’s nervous.” Ryan Thompson concurred.
Later that evening, when Jonathan and Elizabeth were at the bar in the cafeteria, Jonathan sat in silent thought.
“Hard to believe it’s really happening. We’re really here.” She said.
“I was so scared when I looked out,” continued Elizabeth. “With the Enigma’s core we could destroy the whole solar system on a prayer that we might be able to find something more. We’re so greedy, human-beings.”
“To deny it would be to deny who we are. Maybe it won’t be by one another’s hand that our species faces extinction, but by our unrelenting curiosity.” He said, looking into his glass. He observed the billions of atoms and molecules that comprised his drink, thinking that in a way some form of life might exist. And if it did, did it wonder what lay outside its world of understanding? Did it pray, philosophize, and ponder the constructs of its prison so that it may alter its destiny of ‘here and gone’; the ruthless way that the universe seemed to exist throughout all of its known being? Could anything ever survive this constant reality, particularly the weak and ignorant race of human-kind? “Is it even necessary?” He asked aloud.
“Is what necessary?” Elizabeth asked. She downed the last of her drink and caught the bartender’s eye. He came over and filled up her glass with more whiskey.
“Our survival. What if this reality is just a test: a test of fortitude and acceptance. People who can’t abide by this waste away, life after life.”
“I’m not following you.”
“I was just thinking about an interesting quantum theory an old professor of mine used to talk about; unlimited universes, that everything that’s happened and is happening has happened before and will happen again. There are an unlimited number of realities–
“I remember. I was in Gordon’s class as well.” Elizabeth smiled.
“That’s right. He retired two years after you graduated, right?” Jonathan asked.
She nodded, rolling her eyes to her glass. “It’s cool when you hear about it, but it’s just words and ideas. Maybe stuff does work like that on some other-dimensional level, but we spent a lot of time theorizing in school.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Do you think anyone would mind if I moved my stuff into your room? Yours has a window.” Elizabeth said.
“I think we could bend the rules a little.” Jonathan said, placing his hand on her leg. “For all we know, Earth could be destroyed and we might have to procreate for a new planet.”
“Maybe you should procreate on your own.” Elizabeth smiled and finished the last of her drink.
“Well,” Jonathan got up from his seat, “I’ve got to make a few rounds before I head to bed so I’ll meet you at my place in a little while.”
“Sounds good.” Elizabeth smiled at him. He left the cafeteria and returned to Engineering.
“I’ll be back for you. I promise.” Chance said to his girlfriend, Sarah Hoffman, over the video communication screen in his office. Jonathan stood in the doorway, listening. He needed to talk to Chance, but didn’t want to interrupt.
“I understand. It’s our destiny to go separate ways, Chance. You have to do this.” Sarah replied.
“You’ll wait for me… right?” Chance asked.
“I… I don’t know if that’s practical.” Sarah said, inspiring a difficult silence. “Doctor Tabith is behind you. You should probably see what he needs and I’ll talk to you later.” She closed the video call, leaving the black desktop of his monitor.
“Damn.” Chance massaged his brow.
“It’s going to be okay.” Jonathan said with his hands laced behind his back.
“Yeah, says you. I gave up everything for this mission.” Chance shook his head.
“Is that such a bad thing? Are you afraid of what’s going to happen to you, of what’s going to happen to her?” Jonathan asked. “She’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.”
“I just,” Chance paused, “can’t stand the idea of her being with someone else.”
Jonathan shrugged. “Was Sarah the first girl you ever slept with?”
Chance wrinkled his forehead. “No, but–
“Were you the first man she ever slept with?”
“Humans have sex. It’s silly that our society is primarily run by these hormones, but that’s what and who we are. Are you surprised that your relationship is over? She’s never going to see you again. You should want her to be happy by letting you go.”
“Easier said than done.” Chance said.
“True, but this is the way it is. You’ve got a job to do, and a life to live. You’ll be okay?”
“Don’t worry. I know how to handle a breakup, but nothing anyone can say can make it not hurt.”
“I know. I just wanted to help. Go grab something to eat in the cafeteria. Get out of this office and let Sam or William take a shift.” Jonathan said.
Making his way back to his room, he saw Stephanie Rawi in the Primary Life Support Hall. “Congratulations on this so-far successful mission, Doctor Tabith.”
“Thank you. I think we’ll all rest easier when we’re out of this cloud of comets.” Jonathan said.
“Absolutely. William Mason said he was looking for you. He was headed toward the efficiencies.”
“Great, that’s where I’m going. Thank you, Doctor Rawi.” Jonathan said and made his way to the stairs leading to the living quarters.
William Mason was just leaving his room and coming down the hall when Jonathan found him. “Ah, finally.” William breathed a sigh of relief. He was a tall man with brown eyes, black-rimmed glasses and short brown hair.
“Is everything okay? Everything with Engineering is fine?” Jonathan asked.
“Of course,” William looked taken aback at the question. “It’s something else.”
“It’s Chance isn’t it. I’ve just spoken with him so you shouldn’t have to worry.”
“It’s not that either. It’s, I don’t know,” he looked over his shoulder to make sure the hall was clear. After assuring no one would overhear them, he turned back to Jonathan. “Ever since we left, I’ve been having the most bizarre dreams.”
“What kind of dreams?”
“Dreams about places I’ve never been, people I’ve never met. I generally don’t dream, even in space, but being aboard this ship has caused me to start.”
“It’s stress. You’ve slept in space before, but we’re in a high stress situation. No one has ever risked what we’re doing here today, not with this much on the line.”
“You don’t understand, Doctor Tabith. It’s not stress. In one of the dreams, a little girl told me I was the key to saving all mankind. When I asked her how, she said, ‘You’ll see.’. They were more than just dreams.”
“I’ve had quite a few dreams that I felt were important, messages of sorts–
“Not like this,” interrupted William. “Trust me. I’ll keep you updated on the things I dream.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary, William.”
“Just humor me.”
Jonathan sighed. “Fine. If you think it’s that important then keep a dream diary. The computer will help you there. I’ll look over it in the evening.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it. Have a good night, Jonathan.” William nodded.
Jonathan made his way back to his room where Elizabeth was naked and reading a book in his bed with the comets tracing across the black backdrop of space beyond the window next to her. She wore a pair of black glasses and had tied her hair into a knot behind her head.
“I built the ship correctly, but it’s the crew that’s starting to get a little rocky.”
“People are still getting used to this life. It will pass. They’ll figure out how to cope, or the doctor will prescribe them the meds to help them.” Elizabeth said.
“We shouldn’t need meds to cope with what we don’t understand.” Jonathan said, standing before the window to view the Oort Cloud.
“Some people do.” She shrugged, watching him undress. She took off her glasses and relaxed into her pillow while yawning. After Jonathan finished washing his face, they made love before passing into sleep.
The next few days went by quickly. As the electromagnetic radiation weathered the shields, communication with Earth began to become delayed. They had cleared the Oort Cloud and entered the Bow Shock: the last hurdle before they reached the Interstellar Medium. The solar winds had already ceased and clouds of radiated plasma drifted through space.
Jonathan entered the cafeteria and sat next to Ryan Thompson who was engaged in a conversation with George Freeman. Both of them had unkempt facial hair. Most of the men aboard the ship had stopped shaving. “If you’ve never had Korean Bulgogi before, then you’re missing out.” Ryan said, picking up some of the stringy meat on his plate with his chopsticks.
“It’s just barbecued meat. I’ve had plenty of that, living in Texas when I was a kid.” George took a bite out of his hamburger.
“It’s not the same.” Ryan said.
“I’ll take a nice hamburger over a pile of pulled meat any day.” George said.
The bartender, a woman with long black hair, walked by and Jonathan ordered a beer. “How’s steering this big girl going for you?” Jonathan asked Ryan.
“Just inputting numbers all day. It’s difficult. Until we’re out of this mess, I’m not allowed to drink, which is just shitty. What else can I do to calm my nerves?”
