Authors: Mitchell A. Duncan
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction
Copyright © 2011 by Mitchell A Duncan, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without expressed permission from the copyright holder.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62112-428-3
I dedicate this novel, with love, to my wife and children.
Thank you for the immeasurable love and support.
Deeper Into the Void
was written with a couple “unorthodox” elements. First, this novel was written in present tense. This was done specifically to “include” the reader in the storyline as it unfolds. Second, the dialogue in this book is clearly written in a “script” style to allow the reader easy reference to the speaker without interrupting the flow of the dialogue. These alterations were made with the understanding that conventional writing is comfortable for most readers, and that some readers may not prefer this particular style of writing.
In this land of dreams, the dead walk amongst the living. Events from the past are relived, and forgotten memories are disturbed from their slumber in the far reaches of the subconscious mind. One is forced to face and reconcile with regret. We are not alone in our convoluted existence here; we are always under watchful eyes. They watch from the shadows; nothing goes unnoticed. Their true nature is indiscernible; the passion of feeling brings them new life in the mind. From whence they come and to where they go no one can be certain.
They feed on the fear, they revel in our despair. Know one thing, that the only way to stave off this unseen assault on a troubled mind is to fill it with inspiration and hope. Eyes deceive, the mind believes and the body presents the evidence to sustain delusion. Stay the mind and quicken the senses, they may present themselves to you.
– Dr. William Ghent
Final Transmission from Mars
Year 11 Day 178
he backup power is failing; I may not be able to relay another message back to Earth. The sandstorm has been raging for almost a week now, and the power output from the solar panels outside is almost nothing in this eternal night. The lights are fading here within the dome, and it is growing quite cold without the sun. I have heard nothing from Winters since he disappeared; I hope that he made it to shelter before the onset of the wind storm that has besieged us.
Ever since the sun was blotted out, Mars seems to be crawling in its own skin. The ground below shakes and the glass dome rattles in the tumult. The mysterious depths of the pond within the dome have been revealed. The water has dropped at least a hundred meters or so, it appears to be a bottomless cavern. The drop in pressure, so quickly realized by the fleeing water, now holds us hostage in the control center. My pressure suit was left in the lab when the air rushed out of the dome, I cannot hope that the pressure will be restored before I run out of oxygen.
I send this final plea back to Earth: do not send the second team. There is an unidentified malice that haunts us here. Neither want of reason nor any hope for solace will save the adverse mind here within this endless sea of sorrow. The bitter taste of madness fills every waking moment. Every day has been filled with remorse and retrospection from which there is no safety. This endless night is filled with aberrations of a past life to which we can no longer return. Whispers from the dark taunt the broken mind. Subtle suggestions are heard to venture deeper within the void that has now been made clear. Visions of a portal creep into the mind at every absence of preoccupation. Of course, the drop in pressure has precluded me from following the path that my feet long to tread upon. I could only watch from the isolation of the control center as the remaining members ventured over the edge into the chasm below.
It seems to me that I am feeling the same way that someone in a small deep-sea submarine feels when they realize that their lifeline to the surface has been cut. The power goes out and the air stops flowing. Trapped in a small area, with no light and no air, always seemed a terrible thing to me. I am now realizing that it is much worse to know that if you give in and open a door to breathe, you will simply die painfully instead.
There is something alive in this place, something terrible and intelligent stalks us all, yet remains unidentifiable and unseen. None of us could have known, or have understood, but we were all drawn further in. During our waking hours it was as though we were walking in a land of dreams. We have been haunted by our troubled past, and when we would try to sleep, it would only become worse. The happenings, while we have been here, can be described as nothing short of tragic, deliberate and even nefarious.
I have seen many things myself, things that I cannot explain or rationalize. From whence these visions of madness come, I cannot know. To where they have driven the rest of my team, I cannot say. The source of the voices, which are heard over the radio and when we were alone, is a mystery.
I cannot find the eyes that watch me, yet I can feel their gaze. I do know this much: our presence here has disturbed some slumbering force. I have been reminded numerous times that these things were all just in my head; I just don’t understand how we could all have seen the same things, if they didn’t really exist.
