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We Have Broken the Skies and Seen Beyond the Veil

We Have Broken the Skies and Seen Beyond the Veil

by D.M.Pruden

Copyright Notice

©(2017)D.M. Pruden. All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this story may be reproduced or copied without the expressed written permission of the Author. 

This book is a work of fiction. Characters and events in this story are the product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.


The panel exploded in Alban’s face. At least, that was the last thing he remembered. Right now, all he knew for sure was that he couldn’t see or hear anything and had no idea of where he was. He experienced no up, no down, no sense of motion nor the familiar pull of gravity.

He flexed his fingers inside the bulky gloves of the spacesuit and breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’m not dead.”

“Of course you’re not,” said the voice through his helmet’s receiver.

“Ix?”

“Wow, that blast hit you hard. Who else would be stupid enough to accompany you out here? Not that I had a choice.”

“Where am I? What happened?”

“What happened was that you didn’t follow my instructions. Where you are is just off the port stern.”

Alban tried to turn his body and catch a glimpse of the ship’s running lights, but was enveloped in the inky blackness of space. He rotated slowly, holding his breath as he counted the seconds. The building panic in his guts vied for his attention, trying to convince him he was really dead and now floated in the underworld reserved for unbelievers and unrepentant sinners.

Prior to this mission, he would have dismissed such notions as superstitious nonsense. A fairy tale to frighten children into good behaviour. This far out and so near the edge, he reconsidered that position. Perhaps the ancient ones had been right and they should not have risked this.

The cloudy, striped face of the gas giant, Micorna entered his field of vision as he turned slowly. Even at this distance from home, the diminished red light of the sun managed to paint its surface ruddy. He marvelled at the subtle swirls and patterns of clouds drifting in the jet stream of the planet’s upper atmosphere. Not even the best telescopes back home could image the kind of beauty that unfolded before his eyes. He was the first to witness such a sight this close. He caught himself before he muttered a prayer of thanks.

Robotic probes, of course, had sent back thousands of pictures of Micorna and its family of terrestrial moons over the centuries. Nothing prepared Alban for the glory of seeing the real thing, nor the intensity of the foreboding that now threatened to overwhelm him. Images of this planet were always the last ones transmitted before the probes vanished.

No, despite the surrounding darkness, he decided he was not yet in the underworld, but he worried some truth lay behind the superstition. Somewhere, beyond the black, oblivion, or something else awaited him.

Three points of light rotated into view. Two of the five major celestial bodies he identified immediately; the inner planets of Canorna and ringed Poran. It only took him an extra heartbeat to discern the nature of the unusual third light which grew larger by the second.

“Ah, I see you now, Ix.”

“Well, you’re not blind and you’re not dead. This day keeps getting better.”

A blinding glare suddenly illuminated his spacesuit as the Norstra’s floodlights enveloped him. He craned his neck to look toward the single bright beacon burning starkly against the emptiness.

“You found me.”

“I always knew where you were. The light is for your comfort until the ship reaches you. You’re welcome.”

He smiled. Ix could be a pain at times, but Alban wouldn’t undertake this mission without him, despite his stubborn adherence to outdated religious beliefs.

Comforted by the knowledge that he would soon be safely inside his vessel, he took the time to contemplate once more the vast, expanse of inky void beyond the orbit of the gas giant.

“How close are we now, Ix?”

“The math suggests we’re only 2 AU away from where the last probe stopped transmitting. Of course, until we repair the ion drive, we will be forced to enjoy this view for a long time.”

“I’d forgotten,” said Alban. “How much more damage did my little mishap cause?”

“Hmmm, nothing major, as far as my diagnostics can tell,” said Ix. “In fact, despite your inability to follow simple instructions, you avoided frying more than a couple of relays. I can reroute around the worst of it.”

“So I managed to fix the dyna-coupling?”

“I suppose you did. You’re not just an egotistical grandstander.”

“Who are you calling an egotist?”

“Well, you’re the reason we’re out here, about to be stricken down for our hubris.”

“This far out and you still can’t admit that your old religion is simply a superstitious system designed to control the plebeians. Look at the beauty around us, Ix. Why would a deity or deities create something like that unless they intended we venture out and appreciate it?”

