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Dangerous Distances


He looked out through the observation bay. The shuttle was currently being automatically

 hauled in hangar 5. As the huge station was drawing nearer he let go a sigh, when his communication

 system beeped the characteristic sound of an incoming message. With a mechanical gesture, he

 acknowledged and opened the file. He had been doing this for years. Such actions were mentally

carved in his conscience, and his role as navigation officer condemned him to pursue his efforts for

years to come. He felt somewhat trapped. Years ago, in his youth, space had been the thrilling

icon of adventure and discovery. It was a symbol, and his own private utopia.

Now it all seemed so far away…

Ghandrii CommunicationsFFg012                                   1036 08.25.2194

 

Destined to be received by:

Adolf G. Strauss, Navigation officer, quarter department AG-67,

 

Sir, we have received your transfer request and analysis is complete. The following

 is a verdict. May we remind you the lack of candidates to your current job.

Should you go, finding a replacement would be one of our major objectives of

the next four years, at the least. It is to great an honor to work with you for us

to consider an eventual parting. Case closed.

                        Gavin U Fergusson.

CAS.qnetwork //CyberAcme Systems, Inc.                       <532.112.52648.16.920>

 

He smiled. There was one officer who had a sense of humor. The message was obviously not for him.

 Had someone hacked CyberAcme once again? Or was it just an open letter, destined to warn any

crewmember in case poor Adolf was not the only one?

And he wasn’t.

When would anyone get a chance of getting out of there?

 The gigantic structure of the station was now too big to fit wholly on the screen. Once this had been

impressive. Soon, he had gotten used to it all. His systems beeped the error signal. A warning signal

came up on the flickering screen, asking for a communication channel to be opened. This made him

raise an eyebrow. Unusual. He had already announced their arrival to the station, following the routine

standards. The screen read “Force channel opening to prior conversation 6bf7 in 5 seconds” then it

started a countdown. He manually set the channel to “open”. Prior conversations were invariably

originating superior officers, and it was rarely beneficial to be forced into one. He chose not to upset

his correspondent. A small image of a helmet came up. It was connected to a body. Its hand waved.

“-Hello Henry! That scared you, didn’t it?

-Rache! Scared me? What on earth could have scared me? I’m bored to death on this old rusty piece

of junk! Who else could bypass enough systems to get a prior message to an old shuttle pilot upon his

docking in a spaceport? Not that I have that much to do, mind you, technology being at its state-of-art

 level, its all automatic, nowadays! So what are you doing in those outfits, and where are you?

The Moon?

-Actually, I didn’t hack anything. Security protocols indicate prior messages for situations such as these:

I don’t suppose you know I have a new job, do you? Well, I work as a docking technician on GPR-II,

 and if I’m not mistaken, that is precisely where you are heading. I know technology is fine, nowadays,

but I must tell you that if you don’t correct your trajectory right now, you are going to run straight into

 us, and I don’t guarantee you’ll be able to bring any mineral back to HQ…

-What? Ok, no panic, I’ll warn the pilot.”

It was indeed quite unusual. At last a thrill. Some action.

Henry’s hands flied over the console as he pressed the keys. After an instant, he was confronted with

an error log, denying him the access to a conversation with the pilot. He looked concerned. He tried a

prior channel to the bridge, two stories above. He had moved his own office to an unusual place six

months ago: an escape pod. To the other crewmembers, he had explained he was unsociable. In fact,

 he had chosen this spot in prevention of an eventual disaster. Working for Ghandrii, a national mining

 corporation from the Icarus Independent Government, around the asteroid belt near the Thermopylae

territory involved a certain amount of danger. Anything might happen. Currently, he was trying to get

the image to work properly, since no sound answered his summons, and the all he could see was a blur.

 He made the camera rotate, to no effect. This was most unusual. He then tried any other camera on

board, but although they worked properly, the ship seemed empty. He felt his heart beat a trifle quicker.

