Conduit, Part I [short story]

By Corissa Haury

Flight is a mad and dangerous thing. Thought Saul, as the ship approached the system gate. That’s what makes it so much fun. He enjoyed being at the helm of a ship, sailing out amongst the burning stars into the void. The small panel in front of him blinked in different places, ancient Greek symbols above some buttons. Others were numbered alongside the scaled controls. One through 12. One through 25.

The ship needed little help to fly or go where it was supposed to, but in this case they were taking the machine out into a solar system where no one had ever been. No one from Home, anyways.

“Saul?” A voice echoed down the corridor behind the cockpit. A young man swung through the doorway, looked out past Saul into the murky blackness as they approached the new system gate. “We gonna be ready to strap in soon?” Jack came into the small cabin. Buttons, switches, and glass panels covered the walls of the cockpit. He sat down in the co-pilot’s chair.

Saul grunted. “Obviously.” His wrinkled face moved, an imperceptibility.

“Good.” Jack looked out at the gate. It turned, a giant hoop suspended in space, spun perpetually. Lighting strips along the outside burned through the black of space. This helped starships determine the edges that fenced the massive chunk of space they were able to pass through. Beside the gate, Jack saw the way station’s center spin also, a creation of gravity within the station. The system gate glowed in the darkness. Far beyond it, galaxies, star clusters, and supernova lightyears away twinkled in the bosom of the universe.

“All those different galaxies n’ star clusters n’ nova might as well be myths. They’re so far away, they’re like pretend.” Said Jack.

“Yet here we are, about to go to one of them.”

“Which one do you think it will be? Do you think we will make it back this time?”

“You know I hate guessing.”

“Right.” Jack grinned, watched Saul watch the console. “You don’t believe this is a guessing game.”

“They’ll program the gates one of these days.” Saul grunted. “It’s a science game. Got nothin’ to do with myths.”

“But it does have to do with chance.”

“Devil’s advocate.” Saul growled. “Better tell the women and children to strap in.”

“Don’t let ’em hear you say that.” Laughed Jack.

“Hear you say what?” A teenager popped his head through the small doorway.

“Some’in about all the smut you stashed on my ship.” Saul’s face was deadpan. The skinny boy flushed. His pointed features glowed with embarrassment.

“I would never do such a thing.” He attempted to rebut.

Saul turned his face away towards the brightness of the universe, just outside the windshield. He grinned to himself, his lips curled back like an ape’s, and released his broken teeth. Davey shuddered.

“Come on Davey.” Said Jack. “Let’s sit down, get strapped in.”

“Is it time?” A woman appeared in the corridor beyond the cockpit. She tipped her head to the side, and smacked her lips. She wore a jumpsuit that was passport blue; a tool belt hung lazily from her wide hips. Her hair was black, pulled back into two short ponytails. The rest of it had fallen out of its poorly controlled bands. It was tucked behind her ears at her leisure, a sign of her cosmetic carelessness.

“Yes.” Answered Jack.

“Great.” Said Abi. “I’ll be in the engine room.” She wiped her hands on a grease cloth, and walked down the aluminum hallway. Her heavy boots clumped along the grated floors towards the engine room, on the main level of the ship.

“Come on, kid.” Jack looked at Davey, and gestured down the hallway towards the row of flight seats at the back of the starship.

“Can’t I stay up here with Captain Saul?” Davey asked. “I want to see when we go through the gate.”

Jack turned to look at Saul. Saul still had his back to both of them, his chair swiveled towards the windshield. He watched the gate approach.

A voice came over the radio in the dashboard.

“This is WS 12, control tower 4. WS 12, control tower 4. Explorer Class #73, Seagull, approaching system gate 12. Seagull, report your status.”

“I don’t care.” Snarled Saul to the others.

“Figure it out, and sit your asses down fast. We’re about to go through.”

Jack shoved Davey into the passenger seat behind Saul, so he could peek over the old man’s shoulder into space.

“Buckle up.” He said. Then he grinned as Davey glared at him, and sat down in his own chair beside Saul. Jack looked down at the console. He barely recognized any of the controls, after all this time on the ‘Gull.

Saul snapped a toggle switch on the radio, spoke into the wire covered mic. “Explorer Class #73 reporting to Way Station 12, Seagull approaching system gate 12. Permission to enter.”

Some lights flashed on one of the control towers on WS 12, the station Jack had observed a few minutes ago. Saul knew what they meant.

“WS 12 to Explorer Seagull, permission to enter is granted. Light chord connection is live and powering on.” The voice of the control tower sputtered through the radio.

The old man went to work on the control panel. The first thing Jack watched him do was reach to a scale based dial, with some characters he did not understand. He assumed they were Ancient Greek.

“Everything’s in Ancient Greek symbols in the mathematician’s world, Jackie.” Saul had said to him once. “And the mathematician’s world is the engineer’s world. Or vice versa, really.”

“Everything’s in Dead Latin in the astrodoc’s world.” Jack had replied, and they had laughed about how strange it was that humanity still clung to those old things. Those things that reminded them of the Home system, of the long ago when man crawled but one planet.

