Captain Jonathon Riesner reclined in his bio-chair, staring out the portal into the black seas of infinity – his head throbbed with what had become a never-ending headache. Three crewmembers had died mysteriously over the past five days. Officially, he reported the deaths back to Sector as accidents, but they were not. The crew was on edge. He had slept very little since the first death, tormented by a reoccurring nightmare and the feeling of extreme dread – and he feared it would only get worse. He was not the only one, the ship’s doctor had told him, when pressed that five of the remaining seven crewmembers had come to him complaining of trouble sleeping and seeking his help. The doctor was reticent to say any more when asked further questions, but there was something more to it – as the doctor himself was deteriorating with dark circles under his blood shot eyes and a nervous tic that drew up his mouth on the right side in a grimace, now occurring with greater frequency and severity.
They had only two of the bodies, Science Officer Varda Negrev had opened an air lock – what remained of him was somewhere out in space. Technician Lordis Mason had died of exsanguination, her throat torn out, apparently by her own hands because she was the only one in the pod at the time. Captured on security camera, Payload Specialist Jim Paulson had put a pneumatic driver in his right ear and turned it on. Lieutenant Souder was the only other person he had allowed to see it since he was concerned of the effect it would have on the rest of the crew if they saw it.
He turned on the com unit and made the end of day recording: “Outlander 3, Mission Gamma Circuit, Day 1423, Return to Earth. Fuel Cells at 48%, Food supplies for another 36 days. Three of four water recyclers functioning at optimal levels. At current capabilities should dock at outer Earth station Micron in 33 days. Nothing of significance to report. Captain Jonathon Riesner out.” The ship will make it back – If any of us survive, he thought.
He had taken a Somalune earlier in hopes it would help him sleep and he did feel drowsy. He reclined his chair fully, gave the audio command for the cabin lights to dim, and prayed that he would not dream. The white noise hum of the air recirculator helped him slow his breathing and heart rates to match it, his eyelids fluttered and he soon drifted off.
Great cyclopean cities of titan blocks with mile high monoliths piercing dark skies all dripping with green ooze, sinister with latent horror, something suggestive of ancient and profane cycles of life in which man’s world and his conceptions have no part. A sound reverberated in the distance: thump, thump … thump, thump … growing louder with each passing second – hideous wings flapping – It was coming!
His vital sensor system began its high piercing alarm waking him. It issued an audio warning:
“Warning, Heart Rate at Dangerous Levels, 132 bpm”
He knew if he did not calm himself the cardiac pacemaker that had been implanted in him (as every crewmember had) would shock him to attempt to get back to appropriate levels. His hands were shaking and sweat was dripping from his face. The capacitors in the cardiac assist device, he knew were charging up – he had moments before he would feel the searing pain. If he could control his breathing, he might be able to get his heart rate down. He began breathing in, counting for five seconds, held his breath counting for eight seconds. Exhaled slowly counting for another eight seconds. Repeat.
“Warning, Heart Rate at Dangerous Levels, 128 bpm”
It was coming down but not fast enough. Riesner placed three fingers of his right hand on the carotid artery on the right side of his neck and began a massaging motion stimulating the vagal nerve. He continued with the breathing exercises.
“Warning, Heart Rate Elevated, 118 bpm”
The beeping alarm occurred less frequently – it was working. After about another minute his heart rate was within normal range and the audio signal stopped. He knew that the capacitors would harmlessly discharge.
He lay back and rubbed his eyes. It was the same dream every time he slept except that whatever approached got closer and closer. What was it?
He knew he would not sleep that night. Resigned, he sat up and went to the console, replaying the video that he had seen at least fifty times already. Payload Specialist Jim Paulson, “Pauly”, entered the pod, the camera in the corner looking down. His arms were jerking about his fingers as if some sort of fit of spasms flexing, bending, pointing making unrecognized gestures. He looked briefly up at the camera, his eyes wild, laughed shrilly and chanted: “Ph’glui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagal”. Foam started pouring out of his mouth and he lowered his head. Looking up, he hurriedly went to the tool bench in which all the instruments were strapped down, picked a pneumatic driver, stuck the end of it in his right ear, turned it in and forced it in. Paulson began screaming, but continued to force the device in, blood and gray matter poured out between the shaft of the driver and his now enlarged ear canal. Finally, he jerked wildly and dropped to the ground – with enough damage to his brain done so that his autonomic system shut down, stopping his heart.
They had done analysis on the words and the language was unregistered in the computer. Also, they had interviewed every crewmember to see if anyone had noticed anything strange in the time leading up to the suicide. He had been the first, Lordis Mason killed herself two days later and two days after that Varda Negrev had decided to take a walk into the great unknown. Things had begun soon after they had gone through the wormhole.
Wormhole Gamma breached a tunnel to the Andromeda Galaxy. After the discovery of the element Prometheus on Saturn’s moon Titan, everything changed. The ore, a natural source of exotic baryons, resembled any ordinary ore in its inert form. However, once femto-refined it could stabilize wormholes, even artificial ones. With negative energy density, the exotic baryons could produce a locally mass-negative region of space-time, which allowed faster-than-light travel through the Casimir effect. Artificially produced wormholes were now possible with only an initial investment of energy.