“Meditate. Juan Langston teaches meditation every day from three to six, and on weekends from nine to twelve in the evening. It will steady your hand and do what you think alcohol does for you but better.” Jonathan said.
“I’ve heard all about how important meditation is for us, but it’s simply not something that’s for me. I’d rather kick back a few beers and relax over sitting up for hours while my knees hate me for the rest of the day.” Ryan laughed. George, to his left, smiled and nodded with a mouthful of hamburger.
“You should meditate like your head’s on fire,” said Jonathan. “You’re the one who’s complaining that he can’t relax without alcohol. Since that’s not possible for you, I’m merely offering a solution to your problem.”
“Think I’d rather just go to bed early.” Ryan pushed his seat out.
“Suit yourself.” Jonathan said as Ryan made his way toward the lift. Jonathan glanced at George Freeman. “Did you like working for Cameron Co?”
“It taught me a lot, but ‘like’ isn’t the word I’d use. Mining asteroids is a dangerous business no matter which seat you’re sitting in; good money, though. My manager offered me a pay raise to pass up the Enigma.”
“Why didn’t you take it?” Jonathan asked.
George narrowed his brown eyes on Jonathan’s. “Maybe not everybody sees what you’re doing here, Doctor Tabith, but I wouldn’t miss being part of this ride for the world.” He ate the last of his hamburger in two bites. “Gotta get back to the Bridge.”
“You’ve already pulled your shift today. Let Liam handle it.” Jonathan said. Making sure the key players of the crew were well-rested and happy was as important as maintaining the basic functions of the ship.
“I know I did.” George wiped his face. “I just like doing it. Call it a hobby.”
“If you get tired, call me. I’ll come down to the Bridge and take over.”
“Thanks. You’re a good man, Jonathan. Just because you’re wealthy doesn’t mean you stopped knowing what hard work is.”
“I never did anything I did to become wealthy.” Jonathan said. “I’m probably the poorest person on this boat now.”
George gave Jonathan a casual salute before heading off to the Bridge.
“So you built this thing all on your own?” The bartender asked from behind the counter as she wiped water off a recently cleaned glass.
“I designed and built a lot on my own, but not all of it. Building this thing would have taken me two-hundred years by myself, and then I wouldn’t have the crew to fly it.” He noticed her watching him interestedly. Her black hair was tied into a ponytail. Jonathan studied the rings of tattoos climbing from her wrists to her sleeves. “What made you want to give up life on Earth to bartend on the Enigma?”
“If I didn’t volunteer, somebody else would have. There’s no coincidental story that brings me here.” She said.
“I’m not stingy about getting tipped, so don’t hesitate to do so.” She beamed.
“Even though Earthen money is completely useless and you’ll probably never see Earth again?” He inquired.
“We’re still using Earthen currency on the ship,” she glanced at him over her shoulder as she filled up a glass of beer for one of the other patrons.
“Security to Doctor Tabith,” someone said over Jonathan’s communicator, startling him. “You might want to come to Engineering. It’s about William.”
“On my way.” He said through his communicator as he slid his bar stool back. He dropped a few dollars on the counter and headed for Engineering.
“Night.” The bartender said.
Jonathan entered Engineering. Ralph Vidar, the head of Security, met him near the reactor alcoves. Jonathan’s eyes flicked to the black band on Ralph’s arm as Ralph matched Jonathan’s stride.
“Sorry to bother you, but Chance Trillian reported some disturbing behavior on William’s part. When we got here, we stopped him from detonating one of the reactors.”
Fear bubbled inside Jonathan’s chest. He and William had trained in the Venus Academy together twenty years earlier. The two weren’t best friends, but he couldn’t imagine why William would try to sabotage the mission just as they were getting started. “Did he say anything?”
“Said he would only talk to you. He’s in the Lock-up.” Ralph said.
“I’ll go find him.” Jonathan said, starting to leave.
“Before you go, there’s something else you should see.” Ralph motioned for Jonathan to follow.
Ralph led Jonathan to the reactor alcove nearest to the back of the Engineering hall, and shined his wrist-light onto the wall beyond the reactor. “It’s over here!” He yelled over the whir of the reactor’s incessant ionization.
Jonathan surveyed the area Ralph’s light revealed. Written upon the wall were complex physics equations–some, Jonathan recognized, involving variables from their current course. A lot of it looked like chicken-scratch because he’d obviously written it frantically, but some parts looked like the coordinates to a specific location. Jonathan ducked out of the alcove.
“He could have killed us all.” Ralph said.
“Another five minutes and he might have.” Jonathan found the nearest terminal and investigated the settings. They’d been rebooted to an earlier checkpoint, probably by Chance. He watched the video feed from the last two hours, and watched as William Mason used a terminal to input potentially lethal settings for the back reactor. He looked calm and steady, like he knew exactly what he was doing. Chance entered Engineering when the Reactor reached three-quarters of the way to overheating, having heard the computer’s warning.
Jonathan stepped away from the computer and turned to Ralph. “I need to talk to William, but first take me to his room.”
Ralph led Jonathan to William’s room and opened the door using his master key-card. The room was militantly clean. The only oddity was the blinking red and white light at the top right of William’s computer terminal, indicating that he had both missed a crucial appointment and had unread messages. Jonathan stepped inside, inspiring the lights to turn on. He paced the room, pausing with his back to the interface terminal. Ralph remained in the doorway, observing Jonathan’s interest.
“Dreamscape: connect.” He said. The lights dimmed as the program loaded. The ceiling became a neon white bulb. “Show me everything for William Mason.” Two files appeared on the omni-screen. “First file.”
The first file was from six days prior. A green mist floated over the endless blackness of space as numbers and quandaries rushed through the air too quickly for Jonathan or Ralph to see. The sound of a violent river crashed through the room from the speakers in the walls. From the mist, the narrative focused on the face of a man with rugged unkempt facial hair sprouting from his cheeks. His eyes were a piercing gray as he concentrated. He clutched his hand to the side of his head in an attempt to focus harder.
“You must….” The man spoke, but the sound of the water became unbearably loud. “The ship! The ship!” He strained. “Before it’s too late!” He disappeared within the green haze, but the river remained. The motion of moving forward took the unconscious eye and hurled the camera above the complex mathematical expanse of a massive black-hole, ripping and sucking everything into it’s emptiness. The camera dove into the abyss and the dream ended.
“That’s a pretty bizarre dream.” Ralph said. “Did the old guy look like anybody aboard the Enigma?”
“He looked like William,” said Jonathan. “Play the second file.”
The second file zoomed into a massive sandy city that looked like a place in the Middle East on Earth, but the buildings weren’t the sort of buildings Jonathan had become accustomed to seeing during his trips to Baghdad and Doha when he was younger. They seemed far older. The view zoomed over the the stone house-tops, over the heads of hundreds of people walking the streets below. The camera settled into the eyes of William, presumably, as he was running as fast as he could, jumping and diving across the rooftops. People were after him. Occasionally, a face would emerge from the void of his free-run and he would duck, dip, and dive out of his assailant before continuing his run.
William landed atop the final roof and stood across from seven men who wore what appeared to be medieval mail. The man in the middle wore a different color, and he held his wife with a blade to her throat. She had long brown hair and sea-green eyes… eyes that had been gouged out, leaving bloody holes in her face. She was screaming as William fell to his knees. He tried to get up and save her, but another figure emerged from the building nearby with his arms raised high. The man wore a crown on his head and smiled an evil grin. He had short slicked back brown hair and dark eyes. He spoke, but all that came out was a vibrating humming as his lips moved. Jonathan and Ralph could hear the syllables, but nothing specific in the dialogue.
Moving to strike, William dove for the king, drawing what appeared to Jonathan and Ralph as a sword, but it was impossible to tell. It didn’t matter anyway. William was blown off his feet and the dream only just caught sight of his wife’s captor cutting the woman’s throat–crimson blood flooding down her neck–before the dream ended abruptly, leaving Jonathan and Ralph standing in the empty room in silence.
“Well… that was messed up.” Ralph grunted.
“He didn’t record anything else.” Jonathan said.
