Author : Rick Tobin

“Everyone back from Charon?” Captain Swanson paced about the control center of Abraxas. His bullish voice rattled younger officers as Swanson towered above at seven feet, his glimmering blue eyes set against his callow Cajun skin.

“Sir,” replied Ensign Pallute, fresh from the Saturn Academy. “All present. Doctor Reynolds requests an immediate conference, sir.”

“Does she? Tell her to meet me in sickbay after she’s been decontaminated.”

“Aye,” replied the timid ensign. Her hair shimmered in twists of colored bands specific to her tribe. Her extra fingers slid over the control panel lights, sensing hundreds of ship conditions.

“Transfer control to my visor, Pallute. I’ll be with Reynolds.”

Swanson stepped into the transfer tube, proceeding to rendezvous while commanding remotely. He entered sickbay with disregard for isolation protocols.

“Thank God,” Reynolds said, sweeping her raven hair away from her face as the cleansing fans blew used decon virals off her suit. “We’ve got to turn back. I witnessed those holographic eyes while translating the carvings. The ruin’s messages penetrated me with a flush of electrical charge…and knowing.”

“Edith,” Swanson interrupted, “This is science, not religious fervor. I only want to know if mountains of processed rare earths are there, as our probes showed. Then we’re on our way, outside the system. I just heard the Charon Message Protesters on Mars are so insane that some jumped from the Face yesterday, claiming disaster if we proceed. Surely you aren’t supporting that hysteria?”

“Yes, the priceless minerals are all there, waiting like cheese for us, but that wasn’t a warning someone left on Charon—it was a threat. We must not go deeper into the Kuiper Belt.”

Swanson felt her terror but shook it off as simply her symptoms after visiting the flashing vistas first discovered in 2032, emanating from the Kubrick Mons. Charon hallucinations affected anyone studying the light show, even from video recordings. The phenomenon was studied for years before the decision to send Abraxas into deep space.

“What threat?”

“The exact translation? Do not go past this ring. You are impure. The punishment is relinquishment.”

“Hogwash, Reynolds. Those are myths for the mindless, not us. That feeds those mobs on Mars chanting their ring-pass-not pabulum. We’re better than that. I don’t scare easy. Maybe those carvings are ancient…but most likely, they are the work of the Moon cartels that want to control mineral rights out here through intimidation. You know the Moonies are famous for head games. I could care less. I appreciate your report, but we’ll make way. This is one captain that is not going to relinquish an inch.”

Swanson pressed pads on his control belt, alerting his command ensign. “Pallute, go to full power and chart a path through the Belt. Increase the magnetic shields in case we encounter one of those pockets the probes detected two years ago.”

“Aye,” Pallute replied—the last word she would ever speak. Threads of violet sparkles rose from Charon, penetrating the ship’s hull, touching each crew member. At each infiltration sizzling spittles of light shot back from the Abraxas, back to the origins of the crew’s DNA. The ship disappeared, then colonies throughout the planets, and then human life on Earth as the history of the human species was erased for all time.

A crew of reptilians was next to hover over Charon, waiting for their crew’s archaeologists and miners to return and report before their first attempt at penetrating the expanse of the Kuiper Belt, beyond the flashing lights coming from Pluto’s largest moon.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows