Warped: Six – Gravity

by Andrea Speed

Six – Gravity

It should have been comforting that he couldn’t sense anyone beyond his team, but it wasn’t. Khal couldn’t shake the feeling that everything here was wrong, beyond the fact that they seemed to be looking at the aftermath of a slaughter.

This was all set up so incorrectly he would have thought it was a frame job, only that didn’t really make sense either. For what? And who would do this anyways? MoSys was the governmental version of a sexually transmitted flesh eating disease, but they didn’t kill people without some sort of reason, no matter how meager.

The emotions from the others were crowding him, but he did his best to focus on Dar, who was simply feeling curiosity. Gen seemed to be secretly convinced they were all going to die – not an irrational fear, actually – and was preparing to ditch them, while Kvec gave off an oddly strong feeling (for him anyways), one of a strange sort of abandonment. He wasn’t the last Cryer in the universe, but he felt like one right at the moment, and he couldn’t blame him. Cryers were built to be nearly indestructible, and yet outside were Cryers that had been shattered like so much spider glass. It was wrong on so many different levels that Kvec didn’t know how to handle it, and Khal had no comfort to give him.

war7.jpgDar was good; he had to focus on her. It wasn’t just that she was about eighty percent machine that made her so emotionally sterile, although he knew most of the “crew” thought that. No, ‘Facers were specially picked before birth, given traits that made them emotionally dead anyways, so a life spent mostly living through machines would seem not only natural, but desirable, as much as they could desire anything. If they felt things like normal people, they might resent a life spent as a glorified data compiler and sensor relay system.

Dar seemed to be staring at a blank wall, but her curiosity was notching ever upward. “Kvec, would you please punch that wall?” Kvec looked at her and made a hand gesture that was his equivalent of “why”. “I’m getting strange density variations, and I would like to confirm a hypothesis.”

“Density variations?” Gen repeated, growing increasingly twitchy. “What? Is this cave gonna fall on us?”

“I’d hardly be asking him to punch it if I thought that was a concern,” Dar replied, taking him much more seriously than he deserved to be.

Still, Gen stepped back towards the entrance as Kvec went over to the wall she indicated and started punching. The smooth surface cracked, fine lines spider webbing out from point of impact, then chunks of rock began falling away as Kvec continued driving his fist into the same spot, making a gaping hole. He was almost wrist deep in the wall when dark liquid started oozing down the side.

“What the hell is that?” Gen exclaimed.

Dar remained as serene as only a person with a genetically stunted amygdala could. “It’s blood. The bodies are inside the wall. In pieces, which is even odder.”

Gen’s fear spiked, and both he and Kvec felt instant revulsion. Khal tried not to let it carry him away, although he felt a little nauseous himself. None of this made any sense! How did people end up in pieces embedded inside a wall? Why were the Cryers shattered, and by what? Was it the same thing that did them both? How?

Gen turned and walked away. “Where are you going?” Dar inquired.

“Back to the ship. This is fucked up.”

“Dickshit,” Khal called after him, even though it didn’t make him feel any better. Also, Gen was probably doing the wisest thing, and he loathed it when he/she was right. It seemed like a crime against nature somehow.

Kvec sent him a visual image, this time of a ceiling breaking and a whole bunch of sewage sluicing down on top of them, burying them up to their knees in gray-brown sludge. He nodded, grimacing at the crystal guy – yeah, they were in deep shit indeed.

And it was about to get worse.

“Oi, guys, bit of a problem,” Bruno said, breaking through the comm.

“What is it?” Dar asked.

“The system gate just activated, and on a MoSys command frequency too.”

The three of them stared at each other for a moment, almost awestruck by their own shitty luck. What would a MoSys command ship be doing coming to the ass end of nowhere … unless it was after them? “Power up the engines,” Dar ordered, as they all started to file out of the mystery cave of death. It would have been nice to run, but in low gravity it wasn’t advisable, unless you didn’t mind going a tad airborne, or being unable to stop when you actually wanted to. So they had to settle for a brisk walk, which didn’t seem fast enough, especially considering how far away the ship seemed to be from them.