“Maybe he couldn’t sleep. I know those dream recorders always make me nervous. I start trying to analyze ideas, and my mind won’t stop racing.”
“Or he wasn’t sleeping here. Let’s go talk to William,” said Jonathan.
Ralph led Jonathan to the brig of the Lock-up, a division of the Cargo Hold that had been set aside for crew-members who became unruly or disturbed the rest of the crew. So far, they hadn’t needed it, but they also hadn’t needed the Medical Office for anything other than a few routine shots.
William sat at the back of the room the crew had made out of the massive storage containers behind a stack of tables. He looked to have been sleeping, but opened his eyes when he saw them. As they approached, Jonathan recalled the face of the man from William’s dream. It was hard to envision with William’s lack of facial hair. William was surprisingly kempt for someone who very nearly blew the whole Enigma to smithereens. His hands were bound with Ralph’s security bracers.
“Jonathan Tabith.” William hiked himself to his feet and stretched, popping his back. “I was hoping I’d have the opportunity to see the face of the man who has condemned man-kind to a very miserable fate by creating this vehicle. If you knew what I knew you’d sabotage a reactor in a heartbeat.”
“Help me understand, William.” Jonathan approached the stacks of tables quarantining William to the brig. William said nothing. “Our path is clear of all obstacles and your dreams have convinced you that I’m trying to destroy the world. In actuality, had your plan to destroy the reactor worked, we are still within proximity of the Oort Cloud. You may have come close to destroying our solar system, Earth included.”
“Protecting Earth was never my intention.” William dropped to his haunches and folded his hands together.
Jonathan paced. “Tell me something: this figure from your dreams, are you sure he wanted you to destroy the Enigma?”
William looked at Jonathan curiously.
“Did he really say destroy it, or was he talking about something else? I saw the recording in your room. It was nearly impossible to decipher what that man was trying to tell you. Perhaps he somehow sent us a message from the future and you happened to be the receiver of said message. Since we cannot know of what he was trying to convey to us, any action to continue or prevent a future situation is just as liable to cause the situation. Such is the nature of trying to change the future.”
William gave a casual snort. “I had a lot of dreams.”
“What else do you know?” Jonathan asked. “Who was the girl that was murdered in your dream?”
“That is the question, isn’t it, Doctor Tabith?” William dropped to his side and rolled over with his back to Jonathan.
Ralph and Jonathan left the Cargo Hold and entered the cafeteria. It was late, so there were only about thirty people eating at the long tables dispersed throughout the room.
“Sadly that’s more than I got out of him.” Ralph said.
“He’ll tell me more. Give him some time in solitary confinement to reflect.”
Three days later, Jonathan returned to the Lock-up with a tray of food. Corn on the cob and two pieces of turkey breast. William lay on his side in the same position he had been in when Jonathan left previously. Jonathan slid the tray to the back of the table.
William turned over and sat facing Jonathan.
“Tell me more.” Jonathan said. “If you have information that may prevent a catastrophe, then I want to do whatever it takes to comply in keeping that from happening.”
“Maybe it’s not about preventing a catastrophe, but keeping one at bay. Suppose society on Earth breaks down and everyone has to live off the land again, which as you know is no longer possible on our world, what will inevitably happen to Earth and its primary race of Homo sapiens?”
“We’d kill each other.” Jonathan answered.
“And resort to cannibalism. Humans eating humans, brother eating brother. Now, what of the universe? What happens if humans, like an intergalactic disease, spread to other worlds, other solar systems, taking over whole galaxies? What happens when we’ve consumed everything in the universe?”
“By your logic, we’ll eat each other. That’s just an assumption. You’re trying to change a future that has only been conceived within the confines of your mind.”
“We are the future, Jonathan. We’re the virus.”
“So why protect Earth then? If we’re just a plague that needs to be wiped out, then for what good should we exist?”
“I already told you: Earth isn’t important. Do you believe humans are the only sentient race in the universe?” William asked.
“I deal in things I know and understand, and so far as I know, human-kind has never come into contact with another race similar to ours on another planet.”
“You’re in for a big surprise.” William smirked. “Good day to you, Doctor Tabith.” He got to his feet, took his tray and sat back down with his back to the tables.
“He’s just crazy. There’s no reasoning with him.” Elizabeth said at the bar a few hours later.
“I can’t shake the feeling that he knows something important about our mission.” Jonathan sighed, staring at the whiskey in his glass.
“Thank you.” Elizabeth said to the bartender as she placed a tequila shot before her. “In my experience, people who think they can change the future aren’t really seeing the whole picture. You don’t have that kind of control in life. The idea that you do is a malfunction in the brain.”
Jonathan nodded. Elizabeth’s brother sat next to her and they began chatting about their day.
Officer Adams sat on the stool next to Jonathan. “Whiskey-sour, please,” he said to the bartender and turned to Jonathan. “Fine vessel you’ve designed; got us through the Oort Cloud with no problem.”
“Thank you.” Jonathan said.
“Let me cut right to it, Jonathan,” said Adams, lowering his voice. “Considering the magnitude of Mason’s actions, a jury of ten has agreed that Mason should be executed.”
Jonathan wrinkled his brow. “Is there no other alternative?”
“We can’t afford another event like this to take place. Given a second opportunity to destroy this vessel, Mason may be smart enough to keep us from stopping him. Our makeshift brig isn’t something that can hold him for the duration of the trip.”
“So arrest him to his quarters.”
“You know that’s not going to work. He has advanced level clearance within the computer that you gave him during the construction of this ship,” said Adams. “This has to be done, Jonathan. We’ll do it quietly, poison his food or drink. It will be humane. He’ll go to sleep and won’t wake up. Problem solved for everyone.”
“Give me a few days to get some answers out of him.”
“You have until tomorrow afternoon.” Adams smiled when his whiskey-sour arrived. He took a sip. Jonathan wondered how he could condemn a man to death and smile so easily. Granted, William had nearly killed them all, but he was still a man of intelligence and respect. Jonathan left the bar without saying anything else to Adams or Elizabeth.
He found himself on the Observation Deck, the magnificent tunnel of windows that allowed them to witness the galaxy around them as they traveled. As they started entering the Interstellar Medium, nebulas of plasma clouds drifted by the windows. The starlight of the universe gleamed from their lampposts across the sky beyond the amoebas of radiated clouds that looked eerily like strings of fungi.
Jonathan returned to his room and laid down for awhile. He took off his Manica-Band and placed it in the drawer of his bed-side table that was bolted to the floor and wall. Massaging his bare wrist felt good. He drifted in and out of rest, waking occasionally to drink water or go to the restroom. Elizabeth arrived in the early morning and fell asleep beside him.
He dreamed of space, the emptiness of it all, how it went on and on and on and existed for no apparent reason. But within that space, he saw the glimmer of hope that was the Enigma. His dream’s eye zoomed in on the Enigma, passing through the wall into the Cargo Hold. William Mason sat cross-legged in the middle of the Lock-up. The vision zoomed in on Mason’s face, centering on his gray eyes. “It’s time.” He whispered as the rushing water filled his mind until it became unbearably loud.
Jonathan woke up drenched in sweat. He went to the bathroom and took off his shirt. Turning on the faucet, he splashed his face with water. As the water ran over his hand, Jonathan trickled the cool down his back, mixing water with his icy sweat. He stared in the mirror, gazing at the curvatures of his face, listening to the dead silence around him. Something was wrong. He didn’t know what it was but something inside him was clawing with primordial terror.
He turned around, the simple motion taking significantly longer than it should have. His head felt six times bigger than normal. He felt drunk as the compression hit him. His eyes flicked to a glass on the desk in front of the video screen on the other side of the room. The water inside was slanted against the wall of the glass.
Jonathan’s eyes widened. He dove into the bedroom noiselessly, weightlessly. The gravity regulator had been neutralized. Jonathan pushed off the wall and grabbed the bedside cabinet. He yanked open the drawer and grabbed the Manica-Band. It seemed to take forever to get it around his wrist and latch it. The moment he did, everything changed. He was able to breathe and think clearly as it had it generated own temporary atmosphere. So long as there was still oxygen in the room, it could promise an additional five minutes of extended life-support in the event of an emergency.
