Across The Universe

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Chapter 14 (v.1) - 14

Submitted: June 07, 2018

Reads: 88

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Submitted: June 07, 2018



'Twas the night before certain death, and Ortega was rushing around the station, manic from trying to figure out if what was effecting most people was nerves or something more serious.  Vomiting, dizziness, disorientation, black-outs, and faints.  It was very hard to tell what exactly was wrong, but with his pessimistic attitude, it couldn't be something simple, or if it was, one of them would be misdiagnosed if he told them all to calm down, that it was just nerves.


Meanwhile, Niemand was swamped with people from both sides of the room, demanding to be allowed one last simulation before the jump.  Max in front of the line.  He lost count of how many times he ran the simulation, but he was aware of the exact number of times he had gotten it right; seven.  Seven out of who knows how many, and he wasn't prepared to die, nor was he prepared to live out the rest of his life on the station.


"You're not doing it again," Niemand said, pretending to be patient.  "You've done it so many times, you know how it goes now."


"Yeah," Max laughed humourlessly, "you just want me to die!"


Clicking his tongue, trying to stall his irritation, Niemand bared his teeth.  "Why don't you ask Mercutio what she thinks?"  He asked, purposely blocking Max's way to the simulation room.


"Fine, he's done it enough times," Karin said, shoving Max out of the way.  "What about me!?  I need this, Niemand!"  As Max pulled her back, the whole line erupted into gabbling, trying to convince Niemand they needed it the most until he called Evers on them so they'd disperse.  It was harder to argue with Evers, who refused to budge on their pleas.


"Too much, and every single sim will be a failure," he said loudly, holding his hands up for silence, then compromised a little.  "Niemand will go over your last scores, and those who score the lowest will be allowed to run through it again.  I don't want any of you to die, but I also don't need you wearing out the sim, right?"


"My failures outweigh my successes," Max said, taking Evers aside.  "I need to get better at this."  Evers gestured for him to stop.


"Your numbers will state whether you need it or not," Evers assured.


"Are sure I can trust-"  Max cut himself off, realizing that Evers would always disagree with him.


Evers eyed him for a moment.  "Trust what?"  He asked, and Max shook his head.


"Nothing, it's fine," he said, walking away.  Max went to his old bunk and climbed in.  He set the timer on his watch, and closed his eyes, his left hand resting on his chest.  He tried to picture it; the two minutes of weightlessness as the shuttle broke from the station.  The increasing pull as the shuttle forces its way into the atmosphere.  The count down to disengage begins...


Running through his makeshift simulation countless times, Max lost track of time until he heard the bunks around him beginning to fill up.  He heard them talk about him finally realizing he still had a bed there, but he ignored them, running the sim over and over again.  he wasn't surprised that Niemand hadn't let him come back.


Sometime in the night he fell asleep, waking with a start when the buzzer sounded to rouse the crew.  They got up and dressed quickly, searching for any misplaced thing that had had been missed during packing.  Ortega recruited several crew members to pack and haul the medical supplies to the shuttle.


Breakfast was mandatory; Evers stated that a helmet full of puke was better than someone fainting on the way down.  It did nothing to whet their appetites.  While eating, people dragged their feet, their nervousness outweighing their hope for fresh air, or at least more freedom.  When they couldn't stall any more, Evers had them line up outside the canteen, running his eyes up and down the line to make sure everyone was there.


"I think we've moved past the point for speeches, so you might as well get moving," he said, staying put until he was sure every last straggler had gone to their prospective shuttles.


Following the crowd, Max threw his arm around Charlie's shoulder when he noticed the other man was dragging his feet.  "Lends this all a nice bit of symmetry," Max remarked, forcing a smile.  "We walked into the station together, now we walk out."


"We're going to die," Charlie told him, and Max gave him a thumb's up. 


"Great!  Stay positive!"


Slipping into their pressurized suits that had been designed to protect them from space and the atmosphere of Terra Mage, Max saw that few people were taking their time, but several had a dazed sort of look on their faces as they did them up.  He wondered if it was some sort of shock or they were imagining their own demises.


"Still afraid of heights?"  Charlie asked Daisy, who glared at him.  "I supposed that's a yes."