Herodotus, a famous classical author, is famous for saying that the greatest sorrow a man can endure is to know so much and to be able to control nothing; I would disagree on the premise that it is far worse to know that you do not know and still cannot control the forces that you have become a hostage to. All we really know is that this planet was promising. Industry and the defense of our region depend on the success of this endeavor, I cannot say that it is worth the investment, nor is it worth the inevitable demise that awaits anyone as foolhardy as we, the first and hopefully last expedition to this clandestine world. What was once an opportunity to blaze a new path for humanity has become an endless nightmare. There is no point in worrying about what will inevitably befall me; as long as I have a choice, I will find a way to leave on my own terms.
This place now represents my final prison and resting place. I will not be able to communicate any further. I could not imagine myself further away from home than I currently am. I am not sure that this will be relayed back home, but if this is my final entry, then this is Captain Gregory Underwood signing off from the base of Olympus Mons, Mars. To Jane, I am sorry.
– End of Transmission –
Year 15, Day 34
old metal halide lamps sluggishly ignite, one at a time, down the silent metal corridor. Thousands of miniscule ice crystals float effortlessly through the frigid, sterile air. Webbed strapping secures the veritable assortment of freight to the hull. Frozen metal cases litter the floor, walls and ceiling of the long corridor. Months of utter black darkness and the cold of empty space now find the recently illuminated cargo hold in precisely the same state as it had been when the lights went dark.
The edges of the center walkway, the only space that isn’t littered with cargo, is marked by thousands of small lights as they are freed from the absolute dark that has held them hostage. The cool blue lighting reflects off of the crude metal walls where the light finds the opportunity to illuminate them. Plain white paint adorns the crates, walls and virtually all other objects in stenciled patterns and letters. Apparent only in spots that aren’t stacked in cargo, an intricate network of hoses and electrical lines is painted in a variety of different colors. The emptiness of space outside is given no audience in the cargo area; the absence of windows precludes the faint starlight from reaching into the cluttered passageway.
Arranged in the forward section of the cargo area, between the first and second heavy metal bulkhead, a series of fluid-filled compartments slowly begin to illuminate the dim space around them with green light. Crystalline ice coats the thick glass panes that adorn the various surfaces of the compartments. The liquid within them glows in an eerie green, the contents well-obscured from sight. Streams of water vapor seep off of the surface as it warms from within. Tiny droplets of water let go their icy hold upon the glass as they drift out into the open air, there to freeze again as solid droplets. Pearls of ice drift slowly around the first small cargo compartment; the blue light of the corridor and the green light emitted from within the fluid compartments cause the droplets to glow in the dim air.
The backlit nameplate above the first compartment slowly becomes visible as it is freed of the icy shell that coated it so thoroughly. The white-lit ‘Cardiff J’ stands in stark contrast to the dark caste metal exterior upon where it shines. Long blonde hair drifts in the glowing fluid, anchored only to a dormant head. The individual hairs shimmer in the oddly colored light. A sudden jerking motion pulls at the hair within the fluid; a pale face moves from its upward-looking resting place and moves back and forth as the heavy induced sleep wears off. The fluid is quite warm, but continues to warm in preparation for the return to consciousness.
Hands that have lain dormant at her sides now begin to twitch as the paralytic sleep agent recalls its comatose state. Dreams and memories of events not yet realized now fade into the growing green light. The light from her compartment, and from outside it, penetrates her eyelids for the first time in months. The breathing tube inserted into her mouth is the first object that comes into clear focus through the fluid in her watertight partition. Her right hand rushes through the viscous fluid to press against the sealed door in front of her.
A monotone computer voice sounds in her ears, alerting her that the purging process is beginning. The sound of bubbles in the fluid loudly announces to her that air is being pressed into the compartment, pressing the fluid out. Hundreds of small bubbles of air fill the fluid filled compartment in the absence of gravity. Bubbles collide with each other, creating even larger bubbles. Her eyelids close and then open again sluggishly, the effects of the drugs are still noticeable to her as she patiently watches the bubble scene around her.
