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.

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Icarus – April 9th, 2099

April 9th, 2099

We have a date now. It’s April back on Earth and I can almost picture my old apartment with its large windows soaked with spring rains. I hated it. It was so full of Sarah’s memory that waking up there alone was miserable. Still, I stayed, stayed and pretended that every shadow didn’t make me turn around, thinking I’d see her come home. It was a lie I almost let myself believe, just like the lie I told myself when I came aboard the Icarus. I thought I could start over out here. In space, I’d find myself, become stronger, more… in touch. That’s what she’d wanted, for me to be more in touch.

I wanted to be less in touch today. They’re all dead, all twelve of them over in the other ship. Jennie made me go along and I don’t know why I agreed but I did. It was horrible. Something killed them, vented the pressure on some and the others… God, I don’t know what happened. They were clawed, their skin ripped to shreds in places and torn off in others. It was like an animal had gotten loose but we found nothing, just eleven dead Chinese and one poor Russian. He must have been taken hostage, a scientist taken from one of the watch posts.

Kira brought one of the bodies back to study. There’s something wrong with it beyond the flash freezing and shredded flesh. The eyes were all black, the whites and irises gone completely. There are pustules on his flesh too, like golf ball sized tumors. They’re filled with something liquid, like blood or something. Kira and Anne are going to have a look at them in quarantine in case it’s contagious.

As for me I’m staying in my quarters. Jennie wants to write about the procedure but I have no taste for it. I don’t want to see that body again. It was the eyes. Did all the dead men have those eyes? I can’t remember and I’m so tired I could fall asleep at my terminal. This whole place is one nightmare, so maybe the horrors I dream of will be more pleasant than the waking ones.

Icarus – 2099

2099

We are a decade into the future, relatively speaking. Rich was the one who discovered it after doing a calibration on the standard drives. Most of our power banks were low and recharging, so when he went down to look at them he saw the wear on the systems. From there he was able to determine how long we’d been under.

According to our Cans, we’d only been under for 4.85 years, which the Icarus accounted for. Rich and Evan both assume it was the extra burn time Jim had ordered. We’d traveled beyond the speed of light, causing more Dilation than we’d anticipated. The eggheads at NASA are going to have a field day with this.

If we ever get back.

As for Jim, Alex theorized that it was his metabolism that did it. He was healthier than the rest of us and might have burned off the drug faster. Add in Dilation and it paints a grim picture. The others weren’t convinced, Jennie and I included.

They locked Kate in her Can as a precaution. She was the last one in and something happened to Jim’s injection. Kate wouldn’t tell us what year it was and insisted that the laser systems be readied. The other ship was to be eliminated and our mission to proceed as planned. Well, none of us listened to that. Only she has access to the logistical computer and it is that system that controls our injections. She was the last one in and paranoia did the rest, so she was placed in hibernation.

This entry might sound like the writing of a man in full control of himself, but it’s far from the truth. It’s taken me three hours to write these few words, my fingers shaking with every one. I can still hear Kate screaming when they forced her into her Can and I keep remembering blood on Jim’s door.

They’re going to go over there, to the other ship. Alex thinks there might be survivors but I don’t think it’s possible. How did they get here before us when we burned beyond light speed? What happened to them? I can’t help but think about those stories I read, about astronauts going mad on those long voyages. Has that madness begun here? Already?

I look out my false window, tuning the screen to see the Chinese ship in its slow tumble. Something killed that ship. Everyone on board is dead, I know it. I’ve never felt so sure of anything in my life. They are all dead, and if we go over there…

It’s almost funny that I came here to escape my nightmares. Here, the nightmares grow worse and come to life. Maybe I’m still asleep, locked safely in my Can? I don’t remember dreaming in them during training but we were only in them a short time. Is any of this even real?

Or is this the madness I’d feared?

Icarus – February 4th, 2089

February 4th, 2089

My fingers are trembling as I write these words. The account of what happened in the past 36 hours will never reach Earth in time to affect the outcome of this mission, and I don’t think Jim is going to let me send it out anyway.

We’ve been lied to. Kept in the dark. Mislead. We aren’t the only nation with Time-Vortex drives. The Eastern Coalition has them too. Jim and Kate both knew it or at least knew that it was a possibility. I had a horrible realization then, a reason for the military’s presence on Luna, a reason for them to be chosen instead of a NASA pilot. They’re not here just to pilot the ship, they’re here because they knew about the damned Chinese.

Our logistics computer identified the craft by its burn wake, but by then our telemetry equipment snatched pieces of an outgoing beam. They were going to beat us to Alpha Centauri and Alliance would be out billions of credits. I didn’t need Jennie to tell me about the political strings this would pull. This kind of space race had blood in it.

What unfolded in the wake of that discovery shook me to my core. Jim and Kate ordered Alex and Bree to their posts in Science. Evan and Rich were sent to Engineering. Jennie and me? We were sent to quarters. I don’t know what happened to Anne and Kira.

For an hour we were locked in our cabins, separately. During that time the ship shook several times and I felt the hair on my arms and neck go stiff while my heart seemed to skip a beat. Later, I learned why. The Icarus is outfitted with several gigawatt laser systems, hidden from the entire crew with the exception of Jim and Kate.

