The Pale Horse – Prologue

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The apocalypse began on a Tuesday.

In the heat and humidity of September in Mumbai, a small, white organism grew inside the walls of The Sahil Hotel on Behram Road. The walls were made to resist mold and most fungal growth, yet this persisted. It concentrated most heavily inside Room Two-Twenty-One which had gone unused and uncleaned for a week before being given to Joseph Patel, a business man out of New York in the United States. When he’d gotten the room, he complained that it smelled musty.

That morning, three cleaning women went in while he was out at a meeting and aired it out. They did not notice the spores that floated in the sunlight, mistaking them for dust. Laboring for nearly an hour, they managed to mask the smell that had offended Joseph Patel. When he returned that afternoon, the whole room smelled of lavender and pine and he slept soundly all night.

On the third morning of his stay, Joseph woke in the middle of the night with a headache and he felt like his sinuses was packed with cotton. He took an aspirin and went back to bed. He woke again before dawn and felt a cold coming on. Cursing his luck, he listed every person he met with this week and decided to lay the blame on Andil Vuschel, the salesman from Eramal. Andil had been sneezing through his entire presentation and didn’t cover his mouth once.

Joseph packed his bags and made an early start for the airport. Continue reading

36 Hours – Part 9

We are back on the front line. I sit on the firing step with my back to the reinforced support of a dug out. I’ve smoked the cigarette of my life and enjoy the feeling of calm it settles on me. My lungs are burning but after the pain of my wounds, I hardly notice it.

Kat is whittling a small figure out of some wood that’s blown into the trench. The lines are crude but shaped with such delicate care that I imagine he’s thinking of his sister. She wanted to be a racing champion, even though she wasn’t old enough to ride. When Kat and I used to play cards of any sort in his room, she would come in and announce she was going to be champion of them as well. Continue reading

36 Hours – Part 5

He is aiming a rifle at us. I don’t know where my rifle came from, but perhaps in the confusion I’d picked it up. I fire once, almost blindly. A hole appears in the man’s chest and he falls face first, landing with a sickening crunch in the mud below. I stare at him, his hands splayed before me as if prostrate, his backside high in the air, his neck bent in an impossible angle and the blood that runs like a river into the muddy water.

Kat touches my arm but the attack is on us. More Johnnies crest the trench, firing and throwing hand bombs. The crack of rifle fire cuts down several of them right in front of us before they can fire, while others leap into the trench to escape. Kat is on them quickly, working with his knife. Continue reading

36 Hours – Part 4

The man next to Shiod dies. He is hit by a shell that explodes not a meter from us. In an instant we are covered in dirt. It comes over us like an ocean’s wave. My ears and mouth are especially vulnerable and are filled. Kat digs me out and I, gasping and spitting, help Shiod. Vanmere is spared from the whole of it by a stroke of luck.

The dead man lay where he’d previously stood, but only his lower torso and legs remain. The rest is gone, blown away in a blast that leaves the rest of us shaken but otherwise unhurt. I stare until Kat shakes me back to myself.

“Goliath!” Continue reading

Icarus: Epilogue – August 9th, 2143 Subjective/August 9th, 2145 Objective

August 9th, 2143 Subjective/August 9th, 2145 Objective

AFTER ACTION REPORT #452
SYSTEM REPORTING: ALPHA CENTAURI; PRIMARY ALPHA
COMMAND: CSS PERSHING, 4TH FLEET
CO: 06 CPT KILLIAN, JAMES

The wreck discovered orbiting Alpha Centauri’s dwarf planet EISIN B is confirmed to be the North American Expeditionary Science Vessel Icarus. Presumed lost over fifty years ago, rediscovering the wreck will shed some light on the NAEF’s Time-Vortex technology. Following the Collapse, much of it was lost.

It appears that the ship collided with an asteroid approximately the size of a human fist at roughly one-third the speed of light. A good chunk of the forward hull was ripped away by the force of the collision. My tech officer also reports that the ship was outfitted with a type of ablative armor, though most of it seems to have been burned away.

Three crew members were recovered from the wreck, all three remarkably well preserved. They all appeared to have died of exposure, though tests will be run once we return to Earth. We simply do not have the facilities aboard the Pershing to examine them here. In the meantime they’ll be put in cryo freeze for the return trip.

We also recovered a portable computer terminal. It was found on one of the less preserved bodies and exposure has all but destroyed it. Perhaps something will be recoverable, though the technology is rather ancient. Our IT department will have a field day with it I’m sure.

For now the Pershing will be returning to Earth immediately. Once she hears about this, we’ll be made to come straight home anyway. I hope they can discover what made the Icarus operation such a failure. From what I hear, they fell off the grid the moment they went into the Vortex. Poor bastards.

Well, at least now their families might get some closure after all these years. Most have forgotten perhaps but if I know Sarah… well she won’t. Fifty years and she finally convinced the Council to send a ship here.

I’d love to hear her story some day. Seventy and can still boss around a Confed Council, no wonder she never married.

THE END

Icarus – May 1st, 2099

May 1st, 2099

How do you say goodbye to life? As it turns out, you do it as quickly as possible. My computer’s power is all but gone and I have just enough to seal away one last entry. It will be encoded and preserved as best I can, though it won’t matter. This is for me, for both of us for there are two of us: the man I was and the creature I will be.

I am hours away from the radiation kill zone around Alpha Centauri’s primary star. There is a technical name for it but I don’t remember what it is. Once the Icarus crosses that line, I will die. The ablative armor on the ship’s hull will burn away like paper thrust into a bonfire. There is the possibility of being struck by a meteorite, there’s a couple million out there, circling the planets. I didn’t aim the ship to avoid them.

Five minutes. Jesus this isn’t even going to be read. Mom, dad, you won’t even know what happened to me. Sarah? Christ you haven’t talked to me in years, a decade. It’s been a decade since I left Earth, it just doesn’t feel that way.

I came out here to get away from everything, to leave all my pain and my regrets behind. They were beasts, raging at the doors of my sanity. Out here, I thought I’d change. I was too afraid to be happy, to be the man I wanted to be so desperately. Sarah wanted me to be that man, helped and urged me to change but I wouldn’t listen.

I hear her voice, calling me. Finally. I’ve waited so long to come back. It’s the madness, the creature inside me that’s talking but I don’t care. I see a door ahead of me and it leads back to our old apartment. Inside, she’s waiting for me, looking young and beautiful. She’s beckoning and sunlight is turning her short hair to gold and white. Oh, God, if you could only see what I see.

Icarus – April 30th, 2099

April 30th, 2099

What have I done? Sarah will not come to me! She stands on the other side of the sealed doors and turns her back on me! Sarah, oh Sarah, why? I… what have I done to the controls? Why are they broken? What have I done?

The colors are all wrong in here. I must write it down, that’s it. If I write it down, it will be right again. It must be why there are so many locked entries before this. Why are they locked? Why can’t I read my own entries?

She’s looking at me, frowning, pointing. Why? What is she so upset? No! No… please, no…