Dials turned and switches flipped. The engines behind the ship were rumbled to life, a high, whining sound. The turbines danced to a faster pace. The ‘Gull was small, originally made to hold a crew of eight. Only five had come on this exploratory mission. No need to risk more than was necessary.

“System gate 12 is on. Light sequence initiated. Stand by until you cannot count the light strands any more.” The radio voice commanded.

Saul was annoyed. “Ain’t my first gate.” He growled.

Jack and Saul and Davey watched as system gate 12 kicked into gear. As the Seagull prepared to jump through one of the billions of chords of the light in the universe, the gate’s circular, flickering lights began to twist and spin, faster, and faster. Streaks of lightning spat forth from the edges, connected in a criss-cross web of light, and electricity.

Davey swallowed, hard. He felt a lump in his throat as the ‘Gull propelled itself forward. The light strands shot, sparked, connected and twirled in a web of dangerous-looking lightning. Jack felt his heart beat against his seatbelt. He noticed that he was gripping the arms of his bucket seat, that he held his breath. He looked over at the boy. The kid’s face looked yellowish. He’s going to hurl. Thought Jack.

“Grab that bag under your chair and put it to your mouth.” Jack commanded. Davey looked at him. He nodded, dazed and sick. He grabbed the bag from under his chair, and held it to his face.

Saul grinned.

“Explorer Seagull cleared for takeoff.” The radio voice said. Finally Saul put his hand to the biggest throttle of all. It was so big even his withered, strong phalanges looked like the outstretched fingers of a child, grabbing a seesaw handle for dear life. He wrapped them around the cold metal, pushed the throttle up, up, up, to a big dash with a number 12 beside it.

The ship lurched forward. All three of the humans in the cabin felt themselves pushed back against their seats by the force of the ‘Gull’s jump forward. The lights of the universe streaked past them as they jolted towards the gate.

Lightning leapt out, seized the ship, wrapped around it, sucked it inward. It passed the object through itself into another solar system on the other side. Everyone on board felt a moment of muffled silence. Those who looked out portholes and windows saw strips of light chords streaking by outside for 1.72 seconds. A blink of light from system to system. An eerie wave of fear shot through every mind on board.

All the stomachs lurched with sickness. Their whole bodies had been jostled, transported. Four of the five people on board had done this before. Davey hurled. The ship jerked. The ‘Gull, Explorer Class #73, had made it to the other side.

“Well.” Saul still gripped the throttle. He eased it back to a safer speed.

“Well, indeed.” Jack unbuckled his seatbelt and stood.

Davey leaned over his vomit bag.

“Come on, kid.” Jack put a hand on the teenager’s shoulder. “Let’s get you to the Medic Room. This is completely normal.”
Davey hung his head between his legs.

Saul pushed a few buttons on the dash, and looked out the windshield at where they had arrived.

“Come on.” Jack coaxed. Davey stood, glaring at him.

“You could have warned me.” He said.

“It’s just a little vomit.” Jack smiled. “Not bad for you at all.”

“Not great, either.”

Jack sighed. Davey followed him out of the cockpit and directly left. There was a spiral staircase down to the lower deck. Jack descended, and Davey after him.

Saul was surprised by the way this solar system looked. From what he could see, there were three visible planets in his immediate proximity. Usually there were more in a system. Once he had seen a singular planet, but even that was unusual. Each star had a collection of friends it gathered over the years.

He let out a sigh, looked down at the cupholder on his bucket seat. He grabbed his diet soda can, and popped the top open. Still the same crackle and fizz as when I was a kid. He thought.

He checked the rear cameras. Nothing so far. He could not see where they had entered the solar system, but somewhere behind them there was a natural entrance to the light chord they had traveled on. We’ll have to look for it when we came back. For the time being, to mark their spot, he pushed a switch. A small hatch opened on the top of the ship and released a small probe droid.

“There you go, little doggy.” He watched the little machine depart to mark the approximate spot through the rearview cameras.

He looked at the nearest planet and engaged in mental speculation, based on previous experience. It was green. Very green. He wondered what the atmosphere would be like. Likely their astrobotanist, Susan, would have some ideas when she saw it. Where is she? Not much longer until we reach it. He sipped his cola. The acidic carbonation burned his esophagus a little. Heartburn.

Saul switched on the ship’s intercom. “Dr. Maarten, come in. Main flight cabin to Dr. Maarten.”

He watched the planet getting closer.

“Suze?” He growled on the radio one more time. “Jack, come in.” He pushed the intercom for the Medic Room. “Jackie, respond. Davey, you there?”

Saul looked down at the panel. All the blinking indicators and glowing lights looked normal.

Why aren’t they answering? He wondered.

“Goddamn intercom.” He huffed aloud.

Something probably happened to the wiring when we went through the gate. He guessed. Saul stood from the flight chair and set some automatic controls to let the ship go into orbit when it reached the green planet. Hopefully there ain’t any aliens ready to kill us all.

Saul downed the last of his cola and stepped into the hallway.

To Be Continued…

Ridiculous, curious, most likely delirious.

I love a great story, whether it comes in the form of words or visual stimuli. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I love to share mine.

Please feel free to read along, comment, share your own stories, or send me a message via the contact page. Thanks for your time reading my words.

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