Conclusion of David Nadas’ Sci-Fi Web Serial:
Continued from Kulcin’s Law: Part 4
He looked at her, confused.
“I’m Serious, hit me! And if you don’t knock me out, I’ll fake it. Then you need to carry me into the shuttle.”
“I’m not doing that Belle, I could never hit you.” He could see the tears welling up.
“I don’t want to lose you,” she confessed. “But do it quickly, there are cameras everywhere. I’ll have an alibi; that you took me aboard to make sure I could not alert security. You said it yourself, you’re already out of the corp, so what’s another infraction?”
He was not looking at her, his hands resting on his hips, a tense quietness in his stance.
“Come on, Kulcin, you can …” and before she could say another word, a numbness swept through her jaw as her eyes filled with streaks; she twirled like a rag-doll and fell into his arms.
He was in the pilot seat with Belle beside him who was out cold. They had just exited the gateway where he could see Jupiter before him and feel the pull of Europa getting stronger.
“Otto, can you disable the gate, without damaging it?”
“Yes, Kulcin. By inserting a thunk subroutine which returns a null pointer and jumps to my overlay, I can mimic low current irregularities in the toroidal magnetic field. As a result, Haven Ops will not attempt to send anything through while they perceive the ELMs as unstable. This will be require a complete diagnostic test on the structure and code. That series of procedures will take approximately sixteen hours before they detect my insert.”
“You had a troubled childhood, Otto.”
“I do not understand your reference, Kulcin. I have not had a childhood. The only insinuation I can correlate, is that I was born an adult.”
“It means, never mind, I’ll take your word for it.”
With a newer model shuttle and better approach, he was more at ease with reentry and landing on Europa this time.
“Otto, If you find any glitches in the hardware or software, we abort the re-entry. I am not going to attempt a touchdown like last time with Belle on board.”
There was a slight groan beside him, Belle was awakening. Glancing over, he saw movement beneath her eyelids.
Another groan and she pushed up in her seat, her eyes like slits and her jaw still tender from his right snap-hook.
“Where are we?” she asked, keeping the left side of her jaw immobile.
“Through the gate,” he replied. “Belle, I am so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she said coming around. “Remember, it was my idea.” Another groan as if regretting it. “It must have looked pretty realistic,” she added, with her jaw between the yolk of her thumb and forefinger, as she moved it back and forth making sure everything was in its proper place.
“Wow, Kulcin. I saw stars, but if it makes you feel any better, I don’t remember feeling a thing, until now.”
That did not make him feel any better.
“Are you okay to pilot from here on?” Kulcin asked. “I’m having a hard time concentrating with all the static in my head.”
“Sure,” she replied, but we we’ll need to wipe the recorders, afterward.”
“Not a problem, is it Otto?”
“That will not be a problem.”
“How long had you had Otto?” She was curious. “My A.I. is nothing like Otto,” she commented. “I hardly use mine, because it’s more work than it’s worth.”
“Since flight school,” he said. “When I accepted Haven, I had one stipulation that my A.I. comes with me. Otto was an early graduation gift from my father’s friend, Dr. Toby Lees.”
“The, Dr. Toby Lees?” she echoed. “That’s more impressive than your right hook,” Belle said taking control and began to run through the re-entry checklist.
“Otto, bring up the trajectory grid, please.”
“The network appeared on the panels before her, taking them around the quiet side of Europa that was in transit.
“Do you have a game plan?” Belle asked him.
“Not really,” he hesitated. “I am being guided,” he admitted, hoping that was received better than it sounded. His head was leaning back in the chair and his eyes were clamped tight. She could see the tributary of veins along his temple and forehead straining against the skin.
“Does it hurt?” she asked.
“No. No pain. It’s just too much information, and closing my eyes shuts off at least some of that.” He stopped talking and she could hear the deep breaths he was drawing in through his nose, a yoga technique she often practiced herself, to find calmness.