A gash suddenly broke open in the bottom of the ship as they approached, the semi-organic crystal opening its belly to them, as Dar asked, as calmly as always, “Estimated time of emergence?”

“Anywhere between five seconds and ‘alf an ‘our. You know the gate’s time dilation plays ‘ell on my scanners.”

Even before they cycled through the airlock and got used to the blood pounding rush of heavier gravity, Khal could feel the ratcheting anxiety of Gen and Vani, and even Kvec and his own, which was getting mixed up with everyone else’s. He tried to focus on Dar, who was physically incapable of panic. He wondered if he should try and mentally reach out, see if he could “feel” the MoSys crew from here, and nervously fingered his pre-loaded dose of cholopanazine thirteen in his pocket as his smart metal suit retracted back into its belt. The “chol-13” would knock him out almost the instant it hit his system, but even better than that, it would keep him from picking up other people while unconscious. He could do that sometimes, sadly, but this was a monster drug that would numb him from the outside in. In miniscule doses, he’d heard that it was used as a chemical lobotomizer. When he was back in the rehab, he overheard the doctors saying that a lobotomy was the only thing that could stop his out of control empathy. Would they do that to him if they caught him, or just kill him? Which would be better?

As soon as they took off their smart suits and the airlock opened, Gen was there, anxiety oozing out of every pore. He was almost sure he could smell it, something like vinegar and sea salt. “I told you this was a trap! Didn’t I say this was a trap?”

Dar ignored him, sliding past as she broke out in a dead run towards the pit. “Bruno, emergency lift-off procedure; get us into orbit.”

“I said this was a trap!” Gen shouted after her, his voice rebounding off the crystal walls. “If we get killed, it’s all your fault!”

“Would you shut the fuck up?” Khal snapped, unable to take his rising sense of panic and strident voice. The world seemed to tilt on its axis, and he slid straight off his feet, heading for the wall, until Kvec reached out and snagged him with one cold, hard hand. His other hand had literally dug itself into the near wall, so Kvec wasn’t going anywhere.

The same couldn’t be said of Gen, who lost his footing and went sliding down the hall until he vanished, cursing Bruno all the way. Bruno could function as “auto-pilot”, but he was extremely limited, and had none of Dar’s grace or finesse with the ship, so he moved it like it was a blunt instrument, with no thought for the passengers whatsoever.

Kvec held on to him and the wall until the ship’s severe upward trajectory leveled out, indicating Dar had jacked in and took over. Kvec let him go, and he tried to tamp down his own fear, which was starting to taste like bile in his throat. Kvec patted him on the shoulder, his way of asking if he was all right. “I’m okay. Bruno’s driving just plays hell on my digestive system.”

Down the hall, he could hear Gen’s rant continuing. “ – kill you, you stupid waste of code -”

When he was certain he wasn’t going to dry heave all over the floor, he started down the hall, desperate to get to Blue before … well, whatever happened happened. “Have they emerged yet?” he asked.

“Not yet,” Dar reported emotionlessly. “But radiation levels from the gate are increasing on an exponential level every five seconds, which indicates emergence is immanent.”

He flung himself into the lift, and asked what he knew to be a stupid question. “We’re doomed, aren’t we?”

“We don’t have time to run, but we can hide.”

“Huh?” But even as he said that, he figured out what she meant. The high radiation around the gas giant, the one that they suspected could harbor a MoSys ship – now it was their destination. It would have been ironic if it wasn’t so fucking desperate. Maybe he should just call it perfect symmetry; maybe that would make it easier to swallow. “Oh, right. How long can we take exposure before we start getting sick?”

“Our radiation shielding is more than adequate. We shouldn’t be here long enough to worry about that – unless they’re coming to construct a space station or something.”

As the lift disgorged him on his level, he stumbled to his room, trying to recall all the drugs he had with him. It was hard to remember what he’d managed to shove in his pockets, and what was still scattered on his floor. “If they have a Negotiator, we’re dead.”

“A problem we’ll deal with if it arises,” she replied, as if they could. There was nothing they could do, except die horribly. Perhaps not as horribly as the people on that blasted moon below them, but close.

Once in his room, he had the lights adjust to half, and told it to display any visual feed. There was none at the moment that Dar was letting through, which made him nervous. Was she keeping them in the dark so they wouldn’t panic? That was actually a wise idea.

