AntipodeanSF Issue 307

By Tim Borella

For all the feverish anticipation, there is absolutely nothing to show the Event has taken place. Not a journey as such. Or is it? There’ll be new descriptive words in time, but what matters now is to open the gleaming ball and welcome Kira home.

The hall is a stadium-sized sphere, half-sunk into the earth, lined with conduits, cooling pipes, control circuits. Walkways and gantries snake like an Escher drawing around fifty-two great gun-like beam tubes, aimed with micromillimetre accuracy at their focus, the shining reason for all this.    

Finally, with safety checks complete and fields dissipated, barriers slide back and the team of scientists and medics — and one anxious partner — approach. Isaac can’t breathe as a crane hoists the hatch away, the sliced top of a gleaming, billion-dollar boiled egg.

The lead doctor, first up the access steps, halts and recoils, eyes wide. Isaac pushes past and is hit by the stink of decay. In the cramped interior, where his young, healthy wife had settled herself just minutes earlier, is a shrunken, dark, wrinkled caricature of a human being. Mummified. Isaac’s stomach convulses. His hand can’t stop vomit splattering.

Then the mummy opens its eyes.

***

Sealed in the capsule, Kira waits, doubts springing like weeds now the moment has come. Years of research and construction, months of final prep, boiled down to seconds for the process to prove itself. She remembers the particle beams blasting this vehicle’s unmanned twin; then, the agonising, four-year wait for results. Jubilation when the signal arrived, right on cue, proving the craft had — magically, as the popular press put it — been to the gravity well of Proxima Centauri and back, despite not appearing to have moved at all.

 Astronaut-like fitness and reflexes aren’t necessary. The subject simply needs to occupy volume in the device while it threads through spacetime, and Kira, visionary scientist and program architect, has first claim to that honour. Nobody can assist, or see what she will see.

***

Time has lost all meaning. All Kira knows is that what should have taken seconds has stretched into forever. She does not breathe; cannot move or even feel her heart beating, Bodily functions seem to have ceased, yet she’s clearly alive, or at least aware. 

There are gaps, not sleep but absence, her sole measure of existence. The screen shows only swirling, popping static, which her tortured mind won’t stop trying to make into patterns. She knows all too well time is relative, but this has gone on for so long. Perceptually, months. Years. She’s surely insane, but could you be and still have the self-awareness to think it? 

The unbearable non-existence multiplies without end.

Each period of clarity is indistinguishable from the last. Kira tries to trick herself, dredging up non-sequiturs to derail her wretched train of thought, but who’s to say it’s not the exact same sequence each time? Does free will mean anything at all, or are the vibrating quarks forming the illusion of self stuck in some endless loop, caused by her own meddling?

Logic turns to dreamlike dissociation, and on to paranoia. Glimpses appear in the static, slipping in and out of focus, flashing and fading. A leering face, distorted, horrible. A ghost, a demon, tormenting Kira. Her shield of scientific scepticism falls away, exposing the frightened child who knew monsters lurked in the dark. 

The demon comes again and again. It dances at the edge of Kira’s vision, screaming, taunting, cursing. That’s it, she realises, I’ve made the gods angry, and they’ve cursed me.

She strains to get at the demon, to smash it, but can’t make the slightest movement. Not a jaw clench, not an eye twitch. Just seething anger, hatred focussed on the evil entity that has trapped her for eternity.

***

How many times can a consciousness spiral between sanity and madness and continue to exist? How many lifetimes does Kira spend floating in her prison, while those left behind age not one second? Her tormentor never lets up, until at some unfathomable point, she feels a tremor; a deep tic sufficient to kick her endlessly looping thoughts in a new direction. 

Now, the demon smiles.

“You can do it,” it says in a soft voice, totally at odds with that grotesque, desiccated face. Hope surges in Kira. This is new, an infinitesimal shift in the quantum swirl. 

Here, reality dances; past, present and future coexist. Kira focuses on the tremor, visualises herself not as immobile meat, but energy, light, free to move in spacetime. Somehow, she is simultaneously lying inert and floating before her own undead eyes. 

This Kira of light shouts and screams endlessly at herself to force a reaction, and is elated when she finally senses a tiny movement. “You can do it,” she tells the body on the couch. 

But aeons of stasis give way to incremental change, the inevitable deterioration of living tissue. She watches her trapped self’s skin wrinkle, harden, desiccate, and knows this is how she appears too. She, the demon, has already travelled this path, and there’s no stopping. One way or another, there will be an endpoint.

***

At last, Kira’s journey is over. She has been both cause and redemption of her own damnation, though this is no sweet salvation. The screen bursts into life. She sees the interior of the hall, exactly as she left it. Loud sounds echo from outside, and as the shifting hatch admits blinding light, she closes her eyes.

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About the Author

tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

Tim lives with his wife Georgie in beautiful Far North Queensland. For more information, visit his Tim Borella – Author Facebook page.

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Issue Contributors

The AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50Our weekly podcast features the stories from recently published issues, often narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

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Meet the Narrators

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    michelle walker32My time at Nambucca Valley Community Radio began back in 2016 after moving into the area from Sydney.

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  • Juliette Cavendish

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  • Sarah Jane Justice

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    Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry

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  • Geraldine Borella

    geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes fiction for children, young adults and adults. Her work has been published by Deadset Press, IFWG Publishing, Wombat Books/Rhiza Edge, AHWA/Midnight Echo, Antipodean SF, Shacklebound Books, Black Ink Fiction, Paramour Ink Fiction, House of Loki and Raven & Drake

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  • Ed Errington

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  • Barry Yedvobnick

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  • Tim Borella

    tim borellaTim Borella is an Australian author, mainly of short speculative fiction published in anthologies, online and in podcasts.

    He’s also a songwriter, and has been fortunate enough to have spent most of his working life doing something else he loves, flying.

    Tim lives with his wife Georgie in beautiful Far

    ...
  • Emma Gill

    Emma Louise GillEmma Louise Gill (she/her) is a British-Australian spec fic writer and consumer of vast amounts of coffee. Brought up on a diet of English lit, she rebelled and now spends her time writing explosive space opera and other fantastical things in

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  • Mark English

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  • Laurie Bell

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    Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of "The Stones of Power Series" via Wyvern's Peak Publishing: "The Butterfly Stone", "The Tiger's Eye" and "The Crow's Heart" (YA/Fantasy).

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  • Marg Essex

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    She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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  • Alistair Lloyd

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    You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <...

  • Sarah Pratt

    sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

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