Authors: D. B. Reynolds-Moreton
Tags: #Science Fiction
This edition Copyright © 2011 by sci-fi-cafe.com.
Story Copyright © 1998 by D. B. Reynolds-Moreton
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lyn Bolstrom burst out of his nightmare into the inky blackness of the cabin, his body bathed in an ice cold sweat and shaking uncontrollably. He could still see the group of hideously distorted faces surrounding him, mouthing their obscenities as his trembling fingers groped for the elusive light sensor pad behind his head.
Wave after wave of panic surged throughout his body as he tried unsuccessfully to differentiate between reality and the terrifying sequence of events which had made up his nightmare.
Eventually, his desperately searching fingers brushed across the smooth raised surface of the sensor pad and the cabin luminary flashed into life, flooding the area around him with its harsh blue white light, adding a hint of sanity.
The grotesque collection of distorted faces slowly faded from view, but not before another shudder had rippled through his already shaking body.
Glyn breathed a sigh of relief, his breath whistling through his still chattering teeth as he heaved his body into an upright position on the bunk bed.
‘I can’t take much more of this.’ he cried out loud.
‘Having one of your nightmares again, dear?’ His wife had been woken by his thrashing about as he came out of the horrible dream.
‘Yes, and the damn thing is getting worse each time. I can still see their awful faces after I’ve put the light on. Sorry to have disturbed your sleep again.’
‘Don’t worry, dear. Tomorrow, or I should say today, is Sunning Day, so you can sleep on a little and catch up on your rest, there are no set tasks for you today, as far as I know. At least, I didn’t see any on the screen last night.’
‘Try to get back to sleep, dear, and I’ll see if we can get some help in the morning.’ and with that she turned over and drifted back into her slumbers.
He knew no help would be forthcoming as the Medic had broken down, or to be more precise, was only working intermittently, and then it only offered random advice which rarely fitted the problem asked of it.
Glyn would have liked to go back to sleep, but he was now afraid to in case the faces returned. One helping of that nightmare was quite enough for one sleep period, he thought.
His sleep had been disturbed for several weeks now, and the nightmare always began at the same point.
His wife was just about to give birth to their first born, although in reality they were not due to have children for some years yet, unless there was an unfortunate terminal mishap among one of the other members of the ship.
He was standing in the Medic’s room at the foot of the delivery couch, and Mia was smiling sweetly at him over the huge bulge of her distended stomach.
‘It won’t be long now dearest, I can feel her moving about.’
At this point the door bursts open, and six birthing attendants rush into the room and spread themselves around the bed, three to each side.
They are dressed in long grey robes with cowls hiding their faces, and mutter incoherently among themselves as they lay out an assortment of surgical instruments on the edge of the couch, flashes of light mirrored from the overhead luminary unit accompanying the tinkle of steel on steel.
And then the screaming starts. At first it is just a soft low whimper, repeated again and again, and it then builds up slowly into a crescendo of sound which threatens to split his head open with its persistent screech of torment.
The attendants are jumping up and down, clapping their hands and chanting some unintelligible words which somehow seem to have some significance to him, but he can’t think what it is.
Mia’s face distorts into an ugly parody of what it once was, one eye sliding down to the middle of her cheek, her nose tilts sideways and creeps up the other cheek pushing the eye socket up onto her forehead. Her hair is all but gone, just a few straggly wisps of dull grey brown hang down limply, like chewed string.
Her face becomes a distorted patchwork of red and brown pimpled skin, while a dribble of dirty saliva seeps from the gaps between the few blackened and broken teeth which remain.
The attendant nearest to him pushes forward, nearly knocking him off balance, and then thrusts a gnarled and dirty hand between Mia’s legs. The screaming goes a tone higher and considerably louder. Glyn’s tries to shut out the torturous sounds and then the attendant braces himself against the couch and tugs and pulls strenuously, cursing and swearing.
Suddenly there is a loud ‘plop’ and the attendant holds a baby up by one leg, letting it swing to and fro, as if it were being blown by intermittent gusts of wind.
The cowls drop down to the attendant’s shoulders, and a hideous array of faces are revealed. All are distorted and twisted to a point of being hardly recognizable as human.
One had only one eye, another, a hole where the nose should have been, the third had three eyes, one of which was in the middle of its forehead. Each had its own terrible deformity, made all the worse by their gesticulations and the high pitched ranting and raving which was going on.
One of the attendants, with putrefying sores and a piece of decaying jaw bone showing through the ruptured skin, spun around and thrust his face into Glyn’s, the overpowering stench of his breath nearly making him pass out.
