by Elian Crane
Into the black we sail, borne by currents swifter than light, to land before uncharted shores.
“Again,” bids our captain. The drives lurch, the stars unfold, and we emerge under stranger skies still.
Our captain does not rest. He makes calculations, notes ripples in orbits, scries the signs of a trail that only he can claim to see. Our quarry is a leviathan, an eater of worlds, an old spacer’s fable. In its wake, no life remains.
We rise amid a glittering sea, Hyades’ light abounding. The cluster shines around us, and we navigate by the positions of its suns, by the familiar colors of their flames. We look, as sailors long looked to the guide-stars for a compass, once above, now below.
A single warning blinks across the console. Then others join it all down the line. “They must be wrong,” the helmsman says. “Six through twelve show nothing left, and the reserves are nearly gone.”
The doctor sees it before the rest of us. She stares our captain down. “You knew,” she says. “You hopeless, selfish fool — there was never enough fuel for the journey home.”
Our captain, he laughs. “The good doctor is right.” He stands, and bellows to us all: “You heard me. She’s right! Our course was only ever onward. Look no more to the homes you’ve left behind; you’ll not see them in this life again. Our eyes are meant for the horizon alone. So take your posts — we’ve further still before the dawn. All speed, Mister Murphy!”
Ship and crew push on, crashing against gamma-bright winds from stars beyond reckoning. The poisoned light burns our eyes, thickens our blood. In the decks below, the drives begin to falter, and our hull shudders with their dying sound.
“Onward, by God’s grace!”
We leap to the brink of a maelstrom, a shrouded nebula enfolding the void between worlds. Here, vast currents gather. Icy wisps of hydrogen swim and billow in the dark.
Cutting our engines, we drift on in silence. We skim the caps of cloudbanks; our wake carves furrows through the fog below. Slowly, the azure mist surrounds us, making twilight from the endless night. And then we cross the veil at last, leaving all the stars behind to plunge into that rimed and blinding sea.
With our scanners, we sweep the depths, but can find no meaning in the haze. Our captain nods to the chief engineer, and she takes the power down. The lights dim. The recirculator ceases giving air. Each breath is precious now, but this is all that we can spare; every drop of power will be needed before the end.
Distant lightning flashes through the clouds, and the comms begin to crackle, buzzing faintly with the static of the void. We watch the screens before us. They show the fluctuations in the mists, the relative abundances of strange matter. We tune our search to every spectrum, hunting the signatures of phantoms, straining to hear some trace of life in the hiss of empty noise.
Hushed words pass among the crew:
“There it is again. The same signal.”
“I’m telling you, it moved.”
“On the narrow band. Did you see it?”
“Now behind us. It’s circling–“
“Nothing. There’s nothing. It’s gone.”
Our captain speaks no word, nor even seems to blink, but only stares into the glow. His eyes mirror the churning of the storm. Something holds him now, far within the restless deep.
“There,” he whispers.
The clouds swell, then burst, and the serpent comes soaring through on streams of ion blue. All along its flowing length is a coat of scales, each one a prism for the arcing light. Moon-crumbs linger on its lips; its cheeks are fringed with whiskers made to taste the trails of passing suns. It coils tight, it draws its gaze upon us, and in its eyes are thoughts for which we have no name.
“She’s real,” the doctor says. “She understands.”
“Make ready all guns!” calls the captain.
The serpent arches back. It slinks its head down low. Then it strikes out toward us, tearing through the sky, and opens wide its maw to reveal a darkness without end.
“Dive! Dive now!”
The jaws crash shut, but a moment late — our engines burn with all the strength they have to push us of free of the devouring mouth. Still the worm’s segments come rushing past to strike the ship a glancing blow, casting us spinning into the storm.
“Bring her level, hard-a-lee!”
Our ship whirls across the wind. Crushing forces pin the crew against her shell. The helmsman struggles to lift himself, reaching up by inches, and seizes the controls. He tilts the gyros in our core, breaking our spin to bring the ship around.
But the worm is far faster. Already it circles back upon us, winding into a sudden charge.
Twisting, tumbling, the worm surges toward the prow.
The comms squeal with the creature’s electron song.
“Let perdition rain!”
All batteries flare, unfurling their flames against the sky. Streaks of fissioned fire lance the creature’s breast. Our hull trembles with the thundering of the guns. Too close, the shells burst, piercing ship and serpent both.
The sirens scream within their casings, and from all around us comes the hiss of escaping air. Our hull has sprung a thousand leaks, and the crew scrambles to seal them shut, racing to put the sand back in its hourglass. Then a detonation resounds from deep within our hold, and another, and fire spills through the bulkheads, swept on by the outrushing wind.
The crew is battered, and some are gone already. Our captain is half a ruin, his body surely broken, but he refuses to let go. He lifts his head, only barely, to glimpse the cracked viewscreen. There he lingers, until the serpent slowly closes shut its eyes. Then our captain mouths a single word, though he has no breath to speak it, and slips away at last.
Every light is fading. Some go fast, and others slow, but the same fate is given to us all. Yet through the thinning air, the comms begin to rasp, and from them comes a long and lonely cry.
“Mobius” © Elian Crane
Elian Crane writes from the Pacific Northwest. He lives beside a bay, where whales and stranger creatures move beneath the waves.
“DimensionTear” © Jodi Britten
Jodi Britten is widely known as Jodi Phoenix Currently she can be found on deviantart at jodipheonix and a fan page on facebook which is www.facebook.com/Jodipheonix.
Additional astronomical background courtesy of NASA