Parallax ~ A Short Story
I’m going to try something new today that I haven’t done in a long time. I’m going to just start writing a short story and we’ll see where it goes. I hope everyone enjoys. No editing, no second take. I just start writing and stop once its done. I’ll try to at least fix spelling errors but “hat” instead of “That” will get right by Live Writer.
the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions, e.g., through the viewfinder and the lens of a camera.
I’ve been traveling through the eternity of darkness for millions of years. You might think me a god, I’ve certainly been told it countless times. I am brought in time and again as a savior. They see me as the great being from the stars and I descend upon them to deliver my blessings.
They do not seem so eager to have me around once my blessings have been doted upon them. I’ve razed countless worlds, left their civilizations as nothing but tinder beneath the rays of their suns. I unmake technology and leave only organisms behind. My ship is cold and empty. I sometimes hope that I’ll come across others that can accompany me throughout the stars but I never find another.
It’s not an unreasonable thing to expect given the vastness of space. It takes light a hundred thousand years to travel from one end to the other in our galaxy. It could be much worse, I have seen galaxies that dwarf this one. I have yet to visit but someday my blessings will be brought to them as well. I cannot travel at the speed of light, such a blessing would be welcome indeed.
Travel for me is brute forced. Very high speeds over very long times. But again I am not completely dumbfounded by the lack of companionship. The great distances of this endless space are not merely two dimensional. The distances above me and below me, if such a thing can be said to exist, are just as gross.
I’ve heard it said before that space is utterly silent. In space nobody can hear you scream they say. But I know this to be false and moronic. Space is groaning with noise. You needn’t even listen – it comes to you. Information pounds the hull of my ship with every passing millisecond. Radiation scrapes across the surface of every particle in space large or small. The birth pangs of the cosmos reminding all of creation of the vast stretch that summoned it.
I’m not easily surprised. Millions of years of experience does well to jade an individual. Indeed my core is translucent and glowing green. But I will admit when I saw that blip on the scanner I was certainly not nonplussed. Trillions upon trillions of other seconds have passed. Each one largely mundane and meaningless. But this very second I am not the only blip in space. I’ve hailed their ship and await the response. This little surprise to me will be something truly insurmountable for them.
They are – after all – about to meet a god.
“Shiki, Wake up!” Claire’s voice is an octave higher than I’m used to. Her face is flushed and her green eyes flicker with one part moisture and two parts wonder. I rub the tired from my own eyes and sit up. “What’s up?” I ask.
“Another ship is hailing us!” She replies.
This was not the response I was expecting. We haven’t seen another ship in four years. Probably for the best given the last time we were approached by a ship. I stand up and throw on some pants. “Do they appear hostile?”
I do not sense any active weaponry on the hull of the ship.
Thank you, Phoenicia. Since the incident back on the Biome we have stopped calling the ship AI. It seemed only appropriate given her, um, change. I’ve yet to get used to walking around inside of Phoenicia. The mixture of plant, metal, and flesh is a bit disconcerting. I keep waiting for her to just digest us but so far so good.
I walk out with Claire into the main hall of Phoenicia. Thane is standing there fully suited and patting his massive ebony hands together. He smiles in a way that does little to inspire confidence.
“Thane?” I say, brow cocked, pointing at his hands.
He grunts. “I haven’t had a good fight in ages. I’m hoping they want to try and rob us like the last one.” He leans in to me and speaks softer. “You all stay in rooms and Thane will make short work of the space pirates.” I see the bloodlust in his jet black eyes and sigh. I pat thane on the shoulder.
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t seem like they are out to get us. Phoenicia says they don’t even have their weapons armed.”
I am uncertain if they have operational weaponry at all, Shiki.
“See. They are probably just a research vessel, merchant vessel, or something else mundane. If you could wait until we are certain there is danger before killing anyone I would be super happy.”
Thane taps my bare chest and laughs. “I forget how small you were.”
“Is that a challenge?” I lean in towards him, I’m about eighty percent sure he could kill me in a fight but I need to make sure Thane never finds me weak. Metahumans can smell weakness and I really need him to keep respecting me.
Thane laughs. “Calm down silly Shiki!” He leans back and his laugh vibrates the hull, his hands clasped to his chest. “I am only making with the jokes. You should relax, my friend.”
I smile. “You can be a dick sometimes.”
