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Impulsion

A science fiction story about obsession and regret, and what happens when the two meet.

By Jenna CosgrovePublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 13 min read
2

Searchlight Scientific Vessel, 1448 days from Earth.

It looked like a body, the blurred shape that collided with the front of the ship.

I knew it couldn’t be, of course. A human body out there in that shimmering pool of stars, floating in front of the first vessel that had ever made it to this far-flung sector? The idea was absurd.

And yet, it happened too fast to be sure. After it disappeared I stood running scenarios in my head. Maybe a ship had been torn apart a hundred years ago and a hundred sectors away, and this poor body had been drifting across the galaxy ever since.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t a body after all. The mind tends to play tricks in deep space.

My thoughts were interrupted by the screech of the ship’s alarm. Red lights bathed the room in blood. Within a minute there were seven crew on the bridge, their crisp white uniforms brought to the slaughter.

Jackson, our chief pilot, was the fastest. He sat at the controls, board-straight, and quieted the alarms.

“We’re off course,” he said.

“Well?” I said. “Do I need to instruct you on how to fly the ship?”

Jackson just stared at the controls. “We’ve entered the restricted area.”

“That’s not possible.”

Deanne stood on the pulpit reserved for the ship’s custodian, looking down on us with her usual disdain, her thin lips pursed.

“We’re here for observation only,” she said. “Who is responsible for this?”

I stared at the screen. Dominating the view was what we’d come here to investigate—a colossal sphere of blue light, about the size of Jupiter. All around, everything in the area was being pulled towards it. The light pulsed every time something hit its orbit, like it was absorbing the energy into its own universe.

We didn’t know what caused the attraction or how it worked, but it was a mystery we were here to solve with scans and probes—from a safe distance.

Jackson stood, grabbed me by the shoulders. “Cora? What are we going to do?”

I snapped out of it, ran down to his module. There’s always a way to fix things, Cora.

“Get on the thrusters,” I said. “I’m going to pull us around.”

Just a glance at the data told me nothing could be done. But I pointed at Jackson.

“Now!”

The ship shuddered, but it didn’t turn.

“Divert power from everywhere, Erin. I need it all.”

Erin nodded and the room went dark as all the power was diverted to the thrusters.

“Now, Jackson!”

The ship shuddered again. It still didn’t turn.

I looked up at those faces waiting for me to do something to save their lives. But all I could do was state their worst fear.

“We’ve crossed the event horizon.”

Silence in the blood-red air. Seconds ticked by.

“Under no circumstances were we to cross the horizon,” Jackson said. “No ship known to man has the power to escape what the anomaly is putting out.”

Everyone stared at the screen, lost. We were dead and every single one of us knew it.

“Just stay calm,” I said. “I’m going to fix everything.”

1450 days from Earth

Even when I closed my eyes it was all I could see, that globe ablaze against the infinite nothingness of space, the grave that was already marked with our names.

There was no point trying to sleep. Maybe there was something Erin hadn’t thought of, a way to divert more power to the thrusters. She was probably there now, messing it all up.

There’s always a way to fix things, Cora.

I dressed and made my way from my quarters to the bridge, via the main hall.

One of the doors opened and Jackson walked out, pale, sweat drowning his face. I knew that look. As soon as we hit the gravity stream, the radiation meter had blown out—with levels like that, we’d all be Jackson soon enough.

“Do you need Deanne?” I said.

He didn’t reply.

“Take some anti-rad.”

“We have enough for four days each with radiation at this level. It’s pointless.”

He pushed past me, leaving a sweat stain on my uniform. I turned and watched him stumble like a drunkard up the hall.

I quickened my pace to the bridge, wanting the comfort of the captain’s chair and the sense of control it gave.

When I arrived Deanne was in the front chair, looking up at the screen, transfixed. I walked up quietly behind her.

Now we were in the gravitational stream we were one of a million moths drawn to the flame that would singe us out of existence, alongside small asteroids, rocks, and deserts worth of dust. All on the way to our shared fate.

I sat down next to Deanne and glanced over at her, at her beady brown eyes darting from side to side.

“The radiation sickness has started,” I said.

“I’ll pray for us all.”

“You need to euthanize.”

“I’ll decide when that needs to happen.”

“Surely all that Custodian medical training taught you to identify a lost cause.”

She didn’t answer. She looked lost in thought—but Custodians always did, even when their minds were blank.

Deanne never took her eyes off the screen. “ Do you know what the Paradise Isle is?”

“Another Urantian myth?”

“The Book of Urantia tells of the point of the universe where the Holy Father resides, embraced by his Son and the Holy Spirit. That is the Paradise Isle. Surrounding that is the universe as we know it, all rotating around that one point of holiness.” She stopped for a moment, staring up in awe. “I believe I may soon be the first Custodian to ever see the face of the Father.”

Frustration bit at me like bull ants. I’d never been able to stomach the Urantian church and their unbridled power over the population.

“The Father and the Holy Spirit?” I said.