As the process continues, the air and fluid become equally present in the compartment, leaving her to wonder if the fluid is in the air or vice versa. Bubbles of air give way to large droplets of fluid floating around inside the compartment. A large fan overhead begins to rush heated air over her body. The force of the rushing air pulls her to the floor of her compartment, where the air returns back into the system.
She winces as she removes the breathing tube from her mouth, and rubs her lips and cheek as they are quite sore from the time that they had spent stretched out over the mouthpiece.
The automated piloting system plainly announces the completion of the process. The door in her small closet-sized compartment opens, and cold air rushes in past the rubber gasket. She firmly grasps each side of the compartment opening, and with a quick thrust forward, she begins moving out into the long cargo hold. Her first unaided breath is filled with the painful cold as it rushes past the back of her throat.
Her one-piece suit is drying, but the dampness still seems to soak up the cold from the air. The warmth of the water-filled vessel, from which she has just emerged, is contrasted brutally by the frigid air in the rest of the cold ship.
The rest of the crew of the Reconciliation still slumbers, each floating in a separate compartment. Enjoying the quiescent moment, Cardiff continues to push off of the walls, cargo and bulkheads as she moves forward through the doorway into the cabin. A steel hull gives way to long windows as she finds herself floating in the center of the cabin. Clouds of water vapor spew from her nostrils as her warm breath meets the frigid air in the cabin. The water vapor drifts outward in all directions, until it disappears from sight altogether.
Cardiff rubs her hands on her arms to warm herself. After a moment, she reaches for her heavier suit, which is suspended off of a hook in the cabin next to her. In a feat of acrobatics, she climbs into her dry, one-piece suit. After zipping it up, she again sets her mind to getting strapped into the pilot’s chair at the front of the small cabin.
Peering out through the heavy glass windows into the vast space around the craft, she takes a moment to look for an end to the emptiness. The space outside is completely devoid of any form or illumination. Cardiff draws in a long, cold breath of recycled air.
Several beads of ice rocket through the open doorway into the cabin, crashing against the glass console in front of Cardiff, and into the window above it. Shards of ice scatter along the front of the craft as the computer makes an automatic course correction. As the computer alters the path of the lumbering craft, a new object gleams in the near distance. On her eye gleams the reflection of a single brightly lit sphere of rust-colored rock, Mars.
With a simple press of her finger to the glass control console in front of her, the brighter lights on the inside of the hull begin to illuminate, one section at a time, until the entire craft is well-lit inside. The reflection of the bright lights inside the cabin in the window glass obscure Cardiff’s view of their destination.
After her eyes readjust to the increased light, she reaches into one of the pockets on her suit and retrieves a single stick of gum. She holds the stick of gum in her hand for a moment, examining the shiny wrapper. She removes the metallic sheath thoughtfully, and deliberately sticks it into her mouth. The wintergreen flavor is brisk; the flavor is welcome as her mouth has spent months without taste, except for the taste of plastic.
Another quick press of her right pointer finger upon the lit glass console begins the purging procedure in the rest of the personnel compartments. A complex entry trajectory appears on the window in front of her, projected onto the glass by the navigational computer.
Through the cold void of space the Reconciliation, a prototype freighter, drifts toward the red planet. An occasional burst from the smaller stabilizing rockets along the hull keeps the craft drifting along the course best suited for entry into the thin Martian atmosphere.
The distant sun gleams on the polished exterior surface of the spacecraft as it draws closer to the giant rusty rock. Doctor William Ghent emerges drowsily from his warm cocoon. As he drifts silently through the cargo area, Ghent rubs his eyes and then begins to ‘swim’ through the air, weightlessly. His attempts at trying to propel him quicker through the cold air slowly pay off; he gradually drifts forward toward the cabin.
Ghent touches the jamb of the doorway into the cabin; the metal bulkhead is painfully cold to the touch. Peeling his skin from the surface before it freezes solidly onto it, Ghent makes his way over to his own suit. He awkwardly climbs into his pressure suit and hurriedly finds his seat along the side of the cabin. After he places his body in the seat, Ghent struggles to strap himself in.