 What was going on? He switched back to his communication with Rachel, and said “Hey Rache, I have

 a problem here, the crew seems to have vanished. You better get outta there, cos I can’t run this thing

 by myself. Collision course.” Then shut it down, and stood up, heading for the door. An alarm was set

off. Inside his small cabin, everything went red. The door would not open. This was downright stupid.

There he stood, nothing to be done. He looked back at his console. On the screen stood in bright red

 letters: “Abandon Ship!” He then heard a deep rumbling noise, which shook the ship. In an instant, he

figured out what was happening. The Abandon Ship message was prior to a massive pod launch, and

since his door was stuck, he would fly. But the deep sound was that of the primary engines started.

The Shuttle would head full-speed for GPR-II. When the typical sound of depressurization was heard

he reached for his seat, but too late. He fell unconscious under the shock.

 

The corpse shuddered. It was alive. The faint echo of a howling wind was humming in the distance.

Light was fading; a shaded brown gave the monochrome surroundings a strange, almost sad look.

The body moved its arms as to stand up on its feet, but, seemingly too tired by the effort, abandoned

the attempt and let itself lie with a sigh. It was in the middle of a small room. The dilapidated walls gave

off dull reflections of the outside world; evidence of which came pouring through the huge gap of a

perforated door casing. One could see the spinning clouds afar, and below, so fast, as time was taking

another meaning. The man opened his eyes. He could see all this, but his mind was unaware of it. He was

still lost in slumber, dreaming of another world.  He turned his head toward the light. With redoubled efforts,

he got on his fours, then stood up, resting on a wall. He put his hand to his eyes to avoid being blinded by

the light. Strange mutterings were heard, but whether they came from himself or not, he could not tell…

He took a step forward, toward the outside. The room lead to a small corridor, or what had been, but the

absence of ceiling made it look more like a terrace. The air was very dry. He stood upright, and drew a deep

breath. The view was startling. He appeared to be on the summit of a great skyscraper, similar to others that

stood up against the horizon, at a distance undeterminable. They all seemed in ruins.  Their sheer immensity

made him feel insignificant. But the emptiness around him soon overcame the passing feeling, he was alone.

And lost. Then there were the murmurs. Or were there? He saw afar, the spinning clouds of dust and, he

guessed, ashes. His throat was dry. No water. No sun. It was all brown; clouds of dust high in the sky,

tiles on the floor and the walls, the remnants of the wood, the ground so deep below, and all so brown.

He went closer to the edge. There was a stairway, leading downwards, longing an external wall, and a

door, the darkness of the floors beneath him. He needed to survive, he needed to move, and he felt the ache

 of thirst. As he gripped the hand rail and attempted the descent, he felt it give in. The stairs, the wall, the bricks

 and the tiles. He was too heavy. They all broke in countless pieces. HE started to think. He sought of life,

of its innocence, and why it was always in desperation one forsook the darker ways, and fell, for he was falling

 and, casually, why he was entertaining himself with such interrogations… The stairway crumbled beneath his

 weight, when he realized he was over an edge. Then he thought how long it would be before he hit the ground.

 It was over a dozen kilometers away. He was falling, he was diving, into the void, into the dust, into the ashes.

 

“Pfhor wakes up. He is conscious, a loyal servant of the empire. He lives to fight, to serve or die.

 The makers are blessed; the war-gods prevail. We seek we crush we exist. Pfhor has a name.

It is F’kaer’ha. Pfhor has a role. To guard the sanctuary. The wakening is done.

F’kaer’ha must take his guard time.

 He is rested, and ready.”

 

The three-eyed creatures known throughout the universe as “Pfhor” respect a ritual awakening, every time they

come out of their slumber. The lower classes of soldiers, of whom F’kaer’ha is a representative, live by the military

 code imposed upon them by their superiors. They rarely talk, other than what is sufficient to the execution of their

orders. They have an extremely developed education, concerning everything there is to know about the military, but

are barely informed of any other activities of life, indeed don’t seem to have any. They are stout, emotionless warriors,

who show no weakness, since who does is immediately replaced. When the pfhor die of age, they are still as fit as in the

prime of their youth. Sleep is a necessity to their existence, but they easily manage it whilst standing. This allows them to

 do so most everywhere, although they more often use special chambers, with a more humid atmosphere. This particular

pfhor was stepping out of his chamber, and heading for an outer wall of the Djis’pafh sanctuary.

