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Artifact First Chapter

Scott Sparks

Editor's note: This is the first chapter of Artifact, by Shane Lindemoen

ONE

1.

The only sound in the room was a pen scratching last minute amendments into my notes. When the yellow light above the airlock turned green, clearing me for safe entry, I took a deep breath and unfolded the flex–phone. “This is Lance.” 

“Hey,” she said. “We ready?”

The clock above the door read 7:26. The room was one level below ground, and the only light came from a small window eight feet above the floor. Through that window, I could see the bottom tendrils of a weeping–willow pull with the air. Beneath a cloudless sky, each blade of grass rested lucent under the low morning sun. 

 “Yeah,” I said. “I think so.”

“Alright, then.” She smiled from the other end. “Good luck.”

2.

In the Gray Room, I kept rereading my papers. Every mark reminded me of what was at stake, and I meant to leverage that window of error with a list of mnemonics. I was on a precipice – hungry, and lusting for self–actualization. I made adjustments in the margins, and the sterilized pen slipped as the papers bent around my knee. From somewhere, an echo of metal reverberated against the cinder walls, somehow through the first airlock. I looked up from my papers as it retreated to whichever corner of the facility it had come. 

Nothing from the outside world was allowed past this point, so I slipped my papers back into their plastic sleeve – the pages in my hand were pressed together with beads of distilled water and my thumbs. My chest rose and fell with unrestrained breath that came slow and deep. As I set the sleeve beside me, slipped the corner of it under my thigh, my ears sucked pressure as the outer–room equalized. After rinsing my gloved hands a final time, I stepped into the air–shower and blasted away any remaining dust particles.

3.

Just before the inner airlock closed, I registered the sound of bending metal again. I initially thought the sound was coming from the rotational platform, but it was silent – I stretched my neck to keep calm. 

A woman with dark hair spilling out of her scrub cap stood alone in the dark gloom of the observation tank. Motionless and impassive at first, her visor glittered in the flickering glow of deskscreens. Then her fingers moved through the holographic interface with the purposeful care of a surgeon. The Clean Room inside the M–vault’s interior had no windows other than the thick polycarbonate glass that separated the observation tank from the Roller; though it was early morning, pitch colored shadows gathered around her. A stone object hovering within fluctuating polarities a few meters away consumed her focus. 

The artifact was suspended inside an array of powerful magnets that were fixed to an apparatus no larger than a dinner plate, which we called the Roller – this device allowed us to manipulate the artifact’s spin with precise, split–second accuracy.

I interlaced my fingers and tightened the latex.  “How are we looking?”

“Beautiful,” she gave me a thumbs up, smiling. “Very beautiful. Let’s just hope it’s in a conversational mood.” She switched an image relay to the wall opposite the Roller, showing me an enlarged FLIR of the Martian artifact. “Roller is up, light sensors are up, and scopes are up – good to go, whenever you’re ready.”

The M–normal vault was a quiet, reverent place – wise, with curved edges and meticulous spacing. Most of the instruments were sleek and black, with soft red and green diodes glowing into pockets of glare. I approached the dais and activated the holographic interface – dimensions of iridescent blue, green and purple readout polarized images onto every wall of the Clean Room’s interior. Everything hummed with purpose and meaning. The explosion proof interior wasn’t designed for aesthetics, but the burst of colorful imaging brought the place to life – while it had to be large enough to accommodate the different kinds of instrumentation, there wasn’t much more to the open space other than site–specific maintenance equipment, a single–pass air conditioning system and some environmental controls that were located inside the observation tank, which were adjusted to a comfortable sixty seven degrees. The interior was constructed of thick permasteel blocks of concrete coated with a vinyl finish, but the walls behind the platform and below the observation tank were plated with paramagnetic aluminum to protect the researchers while minimizing interference with the Roller. When it was up and running, the Mars–Normal vault was a very beautiful place, but also a serious one. 

 “Let’s see it,” I spoke into my mic, bringing up the Roller console. I stepped onto the platform, catching my breath. To concentrate on the task at hand, I forced myself not to think about what the artifact represented. Seeing the compelling evidence of other intelligent life in this universe made my fingers tremble. I reminded myself that in order to do what was needed, I had to see the object for what it was, and not for what it meant. I breathed, slowing my pulse, and only then did I allow myself to look at the alien stone floating inside the Roller. 

Measuring fifteen centimeters on each side, the Martian artifact was essentially a square block of ancient, finely cut regolith similar to sandstone. I took in the breathtaking artistry of its surface – delicate lines and virgules etched between an arrangement of circles that covered each side. What those markings meant, I couldn’t imagine. It appeared to be a standard, fossilized piece of Earth’s prehistory, but inside this fossil was the most complex system of nanocircuitry that I had ever seen, that comprised larger components which continued functioning far below the four nanometer threshold – and it seemed to be counting down like a clock. There was a rhythm that pulsed through the center of it, which pumped like the beating of a heart – and the pulse was gradually leveling out. With the current it was drawing, we couldn’t understand how the outflow of electrons didn’t cause the artifact to short–circuit. Many of us worried that it could have been a fusion bomb or something – there was entirely too much mass packed into the cube for it to be regarded safely. But it was old for the kind of technology it was packing – impossibly old. I was told that when they measured the radioactive decay of its magnesium and carbon, the artifact dated no younger than three hundred million years – which placed its construction around the time insects were making their first appearances on Earth.

“New landscapes, eh Lance?” The woman’s voice carried softly through my earbud, bringing the world back into focus. I looked back at her grinning through the glass. She was paraphrasing an inscription above the lab’s entrance:

 The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but seeing with new eyes.

It was a misquote, we knew, but it became another way of wishing each other luck. 

I smiled back, taking another deep breath. When the M–vault finally pressurized, the artifact started slowly rotating. “Okay, let’s find that light again – bring it to zero five, if you would.”

“Roger that.” There was a flurry of hand movement in the observation tank, “rips to point zero five.” 

The artifact commenced rotation. I double-checked the readout on the wall, making sure everything was okay – the Roller tumbled the artifact into an intentional spin at point zero five revolutions per second. “So far, so good – let’s bring it to one, see what happens.” 

“Rips to point one,” she said, moving another image to the wall on my right. A deep green illuminated her visor. Her voice thrummed with excitement. “That was fast – you seeing this?” 

I glanced at the holographic set of wavelengths on the wall – there was a tiny, almost imperceptible variation in one of the carrier waves – and then the stone itself started to hum. “Hmm. That’s gotta be it – bring it to two, make it move a little.”

“Bringing rips to point two,” She breathed, “but I got a temperature spike, jumped from nineteen Celsius to thirty seven point seven.”  

I checked the image behind the Roller again, noticing the readout elevating from soft blue to yellow. “That’s – that’s perfect. Means we’re getting somewhere. See if you can bring it to two five.”

