Part 1 of a 3 part story.
It was a three month journey along the Andromeda Trail to get to the site. Three long, cold months, sucking liquid food product through a tube and breathing in nebula dust, with no one but Gussy for company. I like the guy, but three months of his chatter about the New York Mets and methods for cultivating orchids in hostile environments is enough to make me want to strip my skin off and sell it for hide. I’d get a pretty penny for it, too, these days.
If someone else had already mapped the site out it would have taken a matter of days. But then, if someone else had mapped the site out, I wouldn’t be looking at a big fat prospector’s commission to bring home to April. That’s the job. No one’s been out this far. Not in this direction. What do they call it? “Unvectored Cosmological Coordinates.”
Damn. Sounds like something out an Aasimov novel. Still blows my mind, to think about it. Ten years ago we didn’t even know how to breath in space, let alone ride the stellar currents all the way to another galaxy. It seems silly to say that, now. That we were stuck on that one tiny planet. I know most people are still stuck there, but to be honest, I can’t really remember doing anything else. Those days in fire rescue, or on the crab boats, happened to somebody else.
“Danni, you seeing this?” Gussy’s voice said in my head. Well, I guess it wasn’t Gussy’s voice. It was my voice. MTM “sounds” just like your internal monologue, only you can sort of tell you’re not the one thinking the words. It takes some getting used to.
“The chatter over the box?” I said. “Yeah, of course I am. Why? Looks the same as usual to me.”
“It’s getting worse,” he said. “Are you sure we should be doing this?”
I sighed. He didn’t hear it. I didn’t here it. No sound in space and all that. “Are we really going to have this conversation again? We’re almost there.”
“But nothing,” I said. “If you want to turn back now, fine. But I’m going. And I’m keeping your cut.”
There was silence.
“Are you still there?” I asked. It’s always worth checking, on the Trails. You never know.
“Yeah,” he said after a minute. “Yeah, you’re right. Of course you are.”
“Damn straight,” I said. “Now do me a favor and shut up for a while. I’m almost done with this audio book.”
I didn’t tell Gussy that I shared his fears. Why should I? This part of the journey was always a little terrifying. Riding out to some unknown region of space classified by the scouts as “Anomalous.” Spending the whole time getting updated data about radiation levels, weird reports about unknown signals from the region. Sometimes they were clean enough to translate into audio.
We got that, too. But it didn’t mean anything. It turned out space was a weird place. Weirder than we thought. So what if there were voices out there, whispering into the darkness? And so what if some of them were in English? And so what if they said…things. I’ve scouted eight anomalies up to this point, and not one of them had Cthulhu hidden inside of it. Just hyperfuel. And superconductive materials. And, on one lucky trip, the derelict hull of some ancient structure. In other words, money in the bank.
But it gets to you, having those whispers piped into your ears through long-range coms the whole way out. That gets more people than dust and exposure combined. A lot of rangers just end it, on these journeys. They can’t take it. They’re weak.
Not me, though. I can’t turn back now. Not when we’re so close. Not when April’s counting on me. She keeps telling me not to go out. She’s scared. But what else are we supposed to do? She can’t work. Not anymore. She keeps telling me I could do something else. And I keep saying I’ll consider it. But I was made for this. I had no idea who I was until that first moment I rode off the platform and into the black. That was the moment I woke up. The moment I came alive. She’s the love of my life, but this is my life. But how do you tell a girl that?
It was bad, this time. I told her this was my last trap. Maybe it is. Maybe this’ll be the big score. It could always happen. But it was bad. I’d hate for that to be the last time we ever talk to each other. The last time I ever touch her face. But she was so scared. So angry. I shouldn’t have let her listen to that transmission. How do you explain to someone that the signals from these anomalies say a lot of things. They sound like they mean something, but they don’t.
It doesn’t matter that this one said my name.
I’m just glad that’s all she heard. The signals aren’t strong on earth. I didn’t hear the full message until I got out of the atmosphere. Thank god the version she heard cut off before it got weird. Before it got mad.
But none of that matters. We’re almost there, and I won’t turn back. Not now. Not ever.