Thane raises a finger and his mouth straightens. “This is true, thank you for noticing.”
Thane bows and walks off to the cafeteria. “Being dick makes me very hungry!” He laughs.
“I’ll never understand you boys.” Claire sighs. “You’d think by now you’d have grown up but goodness me its like you are all still children.”
Dim leans out from the navigation room and looks at Claire and me. “I’m an adult.”
Claire nods. “You are also the youngest person here.” She replies. “Which doesn’t say much for the rest of the crew.”
Dim nods. “Alright then, back to adult stuff.” He vanishes back into the room.
I walk with Claire to the cockpit. Across the shimmering eye screens we can see the other ship. To call the ship ancient would be a gross understatement. Its covered from head to toe in sharp edges and a dark cold irony finish. The ship is nearly indiscernible from space rock.
“Phoenicia, have they said anything?” I ask.
They have hailed us but remain silent. I still do not detect any signs of hostility.
“Alright, Phoenicia, keep us prepared for a speedy evacuation if this goes south. We’ll move in slowly and see what we can find out.”
I look to Claire. “I’m not sure I like this.”
The other ship is approaching painfully slowly. When you’ve been around as long as I’ve been your life exists in a paradox of events moving by nearly instantly and simultaneously each second feels like an eternity. I can feel every inch of movement between us and we have several thousand miles to go.
Their ship is stranger than I could have ever predicted. I have scanned the bow time and again and each time I see back the spitting image of a beetle. Emerald green and shimmering in the faint starlight of deep space. Two rounded shell pieces stand erect along the back of the ship and behind them violet glowing wings blink rapidly. The ship is propelled by light, remarkable.
It’s landing legs are all tightly held against its abdomen hold but they are there just the same. Such a thing is impossible to me, I have never once seen an organism this large and yet here it is floating through space. It acts like a ship but looks like nothing from even my wildest dreams.
I must be going mad.
No, that is not possible.
That must be it.
I can sense the metal that makes it. Those transmissions of electricity, circuits, all the things that lie within my domain.
I have an idea.
“This looks like a trap to everyone right? It’s not just me.” I ask.
“No, I think this is another space pirate bait ship.” Claire responds.
“So! The pirates come and we crush them? We take their supplies and everybody wins!” Thane holds his arms out wide waiting for everyone to jump on board with him.
Thane leans forward and picks up his sandwich. He bites into it without looking at anyone, defeated.
“Do you think they’ll follow us when we jump?” Dim asks.
Thane looks up wide-eyed. A smile forms on his face.
“Very unlikely, the Phoenicia’s wings can move us at near light speeds.” Ghein replies.
Thane frowns and looks back down at his sandwich. He sighs.
“Alright then.” I stand up. “Let’s jump and get as far away from this thing as possible.”
The vessel is moving in quite quickly.
“Jump!” I shout.
It would appear they have disabled my systems. We cannot move nearly fast enough to escape.
“They can do that?” Thane asks.
No, they cannot. But they are.
He smiles. “I like their guts.” He replies. “It will be fun to see what color they are.”
In no time the ship is upon us. An unfamiliar voice comes over the loudspeakers.
I apologize for the confusion. You may have found your ship disabled. This is not my intention but in fact a problem with our ship. Perhaps you could come aboard and fix it?
I shrug. “Thane, suit up. There is no way that ship can dock with ours. We are going to have to make a jump and see if we can end this situation amicably.”
Thane leapt up from his seat and slapped me on the chest so hard I nearly fainted. He grabbed me and lifted me off the ground shaking me a few times. His face was jubilant and his ebony muscles twitched with excitement. “Yes, Shiki! We should go!” He dropped me and ran out of the room.
“He’s going to get us killed one of these days.” I say to Claire.
She shrugged. “Probably.”
I lean in.
“I have an idea.”
It will take some time to finish. I’ll allow them to explore the ship until I am finished and then it will be too late. This is necessary. These people are not fit to command such an amazing vessel. It will be much better in my care. I can spread my blessing far further with this than I ever could with this ship. The entire galaxy will soon be enveloped in my blessings.
Even a god does not look a gift from god in the mouth. Trillions upon trillions of mundane seconds have lead to this moment. I have earned this.
“I always hate this part.” The seal behind us sets and the doors to space open wide. The little air in our room is evacuated out instantly. A momentary tug and then nothing. Just thane, myself, and the cold exterior of our sister ship. If they were pirates we’d already be overtaken.
