The Day I Destroyed the Universe

explosion

Image: giantbomb.com

From the Flight Log of Freighter Pilot Camdon Rod

I was only three days out of Delta Epsiloni Four aboard the freighter Cleric’s Hope as her replacement First Mate when I got into a religious argument with the Engineer. I knew when I signed on that the ship was crewed by devotees of the Chosen Ones of Illumination, but I thought if I could just do my job and keep my nose out of their religious practices, I’d be okay. But I had no idea they prayed three times a day, and that doesn’t count praying right before they go to bed, that they almost always pray together as a group, and that all ship activity has to stop when they pray unless it’s a dire emergency.

How the hell can you operate a working freighter in space or dockside when you stop work every four hours to pray for forty-five minutes? Who bloody well flies the ship, navigates to the next port, loads and unloads cargo, maintains the engines? Who bloody well has to actually do work except for the token unbeliever on board…me?

I suppose I’d better back up a bit. My name is Camdon Rod and like I said, a week ago, I signed on as the new First Mate of the Cleric’s Hope, a class B interplanetary freighter that did regular runs between the planets and outposts littering the Gamma and Delta Epsiloni systems.

Unlike my former freighter, the late Cynnabar Breen, may she rest in peace, she was not hyperjump capable, but she was five times larger, so she required a Captain, a Pilot/Navigator, a First Mate (that’s me), an Engineer, and four cargo specialists who doubled as security (sometimes thieves want to steal what freighter’s haul if it’s valuable enough).

I suppose I should have waited for a better opportunity, but I was desperate. They should have known better than to hire a First Mate, even a temporary one, who didn’t follow their religion, but they were desperate, too. The guy I replaced came down with a sudden case of Carmine’s Skoots, so he’d be out of action for a week at least (although rumor on the docks was that he had temporarily lapsed in his faith and had really contracted a case of Salizine overdose, a popular hallucinogenic drink that’s all the rage of the low life bars just a stone’s throw from the freighter bays).

That’s why Targo Ree, Captain of the Cleric’s Hope was desperate for someone to replace his First Mate on this run, but what about me? That requires a bit more explaining.

First of all, I’m lucky to be alive. Second of all, I’m lucky not to be in prison. I’ll tackle the alive part first.

During the final voyage of my former freighter, the aforementioned Cynnabar Breen, I was carrying thousands (probably more like hundreds of thousands) of highly valuable biosamples in stasis for delivery to the Bio Research Center for Evolutionary Design on Delta Epsiloni Four. I never made it.

A freak accident involving an undetected meteor and its highly unfortunate encounter with the control systems of my jump drive resulted in me taking an unscheduled trip to a planetary system far outside of known-space.

I had to dump my ship in one of the oceans of the system’s third planet and believe it or not, it was only then that my troubles all began.

I’d been floating around in an emergency raft for a week. I’d erected the four meter by four meter shelter that comes with the craft, so I was protected from the elements, but I only had a week’s rations of food and water. The standard emergency kit is supposed to have rations for one person for a month, but sea water had gotten into most of the sealed provision packets and I was down to a week.

I’d rationed what I had to stretch it a bit but I wasn’t hopeful. Fortunately, it was one week to the day when my short range radio squawked a message from a rescue ship sent by the Consortium.

I managed to send a distress call into hyperspace before crashing, but due to all of the wonky physics involved in transmitting into the hyperspace domain from outside known-space, I didn’t know who was going to receive it or when. Inside Consortium space, each hyperspace transceiver is part of a network so communications are pretty reliable. Outside of that network the sending and receiving of transmissions through hyperspace is a roll of the dice.

As I made arrangements over the comm for their landing craft to rendezvous with my little boat, I ate a fine banquet of the total remainder of my rations. Too bad there was no booze because then I’d have really celebrated.

But that would have been premature.

I expected that the insurance on my freighter would pay for a new one. I also expected that I’d not only get a finder’s fee for discovering a new world that the Consortium could exploit, but I’d receive a big fat fee from the Consortium for failing to keep the hyperspace jump destination area free of space debris.