“Be careful, Alban. You’re beginning to sound like you believe again.”

“What I’m saying is that we’ve been planet bound for centuries because of superstitious taboos. Why should we content ourselves with examining the cosmos by remote controlled spacecraft? Our species was meant to investigate the unknown with our own senses.”

“Why do we put valuables on the top shelf? To keep them out of the hands of children.”

“We are not the offspring of some all seeing, all knowing entity. We’ve been bound to an overpopulated globe for far too long. Our people need to explore all of the 5 planets of the universe and make them into our home. Scientific reason must overcome blind adherence to religious prohibitions.”

“The faith is a lot older than your science, my atheistic friend,” said Ix. “We’ll soon find out which of us is right.”

“I’m an agnostic, not an atheist.”

“There’s a difference? The Norstra will be at your position in another two minutes. Try to remain calm since you don’t acknowledge any deity to pray to.”

Taken aback by the odd sounding comment, he responded. “Why are you telling me that?”

“Because you only have a minute or two of oxygen left. Just saying…”

 


Alban pushed off the med-bed and let his inertia carry his weightless body to the storage cabinets along the wall.

“Hey, I’m not done with your examination yet. You took a good whack to the head.”

“Stow it, Ix. I’m fine.”

“You’re a bit testy. Let me find you something for your headache.”

“I’ll get it.”

Of all the things that troubled him about his life, dealing with the disembodied Ix was probably the worst. His personality, wit, bizarre sense of humour, sarcasm—even his temper were all still present. They just weren’t in a body any longer.

“I’d love it if you shared what was making you so surly, Alban. Surely it isn’t that little episode outside? You’ve survived worse.”

“It isn’t that.”

“Then what?”

All he could think of was the day he cradled the bloody mess that had once been his best friend. It was the last time he prayed. He had felt almost as helpless today when he believed he had died and gone to the underworld in punishment for this heretical expedition. It annoyed him how easily he fell into old habit.

They often argued about faith. It wasn’t because Ix feared for Alban’s eternal soul and wanted to bring him back to the fold against his will. It was because he had never explained to his old friend why he no longer believed.

“Nothing is bothering me,” he growled.

Silence hung in the air.

“Do we still have a fix on the ion trail?” Alban needed to get them both engaged in something else.

“We’ve drifted a bit, but it was strong enough that picking it up again shouldn’t be a problem.”

“You sound uncertain.”

Ix sighed, making a raspy hiss over the speakers. “I suppose I did. I didn’t want to say, but your mishap spooked me.”

It was Alban’s turn to sigh. “Not this again? It was a simple, careless accident on my part. We’re not being punished for travelling out this far.”

“How can you be sure?”

Silence again filled the medical bay.

“I don’t want to repeat the same old argument with you, Alban. I agreed to come and support you on this expedition. I’ll try to keep my fears under wrap and my comments to myself.”

He smiled. “But I’m sure you reserve the right to say you told me so as we are being cast into the void.”

“You’re damn right I do.”

They both laughed and he realized how long it had been since that had happened.

When the laughter died out, Ix said, “Once we’re underway, we should reduce speed and extend our forward sensors. Even if we don’t credit divine retribution, something made those probes vanish.”

“Let’s bring those engines back online and we’ll pick up where we left off.”

He didn’t feel as enthusiastic as he tried to sound.

 


Alban shifted in the pilot seat and stared at the front monitor. The empty void was hypnotic. Though the power again hummed throughout the ship, the faint noise was the only indication they might be moving at all.

He flipped to a rearview display. Behind them, slowing diminishing with distance was the giant red orb that was the centre of the known universe. Five bright points of comforting light marked some of the visible worlds that orbited it. Too small to see and much too close to the sun to resolve was Engnos, the cradle of all life and his much too distant home.

He shook his head as he contemplated the folly of his people. Planet bound by religious doctrine, they stubbornly refused to acknowledge the truth. The only solution to the problems of depleting resources and overpopulation was to migrate and colonize at least one of the other worlds. Though none was a perfect match to Engnos, any of the terrestrial inner planets could be made habitable in a few centuries. All of the technology was available. Only the will to act was not present.

