What Gives Me Pause

MARS

“I’m willing to overlook your past.”

Crimson light quivers, exhales, and surges in waves across bedrock walls at quickening tempo. Deified machination ripples in judgement.

“Trust doesn’t come easily with you.” Osiris’s eyes wash in Warmind light. He remembers Saladin’s words. Remembers the names that were. He feels small again, against the wash. Alone.

Osiris feels the weight of Rasputin’s assessment. Rhythmic cipher crashes over him as displays sling projections into maddening motion. Osiris’s face splits into golden multitudes to consume the information. Eyes in all directions, searching for the path. Rasputin constructs a model of the system, highlighting an anomalous signal near the edge of Sol’s influence. Osiris’s mind sieves the data into manufactured purpose.

He is led.

Never one to follow.

With nothing left to chase.

Oxidized dust scours the landing pad. Sagira greets Osiris as he exits the bunker and slumps into his jumpship.

“How did it go?”

“Better than expected.”

“Did you say hi to Ana?”

“She is busy. We have a lead.”

Osiris grips the flight stick. His gaze slips betwixt and between points of focus.

“Do we have to leave right now?” Sagira floats into his sightline. “I’m sure Saint woul—“

Their eyes don’t meet.

“We have a long flight.”

Sagira relents. Her tone sharpens. “How long?”

KUIPER-OORT EXPANSE

||KUIPER SLINGSHOT ACHIEVED: COURSE CORRECTION; NEGATIVE; BREAK LINE TRAJECTORY FAILURE||

||ALERT: GRAVITATIONAL ANOMALY: BOW||

Solar warmth peels away into guideless vacuum as Osiris skims across the Heliopause. A hollow serenity bathes his face.

“What is it?”

Osiris breathes a sigh of relief at the sight of the anomaly.

“An answer.”

“I… feel strange.” Sagira settles from her orbit about Osiris’s shoulders, her voice crackling with interference.

“It might be best if you stay with the ship.”

“It might be best if you had better ideas.”

Osiris grunts under his breath and cuts the engines. “I won’t be long.”

|COURSE CORRECTION;NEGATIVE;BREAK LINE TRAJECTORY FAILURE||

“That’s never true.” Sagira scans the warping stillness. “There’s nothing in there, Osiris.”

“No reason to worry then.”

Sagira narrows her iris at him. “I can’t even find a point to transmat you to.”

“No matter.”

“What?” Sagira faces the anomaly. “What are you trying to prove?”

Osiris affixes a visor to his helmet and clips a localizing beacon to his belt. With a hiss, his head swims in pressurizing atmosphere.

“It has to lead somewhere.” His helmet radio vies with interference.
Sagira droops in disappointment. “Does it?”

He looks through her, eyes sullen and heavy. He nods.

A great Maw yawns before them, wicked and soft. Brilliant unfurling layers of opaque invitation. They drift. The Deep comfort hums through his skin, breeding a resilient calm. A silent static stasis boiling away at the brim of consciousness.

||COLLISION ALERT: BOW | COURSE CORRECTION;NEGATIVE;COLLISION IMMINENT||

The Anomalous Maw welcomes. It is a gullet, endless in hunger and depth that splits reality like petals opening to consume the Sun. The depth warps. Sweet flavor spins through the senses. It cradles him, locks in motionless descent, rocks away fear with warm recognition. Stretches, and wraps, and cribs.

||COLLISION ALERT: STARBOARD;BOW;ABEAM;RADIAL;AFT;BOW;ABEAM;PORT:AFT;RADIAL;PORT:BOW | COURSE CORRECTION: NEGATIVE;TRAJECTORY FAILURE;COLLISION: FAILURE||

It threads through space set adrift beyond and before, until there is only within. Within: a point. Lone and stark amid the undulating expanse. Distant, at the edges, and forward, only deeper.

Osiris a wayfaring witness. A reluctant heir. A broken promise made true. A husk to fill a throne of sustenance. A shear to prune the vine. A warden to vacancy. A mind elated and crestfallen. A sojourner of meaning ever seeking.

He turns back. Sagira’s light blinks from shaded canopy within his vessel. Starless bends weave and break through pools of luminescent memory. They flow to the point beyond.

The point grows gaunt, and if he were to reach out, he would brush the walls with his fingertips. Osiris stands in dark quiet comfort. He treads placid trim. He swims in depth lined by pale rivers of white gnashing, far below and above.

He sends forth his Echoes. Their sight finds no purchase in the gullet. They push the walls beyond his fingers and let stand only the path of want. They drift until no longer felt. The skeins neither snap nor remain.

Before him, the gnarled point softens and splits into a blooming cathedra. A metal seed laid barren in the bosom of the throne in a pool of light. A nexus. He plucks it from the pool. From its drippings spawn a rapturous light, spreading through the enormity and ravenously washing over the gullet at increasing pace.

Dark gives way to cold reflective alloy.

To logic and formless calculous.

The cathedra, overwhelmed by prediction, rings with the dull mimicked tone of congruence. They scream to Osiris. His mind. They crave, never to tire, his unique causality. They would grow, unceasing. Death to death, forever.

The path of want falls to assimilation.

Osiris flees to the safety of Sagira’s blinking light. The gullet quivers reverberation that trails his every step in sentient chromic glisten. He calls for her. To open the ship. To break the false-light wave that besets his every step. To—

“I’m glad you changed your mind.”

Sagira’s shell shines a reflection across the cockpit as Osiris’s jumpship rolls to face the Sun. “Ready to go?”

||KUIPER SLINGSHOT JUMP-LOCK: TRAJECTORY CLEAR; GREEN LINE||

“Sagira…” He grips a cold metal seed. “Yes.”

The Sun hangs dim and distant in a sea of ink. Its waning glare burns the focus out of Osiris’s eyes. Blind to all other points, they drift; engines humming in anticipation; vessel drenched in an angular shadow.