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The Silent Scream

The Omen

By John CoxPublished 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 14 min read
I stared at her in fascinated horror, as if seeing my reflection in an alternate dimension.

When I was a girl, my grandmother told me a story about meeting a phantom version of herself when she was a young woman walking through the wood near her home. ‘A doppelgänger?’ I asked, but she shook her head fiercely no.

‘It was my spirit that I saw,’ she replied, ‘a Vardøger. She walked hand in hand with a handsome man I had never seen before.’ With tears in her eyes, she said, ‘A Vardøger is a good omen, not bad like a doppelgänger. I did not meet the man I saw with my spirit self until three years later. He was your grandfather, Bea.’ Pausing to wipe the tears from her eyes, she smiled. ‘He died before you were born. I wished you could have known him. He was a sweet man.’

It was the first memory to return after reviving from Cryo, but unhappily, it was not the last.

Gemma warned me that cryogenic preservation changes a person, but I only skimmed the consent form prior to entering the chamber in preparation for the launch into deep space. Once revived, I experienced every major side-effect listed on the form save for death: amnesia, loss of sensory perception, immobilization and vertigo.

No one can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, but I screamed soundlessly till my vocal cords were raw, the agony while the plasma pumped back into my veins inexpressible.

At the end of the hours long process, I did not remember the mission; I could not see, hear or move, terror of the void haunting me until I finally heard Dante’s comforting baritone three days later and wept with relief. Even now, I reexperience the white and soundless void nightly in my dreams till the remembered pain awakens me with a start.

But the day I heard a woman’s voice shriek in terror outside of Circe’s titanium hull, my neat, scientific world shattered into hundreds of mismatched pieces.

A moment later Dante warned me to strap in and brace for collision. As I fastened my lap belt and shoulder harness, the ship shook several times in rapid succession.

With Circe in a high orbit of roughly thirty thousand kilometers around our mission objective and traveling several thousand kilometers per hour, Dante’s maneuver options were dependent on the warning time prior to impact. But the radar had failed to identify the threat until it was already too late. The next object struck the ship with sufficient force that Circe began to wobble. My heart in my throat, I yelled “What the hell, Dante! How did Circe’s radar not see that coming?”

But he only repeated “Brace for impact,” and we were struck hard again, the wobble increasing still more. The third strike hit us a few seconds later and the Circe began to spin.

“Firing aft and port thrusters,” was Dante’s only comment as he worked to prevent the orbit from decaying to the point that we would breach the atmosphere at an angle that would almost certainly lead to our deaths.

As I prayed to Saint Jude, Dante mechanically announced “Twenty-thousand kilometers,” and again a few minutes later “Ten-thousand kilometers,” as warning bells began to sound and I resisted the temptation tell Dante how to do his job.

When the thrusters finally slowed and straightened the Circe into a low orbit of roughly five hundred kilometers, I waited till my nerves calmed sufficiently to ask him why the impact warning was late.

“Reviewing imagery prior to impact,” was his only comment for the next several minutes.

“Well?” I finally asked in exasperation.

“Radar detected the objects at approximately seven point three seconds before impact.”

“And before that?”

“There was nothing before that.”

“But something was there before that, right?”

“There was nothing before that.”

“What does that even mean?”

“At seven point three zero one seconds there was nothing; at seven point three seconds there was something.”



“Did Circe’s instrumentation record the scream that proceeded the impact warning?”

“Sound does not carry in space, Bea. You know that.”

“So, I imagined it?”

“Only three weeks have passed since your revival from the cryogenic preservation. Until you fully recover your sight, side effects may include auditory hallucinations.”

“How is hearing what cannot be heard in space different from objects suddenly materializing in our path?”

Instead of answering, he changed the subject. “Communications are down.”

There is nothing that either one of us can do about that for now. I need the full return of my vision and former energy prior to attempting a spacewalk to inspect the Hull for damages or to make any repairs. Although I prodded him for additional information regarding the nature of the objects that struck the ship he declined to speculate.

Unstrapping from the seat, I stood and began to walk gingerly across the floor grid, carefully sliding my booted foot till it locked in place and then repeating the process with the other boot. “One step,” I grunted. “Two steps.” The process is exhausting. It is much easier to use the absence of gravity to float about the main cabin, but I need the exercise in order reduce my recovery time.

It took two weeks of cognitive therapy before I experienced my first unassisted memory of Gemma. Remembering her frank and jolly gaze, I could not help but laugh. She was so at ease while I was such a tangle of nerves.

What will I do without her? In the quiet stillness of my cabin, I remember the warmth of her embrace as if she were the sister I always wished for but never had. At others, my skin pricks with sensual desire, the memory of the tender pressure of her breasts upon mine rousing long suppressed desire. But more than either of those, I’ve always felt in her arms the steadfastness of a true friend, someone who would never betray me as so many others have done.