“If it gets any hotter, I’m killing this round–”

“It’s just clearing its throat – bring it to two five, please.” 

The woman pulled her eyes away from the artifact, its hum building like a centrifuge coming to life. “Rips to point two five – listen to that modulation!” 

I saw another temperature spike – from thirty-seven to fifty four – and then the spectrometer picked up a sudden burst of ultraviolet light blinking across the artifact’s surface. “You found it.” I felt myself smiling, “I got point two five radians per second – double check that for me?”

“Checking.” There was another flurry of hand movement. “Confirmed, point two five radians per second.” She said, “but that’s way too hot, Lance.”

“Let’s follow it for a moment–”

“Lance, it’s too hot…”

I reached for the console and hesitated. I knew this was a time for caution. I’ve always subscribed to the ethic that science was a patient way of viewing the world. One of observation and objectivism – of removing your wants and desires from the equation. But slow, categorical thinking only got people so far. I remembered rationalizing that discovery was forever that process of risk – that the method of uncovering truth was simply a progression of movements between demonstrable certainty and a coin toss. And from a single coin toss to that unforeseeable place where names went to be remembered forever. 

Ignoring her, I pulled up the console’s light sensor and entered point two five radians per second. The Roller adjusted the artifact’s rotation to follow the strip of ultraviolet light flashing over its surface. The images on the wall blushed to a deep red, indicating that the artifact’s temperature had risen sharply from fifty-four Celsius to one hundred and twenty six. 

“I’m killing it,” the woman said through static. I saw what looked like St. Elmo’s fire flicker over the observation tank, and then she paused, shaken. “What the hell was that?” 

 “Okay,” I said. “Let’s – let’s back up a bit–” 

There was another spike to one fifty four, and I heard the woman hiss into the mic. “Roller console just died on me–”

I looked back at the observation tank, feeling pulsating waves of heat coming from the artifact. “I’ve got a master alarm,” she yelled. “You have to slow it down on your end, Lance. I’m having problems up here.”

I checked the artifact a final time, making sure that the Roller was still working. “Alright, calm down – let’s work our way through it. Is this an instrumentation problem, or are we looking at an actual power surplus–”

“I’m locked out,” she said, struggling to keep calm. “I’m locked out, Lance.” 

The Roller console in front of me suddenly dropped from view, and the deep red holograms disappeared. I was in darkness, too shocked to move. When the flare of synapse cleared my vision, I detected a soft blue light. I followed it, now the only visual anchor in the room, and my heart sank – the light was coming from the artifact.  

I tried firing everything back up again, but nothing. I was locked out as well. The heat increased until I could feel beads of sweat roll down my back.

When the stone artifact reached point two five revolutions per second, something appeared in my peripheral vision – a darkening of a lighter spot on the wall. That was precisely when the hum changed. I could feel the floor beneath my feet begin to vibrate, and when I looked back at the observation tank, it was empty – the woman was gone.

Backing away from the platform, I could see the wall behind the artifact bulge, as if it were losing viscosity. Undulating waves of heat sucked the PPE suit against my body, and when I turned toward the airlock to run, the humming grew louder. The pitch increased until my visor cracked, and then everything went dark. 

4.

When awareness finally came back, I remembered only brief moments. Everything seemed to move like a series of snapshots. The earliest thing I can remember, and the shortest, was being loaded into an ambulance. At the time, I couldn’t really understand what was happening. My protection suit peeled away from a substantial burn on my chest, and I bled precious oxygen faster than the EMTs could replace it. I vaguely remember going over the Parkland formula, trying desperately between fleeting moments of awareness to factor my weight with the amount of fluids they were giving me – it became very important for me to know how much of my body had been burned. The paramedics worried that I had inhaled some of the flame, as they pried my mouth open and inspected my bronchial. That’s the last image I had before they started pumping me full of pain meds and monitoring my airway.

The next thing I can remember is being transported from the emergency area to a private room reserved for more stable patients, and the woman from the observation tank coming to visit. She brought a pink stuffed animal and a card, and when she allowed herself to look at what was left of me, she would wring the stuffed animal as if she were sacrificing it to the gods. She visited intermittently, but I couldn’t remember her name. I desperately wanted someone to explain what happened, but my questions remained unanswered. Whenever I asked the woman about the accident, she would stare vacantly at some distant point through the window and change the subject. She eventually left and didn’t come back. 

The final thing I remember was a man – and when he wasn’t sitting at the foot of my bed, he paced the room talking quietly into his flex–phone. He was instantly familiar, but at the same time completely unrecognizable. There was something about the smile lines around his eyes that begged familiarity, and the fact that he was around my age should have made me feel less anxious, but it didn’t. 

“Rest up, killer.” The man said, forcing a smile, “We need your butt back in the lab as soon as possible.”

“What happened?” My words slurred through the pain–meds. 

“Something amazing.” He cracked open a bottle of water and filled my plastic cup, “But don’t worry about that now. Get plenty of sleep, and we’ll fill you in on the details when you get back.”

“Alright…”

The man patted me gently on the leg and rose to leave. “We have some of our people posted outside, should you need anything.”

He studied me from the doorway, waiting for the fog to clear my eyes. “Lance,” he said seriously. “If anyone you don’t recognize tries wheeling you out of here, get the guard’s attention – no matter how official they seem, alright?”

“Sure…”

He smiled again and turned to leave.

“Wait,” I said suddenly. “What’s your name?”

The man stopped and stared at me for a few moments. 

“Joseph,” he said finally. “My name is Joseph. Now get some sleep, pal. And remember what I told you.” 

The last bit shook me. Not only were there men outside of my room, but the possibility at least existed that someone could have tried taking me away. It was a strange thought, lying in my hospital bed, mentally stumbling through the thick fog of my half reality, unable to differentiate between those I could trust and those I couldn’t.  If what Joseph warned me about actually happened, I honestly didn’t know what I would do – I couldn’t recognize anybody.

5.

The first thing I forgot was how to measure the passage of time. Night was when it was dark outside. Day was when there was light. I was sustained with a feeding tube connected to a valve above my collarbone, which reduced solid waste, so I wasn’t even able to measure time by how often I used the bathroom. I had no way of knowing how long I had been there, and every square centimeter of my body ached. When I could finally open my eyes, reality seeped into focus.

I recognized immediately that I was in a hospital – the room decor was for long term patient occupancy, with walls of institutional beige and comfortable furniture for visitors. There was a wall–screen above my bed, which was basically a hard padded mattress with wire–and–plastic straps tucked under the sheets, and on either side were cold cylindrical rails of collapsible stainless steel. There was another wall–screen by the door, next to a laser stylus used for cleaning. I could also see natural light coming from the large window to my right, and the shadow of the pink stuffed animal sitting on the sill, stretching across the floor and my bed. Beside the bed, there was a console with a screen connected to an IV stand with a few bags of morphine solution. 