Ships travel through interstellar space via jump drives. A jump drive creates a point to point link between the origin and destination points for any given ship. For ship, pilot, crew, and cargo, the trip is instantaneous, but hyperjumps are unforgiving, particularly at the destination point.

If there’s so much as a handful of dust occupying the area where a jump ship is entering from hyperspace, it causes an insanely violent explosion, vaporizing the ship. There shouldn’t be so much as a drop of frozen mud within 1,500 kilometers of the designated jump ship destination space for any system.

The Consortium guarantees that they will keep those spaces clean and 99.99999% of the time, they are. If they didn’t, no one would risk jumping.

This time they didn’t. Nothing’s fool proof.

I know what you’re thinking. If all ships in the Consortium have to come out of hyperspace into known swept areas of space, how did the rescue ship have the nerve to come into an unknown system where anything could be floating or shooting around?

Because they are equipped with an advanced and extremely expensive jump drive accessory. Instead of the ship jumping out of hyperspace in an instant, it sends an expansive energy wave ahead of itself by several hundred milliseconds. The energy wave expands in a bubble outward from the projected destination point, sweeping away any dust or other objects that might be present. It’s in that clean bubble the rescue ship materializes.

Only rescue and exploration ships are equipped with advanced jump drives. They’re difficult to construct, expensive to maintain, and suck up ten times the energy per use that a standard jump drive does. That’s why most of us stick with the standard unit and accept the Consortium’s guarantee that we will always have a clean bit of space to arrive in when doing business.

Normally, the Consortium charges high fees for rescues, but I figured I had them over a barrel. I should never have been hit by that random chunk of iron and nickel and it was the Consortium’s fault. They owed me and they owed me big.

Unfortunately, the Consortium attorneys on Delta Epsiloni had other ideas.

It’s a class A felony to contaminate a planet with biomatter, even an uninhabited planet. The Consortium didn’t want to pay me my finder’s fee or compensation for their screw up that led to my accident, they wanted to fine me a million credits and send me to prison for twenty years, the bastards.

They froze my assets, supposedly to keep me from fleeing the planet, but this also made it impossible to hire a lawyer. I managed to get one, a good one, crazy nutjob named Devonadi Finn, but only on the promise that if we won and pulled the compensation fee out of the Consortium, he’d get half.

We won and Finn instantly doubled his fee citing additional charges for research hours, the rotten, bald headed little fink. But it wasn’t just because of Finn’s skill that we rubbed the Consortium’s nose in their own fecal matter. The judge assigned to the case was an activist. She was one of those rare ones that actually had principles, so she wasn’t intimidated by the Consortium lawyers and they couldn’t bribe her either. Unlike the larger and more populous systems in the heart of Consortium space, folks in the Outer Regions didn’t all take too kindly to Consortium power and corruption.

We won. The charges against me were dismissed. I filed a counter-case regarding the accident and won that too getting my compensation fee. I even got the finder’s fee for my accidental find of the unknown planet. What really pissed the Consortium off though was they couldn’t use the planet.

Even weeks after my ship crashed with the biomatter on board, the thousands upon thousands of the little critters had begun to reproduce, mutate (probably in part due to the radiation coming from the space norm drive of the Breen..the jump drive should have burned up in the atmosphere), and diversify in the ecosystem. My “polluting” the place necessitated that the Consortium quarantine the whole planet. Even the owners of those lifeforms couldn’t investigate (and being evolutionists, they desperately wanted to). It was a hands-off world, at least until the development of life stabilized, which might take tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

A lot of people weren’t happy with me.

Oddly enough, my most dangerous enemy in this matter wasn’t the Consortium. They win most of the time, and are big enough to absorb the occasional loss. They also knew in their evil heart of hearts that it really was their fault that everything worked out this way. If they’d kept the destination zone clear so I didn’t have that accident, I’d have delivered my cargo as planned and all would be right with the Galaxy.

