Authors: Brian Evenson
Tags: #Horror, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Media Tie-In, #Action & Adventure
“But . . . I don’t . . .” Hennessey stuttered, groping for words. “I have to be honest, Shane. I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re talking about.”
Let them know,
The Marker is the past, and the past must remain undisturbed if we are to continue as we are. You have already awakened it. It calls out for you even now. But you must not obey. You must not listen. Tell them that.
“Who am I supposed to tell?” asked Hennessy.
“But why don’t you tell them, Shane?” he asked. “You know so much more about it than I do!”
But Shane just shook his head.
It’s already begun,
he said. He reached out and touched his thumb to Hennessy’s forehead. His touch burned like ice. And then, as Hennessy watched, his brother slowly faded and was gone.
He felt bereft, and very lonely. He went to the observation porthole, slipping on the carcass on the floor on the way.
Somebody should move that,
he thought. The whole cabin reeked of blood.
Maybe Shane’s out there,
like he was before,
but all he could see was the murky water, cut through by the light, and the edge of the Marker. Yes, it was definitely glowing now, its light pulsing slightly.
He stared at it. It was trying to tell him something. What had Shane said? That it had to be left alone, that they didn’t need to understand it. But why, then, did he feel like he wanted to understand it, like he wanted to learn from it? Maybe Shane had been wrong.
He stared and stared. For a moment, he felt he could hear a voice again, maybe Shane’s voice, but then it grew softer and softer and was gone. And then suddenly the glow grew brighter and it was as if his head had been cracked open and filled with light. He whirled around, his eyes darting back and forth. He needed to get it all down. He needed to record everything it was telling him. He could type it all into the computer, but that wasn’t enough, there could be a power failure and then everything would be lost. No, he needed to write it, but he didn’t have
a pen, a pencil, paper. He hadn’t used actual paper since he was a child. The computer would have to do.
On his way back to it, he slipped again, went partly down, soaking his knee and his hand in gore. He looked at his hand, dripping with blood, its bloody double inscribed right on the flesh of his thigh, and then he knew what to do.
He dipped his fingers in Dantec’s blood and approached the walls, waiting for his mind to crack open again. When it did, it flared with symbols. He could see them perfectly in his head, shimmering there. Frantically, he began to jot them on the walls, writing as quickly as he could, stopping only to dip his fingers in blood again. At first there was something like an
, but only backward, with a bead on the bottom of its leg. Then an
but upside down, with its horizontal bar crimped. Then something that looked like the prow of a ship, moving left to right, a porthole just visible, and a circle within a circle. After that he was writing so furiously, trying to keep up with the figures streaming through his head, that he couldn’t keep track, could only let his fingers trace out the patterns and move on.
When he hit the porthole, he didn’t stop, just wrote right over it. Anything that got in the way he wrote on. After a while, he was running out of space and started writing smaller so that there’d be enough room. When he ran out of room on the walls, he wrote on and under the instrument panels. When he ran low on blood, he stomped on what was left of Dantec’s chest, trying to force more out. But only a little came out. So he stomped on a limb hard and blood began to leach out. Before too long, Dantec’s body had been torn to pieces, looking even less human than when he’d started.
The com unit crackled, sending out an angry hiss of static. “—in, co—F/Seven—othersh—” it said.
“Not now, Tanner,” he said back.
“—ome in, come—o you read?” it said.
“Not now!” he shouted. The ceiling was already covered, the walls were already covered; all that was left was the floor. He piled the pieces of Dantec’s body in the command chair. He tried to strap them in, but quickly realized it was useless. That was all right, he told himself. The vessel wasn’t moving. They weren’t going anywhere.
There was hardly any blood left, and what was left on the floor was beginning to clot. He dipped his fingers in it, kept writing in light, wispy strokes, conserving the blood. But very quickly, he ran out of floor.
