Sci-Fi Web Serial by David Nadas:
Continued from Kulcin’s Law: Part 2
“So?” Belle said having waited long enough.
She settled into her seat and slid the thrusters gently, her delicate fingers wrapped around the joystick, rotating the shuttle toward the debris field.
Kulcin had been looking out the cockpit window, regarding the wash of snow kicked up by the thrusters like a sheet being pulled over the dead.
“You mean about the report?”
“Yeah,” she replied mockingly.
“It didn’t happen that way.”
“I was right,” she said calmly, looking at him through squinted eyes. “So, what really happened?”
Kulcin paused momentarily. “If I tell you, and I hear this from anyone else, I will know it came from you,” Kulcin warned, turning toward her and making eye contact, something he seldom did with anyone.
“What was that look for?” she indicated with a nervous laugh. Who am I going to tell? Stevie? Nadia? I wouldn’t tell them shit! Why would you think I ….”
“Ok, OK,” he said, cutting her off. “I just wanted to make sure. After I got back to Haven, I submitted my report exactly as I remembered it, but then got a call soon after, from Nadia.”
Belle scoffed. “I knew that bitch had something to do with it!”
“Apparently, profit forecasts are not where they should be,” Kulcin continued. “And any publicity would not be good for her. Nadia told me that if I didn’t change the report or if I tried to go around her, I would face a battery of psycho-testing back in Orlando.”
Belle looked away from him and out the cockpit windows, her arms straight and fingers dangling above the icons with her head tilted down as if ready to charge.
“You know what I’d say to Nadia if she tried to pull that shit on me?”
“Get away from her, you bitch!” Both having recited that quote in unison, with Kulcin laughing at Belle’s obsession of the Aliens series of a half century ago, and her alter ego of being Ripley; but she was way too delicate looking to cosplay Ripley with her pencil shoulders and Daddy Long Legs frame. She was cute, he had to admit that.
“So what happened?” Belle pushed.
“Everything in the report– up to and including the point that I burst through the ice. All that was accurate,” then he stopped talking as if he were about to hear this story for the first time.
“I remember putting my arms up and waiting for the crash of the cockpit to fold in around me, but it never happened. I squirted onto the surface and skidded back around, expecting to see a hole in the ice, but there was no hole, just swirls of snow where I thought I came through.”
Kulcin turned to Belle once more. “Everything was intact, including me,” he replied, and looked away with his hand sliding down over the stubble on his chin as he went silent.
“Keep talking?” Belle prodded as she nosed the shuttle upward, accelerating away from Europa with nothing but pinpoints of stars before them, like sequins pinned to the fabric of space itself.
Kulcin continued. “From below, right where I came through it… this… this column of water started to rise, as if filling some transparent tube, but there was no tube, just the water as wide as a sequoia, rising three or four meters. Within the column, the water was gently swirling and lighted from below. I was sitting there, leaning forward in my seat; I remember that part distinctly, because all of a sudden, this image appeared in the column and I almost fell out of my chair– it scared the shit out of me.”
“Image of what, Kulcin? What did you see?”
He opened his mouth as if to say something, but couldn’t, then looked back toward Belle, who had been concentrating on the panels, locking in their approach to the gateway.
“It was more of a… texture,” he said, searching for the right word. “I couldn’t make sense of what I was experiencing. In retrospect, I’m not sure the column of water ever existed. It seemed more like an idea pitched to me, something to satisfy the simplicity of what I was. Of what we are, in relation to them.”
“But you saw something?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” His thoughts inward and again he remained silent.
“That’s it?” Belle protested.
“No,” he replied. “I remember this feeling– like I said– a texture, where billions of points of static were touching every part of me. I began to move through it, or at least it felt that way; the static parting around me the way metal shavings cluster around a magnet. Everything aligned as if there was this grand design I could not see, but knew existed. I got up from my seat and had Otto blow the rear hatch.
“Did Otto see anything?”
