Saturday, 31 January 2015

Pictonaut Jan 2015 - Subjects.

Here we go again, the end of the first month of the new year and yet I'm indulging in an old habit from the last one. So what? It shouldn't all be change every January, that would be arbitrary and foolish. And this is a fun little diversion for which I am almost always late. I suppose I could have tried changing that this year, but let's not fart against a thunderstorm, eh?

Without further ado, here is my story for this months pictonaut!

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"Proceeding to disembark."
Captain Rayleigh stepped out of the landing capsule and into the thin, and toxic, air of an alien climate. A few deep breaths assured him that his suit was secure, doing its job keeping him alive. Despite his training, this was always a moment of great anxiety for him, when he was forced to trust his life to engineered polymers that he didn't fully understand.
"Is everything ok, Matt?" The call came from H.Q. on Earth, how many miles away?
"All systems check out. Closing up the pod." There was a comforting hiss of static every time the captain finished a message. It felt real to him, honest, an imperfection that proved the universe still ran as it should. It came in again, that familiar hiss, the proceeding rush of air before the information train.
"Great Matt. Proceed to testing site." Hiss. Then, quieter, "Turn around."
"Sorry, H.Q. Can you repeat that last command?" Hiss.
"Proceed to testing, captain." Hiss. Rayleigh waited for more. None was forthcoming.
"Understood," he said.

Ahead of Captain Rayleigh lay a flat expanse of thin blue fuzz, something like grass, on a dusty pink, iron oxide plain. He took a moment to devour the sight. A whole new world, unexplored, untouched. He was the first human being to tread upon this ground. How many would follow, he wondered? And how long would this one last?
Hiss. "Can you see it?" Hiss. The voice had gone quiet again, barely audible over the static, but the captain was sure he'd made it out right.
"Not yet," he replied.
"Say again." Hiss.
"I don't have a visual on the test site yet. Let me get over this hill." Hiss.
"Right, Matt. Keep us posted." Hiss.
He headed out towards the ridge in the distance, beyond which would be the equipment that was put down before him, or what was left of it.

Beyond the rise lay the depths of a crater, probably older than thee Earth itself, wide and eroded smooth by billions of years of dusty winds. It was incredible that it was there at all. Nestled inside the great expanse, near dead central like some astronomical Russian doll, was the few meter wide landing site of the equipment module.
"I have a visual. Module looks intact. Proceeding now." Hiss.
"Understood." Hiss. "Do you see it? Turn around." Hiss.
"I say again, the module is ahead. I have a visual." Hiss.
"We copied you, captain. Is everything alright over there?" Hiss.
"It's fine. I'm opening the module now." Hiss.
Matt's chunky gloved hands made heavy work of punching the poorly designed, tiny buttons on the side of the sleek black capsule. After some false starts, the module split in half and revealed the secrets hidden within.
"Everything looks in one piece." Hiss.
"Great captain. Proceed with the construction of the device." Hiss. "The sun." Hiss.
"Say again command. The what?" Hiss.
"The device Rayleigh. Can you proceed with mission?" Hiss.
"Constructing the device." Hiss.

An unavoidable part of Captain Rayleigh desperately wished he could not proceed with the mission. Being so far from home, in such a high stress scenario, he could not prevent his mind wondering to happier, simpler times, with no responsibilities, before he knew the word 'subspace'. That five year old child who wanted nothing more than to impress his best friend with the frog  he had found, real and live, maybe the last of its kind, had not even an inkling of what he would become, lost in the depths of space, about to construct the most destructive weapon mankind had ever devised.

"Behind you." Hiss. "Look behind you." Hiss.
"Say again, H.Q." Hiss.
"No message sent, captain. How is it coming." Hiss. He was dragging his feet.
"Almost there command." Hiss.
No message sent? But had been sure they had transmitted. There was no one else on the channel, no one for light years to communicate with, and Matt certainly wasn't losing his mind. Was he? He shook it off, concentrating on his work. The setting of the primer on the device required a very specific sequence of precise manipulations to succeed. One mistake and the bomb would be useless, or worse, far too useful far too soon. Radio silence was necessary for absolute concentration.

The captain took a screwdriver from the modules toolkit and began opening an access panel on the device.
"Turn around. Do you see it? Look at it." Hiss.
"Request continued radio silence. H.Q." Hiss.
"Radio silence is maintained captain." Hiss.
Like hell. What were they talking about? Look at what? Once again he shook the thoughts from his head. Matt removed the access panel and began the work of setting the primer.
"Look, look. Turn around and look." Hiss.
"H.Q. Advise on possibility off cross chatter from foreign sources." Hiss.
"No possible radio chatter except from H.Q. and yourself. Twenty minutes to planned detonation. Are you about done there?" Hiss.
"Working on it now." Hiss.

Captain Rayleigh finished the wiring and prepared to reattach the primer to the device. This was where things most often went wrong in the simulations. Matt sweated inside his suit.

"Look. Behind you. Look at the sun!" Hiss.

What off Earth?! Matt caved in and spun on his heels, fighting against training and instinct to stare into the sun.

"What the hell?" Hiss.
"Say again captain." Hiss.
"Square?" Hiss.
"Captain. Stay on mission. Is the device complete? Our screens show no communication?" Hiss.
"Square." Hiss.

Captain Matthew Rayleigh referred to the sun. Large, red, square and hollow. He couldn't believe his eyes. It made no sense. It was impossible. And then, he began to remember, who he was, where he was, where he was from.

Hiss. "Ca... igh... er..." Hiss. "Ou..." Hiss. Hissssssss. The static turned to a whine and then a scream, a terrible cacophony of sound and pain within the captain's head. Then all was dark and silent and eternal.

* * *

"Simulation failure. Subject terminated at oh nine hundred hours," the lieutenant said to her general. The team had run test after test. Every other simulation went off without a hitch. But you pushed them too far, asked them too much and their minds couldn't take. Something caused these men to die in the 'World Eater' scenario, every single time. To die again.

"Your mission is a failure general. They will not take to the conditioning."

"Ma'am, it's just the one scenario," the general protested.

"The one this whole project was designed for. The one the president is most anxious to succeed."

"That's exactly why we need more time. You can't entrust this mission to untrained thugs!" The general raged, but he new it was in vain. She was right, he had failed.

"Time is up, general. We'll use prisoners as advised. Your soldiers shall remain in the ground where they belong, and this grotesque zombie factory will be shut down.


The president's aide saw herself out and the general moved over to the coffin like capsule that contained the no longer reanimated corpse of Captain Matthew Rayleigh. Twice the man beneath the general had died, and both times for nothing. This would mean the end of both of their careers.