The oil ran out in July of 2083. Once there was nothing left to extract, Earth's governments stockpiled what they could, rationing out their precious reserves as needed, clinging to whatever they could. Coal mines began to dry up shortly afterwards. Solar, wind, and nuclear fission power generation efforts struggled to keep up with the energy demand of nearly ten billion people. As worldwide markets crashed, and food production began to slow, the riots began. In a desperate attempt to fuel humanity's growing energy needs, a team of Earth's most brilliant minds was sent to work on a fusion generator prototype in orbit over Mars with the hope that this new power source would save humanity from collapsing in on itself.
"It's not stable," Dr. Martin Stevens warned, allowing the concern to creep into his voice "We need to shut it down,"
"No, keep going," his colleague, Dr. Maria Fernandez, replied at a near shout over the growing whir of the machine. The readings were all wrong. Output was too high and anomalous gravitational phenomena were already beginning to form inside the massive collider, floating in high orbit over humanity's first and only Martian colony, Olympus, far below their feet.
"Maria," He placed a gentle hand on the woman's shoulder, "Please. We need more time to prepare. More data,"
"There is no more time," She snapped, "You saw the reports. China is in chaos, they're making threats. Saying they'll invade the U.S. It's going to be World War three. It's going to work, Martin," She shrugged his hand away, her eyes fixed on the control panel. Martin glanced sidelong at the readouts. "We're still within safe limits. This has to work," She looked him in the eyes, "We need this to work,"
"Alright," he sighed, his thoughts drifting to home, to his wife, Amanda, back in Boston. He hoped she was ok. There was no way to know. Boston had been dark for a week. "but if we start pushing the containment field, we shut it down and stabilize the chamber. There's no telling what will happen if it breaks containment. Olympus will be wiped out. Hell, the entire solar system could be destroyed,"
Maria nodded, a grave look in her eyes. She knew the dangers but desperation drove her now. Martin turned his attention to the view screen showing the inside of the collider's containment chamber. A tiny pinprick of pitch blackness, surrounded by a sphere of distorted, blurred space, filled the screen. The massive gravitational forces given off by the reactor were already bending light in the chamber, creating a strange mirage effect that made Martin's head swim. He looked away from the screen and back to the control panel in front of him.
"Maria," he warned again, watching as the containment field's integrity slowly plummeted toward zero.
"Power output is nearly equalized, Martin," she looked at him, her eyes wild with excitement, "Cold fusion. This is why we're up here! This is what we've been working towards! Unlimited clean energy, Martin. We're going to save the human race!" The control room shook and Martin could hear the distant groans of protesting metal as bulkheads and deck plates began to buckle somewhere in the station. The containment field was failing. The station was not going to hold together at this rate.
"Stop the trial! The field is not going to hold. I'm sounding an evacuation. Everyone needs to get off this space station. Now," he said and ran across the room, slamming his fist into a big red emergency shutdown button. He was too late.
"Containment breach," an artificial voice announced over the station's PA system as the evacuation alarms began to blare. An explosion somewhere far below Martin's feet drowned out the alarms.
"What have I done?" Maria was standing at the view screen, her face gone pale. The excitement, gone, replaced by abject terror.
"We need to stabilize it!" Martin shouted over the boom of another explosion, "We need to stop it!" He ran over to the controls and nudged Maria out of his way.
"Containment breach. Warning: atmosphere loss detected. Warning: life pods critically damaged. Warning: life support failing," the PA voice continued listing warning after warning as Martin's hands ran over the control panel, attempting to shut down the reactor and stabilize the containment field. "Warning: containment field control system damaged, manual override required,"
"No…" Martin muttered watching the singularity, which had been only a pinprick mere minutes ago, grow to the size of a basketball. The heavy steel walls of the containment chamber were warped and buckled, pulled toward the center by intense gravity. "No, no, no, no…" another explosion rocked the station. "Maria, you need to go!" He ordered his colleague and lifelong friend as she stared blankly at the view screen, "I'll do what I can, but you need to go! Get anyone you can out of here and as far away as possible!"
Without waiting for a response, Martin sprinted out of the control room and made his way through the familiar maze of corridors to the containment chamber. The halls were already filling with smoke from the fires that had erupted throughout the station. The walls and floor seemed to twist and bend unnaturally as the very fabric of reality was altered around him. He darted into an airlock and quickly donned his hardened EV suit. It pressurized with a hiss. The airlock door buckled and the scream of tortured steel filled the air, quickly silenced by vacuum as the atmosphere vented into space. Martin struggled against the intense gravity generated by the singularity, his magnetic boots barely able to hold him to the floor plates.
He made his way steadily around the edge of the chamber, clutching onto anything he could as small bits of debris broke off and flew into the ever growing black hole in the center of the room. Another explosion shook the station and Martin lost his grip. He slid toward the singularity, clawing at the floor to stop himself. Then he spotted it, the emergency containment lever was still intact. He desperately clung to whatever he could, clawing his way to the lever. He reached it finally as his muscles screamed at him for rest, and grabbed hold. Another explosion. He lost his grip and tumbled to the floor. Another. The silence of the vacuum was deafening. He longed to hear that the escape pods had been launched. He wanted to know that everyone else had gotten out alive. Deep down he knew they hadn't.