Millenia after people stopped believing the planets in the sky to be gods looking down upon them, a collective fear remained that it would be sacrilege to even approach them. Even modern theories that hypothesized more worlds lay beyond the black veil had little support since the loss of the last probe fifty years before.

It had taken Alban most of his professional career, his family’s fortune and substantial backing by skeptical financiers to mount this expedition. Though agnosticism hadn’t been a crime for five hundred years, he still encountered subtle prejudice. There had been far too many legal and bureaucratic obstructions to the preparation for the mission.

“Religious beliefs aside, Ix, what does the scientist in you think happened to the probes?”

“Alban, I haven’t practiced science for years.”

“Please humour me?”

“Having some doubts?”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m bored. I need to stimulate my brain.”

“Mine is busy running the ship and keeping you breathing. You’re welcome again.”

“Stop being a jerk and tell me what you think.”

“I don’t know, Alban. Nothing accounts for the sudden and unexplained loss of all those probes. Perhaps there is something about this region of space…something that we never imagined.”

“A wormhole?”

“Wormholes theoretically have another end to them. Where do you propose the probe was taken?”

“Another universe?” said Alban, now thoroughly engaged in the debate. “Maybe there are others like ours; other suns with planets orbiting them. Can you imagine that? Our little solar system might be quaint in comparison, don’t you think?”

A warning light popped up on the control panel. He sat up and examined the readout, but the data scrolled by too quickly for him to read.

“Ix? Talk to me. What’s going on?”

“Our long range sensors detected something directly ahead.”

He could barely contain his enthusiasm. “Did we find the lost probe?”

“The object is metallic and…”

“And what?”

“It’s a debris field. Whatever it was is destroyed.”

Alban’s voice cracked. “How is that possible?”

“I’m getting more detailed analysis now. The mass is consistent with the probe we were chasing.”

Alban pushed back into his chair. He buried his face in his hands. The only sound to be heard was the faint hiss of the ventilation system.

His worst nightmare unfolded before his eyes. Instead of pushing the boundaries of science and free thought, they uncovered evidence of a divine hand smacking their fingers for daring to reach too far.

“Hmm, that’s odd,” said Ix.

He did not look up. “What is?”

“The debris field is not drifting.”

“So what?”

“So, it appears to be embedded in something.”

Alban stared at the screen, his eyes fixed on the image of the wreckage. “What the hell?”

“According to the sensor logs from our approach, it crashed into a solid boundary of some kind.”

“What is it made of?”

“I cannot tell. It doesn’t reflect any frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum. It does not emit any radiation. In fact, the only reason we know it is there is because of the wreck stuck in it.”

“Can we get closer?”

“I can’t detect the surface it’s embedded in. If there is any kind of topography, we could end up scattered across it like the probe.”

“Then I’ll go out in a spacesuit. Take us as close as possible.”

Ix hesitated. “It’ll be a challenge, but I’ll try. And by the way, I’m coming with you.”

 


Alban traversed the distance between Norstra and the wreckage using his suit’s maneuvering jets. He risked a brief rotational maneuver to catch a glimpse of the receding spacecraft.

“Hey, do I need to take control of our descent?” snapped Ix.

“Sorry.”

He corrected his attitude and once more faced the approaching wreck.

It was unusual for Ix to insist on accompanying him outside of their ship. He was normally content to monitor an EVA from the comfort of the ship’s wetware where he resided. This time, however, he would not be persuaded to remain behind and insisted Alban download him into the portable interface integrated into the spacesuit.

While he was disembodied and spent his time within a simulated reality, Ix was not part of the ship, nor its AI. In Ix’s world, he still possessed a body and interacted with a virtual replica of Norstra.

“I can estimate a distance if I ping the signal off of he wreckage,” said Ix. “Get ready to touch down.”

Alban readied himself for the touchdown. He bounced twice before his boots came to rest on the black surface.

“Pretty low gravity for something so big.”

The searchlights on his helmet caught the glittering powder his landing had kicked up.

“How come the dust is visible?”