He felt the tugging and grabbed the bedside table. His legs were pulled into the air. Out of his peripheral vision, Jonathan saw the back wall disintegrate to the blackness. A distorted and whining roar as deafening as the rush of water from his nightmare screamed through his mind. The window cracked and shattered. Elizabeth and the blanket covers were sucked out into the nothingness of space with inconceivable ease as Jonathan held on for dear life. The panels of the room door bent towards the breach behind him. They pulled loose of the frame and narrowly missed his legs as they fired out into space.
He had to get out of this room. Jonathan reached up as the oxygen of the ship was sucked out through the hole behind him. He grabbed hold of the wall and managed to get his other hand around the door frame. He pulled himself up into the corridor outside his room. Explosions rang throughout the ship. The squeal and screech of torquing metal filled the corridors for what felt like an eternity. His world, his body–his mind–seemed to be compressing like it was all being pushed through an impossibly tight tube. Jonathan gripped his head in pain and terror, pressed into the corner of the hall as a river of air surged out into space above him. He could do nothing.
All of a sudden, the noises stopped. The gravity returned, but the air of the ship was still getting sucked out through the doorway. Jonathan crawled away from the door until he could get to his feet and made for the Life-Support Hall.
The doors opened and he was tugged off the ground. As he flew away, he saw the darkened grove of the Life-Support Hall getting farther out of his reach. His fingers grasped for what was not there to keep this treacherous fate from happening, but there was nothing until he hit the mesh grating that had once been the roof. It was still connected to the wall. Jonathan held on as trees and grass rocketed out into space behind him.
Jonathan reached up and grabbed the grating, pulling himself toward the lift that led to Engineering. He got his hand up to the sensor next to the threshold and opened the lift doors. He was able to grab the inside of the lift doors and pull himself in. As soon as the doors to the Life-Support Hall closed, he crashed onto the floor of the lift. He got to his feet as the elevator descended to Engineering. The doors opened and all he saw was fire and smoke. People were everywhere, running back and forth, trying to do whatever they could to fix anything. It was the worst possible situation imaginable. Smoke billowed through the hall in dangerous plumes.
Jonathan entered Engineering, seeing everything he had created going to hell. There were bodies on the floors. Terminals exploded throughout the room, sending more people to the ground. More explosions filled the air. He broke into a jog. A terminal erupted next to him, sending debris and metal everywhere. The Manica-Band deflected the destruction and glowed in an oval shape around Jonathan as it absorbed the blasts. There was too much damage. He would have to separate the back-up reactors from the primary reactor in the Core Hall: the ship’s last resort. The way to the Core Hall was completely blocked. He would have to go through the Observation Deck to get to the Bridge, assuming the Bridge was still intact.
He exited through the doors to the Observation Deck. Jonathan entered the hall to see the windows looking out into the night sky broken with air rushing out of the ship. Voices rang out over the intercom, but Jonathan couldn’t hear anything as he ran down the pathway. Several other people jogged through the doorway behind him. Rawi was with them. She saw Jonathan and hurried forward.
“Thank God you’re alive!” She yelled over the noise of the oxygen being sucked through the many open exits of the ship.
“We need to get everyone to the Bridge!” Jonathan turned around to see more people running through the Observation Deck. Juan Langston, Rick Daniels, and Sam Hartigan jogged from Engineering. “TO THE BRIDGE!” Jonathan yelled. He clicked the communicator on his Manica-Band. “ALL SURVIVORS MEET IN THE BRIDGE!”
More panelling and windows ripped free of the scaffolding above that held the room together. The path bent back and forth as the suction compressed the hall. Several more people climbed the bend and fled to the Bridge.
Rawi grabbed Jonathan’s arm. “Come on! We have to get out of here!”
“You go!” He said. “I need to stay and make sure everyone gets through, and then I have to separate the Core and Bridge from the Reactors before they blow.”
“We don’t have time to wait! This place is coming apart!”
“I’ll be fine!” Jonathan patted her shoulders. She turned and ran toward the Bridge. Chance Trillian and Ryan Thompson emerged, each helping Ralph Vidar down the pathway. He appeared to have gotten a broken leg. Jonathan directed them to the Bridge. He lowered his head to his communicator once more. “IN THREE MINUTES, THE SHIP WILL BE SEPARATING. IF YOU ARE NOT ON THE BRIDGE, YOU WILL DIE!”
A huge explosion filled the sky above Engineering. It was one of the secondary reactors. That meant there wasn’t very much time left before the others blew as well. A group of at least a hundred people bounded through the doors from Engineering, hurrying to get to the Bridge. Many were helping to carry the wounded even though most of the people Jonathan saw looked too far gone for the effort.
Janice Temps brought up the rear as a whole section of the Observation Deck roof ripped away into space. She was having trouble fighting the air current. Jonathan hurried over and helped her to the doors. Time was nearly up. A group of fifteen hurried across the gap, sending fear into Jonathan’s chest. There were more survivors on the other side of the ship, but he was going to have to make the judgement call soon.
He waited for what felt like two more minutes and no one else came. He ran to the doors to the Core as the structure of the ground began giving way. The doors on the opposite side of the Observation Deck opened. A horrible feeling of helplessness fell over Jonathan as he watched at least fifty people hurry through the doors. A second explosion rushed into the darkness over them.
“COME ON!” Jonathan yelled. “RUN! THERE’S NO TIME!”
Half of the group got through. Jonathan waited, allowing the bulk to enter. There were a lot of stragglers fighting the suction. Many were too wounded to fight the current to the other side of the hall. When the last chunk of the ceiling went, Jonathan hurried through the threshold into the Core Hall. The Engineering doors opened again and another group appeared. Jonathan balled his fist as he stood before the button that would seal the blast doors behind him. The group was too far behind and the stragglers weren’t moving quickly enough. He had to make the decision and it had to be now.
He was about to input the sequence when the mass of the group surpassed the stragglers and hurried through the gateway. “GET IN! GET TO THE BRIDGE!” Jonathan growled as the last group he could allow forced their way through the doors. About ten people remained in the Observation Deck, pleading for assistance. He had no choice. Jonathan hit the button as another secondary reactor went. A loud crash told him that the roof had continued to disintegrate. When he glanced out, no one remained.
Fortunately, the Core Hall looked completely untouched. It was the most structurally sound part of the ship. He found the nearest terminal and started putting in the sequence needed to separate the Core and Bridge from Engineering and Primary Life Support. They would still have Secondary Life Support, but that wouldn’t last the few survivors for very long. He was about to confirm the sequence when he felt the plastic band wrap around his neck and pull him away from the terminal.
Jonathan struggled with his assailant, knowing it was William even though he couldn’t see his face. The two wrestled away from the terminal. Jonathan saw the blast doors to the Observation Deck open, felt himself being pushed toward the yawning, screaming threshold. His saliva was beginning to boil. He felt the most winded he had ever been in his life.
“I can still keep you from ruining the universe!” William said in Jonathan’s ear.
Out of reflex, Jonathan whipped his head back, breaking William’s nose.
The moment the band slipped from around his neck, Jonathan gave the order. “Computer, close and seal the blast door between the Observation Deck and the Core Hall!” The tone came out a raspy whisper behind the scream of the open door, but the ship’s voice activation program was still functional. The door began to slide closed.
Jonathan elbowed William in the ribs, turned around, and pushed him as hard as he could with both hands. William’s heel connected with a thick coil of cable at the edge of the catwalk and he fell onto his back. Chance and Sam Hartigan hurried into the Core Hall behind him.
“Is that Mason?” Chance gasped. Sam and Chance hurried over and each took one of William’s arms.
“Son of a bitch tried to kill me.” Jonathan said, his voice scratchy and dry.
“You need me, Jonathan! You won’t survive a day without me.” William stammered, wiping his face with his sleeve which left a red smear on the white fabric of his uniform. Jonathan stared at William as William stared right back. Jonathan knew that he didn’t regret his choice to try to kill him, which meant he couldn’t be trusted.