It was hard at first to accept that I had in fact survived whatever happened in the Clean Room. 

It was a foggy realization but a serious one, because I knew then that I probably should have died. The shock was powerful enough – some kind of electrical nimiety that lit me up like a flash–bulb. But the voice in my head kept repeating, you survived. You survived. You survived, until I allowed myself to trust it. 

The room was warm and dim. Chemicals pricked my sinuses, and the sound of air–conditioning pulled me out of the warm depth of half–forgotten dreams. I lay on my side breathing slowly, contorted and stiff, and my head pulsated like milk spilling from a jug. Thinking came slow as everything blurred out of focus, and all endeavors to put together exactly what went wrong inflated my headache beyond reason. I remembered my visor cracking and– 

–Nothing. The concussion. I found that shapes eluded my train of thought, until reality pulled back like a hangman’s rope. I fought with consciousness, desperately holding that clouded space before the darkness could take me again. Sitting up didn’t feel right, so I tried rolling onto my back. But I couldn’t move. I tried again, and nothing. 

I was frozen in a rictus, unable to blink – unable to will my body into action. Paralyzed.

Panicking, my mind raced to a ventilation duct that spilled the sound of boiling water into the room. As the vent hummed, something else was building behind the walls – a distant sound of super–heated alloy cooling too fast, faint but getting close. And then, like a switch, the physics in the room suddenly changed. There was a wooden thok, and my muscles instantly relaxed.

I rolled over the guard-rails and sprawled onto the warm linoleum. I stayed there for a minute sucking air, naked except for a thin hospital gown that was open in the back – the IV and feeding tube pulled like a stitch. I got to my feet and peeled the tape off of my genitals, then gently removed the catheter. There was a slight resonance of pain in my chest, like healed sunburn, but it was fading fast. I picked up my IV stand and cautiously walked out of the room, my legs trembling through the atrophy. 

I felt my unease grow while moving into the hallway, noting that the entire hospital looked as if it had been recently abandoned. Papers were strewn across the floor. Vacant wheelchairs were carelessly pushed into corners, and there was a maintenance cart spilling rolls of toilet–paper down the hall. A stretcher propped open an elevator as it endlessly tried closing itself. Distant blue sunlight from the adjacent rooms cast the deserted hospital into a milieu of dark shadows. 

“Hello?” My vocal cords burned from lack of use. To my right, the hallway ended at a darker room with a single florescent bulb blinking itself asleep. To my left, the corridor forked in opposite directions. “Is anybody there…?”

And out of the darkness, “In here, Lance.”

I spun around, tracking the voice through the opposite hallway. 

A woman said, “You’re alive.” The voice drifted through the hall, leading to the room with the blinking light. “Come in here, please.” 

I dragged my stand along, moving carefully toward the half opened door. I wasn’t able to distinguish individual shapes inside that unsettling strobe, because everything seemed to melt together into a crawling veil of fog. After a moment’s hesitation, I continued forward.

“It’s okay,” she breathed. “I won’t bite.”

“Where are you?” 

I moved toward the door just as the light finally went out for good. Her breath released slowly, as if she were letting go a deep pull of air. “Don’t be afraid.”

I slid into the darkness, and the door closed behind me. 

A musical hum drifted from somewhere beyond a hospital bed that I could barely see, and I realized that the woman was laughing under her breath. I wasn’t certain at first, but then her voice separated from the mechanical ambience until it was loud and constant, until it was finally cruel and vehement. I backed away from the sound, feeling the sharp sting of adrenaline.

Ripping the intravenous drip out of my vein and shoving the pole toward the voice, I turned to run, but the door handle was missing. Metal folded behind the walls again, only this time the sound formed a crescendo, unbearable and endless. I collapsed against the door and pressed my ears, biting against the cramp that rose up the back of my neck. After a few moments of paralyzing noise, there was another wooden thok, and everything faded like the final note of a song.

Very slowly, I opened my eyes to a landscape that had changed – and I somehow found myself back inside the Clean Room at the labs. Still in my hospital gown, I rubbed the bloody crook of my elbow where the IV pulled free. I looked into the observation tank, but it was empty. The woman was gone. It was hard at first to grasp why everything seemed wrong. There wasn’t any light in the room, for example, when it should have been as bright as day. The observation tank was dark as well, save for the stark line of glowing wall–screens.

There suddenly came a hum from the examination platform, and when I turned my head to look, the artifact rose out of the darkness. I watched as the platform spun, noticing again a darkening spot on the wall. Everything melted and bulged like before, like a giant bubble in a tar pit. The artifact thrummed with intense blue light, like the pulsating heat of a jet engine. The sound grew, and I wiped a dark liquid away from my nose. My ears bled a tight line along my jaw before dripping onto the floor. The hum grew more sonorous until I couldn’t hear anything except a scream. It was my scream, and that sudden truth scared me more than anything. When the concussion finally stopped, everything once again went dark.

6.

 –Sometime later, I was well enough to move around. I really didn’t feel any pain – more like the ghost of pain – like the faint memory of a bad burn, or a broken limb. I stepped out of the wheelchair, moving away from the hospital entrance, glad to be under the power of my own legs again. The strange weight of the gauze on my chest snagged the shirt above my beltline. I stood for a moment, blinking into the sunlight. Joseph gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder and nodded for me to follow. While he was wheeling me out, he wanted to know how I was feeling. I didn’t know what to tell him. 

I remembered indistinct tremors of the experiment, but then I would recoil. I figured the memories were still too raw to deal with. My problem was that not only couldn’t I remember anything before the hospital, but I was afraid to say anything about it. Whatever work I was into, I got the impression that the inconvenience of my recent memory loss would have upset a lot of people. I was hoping that things would have come back to me by then, but they hadn’t.

We met up with a heavily built man that I didn’t recognize. Once we were inside the car, Joseph said, “You remember Patrick, Chief of Security Operations for the Mars Project.” 

“Hey,” I said, inclining my head.

Patrick shifted his muscled frame inside the passenger seat, stealing worried glances from me.

“You remember Patrick, right?”

I had no clue who Patrick was. “Of course.”

Every now and then Joseph would ask me something a bit more on point, as if he were panning the streambed of my memory, but he primarily wanted to know if I told anyone what we were attempting in the lab that day.

“I – I don’t remember.” I said softly, closing my eyes.

Joseph nodded. “I understand if things are a bit foggy–”

“Is anyone going to explain what happened?”

Joseph shifted uncomfortably in his seat and adjusted the rearview mirror. “Well, we’ll get to that.”

