Images & Words: Ashen Expanse

Images & Words: Ashen Aberration


Image
Space Whale by Yohann Schepacz

Words
Neal Ulen

When : Where
243 DE (2553 CE) : Realspace / Shellspace / +(3:Nullspace:4) Interstitial


Our transport pushed through the Shell and entered Nullspace.

The instrumentation in our cramped bridge rattled gently, emitting a soft metallic sound as their bits and pieces rubbed against each other and the bulkheads. Purple light hazed the interior, flashing briefly now and then to the rhythm of the rattles. With one finger our navigator, Parsons, slowly pushed up the bill of the soiled and tattered hat that was hanging low over his face. He looked out the In Absentia‘s viewport with sleepy eyes.

I kicked his feet off the console on which they rested. “Wake up and do your fucking job.”

Parsons rolled his eyes and sat up, straightening his hat and rubbing his lightly bearded face.

“Eh, what job Samir? Would you like me to stare harder at the data streams and aperture boundary conditions? Or perhaps you’d like me to ensure the automatic guidance systems are engaged … again. Because if it means I get more delts, or promotes me to another assignment, I’m glad to do whatever it takes!”

“Just … be alert,” I replied, ignoring his blatant attempt to goad me into yet another argument.

“Threshold achieved, Samir,” Tilson said from behind me, diligently monitoring her console.

The purple haze diminished and a seething, mottled gray expanse filled our viewports. Nullspace, the void between realities, a shortcut that allowed humanity to bypass its shell of existence and travel the Sphere of the Triocracy in greatly reduced time. A convenient, and often dangerous, shortcut, and a way to cheat classical physics. Nullspace was also a path to enter other realities and other Shells. Navigating Nullspace was an everyday occurrence in the Triocracy, but piercing other Shells is best left to the experts, the brave … and the foolish.

To be honest, I sometimes lose track of what’s actual “reality” anymore. Spaces, shells, dreams, virtual worlds. It all seemed to go on forever, layers and layers, overlapping, blending, distorting, like holding a mirror up to another mirror and seeing reflections spiraling down into darkness. It must have been a simpler time long ago when there were only two realities, waking and sleeping. No one could hear or see you unless you wanted them to. Now the gates have been flung open with almost nowhere to hide and someone is always listening.

Even out here in space you’re not alone, not even when you leave reality behind and enter Nullspace. You’d expect the space between Spaces to be empty, but it’s not. Sometimes there very well could be something waiting. You can see some real strange shit, some of it benign, but most of it psychically and physically hazardous to your existence. No sentient beings have ever been found in Nullspace, but there are … things … there that view trespassers as nothing more than irritating bugs to be literally smashed against their figurative windshields.

Parsons sat up in his seat so fast that one of his feet kicked out at his unused console with a loud bang!

“Samir! Perception detected!” His eyes were jittering as he scanned the screens and sensor data being projected into the vision of his mind by his bio.node. He hands moved in front of him as he scrolled through data and monitored external visual feeds from the ship.

“Where? Show me … physical,” I said calmly.

In Absentia made a slow turn through the gray nothingness, and it came into view. At first it was difficult to see, its translucent body nearly hidden in the gray of Nullspace.

I wasn’t sure what the fuck it was, but it was about the size of a small moon and it’s grotesque tentacles drifted behind it so slowly that their movement was almost imperceptible. No one really knows anything about what they encounter in Nullspace, because if they languish in the area trying to make a determination, they never return to Realspace … ever. The most we get are short glimpses of the things that haunt Nullspace. This one was easily the biggest Nullspace Aberration (NA) I’d ever seen. Gravitational forces didn’t exist in Nullspace, but other forces did. Forces that were not fully understood. I could start to feel In Absentia twist and drift towards the aberration.

“Null gradient detected,” Tilson said. “Strongest I’ve ever seen. It’ll rip us to non-existence in short order unless we leave now, Samir!”

We’d nearly smacked right into it as we cut out of our Shell. It was ignoring us, as they all did. Like so many ants under their feet. As long as we didn’t panic and used our training, transports usually made it through Nullspace without incident. But passengers are never allowed to set eyes on the Void, and every effort is made to isolate them from it. Thankfully this NA didn’t cause any psychic tearing. That would’ve ruined my day.

“Bring us about, Parsons, quickly! Aperture back to Realspace, we need to find another route today,” I said.

“With pleasure,” he replied.

For the first time in a long time he didn’t try to argue.

We flew on knowing that we’d just avoided becoming another ship of ghosts.

.FIN.


Words © 2021, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
Images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).


1 Comment

  1. I like the glossary links, but it is easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of your awesome world building.

    Really enjoyed the intensity created at the end of the story.

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