The first manned ship had gone through Wormhole Alpha to the Crab Nebula just twenty-three years ago. The first ship to return to Earth through a wormhole occurred eleven years later with the crew alive. Currently, seven artificial wormholes existed within the Earth’s solar system for interstellar travel as formerly unreachable and sometimes even unknown areas of the universe now became accessible as space exploration consumed humanity. As space-time in the immediate galaxy began to resemble Swiss cheese, many urged caution in poking holes in the universe, as they believed that they were on the verge of some galactic cataclysm. However, the same wander lust that had brought man to new lands on Earth to explore and eventually populate the entire planet now propelled him to risk all to find new worlds overriding rational concerns and fears. The biggest fear – the wormholes can just as easily lead Whatever is out there to here – to Earth and the end of humanity.
An alert sounded and Lieutenant Souder spoke to him in his earpiece, “Captain, Come to engineering … IMMEDIATELY.” The last was in a panicked tone.
The Captain looked at his watch 3:15 AM Ship Time. Ship Time, based on an artificial 30-hour clock to help the crew maintain a regular schedule, established a sleep/wake cycle. Everyone except the duty officer should be in their quarters sleeping.
He left his quarters, hurried down the hallway past the other private quarters, half climbed down, half slid down the ladder to operations level, past the engine bay to engineering. There were two concerned crewmembers standing outside and the wall was in transparent mode so they could see everything. The door slid open and he went immediately to the control and set the wall to opaque.
Technician Tom Bailey had Doctor Kendra’s arms pinned behind his back. The ship’s doctor was thrashing about, his face red, spittle dripping from his mouth yelling, “We can’t bring It back with us!”
Lieutenant Souder was standing to the side, wringing her hands.
“What’s going on?”
“He was trying to sabotage the ship.” The Lieutenant said not believing her own words.
“He was attempting to close the friction valve in the oxygen exchanger.”
“Why?” Riesner moved closer to the two struggling figures. If the friction valve closed the oxygen flow could have ignited in the feed line – fire would have consumed everything and everyone in the ship within seconds.
“Why?” the Captain asked again.
The doctor briefly made eye contact and Riesner’s blood froze – there was a look of shear madness in them.
“Why?” Riesner asked this time more forcefully.
“We can’t bring It back with us!” The doctor shook his head.
“Bring what back?” The Captain asked fearing the answer.
“Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagal” the doctor said.
“What does that mean?”
The doctor shook his head, distraught; eyes closed tightly, “Those are the words I hear in my head.” He stated softly.
“Can I trust you if we release you?”
“Cannot bring It back with us!” the doctor repeated.
“Let’s get him back to his quarters.” The Captain said. “Lieutenant you had medic training can you give him a sedative?”
“Yes, but we should keep him under watch.”
“Yes of course.”
Bailey frog marched the doctor back to his quarters. With the help of the Captain, he placed him on the bed and the Lieutenant gave him an infusion of sedation. The doctor struggled less and less and lay quietly on the bed. The Captain went to the desk. He was stunned at what he saw. The doctor in his spare time liked sketching and painting watercolors. He had beautiful landscapes taped to his walls of idyllic places on Earth but what he saw on the desk was far from beautiful. It was quite alarmingly hideous – It was a watercolor of some foul creature. It was a white polypus thing with red luminous eyes. It could have been part octopus, part mythological dragon and part human. Tentacles hung from the head and it had a scaly grotesque body. Wings spanned out from the back and dramatic claws on hind and front legs. Riesner’s heart skipped a beat – It was what was in his dream, what he never saw but was coming. He knew It was! Riesner rubbed his head.
“What is it?” the Lieutenant asked looking over his shoulder.
“Have you had any dreams? Strange dreams?” The Captain asked not making eye contact.
There was a pause. “Yes, but …” and her voice trailed off.
“Tell me about them.”
“They are just dreams.”
“I will tell you about mine.” And he told her about the alien cityscape, the approaching Thing, and the overall sense of dread.
He turned and locked his gaze on hers. She looked down.
“Dreams are only random firings of neurons based on memories and influenced by imagination, they are …”
“Are your dreams similar?”
She swallowed deeply, “… yes …”
Riesner took the watercolor sketch and went to the doctor lying in his bed. Bailey had brought a chair over and sat vigilant. The doctor’s eyes though glassy now because of the drugs still had a look of panic in them. His body lay listless.
“What is this?” the Captain asked the supine doctor showing him the art. The doctor looked away.
“You are a man of science and the sanest person I know, least you were.” The Captain said. When the doctor did not reply the Captain moved closer to him and so that only the two of them could hear, “Tell me John what is this? If the ship and crew are in danger I must know.”