Deanne looked over, caught the tail end of my eye roll. “You don’t hold faith,” she said.

I didn’t. Not in what the church was selling, anyway. Their beliefs were human constructs shoehorned into something they were too small to understand. I didn’t believe the anomaly was paradise or the throne where their god sat and handed down his judgements. It was so much bigger than that. Bigger than she could even fathom.

“I see space debris,” I said. “That’s it.”

Deanne laughed in that condescending way that got right under my skin. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

Her face had a soft blue glow from the screen. It suited her in its coldness.

“The crew are suffering,” I said.

“Suffering brings them closer to the Father.”

She stood and swanned out, robes trailing behind her.

I hated her.

1453 days from Earth

The hall to the bridge was a battlefield. They’d all crawled from their rooms for some reason, preferring the discomfort of hard metal and rough mats. They curled up on the floor or sat against the wall, all pastiness and acrid sweat. Perhaps it made them feel better to suffer together.

From the corner of my eye I saw something move near the bridge—a glint of something. I started towards it.

On my way I almost tripped over Jackson, sprawled across the ground. He leant over, vomited into a bucket. Splashes of bright red spilled over the side.

There’s always a way to fix things, Cora.

I stopped, grabbed a wet cloth sitting nearby and held it to his forehead. My skin touched his and his was like fire.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I’m done.”

“I’ll get Deanne.”

“I’d say I hope you burn for this, but you will soon enough.” He coughed and it sounded like a thousand insects in his lungs. “You are the angel of death.”

He vomited again and I turned away to dry retch. I was saving my anti-rad, metering it out. But I was feeling that pull on my stomach, the cold dread in my skin. Jackson pushed me away and I left him and the smell of death behind.

I stepped onto the bridge and the door closed behind me. The lights cut out. Darkness, apart from that blue glow from the screen.

Something caught my eye again—the glimmer of light. Floating in the air just above me was a twinkling star. Another popped into existence next to it, then another. Soon the bridge was a mini universe, shimmering and alive. The star nearest to me spun and danced and dipped. I laughed a little at its whimsy. It spun again and dropped, directly down onto my arm. I yelped—a star-shaped burn mark was singed into my skin.

I rubbed it, as I watched the other stars dance and dip, all moving towards me. Panic rose inside and I moved away, but they followed. Another dropped down onto my skin, leaving its mark. Then another. I ran, but they were everywhere. They dropped en masse until I was on fire, burning. I heard a scream, realized it was my own—

“Cora?”

I jumped at the sound of Deanne’s voice.

The lights were back on, the stars gone. My skin was unmarked. Deanne stood with that dead look on her face, waiting.

“Go and tend to the crew in the hall,” I said. “I’m going to keep working on the thrusters.”

“Yes, I’ll read them the scriptures.”

I spun on my heel, my glare scorching. Deanne stumbled backwards and I saw fear in her eyes. It made me rush with power.

“Don’t you dare spend their final hours preaching at them. You should have euthanized days ago. Give them the meds and end their suffering.”

She regained her composure and walked out.

I stared after her and the sphere stared after me.

1454 days from Earth

I hadn’t left the bridge in days. The rest of the ship reeked of sickness and death.

I sat in my chair and watched the anomaly pulse brilliantly with light. It was almost too bright to look at now we were close to its orbit, but though my eyes stung I couldn’t look away.

The Paradise Isle, Deanne had called it. Maybe she would see the face of her god, when it all came to pass.

As if summoned by my thoughts, Deanne walked in. She looked about ready to drop—grey, damp, face gaunt as a skeleton. She stumbled over and sat in the chair next to me.

“Erin’s gone,” she said.

I didn’t reply.

“They’re all gone. Erin was the last.”

I saw the stars forming in the air above me. My hands shook on the controls. I turned to Deanne. “Will you give me a blessing?”

She looked taken aback. But she nodded and stood behind me.

She hummed softly, in the soothing monotonous tone of the Custodians. I closed my eyes and let the sound wash over me. She waved her hands over my head—I could feel the slight breeze every time they passed.

Her hum became a chant, in a language I couldn’t understand. The language of the scriptures. I’d never been a believer, but it gave me some sort of comfort and I began to understand what they saw in their faith, as childish as it was.

Abruptly it stopped. Deanne sat down next to me and we both stared at the sphere.

“Do you think the Father would forgive me?” I whispered.

“No.”

My chest burned and I had to find my voice again.

“I thought he forgave everyone.”

“Not you.”

I felt like she could see right through to my soul with those condemning eyes.

We sat there in silence for a time. Finally she spoke.

“I know who you are.”

“The captain of a ghost ship.”

“You were also the captain of the Intrepid. Five hundred souls went to the Father from your hubris.”

As soon as she said the word Intrepid it felt like the air was gone from the room.

The memories crashed into me, from that place on the edge of my mind where they always lay in wait.

The Intrepid, 10 years earlier

The start always came in flashes.

The bridge of the Intrepid, a colonizing station bound for the outer rim of the system.