“No,” Kulcin replied. “He just picked up an emptiness in the location I was describing, and I mean emptiness, not nothing. Then, then all around us like a flood, was this static.”
“What happened after that?” Belle asked, continuing to focus on the gate approach, but not wanting Kulcin to stop talking.
“I climbed out the back and onto the surface. I felt something. There were more than one. Some things, they were ushering me toward the column; my arms felt light as if being guided. They wanted me to reach into it.”
He looked back toward Belle, who was now giving him her full attention, their approach to the gate locked in.
“Who are, they? What did you see in the column?”
He was silent.
“Kulcin! What did you see?” she pushed.
“I don’t know. There are really no words that exist to describe it. A feeling is all I can say. A feeling that was touching every part of me: Sadness, wonder, beauty, madness, love, hate; I don’t know!”
Tears began to stream down his cheek, effecting Belle to back off.
“It’s OK. You don’t have to talk about it anymore,” placing her hand hesitantly on his forearm, thrown by his emotion and having never seen Kulcin show any signs of weakness. Not that being tough was his demeanor, either. She knew him as just Kulcin, governed by his own laws; someone you instinctively knew would get you out of a dying situation.
Just as quickly, Kulcin pulled himself together and brushed away the tears.
“No. It’s OK. I need to talk about it. The more I do, the more I seem to understand what might be happening. It’s like unfolding a very complicated origami,” he said turning toward her, his hands cupped before him as if holding something delicate.
He was looking straight at her, but his eyes were seeing something else.
“I’m not sure, but I think they are trying to communicate.” And as if realizing something, he stopped talking.
He turned away and pressed his back into the seat.
“What is it Kulcin,” she said gently.
There was no response.
“I’m right here,” her fingers curling around his forearm, assuring him she was at his side.
He could feel the texture welling up and turned to look at her once more.
“They put something inside of me….” and closing his eyes, turned away.
Belle squeezed tightly.
“Kulcin, look at me!” she commanded. “What did they put inside of you?”
Kulcin remained silent. He could feel the texture of subtle tones emanating from his neck, a texture like jagged metal sliding over the base strings of a cello, amplifying, rising up into his skull; wave after wave sliding on top of him, dragging him over the crest toward subconsciousness.
Belle was shouting, “Kulcin! Kulcin!” She unbuckled from her seat and leaned over, tapping him on his cheek, but there was no reaction. She gave him a hard slap.
Beyond the static, Kulcin could hear his name being called, rising above the textures.
His eyes shot open and his cheek burned.
“Kulcin! Where were you just now?” nervousness in her voice.
“What are you talking about?” he said rubbing his cheek. Then surprised, “did you just slap me?”
“You blacked out as the gate was charging!”
“Hang on,” Belle called out, and buckled into her seat as the shuttle began to vibrate.
Kulcin and Belle felt every part of themselves flatten as the tokamak continued to charge, taking on infinite mass from the dark matter around it, converting it to energy and abiding by the physics of mass equals acceleration.
What passed for thirty-two minutes, relative to Kulcin and Belle, had been three days and now they were back in Earth’s orbit, approaching Haven.
Returned to their physical state, Belle was eager to find out about what happened to him.
“The gateway opening,” she led with “take me through what happened back there? Why did you black out?”
Kulcin pinched his nose to equalize the pressure in his ears. He could think clearly now, free of any disturbances.
“Just as the gate began to charge, that texture I was telling you about– I was not observing it like I was the first time, on the surface. This time, I was part of it.”
“What does that even mean?” she said concerned but needed to return her attention to their approach, pressing the comm link on her collar.
“This is Haven-4. We are approaching port. What is our assignment? Over.”
“Come in Haven-4.”
This is Haven-4,” she acknowledged.
“Your assigned port is two-one, repeat, two-one.”
“Copy that,” Belle replied.
“Stand-by Haven-4.” and she muted her comm link.
Belle returned her attention to Kulcin, “You were part of what back there? The Gate? The Column? What? What’s going on with you?”
“I don’t know,” he replied searching his mind for answers.