It was those damned evolutionists at the Bio Research Center who were the most pissed. They aren’t big enough to absorb the occasional loss. Sure, the insurance on their cargo paid up, so they weren’t out any credits, but it had been painstakingly difficult to grow those little mothers I’d been hauling, and they came from dozens of worlds. It had taken years to put their little project together, and now it was all gone. Well, not gone, just growing and mutating on a planet thousands of light-years away that they were forbidden to study or even go anywhere near.

They couldn’t touch the Consortium but they could hire a hit on me. Delta Epsiloni or any Outer Region system does not lack for thugs who’ll take someone out for a price.

Fortunately, they lowballed the price and, as they say, you get what you pay for. He tried to nail me by starting a fight in a bar figuring killing me under cover of a melee would look like an accident.

I saw it coming a light year away and ducked out the back in the confusion, but I didn’t want to hang around to give this jerk a second chance. I had three pieces of information that would save me and I was going to use them.

First, the Consortium had transferred my finder’s fee and what was left of my compensation fee to my account (after Finn sucked over 90% of it out of my veins). I also noticed in my digital statement that the insurance payment was transferred for the full value of the Cynnabar Breen (got to love the speed of computing and faster-than-light communications).

Second, I saw that someone was selling a single-operator freighter on one of the outpost asteroids in the Gamma Epsiloni system pretty similar to the Breen, so if it was as good as it sounded, I’d buy it and be back in business.

Third, the freighter Cleric’s Hope was looking for a temporary replacement for their First Mate (who had either taken suddenly ill or suddenly overdosed) and they were leaving for the Delta to Gamma cargo run the next morning…early.

I shot by Bay 29 where the Hope was berthed, showed Captain Ree my resume, and I was hired on the spot.

I had my belongings (what few I had since the Breen disappeared with just about everything I owned) sent to the Hope since I didn’t dare go back to my hotel. That hitman would probably try to pick me up there. Spent the night on the Hope getting familiar with their systems and crew.

The help wanted ad made it clear they were Chosen Ones of Illumination, but hell, it was only for one trip, so who cared?

Turns out, I should have. They should have too. The whole freaking universe should have cared, but how would they have known?

Things would have gone along fine if Ralkan Lenner, that’s the ship’s engineer, hadn’t tried to convert me.

Usually Chosen Ones don’t proselytize. They all claim to come from the same ancestral tribes that were called out from all the other species in the Galaxy by their God called the Illumination. However, Lenner was from an outlying sect, one that believed that people not descended from their ancient tribes occasionally possessed the soul of a Chosen One.

Just my luck Lenner was a mystic and that she divined I was one of the possessed or whatever you wanted to call it. That made me fair game, in her eyes, to be brought into the fold.

Except I didn’t want to be.

She said it was an honor to serve the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Illumination.

I said, if the Illumination was all-powerful, immortal, and completely independent of its creations, namely the Chosen Ones, why did the Illumination need the Chosen Ones? For that matter, if the point of creating the universe was to produce sentient life forms, and the Chosen Ones were called out of all sentient life forms to serve the Illumination, being totally independent and already being completely self-contained and perfect, why would the Illumination need to create the universe at all?

Oops.

One of the reasons that the Captain and Crew of the Cleric’s Hope had chosen the Gamma and Delta Epsiloni cargo run was that their course regularly took them near the Yizzkah Anomaly. The Yizzkah Anomaly is an electromagnetic disturbance that exists roughly halfway between the Gamma and Delta systems.

To most ships, it’s an annoyance since it puts out just a ton of radio interference that screws up navigation and communications. It’s been studied for centuries but there’s no one theory as to exactly what it is and where it came from. Except for the occasional science ship, most craft just avoid Yizzkah like a fatal disease.

But the Chosen Ones believe it’s one of the twelve sacred places provided by the Illumination in known-space, special areas that offer an interface between normal space and the heavenly realm of the Illumination. In other words, you go to someplace like Yizzkah, you talk to God and God talks back.