He wished Shane were there to tell him what to do next. Had he done the right thing? Had he betrayed his brother? He stayed there on his knees, staring.
It was hot, almost too hot to bear. How could it be so hot? He stood up and took off his shirt, threw it on the other chair. It helped a little, but not enough. He was still hot. He took off his shoes, piled them on top of the shirt, then took off his pants, his underwear. Naked, he stared down at his body.
White as a sheet. No, not a sheet,
White as paper.
And then he knew where he would write next.
Only there wasn’t any more blood. He’d used all of Dantec up; he hadn’t saved enough to write the ending.
He looked around. Surely there was more blood here somewhere. Didn’t they travel with bags of blood? What if they needed to do an onboard transfusion? How could they go anywhere without blood?
His eyes were scanning over the room, searching, when they passed over his arm, saw the pulse of a vein. “Ah,” he said, breaking into a smile, “that’s where you’re hiding. There you are.”
· · ·
It wasn’t easy to get the blood to come out, but in the end he managed, tearing the arm open with the sharp corner of the same strut he had used to discipline Dantec. At first, the blood came readily and he could simply rub the finger against his arm and then inscribe a symbol on his body. But quickly the wound slowed and began to clot. He had to tear it open again, and then a third time.
By the time he was done, it was as if he himself had become a representation of the Marker. He was beautiful, covered with a swarm of symbols, all the knowledge of the universe expressed on the surface of his skin. He stood straight, arms to his sides, and held still. He was the Marker. He could feel its power flowing through him.
How long he was like that, he couldn’t say. He was snapped out of it by a sharp noise and an intense pain in his head. He swayed and fell down, clutching his temples. When the noise finally stopped, he stood and stumbled up. He had more to do, he remembered, confusedly. He had to tell them; he had to warn them.
He turned on the vidscreen and stood in front of it, set it to simultaneously record and to broadcast on all frequencies. The message was for
—Shane had been clear about that. He needed to tell everyone, if the message could get through the rock and muck at all.
“Hello,” he said to the vidscreen. “Officer James Hennessy here, acting commander of the SS
. I’ve been informed by my brother, Shane, that there’s something we all need to know.”
There was a stabbing pain in his head, as if someone were prodding his optic nerve with the tip of a dull knife. He clutched his head and leaned on the counter. After the pain had passed,
he stood there for a moment, unsure of where he was. He opened his eyes and looked around him, unable to take it all in. And then suddenly he remembered: He was on TV!
He gave the camera his most winning smile. What was he doing again? Oh, yes, that’s right: He was saving humanity.
”We’ve heard the wrong whispers,” he started. “There’s little time, and we’re listening to what they say, but Shane says we should not obey. We are not following the right answers. We have to resist the past before it is too late. Too late for Convergence.”
He gave his winning smile again, looking straight and intensely into the camera. Anyone watching would realize he was talking directly to them. They had to understand how important this was.
“I’ve drawn a map,” he said, gesturing to his body. “I don’t know if that’s what Shane wants, but I looked at the Marker and looked at it and then I had to draw. We need to change our ways and learn to understand it,” he said. He shook his head, confused. Had he gotten off track somewhere? “Or else not understand it,” he said. It was like there were two forces inside him, fighting to claim him, and he was no longer sure which was which, and which he should listen to.
The Marker caught his eye through the porthole. He watched it pulse a long moment. He looked at his left hand, then looked at his right hand and slowly brought them together, in front of him. “Convergence,” he said. He gestured at the Marker through the porthole, then gestured at the symbols on his own body. “We need to understand it,” he said, even though a part of him was screaming at him to stop. “That’s the only thing that’s important right now, to learn from it. It is the way. We need to understand it, not destroy it.”
He backed away and turned the vid off. He was so tired now. His head hurt. He needed to rest. He would rest for just a minute and then head for home.
He lay down on the floor. He felt both hot and cold. His bare body felt unnatural against the smooth floor. Slowly he folded in on himself, until he was curled into a ball, and started to shiver.