He was sifting through his drug ampoules still on the floor as Blue got of the tank and came over to him, wrapping a tentacle around his ankle. The colors of alarm and fear screamed across his brainpan, and he hated to make it worse, but he saw little recourse. He told her about the MoSys ship about to enter the system, and how they were hiding in a radiation “shadow” and hoping it worked. She hated the idea of that, but she was more concerned about him than her. Then again, he was the only “civilized” one among the brutes, the only one who could speak their language. He wondered what the others would think of Blue if they realized she was actually a bit of a snob.

He found a hit of cephalycholine and collapsed on his bed, preparing to shoot himself up. He was waiting though, just in case he was needed, but he was still considering it anyways. That’s when Dar announced, “We’re in position. I launched an eye. Telemetry should be incoming shortly.”

An “eye” was a type of passive camera/sensor that got most of its energy from a low level radiation source, so it was unlikely to register as anything but normal background “noise”. Certainly around a gas giant this radioactive and surrounded by debris, it’d be nearly impossible to spot. It was also likely to get busted to shit by orbiting dust and ice, but it didn’t have to last that long. Most “eyes” were considered disposable anyways, because they were limited. Blue crawled up on the bed and watched with him, careful not to touch him in case she caught his fear, or vice versa.

The wall opposite his bed darkened, and after a few distortion lines from the radiation, he was treated to space as a red backdrop, a curtain of crimson velvet as seen through a layer of dust (one of the debris rings around the planet). The eye was set to low infrared, possibly because they wouldn’t be able to see anything otherwise, The gate was a blur of whitish energy, a semi-circle of hot energy, and he was so riveted in watching it, waiting for the MoSys ship to come through and seal their fates, that he didn’t notice the weird thing until Dar said, almost conversationally, “What is that?”

“What is it what?” Gen’s anxious voice replied over the open comm. But after quickly scouring the image, Khal saw it – a bright white gash of energy opposite the ring. It was probably hundreds of thousands of kilometers from the ring, but it looked rather close from their vantage point. Space distances were so vast, almost everything was relative. As the gate amped up to a terrible brilliance, the gash got wider, and did much the same thing.

“Is it a glitch?” Gen asked hopefully. “Some kind of interference?”

There was a long pause from Dar, which could only mean she was checking something. “No. It seems to be … I’m not sure what to call it.”

That wasn’t a good sign. “Speculate,” Khal urged.

Another pause. Now his stomach was churning, and he was sure he was going to vomit. “It’s a hole,” she finally said. “A rift in space.”

“A wormhole?” Gen replied in disbelief.

“No. Perhaps similar, but the reading are wrong. Everything’s constant and symmetrical, and there’s almost no gravitational variant.”

“So what the hell is it?” Gen demanded.

There was such a long pause that Khal had assumed that Dar wouldn’t answer, but as the dark bulk of the MoSys ship emerged (and holy shit, it was a heavy cruiser; they were so fucking dead he couldn’t believe he was still sucking air) from the gate, she suddenly said, “It’s a gateway without the gate.”

That sounded absurd, but they could see it now, a shape coming out of the gap. The gash disappeared as if winking out, leaving behind a dark object that seemed to radiate a cool blue energy. It was shaped oddly, an oblong that was taller than it was long, almost like a capsule viewed from above. The MoSys heavy cruiser was shape like a long, wide gunmetal gray knife blade, form following function.

“There’s communication traffic between the two ships,” Dar reported. “It’s encrypted. Attempting decryption now.”

“Whose ship is that?” Gen asked. “I don’t recognize that design.”

“No wonder,” Bruno interjected. “It’s not on file.”

“It’s a new form of ship?” Gen asked. Which seemed like a stupid question on the face of it, but it wasn’t really. There was only two things it could be: a new ship, or a new life form’s ship. Somehow a new ship alone sounded a bit more appealing.

Khal knew it was coming, so he swallowed hard and braced himself. “Khal – “ Dar began.

“Yeah, I know,” he interrupted, closing his eyes and focusing, casting his mind out across the great divide.

