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“Are you sure?” My eyes surveyed the room. The Chromantium incense floated through the dimly lit air as the crew mingled. “Yes.” Lofiene whispered and put her hand on my stomach. Why? Daphne always seemed so sweet and protective. Had Hefu done something to her? No. I would not play this game; when the time was right she would pay the price. I pulled Lofiene closer and whispered in her ear: “The knife that is cold….cuts into the passion that burns hot.” She pulled away, her body was slightly tense. “I don’t understand.” “It’s an old Neredite proverb. You’ll understand in time.” “Shevu,” Manfred’s voice came over my communicator, “there is a power drop in fighter bay 2. Can you go investigate?” “Just me?” “I’ll send Allan and Daphne with you.” “What if Thamphor finds out?” “He won’t mind me doing this without his express permission.” “On my way.” I sighed. By now, most of the halls were amply lit and almost cheery; but there were still some dark areas. Thamphor assured us that Thispa didn’t want to eat us – as long as we served her. The Hain was so large, so drenched in mystery and tragedy, that I found myself nervous even when the lights were on. “Are you alright?” Daphne broke the silence.
“I’m fine. How about you?” My right hand instinctively curled around the knife on my hip. “I’m as good as can be – given the circumstances.” There was an air of resignation in her voice. “None of us ever thought we would be in this fix. We’ll forge on ahead and make it home.” Allan put his arms around both of us. “I think he’s right. Things will work out after all.” I did my best to hide my grin. We saw the intermittent flashes as we turned the corner, long before we entered the room. The smell of vulcanized rubber and plastic crept into my nostrils. The corridor was dotted with green slime which seemed to be inching ever so slowly down the hall. When we got to the fighter bay, Renata was hunched over a metallic human form. She looked up at us, smiled, and then returned to her work. “Manfred said there was a drop in power here.” Allan cautiously walked up to her. “The power levels in this section will return to normal in a moment.” The drone did not look up. Allan circled Renata and her creation. “So you are building a friend.” “I am ensuring that The Samuel Hain will be cared for.” She got up and walked over to a vat of molten rubber and plastic. In the corner lay several steel rib cages, nestled among metallic limbs. “You know,” Allan followed her, “Thamphor might not like this.” “I must follow my protocol. If Thamphor does not agree with that, I will have to address that contingency separately.” Renata made sure the vat was sealed tightly and then left the room. I peered through a small hole in the side of the container. The gooey rubber and plastic churned relentlessly inside. Suddenly, a perfectly formed human hand bumped the glass. I jumped back. “Something’s not right here. She’s up to something. We’ve got to tell-“ “Who? Our Mad Captain?” Allan’s words had a certain fatalistic sting to them. “We’re all up to something dear. It’s just a matter of who crosses the finish line first.”
“Everyone to your stations!” Thamphor’s voice roared through the ship. When I got to the bridge, everyone was staring at the phenomenon that was spread before us. A miniature galaxy, with an oily bubble in the center, spun slowly in the starry expanse. As we scanned it, messages in a million different alien languages appeared on the main screen. “How big is it?” Thamphor leaned forward in his chair. “Two light years.” Sardonia replied.
The ship shuddered and rocked violently. A series of moans and grunts from below us echoed through the hull. The ship was yanked downward suddenly and there was a series of loud bangs. When I managed to get up from the floor, I noticed that the ship was now drifting helplessly. Klaondonis was frantically trying to get us under control. “The worm has escaped sir!” “It must have been spooked by that thing out there.” Allan couldn’t take his eyes off the oddity. “We’re being pulled in.” Sardonia announced. “Manfred, Renata, what are our options?” Thamphor stood up. “Unknown.” Renata replied. The holo-display showed her and Manfred walking down a corridor to our non-existent engine room. “More like none.” Manfred added. Manfred pried open the doors of the engine room. He turned on his flashlight and slowly swept it back and forth over the mangled steel beams and warped floor. The cube / pyramid lay there innocently, a cold metallic artifact in this place of shrouded history. The robot stepped carefully through the melted debris, warning Renata to stay back. As he disappeared into the shadows and gloom, the ship rolled and clunked. A soft creaking and grinding began to filter through the darkness. I could hear glass shattering in the distance as well as the distinctive sound of hissing air cables. Then the display simply went to black. The lights died immediately after that. “Greetings Samuel Hain. I am curious – what are you doing out here, in the middle of nowhere?” The voice was expansive, ancient, and powerful. As the words washed over us, the whole ship shuddered. “Who are you?” Thamphor demanded as the red emergency lights came on. They did a poor job of keeping the darkness at bay. “Have you forgotten? Wait, there is something different here; my, my how things have changed. Why is the illustrious Samuel Hain being run by a crew of misfits?” “We are approaching the event horizon sir.” Sardonia announced. “Engines!” Thamphor shouted. “That would be nice. I’ll be sure to pick some up when I get the chance.” Manfred replied from the engine room. “Release Thispa.” Our captain growled.