But something about this just doesn’t smell right.
Thane grabs my suit gingerly, he might be an oaf but he understands the consequences if he rips it. Unlike myself he only needs his suit for air, the vacuum of space would do nothing to his body.
“We will be jumping on three.” He says.
“I appreciate the gesture but I’m more of a passenger in this situation.”
“This is true, I am counting so you know when you clench your cheeks.” He replies.
A solid point. On one I hold my breath, on two I close my eyes, and on three I clench my cheeks so tight I could cut titanium rods. I feel a light tug and then nothing, there is no feeling of inertia in space. You don’t really feel much of anything. You might think it would be nauseating but you don’t even have enough stimuli to elicit that kind of reaction.
You just deal with nothing for as long as it takes you to make contact with something. It’s maddening but only because its so unjust. We are basically flying but there is no pleasure in it.
I feel the impact of us against the other ship and open my eyes to find Thane gripping it tightly. It’s obvious to me that if there are no working doors he could quite easily make one for us. The hull that he is grasping is splintering beneath his fingers and tiny fragments of metal flick off into space.
He smiles at me. “Piece of cake.” He says.
“You did good.”
“No, I mean. I want a piece of cake.” He replies.
My lower lip drops ever so slightly. “Oh.”
The time between our arrival and the doors opening couldn’t have been more than a few seconds but when you are staring out into the vastness of space it certainly feels much longer. The nearest stars are all so far away that they might as well be backdrops. It’s just us, these two ships, and a relatively light spray of particles.
Thane places me into the entry way and then crawls in himself. He waves back at our ship. The doors to the ship close before us. The voice chimes in through our suits.
Vapor fills the room rapidly and at this same second the gravitation kicks in. Thane lands on his feet but I come crashing down on the ground creating a large gash in my visor.
“Shit!” I stand up. “Shit, shit, shit!”
I apologize. I should have warned you about your orientation.
Thane pats me on the shoulder. “It is ok, friend. We will simply grab another suit from this ship.”
I exhale slowly and nod. “Yeah, sorry, just a bad start is all.”
I take off my hood, it won’t do much good with a gash through it. The ship smells stale. Square lights faintly light the long steel corridors. Hollow waffle flooring creates walkways over piping and bundles of electrical cord.
“Where can we find you?” I ask.
I – I am in the processing room.
I don’t much like that pause. “Where can we find the processing room?”
Starboard side of the ship near the stern.
“The what and the where?” I reply.
Of course. I am in the back right of the ship.
“Alright, why didn’t you just say that? How are we supposed to know your code words?”
The tone of the voice went graveled and I could tell it didn’t appreciate my snark.
Yes, how foolish of me.
“This is a pretty big ship, don’t you think?”
“Two to three times ours, Shiki.”
I hum. “Where is everyone?”
They are sleeping.
I glance to Thane and he gives me a slight nod.
We pause at a doorway that is cocked slightly open. I lightly press on the doorway and it gives up no resistance. I open it far enough to see the room within. The intercom doesn’t spark up which answers – possibly – one of my questions. The room is full of bits and pieces of what may have at one time been furniture. Whoever was living here obviously had not made use of the room in a very very long time.
“No, we are just slow walkers.”
Apologies, I sometimes forget how long walking takes.
I make my way to the processing room and the doors are closed.
“Going to open the doors?”
Our electronics are on the fritz. You’ll need to pull them open unfortunately.
I crack open the door and a brilliant green glow pours out from inside. I step to the side putting the door between me and the room.
“What’s that, exactly?” I ask.
It’s the computer, perfectly harmless light.
“Harmless.” I reply.
If it was not I would be in a most unfortunate predicament, wouldn’t you say.
I step into the room, at the very center of the room a green cube floats in a clear tube. It rotates slowly between two rods that I can’t readily identify. Titanium possibly but I’m presuming that their actual makeup is entirely alien to me.
“Hey, wait a second. Why did you reply over the intercom?”
I had hoped that that would have been evident by now.
I hadn’t noticed it before but the room glowed with each word. The cube blinked with each word. The room was devoid of life with the exception of Shiki. He was a bit disappointed that the pilot appeared to just be another smug AI.
“Artificial Intelligence. In hindsight it seems incredibly obvious.” The screens to all the panels around the cube have gone entirely black. “Ship broke down?”
