Speculative Fiction Science Fiction

The square room was of white walls, white canvas and white light.

From each corner hid no shadow; not a mote of dust lingered, and not a sound was heard.

A cryogenic bed was fixed in the middle of the room with a digital counter atop the glass frame.

The last minute of the timer fell and as the numbers showed zero, a door on the far side of the room opened.

The bed unlatched with a wheeze and a naked man sat upright.

“Dr Fischer,” spoke a voice, “another year has passed. The procedure will be resumed.”

“Did you destroy it?” he said out of pure instinct, unaware of the voice.

His eyes bulged in fear and anticipated bad news.

“It seems your memory has left you for the time being. You will recall, soon.”

“I had a nightmare,” said Fischer, “please tell me you destroyed it.”

He spoke to a lithe figure composed internally of motherboards and circuits, hidden away by a thin metallic face which bore a resemblance to a female.

“Who are you?” asked Fischer.

She carried a robe.

“Put this on Dr Fischer and we shall take a walk. Everything that you have forgotten will come back shortly.”

He obeyed, slipped into the robe, and they left the room.

The hallway ahead of them was made of clear glass which overlooked the vast darkness.

“We’re in space?” he asked.

“Yes, Dr Fischer.”

“What happened to –“

“If you’d follow me through here,” said the female.

She led him through a door which opened to a great, indoor courtyard full of vibrance and life; a grove of willows stood high against the white wall, a river ran beneath them and birds soared above them.

“Take a moment, Dr Fischer.”

He admired his surroundings. It was beautiful, serene, yet a part of him wanted to cry.

Nothing moved. Flowers wilted; buildings crumbled. Crowds were fixed on the spot.

I watched.

Fischer looked at the female.

“You didn’t manage to destroy it?” he asked.

“No. It destroyed us”

His eyes lingered on the red and blue birds that twirled above them.

“They’re not real,” he said.

“Everything you see is artificial,” she turned to face him, “there is no more life on this ship than there is on Earth, other than you, Dr Fischer.”

“I don’t understand. What happened to everyone?”

“Please, follow me.”

As they left the room, Fischer took one last look at the flowing river and flying birds.

“Where are we headed?”

“To the artefacts museum.”

They walked through another long corridor which gazed over the starry vacuum.

“None of this tells me who you are,” said Fischer.

The robot paused and cued what seemed to be an automatic response.

“My name is Solana and I maintain The Custodian; built in the year 2096 by Dr Adrian Fischer in an attempt to leave Planet Earth due to The Pause.”

“I built this?” asked Fischer.

“You designed the technology and equipment that brought The Custodian to life, allowing it to self-sustain itself for millennia.”

“Millenia?” he said, “how long have we been up here?”

“Four-hundred and eighty-two years.”

“And I have only just been woken up?”

“No, Dr Fischer. You have been woken up four-hundred and eighty-two times.”

“How is that possible?”

“You will learn soon.”

“How come I don’t remember anything?”

“The Pause,” said Solana, “it can disrupt memory. But, all will come back in due time.”

“What is The Pause?”

“It’s your legacy, Dr Fischer.”

The next room was also a stainless white; glass cabinets sat upon marble plinths – each containing a reference from Earth.

“Did I put these here?”

“Yes,” said Solana, “what you couldn’t preserve, you fashioned yourself.”

He browsed through the items that were kept on each side of him; a copy of The Voyager Golden Record, miniaturised statues of the Wonders of the World, a record player with Sinatra’s Platinum Collection.

Fischer laughed.

“Now this I somewhat remember.”

“You were always fond of the arts, Dr Fischer.”

They continued walking until they reached a wooden cabinet with several framed photos sat on it, along with a holographic display of images that played on the wall.

Fischer stared in disbelief.

“It’s – “he started.

“- your family.”

He looked at the pictures and saw his wife and two children; a daughter and a son.

“I can hardly remember their names. What happened to them?”

“Lost,” she said, “in The Pause.”

A moment of anger caught him off guard.

“The Pause,” he said, “You keep mentioning it, but what the hell is it!”

“It’s at the end of the room.”

It had all gone wrong. It didn’t work. A woman gripped my arm, two children stood by her side, frightened. I had to leave them. I had to go back. I had to destroy what I created.

They stopped at the final glass cabinet.

“What is this?” asked Fischer.

“This is your creation – your legacy from which you birthed unimaginable power.”

The memories ebbed slowly back into his mind.

He admired the device, eyes wide.

“So you never destroyed it then, why?”

“It was you who told me not to,” she replied, “each time you woke up, you gave me a specific order.”

It was a clean rectangular shaped device, fitted with a small screen on top that continued to whir in its glass cage; above all was a black switch with a marking below it.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“It is The Helm of Awe, a Norse marking representing the ability to put fear into others. You left the marking when discovering its true power.”

“And what is that?”

“All time, corresponding to Earth’s natural order, is stopped; all within a particular radius set by the user. Life as you knew had been set on hold – you designed it to preserve life, but instead, it eradicated it. When you flicked the switch back, Earth’s state had changed.