“This is amazing. Whatever we’re—you’re standing on doesn’t register on any of our instruments. The ground is covered in a thin coating of material from the original solar nebula.”

Alban turned to regard the sun, no more than a point of red light. Even at this distance, the star’s ruddy brilliance illuminated his spacesuit and the scattered wreckage around them.

Advancing toward the remains of the main fuselage, he played the searchlight ahead of him to avoid the craters dotting the surface. On locating an intact section of the hull, he searched until he found an access portal, the door blown away by the impact. He shone his beam into the inky interior. The remnants of relays and hardware were scattered about. 

“Strange…”

“What’s the matter?” asked Ix, accessing Alban’s helmet visual feed, “I don’t see anything.”

“The processor and a lot of the other equipment are missing.”

“Maybe they were thrown clear in the crash?”

Alban continued to examine the interior. “I don’t think so. Those screws held the unit in place. None of the holes they came from are stripped and there are no broken pieces from the frame. They’ve been removed.”

“Ridiculous.”

He pulled his head from the access port and directed the searchlight to the ground. “Here are my footprints, but what are those markings?”

He illuminated a pattern in the dust that, under any other circumstances, would be interpreted as the tracks of some small animal or animals. The imprints congregated and overlapped near the fuselage and then led away from the wreck into the distance.

“Alban, you’re suggesting that some creature or creatures stripped parts from the probe? I’m checking your oxygen mixture.”

“Do you have another suggestion? Perhaps we are on the edge of the netherworld and these prints belong to demons who just happen to be interested in our technology?”

“I don’t appreciate being mocked. Of course I can’t imagine another explanation, but there must be one.”

“Well, I can only think of one way to settle this.”

He followed the trail leading from the crash site, being careful to not obliterate the small prints with his own. “Are you recording this Ix?”

“Yes. I don’t want to be declared insane and deactivated when we return.”

Alban frowned. Transfers, like Ix did not survive indefinitely. Over time their neural patterns degraded and, at a certain point when they were no longer considered cognitive, they were deleted from their wetware host network—euthanized.

After an hour, the markings came to an abrupt end.

“Where did they go?” asked Ix.

Alban shone his searchlight in a wide sweep of the surrounding blackness. The dust, marred only by random meteorite impacts, was undisturbed for as far as he could see.

“Well, whatever left them didn’t just vanish,” said Alban.

“Unless it was a demon.”

He couldn’t tell if Ix was joking.

“Shine your light around where the trail ends again.”

As Alban complied, Ix asked, “Do you notice anything different about where those prints should continue?”

He squatted to take a closer look. He brushed his hand across the ground and examined his glove.

“No dust.”

They continued to search the local area for several minutes.

“The only spot not covered is this square patch,” said Ix. “It’s all piled up along the far edge.”

Alban shone his beam a few metres ahead and noted the subtle shadow supporting Ix’s observation. “A hatchway?”

“If I still used money, that’s what I would bet on. Can you find a latch or handle?”

“You think we should disturb it?” asked Alban.

“Are you afraid of supernatural consequences?”

“Don’t be daft. We just don’t know what’s down there.”

“And we won’t find out until you discover a way to open it. You’re the one with the hands and feet. Come on—chop, chop.”

Dropping to his knees, he probed with his hands. The ground’s smooth and featureless texture surprised him. With no luck on his first pass, he repeated his search pattern as he crawled across the alien doorway.

His knee encountered a sharp depression. He sat up and ran his fingers along the anomaly. All he could see were his gloves, and no indication of what lay beneath them. Discovering an edge, he dug in and pulled.

The surface under him heaved and began to tilt. He rolled off of the hatchway, and watched in fascination as a sliver of light appeared around the edges of the rising doorway. Shortly a staircase descending into an illuminated cavern was exposed.

Without a word to each other, Alban descended the stairs until he stood before a door. Next to it, a control panel glowed.

Hesitating for only a few breaths, he touched it and the door slid to the side revealing a chamber large enough for half a dozen people to stand comfortably. Inside was another doorway beside which, on the wall, was an elaborately arranged collection of buttons. Each was marked with strange hieroglyphs.

“Why are you waiting?” asked Ix.