My crew, lackluster, tired of the grind. Pietro, the navigator. Lana, the lead tech. Essie, the crew chief.

Numbers on the screen. Those damn numbers on the screen.

Pietro saying, “I think we’re bearing too close.”

Me, looking at the numbers flying past, scanning them with a dismissive attitude.

“I’ve flown this route before. We’re on the right course.”

“But Captain —”

“Do you want to show me the section of the crew handbook that instructs you to argue with your captain once she’s given you an order?”

Pietro didn’t speak another word.

Even as we bore too close, just as he said. Even as the asteroid tore a chunk out of the hull.

The sound was like the reaper come to collect on his souls. I knew what I’d done as soon as I heard it. I ran out into the hall, where hundreds of pieces of clothing, paper, personal effects zipped through the air as the ship depressurized.

Lana ran past me towards the living quarters. I yelled at her to come back, but my voice was a creak. Just as she passed the emergency doors they blared and slammed shut. The air on my side settled.

I ran up to the door, looked through the window. Lana ran back and pressed the intercom.

Her hair whipped violently around her face. “Let me back in!”

I shook my head, pressed the intercom button. “The emergency procedures can’t be stopped. They’re designed to protect as much of the ship as possible.”

“There are over five hundred civilians on this side,” she said. “You can’t leave everyone here to die.”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“That’s bullshit. There’s always a way to fix things, Cora. You have to try something.”

I let go of the button and stumbled backwards. Lana screamed into the intercom but I was running now, back towards the bridge. Towards the escape pods.

Sixty of us made it out.

Pietro never spoke another word again.

***

I shook the memories from my vision and the bridge of the Searchlight reappeared—Deanne with her judgmental smirk, the deific sphere blazing on the screen.

“I believe in fate and actions, not coincidences,” Deanne said.

“Why don’t you just say what you want to say?”

“You flew us into the stream on purpose.”

“I set something in motion that’s bigger than both of us. Bigger than this ship.”

“What do you think you’re going to find in there?”

“So much more than what you think. Not the face of a human god, but the center point of all space and time. The very fabric of existence.”

“That’s the same thing.”

“No it’s not. Your Father sits on a starbeam and punishes people for being human. My center of the universe has no judgement and no punishment. Only the desire to put things as they are meant to be.”

“How will it do that?”

“If we can touch it, that very center, I believe I can go back.”

“Back to where?”

“To the Intrepid.”

She looked at me like I was the crazy one. “You can’t change what happened.”

“Yes, I can.”

“The Book teaches us that we must live with our decisions, take life as it presents. You’ve sacrificed your entire crew because you can’t accept the past.”

“When we go back, it will undo all of it. This crew, the Intrepid. Their suffering will never have happened. I’m going to fix everything.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Call it faith.”

Deanne’s face twisted in rage. I stood. I’d taken more than my share of anti-rad now and I was holding up much better than she was.

She could see that, but she lunged at me anyway. I grabbed her by the shoulders, stared into her eyes. There was nothing but madness there. I shoved her down towards the end of the console and there was a dainty crunch as her skull shattered against it. Her body slumped down on the floor, blood pooling.

Finally, it was quiet.

There’s always a way to fix things.

1459 days from Earth

It took eleven days to reach it, almost to the hour. I’d run out of anti-rad and I was struggling to stay conscious as the O2 constantly malfunctioned. But I fought it with everything I had.

The entire screen was brilliant blue now and I had to put the filter shield down to not be scorched by it. Right in front of the ship was the anomaly’s orbit and everything that touched it spun away fast, streaking with light.

I was there. Seconds to go. I braced myself.

As soon as the ship touched the orbit, it convulsed in a death throe.

The electronics buzzed to their graves. The O2 failed. All I had was what was in the room, but it didn’t matter—soon it would be over, one way or another.

Light blazed through the shield. A sound like waves crashing, turned to an orchestra, turned to a soul-crushing screech. My feet lifted from the floor—then I looked down and saw the floor no longer existed. Every part of the ship detached from itself and hurtled away.

I was completely exposed, unsuited, in space. But I wasn’t dead. Why wasn’t I dead? It’s like time here had stopped completely.

It had only been a hundredth of a second, surely, but in that hundredth I realized I was right. I’d been right the whole time.

I was going back.

Before me, the light pulsed. In the pulse was a face—androgynous and shifting, at once pure rage and pure love.

It picked me up and threw me backwards, a rock in a slingshot. I exhaled for the last time and my eyes closed.

The final sensation I was aware of was my body colliding with something solid, and the warm knowledge that it hadn’t been for nothing.

1448 days from Earth

It looked like a body, the blurred shape that collided with the front screen of the ship.

I knew it couldn’t be, of course.

Sci Fi
2

About the Creator

Jenna Cosgrove

I write science fiction stories about the complexity and darkness of the human mind, heart, and soul. My short stories have appeared in genre publications such as Aurealis, and my screenplays have won major contests globally.

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