When I learned that I was assigned to the advance party for the mission and Gemma to the main body, it was one of the worst moments in my life. I tried to tell her before I left that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. As we clung together and wept, I prayed that Gemma would say the words that I could not. If she had led in this, I would have followed her to the ends of the universe. Was she waiting for me to lead or are her feelings for me only those of a dear friend?

When Dante allowed me to play the messages Gemma had sent while I was in Cryo, my heart lodged in my throat during her third and final message when she said the main body departure was delayed and mission command had not committed to a new launch date.

I wept aloud each of the many times I listened to it. When I told Dante it must be a mistake and demanded that he let me play the other messages from her, he seemed embarrassed for me and he’s not even human. Now I fear that I will never experience the touch of Gemma's lips on mine or hold her in my trembling arms again.

Gemma once told me that the sole significance of time is founded on an existential preference for one moment over another. But I could not imagine finding any lasting pleasure in any moment without the hope of seeing her at the end of each day.

Of the five crew members aboard the Circe, I was the only one to revive from Cryo. Dante will not confirm whether they have died or some small hope to revive them later still remains. How we can accomplish our mission now I cannot imagine.

But when I awoke this morning, I noticed the difference in my vision almost immediately. For three weeks my vision was awash in meaningless color and light, my visual cortex incapable of giving my environment meaning or coherence. But as I opened my eyes in my hammock, I could make out features in my sleeping berth even though they were still blurry. Too excited to strap on my unwieldy boots, I slipped out of the hammock and floated across the room. Once I entered the main cabin, I cheerfully greeted Dante before he could scold me for not walking.

As I floated toward the viewing port I turned playful somersaults like a little child. But when I grasped the port’s ledge to steady myself, my brow wrinkled in confusion. Instead of the red planet I had expected, the planet five hundred kilometers below us was aquamarine; its surface covered by water from one far distant horizon to the other.

Anguish washed across my flesh in a violent wave of heat, like a huge weight pressing downward on my chest. Passing out, I do not know how long I floated unconscious at the port. When I revived, my head gently brushed the floor as my feet faced the terrifying blue below. Pushing the floor with my palms, I righted myself.

Confronting Dante, I tried to remain calm but in truth I was dizzy with rage. “Why aren’t we orbiting Mars?”

“What a strange question, Bea. Why would we go to Mars when Proxima B is the mission?”

My body trembling, I blurted – “Where in heaven’s name is Proxima B?”

His voice filled with seeming concern he replied, “Am I correct in assuming that you do not remember the mission parameters?”

“Goddamn you Dante! Where are we?”

“I apologize, Bea, I do not wish to offend. Proxima B orbits Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to Earth.”

Pulling my head defensively toward my knees, I pinched both thighs as hard as I could, hoping to prevent the darkness from overcoming me a second time. In a flat voice I asked, “How far is Proxima from Earth?”

“Four-point-two light years.”

My insides growing hot and perspiration beginning to bead on my forehead, I asked in a weak voice “When did the main party leave?” But Dante did not know. He had not received any communication from mission command since the second year of the journey. When he told me yesterday that our comms were down, he did not bother to mention they had not worked for over seven thousand years.

Everyone I have ever known is dead. If the main party mission was canceled or Gemma pulled from it, she is dead as well. I believed the news would break me, but instead my flesh tingled as if my entire body was losing feeling. Floating in trembling exhaustion, I lost consciousness a second time. When I awakened later, I would have considered taking my life if I had the energy for it. Instead, I retreated to my hammock for two days without eating.

I think I finally understand why the cryonic revival of the other crew members failed. What I do not understand is why mine had against all odds succeeded. In my mind, the likelihood of a successful revival after such a timespan was staggeringly small. It seems a miracle that anything in the Circe functions at all.

Although I slept very little during those two days, I had three recurring dreams of the Circe encountering a derelict ship above Proxima B. The first time I dreamt it, I realized as our ship closed the distance between us that the derelict was the identical twin of the Circe. As I donned a space suit to enter its twin, I awakened in surprise. The dream had felt so real that I was overcome with the strange sense that I had seen not the Circe’s twin, but its future.

The second time the dream was essentially identical to the first, ending as I prepared to board the derelict. But the third time, the dream began as I stepped into the darkness of the twin ship’s main cabin, the lamp atop my helmet sweeping the stillness within until I saw an astronaut in an identical space suit standing in deep shadow. Slowly approaching the figure, I stopped when my lamp weakly illuminated the face within the helmet. But when she turned to face me, I stared at her in fascinated horror, as if seeing my reflection in an alternate dimension. Then I awoke with a terrified intake of breath.