Taking a deep breath as he closed his eyes, Max slowly lowered his helmet, locking it into place.  There was a click as the oxygenator was activated, and cool canned air blew against his face.  It took him a moment to force himself to breath again. 


When he opened his eyes, he saw the others standing around the airlock.  Niemand punched in the activation code, then gestured for Daisy to lead the way.  She scowled at Charlie again, before stepping into the lock.


The rest crowded in around her, as the interior door was pulled shut, the locks slamming back into place a moment before the exterior door was slid open.  Max felt the shift in pressure around them push against his suit, and he waited a moment for it to break, but it never did.


Taking her lead, Daisy snapped it onto the safety rail just as Karin was reminding them that they were still subject to gravity until they broke away from the station, so it was quiet possible for them to fall into space.


Stepping onto the walk that was barely wide enough for her to set her toes on, Daisy edged towards the shuttle, disconnecting her lead when she reached it, hauling herself up the ladder towards the holds. 


Stopping on the walk and holding up the rest of the line, Max watched her go until she disappeared, slipping into the furthest hold, pulling down the locking bar.  The person behind him shoved him and Max continued the journey, reluctantly disconnecting his lead.


He wasn't afraid of heights, never had been, but something about being lost to the void unnerved him.  He kept his eyes trained on the metal ladder, making sure of his grip and footing.  When he reached the holds, he stopped again, feeling that they should have spared a little bit of expense.  The hold was nothing but a notched out area with handles on either side and a bar that went across the chest and middle.  It did not seem like enough, and he wondered what possessed the designers to ever think it was.


"You actually have to go in there, you can't just stay here," prompted Nymadawa from behind him.


"You think this is safe?"  Max asked.


"Safer than staying on the station," Nymadawa shot back.  "At least we're less likely to starve down there."


Shaking his head, Max eased himself into the hold and pulled down the arm, feeling it snap into place.  Locking his arms into the handles, Max was all but forced to look out at the vista in front of him.  It was beautiful, but he couldn't really focus on that at the moment.  He wished that the beautiful things weren't so deadly or enticing.  It was the folly of man that they had the same aptitude as a moth seeing a flame.


"Is everyone in place?"  Niemand asked over the coms, and Max wished that his voice didn't go directly into his ear.  There were confirmations across the shuttle, stating their position and name.  Niemand informed Evers that they were ready and Evers gave them the go ahead for the drop.  In ten minutes, Evers' group would follow to avoid them crushing the first shuttle or its people.  It would put a few miles between them, but it was safer than dropping together.


"Brace for disconnect in three, two-"  That was the moment than Max heard a demonic chorus of multicultural swearing and prayers from all religions and denominations echoing over the coms as the shuttle broke from the station, juddering them as it dropped away towards Terra Mage at a frightening speed.


Squeezing his eye shut, Max felt his whole body tighten as they plunged down, at first unaware that the further they went from the station, the more they slowed.  When it felt like they were stopped, he could breathe again as he looked at the world below his dangling feet.  He swallowed the lump in his throat as he listened to the others laugh and cry, swearing at the sudden changes.


"Don't get too comfortable," Niemand warned them.  "We breach the 'sphere in fifteen.  Get ready for it."


Max resisted the urge to put his hand on the metal arm, afraid he'd jar it too soon.  Any moment they'd be pulled into Terra's gravity field and they'd punch through the exosphere.


Below, the world blossomed into view, the sparse clouds chasing beneath them, the veins of green water scarring the yellow sands.  It did not seem expectant, but it did seem to be waiting.


Unconsciously, he shoved himself back into the metal, unwilling to shut his eyes again.  The gimpy inner eyelid slammed shut, as if to shield him from the horrors.




In an instant, gravity filled their boots and they felt it haul on them like fishhooks in their bellies.  They were falling.


From the furthest side, they sprung from the shuttle holds, flying away like dandelion seeds, their bodies stiff as the steered as far away from the falling metal was possible.


Move!  A voice inside him urged and Max suddenly felt this was all too real.  He had to get away before it gathered any more speed.  Shoving at the arm, he turned his head to the left as he noticed a flicker.  Two slots away from him, someone was flailing, stuck in place, their desperation plain with each fraction of a second going by.


