Sun in Shadow

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


After flying into an atmospheric phenomenon dubbed Section 6, a lone crewman finds that his situation may be more dire than he first realized, as physical ailments become the least of his worries.

Submitted: July 01, 2018

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Submitted: July 01, 2018

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He sat at the edge of the Harbinger’s wooden deck, which itself was sitting at the edge of an unknown mountain range, wedged between two peaks. Several hundred miles above ground, yet the air was oddly calm - breathable even. As he studied the distant blotches of color of what he assumed to be trees and hills, his mind drifted between wakefulness and sleep; he was on the Harbinger, prior to its binding, sailing the open winds. Men shouted all around him, yet he did not meet their faces; his eyes were locked on the phenomenon ahead of them: a congregation of mist, darkened clouds, and colorless smoke, on whose edges danced white and blue bolts of lightning.

“Section 6,” he heard a voice whisper, and nodded.

The wind brushed the top of the ship and sent flying everything that wasn’t bolted down. He reached up to turn the wheel and suddenly began to feel himself falling.

Fear flooded his veins and forced his eyes open with renewed vigor, and with it his hands clenched the sides of the board, just in time to catch himself from slipping off the ship’s edge. He edged backwards, hands slipping from under him. When he had retreated to the middle of the ship, he relaxed, resting his head against the bottom of the mast. Every now and again he would open his eyes, in hopes of waking from some sort of deep nightmare, but the image never changed: he was on an empty ship, surrounded by a grey phenomenon, with nothing but the sun to keep him company - and even its rays had a hard time piercing the ashen mass that loomed overhead. There were no birds, none that he could see or hear, at least, and all attempts to search for his companions yielded fruitless results.

When the sun began to set, so too did his eyelids. He no longer had the strength to keep them open, or to shout, or wander. The wind had picked up, for the first time since he got here. It whirled and whipped, and carried on it he heard the word “Jump” - but… It sounded to him like a statement, not a suggestion, so he paid them no mind and allowed his mind to drift into sleep.

“Anatoli.” The words were solid, and they were accompanied by a firm hand. The figure grasped his shoulder and shook him gently. “Anatoli,” it said once more, in a voice that took great care in its words.

When he opened his eyes he was met with darkness. The grey ring was now barely visible, and it instead gave its place to the distant stars that shone through. Before him stood a figure cloaked in shadow, but the voice, and the smile that etched itself across their obscured face were familiar. The figure grabbed a lantern from another shadow and turned to face him. With illumination came recognition, and with it a flood of memories that tugged at his heart and mind.

“Diana,” he said meekly, the words scratching at his dry throat. Confusion clouded his mind and the rush of emotion puzzled his limbs. There was much to do and much more to be said, but for the moment he opted to remain seated, and used the waning energy to keep his tears at bay.

She seemed to hear him and knelt to meet his gaze. She was comely, her hair well-kept, and - unlike him - clean. Most puzzling of all, she was smiling.

“Where have you been?” she asked nonchalantly, never losing her smile.

His mind fiddled with a sea of words, and like stones they collapsed upon him. With a sluggish motion he refocused his energy, embracing her, and wept.

______________________________________________________________________________

 

He found himself in a familiar spot, though under the cover of darkness, and now there was nothing below. They sat there, at the edge, and talked - the first words he exchanged with another living soul since the crash. He told her the last things he remembered: being assigned to the SS Harbinger, and sailing there with all of them, the strange storm that his superiors dubbed Section 6 - brewing up ahead, and their foolish attempt to sail into it. He saw that she was studying him, studying his words, and wondered if she was doubting him. Regardless, he pressed on, and told her about waking aboard the ship in a pile of his own sweat with no one else around. He called and called, but no one responded. Tired and sore, he searched the ship from corner to corner, but found not a single body - neither living nor dead - anywhere on board.

“Nothing?” she asked expectantly.

“Nothing,” he repeated, shaking his head. “Until you.”

Her smile returned once more, and she turned to look out towards the formless void that spanned all in-front and around them.

“Well, our efforts haven’t been exactly fruitful either,” she said almost absentmindedly. “No response from Watchtower, no visible search parties, and - as it stands - we’re not sure if the engines are even capable of being repaired with the limited supplies we have on hand.”