My grandmother’s story returned forcefully to mind after awakening from the third dream, my skin tingling with a combination of fear and anticipation. “My Vardøger,” I whispered, both of my hands trembling. But it was only a dream. Fear kept me awake for a long time, but my exhaustion eventually overcame my thoughts and I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

The morning of the third day, I arose and walked to the ship’s galley to eat. When Dante greeted me, I surprised myself by saying hello. After I finished eating, he asked me to examine images he had taken with the Circe’s bow camera. Within the field of view of the camera, the Circe’s hull was pock marked in several places, but one in particular drew my interest. In the curve of the bow, I could see that an object with perpendicular surfaces like the corner of a large box had imprinted the titanium surface. Gasping in surprise I exclaimed, “We were hit by a manmade object!”

“It looks like something or someone made it,” Dante agreed.

On one small dent, the camera had managed a closeup and I could see a small piece of metal embedded in the hull. “What do you suppose that is made of?”

“When you are strong enough to inspect the hull, you can go out and retrieve it and we can find out.”

“I’m ready now,” I answered breathlessly.

But before the argument had even begun, Dante’s attention was diverted by a warning of a large object moving in a synchronous orbit with the Circe. “Strap in Bea. I need to maneuver the Circe into a higher orbit to avoid a collision. Since the viewing port faced the object as we sped passed it, I gasped in surprise. It was the derelict ship from my dreams. All thought of convincing Dante to approve a spacewalk fled my thoughts.

Since the ship was traveling at roughly half our speed, we passed it twice before the bow thruster had slowed us enough to attempt docking. As we closed the gap, I held my breath as I recognized Circe’s contours. Dante docked with the ship without comment and I found myself wondering if I was still in my hammock asleep as the Circe’s hull trembled, the ports of the two ships locking together.

Dante scanned the derelict for life for over an hour. When he finally said, “There is no evidence of life aboard the ship,” I felt a combination of relief and disenchantment. Anticipating my desire to explore it, he insisted on sending an automated vehicle to determine if there were radiation leaks or other hazards on board. That ate up another three hours before he approved a short visit fully suited with a fifteen-meter tether that would allow him to winch me back to the Circe in the event of trouble.

As I slowly donned the suit my memories of the recurring dreams began to fill me with dread. It wasn’t until Dante sealed the door behind me and I spun the circular handle on the derelict’s docking port, that a novel thought occurred to me as I began to crawl through the entryway.

Perhaps this was not a spirit twin of the Circe as I initially feared. What if it’s the Circe’s twin, the Calypso, the lead ship for the main body. The thought filled me with such terror, that I paused before fully entering it. What if technology had increased the speed of the four main body vessels and the Calypso at least had reached Proxima B before us?

I was soon dizzy with terror and wasting precious seconds imagining one terrifying scenario after another. Had Gemma traveled to Proxima and arrived before me? Although I had no rational expectation to learn the answer, it increased my fears just the same. Our collision a few days earlier suggested the destruction of at least one ship, its debris almost carrying the Circe with us to a watery grave on Proxima B. And where are the other two ships? In route or already submerged beneath the ocean five hundred kilometers below me?

Steeling my courage, I took my first step in the surrounding darkness, the lamp atop my helmet shakily flashing about the heavily damaged interior. But there, its likeness to the third dream ended. Once forty-five minutes had passed, I explored the main cabin, the galley, the crew rest facility as well as the room with five cryonic chambers – all empty. Given the poor performance of the Circe’s chambers, this greatly surprised me.

“Ten minutes, Bea.”

“Wilco. The ship looks abandoned. I did not see any bodies or violence, not even in the Cryo chambers.”

“Roger. I expect you back in five.”

Reentering the main cabin, I realized that I was sufficiently exhausted that I might not make it back to the Circe in five minutes. “I’m pretty tired, Dante. I think ten is more realistic.”

“Roger. If it takes any longer, I’m winching you back.”

That’s when I saw the figure blocking the entryway back to the Circe and was flooded with an impossible hope. As I walked slowly toward the figure, we each raised our arms in greeting. Without any air aboard the ship we could not speak without returning to the Circe.

Drawing closer to the figure, the lamp atop my helmet weakly illuminated her face as hers lit mine. Thinking I recognized my beloved and forgetting that sound does not carry in space we each yelled “Gemma!” before our screams filled the cabin with terror.

As my eyes swam with tears, the tether yanked me off my feet and began to pull me toward the entryway. I reached out to my twin in supplication too late. She had already disappeared into the shadows. I half expected to awaken again from yet a fourth version of the dream as Dante winched me through the port back aboard the Circe.