I glanced at Patrick, who was tapping at his flex–phone. “Alright.” 

A flash of long black hair pulled suddenly, as an afterthought, “was the woman hurt?”

“The woman?” Joseph asked, “You mean Alice?”

“Yeah, Alice – is she okay?”

“A little pissed,” he trailed off. “But she’s fine.” 

“Good,” I looked back and forth between the two men, wondering when they were going to arrive at the point. “Nobody knows why this thing blew?”

“Well,” He shook his head. “Things have gotten a bit more complicated.”

“In what way?”

Joseph glanced at Patrick, who shook his head slightly. I sat back, feeling a slow gathering of dread – my instincts were pinging the entire spectrum of threat indicators. “What about my papers?” 

“Papers?”

“The notes I brought with me into the Gray Room, just before the accident.”

“The papers,” Joseph said thinly, thinking it over. “I’m not sure. We have people still working on it – that’s sort of why Patrick is here–”

“We’re wasting time.” Patrick finally spoke.

“Lance,” Joseph cleared his throat. “Something happened with the artifact, and that algorithm you had? We need it. It’s been humming since the accident, the same as when we found it.”

I shook my head and tried massaging the cloudiness away. Perhaps I could mine some sort of sensible sequence of events from the bits and pieces that I did remember. I tried grasping that chain of memory but it pulled back, keeping itself out of reach. I couldn’t dam the wellspring of anxiety building inside me, until it eventually spilled over and I found myself breaking into a sweat. 

This was about the Martian artifact.  

I remembered the hum – like a rhythm of soft percussion. It must have been some mathematical sequence, because it endlessly repeated itself, as if it were stuck in some sort of infinite feedback loop.

“Lance,” Joseph said. “Do you remember how you got it to light up?”

I glanced at Patrick, who was still staring at his phone. “Give me a break, guys.” I sighed, trying to convince myself that the looming cloud of malice was simply my imagination, “A large percentage of my chest is still smoldering, here…” 

“Time has become sort of an issue.” Patrick said, rolling up his phone and tucking it into his breast pocket. 

“Just, let me get back to the lab.” I took a deep breath and laid my head back, ready to let the gentle rumbling of the highway rock me to sleep. “If I were following some sort of operation, there’ll be a copy of it lying around somewhere.”

Patrick turned around to face me. “A copy?” He looked at Joseph. “Is he serious?”

Joseph’s eyes lost all semblance of kindness, and Patrick stared at me, unblinking. 

“I mean,” I said. “Relax, there has to be one.”

Patrick looked at Joseph a final time. “You told me this would work,” He said. “Joseph, you said this was going to work.”

“Wait–” 

“Lance,” Patrick turned to face me again. “There were to be no copies of that procedure. You know this.”

I blinked a few times, trying to figure out if we were all on the same page, suspecting that we weren’t even in the same book. “What…?”

Patrick arched his eyebrow. 

“You’re telling me,” I said slowly, leaning forward. “That we were dicking around with some encrypted alien device, and we didn’t bother documenting how much of the algorithm we figured out? Nothing written down?” I frowned. “What if something happened to me?” I looked at both men, seriously regretting the direction this conversation had taken us. “And what about the woman – uh, Alice? Wasn’t she monitoring a bank of holographic screens just before the thing blew?”

Patrick reached into the small of his back and pulled out a silver handgun.

“Jesus, Patrick,” said Joseph. “What are you doing?”

“Keep driving.” He pulled the hammer and pointed the gun at my head.

What little understandings I made since the hospital seemed to fall away. I couldn’t put anything back together. My whole world spiraled down the barrel of Patrick’s gun, and I froze. “Wait,” I said. “Wait a second…”

“Are you telling me that you have backups somewhere? Of the algorithm?” Patrick asked.

“Put the goddamn gun away,” Joseph yelled. 

“Shut up. What’s he talking about with Alice? She knows the cypher text?”

“Wait, wait, wait – wait a second,” I said. “I don’t have any copies.”

Joseph accelerated. The world outside of the car melted into a collage of relative objects, and the only constants in the backdrop were the shadows of trees as they flickered before the sun. 

“Where is it?” Patrick demanded, “Where is the copy?”

“I don’t know. I – I don’t know what I’m talking about–”

“Then why would you say that? Why would you lie to me?”

“Christ, Patrick – I’m screwed up. I’m – I don’t know what I’m talking about–”

“For fuck’s sake,” Joseph said. “Just tell him–” 

“There’s nothing – I swear, nothing.”

Joseph practically stood on the gas pedal, and I could see a lake fast approaching ahead of us. Car horns wailed as we sped by and trees whipped together like the blades of a helicopter.

“Listen, you either have a copy of the event sequence, or you know it.” Patrick said, “And if it’s neither, then you’re useless to us. You said that Alice might know the procedure? Is that – Lance, pay attention – is that right? Alice knows it?” 

“I don’t know.” I said, “I – I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

The lake disappeared below a hill, and then it rose again before us, fast. Joseph kept nervously glancing at Patrick, making sure that he hadn’t noticed. I reached for my seat belt.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Patrick pressed the gun against my head. “Don’t do that. Keep your hands up.”

“Please–”

“Shut up.” Patrick said through his teeth, “Which is it? You either have a copy of the algorithm, or you have it memorized. Which one? And let me tell you something, there better be documented chain of custody for every single copy out there–”

“I have it memorized,” I said. 

The lake enveloped the entire windshield, save for a slight margin of beach. The car lurched forward, and we all momentarily lifted out of our seats. Patrick still hadn’t realized what was happening.

“Lance,” Patrick said. “You’re very special to us – you know that, right?” He gritted his teeth and stabbed the gun into my forehead. “We have to protect that valuable head of yours–”

“If I’m so special,” I clenched my eyes shut. “Then why are you pointing a gun at my head?”

Patrick suddenly looked confused. Like he was suddenly roused from a very deep sleep – like he couldn’t believe what he was about to do. He pulled the gun away from my forehead and stared at his hand as if it were a dead insect.

“Last warning,” Joseph said. “Put the gun down.”

Patrick turned around just as we reached the dock. Realizing what was about to happen, he furiously swung the gun toward Joseph and pulled the trigger. Joseph’s brains went through the side window, but it was too late. 

We hit the dock at ninety miles per hour, and after a moment of sailing through the open air, the car crashed into the lake –

 

Artifact: A Novel
By Shane Lindemoen

Here Be Dragons First Chapter

Scott Sparks

Alone in the Dark

Out here, the sun was no bigger than any other star. But it was still the only one in sight. Its rays had washed the sky as clean as a bright day on Earth, and all around her, space was a deep black in every direction but one. And as she and Gabriel raced away at thirty kilometers per second, Elena couldn’t help but look back at that light and stare. 

