SPACE ELDRITCH II Sneak Peek: “Plague Ship” by Steven L. Peck


se2 smallTo Our Most Beloved and Learned Archivist:

 Find herewith two separate records that I have interlaced together into one account, ordered by inferred chronology. In italics, I have placed a stylized record pulled from the dendrite memory pattern reconstruction of a perished human found floating in deep space. I am aware of your interest in biologicals and believe you will find this account of particular merit. The male subject was located during a scan for carbon anomalies in the interstitial spaces of galactic cluster Y899JJL. At 3134.73 lightyears’ distance from the subject, the additional accompanying text recorded by this man in an active vocal log was found broadcast among the chatter of a transmission sent with a simple light-speed photonic wave device common to the period for transmitting digital signals, thus confirming exactly how long ago the man was set adrift. The brain pattern reconstruction and the audio log the man produced were integrated to reconstruct this text, which gives the circumstances of his death. I send this to you because of the details of the ship recorded herein. Note also that the vessel described herein has not been found, despite an extensive search. The danger revealed in this account may occasion your Excellency’s attention.

 I am your fervent servant,

K

 # Textual reconstruction from dendrite architecture 1 #

A thousand worlds beckon me into the darkness. I am no stranger to the silences between the stars, and in them I find my animation. My ship, and dare I say companion, Keva—that indomitable spacefaring beast whose form and intelligence has evolved into a universe-jumping vessel—knows the tides and winds framing the fabric of the universe. He steers a seasoned course in search of rare treasure found in places sequestered in realms that cannot even be pointed to from our dimensions. Rumors of those faraway lands are hard to come by and the search is long and often fruitless. Today, however, luck finds us.

 * Digital voice log broadcast A*

“I’ve got a hit.”

It’s been a while. My fishnetter, Robin, smiles up at me from the console. As always, she is wearing gold jeans and a red-dirt t-shirt advertising a mountain bike rental company in Moab, Earth. Her eyes are shining and she motions to her screen with a glance. Her kid is standing beside her, smiling. He’s not suppose to be on the bridge, but Robin insists and frankly I don’t care.

I can see on her display a chaotic splash of nearly numberless dots forming a spiderweb of networked galaxy-like projections.

“Age?” I can hardly speak. I’m surprised to see my hands are shaking. It looks like a hit.

“Based on expansion and the physics, maybe twelve billion.” She is grinning fiercely. I know the expression. She’s crewed for me for seven years, and that bright-eyed look means business. It means good fortune.

She turns back to the display.

“Physics?” I ask, still a little cautious. Not ready to abandon my pessimism.

“On the edge, but full in. Not like anything I’ve seen, so likely some treasures. Gravity equivalent looks about like ours and they have enough subatomics to produce an abundant set of chemicals. I’m thinking life-rich. Given the age, likely some intelligence—civilizations too—probably even a few multiverse jumpers.”

“We’ll need to avoid them,” I state unnecessarily. Everyone knows we don’t want someone who can follow us home. Robin lets out a grunt suggesting obviously and starts to say something, but cuts it short. We’ve all been on edge, but the mood is starting to lighten up fast—no sense falling into patterns of conflict.

“Keva?” She dutifully asks to follow protocols, but is already closing her eyes, sending the message from her internal neuroset.

The sentient ship responds, “Yes, Robin.”

“Start calibration protocols. This looks like it might be a hit.”

“Aye,” The ship answers.

“Relax the protocols, Keva,” I say. This could be a strike and I don’t want to be too conservative. I invented the rules; I can break them.

The ship brings up a schematic on the universe we just found. Our eyes are focused for a likely place to hunt. I tell the crew of about one hundred and twenty families to prepare for a descent, batten down the hatches and all that. This is good news.

 # Dendrite reconstruction 2 #

We are hunting on the forward edge of nowhere. It’s quieter out here. Less noise. Less distraction. A tiny smudge of light, just a fuzzy pinprick really, can be detected visually from the aft observation lounge. That’s our seventeen-billion-year-old universe. Seen from this far away it is only a stripling—maybe two billion years old.

Like the early Phoenicians who would never sail out of sight of land, we keep it in view so we can find our way home. We come out here because we need the calm seas to troll for treasure. We need to escape the staticky, noisy space near stars, the roar in the midst of galaxies full of licking waves, dense forces, fields of such variety that it clogs your sensors with its busyness: magnetic, light, gamma- and x-rays, dark matter, gravity—an endless array of presences that can be detected almost anywhere. Even the great voids that honeycomb the universe, where galaxies are rare, are too cacophonous for the quiet we need.

It’s different out here. Here in the primal emptiness beyond the edge there is silence. There are tiny fields, barely detectable, leaking from a universe so far away as to be but a whisper in this darkness. But care is needed. There are terrifying stories. Ships whose crews popped into far-space. The nowherelands so deep in the matrix of the multiverse that there is nothing on which to fix a heading. Without any sense of how to get back, they are forever lost in a nothingness vast and unforgiving, for by any measure the ‘great all’ is mostly empty. To think about it too deeply pummels one into disequilibrium and vertigo…

***

[“Plague Ship” by Steven L. Peck is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]

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