Ryan Elderby reversed the probe’s focus to observe Magellan’s Scar. The celestial anomaly hung ominously in the endless black void.
“Status-adequate. We've sustained a-less-than-expected amount of damage. Fewer impacts than projected,” Alexi Petras said.
They were close. They had been in-transit for 20 years. During the entirety of the trip they had been awake for a total of 13 hours..
The image of Magellan’s Scar was holographically projected in front of the viz-shield. The electromagnetic rad sensors showed a warm red hue where the scar’s edges touched space. They could not properly show what was within it.
Nothing could. Scars were anomalous rifts of the spatial continuum of reality. They were catastrophically dangerous and relentlessly mysterious. It was Elderby and Petras’ job to repair them.
Elderby looked at the oddly inadequate rendering of the object. It looked like a jetblack rip surrounded by a red glow set against the infinite backdrop of space.
He felt as if his heart were throwing up. His insides lurched. His lungs moved into his testicles. His vision slightly blurred. This was a known phenomenon.
Within the Human Collective, some individuals developed similar symptoms when presented with the scars. Psychologists theorized that the scars were so outside the realm of understanding that people couldn't handle learning about, seeing, or even thinking about them.
During previous debriefings Ryan had lied about experiencing scar sickness. Like most intergalactic astronauts, Elderby had no life in the standard temporal realm. Traveling in cryo-sleep, he outlived his abusive alcoholic father after his first mission. After the second, all of his children were dead. By his fifth, he was a long-lost forgotten footnote on his family tree. So he lied to stay in space.
“Magellan’s Scar,” Petras, said proudly.
“2 Km long,” he continued reading the probe’s output. He did a quick calculation, “that means it's roughly a million years old. Impressive.”
Elderby was still recovering from the sickly feeling.
“Indeed,” Elderby said, unsteadily. “Travel time to the scar?”
“Two months,” replied Petras.
“Ok, let’s hunker down till then,” Elderby said.
In cryosleep, Petras created a geodesic sphere in his mind.
An odd contradiction of flatness and curvature, the sphere was a non-abstract representation of everything that comprised his existence. (At least his unique perception of it.) His thoughts, his feelings, all sensory information-everything that Alexei experienced, and is experiencing, was encompassed by the sphere.
Each discrete part of Petras’ mind existed as a triangular surface of the geodesic sphere. One facet was a memory of a childhood pet. Another was the feeling of graduating from the academy. Another was, infinitely (and impossibly), the sensory experience of looking at the sphere in dreamtime.
In his mind, he positioned the sphere at the edge of a neon river. He observed it from beyond the shore. He sat quietly and watched the sphere rotate and revolve. Whenever a plane would move into focus he would briefly experience the memory it represented. Then he let the sphere roll away to reveal another memory. This is how he survived years of the fractious caprice of his unbidden mind.
Fixation on a memory was one of the many pitfalls in cryo-lucid dreaming. Astronauts would relieve their pain, or their triumphs, forever and ignore the rest of their experiences. Their minds would atrophy and rot away without the full spectrum of thoughts and feelings.
Eight weeks passed. For the astronauts time was an impression invented by their respective dreams.
The soft gyroscopic movement of Alexei’s sphere’s continued ad infinitum.
Without preamble, warning, or indication the massive sphere stopped. It hung motionless in the air. Petras began to feel a haptic rumbling in his guts. The vibration moved from his stomach to the edges of his fingertips. His bones rattled like a birdcage on a train. It felt like a marching band in his nervous system.
The sphere began to spin. Slowly at first, but then the object began to accelerate rapidly. The axis began to shift. The chaotic and wild movement of the sphere was alien and horrifying to Petras. It was utterly out of his control.
Any notion of being made up of thousands of flat surfaces optically disappeared and the rapidly accelerating object appeared to be a perfect sphere. The individual facets were not visible through the wild motion; they blurred together in a vast gray haze.
Petras felt his life slipping. All of his experiences were lost to the rapid spinning.
Then it stopped. A single side faced Petras. He was horrified. The memory/thought/feeling on the facet was nothing he had experienced before.
It did not belong in the psychological map of the totality of his experience. By its nature, the sphere could only contain what Petras thought, felt, or experienced. If there was something there that was new to Petras, this was a serious problem
The triangular flat surface revealed an image of Magellan’s Scar. But it was nothing like the probe’s proxy image, nor was anything like an artist’s rendering.
This scar appeared like a laceration. The edge, which was typically rendered (or seen) as a soft electric red hue, now looked like severed human skin.
The cellular layers of dead then alive skin cells were interwoven with capillaries and hair follicles. The blood pulsed steadily at the incision attempting to coagulate, but it ran freely out of the scar, pooling below.
The opened cut revealed the visceral insides of some alien creature. The foreign biomass within looked like a pale, wet system of organs, tubes, connective tissues, and meat. White tendons and neurons webbed across the infundibulum creating a scaffolding structure of the cavity.
Petras felt the chasm pulling him in. He felt his body effortlessly floating towards it.
The fleshy edge morphed into a disgusting set of rotten teeth. The gaping maw opened to the horrid insides of the alien biology. When he passed the threshold of the lips, the horrible mouth closed and eviscerated his being.
He entered a long esophageal tube. He was surrounded by a putrid foul liquid. Somehow he could still see, smell, hear, feel and taste everything. Acid and stink burned the hair off of his skin; his eyes melted in their sockets. He retched, but the water pressure forced the sick back into his mouth and stomach. He would retch again in an endless cycle of vomiting and peristalsis.
The esophageal tube opened to a large spherical internal cavity. The acrid liquid drained to the bottom and washed away along with most of Petra's skin and flesh. His reduced form floated in the vast chasm.
The remaining bits of muscle and viscera sloughed off of his skeletal structure. The connective tissue holding his bones together began to dissolve, and one by one, from toes to skull, they began to fall away. Yet something of Petras still floated in the spherical cavity.
In the center of the chamber, a small red heart was suspended in a lattice webbing of golden filaments. The heart was still; flaccid and pale. Petras looked down and realized that a long golden thread connected his ethereal form to the atrophied heart.
A pulse of light moved from his non-corporeal form through the connective golden thread to the un-beating heart. The dead organ came alive. It swelled with blood and oxygen and began its tell-tale rhythmic beating. The aorta and vena cavity branched out and twisted into a massive bloody tree trunk. The vein and capillaries became a vast canopy filling the entire space of the cavity.
The whirring klaxons ripped him from cryo-sleep. The nightmare’s after image lingered in his mind.
He was still in the cryo-chamber. The Alarm was cutting through the stasis liquid as it quickly drained from the tube.
Petras exited the chamber. There was a set of wet footprints walking away from Elderby’s opened tube.
“Fuck,” Petras thought as he quickly dressed. He followed the prints to the airlock
“Shit, shit, shit,” Petras said aloud as he ran to the cockpit. Out of the vis-shield, Petras saw Elderby’s naked frozen body floating across the backdrop of the impossible scar. His pale blue spindly limbs were locked in an infinite embrace around his chest. His eyes were wide open looking back to the ship.