“Relax,” Belle assured him, “I’ll get you there as soon as I can.” She had a knack for the inventive, using thrusters, guides, and drag panels to minimize the shaking as they descended into Europa’s low orbit. When they approached the termination zone with the sight of Jupiter looming on the horizon, it brought back memories of growing up in Florida where she would drag her father’s vintage Obsession telescope into the driveway at night, and recall the smell of sulfur in the air from the sprinkler heads as they hissed in the darkness. She could almost feel her father’s grip, bracing her as she climbed the ladder and peered into the eyepiece, focusing until the great red eye was staring back. But seeing Jupiter, rising now before her, trumped everything.
“We’re close, I can feel it?” Kulcin said with his eyes still closed.
“Yes, we’re two clicks away and I can see the Lights of Pelco-1.”
She opened the comm link, “Pelco-1, this is Haven-4, copy.”
“Pelco-1, do you copy.” she repeated, but there was still no response.
“Otto, are you picking up anything?” Kulcin asked.
“The communication channel remains the same; they are open. However, I have identified the emptiness at the same coordinates of last time.”
Belle could see the wreck of Haven-3 and the frozen stick figures clustered nearby as they approached.
“Do you still want to go through with this, Kulcin? It’s not too late to turn around.”
“I don’t have a choice, Belle, but you do. I want you to drop me off and get out of there, fast.”
“I’m not leaving you behind.”
“Don’t argue with me, Belle.”
“I’ll keep this rig lit and stay in it, but I’m not leaving without you.”
“You are so stubborn.”
“You’re right on that account, so it’s settled.”
He knew she wouldn’t leave. “Promise me you will stay in your seat and be ready to get out quickly if things start to unwind.”
“I won’t promise you, so make sure you come back, in one piece.”
“Otto, when I leave, lock it up with Belle on the inside.”
“We’re coming in,” she announced and tilted the nose of the shuttle upward with bursts of the rotator thrusters placing them gently behind Haven-3.
“We have eighteen meters of shelf below us,” Otto indicated.
It was time for Kulcin to open his eyes, the texture working its way up through his spine. He was getting used to it.
“Show time,” he said looking over at Belle, but seeing her eyes so wide open, startled him. “What?”
“Kulcin. Your eyes.”
Tapping the panel on the console, he was alarmed by what appeared on the display; his eyes were the color of glacier ice, jagged, like the scratch marks of Europa. He turned away from her, then unbuckling from his seat he clutched onto his helmet, snapping it into place. She grasped his shoulder before he could stand, but she could only see the reflection of herself on the mirrored surface and see the sorrow on her face. For him, she would never know the sorrow, the sorrow he may never see her again, then stood.
She unbuckled from her seat and approached him. “Kulcin.”
His arms came up quickly. “Don’t. We don’t know how this spreads.”
“It’s selective. I would have been infected by now.” She moved closer, his palms coming to rest on her shoulders to keep her at arms length, a pointless offer, for her arms were longer than his own. She placed her hands gently on his forearms then pulled sharply downward, collapsing them, now close enough for her exhale to fog the lens on his helmet. He hadn’t moved, and she slowly reached up and began to lift it off, but he stopped her.
“It’s okay,” Kulcin. “It’s okay,” she repeated until he no longer resisted and she could remove his helmet. He did not turn away this time, his eyes like the fractals of a kaleidoscope.
Rising onto her toes, she placed her palm on his cheek and kissed him.
“I don’t want to leave you here, as a memory,” she whispered. “Now go before I stop you,” she said more forcefully, and backed away.
He was somewhere between this world and the world that was beckoning him, watching from a perspective, not of his own. Everything seemed to be happening to someone else, except for the tingle that remained on his lips. He snapped on the helmet and grabbed a bioPak from the rack and made his way to the airlock. Through the glass, she could see him looking back, but when the bulkhead door to the outside opened and a spray of crystal covered the window, he vanished from her sight.
Belle returned to her chair and opened his comm link.
“Kulcin, can you hear me, copy.”
“Yes, I can hear you fine, Belle.”
Moving quickly to the front of the shuttle, she pressed her forehead against the cockpit window until he stepped into view. He paused to look up, the mirror of his helmet reflecting the ship and the backdrop of Jupiter behind her.
“Are you recording?”
“In all spectrums and frequencies.”