He shoved the arm of and grabbed the handles, dragging himself away from the shuttle hold as he stared out at the view, the shuttle was beginning to spin.  Thinking quickly, he reached above him, grabbing the ladder before hoisting himself up.  Laying flat, he dragged himself down the line, unhappy to see that the person was still trapped.


Just as he looked away, his hand slipped, and he went head first, shooting past the holds, scrabbling for something to hold onto.  Something grabbed his wrist, and he flipped around, his shoulder wrenching so painfully that he swore he blacked out for a second.  Looking up, somehow, he wasn't surprised to see Daisy.  She was pale, a hopelessness taken over her features, but she was holding on to him.


"Max..." he heard, at first thinking that he was hearing her through his helmet, before realizing that it was impossible, that something was wrong with his radio.  "MAX, YOU MORON, GET OFF THE SHIP!"  She said, his radio suddenly working too well.


Ignoring her and the pain, Max levered himself up so he was standing in the hold, facing her.  "Push!"  He ordered, yanking on the arm, trying to ignore the fact that they were spinning faster.  They might never get lose from the pull of it, he realized.


Half-turning, Daisy wedged her leg under the arm, shoving it with all her might, as Max moved his feet near her hips, wrenching upward.  He felt it bend, and they strained against it, making the arm break halfway through, bending up at a severe angle.  The rip in the metal caught Max's sleeve, ripping it open, the air freezing the exposed skin.


The sudden shift in exertion, Max went flying backwards, instinctively grabbing at the only thing close by.  He caught Daisy's foot.


Spiraling through the atmosphere, Max desperately tried to see which was up.  Were they headed more to the side?  And where the hell was that shuttle!?


"-ge... M!  Ge- I... n't!  -Go!"  His radio crackled.  He felt Daisy twist in his grip, and he glanced down in time see her kick him in the stomach with both feet, sending them rocketing in different directions.  The air slammed out of him, and he folded, unable to hear the warning sound as his suit informed him he was losing oxygen.


After a moment, he was able to see he was no longer spinning, just traveling in lazy circles, though he was momentarily shocked to find he was plummeting towards the ground.  The body is not meant to fall from the sky, so it wasn't surprising that after all that, he forgot what the real danger was.


Struggling to maneuver himself to be stomach down, his injuries impeding the action, Max's hands fumbled over his chest, feeling for the pull chord as he searched his helmet's window for the countdown.  The countdown was gone.


Watching Terra Mage grow massively in front of him, Max didn't even swear; he just gave up, his hands falling from their fruitless search.


Something heavy hit him on the back like a ton of bricks, and he was now falling even faster.  Flinching, Max was unable to move as he felt something claw over him.  He heard his radio clicking repeatedly, but that was it.  The alarm wasn't even going any more.


Something locked around his waist and he smiled as Daisy's concerned face came into view.  At least he wouldn't die alone, he thought, then realized what that meant and tried to shove her off.


Grabbing his hands, Daisy leaned back, staring at the world below.  She turned back to him, her mouth working quickly to convey a message he couldn't hear.  She looked terrified when he spoke back, seeing that there was something wrong.  She gestured from him to her and then crossed her arms over her chest in an X, holding him for a moment before looking in his face to see if he got it.  He did.  Thankfully he wasn't that stupid.


Max wrapped his arms around her and she eased her legs down his own so that when she pulled the chord she wouldn't break his back, her one hand fiercely tight against his back, the other wedged between them.


The oxygen was gone and Max was feeling dizzy, unsure if he was just ill or if he was going to blackout from the drop.


Fighting to keep both eyes open, he saw a red light flash in Daisy's helmet, and it felt like he was punched in the chest as she ripped the chord, the chute jerking them upward.  Suddenly, it was like they were standing in the air, gripping each other for dear life.  Max turned to watch the shuttle shoot past them, and he was suddenly aware of the direction Daisy had kicked him into.  He glanced at her, seeing the red light still blinking in her helmet.  He assumed that it had been the timer, but she had her own warning.  He wondered if she was losing air too.


It was still awhile to the ground, and suddenly he couldn't wait to touch down.

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