She must’ve seen the deep-rooted confusion on his face, for as soon as she turned back to him the words fled from her.

“What?”

“Diana,” he said slowly, still clawing his way through a fog of confusion and doubt. “How are you here all of a sudden?”

He saw other figures in uniform making their way around the ship, holding idle chatter, and performing other mundane duties.

Diana shrugged. “Why’s it matter? You’re here now,” she said, her gentle smile once more burrowing its way to the surface.

________________________________________________________________________

 

He arose with the sun, to a still breeze and an even stiller ship.

“Diana?” he said weakly, then more strongly. “Diana!?”

No response. Even the wind was silent. Then it dawned on him: he was once more alone, amidst the mountains where not even the eagles dared nest.  He stood, stretched in pain, and once more scoured the ship in vain. When he came to the edge where he had sat the day and night before, he squinted at the objects that dotted the landscape, but try as he might he could not see any bodies.

“They couldn’t have all jumped,” he whispered to himself, but his words were laced with doubt.

After a while, Anatoli made his way to the control room. He was no expert on communication technology, but he knew the basics. He pulled the receiver off its stand and flicked the switch off and on; the light was dim, but lit nonetheless.

“Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan,” he said with haste, then paused. “Watchtower, Watchtower, Watchtower. Harbinger A9-4, position unclear - presumed to be inside of Section 6, engine failure, ship trapped but steady for the moment. Requesting extraction.”

He held the receiver up to his ear for a few moments, but heard nothing, and dropped his arm lifelessly to his side.

The ship’s systems were seemingly in torpor, and after having no luck with any of the other emergency channels, he made his way back to the center of the ship. There were still no birds and no wind around him, just the circling haze and the beams of light that dotted the overhead. He laid outstretched across the wooden deck, chewing on his rations, and noted how the streaks of light seemed to protrude through the heavy clouds like bullet holes.

Afterwards, he laid his bag underneath his head and tried to sleep, but it would not take him, so he spent some time quietly staring at the sky. When it began to retreat, the wind once more arose from its shadowy domain and slithered its way across the top of the mountains and the ship. He welcomed it.

“To jump,” the wind told him.

He craned his head to look towards the edge, and the words repeated themselves. “To jump… To jump… T -”

“ook you long enough,” a familiar voice said.

Anatoli’s eyes flashed open to the sight of Diana looming over him with a pair of cups in her hand.

“Here,” she said, stretching one of them out towards him. “I was beginning to think you’d sleep through the day.”

“It’s night,” he said, lurching upwards and taking the cup from her.

“Yes,” she said, arching a brow. “Always is. Here, at least.” She waved her empty hand out in front of her. “Can’t get any sunlight in here on the account of all the gunk floating around, but time passes regardless. No reason for us to stop keeping track just ‘cause someone’s turned off the lights.”

He felt an ache in the back of his head as he glanced from the darkness to the one beacon of light onboard. “Diana, where did you go? Where was everyone?”

She slipped him a sideways glance, then sipped her drink. “Another bad dream?” The look on her face was a blend of worry and grim humor.

Anatoli peered at the drink in his hand, then guzzled it down thirstily. It tasted like aged wine. He tightened his grip on the hollow wood in his hand, and sighed deeply.

“Damn it!” he roared, sending the cup hurling into the darkness. Neither of them said anything, simply watching the cup fade further from view until it, like all things, was swallowed by the darkness. All around him, the mountains echoed his anger and his pain.

“Anatoli,” she began.

“I’m tired.”

________________________________________________________________________

 

He did not open his eyes, though he could feel the thin rays of sunlight on his cheeks. He clenched his eyes harder, rocking his head backwards into the wooden hull that served as his bed. Anatoli knew what he would find once he opened his eyes, and he wanted nothing more than to return to sleep. Yet sleep had left him, and he was eventually forced to once again greet his early-rising comrade.

“Leave me be!” he shouted, and the air gulped down his words.

When he came to, he once more made his way to the control room, collected the receiver, flipped the switch, tapped the screen, and repeated his message in every language he knew. All three received the same response: silence. This time, he did not return to the deck right away, instead digging around in the other crewmates’ quarters. The beds were still there, unmade, with bags and other loose items strewn all over the floor. Everyone’s personal survival pack was curiously missing, but other than that the ship remained untouched. He dug through the rubble a bit and pulled out a six-string guitar.