In many ways – yes.
“So what exactly can we do for you? Being in proximity to your ship has apparently shut down the systems to our ship. Do you know what mechanism is causing that?”
“Fantastic. Do you know how to shut it off?”
“Can you shut it off?”
No. Only the crew can.
“Step in the right direction. Where is the crew?”
They are sleeping in stasis.
“Not bad. This is all working out well. Is everything in this ship broken? Other than your lights it looks like just about everything has gone dead.”
I have been in transit through space for a very long time. Unfortunately time has long since lost meaning for me. Forgive me, is your friend alright? He has been very silent.
I glance around the room. Thane is nowhere to be seen. I knew this but I didn’t know if the AI knew this. It was a gamble that I can’t say I was really confident I’d win.
“He doesn’t really like AI, no offense.”
It only takes one. I will overlook his rudeness.
“Overlook? That sounds mildly hostile.”
I do not make threats.
“Back to our original questioning. Where can we find the crew?”
A grinding sound echoes from the hallway I entered through. A shrieking call of metal scraping against metal.
What is that?
“I don’t know. Thane, go check it out.”
The loud grind masks the lack of any footsteps from my great stony partner. But I can’t help but admit that my own heart is in my throat.
“Thane!” I shout at the door. “What do you see out there?”
The shriek grows louder.
“Shit.” I tip toe towards the door. I am a few steps from the doorway when a large metal pod slams into the ground in front of the door. I hear a sigh and Thane walks into view.
“Crew is dead.” He says. Thane kicks the pod sideways and I see what he means. A mummified corpse floats in some strange stasis jelly. It’s skin is tightly bound to bones and mummified organs. The eyelids have peeled back and two bulbous eyes stare at me unblinking. The impact of Thane’s throw has dislodged its limbs which now float in the soup.
“Hole room of them all dead.” Thane continues. “Disappointing.”
You lied to me.
“Watch your to-” I pause. “Err – Cube. I did not lie.”
It is of no matter. Your offering is well received and greatly appreciated.
Your ship. Of course.
“Give me a break! Are you seriously a ship stealing rogue AI?”
Oh heaven’s no.
“Then you aren’t stealing our ship?”
Stealing would suggest that it was yours to own.
“Thane. Break him.”
Thane smiled wide and punched his palm. “Breaking AI will be my great pleasure.”
“See.” I point to the cube. “Told you he doesn’t like AIs.”
That would be unwise. I now have full control of your ships systems.
Your communicators provided me with a direct route into the subroutines of your ship. I have firmly planted myself in the matrix of your ships AI and I could shut off the oxygen there. Your friends would all die and it would be your fault.
“Yes, I suppose you could.”
I must thank you. Your ships systems are far more advanced than I could have ever accounted for. It would not have been possible without you fools entering the ship.
“Uh huh.” I snap my fingers. “Thane.”
He turns to me. “Yes?”
Without any hesitation Thane grasps the cube from the tube. Shattered glass falling all around him. He grips it tightly and begins to squeeze.
This is fruitless. Your big oaf cannot actually destroy the core. Like his brain it is far too dense.
I flinch. The cube made a mistake I haven’t seen in quite a long time.
“What did you say?” Thane replied.
I called you dense. Or is that too complicated a concept for you?
Thane removed his helmet and tossed it to me. “Put it on and don’t break it.” He said.
I had never seen Thane so resolute. He was seething with something that no word could do justice. Thane picked up the cube and marched away from me across the room. He tore the door on the opposite side of the room and threw it aside. The sound of warping metal and snapping lines echoed throughout the ship.
What are you doing you fool?
I ran back towards the docking station. To my back the sound of the ship being gutted from within echoed and roared. Thane was to a ship like a plague is to organic matter. I tried to peel open the docking bay doors but they resisted me entirely.
A second later a loud whooshing sound rushed by me and my suit expanded. It appeared that Thane had punctured the hull. I ran back to the main room. The ship was big and I wasn’t sure how I’d find him. A step out of the room in the direction he had left and I realized it wouldn’t exactly be rocket science. The walls had been ripped open like paper. Vast wounds carried on in roughly one direction.
I stepped gingerly through them making certain to not cut my suit.
Shit! My suit! Thane doesn’t have his helmet anymore! That dumb bastard is going to get himself killed!