She held tight to the ship’s hull with both hands, legs splayed behind her and floating freely. There was nothing between she and empty space but her grip. Elena had spent nearly half her life without gravity, and would have traded half of it again to keep the freedom to fly without wings. Zero gee came to her so naturally that she didn’t bother with the small thrusters that jutted from the back of her suit, and instead pulled herself hand over hand along the fuselage. It was like clambering headfirst down the side of a cliff.

Elena paused a little more than midway along Gabriel’s spine. The fuselage stretched into the distance, a football field long in either direction, and the topside sails towered above her to left and right. When she glanced up at them Elena felt as if she were crouched at the bottom of a dry metal gorge. She turned to starboard and began to slide laterally along the curve of Gabriel’s beam, one hand at a time, until she she had come to the base of the sail. At the moment its gray metal expanse was as cool and leaden as an overcast day. But when the rockets fired and dumped their waste heat into their coils, the four sails unfolding from the hull would burn red like wings of fire.

You have not selected an item to display.

Elena arrived at the starboard access tunnel, cut into the side of the wall, and hesitated, one hand on the door. She turned to her right, back to the sun and the beams of light that, in little more than half an hour, had traveled nearly all the way to Jupiter to see her. 

Heat burned brightly against the backdrop of space, and even with her engines cold Gabriel still smoldered with residual warmth. The crew endeavored to keep the ship on a line between Jupiter and the sun at all times, to mask her radiating sails. Each of the four ran nearly the length of the ship, and each was as tall as Gabriel was wide, high enough to blot out the sun and cast the ship in shadow. Once on the outside, beyond the Asteroid Belt, there were no running lights per the General Orders, and any part of Gabriel not exposed directly to the sun was bathed in the darkest night. The access tunnel, and her destination on the other side, was pitch black.

Even the reflected light from Jupiter was feeble at this distance, and any object in the sail’s shadow was hidden completely from view. At the touch of a button she could activate her visor and project a false-color image onto the inside of her helmet, so that she could “see” what she was doing. It was effective, but the sense of unreality—like painting a picture blindfolded, while someone else called out directions—unsettled her. Elena had no choice but to trust that what it was telling her was true.

Only once, in her hundreds of hours of walks, had her visor ever malfunctioned. Elena had been in her first year at Phobos Academy—every officer of the Space Agency had spent four years at Phobos, or four years as a licensed civilian astronaut—performing a solo thruster drill as the tiny moon raced through its orbit and into the sunset side of Mars. In space Elena was always intellectually aware of the vacuum, of the enormous void in which she was suspended. But it had never bothered her until that day, when her world had gone as dark as if God had flipped a switch.

The night was total. Elena had looked down, and the arms and legs that she could still feel moving beneath her had disappeared. Her body had gone and left only its phantom limbs behind. Phobos was not just unseen, but nonexistent. The world had vanished around her.

She had closed her eyes to shut out the nothingness, but that just made it worse. Soon she could feel the walls of the universe recede into the distance, leaving her alone in an emptiness so impossibly vast that the sheer size of it seemed to be crushing her. Elena had opened her eyes as wide as they could go, but the night still shrouded her. And then she had felt something else in the darkness—a panic that was swimming in the deep and rushing up to meet her.

She had known this terror before. Her father had loved the mountains, and had taken her camping every time the two of them in concert could force her mother into surrender. By then the smoke layer above the clouds had crumbled, and up there in the thin air, far from the cities, the stars were as clear she would ever see them on Earth. Elena would look straight up into the sky, into the bright and beautiful light of the night, and feel as if the galaxy had wrapped itself around her. 

But one night a storm had come in before dawn, sudden and violent, and had ripped that sky from her. Elena had awoken in her tent to wind and darkness, and the flap had torn open and she could see into the outside, into the raging power that was threatening to throw her off the top of the mountain. She had waited for a bolt of lightning that never came. In her nightmares her high screams drifted into the wind and were lost.

And over the shrieking of the storm she had heard her father in the next tent, just meters away and impossible to see. He had been singing. Though the storm was strong, his low voice had slid beneath its screams and she could hear him clearly. He had been singing to her. If he had left his tent to reach her the gale might have toppled him, and who knows where he might have fallen—but he had done for her what he could.

En tu cuerpo flor de fuego tiene paloma, un temblor de primaveras…

Elena knew the song, and began to sing as well. They sang every verse in harmony, came to the end together, and returned to the beginning. It was an older song, a song that had been old when her abuelos had been young, and she had to struggle to remember the words, to keep time with him. Her voice was high-pitched and didn’t carry, and she had wondered if he could hear her.

El sol morira morira, la noche vendra vendra… 

And there, singing in the dark with the wind in her ears and the rain on her face, she had fallen asleep. The next morning her father had already been cooking breakfast when she left her tent, and neither mentioned the storm.

There in the sky above Phobos, with the panic snarling and tearing at the edges of her brain, Elena had begun to sing. Her thoughts, mindlessly racing, slowed as she fought to recall the lyrics. She remembered who she was, where she was, what she was doing. The pre-planned list of maneuvers she had been given returned as she reached the second verse, and by the third Elena knew which she had performed last.

Envuelvete en mi cariño, deja la vida volar…

Still singing, Elena had taken her thruster controls and completed the drill. By the time she had been retrieved, she had already guessed what she was told next. The “malfunction” had been a test of her composure, and she had passed. What Elena hadn’t known was that everyone on her radio channel—a group which included a number of her instructors—had greatly enjoyed her singing voice.

Elena clung to Gabriel’s wing and looked up into the black, to where the outsiders were waiting for her, unseen. She knew that she had been right to fear the darkness. This time, the monsters were real.

Her communications circuit was open now, and both the bridge staff and the airlock operator could hear her. Elena didn’t sing. Not out loud. Instead she grabbed the next handhold, took a breath, and plunged into the nightside. Only then did she turn on her visor. 

Elena clung to the missile pod with one

hand. Her legs dangled before the yawning pit of the launch tube. She squinted involuntarily. Telescope 35, mounted on top of the pod, had cut out an hour earlier and had not responded to remote checks. Regulations required a visual inspection as soon as possible, but Elena could see nothing wrong through her visor. She dimmed the brightness, and a ring of fire arose in the darkness. Elena put her other hand out and felt it slip through the center, and into the void where the telescope should have been. A meteor, probably no larger than a seed of corn, had nailed a million to one shot and blown a crater in its barrel. The edges were still hot. 

Elena ran one hand along the twisted metal ridges, and felt them jab against the fabric of her glove. The wound was only one of many. Gabriel was six months out from Earth, and her pearly hull, carbon skin once iridescent in the sunlight, was now tarnished and pitted by the hundreds of impacts, large and small, that occurred each day. Elena had seen ships returned to port after a long haul with craters deep enough to fit her arm to the elbow.