He tuned it as he walked back over to his corner of the ship that had, by now, begun to carry his scent. As the sun began to subside, he began to pluck at the strings - slowly at first, and then, remembering a festive song from his youth, much more quickly. His fingers danced across it as the wind resumed its daily walk; soon, it too was dancing to the strum of his guitar.

A whisper ran across the wind, but the music drowned it out. It whispered once more, but still nothing. The third time the wind picked it up, and though it was faint, he could hear a shaky voice uttering something that it seemed to recite over and over.

“Going to jump.”

Anatoli’s fingers never left the string, but his eyes danced towards the ledge when he heard the chant. He got up, never losing the rhythm, and walked over towards the edge. Though the confusion and general unease had never left him, he found himself less afraid of the great expanse, and sat cross-legged at the border between life and death.

His song finished with the last hint of sunlight, though he never recalled losing consciousness. Familiar words once again woke him.

“That was a beautiful song,” she said.

Anatoli did not look at her this time, preferring to stare off into nothingness. The void was dark and emotionless, but at least it did not stare back at him - it did not doubt him, or try to placate him… It didn’t care at all, and he found comfort in that.

“Toli,” Diana’s voice once more tugged at his ear.

He chuckled. “You have not called me that since we were children.”

“You have… Not been yourself lately,” she continued. “I don’t blame you - none of us have been of one-mind since we crashed. But… You seem to have taken it more harshly than the rest of us. Can I ask why?”

He could feel her eyes upon him, but he did not break the sky’s gaze.

“Every day I awaken to an empty ship, manned by ghosts. There is no trace of anyone - not a single one. And then… Every night, I wake here, with you, on a ship full of people. You say it’s just a dream - a nightmare, but I cannot distinguish what is real. The solitude and emptiness I feel during the day is just as real as the love I feel here, underneath the silent stars.”

Diana waited for a moment, then spoke. “Everyone’s mind has a different way of handling stress.”

“Then why am I the only one that’s questioning my own sanity? Are all of you living in two worlds, as I am?

He did not wait for a response. Diana raised an arm in protest, but Anatoli ignored it and walked off towards the control room. There was another man in there, fidgeting with the controls, when Anatoli came stumbling in.

“Any response from Watchtower?” he asked the man.

The man spun around and shook his head. He had a familiar look about him, but Anatoli couldn’t pinpoint it.

“What’s your name again?”

Before the man could answer, Diana caught up with him.

“Anatoli,” she wore a more concerned look this time.

He simply shook his head. “I’m sorry, Diana… I should get some rest.”

His words seemed to soften her demeanor, and she nodded in agreement. “Yes, it’s for the best. We’ll talk more when you’re better.”

With that he wandered haphazardly towards one of the sleeping dorms and buried his face in a random set of pillows and sheets.

______________________________________________________________________________

 

When he awoke, he found himself in the same room, now with a slight flicker of hope brimming within him. He rushed out into the open, into daylight… And familiar emptiness.

He spent the next several hours in a daze, remembering little and caring less, until he found himself in the control room once more, and - like a machine - he carried out his programing. The methods never changed, nor did the response, and he wandered the ship until his legs gave out. He sat there, at some indistinguishable section of the ship, and pondered. He pictured Diana’s face, perpetually smiling, even in the darkest of times, and a sense of longing arose within him. It felt genuine, but also mystified him; she was only a few hours away, once the fever-dream departed. His thoughts turned to the stars, and how peaceful they were compared to the invasive rays of sunlight, and the lantern that took on the sole task of illuminating the entire ship - as best it could. Other things flooded his mind, and he had to constantly shuffle and organize them to avoid being overwhelmed, and in that chaos arose another familiar face - that of Wyland, the control room operator.

“Wyland,” he traced the words with his lips. “Wyland,” he said once more, loudly.

Mustering the rest of his strength, Anatoli rose from his stupor and ran to the captain’s room.