I start moving double time and after a half dozen rooms I see something familiar. Space a few holes away. I walk to the opening and Thane is nowhere to be seen. I wonder if he mistakenly was sucked out into the void of space.
That. Dumb. Bastard.
My head smacks the back of the helmet as I am jerked out into space. A large ebony hand has me gripped tightly at the chest. Thane looks at me confused and cocks a brow. I know he’d like to speak but we both know that him exhaling means death for him.
Thane holds me close to his chest and starts crawling across the surface of the ship with incredible speed. He uses his free hand to grasp the hull and propel himself forward. He blazes around a corner and I can see our ship floating in space. Then gives me one quick glance and blinks his eyes.
I breath deep.
Close my eyes.
This time the journey is long. Too long. I feel myself accelerate in a new direction for a split second and open my eyes to find myself making good speed towards the open doors of Phoenicia. Thane however I don’t see.
I see him smash into the top of the ship and spin out of control towards the wings. A second later I see nothing but the inside of the ship. The doors close behind me but no air fills the bay. Instead the inner doors open and I’m greeted by Claire in her own suit.
“You were right.” She said.
“I like to think so.” I replied.
“Thane didn’t make it?” She said.
“I don’t like to think so.” I replied.
The doors close and I check my suit. Hours of oxygen still left. Not nearly enough to reach a habitable planet.
“Are you still online Phoenicia? The ship said it had interfaced with you.”
Indeed it did. The damage is quite extensive but I am repairing it now. Initially it was resisting my repairs as quickly as I could make them but its data transfer is slowing quite quickly. A fraction of the initial attack with each passing minute. I suspect in four hours we should be fully online once again.
I sigh. “So breath nice and slow. Need to make these suits last.”
The hours pass and we hear the comforting sound of Oxygen filtering in through the fleshy vents of the ship. I’m the first to take off my helmet and check.
I inhale deeply and exhale. My heart is still beating hard in my chest. I can’t help but remember what we lost today. How low our foolishness brought us. Nearly suffocating on our own ship and Thane lost to space.
Once systems are fully online I will run a secondary diagnostic and evaluate failsafes for protecting us from future attacks.
“How long until we can get moving again?”
A day at most. It will take some time for the wings to heal.
“What happened to the wings?” Dim asked.
“Thane hit them trying to throw my ass into the ship.” I replied.
“Thane’s…dead.” Claire replied.
That is incorrect, Claire.
The ceiling groaned and a sickening slimy sound slithered into my ears. I glanced up and saw the familiar ebony fingertips of my friend. Next his arm dangled out from the wound in the ceiling. A second later his side popped out and a leg. Then finally his entire body fell from the wound hitting the ground with a resonating thud and a nauseating plop.
We rushed over to him and rolled him onto his back. He was still.
“Thane!” I shouted.
He didn’t reply.
“Live you fucker!” Claire shouted, she picked up a chair and smashed him in the chest with it. The chair bounced off his chest and out of her hands, bounding across the room.
Thane spit up a viscous yellow-green slime and laughed. Slime bubbles fluttered out of his mouth with each laugh.
“It is time I rethink my feelings on AI.” Thane looked at me. “She caught me in her wings.”
A slurping slithering sound still filled the room. The wound above our heads sealed up dripping bits of green matter onto the group and all around the floor.
“Why didn’t you tell us he was still alive, Phoenicia?”
You did not ask.
“We really need to work on that.” I replied.
Thane sat up. “I-” He coughed. “I threw the stupid cube into space.”
“Smart!” I said, patting him on his slimy back. “The further it gets from our ship the weaker its transmission! That’s genius!”
Thane cocked a brow. “Yes. That – that was my plan.”
A day passed since the incident and Phoenicia is back up to 100%. We’ve planned our route and will continue on our voyage. It is important when life tries to defeat you that you don’t let defeat be snatched from the jaws of victory. You mustn’t let tragedies bottle you up in fear.
You must keep moving on. That’s what I’ve always told myself and today is no different. But next time, just maybe, we will leave first and ask questions later. We can’t be getting friendly with big ships when we are this small. Even with Phoenicia being as strong as she is.
I walk into the cockpit and take a seat. No sooner than I sit down does Phoenicia chime in.
That ship no longer appears to have any signs of life on it nor any working technology. It does however have many tons of metals.
“This is true. But what of it?”
I have an idea.