She squeezed the torn edges of the wound. Then she braced her legs against the pod and kicked off, and dove back up towards the sail. The sun grew stronger as she approached the access tunnel, and her illusory image of the ship faded. Elena pulled through the gap in the sail into the light, and after a brief phosphorescent battle, reality won and she could see naturally once more. She made her back along the topside hull at a steady pace.

The airlock door was a rounded bowl three meters across and sunk below the surface of the hull. Elena halted at its edge and tapped quickly at the broad graphene bracelet wrapped around her left wrist. It blinked slowly with an amber sheen that arose from within its translucent depths. Elena waited. 

She raised her eyes just in time to catch the falling star. It struck the airlock door before her and exploded, and sprayed the hull with sparks of every color. Elena threw her arm out, but it was too late. A shower of blazing debris washed over her, and static flooded her visor.

When her vision cleared a moment later, the fire had disappeared and left behind nothing but a gentle light at the corners of her eyes. Elena looked down to see that she was glowing. The tiny dying embers had embedded themselves into the ribbing of her suit like diamonds in the rough, and shimmered softly against the dark blue of her polymer skin. She brushed her arm, and a trail of sparks wafted into space.

Elena’s entire body from the neck down had been wrapped in synthetic rubber, carbon fiber, and liquid armor. The spacesuit was a deep navy, heavily ridged and striated like sheets of blue muscle. Her uniform could stand up to the vacuum, space dust, and a few hours of cosmic radiation. It would even stop a bullet. But that meteoroid, as small and insignificant as it had been, would have punched through her and hammered the ship as if she hadn’t even been standing there. And in a few hours, Gabriel would be showered with projectiles much larger, much faster, and much more terrible than a mere shooting star. She was going to war.

Elena silently wished that she would live to see the sun again.

Her bracelet shone again with a soft green light, and the outer airlock door peeled open. Elena knelt and slowly fell forward into the ship, and flipped forward in free fall to touch neatly down on the inner door. She steadied herself on the rail that encircled the chamber, and looked up quickly. The airlock had already begun to close, to protect Gabriel’s soft innards from the same assault that had destroyed Telescope 35, and as the outer door slid shut its leading edge cast a curved shadow on the sunlit far wall. Elena kept her eyes on that light as it slowly died. 

Finally it was gone, and a ringing chime and a single green light signaled that the airlock had been completely sealed. Gabriel had no windows of any kind, and that had very likely been the last sunlight she would see for the next few months.

The vents activated and began to flood the white drum of the outer lock with breathable air. Elena briefly imagined, as she always did, that she could feel the gentle breath of the currents tickling her. There was a slight popping in her ears as the pressure equalized— Gabriel’s air, normal Earth atmosphere, had been pumped into her helmet to replace the pure oxygen of her tank. A second green light began to burn, and told her that it was safe to come out.

Elena Gonzalez Estrella pulled off her helmet and set it aside to float at her right hand. Behind the faceplate was olive skin and dark eyes set above high cheekbones. She ran her left through her black hair, shoulder length but now pasted to her skull by the helmet, and began to comb it with her fingers. It loosened and fell, and floated around her head, as if she were underwater. Elena breathed deeply, and inhaled the acrid tang of the cosmic particles that clung to the air. The afterglow of the meteoroid had already died and left her uniform blackened and grimy.

The middle door peeled open, and Elena floated through into the inner chamber and let it close and seal behind her. The third green light flashed, and the intercom clicked.

“Captain on deck.”

Elena dropped through the inner door and caught its rim on the way down. She hung in the air for a moment as if she were dunking a basketball, and then let go and hovered in place beneath the bulkhead.

 

 

“Enjoy the fresh air, Capitan?”

Third Officer Pascal Arnaud saluted and smiled, then took her helmet to place it back on the rack beside him. He was a steward, the lowest hand on deck, drafted for airlock duty. The soft blue light that bathed the topside corridor cast an inky sheen on his dark skin. Each quarter of the ship was lit with a different hue—red and green for port and starboard, and amber for the bottom deck. 

“It certainly brightened my day.”

Elena returned his salute, and favored him with a smile that she knew he needed. Arnaud had served under her for twelve months, but this, of all cruises, was his first trip outside. The crew selection process had come to an abrupt halt when Gabriel’s new orders had come down, and there hadn’t been time to leaven the roster with more veterans. There wasn’t a single person onboard now who hadn’t been with the ship six months ago. 

Arnaud shut and dogged the airlock hatch, and smiled once more, as if he didn’t know what Elena was thinking. Out of forty five officers onboard the ship, only two people knew the whole story behind Gabriel’s hasty departure—Elena, and Pascal Arnaud. He had never spoken of it to her, and at some point she would have to begin the conversation herself.

But not today. Elena grabbed a handhold and pulled herself forward along the compartment. The ceiling that surrounded the door she had dropped through was curved outwards like the inside of a half pipe, and heavily threaded with pipes and cables that provided plenty of grip. A ladder ran along its hollow, but it was a point of pride among the crew to use this as little as possible. The deck below bowed upwards to meet her, a concave bubble that mirrored the bend of the ceiling. The inner compartments at Gabriel’s core were cylindrical, and ran from bow to stern like a spinal cord. Elena felt as if she were hanging from the roof of one dome and above another. 

Each compartment was sealed off from its four neighbors—fore, aft, clockwise and counterclockwise—by a thick metal bulkhead with a hatchway cut through its center. Elena, small as she was, dove straight for the middle of the hatch and sailed through without scraping the edges. She grabbed a handle on the other side and halted her momentum cleanly. Laid into the bulkhead on either side of the hatch were monitors which displayed the current air temperature, composition, pressure, and motion. If a leak were detected in this compartment the monitor would flash red, the hatchways would slam shut, and the danger would be trapped—along with anyone happened to be left inside. By hovering next to a hatchway and angling her vision just right, Elena could see nearly a dozen such green lights falling away into the distance, all the way down the ship to fore and aft. 

Elena slipped through another hatch and passed an interlock at the center of the inner hull, an empty vertebra that allowed her to cross directly from one side of the ship to the other. Inside this interlock was the door to her stateroom, and Elena was tempted briefly by the prospect of a cup of coffee inside. But the staff were waiting for her, at the next interlock. She came to rest at the forward bulkhead, palms flat on the door like a handstand, and hit the intercom. 

“Captain Gonzalez, requesting permission.”

The voice that answered in English—every officer was required to speak at least one of the Global Union’s working languages, and just the one if it happened to be English—was much deeper than her own, and very English indeed.

“Granted.”