“Where is it?” he growled aimlessly, shuffling through drawers and piles of papers. He opened one, then another, until all stood bare to him - and then he saw it, a small red thing, wrapped in leather. He flipped the logbook open with clammy hands, his eyes and fingers racing one another through its pages. The pages blurred before him until he came upon the one he was searching for; it read Commanding Officers and Crew.

Captain Aren J. Markov, Mikhail Stenovski, Frederic Auger, Dimitri Reznov, Joachim H. Gustaf. He read the names out loud to himself.

“Anatoli Krasnov,” he said, upon reaching his own name. He read the names again, and then a third time.

“I’m going to jump,” a disembodied voice said. “I’m going to jump, Anatoli.”

“Mikhail,” he whispered back to the book, as an oily finger smudged the name it touched.

“I’m going to jump,” it said once more.

Anatoli closed the book and held it to his chest. For the first time in a long time his mind began to clear, the heavy clouds that once clung to him were now beginning to disperse. He ran back to the control room, sat the logbook down, and reached for the receiver… Then stopped.

“Not yet,” he told himself. “One more night.”

______________________________________________________________________________

 

He found her this time; she was sitting near the southern railing, eyeing the large, motionless wheel.

She smiled when she was him, but remained unmoving, save for a hand motioning for him to sit.

“Diana,” he said, hastily taking a seat.

“You seem to be in a better mood,” she chuckled. “Told you some rest would do you good.”

Anatoli knew what he wanted to say, but the words were chained to his lips.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, recognizing his poorly concealed sadness.

“I… I have to leave, Diana,” he finally said, looking away from her.

This brought a laugh to her. “And pray tell - where will you go?”

“Home,” he said sadly.

The ship creaked with the footsteps of the other crew members, but he knew now what they truly were.

“This isn’t real, Diana. None of it.”

Diana gave him a quizzical look and placed the back of her hand against his forehead.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” she asked.

“I’m alright,” he assured her, taking her hand into his.

“Think about it; why would you be here, of all people? And Wyland? I haven’t seen him since high school.”

Diana seemed prepared for this question. “We reunited for the mission. Don’t you remember?”
He gave her a sad look. “That’s just it… I do remember. That’s why I know you are now far away, with another, and your mind does not wander to me.”

“Anatoli,” she said in disbelief.

“It’s alright,” he smiled beside himself. “You will always have a place in my heart, Diana, but I cannot carry you around like some sort of unplanted flag.”

He let her hand slip out from under his, and her eyes drifted off. His own eyes turned to the sky.

“A fool stays awake all night worrying about everything. He’s fatigued when morning comes, and his problems remain unsolved.”

With that he left her, wandering off into the darkness, until night became day.

________________________________________________________________________

 

Anatoli wasted no time. He grabbed a chair from the sleeping quarters and sat it down in the spot that he had come to call home. Next he found a bucket, cleaned it well, and placed it down in front of the chair. After that he rummaged through the kitchen cupboards until he found a metal plate that was roughly the size of the bucket and place it inside. Lastly, he searched the bags of his long-gone comrades and pocketed the heaviest coin he could find.

If his calculations were correct, he still had several hours of daylight. When everything was in order, he took a seat on the chair and stared out towards where the horizon ought to be.

He smiled to himself and, turning the coin over in his hand, began to sing.

Sólin… Sólin... Sólin ein hefur numið staðar.”

When the sun began its final preparations for the day, Anatoli gripped the coin and held it over the bucket.

He tilted his head back.

“Sólin… Sólin... Sólin ein hefur numið staðar…”

Sleep took him subtly, and just when he began to lose himself, the sound of the coin hitting the plate pierced the weave, and his eyes came to.

A genuine night greeted him, as did the few stars that followed the sun’s example in piercing the unnatural cloud - which, to his naked eye - seemed a lot thinner. He stood carefully and made his way to the control room. The lights and screens seemed to be brimming with activity, and he could hear static even before he began his usual ritual.

Once more he repeated his request, and once more there was silence, but this time it did not last. Distorted voices sprang from the other end of the receiver, but they were voices nonetheless. Anatoli spent the rest of the night sending and deciphering codes back and forth, until he was assured they received his location and status. When sleep finally took him, he went willingly, and he dreamt of the sun.

 


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