“We should tie him up, take him with us to the Bridge.” Sam suggested.
“I think we should open the blast door and let him get sucked out like half the rest of the crew.” Jonathan said. William’s expression didn’t falter: he continued gazing right back at Jonathan. “No one will know but us, and good riddance. It’s probably because of you that all of this happened.”
“You go right ahead and jump to that conclusion.” William replied sardonically.
“Enough.” Chance intervened. “We’re not barbarians. As you can probably guess, there aren’t a lot of us left. Letting him die might not be the best idea.”
“Congratulations,” said Sam Hartigan to Jonathan and William, “you’ve officially made Chance Trillian the voice of reason.”
“Get him out of here, I have to separate the ship before this whole place blows.” Jonathan ordered. Sam and Chance hauled William into motion. He watched them disappear through the doors to the Bridge. Jonathan confirmed the separation on the terminal and peered through the window next to the blast doors. The back end of the ship slowly separated. It looked as if it had been chewed up and spit out like a giant metal wad of gum. A few seconds later, the thrusters and reactors in Engineering, the Life Support Hall, all of the remaining crew that hadn’t gotten across the Observation Deck–four years of his life; six trillion dollars–exploded, sending debris rocketing in all directions. He watched pieces of the reactors he had built get pulled into the acceleration of the ship, meaning they would have debris following them.
Jonathan closed his eyes for a moment, and then made his way to the Bridge.
He entered to see Stephen Adams engaged in an argument with Chance Trillian that was on the verge of a fist-fight. George Freeman was at the defense terminal yelling that shields were at thirty-five percent and dropping. Stephanie Rawi was at the terminal next to him declaring that radiation levels were rising on all remaining parts of the ship. Surviving maintenance and engineering staff were being shuffled to the Flight Dock and Secondary Life Support hall to keep the Bridge clear. Gene Sherri announced over the intercom that all surviving personnel must immediately go to the Flight Dock to await further orders. Ryan Thompson and Clara Wallace were the only level-headed ones in the room, trying desperately to figure out where they were in space. Above them, the windshield had been cracked, but still remained in place. They were slowly drifting. A blue planet lit by a sun they couldn’t see lay in the distance beyond the window.
Jonathan descended to the first floor. He stared at Ryan and Clara. They paused their discussion and looked at him. “Answers?” Jonathan asked.
“Power at fifteen percent and dropping!” Rawi called.
“Broken regulators across the board!” George said.
“The system’s on emergency life support so we don’t even have power to half the terminals, but no one will listen to me when I try to get someone to do something about it.” Ryan said.
“Hold on,” said Jonathan. He went back up to the second level and commandeered the terminal from Professor Rawi. Entering the system’s mainframe via his personal access code, Jonathan rerouted the power coming in through the primary reactor–the only reactor left–through Secondary Life-Support to Primary Functions and to the System Mainframe. He got up and hurried to the first floor.
“You’re the most clueless man on this ship, Adams!” Chance Trillian yelled from behind them and disappeared into the Flight Dock.
“Fantastic, the ship’s navigation sensor is shot. It’s just reading zero across the board.” Ryan Thompson cursed and slammed his palm against the dashboard of the flight terminal.
“I’m picking up readings of planets nearby.” Clara said, watching the computer scans.
“Well obviously.” Ryan indicated the window where very clearly they could see a planet in the distance.
“I’m saying that the scanner is working.” Clara glared at Ryan.
“Hey Jonathan,” Sam Hartigan called from one of the terminals on the top floor of the Bridge. “You might want to come check this out.”
“This may take a few minutes.” Clara said.
Jonathan jogged up the steps to the third floor. “What’s up.” Jonathan put his arm on top of the terminal and leaned over so that he could see the holo-screen. On the monitor, a visual of the ship was looping after five seconds of footage. First, the ship appeared fine, and then a massive vortex appeared to swallow the thing up. There were no indications or changes around the ship up until the event horizon where, for the length of time they were in the black-hole which seemed at the time to be far longer than .03 seconds, the ship reported widespread damage across all areas except the core. The backdrop of space changed as well: there were no more clouds of plasma. They had gone through a black-hole and came out God knows where. He had designed the ship for interstellar space-travel, not as a vessel to pass through dangerous and unknown phenomena roaming through deep space. “I guess that explains what happened.”
“We never saw it coming. Why didn’t we prepare for something like that?” Sam stared at Jonathan.
“The ship’s mostly titanium, osmium, crystal, and LI-1800 ceramic panels. We don’t have much in the way of stronger elements at our disposal. I suppose you could take part of a neutron star and mix a new heavier, denser alloy together, but let me know how that works out for you.”
“Guess I’ll be monitoring the one reactor from here.” Sam said.
“Don’t get too cozy,” said Jonathan. “This bird won’t hold together without the other four reactors to systematically alternate the power. We have maybe three days worth of life-support before the power runs dry and we eventually freeze to death.”
“Captain Pessimism.” Sam typed in several entries to try to triangulate where the ship was in space.
“That was optimism. The ship will probably fall apart before that happens. The structural integrity wasn’t built to sustain without the other half. The separation feature is your last ditch effort before you’re toast.” Jonathan turned and started for the steps.
Hearing himself say these things was a form of acknowledgment. He knew everything about the Enigma down to which screw goes where and for what purpose. During that process, he had included features that would give them a little extra time to get everyone onto the backup Freighters and evacuate the ship.
“Jonathan,” Clara called. Jonathan hurried down to the first floor. “I’m reading life on one of the nearby planets. It’s in the Goldilocks zone. It’s the size of Jupiter, but the gravitational pull is nearly the same as Earth’s.”
“What’s the atmosphere look like?” Jonathan stood over her shoulder and watched the schematics of the planet appear on the screen.
“Seventy-eight-percent nitrogen and twenty-one-percent oxygen. The rest is ozone, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. The water to land ratio is seventy-nine percent water with the oceans containing almost all of the planet’s water. The planet is composed of identical elements to Earth’s, almost like they were cut from the same cloth.” Clara said.
“How is that possible? We go through a hole in the middle of nowhere and end up,” Jonathan glanced at the screen, “half a light-year from a planet that supports life?”
“When you say life,” George Freeman began from the second story, “what do you mean?”
“I don’t know, I’m just reading life-signs, quite a lot of them.” Clara said. Jonathan watched the screen. The light readings were sequestered to small regions on different areas of the many continents all over the visual globe. It was such a familiar view, like seeing the power grid on Earth from space.
“I’m not reading much in the way of pollutants. There are a few things that the scanner doesn’t recognize in the atmosphere; just says unknown. The days, weeks, and years are longer, but it appears to have a seasonal cycle similar to Earth’s.” Clara said.
“Is this Alpha Centauri?” Sam called from the top level of the Bridge.
“No, it can’t be,” said Jonathan. “We’d have seen it from our telescopes and readings in our solar system, and there’s only one sun here–not two.”
Adams met Jonathan’s side. “Well, Jonathan–since you’re the expert on this ship’s capability–what do you think we should do next?”
Jonathan stroked his chin. He squinted at the blue globe beyond the cracked window above them. “We can’t stay on this ship, but due to the outstanding limits of our power, we’re not going to be able to reroute the focus from our life-support functions. That black-hole didn’t exactly leave us with much inertia to work with.”
The Bridge went quiet for a few moments after he finished.
“I’ve got a plan.” It was William Mason standing on the ledge preceding the third floor. He had cut his plastic binding, but Chance stood by his side. “Reroute power to the thrusters for long enough to get up to speed, drop the thrusters, and set a collision course for the planet.We’ll only be able to go about two thousand miles-per-hour in the ship’s condition, but it’ll get us there in probably three days.”
“Chance, restrain that man.” Adams ordered.
“I’ve got him under control.” Chance said.
“William Mason may have doomed us all. Letting him walk around is a mistake.” Adams met Jonathan’s eye.