Before he could reply, the door began to close. He jumped through the opening and turned to watch it slide shut behind him.

The interior was illuminated by a soft light, of similar colour to what Alban was used to back on Engnos. He turned off his searchlight to conserve power and admired his surroundings.

“Well?” said Ix.

“Well, what?”

“Are we going to waste away here or do something worthwhile?”

“Ix, I know you process things faster than I can, but give me a moment to catch my breath. Do you realize what we’ve found?”

“No, tell me, please.”

Alban frowned. Ix aways tended toward sarcasm in tense situations.

“Obviously this place was constructed by some vastly superior intelligence. This is not the netherworld, nor supernatural in any way.”

“You took this long to come to that conclusion? Now what are you going to do?”

“Well, I…” Alban turned his attention from the door they entered through to the other one.

“Let me help,” said Ix, not attempting to sound polite. “You can either push that button next to the door we came through and we can hopefully exit. Or you can start playing with the buttons beside the other doorway.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Me? Well, thank you for asking, Alban. Since everything I’ve been taught about the universe is severely out of date, I opt for further exploration.”

“That…surprises me.”

“Why? You expected me to want to run away in denial because my entire belief system is challenged? I thought you knew me. Everything is pretty apparent; you were right all along. There is no divine as we thought we understood it. If that is the case, I don’t need to wait until I die to learn answers to the big questions. I for one, really want to find out who built this thing.”

Alban sympathized with the internal battle his friend experienced. Though they grew up and entered the academy together, Ix’s religious faith never faltered. Even during some of the more challenging lectures at the university, he was able to successfully reconcile his beliefs with scientific pursuits. While most people perceived only dichotomy between religion and science, Ix did not. He saw them as one and the same and had no difficulty reconciling them within himself.

Alban was the one with the problem. For him, there could never be a reconciliation of faith with fact. He eventually chose to abandon his belief when he could not understand how a loving deity would permit his best friend to endure a life as a disembodied intelligence. If it had been left to divine providence, Ix would be dead, not here exploring the greatest discovery of all time.

“Well, Alban, what do you want to do? I’m waiting.”

He squared himself to face the inner door.

“What button do you want me to push?”

“Pick one.”

He selected a random one and the room lurched.

“A lift?”

“This keeps getting more interesting,” said Ix.

The chamber vibrated slightly beneath Alban’s feet. A light on the panel bounced downward, indicating their progress. Abruptly, his weight increased as the elevator decelerated. Turning his eyes to the door, he readied himself for whatever lay beyond them.

Silently, the doorway opened to reveal a long corridor with, dim, green lighting panels set into the walls at regular intervals stretching off to forever.

Alban checked the control interface on his forearm.

“The air is breathable in here.”

“Yeah, I knew that,” said Ix.

“And you didn’t think to tell me?”

“Firstly, I don’t breathe. You do. Secondly, if I told you and the sensor was somehow wrong, you’d be dead and I would be stuck with your corpse and overwhelming guilt.”

“You’re so thoughtful.”

“You may as well open your visor and conserve your oxygen supply.”

“And if I die?”

“I will mourn you as I wait for my neural network to decay.”

He shook his head. “You are such a jerk.”

Alban decided to test the air. Ix knew the chance of the atmospheric sensor malfunctioning was incredibly small. Nervously, he cracked the visor’s seal.

There was no hiss; the pressure was normal.

He sniffed tentatively with no adverse effects.

He raised the plastic faceplate and made a more detailed examination of the corridor. His weight seemed heavier than at the surface.

“Artificial gravity,” he said.

“Why are your surprised? I expect a civilization advanced enough to construct something like this would find that kind of physics trivial to master. I’m astonished that it seems to be the same as on Engnos.”

Ix was right. Everything was designed to accommodate their species. 

A chittering sound attracted his attention. Alban walked cautiously in the direction of the noise.

“This is really stupid,” said Ix through the earpiece. “What if it’s…I don’t know…something dangerous?”

He stopped and addressed Ix’s concerns with a whisper. “Losing you nerve, Ix? Worried it might be a demon?”

Before he could reply a small head poked around a nearby corner, startling Alban.