The door opened, and she dropped inside the barrel. Elena could dimly see the front door directly beneath her as the rear entrance slid shut behind her feet. On the bridge there was none of the soft lighting that filled the deck, and she had to squint to make out the faces in the gloom. Gabriel’s nerve center was lit only by the glow of the touchscreens, and the luminous crater that had once been Telescope 35, which filled the center of the room. 

The bridge stations were arranged in a circle around the edge of the cylinder. The four duty officers were strapped tightly into place, each equipped with three touchscreens, two control sticks, and an acceleration chair, which was a piece of technology about as sophisticated as a water bed. They sat facing the the center of the bridge, and Telescope 35. The image was the recording made by her visor, magnified and enhanced by the holographic projectors which ringed the room. 

The man on duty at the flight commander’s station had a neat black mustache and soft brown eyes, and his skin and hair were exactly the same shade as hers, though they’d been born half a world apart. As Elena approached he unstrapped himself and came to attention.

“Chief Officer, I relieve you,” she said.

Vijay Nishtha saluted.

“Captain, I stand relieved. Officer Lamentov, please return to Forward Control.”

Vijay spoke with the Received Pronunciation of an English public school, though he’d never set foot on the British Isles in all his life. Elena would have guessed that he’d grown up in London or Cairo, instead of a refugee camp. The replacement officer at Elena’s station shut down her control panel, and then rose to drift silently out of the bridge. Vijay remained in his seat—it was standard procedure for the second-in-command to act as officer of the watch when the captain was on the bridge. When she was gone, Vijay spoke again.  

“No coffee?”

Elena slid into her chair, and stared directly at the center screen. The microphones inside her desk had already read her voiceprint, and now the cameras scanned her face and retinas, and triple confirmed her identity. The flight station activated and loaded her control panel template. Each of her three three touchscreens lit up with graphics and text, arranged in her preferred layout—communications on the left, navigation on the right, and watch in the middle, with its endless sensor displays. 

“Business before pleasure. Okay, for the log. Let’s get this over with.”

She cleared her throat once, a tic that had never left her, even though she knew that all Control would see or hear would be the transcription of her voice.

“1135 hours, 2 April 2153, GSA-1138, Gabriel, Captain Gonzalez commanding and speaking. At approximately 1045 hours today, Telescope 35 ceased transmitting telemetry. Prior performance had been nominal. Remote diagnostics were unresponsive, and pursuant to regulation Captain Gonzalez performed an extravehicular excursion from 1100 to 1130 in order to personally observe and, if practicable, manually repair Telescope 35. Upon visual inspection, the telescope had suffered catastrophic damage and was irreparable. Presumed cause of loss is a high-velocity micrometeoroid impact. Outsider activity is not suspected at this time.”

Elena had been speaking for only thirty seconds, and already felt the urge to cough.

“Telescope 35 performed wide-band, long-exposure spectral analysis for ninety degrees of sky off the starboard beam. The Officer of the Watch has already adjusted the reconnaissance schedule to accommodate its absence. Estimated coverage loss is one percent, and not considered mission-critical. Will proceed, pending confirmation from Mission Control. This concludes this incident report. Captain Gonzales out.” 

Elena put a hand to her mouth, took a breath, and waited a beat. Then she coughed. 

“Technomierda.”

The crew smiled quietly. None of them were native Spanish speakers, but they all knew what that meant.

“Captain?”

“Yes, Vijay?”

“You said ‘this’ twice in one sentence.”

“If they would let me transmit reports en espanol then this shit wouldn’t happen. Hassoun, get all that?”

“The part about the shit, Cap’n?” 

Second Officer Hassoun Masri manned the communications desk, directly across from Vijay, who sat at her right hand. Hassoun’s boyish face fit his quick smile and thirty years.

“Before that.”

“Yes Cap’n, log is ready to transmit at the next window.”

Strict radio discipline was observed on the outside. All messages to Mission Control were sent by microburst, and at this distance they had to be aimed with meticulous care lest, they miss the recipient by a few hundred kilometers. Communications would only grow more difficult as Gabriel drew closer to Jupiter—the titanic lightning storms in the atmosphere blanketed the entire region with electromagnetic interference. 

Elena’s eyes swept the computer screens, as they did every five seconds or so.

“Anything interesting happen while I was out?”

“There was a brief discussion of when it is appropriate for the commanding officer to perform a routine spacewalk,” Vijay said.

 “And the consensus?” It was too dim inside the bridge for the black deposits on her suit to be visible.

“We have decided that your blatant disregard for standard operating procedure forces us to relieve you of command of this vessel.”

“You’ll die trying. Demyan, did you have any part of this mutiny?”

Her navigator, Second Officer Demyan Yukovych, answered from the helm station. 

“I fought, ma’am, but I was outnumbered.”

He spoke without taking his blue eyes off his screens. Gabriel was now traveling at over thirty kilometers per second, or about one hundred times the speed of sound in air, yet the massive rocket engines at the stern were ice cold. They’d done their hot, noisy work months ago and then gone into hibernation. With no actual propulsion to busy them, Elena’s navigators spent their shift monitoring Gabriel’s flight path and making minute adjustments with the dozen tiny thrusters that spotted the hull.

“You’ll be spared. How’s the avram?” 

“Nominal.”

“ETA?” 

“Eighteen hundred.”

Gabriel would cross the border in a little more than six hours. If she crossed at all.

“Weapons check, Vijay.”

“Marco’s people have just finished, Captain. They visually inspected every gun, every missile, and every drum of ammunition on the ship.”

“Bueno. That’s good practice for when they do it again two hours from now.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“From the moment I give the word, how long to fire up the ballista?”

“Yesterday’s simulation was five minutes, six seconds,” Vijay said. 

“Hassoun, tell Officer Okoye I want that down to five minutes flat.”

 Hassoun clicked away at his keysticks with both thumbs. The  desk beneath the screens could arrange itself into an old-fashioned keyboard in any layout he liked, but typing with the keysticks—squeezing the triggers and rotating the thumb pads—was much faster.

“Are we expecting word from Control?”

“Good timing,” Hassoun said. “Incoming now. Lots of junk in here.” 

Elena waited briefly. Transmissions from the Space Agency’s outposts in the Asteroid Belt were encoded, enciphered, and encrypted, and packed with gibberish to disguise their contents as white noise. It always took the computers several minutes to unlock and unravel the message.

“Bullet points?”

“A solar flare hit Earth.” The moment froze and hung there. “Minor, looks like. Well, relatively. No outages, nothing to worry about.“

Elena breathed out.

“When should we expect it?”

Hassoun tapped his screen, and a map of the solar system appeared on the holo. In false color, the surge of radiation that had struck the Earth hours before looked like a tidal wave crashing against a mountain.

“Ten days, more or less.”

“What were you saying about good timing?” Elena ran her fingers through her hair. “Bueno. It’s fine. Que otra cosa?”

