Cracks in the Glass
‘Unraveling in ten…nine…eight….’
Hayden’s deep, gravely voice bounced around Ellen’s head without really registering. She was too focused on the view beyond her cracked visor to notice anything else. The crack was a reminder. She could’ve gotten it fixed, could’ve gotten the helmet replaced, but it stayed- a reminder of her first whiff of doom.
She refocused back to the white void in front of her. For a long, long moment it felt endless. It felt like if she stared long enough she could get lost in it forever.
Nothing lasts forever, she reminded herself. The Earth didn’t. This place- a mere three-dimensional pimple on the underside of a four-dimensional wormhole- mightn’t. Her job- her life’s calling- after today, definitely wouldn’t.
Don’t think of that. Focus on the wall. Just the white wall. Nothing but the white wall.
She looked at it, sighing. The more she thought about her last day on the job, the faster it seemed to come to an end.
Like quicksand in an hourglass.
Hayden finished his arbitrary countdown. Arbitrary because, as usual, nothing happened after he finished it.
Ellen smirked. ‘Ever heard of negative numbers?’ she asked, ‘I’ve heard they go on forever.’
Hayden, unfazed as usual, smoothly shot back, ‘I would agree with you, except your family motto seems to be “Nothing lasts forever.” Which, no offense to your family, undermines your entire argument.’
Ellen chuckled, but before she could reply the white wall rippled. Immediately she snapped back to it, every muscle tensed in anticipation. The wall rippled again and then again. Before her eyes the endless white space dissolved into a monstrous curtain flapping in a celestial wind.
A transport capsule bobbed weightlessly at the mouth of the Umbilical, just a few feet away. She walked to it, and robotically lay down in it, still fixated on the rippling wall, the little flecks of grey shadows swimming in and out of existence, simultaneously giving and limiting depth.
The Umbilical was a giant, plexi-glass pneumatic tube that extended to the wall, pierced it and went through. Ellen liked imagining that it looked like a blue, plastic canon extending from the gunwales of an invisible ship from the outside.
She raised a thumbs-up at the control tower, from where Hayden was watching, hand poised over the button that would launch her into the maw of the wormhole. ‘Good to go,’ she said.
Hayden didn’t reply for a long time.
Finally he sighed, and said, ‘Look, I know you don’t wanna hear this, but we did have a pretty good run. It’ll feels a bit wrong if I don’t end it right. So, without any denial, without any thought to the future you’re so afraid of…Happy Singularity.’
Ellen didn’t reply. She couldn’t. Hayden sighed again, and hit the button.
Immediately, the Umbilical’s pneumatics came online, sucked her in and a split second later, spat her out. Hayden’s goodbye, the rippling wall, the emptiness in her stomach all disappeared.
In fact, everything disappeared as Ellen shot into the pitch-black wormhole. It was the darkness of nothing to see. Of distilled emptiness. Her HUD told her she was right above what she liked calling the Space Pimple, but she saw nothing but black.
She quickly checked the EETA- The extra ‘E’ stood for ‘Extremely’-on the upper right corner of her helmet’s HUD. It read 15 minutes. 15 minutes to kill. 15 minutes to relax, to coast through space-time in peace. She felt a tug in her gut as her initial momentum decreased and a gravity current eventually caught hold of her.
She didn’t fight it. She turned off her HUD to soak in the sensory deprivation and took a deep breath. This was home. This was where she belonged. Alone against the apocalypse. Pulling humanity back from the edge, one life at a time. She was a time-travelling superhero, and this was her Fortress of Solitude.
Inevitably her mind wandered, and inexorably it stumbled into the past- to the first life she’d ever saved. It’d been around 10 years before Singularity, on an icy, lifeless mountain peak. The girl was half-starved and almost dead. Or was it a boy?
With a jolt she realized she couldn’t remember whom she’d saved.
She did, however, remember the relief on their face. Before the shock, or the disbelief, there had been relief, on that face, and every single one since. Relief at facing, but not meeting, their doom. Relief at a second chance.
She thought about her second chance. How the universe had conspired to somehow save her life.
She’d been, what? 22? Fresh out of college, the world an oyster in her naïve, innocent mind. She’d been sitting under a tree, playing her guitar when she’d heard the first panicked half-shout and seen the quivering fingers pointed to the sky. Then she’d heard a dozen more shouts. Then she’d gotten carried away in a stampede to get away from the giant wave of destruction ripping everything into nothingness.
And then, almost maddeningly, all the sound disappeared.
Buildings fell and dissolved into emptiness before they hit the ground, people flew into the air and popped out of existence, cars rattled against other cars but nothing screeched, screamed, crashed or banged. The apocalypse was silent, and if she hadn’t seen it, and run away, she would’ve been gone. Peacefully.
As it stood, she’d somehow survived. The crowd had been thick, things were flying everywhere, the lack of sound was driving her crazy- but she’d escaped, and she had no idea how. She’d blacked out, and then she’d woken up clutching a helmet with a cracked visor. Her guitar was gone.
She’d woken up that day, and the oyster of her world had cracked and shattered, like the visor of the helmet in her arms.
She focused back on it and brought her HUD back up, where her EETA read… 15 seconds.
Ellen instantly focused on her HUD, waiting for the imminent ejection, all foreign particle scanners in her suit set on high alert, her arm and leg thrusters set to full blast.
15 seconds passed, and…nothing. She smacked her helmet.
‘Stupid Hayden and his stupid EETAs,’ she grumbled, ‘Stupid apocalypse. Stupid daydream.’ She twisted and turned, pointing the scanner in her helmet in every direction possible. She forced her breathing to slow, but blood roared in her ears anyways.
The silence seemed to stretch on forever.
Nothing lasts fo-
A red flash on the HUD. Silence shattered by steady beeping.
She focused on the target on her screen. And groaned.
The portal- a simple rip in 4D space- was going to open not two feet from her current location.
And it did, before she could do anything about it.
The light was positively blinding after so long in the dark.
Which was why she never saw the tree coming.
The spacesuit protected her from the worst of the branches, but even as she bonked and broke her way through every piece of wood in her way, she heard nothing break, neither in, nor out of the suit.
She crashed into the ground with all the noise of a feather falling on a baby’s head.
She frowned and got up, silently groaning at the pain.
She looked at the skyline. There wasn’t much left of it.
She was back in Central Park. Reliving Singularity. Again.
Calm down. The back-up portal is gonna open soon. Hayden knows exactly where-
She froze. If she was in Central Park….
The other Ellen. The Ellen she used to be. Staring straight at her from the other side of the crowd, standing stock-still.
The world was ending, but she just stood there, like the biggest mystery in the world wasn’t the celestial force ripping it apart, but this strange apparition that had fallen out of a tree.
The Ellen behind the cracked visor finally saw herself for the first time. She’d been so young. So innocent. She could’ve gone anywhere, done anything. Yet here she was, fixing a world she didn’t know how to live in. 10 years of barely-a-life, spent saving everyone but herself. Tears streamed down her face as she realized what she had to do. ‘I’m sorry,’ she mouthed to her old self, ‘I’m so sorry.’
The Ellen beyond the cracked visor had no idea what was happening. She just blankly stared at the spaceman, trying to fit him into the shattered puzzle her world was quickly becoming.
The crowd between them thickened, and for a second Ellen lost sight of the spacesuit.
The last thing she saw was the spacesuit’s helmet, rushing towards her head.
The last thing she felt was her guitar being pulled out of her hands.
Geez, there’s a guitar store right outside the park, asshole, she thought as the fabric of her being unraveled.
Story by: Jugal Jain
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