But I did not awaken. As I stripped off the suit in trembling exhaustion, I wept aloud. I cannot know if all four of the main body ships had rendezvoused with Proxima or more importantly if any have even survived to begin their mission. In spite of my Grandmother’s soothing words, I fear that my Vardøger is a bad omen rather than a good.

Retreating to my room, I collapsed atop my bed as I melted in tears. I don't remember falling asleep, but when I awoke again, I was cocooned in darkness. Opening my mouth, I tried to call Dante, but no sound came from my throat.

When I tried to rise from my bed, I found that I could not move. Thinking that this was a dream, I tried to wake myself up, but the cocooning darkness and my immobility remained unchanged. I tried to relax and reminded myself of the many bad dreams I had had since my revival and slowly my fears began to subside.

Dreamily gazing into the darkness, I thought I could almost see the snow I remembered from childhood softly landing on my cheeks as I stood in our parents’ yard. Was it my imagination? or did the snow begin to come into focus, each flake a sparkling crystal floating before my eyes in a diaphanous mosaic, its beauty piercing my heart in tiny, fractured waves.

The thought, I will never see snow again, nearly broke my heart. I missed my parents, I missed my younger brother, God help me, I even missed Minnesota, but mostly I missed my Gemma.

I wanted to weep, but my tears refused to fall.

And I then I remembered where I had seen the crystals before. All the signs were there, all the impossible events, all the omens that my mind was cracking. But I had accepted the corroboration of my senses while second guessing the lack of evidence of the real.

The beautiful crystal patterns were sketched in frost atop the windows of each of the Circe's Cryo chambers.

I began to silently scream.


About the Creator

John Cox

Family man, grandfather, retired soldier and story teller with an edge.

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Comments (15)

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  • Christy Munson3 months ago

    I imagine this one becoming a fully formed movie. Great work!

  • What a demanding voyage, wow! John, you have such a gift for narrating stories; I find myself engrossed in every turn. I'm interested and uneasy about the finale, and I can't wait to solve more of the riddles you've created. Looking forward to reading more from you!

  • JBaz3 months ago

    John, this is incredible. You created the environment so life like it was as if I was watching a movie in my mind. I am not 100% sure what happened at the end, it left an opening fir interpretation. Either way this was a very good read.

  • Oh wow, I was as shocked as Bea when she realised they were orbiting Proxima B instead of Mars! Also, it was so heartbreaking to know that everyone she ever knew was dead. I've never heard of Vardøger so that was very fascinating to me. But I wonder why both Bea and her Vardøger said "Gemma" to each other. Your story was so suspenseful and emotional! I loved it!

  • Lindsay Sfara3 months ago

    I'm at a loss for words other than incredible storytelling. This story took me on such a journey that I'm still processing (but in a good way!) and that ending left so much for interpretation! There is so much depth to this, and even a good bit of worldbuilding for a short story! Others have said it, and I agree, this would be a fantastic concept for a novel!

  • Whoa! What a twist! I love the concept of the Vardoger. This is written with incredible depth, John. It would make a great Novel or Movie. Well done!

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    I don't know what to say about this. I feel like I've been bamboozled a bit by your story, like I've been given glimpses of things but not the full story. It's left me feeling unsettled, which is no bad thing in itself. I'm not sure if that was your intention or not so that's why I'm saying this, I guess. I love the idea of the Vartøger. Never heard of that before. I neec to learn more about Dante, Beatrice and Gemma as I feel like that would help my reading. Whatever my understanding of what is going on here, your writing is good, John - atmospheric, mysterious, chilling.

  • Hannah Moore3 months ago

    This is absolutely terrifying. I'm uncertain what the ending means though, I confess.

  • ema3 months ago

    Wonderfully distressing, and I think very well written,

  • Lacy Loar-Gruenler3 months ago

    John, thanks for transporting me into this strange world. The mark of a great storyteller is to do that, and let your reader escape her surroundings for just a few moments. You built empathy for your characters and time and place brilliantly. Keep it up, my friend!

  • Fascinating. Gripping story telling. Is this related to the stories with John or are you simply using the same names of Bea & Dante? A few bits of errata I haven't noticed in your other stories("the the" in one place, a few others), in case you want to go back & correct them with Quick Edit.

  • Andrea Corwin 3 months ago

    I had trouble with internet even pulling this one up 😡

  • Andrea Corwin 3 months ago

    The mind is an amazing thing and can create the reality we want. Nice job.

  • John Cox (Author)3 months ago

    This is written for the March Madness challenge for Write Club hosted by RM Stockton. This is a rewrite of a story that I posted on Vocal two years ago under the title Whom the God's Would Destroy. Although the original story was also about madness, I have made several substantial changes to include a completely new ending. If you have nothing better to do, feel free to compare this one to the original.

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