The doctor closed his eyes and the Captain thought he was not going to say anything, then he did,” Cthulhu that is the name associated with It. You would think that It is only someone with a diseased malignant imagination could conceive. It is of eldritch origins – older than humanity. The others – they all have dreams of it. The city under the water, R’lyeh, will rise up and bring a rule of tyranny of madness upon the Earth. It would one day return to Earth when the stars aligned but the wormhole – it created a way for It to return, a path for madness to descend to consume all.”
“How do you know all of this?” The Captain asked, wanting to doubt the doctor’s sanity but somewhere deep inside knew that he was right.
“It communicates through thought, through space. It will enslave the soul of humanity if we do not stop it. “The doctor stopped and Reisner thought he was finished but continued, “I thought at first it was mass hysteria – a mass hallucination, But … “and the doctor shrugged his shoulders, “the madness is real, all the suicides – they are the end result.”
The captain patted the doctor on the chest, “Rest.”
The doctor was not done, “I was mistaken, blowing up the ship will not stop It – we must destroy the wormhole and Its path! “
“Ok, Ok.” Riesner stood and spoke quietly to the Lieutenant, “Put a block on engineering so that only you and I can gain entrance.”
The Lieutenant nodded her head.
To Bailey he said, “Stay here and watch over him.”
Upon exiting the doctor’s private quarters, he met the rest of the crew.
“What’s going on?”
“What’s wrong with the doctor?”
Bombarded with questions, he could no longer hide it from the rest of them, they knew something was wrong, but he needed time to think. “The Doctor is not feeling well. Go back to your rooms and get some rest. We will have a meeting at 8:00 in the galley.” He left and went to his room.
He began pacing.
This is all madness. He thought.
But, it is affecting the entire crew.
What if what the doctor said is true?
He unconsciously went to the overhead compartment above his bed, removed the chain around his neck with the key and took down the bottle – Glen Fiddich 100 year old single malt Scotch whiskey – it was almost empty, he had been going to it more and more lately. He reached for a glass, thought better of it and just began drinking directly from the bottle. He was so exhausted. After a half hour of pacing, he lay on his bed. Just a couple of minutes of rest – just close his eyes.
The greenish skyscrapers of non-Euclidean design reaching towards the poisonous sky. Pestiferous slime dripping from everything and the beating of wings: thump, thump, Thump, Thump, THump, Thump, THUmp, THUmp, THUMp, THUMp,…, No look away! THUMP, THUMP and IT was there before him, descending – the atrocity – the stealer of minds. Blotting out the sky, white phosphorescent slug like body, tentacles twitching about from the face, claws extended, the eyes – NO Do not look into the eyes! No too late! The searing red rending his soul!
Riesner woke with a start. He knew what he must do. As he strode down the hallway, he heard screams and sound of anguish coming from the other quarters. Though concerned he was undeterred from his mission. He went directly to the bridge. Though it should not have been, it was empty. He sealed the door and went to the helm, changed course back to the wormhole.
Within moments, he received a communication from Sector, “Sector to Outlander 3, why have you changed course?”
“Must not allow It through.”
“Must not allow It through.”
“Outlander 3, do not understand, why have you changed course? This is not part of your mission.”
“My mission is to save humanity.”
Riesner turned off the com. Liuetenant Souder was at the bridge door pounding – it would not open its controls fused.
“Captain, what are you doing?”
“Must not let IT through.”
“Captain we will not have enough supplies if we do not dock at base Micron soon.”
“The rest of the crew, you see them, you hear them.”
“Yes but, it is just, …”
“No, It is real, IT IS COMING!”
After about an hour the Lieutenant stopped pounding on the door and pleading and began sobbing. By the time the ship reached the portal to the wormhole she had gone quiet then began chanting “Ph’glui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagal”. The Captain watched over this period as four of the seven remaining crewmembers’ system sensors, which shown on the control panel, flat lined.
The entrance was a glistening sphere showing distorted images of the Andromeda Galaxy on the other side. Upon entering, it was like traveling down the center of a wide tunnel, surrounded by concentric circularly distorted repeats of the same view. An Einstein Ring with the whole view of the Galaxy wrapped into a series of rings that got more and more closely packed together as the Captain looked to the left or right -consequences of general relativity and the curvature of warped space like light viewed from a curved lens. Riesner watched the wondrous view, momentarily forgetting why he was there. But images from the dreams shook him and he choked with the stench of a thousand open graves and the stark reality of what was at stake brought him back.
Riesner projected a hologram of his family into the bridge chamber. He began sobbing uncontrollably then closed his eyes, reached for the key board and began turning off safety overrides. He ejected positive mass-energy into the wormhole and right before it collapsed and became a black hole his eyes rolled back in his head and yelled “Ph’glui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagal”.
As the wormhole became a black hole, masses nearby such as three of the outer moons of Uranus disappeared and the planet wobbled then stabilized. In Whitechapel London a fifteen year old full of teenage angst began spray painting the word “Cthulhu” on the sides of buildings though he did not know what the word meant. In a SOHO studio a painter who was one of the highest paid living artists began painting figures of a great grotesque figure with octopus features on a dragon body though he knew not why. In a South American village, a primitive tribe began dancing wildly around a fire chanting “Ph’glui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagal”. In …
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