And now, presented for your enjoyment, the third and final installment of a short story featuring the origin of one of my central characters in Exodus: Empires at War. I will present this story in three parts. Anyone interested in reading the story in its entirety can go to my website, Imagination Unlimited, or directly to the story page at Exodus Shorts. The story can be downloaded in Word, PDF or Kindle format. Or you can see all of my books at my Amazon Book Page.
Refuge: Book 3: The Legions is currently out on Amazon. If you like Exodus, you will probably like Refuge. If you don’t like either one, you probably shouldn’t be reading my work. And now, the first installment of What’s Eating You. Exodus: Book 4 will be out in the next week or so.
What’s Eating You?
Universe six hundred and one was an unmitigated disaster. The day started off ordinarily enough. The last twenty-five openings by this team had been uneventful, or as much as opening a portal into another reality could be called such. Twenty-one of them had been Universes of nothing but academic interest, not capable of supporting their form of life. Four had the proper physical laws to allow carbon based organics to survive. They just didn’t contain anything that could be properly called matter. One was an antimatter Universe, while one was made up, as far as could be told, of negative matter. That would have been useful as the source of a scarce resource, if that Universe hadn’t been empty for millions of light years past the portal, and there seemed to be no dimensions of hyperspace to use to get to the negative matter. Only the characteristic radiation of negative matter reactions gave an indication of what lay across those millions of light years.
“Are we ready?” asked Dr. Rodrigue, looking at the holo of the chamber that showed the black hole ring ready to go.
“As ready as we’ll ever be,” whispered Lucille under her breathe, wondering what might come out of this particular rabbit hole. I have a bad feeling about this one, she thought, trying to hold her hands steady. She didn’t think she was precognitive, like some members of the Imperial family were said to be. She had never had a vision before. But last night she had suffered through a dream that showed something dark was waiting for her. And her mind could think of no darker place than the holes they were opening up into other realities.
“Open her up,” yelled Rodrigue.
Lucille glanced back at the man, and could tell that he didn’t feel at ease either. Too many uneventful openings recently. So now he’s waiting for the other rock to fall. She looked around the room, seeing tension everywhere. In the set of shoulders, the roaming of eyes. This can’t be real, can it? she thought. I’m a scientist. This is just a feeling. It’s not real.
Despite the rational thinking the disquiet grew. The holes moved away from each other, ripping the space apart. As the hole opened what was revealed was anticlimactic.
“It’s another null,” said one of the techs with a sigh.
Yu nodded her head, feeling the same relief. The hole was black, the complete absence of light. There should have been no radiation coming from that hole to a Universe that had no matter. But when she looked at the readings she hissed in her breath. There was a lot of radiation coming out of that hole, more than had been coming out of any other but the new Universe they had opened a half year ago.
“We’re getting unknown radiation,” called out the tech who was monitoring the chamber instrumentation.
“What do you mean, unknown?” called out Rodrigue, standing up and walking over to the tech’s console.
“There are fast moving particles,” said the tech, looking up with a frightened expression on her face. “But they don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen.”
“Electromag field to maximum,” called out the senior scientist, turning toward the scientist in charge of the defense team.
“It’s at full,” said the tech that Rodrigue was standing over. “But the particles are still coming through.”
“My God,” gasped Lucille, looking at the holo image that showed what shouldn’t have been possible. The darkness was moving out of the portal, like a liquid or gas made of pure black absorbing, something. And she could feel something there, some intelligence that was intent on coming through the opening. An intelligence that was hungry, and sensed what it needed in their Universe.
“What the hell,” yelled out one of the techs as the blackness spread through the portal chamber.
“It’s alive,” said Lucille, feeling the evil of the thing through some kind of connection. “And it’s coming to eat our Universe.”
“That’s impossible,” said Rodrigue, running over to her console, his eyes locked on the holo. “It’s just some kind of physical phenomenon.”
Lucille looked in the man’s eyes and could tell that he was whistling past the graveyard. He knows it’s more than that. He just doesn’t want to admit it.
“Close the portal,” he yelled.
Most of the crew was paralyzed at their stations, held by fright, or possibly something else. There were screams coming over the com link, the exploration team and the marines that were just outside the portal chamber, exposed to the thing even more so than the people in the control room.
“Close the portal,” screamed the chief, running to one of the tech stations and pushing the man out of the way.
The black holes began to move inward, more slowly than they should have. Suddenly they lurched to a halt, pressed against the black substance that was pushing back. Flashes of Gamma indicated that the holes were absorbing some of the substance of the invader, but not enough.
“What the hell is it?” yelled Rodrigue in a panicked voice.
“It is that Universe,” said Yu, knowing she was speaking the truth. “Whatever it is absorbed everything there was in that place, now it’s coming for us.”
“That’s insane,” yelled out another tech.
It is, thought Lucille, staring at the holo as more or the thing came through. How many years did it take to absorb that Universe. How many billions to absorb ours. She looked down at her trembling hand and saw that the veins were standing out on it. Its taking in all the energy it can reach. Our electricity, the electromagnetic fields, even our biological energy. Then it will take in everything that it can. And all that will be left will be the husks, the black holes, maybe neutron stars.
“Why won’t the holes close that damned portal?” yelled Rodrigue.
Lucille couldn’t move her hands on her board. Something in that thing was reaching out and controlling them. Preventing them from linking into any of their systems. Even the chief was doing nothing but sit at a console and yell.
Lucille was already in the link. Her mind was what controlled the system, that opened the portal. Her mind, linked with the computer to perform the equations to open a hole between Universes. And she still had control of that system. It took seconds to run through a dozen simulations, to know what needed to be done. And with a thought she shut off the electromagnetic fields that held the black holes within the cups of the arms. At the same time she overrode all the safety protocols and blew each arm from its wall mounts with the fusion charges placed there for just such a possibility.
The black holes pulled the twelve arms into themselves with a flash of Gamma radiation, each hole increasing its mass by two hundred and fifty million tons. The force of twelve two hundred megaton fusion blasts imparted their momentum to the holes. The holes collapsed together into a much more massive hole. If left on its own it would have fallen into the center of the planet, dooming it to eventual collapse. Fortunately there was someplace else for it to go, through the rabbit hole into the other Universe, pulling the mass of that Cosmos back into itself. The hole closed with a flash, and a sound much like a scream of anger and agony combined coming over the few sensors that had survived the destruction.
It took minutes for the people in the control room to come out of their shock, while the planet around them shook with the vibrations of the explosions and the collapsing space of the portal. Lucille stared at the holo that showed the ruined portal chamber, wrecked at the cost of a half trillion Imperials. And a bargain for saving the Universe, she thought.
“Was that real?” asked Dr. Rodrigue, staggering over to her station.
“It was real,” agreed Lucille, nodding her head. “I wish it weren’t. I thought I didn’t believe in evil. Or hell. And then had both proven to me in one day.”
“Well, it’s gone now.”
“Is it?” asked Lucille, looking up at the man. “It knows we’re here, and it knows the resonance of our reality. I’m sure it will be trying to find a way to get to us.”
“All the more reason to find somewhere we can run to,” said the senior scientist.
Lucille looked at the man in horror, knowing that this project would go on. Maybe to open a portal into someplace worse than what they had seen today. Something that she couldn’t imagine.