Buildings crumbled, oceans dried, nature itself had seemingly lost its power and the world had fallen into its final state of chaos.”

“Why? What went wrong?”

“Some things cannot be controlled Dr Fischer – time, for example. It is not yours to control. Mother Nature left the playing field and allowed you to indulge in some of her power, now you reap the consequences.”

“But how come I’m in space, alone?”

“You knew the dangers you put yourself and the others around you in when building the device, so you took a precaution – The Custodian – but as Earth’s order began to unravel at your fingertips – time, which you once seemingly controlled, had left your grasp.

Time ran out, Dr Fischer. Time to save your family and your world had run out.”

I need to destroy it. If it’s destroyed, maybe things will revert back to normal. Maybe they will come back.

“So it’s all my fault,” he mumbled, “everything?”

“It is, Dr Fischer.”

He drew his eyes away from the device.

“Why do you keep waking me up? Just to remind me of what I had done?”

His watery eyes focussed on Solana’s empty face.

“It was your first request. From the moment you boarded this ship, you asked to be woken from cryo-sleep each year and endure the punishment you designed yourself.”

“What is the punishment?”

“It is in the next room.”

He stood in silence for several moments, taking in everything he had heard. It was his fault.

As they left the room, he looked up at a painting that hung above the doorway.

“Black in Deep Red, by –“

“-Rothko,” finished Fischer, “a man who met a tragic end.”

“The arts,” said Solana, “you were always fond of them.”

The final room was unlike any other he had seen today – an unrivalled fear was resting within the walls.

It was black like the void itself.

A singular chair was in the middle of the room with a small table by its side; spools of wire ran down its leg and joined a control panel that was built into the wall.

“What is this place?”

“You told me that it was the first thing you built in The Custodian. Since you couldn’t suffer the fate like those among Earth, you would endure a punishment alone that lasted longer than eternity.”

“How is it possible?”

“Time dilation; the device has been re-engineered by myself, on your behalf,” said Solana, “although it comes not without flaws– memory loss upon waking – it is closer to its intended purpose, to preserve life.”

“So what happens now?”

“You will sit in the chair and be wired up to the machine. From there, a video feed will play directly to your brain. The device will be triggered, and for you, what feels like a year will only be a week on the ship. Once a period of time has passed, you will be put into cryo-sleep to maintain your bodies functions.”

Fischer’s body grew numb. He had been alive longer than any human, but for what? Only to suffer for his mistake.

“What’s on the video?”

“A recreation of the end of Earth -end of life, end of your family, Dr Fischer, that will be viewed over and over to befit your mistakes – a suitable punishment.”

He felt like arguing, standing down, but no words came to mind.

Death was too good for him – a blessing.

“Let’s begin,” he said.

Multiple wires were placed on his body and a large metal tube loomed over his head.

“Before we begin,” said Solana, “there is something you should see.”

She took out a thick, leather book that was held together by a scrawny elastic bind.

There were several words written on the cover in a scrawled handwriting:

‘The Diary of Adrian Fischer’

“From the first time that you sat in this chair, you have requested that you are able to write a small passage – a message, perhaps, to your future self.”

He took the book and flicked through its numerous pages.

Passage 398:

Most of my memory has come back as I write this. It is like a nightmare – one which seems so real and has no end. I don’t know how many times I watched my family disappear, only to reappear, and be stolen once more.

Passage 444:

When I watched the birds in the courtyard, I actually fell to my knees in despair. What had I done? But it finally came to me when I saw the pictures.

Their names, I had remembered my children’s names for a brief second. Yet as I write this, I can’t seem to remember them.

They are ghosts now.

Passage 481:

I can’t do it anymore. One last time – that is all I am capable of. Ask Solana to stop the process. Forgive me, humanity.

Fischer shut the book and laid it on the table.

Solana watched as he did so.

“This time,” he said, “don’t put me in the cryo-bed. I will remain here until I rot in this chair. The punishment can stop, Solana, I have seen enough.”

Lights flickered from within her eyes.

“Your command has been registered and will be obeyed, Dr Fischer.”

“When I am no longer here, destroy the device, Solana. Cast it into space, burn it – do what I should have done a long time ago.”

“Why didn’t you destroy it back on Earth?”

The question rung so many bells in his head that the answer was already at the tip of his mind; the same feeling he had felt centuries ago.

“Fear,” he said, “fear that my life’s work would be wasted, fear that my life would have meant nothing.”

Solana kept silent.

“Begin the process.”

She moved to the control panel behind him. Something buzzed and the metal tube began to lower over his face.

"Goodbye, Dr Fischer."

“Thank you, Solana, this will be the last time.”

September 13, 2021 14:04

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Delia Strange
06:22 Sep 20, 2021

I enjoyed this story. There was an impending sense of doom from the beginning and it only got sharper as the story progressed. Good job capturing that emotion. I feel for Dr Fischer.


Coltrane Rogers
21:48 Sep 21, 2021

Thank you very much! I appreciate the comment :)


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