‘Look what you’ve spawned, a mutant, a hideous travesty of humankind! It will have to be destroyed, burnt, mashed up into a pulp. It can’t be allowed to live and breed more of its kind.’ And with that he grabbed it from the other attendant and swept out of the room, the little girl child with the perfect pink skin, golden curls and pale blue eyes gurgled and smiled at Glyn, waving her chubby little hand in farewell.
Each time the nightmare occurred, it contained more detail, more sounds, and now smells were added to the deep distress Glyn had just experienced.
He dimmed the light down until it was only a gentle glow so as not to disturb his wife, and lay there, wondering what to do about the horrors of the night.
In the beginning, it hadn’t been too bad, just unpleasant. Now, as the nightmare gained more detail, it was just about the most awful experience he could imagine, and the last three times it had occurred the images had remained long after he had switched on the cabin light.
He could try the Medic once more, but he couldn’t remember the last time it gave out a sensible answer to a query, and no one else seemed able to help.
Glyn drifted into a half sleep state and relaxed, but not for long as the stench of the one with the putrefying sores assailed his nostrils once more and he was snap wide awake again, a new gush of ice cold sweat being added to his already wet night clothes.
As he was now fully awake, he was determined to stay that way until it was time to get up, no matter what.
‘Suppose I’ll get used to it in time. Anyway, it can’t get any worse.’ he muttered to himself. But he had thought that a few weeks ago, and it had.
To pass the time, he went over the events of the past few days, checking to see if he had done all the work assigned to him correctly, and was pleased to discover that he could find no fault with what he had done.
The lights suddenly came on fully to herald the new day, and he got up and stretched his tired body before going into the washing room for his morning rinse down.
Several others had preceded him, and among them was the team leader with whom he had discussed the nightmare problem a couple of weeks ago.
‘They are getting worse, and I don’t think I can take much more of it, Benz, surely there’s something that can be done. It really is getting beyond a joke now.’
‘Not that I know of. I’m more of a practical man, what you need is someone who is skilled with the mind, and I don’t think we have anyone like that at the moment. You could try the book room, although it is only meant to represent a very tiny portion of the knowledge contained in the Teacher. Pity Teacher isn’t still functioning, but it has been out of order for several generations now, so I’m told.’
‘Well it’s worth a try I suppose.’ replied Glyn, feeling a little better as the warm air from the drying ducts caressed his body, evaporating the last few droplets of water he hadn’t managed to shake off.
After completing his ablutions and dressing, he went back to his cabin and helped Mia finish tidying up before heading for the eating room where they all met up every morning to have the first meal of the day, and to find out what their duties for the next shift would be.
One of the few devices which hadn’t broken down over the years was the food preparation machine. It had suffered from a few hiccups on occasions, as did the partakers of its offerings, but by and large, it had functioned in a reasonable and sane manner, at least most of the time.
Considering that it was a purely mechanical device, it managed to produce a surprisingly varied selection of menus, some of which left the consumers guessing as to what the offering was supposed to be, but generally it was good wholesome stuff, and no one had died from its culinary concoctions, as yet.
By the time Glyn and Mia had reached the eating room, everyone else had arrived and were seated, the two children and the one teenager seated with their respective parents, waiting for the day’s offering to come sliding out of the hatchway.
They were greeted with nods and smiles from the assembled diners and replied in like manner, taking their places at the end of the long table.
They had barely settled into their seats when the hatch slid back with a sigh and the first two plates of today’s offering appeared.
‘Good God, what is it this time?’ asked the recipient at the head of the table, not really expecting an answer. The two plates were passed on down the table and the next two appeared at the hatch as if by magic.
When everyone had received their portion, the comments began, most of which were humorous but some contained veiled threats as to what would have happened to the chef, had it been human.
The usual ripple of laughter accompanied the more cryptic remarks offered by the most witty of those assembled.
The food was good and wholesome and pleasant to taste, although the mechanical chef had got a little confused as to the appropriate colours for the synthetic fried egg, beans and potato fritters it had produced, but this wasn’t unusual.
The meals provided by the ship were augmented by fresh fruit and vegetables gathered from the hydroponic gardens, of which there were many, the most natural of them being the current orchard with its green lawns dotted about with a selection of all the fruit bearing trees old earth had to offer at the time the ship was built.
The orchards took quite a time to come to maturity and produce their harvests, so there was a system of rotation, an old dying orchard was cleared of its trees and allowed to rest for a while, and then replanted with new stock from cuttings taken earlier.
After everyone had consumed their fill of the synthetic breakfast and a selection of fruits and berries from the side table, they all sat back engaging in light conversation, awaiting the instructions for the day to appear on the screen above the food hatchway.
As this was the seventh day of the weekly cycle, it was deemed a day of rest, and little work was required of the crew except for the inspection of the status board to ensure that all was well with the ship’s equipment. Slight corrections needed could be made to bring any green lights back on, should they have changed to red, indicating a problem.