At the Edge
Chapter One - Between Galaxies
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space. . .
Or so they say.
Well, what the hell do they know, anyway?
I was born in space, and I've heard enough screaming to last me a lifetime.
The wailing fills this metal tube that I call home and reverberates off the walls, filling the space around me like fluid and pulling at me like a current.
There was a time when this ship was a beacon of hope for everyone on Earth. Swiftly, the Dóchas pushed through the atmosphere and sailed across the skies on her way through the Milky Way, carrying her crew and their hope within her shimmering golden hull like a winged creature.
With the need of an entire galaxy pressing against their backs, the crew of the Dóchas plotted their course, determined to breach the void between the Milky Way and Andromeda and explore the galaxy that would one day consume our own.
It's been thirty-five years since this ship left Earth's atmosphere and twenty years since I was born. It was on my tenth birthday that we finally reached the edge of the Milky Way, and like the others, I was sure that a new world awaited us. A new world, and with it, a hopeful new future with new planets to occupy and just maybe, new people.
But I was wrong. We all were.
Ten years have passed since we reached the edge of our galaxy—the edge of all things sane and real.
Ten years filled with the wailing of those who came to know the truth: There are no new planets or new people, no hopeful future. There is no hope at all. Not for any aboard the Dóchas, nor for any we left behind on Earth.
There is only transformation. A dark and demented deformation of body and soul.
And there is the wailing.
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space. . .
If only it were true.
My parents' interlocked hands pressed into my back softly as they huddled me between them at the front of the crowd. The entire crew had gathered onto the observation deck in anticipation of the countdown, and as I leaned back against my mother's waist, I glanced around at the faces of the scientists and crew members who had filed into the room in eager anticipation. None of us truly expected a perceptible change as we slipped into the space between our galaxy and the next.
Except for the entire course of human history, that is.
Still, we all gathered, full of hope. My mother shifted her weight and nudged me softly, and I tilted my head to the side as she leaned down and pressed her cheek against my own.
"Things will never be the same after today, Cellie."
There was a slight tremble in her voice as she spoke with hoarse eagerness. Her green eyes were always bright, but there was an almost electric sparkle in them that day, and I turned my head to meet her gaze, watching with adoring eyes as she tucked her long, golden curls back behind her ear. Her excitement was contagious, and I leaned my forehead gently against hers, smiling for the first time that day.
"That's what I'm hoping for, mama."
She chuckled softly and brushed her nose back and forth against my own, before kissing me on the forehead and leaning back upward once more and meeting my father's adoring gaze. He pulled her hand up to his mouth, and kissed her palm, before leaning down and gently squeezing my shoulder with his free hand.
"This is the finest moment in human history, Celestine."
"Yes, father," I said respectfully. "I'm very proud to be here."
He grinned down at me with pride and barely concealed excitement, and I knew that my words had pleased him as he kissed the top of my head and wrapped his arm around my shoulders.
I was too young to fully understand the importance of that moment, but as I looked around once more at the faces of the people who had helped to raise and teach me, and as they returned my smile and made excited gestures or mouthed "happy birthday" to me, I began to truly feel the words I had spoken to my father. I was proud to be there that day. Not because of the moment or its importance to Earth, but because I was surrounded by people who had been hand selected to represent an entire planet, an entire galaxy. People who had adopted me as their own. People who had loved me, and whom I had loved in return.
Still, growing up in space had been so dull and monotonous for me, and when I looked out at the velvety darkness that pressed upon the window and scanned the void for any sign that my life would change, I wondered if I would ever get to see the one place I longed to be.
My parents and everyone else aboard the Dóchas had spent their lives searching for an escape from their home planet, yearning to explore the great mysteries that lay beyond Earth's atmosphere, but I had spent my life dreaming of a place I had never been able to step foot upon. I'd seen pictures and movies from Earth, and I could not understand how they could so easily leave it behind.
I longed to feel something soft and organic against my skin, something other than the cold and calculated precision of metal and technology.
Most of all, I ached for a sight other than the endless black emptiness of space. I wanted to see the sun set over the ocean as the moon rose and took its place in the heavens, and I fantasized about seeing the stars as they twinkled in the night sky.