“You need to see someone, like Doc. She would be–”
“I’m not going to see anyone, Belle!” he snapped and was interrupted by the comm link of Haven Ops.
“Haven-4, please release your remote.”
“Christ!” Belle said before pressing her comm link again.
“Affirmative,” she responded and turned over control to Haven Ops.
“If you picked up some… infection.. you need to quarantine yourself.”
He snorted. “I’m not infected with anything. You don’t understand. If I speak to anyone about this, Belle. Anyone! Nadia will sure as shit send me back…” and he stopped talking.
“Back to where, Kulcin?”
He was shaking his head, “Orlando. I am never going back to Orlando.”
“What’s with you and Orlando?” Belle questioned.
Kulcin pursed his lips, not saying another word.
They felt the slight bump of the shuttle rear to the port bulkhead and heard the grips cinching onto the holds.
“You are docked, Haven-4. Opening now.”
The rear hatch opened with a slight hiss of positive pressure, signaling to Belle and Kulcin they were free to move about. Unlatching from their seats, they floated in zero-g, facing each other. Belle could see the warning look on his face, not to talk in front of the maintenance intern standing outside.
“We’re good,” she said with an affirming smile and nod.
Changing the subject abruptly, Belle asked, “Hungry?” her smile sincere. “Going through the gate makes me starved.”
That brought a smile to his face. She had an appetite of a loadmaster but the thinness of a credit card whenever she turned sideways; he had no idea where it all went.
“Yeah, me too. Let me drop off my things,” he replied.
After slipping into their magBoots, Belle unlatched the forensic case from the rack. As they exited the shuttle, she handed the case to the awaiting intern.
“Take this to the lab on Europa level and make sure Rhani knows that Otto is the AI on this. I don’t want anyone else touching it.”
“Yes mam,” replied the intern.
“And don’t call me mam!” she said anticipating the intern’s response. “Call me Belle, Captain Power, or Captain or Power–anything but mam! You got that?”
“Yes…. mam Captain Power mam,” the intern replied, trembling inside as his eyes darted from Belle to Kulcin and back to Belle, before turning away from her and he scurried off, his magBoots clinking on the catwalk in rapid short steps.
“Why do they insist on training them like that? It’s so dated!” she said, half turning to Kulcin behind her as they walked through Haven’s innermost core toward the transports.
“Go easy on these kids, Belle. You know they have to. It’s protocol. Maybe they are afraid of you?”
“I can’t stand to be called mam. It’s so F’ing bullshit!” she huffed. “Why would they be afraid of me?” she said, looking slightly up into his grey eyes. “They don’t call you sir or Captain. They call you Kulcin! How the F did you manage that?” she said thinking about it for the first time. “Why is that, Kulcin?” facing him with her arms crossed.
“See, even you call me Kulcin.”
He knew it was because she was about to turn thirty and was a bit freaked out by it.
Belle just rolled her eyes in frustration, and dropping her arms, turned and clanked faster until they reached the transports.
“Transport,” Belle spoke, and within seconds, it arrived and the door slid open. Stepping inside, they turned to face it sliding shut. The transport moved out through the staggered rings, each ring simulating the gravity of Jupiter’s major moons, they could feel the centrifugal force of Haven’s rotation weighing upon them. Reaching the outermost ring, Earth level, they came to a stop. Snapping their magBoots into slots along the left and right walls they waited for the door to open. Like stepping off of a horse after riding for several hours, they felt smaller, as the simulated Earth gravity took hold.
“See you in about ten minutes, Belle,” Kulcin said, making sure to call her by name. She was right; no one called her Belle. Only he. Maybe it was he they were afraid of, knowing he shares very little with anyone.
“Yeah. See ya later,” she replied and walked off, stretching her arms up over her head with her elbows almost touching and the curves of her hips torquing with each step.
Kulcin stood looking at her effortlessness, watching her move across the outer ring as if walking on a galactic balance beam, then turned and headed toward his bay.
Keep Reading – Go To Part 4