 

“F’kaer’ha will guard. Searches his memory. What was before sleep. Had been permitted to rest

by officer Gthont. Sees a tall hovering dark-purple clad being, and identifies it as Jn’thissa, the Sph’t

compiler appointed to the surveillance of automatic security devices. Sph’t are strange. Extremely

developed beings. Closely interwoven organic and electronic elements consist a body of a strange

aspect. So technologically in advance had they been, they had been defeated. F’kaer’ha is proud

to be of the slavers. He feels strange. Frightens at himself. He remembers what has happened during

his sleep. The makers, the fathers of Sph’t and Pfhor, the gods, they spoke. They told him something.

Discovers he can dream. Dream is emotion. He is not fit to guard. He must be moved.”

 

The Pfhor was standing upright on a ridge carved in a cliff, to the northern end of the sanctuary. It consisted of a network

 of caves and tunnels, a very ancient city, older than the pfhor themselves, wrought in ancient times by beings the pfhor

thought were their gods. They were older than the races of the galaxy. He should have been heading south, to attend his

guardroom. But as he stood motionless, he was torn with emotions. Anger, fear, hate, and desperation were all shooting

through his brain in a frightful mess. Why should the gods punish him? Why did he feel weak? Was there a meaning? He

suddenly felt lost. A drowning individual acquiring an identity in a sea of unconsciousness. He felt different. And he began

to think. To his left was a towering wall, to his right a deep chasm, not unlike his dream.

What if he fell. What if he jumped?

 

“Meets officer Gthont. Hears what Gthont says, that he looks startled, surprised. What is he doing here

 (what indeed?), blocking the way? Hears he has to move, and reluctantly gives in, and continues his way,

 leaving the depths of his improbable suicide. F’kaer’ha shall not fall. Gthont speaks again. Pfhor

 are needed. Needed for battle. Secrecy must prevail. F’kaer’ha will be a warrior, he shall inform none.

 But he is not, F’kaer’ha is a dreamer!”

 

Henry awoke all of a sudden. He felt shocked. His head hurt. He couldn’t bother try to find an answer to the questions that

 ran through his head, as he lay in dizziness and watched the strange motion of the objects around him. A flickering screen,

a signal written in bright red letters, a chair, a beam of light coming through a round window, the walls, he was lying on one,

were dark, the rest moved too fast for him to consider. A chaotic motion, he figured, and remembered one of his university

 courses, not clearly knowing where exactly in his timeline it was supposed to fit. His memory seemed fragmented. He felt

 lost, confronted with a whirling, incommensurable quantity of information. His own conscience was recoiling and wrapping

 itself around its last certainty: its own existence. He was losing himself, decaying.

 

Slowly, the escape pod was drifting away. It moved unnoticed among the debris. All around it, the remnants of what had

probably recently been a mining station were floating, spinning. No sound in space. But then there seemed to be a flash.

A hole appeared in the pod’s hull. Air poured out, and it started to turn, slowly. Another flash, another hole. And again, and

 again. It was being shot at. All of a sudden, it tore itself to shreds. Still no sound. Scraps of metal joined the debris in their

soundless ballet, among the stars.

 

Every standard transport shuttle has a minimum of four escape pods. Every one of them emits a signal, as to warn any passing

 by craft of their location. Henry’s specific pod was also equipped with a system destined to warn every pod of the presence

 of the other pods originated from the same craft. On its detectors, one of them disappeared. Danger was awakening him

 in his dreams, the lost city where he should fall. But he cannot fall. He shall not fall. He would wake up and stand.

He would survive.

 

 

In the falling oblivion, the conscience erases itself.

It floats, like a wooden ball in a salted sea.

Drifting into the dreams, where lies our truth, we fly.

 

 

 

                  

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                               

On to the sequel: Nearer Arrivals