The dark entity raced out into space and dived into the oily bubble. The moments were caked with an icy dread, each second languishing in a torpid, lonely uncertainty. We inched closer to the dark, slippery center of the strange phenomenon as the ship continued to crumple and bend. Every time a hull panel blew out, I jumped; the sizzle of damaged circuitry and hissing of escaping air was taunting me. Without warning, we were plunged into complete blackness. Then, the air became infused with tiny glowing strings, wriggling through the merciless void and through our very bodies. The ship itself was gone – of that I was sure – all that was left was an infinite nothingness. The only thing that was familiar to me was Thispa’s eerie shrieking. A cracking sound was heard and her high pitched frenzy was suddenly cut short. The sound of something being eaten seemed to come from far away – but at the same time it was uncomfortably close. Something was slowly approaching in the faint, flickering illumination. As it came closer, I recognized the form – it was an Orrise. It was totally black, down to its very core. It slowly touched each one of us, its tongue lingering upon some longer than others. “I am Isis. I am the one cast out by my kind.” “Where are we?” Thamphor spoke for us all. “In my prison.” “What have you done with Thispa?” Our “captain” was unsure of where he was even standing. Isis curled her tongue and then quickly retracted it, making a sickening “squish, slap!” The Orrise leaned toward Thamphor. “She was quite tasty.” Daphne summoned up the courage to speak. ”What are you going to do with us?” “Ahhh…so concerned about your safety, little robot. Is that all you see, danger? Perhaps there is an opportunity here.” “What kind of opportunity?” Thamphor tried to reassert himself as the leader of our rag-tag group. “This would be better discussed under ‘different circumstances’. Allow me to make some small repairs to your ship and then we shall proceed.”
Over the next several hours, the void was filled with strange hissing, crackling, and humming. The darkness around us was penetrated by waves of warmth and our skin tingled with an unknown energy. We floated in the twinkling nothingness; the tiny strings were now moving in unison, like a flock of birds. “Too bad you don’t have super powers like Enticeler.” I noticed Sithim floating beside me.
The words flashed on his pendant. “I am one of the few who have chosen to live a ‘clean’ life devoid of genetic manipulation and micro-implants. Not being affected by the strange star has been a liberating experience.” The darkness slowly faded and we were once again on the bridge of the Hain. Everything was in working order; in fact, the ship looked like it had just left the shipyard. Everyone was checking their holo-displays, including me. The ship was not only in perfect shape, there were some modifications that seemed foreign. “Now that the Samuel Hain has been repaired, you may go on your way.” Isis’ voice made the ship tremble. The black, oily sphere hovered in front of us. “But where will you go? Back to your little, meager existence? Isn’t that why you came out here in the first place, to escape the suffocating grasp of your mundane little lives?” She was suddenly at the back of the bridge. “What if you had another choice? What if you could travel beyond your imagination, or live outside what you thought was possible?” “What are you offering?” Thamphor was still determined to be our leader. Isis approached, holding a prismatic crystal. “This.” She gently inserted it into Thamphor’s forehead. “No…no…it’s not possible. It’s a trick! There are only three! There are only three!” “How sad, “Isis’ tongue softly curled around Thamphor’s head, “poor uneducated Nethasian. That’s what you were taught, wasn’t it? There are three dimensions; our space, Q-Space, and Yil-WethYma’s space. How many dimensions do you see, little one?” “I….I….can’t…keep track…there are so many….” Thamphor’s words had an otherworldly, dreamy quality to them. “And what do you get out of the bargain?” Allan spoke up. “Companionship.” Isis turned to him and gently drew him in.
Isis proved to be surprisingly persistent, yet astonishingly patient. Each one of us found a crystal in our quarters, as well as a personal note from Isis herself. I somehow felt violated; how dare she read my mind, dissect my life, and peel back the hidden layers of my soul? “….the promise of the future is so much more than the pain of the past…” Even though I knew she was right, Isis’ words seemed hollow to me. I threw the crystal with all my rage and it shattered against the wall. It broke into a million pieces, each of which transformed into a point of light. The lights floated in the air for a moment and a feeling washed over me - ‘goodbye’. Then they disappeared forever.
My door slid open and Lofiene was standing there; the crystal in her forehead gleamed serenely. She hugged me and then took a step back. “No. No, no, no, no! I won’t lose somebody else!” I collapsed on the floor as she walked away.
© 2013 Benjamin F. Kaye
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