“What happened to us didn’t have anything to do with him.” Jonathan shook his head. “And William, that plan would blow our power completely. It would leave us with twelve hours of oxygen and that’s not enough time to get to that planet even if we were going as fast as we were before we hit the black-hole. Not to mention that if the Enigma crashes into the planet, we can’t be certain the core won’t destabilize.”
“I just came from the Flight Dock,” said William. “Most of our ships survived the event. We evacuate the Enigma, get everyone onto a few Freighters, and follow the Enigma to the planet. Someone will have to stay behind and guide the Enigma to make sure it sets down without damaging the core. You can isolate life-support to the Bridge and with one person aboard, it will last four or five times as long–long enough to get us to the planet. The core will be fine. You really don’t have any other options.”
Jonathan considered the proposal. He didn’t trust William, but what he said made sense.
“What about the natives of the planet?” Stephanie Rawi asked from the second floor. “How can we be sure we don’t cause damage to their ecosystem and infrastructure? We have no idea of what introducing the Enigma to their society could do.”
“We don’t have a choice.” Jonathan said. “We can take one for the nature of things and die out here, or we can take a chance and do what we set out to do initially, and that was to find another planet that could sustain life. I believe we’ve found that planet, however involuntary our coming upon it happened to be. The decision stands. Live or die people, what’s it going to be?”
“I vote live.” Clara put her hand into the air. Ryan’s hand followed.
Jonathan saw everyone else’s hand rise. “Guess we have our answer. Now, who’s going to stay behind to make sure the Enigma makes it down okay?” He asked, watching everyone drop their hands.
“I’ll do it,” said Adams.
“I will if you need.” Sam stood up.
“Me too.” Rawi raised her hand. George also raised his.
“In this circumstance, it would be best if I do it,” said Jonathan. “I know how to work this girl better than anyone else. I’ll be able to sneak her in and drop her off without causing too much damage. Besides… she’s my creation. I want to be the one the bury her.” He realized the prospect of what he was going to have to do: end everything he had worked for, destroy his livelihood, and start over from less than scratch. There were no space stations or satellites around this planet, which meant that the inhabitants hadn’t mastered space-travel. It put him at a disadvantage, but he would get back into space if he had to mine, smelt, and shape every bar, nut, and screw to recreate his vessel. “Where’s Captain Joyce?”
“He didn’t make it to the Bridge.” Adams said solemnly. “It’s just us and the fifteen-hundred or so people in the Flight Dock and Secondary Life-Support Hall.”
Jonathan sighed. “No time like the present. It’s been an honor working with you all. Let’s do it.”
“Attention all personnel,” Adams said over his communicator, “prepare to abandon ship. Make your way to the Flight Dock and get ready to board the Freighters.”
Jonathan returned to Rawi’s terminal and went to the power grid once more. “Sam, get ready to power on the thrusters on my mark.” He rerouted power to the ship’s maneuverability quadrant. Half the terminals in the room went dark on everyone.
“Shields dropping fast! Radiation levels sustained.” George yelled.
Jonathan ignored him. “Now, thrusters to full.” The motion of moving forward very quickly took the ship. They began to accelerate toward the planet though it still looked far away. “Everyone but me and Sam, get to the Freighters.”
“Good luck, Jonathan.” William said. Jonathan glanced over his shoulder and caught William’s eye. They held one another’s attention for a moment before William entered the Flight Dock.
“We’ll reach maximum speed in thirty-seconds.” Sam said.
“As soon as that happens, Sam, you can go.” Jonathan said.
Clara and Ryan shook Jonathan’s hand and disappeared through the doors to the Flight Dock.
“Acceleration at maximum.” Sam took off his headset and descended from the third floor to the second. “Good luck.” He clapped Jonathan on the back and left through the doors, leaving Jonathan alone on the dimly lit Bridge.
“Evacuation in fifteen minutes. Board your vessels at once.” Adams said over the communicator. There was a small explosion from within the Flight Dock, but Jonathan couldn’t worry about that right now. The reactor was shot. Jonathan directed the remaining energy to life-support and shut down all the other decks it was feeding except the Bridge and the Flight Dock. The next ten minutes went by slowly. Adams announced that they would be leaving in five minutes. Their distance from the planet seemed unchanged.
“Ready to take the reins, Jonathan?” Adams asked over his communicator.
“Affirmative. Get going guys, and make sure someone follows me down.” Jonathan said. They only took three of the large carrier Freighters and a few Hawks, leaving all the other birds locked in the Flight Dock. As soon as he heard the last Freighter disembark, Jonathan wired the terminal Rawi had been using to draw power from his Manica-Band. He was still drawing energy from life-support to power it, but this way he didn’t have to manipulate the computer against its better judgement to allow him to use the scanner.
He triangulated the most isolated part of the planet. He wanted to set her down without anyone seeing them, without anyone asking questions if that was possible. There was a continent that was inhabited, but only primarily to the south. To the north, Jonathan found a cape where setting down would be far easier. Once he figured out where he would go, he disconnected the band and collapsed in the navigator seat where Ryan had sat earlier. He gazed out the window at the blue ball in the distance, and waited.
After drifting to sleep for a few minutes, Jonathan hoped that when he opened his eyes everything would have been a dream, that he was laying in his bed in his room next to Elizabeth. He saw the all too familiar crack in the window. The planet seemed a little larger. He was freezing, but it didn’t matter. Jonathan snagged one of the hundreds of remaining emergency kits hidden under every seat and terminal on the ship. Each one had basic repair utensils, bandages, wraps, disinfectant wipes, gauze and tape, antibacterial ointment, and three chocolate Grum bars–a nutritional six-hundred calorie meal that would become Jonathan’s daily bread in the event that he couldn’t find food.
After he chewed through a Grum bar, he dumped the medical kit and packed it with the bars from the other medical kits he found. He packed some of the medical and repair equipment that he didn’t already have built into his Manica-Band. Once the kit was full, Jonathan dropped it in the co-pilot’s seat and put away the rest of the kits so he didn’t trip on them if he needed to get to the core for some reason.
Since the reactor had died, the core was pretty much just sitting there, bathed in its own perpetual energy. It would survive the next three-hundred years assuming it remained undisturbed. After that, it would power down until it was no longer active–the best scenario imaginable for something so dangerous. Any other situation involved the obliteration of everything within nearly a light-year’s circumference. It was difficult to imagine that the explosion his core could generate could cause more damage than the black-hole where they entered this strange solar-system. It could very likely cause its own black-hole, especially if its destruction reached the nearby sun.
Looking out the window from the Core Hall, Jonathan could see the sun. It was a bright yellow dwarf, not unlike their own. It made him think about how many elements must come together in order to make a world habitable–part of why it’s taken mankind so long to find anything else. How did they get so fortunate? If the black-hole had taken them somewhere random, thrown up a map of the whole universe and picked a position, what were the odds that the position chosen would be in a solar system with a planet just like Earth and a sun identical to Earth’s?
“Like winning the lottery on the first try, and betting that you will beforehand.” Jonathan said aloud.
He had been alive for thirty-nine years and he’d never thought about religion, fate, or destiny. It all seemed so pointless to him, but there was something more going on. What of William and his dreams? What premonition had scrambled his mind to the point of blind rage when they were in the Core Hall? Jonathan didn’t know, and part of him didn’t think he would ever get an answer.
Sitting there in the quiet of space as his fellow travelers followed the Enigma, Jonathan thought of Elizabeth. He recalled how everything had gone wrong, how the water had slanted in the glass, how the wall had torn away and how quickly she’d disappeared into the nothingness that had become her tomb. Their mortality within the confines of the universe was like a child’s plaything; the great and ruthless nature of existence, without worry and without care. All things begin and therefore all things must end. He recognized the absolute reality that his body would decay to powder, to nothing. And what of the consciousness that so desperately desires to save itself, to continue and exist at all cost?
“Maybe it’s just a glitch in the system, the idea that we’re special, that we’re anything more than everything we are.” Jonathan leaned back in his seat and surveyed the planet. He could see two moons orbiting its aqua-blue color. Once they got closer, he would be able to distinguish the water from the continents.