There were a lot of people out there, and it was hard to separate them all, who was on what ship, but one emotion started coming through so loud and clear it started burying all others, and it was easy to pinpoint. “Oh shit, they’re dead.” he muttered, pressing the hypo to his neck. All the feelings ebbed away, leaving him alone with blissful numbness.

“Dead?” Gen repeated. “You’re not saying that’s a ship full of dead people, are you?”

“It’s about to be. They may be aliens, I don’t know, but they hate the MoSys ship so much it was like gargling acid. It’s gone.”

Gen scoffed. Why did he always have to scoff? “A heavy cruiser against that … that sleeping pill? I don’t even see any weapon ports on it.”

“There is an energy surge from the unknown ship,” Dar reported, but save for a brighter blue glow in the rear quarter of the ship, they saw nothing else. After a moment, Dar reported, “I’m reading gravitational anomalies inside the MoSys cruiser.”

“What the hell does that me -” Gen began, but stopped dead, as two things happened almost simultaneously. First, the space gash yawned open once more, and seemed to swallow the oblong ship, pulling it back into total darkness.

The second thing that happened was the MoSys ship started to implode.

There was no explosion, nothing but the occasional bright flare of something from the drive systems rupturing, as the ship seemed to shrink within itself, the hull rippling like it was water being pulled inexorably down a drain. The rear section of the ship began to pull in towards its center, and when debris broke off, hull plating popping like warped heat tiles, it was all pulled back in towards the center.

“What the fuck..?” Gen gasped, settling on a brand new question.

Suddenly the large ship was reduced to a ball of metal no bigger than a shuttle, and it seemed to be being crumpled, as if in a giant invisible fist. When Dar’s voice came back, she sounded almost wistful. “Astounding. They opened up a singularity inside the heavy cruiser.”

“A singularity?” Khal repeated, feeling both tired and giddy at the absurdity of it all. How many people had just died on that cruiser? Good thing he numbed up first. “You mean a black hole? They opened a black hole on that ship? How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know. I do believe it’s some form of micro-singularity, not a true black hole, and from the readings I’m getting from it, it’s extremely unstable.”

“Which means what precisely?” Gen asked, sounding not so much skeptical as sure they were totally fucked.

“It should collapse in on itself within the next sixteen hours.”

“You mean disappear?”

“That’s what I said.”

The ship was now completely gone, without even a single rivet to show that it had ever existed. There was a small, pale glow where it had been, though, not bleeding a lot of radiation, just enough to show there was something there. “We’re safe?” Gen asked for confirmation.

“It has stopped expanding,” she confirmed. “We are safe; its gravitational pull will only be felt within one thousand kilometers of its event horizon.”

“That is small,” Gen noted. “And yet it just ate a heavy cruiser.”

“The size of it was irrelevant,” Dar needlessly replied. “When the singularity opened inside the ship, the ship was all within its event horizon. They never had a chance.”

“No one has the kind of technology we’re even talking about,” Khal interjected. “No one can create a micro singularity, not to mention harness it in use as a weapon.” It was a weapon of incalculable power, the most dangerous thing to ever exist if what they were saying was true. What kind of defense could you have against a weapon like that? It could eat a planet as easily as a ship. “Who the fuck are these things?”

“I don’t know, but there may be a way to find out,” Dar said. “When their ship was emerging, I was able to ping what seemed to be a locator beacon left behind from wherever they came from. I have coordinates.”

“What?” Gen shouted, sounding equal parts panicked and furious. “You pinged them?! What if they traced it back -”

“They didn’t. Even if they detected it, they would probably have ascribed it to the MoSys ship.”

Khal rubbed his eyes, which felt like sandpaper. Drying was a side effect of the drugs, but one much better than having to feel anything else. ”You can’t seriously be thinking of trying to follow aliens as deadly as that, Dar.”

“It’s suicide,” Gen agreed. “If you wanna die, fine, but leave us out of it.”

“If they hate MoSys, and have the ability to do something about it, it’s in our best interest to get to know them, is it not?”

Dar almost made it sound like a rhetorical question, but he knew it wasn’t. She was planning on trying to find them, whether they agreed or not.

Oh well. Maybe death by black hole was quick.

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