Captain Ree and the Hope organized their course and the timing of their visits to ports of call on each run so they could stop for a full standard day at the Anomaly and pray to their God, the Illumination. It was said that if the Illumination was going to answer any one of its followers, it would be at a sacred place like the Anomaly. We had just arrived at Yizzkah and come to a stop relative to it.

So let’s put this together. I’m having a heated theological debate with Lenner in response to her attempt to induct me involuntarily into her group right as we’ve stopped near the Yizzkah Anomaly. We are, according to the Chosen Ones, in the right place at the right time to ask the Illumination a question and expect to have it answered audibly. I ask, and I quote, “If the point of creating the universe was to produce sentient life forms, and the Chosen Ones were called out of all sentient life forms to serve the Illumination, being totally independent and already being completely self-contained and perfect, why would the Illumination need to create the universe at all?”

To which a loud, booming voice, definitely not part of the crew of the Hope, responds, “That’s a very good question.”

And then the universe ceases to exist…

…for nearly three-quarters of a second.

No, I’m not kidding. Check the Consortium’s news coverage if you don’t believe me, though if you lived through the event, you certainly would have remembered.

All of the astronomical research facilities in Consortium space and outside the Consortium’s borders in known-space recorded that the universe…well, blinked for almost three-quarters of a second.

All mass everywhere dropped instantly to zero and then almost a second later resumed normal readings.

Well, just about.

I felt myself black out and when I came to, I was alone. I mean I was completely alone. Captain Ree, Lenner, the pilot, the rest of the crew, all the Chosen Ones had gone without a trace.

I probably would have been accused of somehow doing away with them except that every Chosen One everywhere, and I mean everywhere in known-space, had vanished in that same instant.

I had questioned why their God would bother to create the universe since it was already perfect and certainly didn’t need servants. Someone or something thought it was a really good question and as a result (I’m thinking), the universe really did cease to exist…

…for anyone who actually believed that nonsense. For the rest of us who don’t, the universe goes on.

I have no idea if my frivolous question really did all that or if the Yizzkah Anomaly along with its eleven counterparts we’ve discovered in known-space cosmically hiccupped and “disappeared” the Chosen Ones all on their own, but either way, it’s mind-bendingly strange. I promised myself that when I got the chance, in honor of the vanished Chosen Ones, I’d get so drunk that I’d forget them, the universe that blinked out of existence for almost a second, and everything else.

I prefer to believe that I’m just one lucky guy. According to space law, in a disaster where all of the crew of a ship die except for one, if that ship doesn’t belong to an organization (especially the Consortium), that surviving crew member inherits ownership.

Technically, the Cleric’s Hope belonged to the Chosen Ones of the Illumination, but as far as anyone can tell, they’ve all vanished from the universe.

So I own the Cleric’s Hope.

I don’t care for it, so as soon as I can pilot her to Gamma Outpost Cecil, the place I’d planned to get to so I can buy a single-pilot jump freighter and be my own person again, I’ll put her on the market. I’ll sell cheap, which is good, because no one’s anxious to buy anything owned by the Chosen Ones. Might be cursed.

All I want is my own ship and a star to steer her by…and to renew my business license so I can get back to being a freighter pilot again. No better life I can think of. I also can’t think of a life better lived than one where pesky gods can’t make you disappear just because some dumb freighter jock asks the wrong question at the wrong time in the wrong part of space.

After I wrote The Last Flight of the Cynnabar Breen, I hadn’t intended to continue the adventures of Camdon Rod, even though I left room (slim room) at the end of the tale for him to survive. But there was something about him that I liked and I wanted to keep on exploring his life. Rescuing him wasn’t the tough part but figuring out an adventure worthy of his legacy thus far was a puzzler. That is until I read the answer to the question Why does G-d need us to serve Him? at JewishAnswers.org. Everything else fell into place pretty quickly after that.

To find out more, read the story that introduced Camdon Rod called The Last Flight of the Cynnabar Breen.

If you’re all caught up with the first two stories, read the third installment The Haunting of the Ginger’s Regret.

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