Being alone with his thoughts had become difficult. He didn’t want to think about all the people who’d given themselves for this mission, all the people he had let down because he hadn’t the foresight to prepare for a spontaneous black-hole that gave no indication or warning of its existence. Jonathan tried to imagine how it worked, see the physics behind it. The ship read nothing. If it had detected so much as an anomaly it would have alerted the entire crew. The speed at which the black-hole had appeared was also a dead give-away that it was a force well beyond their comprehension.
He thought about something his father had shown him when he was younger. Matthew Tabith had owned one of the last farms in the International United States that wasn’t owned by the government. No matter what price his family had been offered, Matthew and his father and his father’s father, and so on, never sold the twenty-two hundred square acres that contained generations of family crops–at least not until Matthew died and Jonathan signed the deal for 45 billion dollars. It wasn’t much but that’s how he launched Pediteptim. Although he knew his father would never have gone for the plan while he was alive, Jonathan often wondered if his father would approve of his life’s decision to abandon the family business to chase his dreams–which of course now felt like a huge mistake, but before the black-hole.
Jonathan was fascinated by nature as a child. He would become immersed in the world of insects. Ants were his favorite, until he met the ant-lion. With his magnifying glass device, he would follow lines of ants as they carried food back to their nest. Every now and then, a line would cross a barren stretch of land covered with tiny potholes. The critters would weave on the dunes between the potholes, but those that fell inside were immediately swallowed up by the predator waiting beneath the surface. His father once took a twig and ran it along the wall of the ant-lion’s sand trap until the thing began spouting puffs of dirt, frustratedly trying to get whatever was in its proximity. Jonathan would spend hours playing with the antlions, goading them to come out and eat what was not there. Or he’d observe ants plummet to their demise as the hungry thing earned its feast.
He imagined the space around their solar system like that, riddled with unstable antimatter pockets that could spawn a black-hole at the mere passage of matter in its presence. Jonathan almost couldn’t believe he didn’t anticipate such a devastating event. The theory had been explained to him plenty of times. They were lucky to have survived at all. He wondered if in some weird way they were meant to survive, that the black-hole was actually some kind of interstellar gateway that needed only the correct vehicle to navigate its brief passageway.
The ship rumbled, startling Jonathan awake. His terminal had gone off. He was still ice cold as the cool of space began to breach the walls of the Enigma. Life-support was beginning to wane and peter out. The planet appeared as a baseball in the distance. They were getting closer. He calculated that, at present speed, they’d reach the planet in twenty-four hours as it circulated on its trajectory around the sun.
He passed in and out of consciousness. Once he caught himself examining his Manica-Band. He recalled the incident that sparked his need to design the device. It had happened shortly after his first presentation explaining the function and usage of Pediteptim. He was on his way to his car in the car garage when he noticed someone following him. It was night out, and the man with the mustache and beard was wearing sunglasses. Jonathan had always been suspicious of introducing a technological advantage to society, so he ran to his car, hearing the bullets from the man’s gun ring out through the carport as he unlocked his car and slid in. The man ran out of rounds, but by the time that happened, Jonathan was in his car driving forty-five miles per hour down the ramp. The moment he heard the first gun-shot, he realized that he was going to have to create something that would protect him. One assassination attempt meant there were more to come.
However useful and amazing the Manica-Band would become to him, as he was soldering the inner workings of the device to the circuit-board, Jonathan vowed never to introduce the band to the world. The moment he did he would be vulnerable again. Someone would figure out how to get around its defense function, or use it to harm others. Everyone would have one and it wouldn’t be an advantage. There were six more attempts, and all of them ended with the perpetrator running out of ammunition and fleeing the scene. Each time Jonathan got a good look at the person, it was someone different.
The Manica-Band put up a constant defense shield that would actively deflect matter moving at whatever speed the wearer designated depending on the situation or how paranoid the wearer is–at least that’s what it did at first. Jonathan had modified the thing so many times to do hundreds of other functions that there wasn’t much it couldn’t do. He became a sort of icon, appearing at functions and events with the cool air of a man worried about nothing. The Manica-Band put his worries to rest. Powered by oxygen, the band could provide the user with five minutes of oxygen where none was present. After that, it would shut down and the user would be susceptible to the elements once more. It was a communicator, a repair and medical kit, a scanner, and it could even provide a small atmosphere within its generated field. It had saved his life in hundreds of ways at times when he might not have even noticed that his life was in danger.
Jonathan shook himself to consciousness. He tried to turn the terminal back on, but it wouldn’t. A thin layer of frost coated the surface of everything as the moisture began to freeze. It would evaporate once the life-support stopped providing oxygen and shut down. He knew how to turn the computer on, but he was too fatigued from the endless trauma to do so. The air quality was getting worse, and the band could only filter out the same grade of oxygen that it took in.
His dreams began blurring with reality in a horribly hallucinatory way. He was sitting in the pilot’s chair of the newly completed Bridge, congratulating himself and his colleagues on a job well done as he surveyed the pristine walls and crisp window overhead. He blinked to see the stark emptiness of the Bridge in the present. Some of the terminals were blown out and a few of the seats had come loose.
An icy mist slowly drifted through the Bridge. Jonathan reached out and turned his hand to see the specks of dusty ice clinging to his warmth before they shivered and melted. He dropped his hand and saw the busted window. The globular planet looked enormous, filling the whole of the window’s view. He could see the hundreds of continents beneath the steadily roaming cloud-cover across its surface. There were mountain ranges, grasslands, forests, rivers, seas, tundras, deserts, marshes, swamps, and islands. It had an arctic pole in the far north, and an antarctic south. It was so much like Earth that, other than the wealth of land on its surface, it almost could have been mistaken for Earth itself.
Jonathan noticed something shiny sticking out of the northern cap of the planet. It was long, curved, and metallic. It didn’t look natural, but Jonathan couldn’t tell before he slipped into unconsciousness.
Jonathan Tabith didn’t rouse again until the warning siren began to wail. His communicator expressed the computer’s emergence: “Collision course immanent.” The clouds of the planet seemed as though they were coming right at him. The ship had slowed automatically before the last of the power went out, but there was no power to the system, which meant that there was no automatic landing engaged.
Nearly dozing once more, an alertness inside him got him to his senses. The turbulence of the atmosphere’s resistance to the ship hit before he could get to Rawi’s terminal. He fell to the floor which disoriented him. Jonathan clambered to his feet and found himself staring at the stairway as he clutched the hand-rail overlooking the first floor. He turned around and activated Rawi’s terminal. He was so dizzy it was like being drunk as he punched his personal identification number to access the power-grid. It was all reflex; he didn’t consciously do anything. He moved the ghostly remnants of energy from Secondary Life-Support to the Bridge.
He stumbled down to the first floor and collapsed in the pilot’s seat. He activated the terminal and engaged the manual pilot. He put on the seat-belt built into the seat. The two armholes for manual flight appeared as the seat lifted. Jonathan slid his hands into the manual drive, feeling the handle grips at the end of the arm channels. It occurred to him that without the Manica-Band this wouldn’t be possible. If the atmosphere was anything like Earth’s then there wasn’t enough air to breathe at fifteen miles high. He’d have passed out by now, ending this voyage and ending this planet and everything else in all directions.
Jonathan pulled the ship up, exiting the cloud-cover to a rainy afternoon across the grassy plain-scape. The world below moved by in a blur. The Enigma rocketed past huge, towering mountains and over long seas. He powered the frontal thrusters by pulling the grips to slow them down, but they were still coming in at hundreds of miles-per-hour. He saw what was an unmistakable city up ahead. It moved out of view as Jonathan entered another storm-system.
Lighting stripped the side of the Enigma sending power fluctuations through the ship. There was no shield so the whole thing was susceptible to the elements. The terminal in front of him exploded. It would have killed anyone else. Jonathan gritted his teeth, squinting through the smoke as the globe of resistance covered him. The smoke cleared and he could see the world passing below. They had slowed down significantly, but he could take no further action regarding the ship’s functions.