He grabbed onto the lever again, hoping against hope that the emergency containment field would still work. He was not a man of faith, but in that moment, he prayed to whatever entity might listen. He pulled the lever and saw a whisp of light as the emergency containment field flickered to life. The space station shuddered and shook again, launching him up and off the deck. Without the help of his magboots, Martin careened straight into the now building sized black hole. He was done for, but at least he had managed to contain the singularity.
Then, there was nothing. Just blackness. His breaths came sharp and ragged. His heart raced. He looked at the status readout on his EV suit's HUD. It was all green. He was alive. He tried to move, but there was nothing to grab onto. He tried to look around and realized where he was. Mars floated in the distance to his right. To his left, he could see the sun. He was adrift in space. Dead in the water.
"Unidentified, er… spacecraft," a voice crackled over his open communications channel, "This is United Nations of Sol patrol craft number 078913-A. We detected a large burst of radiation from your current coordinates and are on approach to investigate. You are in violation of the Space Warfare Treaty, code A.978.2.1, prohibition of nuclear arms near a developed world. Do not resist. You will be brought aboard our craft for questioning,"
"Understood," Martin replied into his mic, his guts were in knots and his heart still pounded in his chest. Unite Nations of Sol? Patrol craft? What were they talking about? Had he done it? How did he end up out here? "I will not resist,"
He checked the time on his HUD. 0934, Tuesday, January 15, 2105. It had only been 34 minutes since he and Maria began their reactor trial. 34 minutes.
Martin could not believe what he was seeing as the patrol craft approached. It was a large, sleek vessel, nearly a kilometer long, and bore little resemblance to the clunky rocket that had placed him into Martian orbit three years prior. Instead, this ship looked more like something resulting from a luxury sports car manufacturer designing a naval vessel.
The ship glided silently through the void toward him as he helplessly floated there. When it was no more than a few hundred meters away, a small hatch opened and a pair of objects flew out. Drones, Martin realised. The little robots zoomed over to him and latched onto his arms. They turned, turning his body along with them, and zipped back to the hatch they had come from. Once inside, the drones attached themselves to opposite walls, restraining Martin and forcing him to face a circular, steel doorway with a small glass window at head height.
Martin felt a vibration as the outer door of the airlock slid closed.
"Atmosphere equalized," his EV suit notified him just as the Inner door opened. In the doorframe, stood a man with carefully groomed dark brown hair, flecked with gray, and a simple dark gray uniform with a yellow patch on the shoulder depicting a circle with a single chevron over it. His face was stern and his eyes narrowed in a suspicious glare.
"Who are you, and where did you come from?" The man asked, scanning Martin with a subtle hint of confusion on his face. "Where's your ship?"
"My ship?" Martin's head reeled, "My name is Doctor Martin Stevens. I was part of the research team aboard the international space station called Olympus Orbital,"
The man put his hand up, cutting Martin off.
"You're Martin Stevens?"
Martin nodded sheepishly.
"The Martin Stevens?"
"I am, yes," Martin swallowed hard. He did not like the look in the man's eyes. There was something there. Anger? No. Hate.
"How did you get here?" The man snarled, "You should have died decades ago,"
"I-I don't know," Martin answered truthfully, tugging at the drones restraining his arms, "Please, just let me go. I'll tell you anything you want to know,"
The man in the doorway stared thoughtfully at Martin for a long moment before opening his mouth to speak again.
"Give me one good reason not to vent you, right here," He barked finally, "You're a terrorist! Worse! A traitor to your entire race! Your bomb killed people. It killed humanity's most brilliant minds and destroyed years of research!"
"My what?" Martin cried, "A bomb? No! I didn't-"
"You started the wars," the man cut him off again. "If you hadn't done what you did, the resource wars would never have happened. Billions died because the fusion project was never completed and it's your fault,"
"No, I-" Martin could not find words. He had shut down the reactor. He had saved the human race from being sucked into a black hole. This could not be his legacy.
"By the power vested in me in accordance with the Deep Space Law Treaty of 2210," the officer said approaching Martin and removing his EV suit's helmet, "I invoke the right to execute you without trial, Doctor Martin Stevens," He walked back out of the airlock and the door slammed shut. The drones released Martin. Panicking he ran over to the door and began slamming on the thick airtight steel.
"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" He shouted, pounding the door until his fists were bloody, "I SAVED YOU! I SAVED EVERYONE! PLEASE! NO-" his final breath was cut short as the atmosphere vented around him. He spun through space silently for a moment, catching a brief glimpse of a tiny blue dot in the distance. Earth. The planet he had worked his entire life to protect. The planet he had saved. The planet he had died for.
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