Things don't twinkle in space.
The light travels endlessly, but I can't see it. The darkness just continues on. Indefinitely and unmercifully, it goes on.
I turned my eyes back toward the viewing panel in front of me as the lights faded, and all conversation stopped short as the window suddenly became illuminated by a series of large, green numbers. A loud but brief gasping sound filled my ears as the entire crew inhaled deeply at the same time and shifted their bodies to face the large, glass viewing window. The observation deck had always been my favorite place on the ship, but very rarely had there been anything other than blackness beyond its glass, and I hoped that there would be something truly exciting and extraordinary to see that day. The crew's excitement had begun to infect me, and I found myself holding my breath as well when the first digit changed, and the counter began to tick down to the last one trillionth of a light year.
Even the air around me seemed to fall still, and just before the last number reset to zero, I closed my eyes, and I prayed for change—for new planets and new stars, for solid ground and bright skies. For things that twinkled.
I opened my eyes and echoed the soft exhalation of the entire crew, feeling my parents' breath wash over my scalp as they also allowed their held air to escape. All fifteen hundred of us stared out the window, and as the numbers began counting up, my parents' hands slid down my back slowly, falling limply to their sides. The disappointment in the room was palpable, and I realized that even though everyone had known better than to expect some form of change or welcome as we crossed into Andromeda's space, we had all held onto hope.
Discouragement unlike any I had felt before washed over me, but as I scanned the faces of those around me, the scientists, explorers, engineers, and crew members who had spent decades of their life in expectation of that single moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of pity for them. They had all been dreaming of that single moment long before I had been born, and it was then that I realized that their need for hope far outweighed my own.
Grieved by the disappointment in their eyes, I smiled at my parents, and with all the joy I could muster, I cried out, "well, that was exciting!"
"Yes! It was, wasn't it?" my mother grinned, a knowing yet pleased look washing over her face.
My father simply smiled and reached his arm out to me, patting me kindly on the shoulder. He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out as his face filled with wonder, and he closed his mouth without uttering a word. Muffled cries sounded all around, and I followed my father's gaze back to the window as the shouting grew in volume.
The black void in front of us suddenly lit up with vibrant colors, and a thousand awe-filled gasps sounded out as brilliant hues of blues, reds, and purples danced around the room, causing all to fall into stunned silence.
My heart thundered within my chest as a great sense of awe overcame me. I followed the colors and began walking toward the edge of the glass with my arms stretched out in front of me.
I had prayed for a bright future, and there it was in front of me, twinkling brighter and bolder than any star I'd ever imagined.
For the first time in my life, there was excitement. With my hands flat against the glass, I watched the colors dance across what had only moments before felt like an endless black void of nothingness, and my soul filled with joy and wonder.
The entire crew began to rejoice, crying out with loud bursts of pleasure. We had thought that our transition from one galaxy to the next would be slow and subtle, but it was vivid and abrupt, and it was far more than anything we could ever have imagined.
My father stood next to me, his face graced by the widest smile I'd ever seen on him, and my mother cried out softly, "my god, it's beautiful!"
The words had barely left her mouth when suddenly the glass I was touching began to flex and shudder against my hands as though an invisible body was slamming into it. I cried out and withdrew my hands in horror. Then, the Dóchas herself began to shake violently and moan with great metallic strain, and the golden antennae that stretched high above the viewing panes began to sway back and forth as though they were simple sails caught up in a strong wind.
The numbers on the window flashed wildly and became randomized as the ship accelerated and decelerated rapidly, before coming to an abrupt and violent halt. The sudden movements caused the ship to jerk sideways and shake with such force that the floor became as unreliable as water.
I tried to hold onto my father and maintain my balance, but I lost my footing and fell backwards, slamming hard into the glass. Pain shot through my body and the the glass shook beneath my weight.
My father reached out and pulled me into his arms, holding me against his body as he also struggled to remain standing. There were several shouts for retreat, and a few of the crew members began to run toward the control room, but I could only watch in terrified excitement as the vibrant colors were replaced by a blindingly bright light that seemed to come from every direction and bathed us in white luminescence. The room became unbearably cold, and I could feel my father's hands become as chilled as icicles. The room filled with vapor, and I cried out as my every atom seemed to scream with pain as though my blood had frozen within my veins.