A huge tower appeared on the horizon. Jonathan was mesmerized by the sight. There was an unmistakable castle sitting on top of it, making the tower look like a long spear. It swept past them and out of sight. He flew over the land below, and realized that he was about to crash-land the Enigma. A lake flew by below. The ship needed to be intact in order for someone to find him, so he couldn’t afford to get stuck in an ocean or a large body of water.
Once the land appeared again, Jonathan dropped the Enigma down. His whole body tightened as he lowered the ship to the ground. It hit, jostling the whole vehicle as it rebounded into the air. He lifted his arms, shoving the Enigma into the earth again, forcing it to stay down. The ship continued rocketing through the land. The Bridge shook violently around him. The windshield cracked from the top, meeting with the other crack like a glass lightning bolt. A tall, narrow mountain formation rose ahead, but it also appeared to have some form of ancient civilization built into it.
He swore. Jonathan had hoped he wouldn’t crash into a city. There was nothing left to do but get the Enigma stationary. It was all happening so fast. Buildings and houses, and architecture exploded as the Enigma tore through the middle of an ancient metropolis. The shadow of the mountain ahead blocked out the sun. Jonathan saw the nose of the Enigma collide with the mountainside, and that was all before he blacked out.
Six Years Prior to Launch
“Good evening, Nations, I’m Murphy Lambert!” Lambert said charismatically into the microphone after the crowd in the studio quieted to a tolerable level. Murphy Lambert hosted the most popular late-night talk show on Earth. He sat in the interviewer seat wearing a dark blue Brooks Brothers suit with his short, graying black hair parted and slicked back. “If you watch this show and I think you do, you know that I’m a big fan of money. I can smell it, hear it, or taste it from a mile away. My first guest tonight is–like myself–one of the few capitalist dinosaurs left on the planet; thirty-two years old, the third wealthiest man alive, and pioneer of the League of Space Exploration–need I go on? Jonathan Tabith!”
The audience erupted again as a young man with black hair and a neatly-trimmed beard walked across the elaborately decorated stage of the television studio. The cameras around the room centered on his face. He had green eyes. He wore brown khaki pants, a matching blazer over his red button-up shirt, and sandals on his tanned feet. Jonathan shook Lambert’s hand and sat down in the chair next to his desk. Murphy Lambert waved the audience down.
“Wow, thirty-two.” Murphy shook his head.
Jonathan shrugged. “I started early.”
“Should I be drinking Pediteptim? Is it good for the immune system? Is that your secret?” Lambert asked.
“I would advise against drinking Pediteptim,” said Jonathan. “All of our lab-rats died of radiation poisoning from the smallest level of exposure. You’re free to try, but your lawyer can’t sue me when it kills you.”
“It’s just hard to believe you solved the age-old conundrum of using energy to recycle itself, and you figured it out at age twenty-two.”
“That’s what Pediteptim solved. I figured out how to use it, patented and then manufactured it, but it was the energy in stars that’s been burning since the beginning of time that did it. I can’t take all the credit.” Jonathan answered.
“Well, this has clearly changed your life in drastic ways,” said Murphy. “Now that you’ve risen to the top and you’re floating on the assets of Pediteptim, and as the founding father of the League of Space Exploration, what is there now? You’re in your prime, the world and solar system is your oyster, what’s your next destination? What frontier is left to conquer?”
“All very good questions, and with answers that I told myself I wouldn’t talk about, but,” Jonathan gave the camera a sheepish smirk, “I think I’m going to.” The audience whooped in the stands for a few seconds.
“We’re not getting any younger!” Murphy prodded.
Jonathan leaned forward and placed his hands on the desk. “It’s called Project Enigma. It’s a personal project I’ve been working on for the last seven years. First and foremost, in two years, the first ever Pluto Space Station will be complete. Everybody already knows about the Pluto Station, but here’s why it’s being built: we’re working on something that is so potentially dangerous that if anything were to go wrong, it must be as far away from Earth as possible. Pluto is the closest distance that the Federal Government of Earth would allow.” He paused. “We’re going to leave the Heliosphere shortly after the station is complete. And to do that, allow me to introduce the Star Ship Enigma.” Jonathan motioned at the large, amplified screen above the faces of the audience.
Upon the screen, the schematics of one of the largest manned vessels anyone had ever seen appeared. Every few seconds the image changed angles or added lines of data and information about specific areas of the ship. The vessel was massive but sleek in design. All of the bases were covered as far as life-support, structural integrity, and power recycling with enough juice to keep going for the next three-hundred years.
“Alright,” Murphy waved, “let’s talk money. How much will this project run you?”
“It’s estimated that by the time the Enigma is complete it will be close to fifteen-trillion dollars. That’s four commas and all of my money.” Jonathan said.
“That’s… quite a bill. Do they let you do payments or is it all up front?”
Jonathan smiled. “The ship has the capacity to carry five-thousand crew-members, necessary for the attention a vehicle like this is going to require to operate smoothly. Once we pass through the Oort Cloud, we’ll enter the Interstellar Medium where we’ll begin taking data samples. We’d like to get to Alpha Centauri and set up a space station in that system with hopes of starting the first intergalactic pilgrimage.”
“If Gene Roddenberry had the money to make his vision happen, he would have. Cut from the same cloth it seems.” Murphy said.
“Well, we’re not that far. We still can’t get a vehicle to travel at the speed of light, but the Enigma will travel about a light year in eight years, so we’re not doing badly. We have the map, we just need the time and man-power to make it happen.”
“This is technically the first colony of humans to venture into deep space. Families will form, kids will grow into adults and have kids of their own, and so on,” said Murphy.
“That’s the idea.”
“This isn’t just an ongoing project, this is a commitment by everyone involved to leave everything and everyone they know behind. Even if you were to come home, it could be decades later. There might not even be an Earth to come back to.” Murphy said.
“It’s on par to giving up everything for your religion.” Jonathan nodded.
“You’re a fairly influential man to society at this point.” Murphy laced his fingers together, resting his elbows on the edge of his desk. “Recently, there was an attempt made on your life, and it hasn’t been the first time.”
“No, the attempt last February failed, just like the other seven attempts. I assumed early on that I’d have to worry about my own personal safety, so I took special precautions to keep anything unfortunate from happening. It is impossible to assassinate me by any conventional method at this time.”
“It sounds like a challenge.” Murphy said, inspiring a chuckle from Jonathan. “You’re a man of many skills. It was wonderful to have you on the show. I wish you and the crew the best of luck.” Murphy stood up and as did Jonathan. “Jonathan Tabith, ladies and gentlemen!” Murphy shook Jonathan’s hand. Jonathan waved at the crowd and made his way off stage. The audience roared once again as the schematics of the Enigma continued flashing on a twelve image loop overhead.
End of Episode One
Where to begin? This is it folks, my science-fiction/fantasy magnum opus series. Strap in and get ready because Jonathan Tabith’s story has only just begun. There is so much more of the journey ahead, so thank you for starting it here with me today.
– Benjamin Allen
About the Author
Benjamin Allen has been writing novels since he was eight years old. He prefers writing fantasy and science fiction with an element of horror. Benjamin lives with his wife in Fort Worth, Texas and is a master restoration artist for brass instruments at Houghton Horns by day. He spends his mornings, evenings, and days off writing, researching, and learning more about the craft.
Other Titles by this Author
The Insomniac, 2013
Hidden Worlds: Selected Short Stories, 2013
To Kill A Monster, 2016
Jonathan Tabith designed the Starship Enigma as a vessel through which humanity could finally begin the search for a possible new home near Alpha Centauri. Having anticipated outcomes for nearly every situation the Enigma might encounter, the ship and crew of 5000 begin their journey into the unknown depths that lie beyond our solar system only to fall prey to a malevolent force that leaves them stranded. With the unexpected turn of events, the surviving crew must make a decision that will impact human-kind's fate in the universe. This is the first episode in an ongoing series titled, The Chronicles of Aallandranon.