– Fiction by Mark Holden –
Jonah’s hand itched inches away from the drive-switch. Edged on the captain’s seat, his spaced-out eyes stared straight-out into the depths beyond.
Come to me! Come to me!
The plunk, plunk, plunk sound of threaded screws being torn from Allen-alloy, along with their reverberations through the Janus’s main deck, had ceased. He was finally paying attention to the voice, and so the threat of his ship being dismembered, deck by deck, screw by screw, was not required: It had him where it wanted him.
Now, out of the dark, out from where no one could hear a scream, out of the void, out from where even light was not supposed to escape, came the voice.
The sound of static had settled, the chirps from the lighting on the pilot-panel had fled, conversation with the crew had ceased–only the voice remained. It felt so close—internalized. Except…
Jonah! Come! Come! I want you! You!
Jonah chewed his lip, an artery ached between his canines: like a sheep trapped in a wolf’s jaws. He wanted to believe what he was hearing, wanted to believe desperately. Once, he had sailed in the seas of belief before being set adrift, then he’d run aground on doubt and drought: faith all dried-up.
So, to come up here to this great, bleak hollow, and find what sounded like the voice of God—or a god—he had to ask, was it real? Was he about to do the right thing? Had he already acted in the right?
He felt like a coin: tossed into the air, spinning, its two faces—like the god Janus—flipping, heads, tails, heads, tails, belief, disbelief, saint and sinner…
Forget them Jonah! Child and Schwarz had to go! They would have stopped you!
Squinting into space, straining his eyes, he sought the source of the voice. As befitted the name, it was black; it was a hole. Around it swam a vortex; a storm, swirled round and round like a stellar cast of angels dancing about the head of a pin—as if waiting for the eye of The Lord to alight upon them. A halo.
He tried to turn his thoughts away from what was before him, but it was impossible; wherever he looked, there it was, not just dead-ahead, it was everywhere among The Janus’s buttons, blinking lights, and monitors.
Think of Elisabeth, think of the kids, he told himself. What will they think if you disappear? He shook his head, a series of short sharp swivels, as if he could shake-out the anger which had snaked to the surface of his mind. You stupid prick, what are they going to think if you go back without a co-pilot and engineer? How are you going to explain that? That’s if you can go back… if IT lets you.
He knew what the authorities would chalk it down to: sequestration sickness, or ‘hibernation hang-over.’ Too many space travelers came out of suspended animation with acute psychosis–rampant delusions no sane man would swallow–that was why they were supposed to gulp the pills as soon as they woke. Jonah ran his hand over his breast pocket. Where had he left that strip of pills?
It doesn’t matter what happens now, Jonah thought. Your name’s dirt. You’ve seen to that.
He’d told Child and Schwarz about the whispers.
Child, a great grizzly of a man did not bear it well. Prodding him in the chest with a meaty forefinger; the disbelief bulging from his eyelids. “I won’t say it again, get to the sick-bay for a scan.”
“I don’t need a scan. I need you to listen.”
“I’ve listened,” said Child. The veins in his forehead bulged in a “W” formation, as if to say WARNING. “So now you need to listen… any more of this madness and we quarantine you. You need to stop this.”
But, Jonah stopped them.
It told him what to do. He’d felt as much a tool as the tools he’d laid his hands on at short notice: a hammer, a knife … But Child managed to send a distress signal back home to Earth. When the Janus’s transmissions finally got back, they’d assume he’d been off the meds, that he’d flipped a switch.
You’re not mad, Jonah! No! I have chosen you. Give yourself to me.
“Me?” He spat the word out; his spittle flecked the screen, a smeary blob, tiny, but enough to cover up the view of a billion stars that seemed to sit in a space a centimetre wide.
Then he asked the question of old, the question asked by prophets, standing among the sands of the desert, before burning bushes – sages suspicious of their sanity. “Who are you?”
You know Jonah, you know. I am death; I am life. Come and know me. I will give you life. I will make you a part of planets, empires, kings. I will break you and then remake your atoms into the air, fire, wind and water. I will make you a part of everything. You will be elemental, instrumental in my design. A father of everything. A maker yet not a begetter. Come!
Father of everything. The words echoed in his mind, shimmered and vibrated like the sound of a symphony; he felt tethered, tethered to this conductor.
Am I the audience carried along by the sound of a string instrument, he thought, or am I a fly stuck in the strands of a web?
His fingers inched like a spider, drew away momentarily from the switch, closed in on the loose strapping around his waist. He felt his fingers clasp the buckle, tightening himself in.
As he moved his hand away, something grey, toothpaste textured, soft as snot was stuck to his fingers.
Matter. Brain matter.
Come to me! Jonah! Come and become life itself!
He stared back, over his shoulder, towards the ground, at the pool of blood, now as black as his murderous soul, stared at Schwarz’s still body–at her caved in skull.
He wiped his fingers on his overalls. Tried to not think what he’d done, or how twelve hours earlier he’d been hammering her in a different way.
Further back in the shadows, Child lay with a solitary stab wound to the heart.
Their sacrifice will not have been in vain. Their molecules will father a multitude. Come, if you turn back, what is there for you? Let me tell you: explanations, explanations followed by disbelief. Come forwards, come to life.
His hand flickered, waivered.
He looked down at the switch; a bead of perspiration ran down the contours of his forehead and onto the panel.
Elisabeth, he thought.
“Elisabeth”, he whispered.
Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.
A blink of light. A shudder. A mechanical groan.
He felt the cabin tilt, tilt forwards, and he looked to see that his hand had flicked the drive-switch to FORWARD. Loose paperwork shifted up ahead, the motion revealing a pen and a strip of tablets.
You can still stop this, he thought. You’ve not passed the point of no return.
But maybe the point had been passed; maybe it happened many moments ago. Perhaps the point was not material, physical, something measured along an axis or plane. Perhaps the point had been passed when he had given up believing in something and become desperate for anything—real or imagined.
The Janus plunged on, slowly gathering speed, progressing inexorably towards Pegasus X-21: a sink-hole in space, destined to become a supermassive blackhole at the centre of a galaxy, a warper of space, time—and maybe minds.
Closer to the point, where light itself could not flee.
Closer to the edge. The Point of No Return.
Soon the coin would stop spinning. It would not land on its edge. Heads or tails, truth or lie, real or imagined, soon The Janus face of his faith would reveal itself for what it was.
He stared ahead, at the leviathan, and though time here had stopped, his mind was taken back … to Sunday School. He smiled. A thought stirred, an image: Jonah and the whale.
This is different: I’ve taken us all into the belly of the whale.
He thought of the man, mired in depths of darkness but then coming back.
But, maybe Jonah never came back. I always thought that part was hard to swallow. Maybe I’m imagining the voice, maybe all it said is bull, but maybe even then, I’ll live on: through Child’s last message; in the mind, in tales told, a legend on paper. Misjudged, but alive.
Jonah closed his eyes. He felt the hunger, the irresistible force of attraction—physical and mental
—ignored the gravity of his recent actions, trusted in blind faith, in what the eye could not see, in hope—in a distress signal, beamed light-years across space—and focussed on the words that repeated themselves, endlessly. A siren-call, a beacon, a whisper in the mind, the voice of a mystery …
Come to me…
come to me…
come to me…
come to me…
come to me.
Mark Holden discovered the worlds within wardrobes when a wee nipper, but was then hampered from his own writing pursuits by medical school. Now, with a bit more balance, he tries to write whilst carrying out his clinical duties and running ultra marathons—just not all at the same time; that would be madness!