CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Copyright © 2017 John Graham
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
e-book formatting by bookow.com
To my parents, on whose dining room table I typed this story (without their knowledge).
Table of Contents
About the Author
Real nightmares are rooted in memory, and this nightmare was no different. The door to the depressurised chamber opened and he felt a spike of adrenaline pierce his heart as he was ejected into the cold and lonely void. Twisting and spinning through space with his sense of direction thrown into confusion, he felt like he was suffocating as he hyperventilated from sheer panic.
He had to force himself to slow his breathing, taking shallower and shallower gulps of air until his pulse had settled and he was no longer panicking; then he extended his limbs and relaxed. Without an EVA jetpack, there was nothing else he could do, and by the time he had calmed down, the vessel that had carried him there was already gone.
The darkness that surrounded him was so thick he could almost touch it. Save for the countless tiny points of light that dotted the background, the distance between himself and the stars was a never-ending expanse of pure emptiness, extending in all directions. The sheer immensity of space made him feel like a grain of sand in a vast ocean, or a speck of dust floating in a planetary atmosphere.
Worse still was the sheer nothingness of it all. At least in the ocean or the atmosphere you could feel the currents making their presence known and their power felt, buffeting you back and forth, reminding you constantly that it surrounded you. In the vacuum of space, there truly was nothing, not even gravity. The eternal abyss exerted no push or pull, no awesome reminder of its infinite power, because there was nothing there to exert such power. To be trapped in space was to be just another particle drifting forever.
But perhaps worst of all was the total loss of orientation. There was no direction in the omnidirectional void. No up or down, no left or right, no forwards or backwards; even the points of light were too indistinct to provide a sense of direction. Nor did his spacesuit have any sort of navigation equipment installed, leaving him with absolutely no sense of direction. All he could do was float and stare out into the abyss, and the longer he stared, the more the abyss seemed to swallow him.
The panic returned.
His pulse began to race and his breathing began to accelerate, as if sucking up more of his precious oxygen would soothe the maddening sense of nothingness. Flailing in the dark, he felt himself sinking further and further into the blackness, and even the barely visible stars seemed to fade beyond vision, like tiny gems submerging into a tar pit. The sheer absence of anything, the infinite abyss of pure nihilism was slowly devouring his mind...
* * *
Gabriel awoke with a start.
Another nightmare. At least, he knew that most people would call that a nightmare; and yet he felt none of the physical signs that a nightmare ought to bring. He felt no cold sweat, he wasn’t gasping for air, and his heartbeat rapidly subsided to normal. Nor did he feel any horrible sense of panic that he might fall back into the nightmare. Whatever feeling of terror he might have had evaporated almost as soon as it came.
Now, he felt only clinical acknowledgement of the fact that he was awake.
Gabriel lay his head back on the pillow and tried to return to sleep. But he was no longer tired enough to close his eyes and just doze off, and after staring at the ceiling for a while, he headed to the bathroom. The light-strip atop the mirror awoke at his presence, and he splashed some water on his face, the icy cold liquid refreshing the nerves under his skin and washing away any remaining traces of drowsiness.
Gabriel looked up at the mirror, and his reflection looked back with minimal expression. His face was clean-shaven, with an angular jaw, and a head of short dark hair. He was naked from the waist up, the toned, powerful musculature of his chest and arms resembling chiselled marble. Though barely visible under the light, the slightly pale skin across his body was covered with faint scar tissue, their precise, symmetrical patterns giving them away as the marks of numerous surgical enhancements.
Most distinctive of all were his eyes. The irises were a shimmering, emerald green, almost luminescent under the light. Many people assumed they were bionic implants, or garish contact lenses; but they were definitely his actual eyes, staring back at him with hard, emotionless authority. That was the way he usually looked to the world: cold and stern.
He cracked a well-practiced smile in the mirror. It looked sincere and convincing enough, but it felt unnatural, like putting on a clever disguise that was uncomfortable to wear. It was fake, and he stopped from embarrassment. That well-practiced smile was only something he showed to those closest to him, to reassure them that he wasn’t a sociopath.
The soft sound of footsteps entering the bathroom reached his ears, and a petite pair of hands slid across his body, pulling him into an embrace.
“It’s hard to sleep when you can’t.” Aster said, her voice weighed down by tiredness.
“I can sleep.” Gabriel reassured her, reciprocating the embrace with one arm, “I just need less of it than the average person.”
“Thanks to the people who put this thing here.” Aster said, reaching up as she spoke.
She pressed her thumb against the back of Gabriel’s neck and traced it across the skin. The action caused a symbol to appear: a capital S intertwined, serpent-like, with a capital V.
“Is there something wrong with it?” Gabriel asked as the symbol faded from view.
“Is there something wrong with the fact that you have a glorified cattle brand on the back of your neck?” Aster asked rhetorically, a note of tension creeping into her voice.
“You get it when you join.” Gabriel reminded her, ignoring the slightly barbed tone of her voice, “And you join for life.”
“I get that much, and I can accept that much,” Aster replied, resting her chin on his chest, “but the nightmares are a different story.”
She gazed up at him with her light brown, puppy dog eyes. Gabriel placed a hand behind her head, stroking the shoulder length brunette curls with their blonde highlights. But the gaze had a question in them, demanding an answer.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” Aster demanded, slipping into her native colonial accent.
“They’re classified.” Gabriel replied matter-of-factly.
“How the fuck can your nightmares be classified?” Aster shot back angrily.
“Keep your voice down,” Gabriel hissed angrily, “the children are sleeping.”
“I know that,” Aster hissed back in an angry stage whisper, “what I don’t know is why you can’t tell your own wife about the nightmares you have every week, or why the fuck they make you put that thing on your head before you go to sleep.”
Gabriel gingerly touched the skin-coloured gel-strip adhering to his forehead, causing the invisible circuitry to light up in response. It seemed like a silly question when the answer was so obvious: to monitor his neural activity when he was asleep.
But, of course, what she really wanted to know was what was done with the data. Even he didn’t know that, and even if he did he couldn’t tell her. The data collected by the gel-strip, and the uses to which it was put, were classified.
Aster knew all of that, and she showed what she thought of that by reaching up and giving the gel-strip an irreverent flick.
“Don’t touch it.” Gabriel warned her, flinching in irritation.
Aster replied by defiantly flicking the gel-strip again.
“I said don’t touch it.” Gabriel’s tone hardened, “you might damage it.”
“It’s a wireless electroencephalographic monitoring strip, not an egg-shell,” Aster retorted, making clear that she knew more about the technology than he did, “your lords and masters will still get their pristine data feeds.”
She emphasised the point by giving the strip another sharp jab.
A rush of anger swept through Gabriel’s chest, and he angrily seized Aster’s wrists and pinned her against the wall, not tolerating her provocations any longer. Aster inhaled sharply, taken aback by his outburst of aggression.
“Which part of ‘don’t touch it’ do you not understand?” Gabriel hissed angrily, piercing her eyes with his own as he spoke.
He was hissing at Aster through gritted teeth to suppress the volume of his voice, but inadvertently ended up with a menacing, ...