He turned and walked onward, not looking down at the bodies when he passed the wreck of his shuttle.
“Still getting everything, Belle?”
“Yes Kulcin,” she replied now back at her chair and trying to remain calm. She was viewing a series of tiles containing a video stream from his perspective, his vital signs and suit environmentals.
“Your heart rate is a bit high and your CO2 is exceeding the membrane flow. Slow it down.” She watched until his readings dropped. “Good. Hold it there,” she said coaching him. “You’re doing fine.” He was walking more deliberate now, but suddenly, stopped.
“What is it, Kulcin?”
There was no response, only the sound of his steady breathing.
“Answer me, Kulcin!” she demanded.
With calmness, he replied. “They’re coming?”
“Who?” She had a hard time hearing him. “You are breaking up.” A loud static erupted and she had to cut off his comm link, the tiles on the panels pixelating and their images unrecognizable. She hurried to the cockpit window where she could see him.
“Otto! Can you reach him?”
“Do something!” she called out and watched as a swirl of snow began to rise before him and a clear column of water fill within. It was exactly what he had described. The column luminesced like the spicules back at Haven and his arms began to rise up, now inches away from the swirling water just beyond his fingertips.
“Don’t Kulcin! Frightened, she watched in horror as arcs of light jumped toward him, blinding her momentarily, only for her to look back and see an empty suit swept up and dropped onto the ice, like a shirt blown from a clothesline and the column of water sinking beneath.
“Kulcin! Kulcin!” her shouts echoing throughout the ship. In a panic, she grabbed her helmet and a bioPak, and made her way to the airlock door where she keyed in the access code, but nothing opened. She tried again and again, her fingers shaking.
“Otto! Open the goddamn airlock!”
She could feel the thrusters firing below her and the shuttle start to rise from the surface.
“Otto! For god’s sake, open it now!” her voice trembling. “Open the lock, Otto. Don’t leave him here,” she pleaded and was overtaken by sobs as she sank down onto her knees, her pounding weakening as she surrendered and leaned against the door, the helmet rolling away as she wept with cries of pain until the emptiness filled her heart.
“It is time to take the pilot chair, Belle.” Otto requested. “We have arrived at the gate.”
She felt hollow inside, but the irony of someone finally addressing her as Belle gave her enough strength to face reality.
“I have removed my overlays and will begin check processing to Haven,” Otto announced. “The gate will reach a full charge in 16 minutes.”
She remained silent, staring out at Jupiter with Europa no longer in transit. An image that had once brought so much joy had now betrayed her. She wondered why Kulcin had always hated that place; had he known his life would end there?
“We are ready, Belle” Otto stated. She stood and took her chair.
Belle was looking out through the shields at Jupiter and saw a reflection off the glass and half turned to see if any indicators behind her were blinking. Nothing.
She turned back toward the shields and the spot was brighter.
“If I do that, Belle, It will require a two hours and eighteen minutes discharge and recharge of the toroidal magnetic field if nothing goes through it”
“Abort, Otto, Now!” She was watching the spark growing larger.
“What is that heading toward us, Otto?”
“My delay was a result of running through multiple spectrums and frequencies on the object. When I could not identify the source, I scanned for emptiness. The object approaching us is the entity. With the gate sequence aborted, the trajectory and speed of the entity will overtake this ship in, seven, six.”
Belle watched the spark growing larger, getting brighter.
“Five, four, three,” Otto’s words fading into the static.
She closed her eyes and felt her mind race toward survival, time slowing down and the playback of her rising up on her toes, with her hands on the sides of his face feeling what might have been. Then the static became deafening and the light through her eyelids so bright she needed to turn away; the crackling in the air around her and the intense pressure in her head became unbearable.
Everything was silent, but she could sense her consciousness, her being. When she opened her eyes, there was nothing but blackness, then with a hum and the lights of the instrument panels rising, the ship came back on line. Everything was still as it was and she reached out to touch the console, making sure it was physically there.
“What just happened?”
“I am scanning now and running a full check on our systems. Some monitoring has detected the disturbance passed into this ship.”
“Is it still here?”
“No inorganic lifeforms detected.”
“Then what was that?”