“Control is pleased to report that Michael was fully pressurized yesterday, and she’s taken on crew.”

A round of applause swept the bridge. The first of Gabriel’s sister ships was due to be commissioned in a few months, with Raphael following another few months after that. It would be just the three of them—Archangel, the pathfinder, had been lost with all hands on her maiden voyage to the outside, thirty months earlier. Elena knew that there were technically four more units of the class on order, but the new government at Cairo had put the contract on hold, unwilling to commit to the troubled Archangel Project any further. Yet another scandal was the last thing anyone needed.

“I do not suppose anyone remembered to bring cigars,” Vijay said. Elena smiled and waved at Hassoun to continue.

“We’ve got the latest political report. Looks like that Cantonese thing is going to get worse before it gets any better,” he said.

“Security’s problem, not ours,” Elena said. 

That was technically correct, and substantially untrue. The Space Agency didn’t operate on Earth, not even during the Nuclear Crisis five years earlier. But if not for the Cantonese civil war, or the border clashes with Brazil and Nigeria, or the riots in Britain, Gabriel would already be home right now, instead of deep outside.

“Another battle over Australia.” 

“Who won this time?” 

“We say we did. The independents say they did.”

“And when the report is declassified in fifty years, we’ll find out who’s lying. Is there anything in there we actually need to know?”

“Looks like that’s it.” 

Even though she knew she had no reason to expect more, Elena bit her lip. Personal messages for the crew were common on most ships, but not on Gabriel. All non-official communications were forbidden while on the outside.

“Wait…Uh, no. A video.”

“Video?” Elena turned to Hassoun. “Sure about that?”

“Yes, Cap’n.” The gloom of the bridge hid Hassoun’s reddened face. “Sorry, I thought it was more garbage. Control never sends video.”

“Captain’s eyes only?”

“It’s unrestricted,” Hassoun said. 

“On the holo.”

Telescope 35 shimmered and twisted in midair, and then blinked out of existence.

Poised at the center of the bridge was an elegant man, dressed warmly and topped by a bare head of silver hair, standing alone in a field of snow. Anonymous gray towers rose to the white sky behind his head, but everyone on the bridge recognized the scene immediately. This was the most photographed place on Earth, though Avramovich Square looked nothing like it had during its namesake’s time, over a century before. The laboratory at its edge, where Moishe Avramovich had built the device which had made him first the world’s most famous man, and then its wealthiest, was long gone, crushed by the glacier that had once buried St. Petersburg. 

And Elena certainly didn’t need to be told who this man was. A light snow began to fell as Jacob Erasmus, the Prime Minister of the Global Union, began to speak.

“Two generations ago, delegates from sixty two nations gathered here, the birthplace of human space colonization, and vowed that the great project which we had begun would not die in its infancy. It was here in St. Petersburg that Moishe Avramovich had first dreamed of a new home for humanity among the heavens, free of tyranny and empty of hatred. It was his inspiration that carried us into space, but it was his aspiration that drove us there. His vision of a better world has been our lantern, always there to guide us in the night. Even the Storm, and the dark days that followed, could not extinguish that light.”

He began to walk forward, slowly, one deliberate step at a time.

“The Solstice, and her journey into the unknown, was to be a new dawn for humanity. We would send an emissary to the king of planets, and take our rightful place in the solar system once more. But the hand we reached out to the heavens was cut down, by an invader who had claimed our birthright for his own. The sunrise was stolen from us, and the night sky which once held so much promise now brought only fear.”

Erasmus stopped, and brought forth the hands had clasped behind his back. 

“Today, we take the sky back. These world are our worlds, and they shall not be taken. Commander Azzam and the brave men and women who died with him aboard the Solstice that day had fallen, but they were not forgotten. And it is in their name that we send you outside the walls to meet the adversary. We do not send you to begin a war, because it was waged against us, without declaration and without warning. And we do not send you to end a war, because a struggle for the ages cannot be won in mere days. We send you, finally, to fight this war.”

The wind picked up and drove the snow into his face, but his words never faltered.

“The archangel Gabriel was a divine messenger, bearing with him the will of God. You too carry a message. It is much more humble, but no less noble. You are the messenger of humanity, and it is our will, and our wrath, that you carry with you. For decades we have hidden in the light from those who strike at us from the darkness. Those days end now. No more will we bow to those who would keep us from our rightful place in the sun, and no longer shall we be our own worst enemy. Today, all of humanity speaks with one voice, and raises one fist. But today is only the beginning. In the hours and days ahead, you will fight a battle in the the Solstice’s name. And in the years to come, we will fight a war in yours.”

Erasmus paused. He stared at the camera, head back and mouth parted slightly, as if he were trying to decide what to say. He squinted through the flurries.

“Men and women of the vessel Gabriel, we do not ask you to give us victory. We ask you to bring us hope, and the promise of a future free from fear. Good luck, and good hunting.”

Erasmus was silent. There was no cheering, and no applause. There was just an old man, standing alone in the cold. And then he was gone.

 

Sight on Kickstarter

Justin McLachlan

A new web series about a superhero who knows when he's going to die and where nothing is as it seems.

Sight is based on a short story called 'Superhero' and it's about a guy who becomes a street-prowling, crime fighting vigilante. Why? Well, he knows when he's going to die—he has a second sight—which means he also knows when he's not going to die. Sight picks up where the short story left off.

In 2012, Sight's creator—Justin McLachlan—received a small grant from the city of DC to write the series, eight 15-minute episodes in all, and present them as a stage reading with DC actors. We just wrapped that up at the end of May and, we hope, with your help, we'll actually get to produce the full first season.

THE STORY

Sight is based on Superhero, a short story in the book Red: Several Marvelous, Sensational, Absurd, Visionary, Peculiar, Unthinkable, Wicked and Totally Untrue Stories (Boxfire Press 2011).

Here's what happens: Andy Gallagher is a disillusioned public defender tired of making life easier on the rapists and muggers he's forced to represent. So, one day, at the urging of client-turned-close-friend, he up and quits to become a bartender at a gay bar in DC's Dupont Circle. Until, someone burns down the bar, killing his friend. Andy—knowing he can't be killed until an appointed time—goes on a rampagey killing spree (bad guys only, of course) in revenge. That's when he realizes, rampagey killing spree aside, that this vision of his death, the thing that's been floating in his mind for as long as he remembers, might have an upside.

THE PLAN

The cast and crew have been raising money on Kickstater to produce the first full-season of Sight for the last week-and-a-half, and they could use your help to reach the $21,500 goal. If they don't meet or exceed that by June 30, they don't get any of the money that's been pledged.

And if you can't donate, that's totally understandable. You can, though, still help by sharing the project with your friends and family.