And they were fired at the Chinese ship.

Icarus – February 3rd, 2089

February 3rd, 2089

We came out of our burn a full day early.

The morning after we left Neptune we stuffed ourselves into our Cans and didn’t expect to come out again until we’d slipped out of Reality and into the Time-Vortex Tunnel. I’ve never been prematurely ejected from the Can until now and despite this being the slow-ejection, rather than the emergency one, it was still one hell of an experience. An electric current runs through the goop and shocks you fully awake while a flashing red light indicates an ejection situation is imminent. You shove your arm into the tube, there’s a pinch and suddenly the goop is draining and you’re a fish in open air, gasping and heaving the stuff from your lungs. It’s like an exorcism.

Ten naked, squirming, wet adults emerged, hacking and wheezing into Zero-G. If we weren’t all covered in a viscous liquid that resembled strawberry jam, I might have felt self-conscious. We were drawn up into the Science Division and Jim and Kate, our two military pilots, went to the bridge to consult the logistical computer and find out why in the hell we were pulled out early.

Jennie found us some robes and we stood shivering and pale in the stark, blue light of the Icarus’s warm-up illumination. No one said a thing. It was a very profound silence in which no one touched or even looked at one another. We were all thinking the same thing: how damaged are we and how far from Earth?

Jim and Kate returned a few minutes later, still covered in red slime and looking magnificently nude. It was Kate who spoke, her voice strong and trying to sound reassuring. Her words were utterly terrifying.

We are a million miles beyond Pluto and we’ve encountered another ship.

Icarus – January 29th, 2089

January 29th, 2089

I stepped outside today.

The size of the universe will steal your breath away. It’s like being submerged in cold water. It leaves you stunned and gasping. Stupidly, I found myself reaching out toward Neptune, hoping to brush my fingers across the hair-like dust rings but they are thousands of miles away. From out there, the stars are so bright you almost need to turn away. It’s not like back on Earth where they are dim and veiled in smog. Out here, with nothing but emptiness, they are everything: light and hope all in one.

So vast, so beautiful. God she would have loved to see this. She would have been inspired. I can almost feel how she would have felt. Even then as I stood on the arm of the Icarus’s payload crane, the words came into my breast. Had I a computer right then, I might have written volumes.

But I didn’t and when I came back in, I found myself exhausted and weary. Instead of a vast wonder I saw a vast pit of nothingness around me. It nearly made me faint. I shook for hours in my quarters afterward. Even now, my fingers find the act of typing strenuous.

Tomorrow we begin the hard burn to Charon, pushing out past the orbit of Pluto. Some are saying they want to stand there, on the edge of our solar system and stare into infinity. After Neptune, with its roiling vapor clouds and leaking atmosphere, I am not sure I want to see that. Part of me longs for that feeling of inspiration and wonder, and the other fears that great void of unknown.

Jennie is coming by. We plan to drink an entire bottle of the horrid wine we have on board. She didn’t like the sensation either and suggested we try and sleep it off, together. Even if it’s cheap and set up because of our psychological profiles, there will be solace there with her.

Already we are moving away from Neptune’s orbit. As I write this, Triton is coming into view. It spins opposite of its mother planet, something I find endearing. There is atmosphere on Triton, thin and toxic but it’s there. I hold up a hand in farewell and I imagine it does the same with spouts from its nitrogen geysers.

I turn toward the door and away from the darkness as she knocks.

Icarus – January 28th, 2089

January 28th, 2089

We entered the Cans this morning. Yesterday was taken up by last minute adjustments to the propulsion and guidance systems. Jennie just thinks it’s a nervous technician crew wanting to say goodbye to their baby one last time. I’m tempted to agree with her.

So instead it was this morning that we floated down the tunnel to our acceleration coffins. I slid into mine, stripped and stored my clothes, and strapped in. Once ready, the Can sealed automatically. I placed my arm in the injection tube and grasped the rod within, telling the computer system I was ready for my shot. Unlike the needles given by nurses back home, this was quick. One good pinch and my body felt like it was swelling right up. At the same time, the Can filled with that lovely goop. It wasn’t long before I lost track of time. Breathe in. Breathe out.

If there was a sensation to look out for when we entered the Time-Vortex tunnel I didn’t notice it. I felt like I was in the Can for less than a minute before it began emptying. Those scientists are a real wonder, measuring your injections just right so as the goop goes away, you begin breathing air again.

We’d arrived at Neptune, or rather, a couple thousand miles from Neptune. After getting dressed and cleaned up we herded into the Science Division and Jimmy, Captain Anders, took us up to the observation deck. It’s small, barely big enough to cram all ten of us in there, and has an actual view port. The panoramic screen closes when not in use, shielded with ablative armor. When we opened them, we looked straight at Neptune with her thin rings and distant Triton. The other small moons looked like dust motes in the black. Beyond them? Nothing.

Have you ever stood on the edge of a massive chasm and looked down, unable to see the bottom? It does something to you, gives you a sense of vertigo and helplessness that threatened to reduce grown men to tears. There is fear in that kind of darkness, fear of falling forever to your death, only that death may never come.

That is how I felt today.