At the end he had a brief moment of lucidity, when he realized that he was tired because the oxygen was running out, when he realized that something else had controlled everything he had done, everything he had said. But by the time he realized this, it was far too late to do anything about it.
I’ll get up in a moment,
I’ll get up and drill my way back up to the surface. And then I’ll sort this mess out.
A moment later he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Not long after, he was dead.
THE NOOSE TIGHTENS
“How long has it been?” asked the Colonel.
“Too long,” said Tanner, his face drawn, his voice hoarse. “Nearly forty-eight hours now.” He’d been awake almost two and a half full days. Most of that time he’d spent trying to get in touch with the F/7. There’d been a few scattered bits, moments when somehow everything aligned to let the signal through, and so he assumed there had been moments they’d seen him as well. But it never lasted long enough for them to communicate. And then, just when he was ready to give up hope, there had come a signal, broadcasting on all bands. They had gotten only bits of that, too, but others had picked up other bits of it on other channels. Tanner’s team had gathered as much as they could and were working to sequence it all together to form something. He’d thought they’d have something by now, which was why he’d contacted the Colonel, but they were still working.
“Could they still be alive?” the Colonel asked.
“We already know one of them is dead.”
“No, Dantec,” said Tanner. He rubbed his eyes. He’d had a headache for days now, maybe even weeks. He was starting to feel like he couldn’t remember when he hadn’t had one.
“That’s a surprise,” said the Colonel.
Tanner nodded. “We still don’t know what happened, but we know he’s dead.” He spun the holofile through the screen, watched the Colonel take it up on his end. Tanner knew what it was: a grisly image capture showing a disjointed torso propped in the command chair, its limbs piled neatly on the chair just in front of it. The head was broken and distorted and hardly human. “It’s a piece of one transmission that we were able to salvage. The last image we have, really.”
“How do you know this is Dantec?” asked the Colonel. The Colonel was a hard man, Tanner thought: his voice was just as even as it had been before, like he was looking at somebody’s wedding picture.
Tanner circled portions of the image on his monitor. “You can see here and there bits of hair. It’s caked in blood, but we’re reasonably certain it’s hair.”
“Ah, yes,” said the Colonel, “now I see.”
“Hennessy was bald,” Tanner said simply.
The Colonel leaned back in his chair, thoughtful. “What happened?” he asked.
Tanner shrugged. “Something went wrong,” he said. “Beyond that I can’t say.”
“If you had to guess, what would you guess?”
Tanner sighed. “Hennessy must have gone crazy and caught Dantec unawares. Maybe something wrong with the oxygen supply that had some effect on his brain, maybe the pressure of being confined in such a small space for too long. Or maybe he was already insane and we didn’t know.”
“Doesn’t it strike you as strange?” asked the Colonel.
“Of course it strikes me as strange,” said Tanner. “It’s not normal behavior.”
“No,” said the Colonel. “Yes, of course, all that is strange, but it’s even stranger that it happens now, just now, when they’re on their way toward an impossible object found in an impossible location.”
“Sabotage, you think?”
“I can’t rule it out,” said the Colonel. “But that’s the least strange of the possibilities, Tanner. Show a little more imagination.” He leaned forward again. “Contact me immediately once you’ve got some footage to show me,” he said, and reached out to cut the link.
The power of the signal, Altman realized, had increased sometime during the night. The indicator he’d installed was reading higher than he’d ever seen it. The pulse ended and it fell back, still higher than it had been in its previous resting state.
He glanced over at Field, who seemed immersed in his own calculations. Just to be safe, he angled his holoscreen so that there’d be no chance of Field seeing what was on it. He scrolled back through the data log until he found the shift. There, sometime around six or seven in the morning, though he’d have to do a full correlation to make sure. The signal’s increase wasn’t gradual but immediate, as if something had suddenly and deliberately amplified it.