The time draws nigh for the final maneuvers before the final entry. Cardiff presses her finger on the control board, and her general announcement booms through every compartment of the ship. Ghent grasps at the nylon strap and tugs on it firmly to tighten his harness.
Jim Lawrence finds himself drifting through the door into the cabin. The rumbling sound of the stabilizing boosters on the ship firing compels Doctor Julie Mendez and Doctor Zachary Long to hurry forward. They grasp at the cargo netting along the sides of the hull in the cargo compartment. The automated correction in course causes Lawrence to impact the windshield along the front of the cabin, just above the control console. Mendez and Long are tossed to and fro, holding fast to the netting. They appear as seaweed drifting in the force of the ocean surf. Lawrence rubs his head and gives Cardiff a simple glance to convey his annoyance.
|Cardiff:||Strap in Lawrence, we are minutes out.|
|Lawrence:||Yeah, thanks for that. Give me a couple seconds notice|
you do that next time, will you? I guess that’s a fine welcome to the box office.
|Cardiff:||Sure, but the next time we begin entry into the Martian atmosphere might not be for a while Mr. Lawrence. Stop crying and help me out here.|
Mendez and Long hurriedly climb along the netting. Several meters before reaching the bulk head that separates the cabin from the rest of the ship, they leap off of the sides to pass through the doorway. As Mendez and Long reach their seats, and begin to climb into their harnesses, the computer makes another calculated correction. The feeling of being drawn toward the planet ahead causes the team, who has been weightless for months, to feel the odd strain of gravity again.
|Lawrence:||Going dark. Interior lights out.|
With a simple touch of the control panel, Lawrence switches the interior lights all off. The glow of the control panel is overtaken in brightness by the increasingly ominous view of Mars out the cabin windows.
Mendez and Long quickly grab the adjustable straps on their restraining harnesses. Only Lawrence and Cardiff have been through any sort of entry before. The anxiety that they are all feeling is quite apparent by the expression on their faces.
Mendez reaches into her shoulder pocket blindly, and retrieves a single smooth glass marble. She presses the marbles through the openings between her fingers and rolls it around in her palm.
Ghent can’t seem to shut his eyes, afraid that he will miss the rare experience that he is about to have. The sound from the outside of the ship intensifies as the ship enters the thin atmosphere.
The growing sound of chuckling slowly begins to overtake the deafening sound of the metal hull as it rushes through the upper atmosphere. Doctor Zachary Long has broken down into pure hysteria as he laughs uncontrollably.
Fortunately for everyone else, the rushing sound from outside the ship is almost enough to drown out his maniacal laughter. His laughter is interrupted completely by the other crew as they raise their voices to overwhelm the sound from outside.
|Lawrence:||You know people pay extra at theme parks for this sort of thing. Then again, most rides in theme parks don’t spontaneously combust under the intense friction that we will have here in a minute.|
|Cardiff:||That’s comforting. Here’s a thought: why don’t you keep our angle of approach in line so we don’t need to worry about that, eh?|
|Long:||Honestly, I somehow don’t see him getting us through this…|
|Cardiff:||Don’t be so dramatic Dr. Long.|
|Mendez:||This might be a bad time, but none of you are helping the situation|
|Lawrence:||Oh, well if it makes anyone feel better the chances are fairly remote that I will screw this up. So don’t worry. If I do, then the anti-matter detonation upon impact will add a new feature to the face of Mars, it will be over quick, sort of a win-win scenario. Plus, as an added bonus, we will have left our mark on Mars, just like we came here to do.|
|Cardiff:||You are a sick man, you know that. Ready the forward retro thrusters.|
|Lawrence:||Aye Captain, go for retro.|
|Cardiff:||On my mark… three… two… one… mark!|
Mendez holds on to her harness tightly, her thumbs under the shoulder straps with her fingers clenching along the top of them. Her long dark hair flings abruptly in front of her face in the rapid deceleration, which feels more like whiplash than any kind of planned procedure. Droplets of fluid run along each hair toward the tips, which are projected straight forward now. The fluid seems to launch off of the ends of her hair in droplets toward the front of the cabin.