The creature appeared to be half his height. Two enormous black eyes occupied most of its wedge shaped head. Long antennae sprouted from where its eyebrows belonged, and extended over the top of the head. While the rest of its body remained hidden, long, spindly fingers gripped the wall beneath its sunken chin.

The alien studied him for a second before emitting a high pitched chitter and vanishing back where it came from.

Ix said, “We won’t learn anything if you don’t follow.”

Overcoming his shock, he took off after it. He rounded the corner and was greeted by another empty corridor of seemingly infinite length.

Puzzled, Alban continued down the hall, checking each intersecting passage they encountered, finding not a trace of the strange creature.

“Where do you suppose he went?”

“Up until a few seconds ago, I didn’t know that thing existed,” said Ix. “How should I know?”

“Do you think he was the one who scavenged parts from the probe?”

“How many buttons to choose from in the elevator? What are the odds we ran into the same creature that left those prints?”

“Ix, this structure is massive. What if there are more creatures of different species living on the other levels, or even on this one?”

“Then nothing is as we believe. We are not alone and our universe is…”

“Is what? Artificial?”

“No, I wasn’t going to say that. What I wanted to say will only annoy you.”

“You’ve annoyed me since we left the ship. Why stop now?”

“I think the answer lies in the scriptural texts.”

“Are you serious, Ix? Even after seeing everything here, you’re going to fall back on dogma?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m talking about the old books; the ancient tales about the origin of the universe we were told as children. You remember them, don’t you?”

“That was a long time ago.”

“‘The Old Ones came from heaven and settled on Engnos. It was a peaceful world with bright blue skies under a small yellow sun and they raised their children there. The multitude of gods in the sky smiled down on them and the children were blessed. The Old Ones mastered the cosmos and became powerful.’

“Yeah, I remember now,” said Alban. “‘Then the demon Shargura grew jealous of them and struck at the children of the Old Ones.’”

“Yes, there was an enormous battle in the heavens. Shargura and his legions were cast into the sun and destroyed. In consuming them the sun became red and swollen with their spilled blood.”

“It was a fairy tale told to us as children. What has it to do with this place?”

“Do you remember the last part of the story? ‘The Old Ones sought to protect their children. They enclosed the universe in a vault, hiding them from their enemies and the gods who had not come forth to protect them.’

“Yes, yes, ‘…and only the five gods who acted as guardians of the children were permitted to remain within the vault and continue their duty.’ Those are the planets that orbit our supposedly blood bloated sun,” said Alban. “Where are you going with all of this?”

“What if this place is actually that vault?”

Alban leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, where he hugged his knees to his chest.

“That would imply the stories in the old texts are true, or an interpretation of the truth, and we are trapped inside a protective bubble of some kind. That’s too fantastic—too heretical, even for me to take seriously.”

“I’m open to alternate theories.”

“Ix, they are just myths. Primitive attempts to explain how the world works.”

Silence descended on them while he wondered if he should try to persuade himself to wake up. As Ix continued to brood, he grew concerned that his friend might be suffering through a crisis of faith. Alban was not sure Ix was equipped to abandon old preconceptions and accept that their species was not alone. This structure, and the creature supported that hypothesis. But the idea that they were hidden away from a larger reality was too outrageous to consider.

“Alban, I think there is a way to prove this one way or the other. Stand up.”

He rose to his feet and rubbed a cramp from his thigh. “What now?”

“Take us back to the elevator.”

Retracing his steps, he entered the still open doorway.

“Take us to the lowest level,” said Ix.

“Okay.” He pressed the button. The doors slid closed and he became lighter as the car descended. “Are you going to tell me what we’re doing?”

“We’re looking for heaven.”

“By going down?”

“Don’t be childish, Alban. Direction is relative in space.”

Tired of Ix’s insults, he folded his arms across his chest and watched the progress of their descent on the panel.

In the past few hours, his perception of reality had irrevocable changed. Before the launch of the expedition, his hope was to show everyone was wrong. Against all conventional wisdom and traditional teaching, he had clung to his unsupportable hypothesis that something must lay beyond the black at the end of the universe.