My father's arms wrapped more tightly around me, and his mouth opened and closed repeatedly, but the words failed him. Fear washed over his face as small icicles formed at the corners of his eyes and mouth, and my own tears turned to ice, freezing against my cheeks. I felt my mother's arms also wrap around me, and I closed my eyes and held onto the only words that my father had been able to utter:
"I love you, Cellie."
Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the light disappeared, and the ice melted from my face like tears as the room became instantly warmer. I opened my eyes and watched as my parents blinked their own icy tears away. Slowly, we stood together, and just as I began to feel relief, the Dóchas shuddered, and the lights flickered, before the entire ship lost power.
I stood in utter darkness for the first time in my life. The sound of my own ragged wheezes filled my ears, and my heart pounded painfully against my chest as I reached out for my parents, but their hands were nowhere to be found, and the panic rose within me.
I flinched as the vibrant colors returned and began to dance in front of us, bathing the darkened room in a rainbow of colors, before dividing into sections of brilliantly defined chaos and forming mirror-like panels in the space around the Dóchas.
We stared in stunned silence as the colors retreated into the mirrors and became orderly, systematically arranging themselves within each panel, each one becoming a galaxy.
It was our galaxy—the Milky Way, except that it was distorted, and each panel showed a galaxy more distorted than the last.
"My god!" my mother cried out. "It's like a fun-house."
"Yes," my father agreed with fearful fascination. "Like a house of mirrors."
Their words meant nothing to me, but it was like looking at a hundred mirrors filled with distorted reflections of our own galaxy. It was terrifying. But it was also beautiful.
The ship's alarms began to ring out as the power returned, and the emergency lights flashed overhead, providing illumination. The ranking crew members regained their senses and began calling out instructions, and everyone became filled with renewed vigor, filing out of the viewing room and running toward their posts.
My mother and father pulled me closely behind them as they headed for their own posts in the control room, but just as we were descending the last step into the hallway beyond the observation deck, the Dóchas began to shake and moan once more. The floor shook, and my father pulled me tightly into his arms, bearing the burden of the impact as we were slammed into the wall with the sudden movement. Cries of pain and terror filled the room once more, and we watched in horror as the ship was abruptly pulled sideways toward the first mirrored panel.
The crew again cried out for retreat, but it was too late.
There was no going back.
The world around us, the universe itself, seemed to freeze and shift as the panel closest to us became alive with vibrations, and like helpless debris that is drawn into a black hole, we were sucked inside.
That's when the wailing started.
Ten years have passed since the Dóchas was pulled into a distorted version of our own galaxy. And the deeper inside that broken and twisted mirror that we traveled, the more distorted our own reality became.
And the louder they became.
The distortion infected their minds and bodies, and in their madness, they've wailed.
For ten long years, I have sought the solace of silence, praying for an end to the screaming that fills the endless black void in which I live. I have felt the scream rising within my own throat the closer we get to the next distortion, and I know that if I cannot save us, I will join them in their madness.
The countdown has begun again, and soon, we will be sucked into an even greater distortion.
But I have listened to their cries, and it is within the wailing that salvation lies. This time, I will be ready.
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space. . .
Nobody but me.
© Lena Folkert 2022, All Rights Reserved
Special Thanks to:
- Vocal Creators: Heather Hubler, Mike Singleton - Mikeydred, Cathy Holmes, Gerald Holmes and Steve Lance for their valuable feedback.
- My dear mother and sister for always providing support & encouragement.
- And the folks at Vocal for providing yet another Challenge Prompt which forced me outside my comfort zone.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this first chapter in what I hope will one day be an awesome series.
Mahalo & Aloha,
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About the author
Alaskan Grown Freelance Writer 🤍 Lover of Prose
Former Deckhand & Barista 🤍 Always a Pleaser & Eggshell-Walker
Lifelong Animal Lover & Whisperer 🤍 Ever the Student & Seeker
Traveler 🤍 Dreamer 🤍 Wanderer
Happily Lost 🤍 Luckily in Love
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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