“There is an organic life-form, onboard,” Otto stated.
Panic set off as she unbuckled from her seat and slipped into her magBoots then turned in circles, looking.
“Where?” She was breathing rapidly and could feel her heart beating in flight or fight.
“Current telemerty indicates the life-form is behind the bulkhead, moving slowly.”
With the weapons locker behind the bulkhead, her only choice was to grab the peltierLED from the console, but it’s light-weight composition would be useless in defending herself, so she reached for her helmet and bioPak and snapped them into place.
“Otto, has it moved?”
“The life-form is moving in a vertical column. Many of our internal systems are still off-line. Until they come up, I cannot tell you more at this time.”
Belle eased her way along the bulkhead, placing her back against the racks while trying to control her breathing. She leaned her head around the corner.
Crouching below the support trestle, she could see its shadow moving up and down and edged closer to the weapons rack, her fingers quietly removing a Tekna phaser, her finger curling around the trigger while her thumb slid the safety to the off position. She drew in two deep breaths and spun around into the open, her leg thrust out and her side facing the threat with her weapon raised.
“Oh God!” she shouted, “Otto, it’s Kulcin!”
He was free floating above the floor grating, face up and naked. Belle slid over and pulled him down, placing his head on her knees and her bioPad fingertip to his neck. No pulse.
“Systems are back on-line. I am not detecting a heartbeat, but receiving neural signals. He is alive. You will be required to resuscitate, immediately.
Belle grabbed the static cleats and slipped them over his forearms and ankles to keep him in place, then removed the AEDBot from the rack and placed it on his chest, watching as it unfurled and affixed small paddles to the right center and lower left sides of his heart. The bot began to flash with an audible to clear, indicating a charge would be administered. She watched as his body popped upwards.
“Kulcin, Don’t die on me! You can’t come this far and die on me!”
Another flashing with audible alert and she watched his body pop once again, this time she heard a sharp inhale and his eyes opened.
“Kulcin.” She said, relieved, and bent quickly down to kiss him, forgetting she was still wearing her helmet and smashed the visor, hard, onto his nose.
“Oh Christ.” he groaned. She removed the static cleats from his forearms and helped him sit up.
“Belle, is that you?” he asked. “Where am I?”
Belle removed her helmet and pushed it away from her.”
“Oh my god, you’re alive, you’re alive.”
He was looking down at the AEDbot on his chest. “That’s some first aid technique you have there,” he said, her lips cutting off his last words as they pressed against his.”
She began to cry. “I thought I lost you, Kulcin. And then to have you back to almost die again…I …I…” and she broke down in sobs.
“Belle, I knew if I kept thinking about you,” and not finishing his statement, he reached over to brush the tears rolling up under her eyes.
“Why, Kulcin. Why did they send you back?”
“Apparently, I taste like chicken.” Her sobs turning into laughter.
“You are seriously demented,” and she leaned in for another kiss.
“Can you live with that?” he muttered.
“Only if you call me, Captain Power.”
“Are you recording this?”
“Good.” and he leaned back onto the floor grates, pulling Belle with him.
“You’re going to tell me everything that happened, right?” she asked.
“Yes. In short, they don’t want us here. Ever,” he replied. “And there was no misunderstanding the consequence of, ever. I was spared to deliver this message.”
“What are you going to tell Nadia?”
“That they want to see her first thing in the morning?” his grin hardly contained.
She laughed. “Kulcin, I’m not sure I can help you. Seriously, what are you going to tell her?”
“At the moment, I don’t know. It’s hard to think with you on my chest.”
“I can get off, but I’m the only thing keeping you down right now. You still want me to get up?”
“You could, but we have some time to kill.”
“How’s the floor feel?”
“Grate.” gaining another laugh.
“Have you always been like this?”
“So there’s no hope,” she said, leaning down and plucking his lip with hers. “two hours eighteen minutes, huh?”
“That’s what the man said. Right, Otto?”
I hope you enjoyed reading this series and I leave you with this track, by Cinematic Orchestra, for their song, To build a home, which was running through my head during the final scene. Keep visiting Offworlders for future writings, for this is my home.