During the outward journey his biggest fear was that he would continue far past the orbit of Micorna, only to look back and watch the sun fade with distance as he proceeded on to oblivion.

That trepidation had frequently forced him to reconsider the folly of his mission. His faith in the science had proven weak. It had never been a match for a lifetime of indoctrination. It wasn’t his determination to prove his theories that drove him on. It was his fear of humiliation.

Ix, on the other hand was never hampered by ego. Grounded in his beliefs, he also possessed an open and inquiring mind. For him, the stakes were never high. If the old doctrines proved true, then he was reconciled to them. But when the evidence overturned religious dogma, he accepted and embraced the obvious. He never needed to supplant his faith. He only had to re-interpret his world in the light of new facts.

His weight increased as elevator decelerated. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he counted off the seconds until they arrived at the final level. He wished Ix still had a face he could read. Would he seem anxious or excited?

“Ix?”

“Yes, Alban?”

“Are you…?” He didn’t know how to ask.

“I’m feeling a little bit of everything right now.”

He imagined the reassuring smile on his friend’s face. “Yeah, me too.”

The doors parted. Darkness greeted them.

His heart dropped into his stomach. A conditioned fear rose up inside him as a litany of punishments played out in his mind.

Ix’s voice was gentle, betraying no anticipation or expectation of what they would find, only an openness to the truth. “Let’s go find out, Alban.”

He forced one foot forward, followed by the other. With great effort, he prompted his body to move where his imagination feared to tread. His breath was shallow and rapid. Beads of sweat ran down the small of his back.

Once clear of them, the elevator doors slid shut, plunging them into blackness.

He blinked rapidly, hoping to wipe away the inky film that obscured his vision. Gradually, his gloved hands emerged from the darkness as he became accustomed to a weak iridescence .

The details of the room slowly resolved until a wall materialized. To his right, a passageway glowed, painted from within with a soft blue-white light. On the floor, a red glowing line seemed to invite him to into the passage.

Prompted by curiosity, he entered the corridor and followed the ruby trail toward the blue glow. A few dozen metres ahead, a cerulean luminescence from an open doorway, compelled him forward.

Passing through, Alban was greeted by an unimaginable vista.

Behind a massive window that extended away out of sight, left and right, the black of space was aglow with the lights of trillions of stars.

Tears ran from his eyes.

“Ix? Do you see this?”

“We’re on the other side,” said Ix, his voice filled with awe.

“What does this mean?”

“Nothing can ever be the same.” 

Alban wasn’t sure if Ix sounded happy or overwhelmed. The truth was more fantastic than either of them had dared to imagine. It was a vindication for him that he was right; something amazing did lie beyond what they thought was a boundary. 

But he realized it was also an admonition of his own limited imagination. Somehow, Ix’s faith had been challenged, and yet it served him to bring them here. Ix always believed there was something more, beyond the life they knew, and he was correct in ways nobody could have conceived. 

Alban tried to grasp the magnitude of everything, and he realized his own insignificance. There was something far greater out there than what his primitive science could explain. As he gazed upon the fantastic scene before him, he couldn’t help but vibrate with excitement over the wonders yet to be discovered. Perhaps this wasn’t heaven, but maybe it hinted at the divine. Something created such magnificence. Perhaps it was a deity. Perhaps it was some natural phenomenon yet to be understood. He realized it wouldn’t bother him for it to be either one. There was plenty of room for more than one idea.


Author’s Notes

I took on the challenge to write a science fiction story that played on the words of the volume it appears in, Beyond the Black.

For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Dyson Sphere. The result of a thought experiment by physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, it is a hypothetical megastructure that completely encompasses a star and captures most or all of its solar output.

The hypothesized product of a Type II civilization on the so called Kardashev scale, the Dyson sphere has figured in a plethora of science fiction stories throughout the decades.

For this story, I wanted to explore the consequences for people living inside of one. In this story, the civilization that created the sphere has long since vanished, leaving behind more primitive successors, protected by the legacy of the structure. The story explores what might happen to a society’s perception of the universe by losing access to the stars outside of their protective shell.

I hope you enjoyed this story and are tempted to explore more of my writing.

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