The station was a perfect circle with a one-mile radius and a gently-tapered roof covered in solar panels. A belt of ship-sized airlocks and observation decks outfitted with imposing slate-grey moving panels circumscribed the outside of the disc. The inside was an impersonal computer-designed grid of right-angled hallways lit with flat elliptical lamps hanging from the ceiling. The station had all of the amenities of home: kitchens, dormitories, and entertainments; however any of this was rarely used now as very few people came as tourists, so everything had fallen into disrepair.
At the centre of the grid, there was a large plaza, leading up to the one portion of the station with any signs of habitation, the central office that was the seat of power in the Company run city of Platform 19. Little by little, shuttle by shuttle all of the inhabitants and employees of Platform 19 had left, until only a skeleton crew was left in the jungle of brushed steel and beige plastic that numbered sixteen: four engineers, five maintenance workers, five security guards, a doctor, and their boss, the Company-appointed overseer of Platform 19.
Michael, a short twenty-something man of slight build with dark hair, glasses, and a perpetually haunted look entered the smoky cantina, looked around and sighed. “It’s just like at school,” he thought, “Sixteen people. Everybody seems to belong here, or at least get along with everybody else, and I’m still unable to fit in.” Resigned to his thoughts and the well-worn novel in his coat pocket, Michael picked up a trey and proceeded to fill it with food. The cantina was a large, roughly square room located below the main offices, with a cafeteria-style buffet along the one wall, and the familiar silver fleur-de-lis-and-maroon-background flag of the Company on the opposite one. Michael took his usual seat in the corner of the room, took out his book, and started to read. Pausing, he glanced down at the table, looked at the crude phallus etched into the dull grey plastic surface of the table and thought, “Jimmy; that was his calling-card. Damn that loveable bastard, why did he have to go?” then turned to face the person speaking to him.
“Hello? Are you even listening to me? I said, we have to go out to Airlock 3, apparently some sensors there are reporting some interesting things,” said Liz, Michael’s fellow engineer. Michael straightened his perpetually-askew glasses and said, “Okay, I’ll be there in a second.” He stowed the novel in his pocket, dumped his trey into the automatic cleaner, and followed Liz’s bobbing yellow ponytail to the equipment room.
The ride in the utilatran, a vehicle not unlike a golf-cart, to the airlock did not take very long, though in Michael’s mind, it took an eternity. Michael sat in the passenger seat staring at his shoes and asking himself why he never seemed to be able to verbalize what he felt to Liz. The utilatran came to a halt in front of a shiny white door with a small panel on the wall on the right side and a faint knocking sound coming from inside. They disembarked the utilatran and crept to the door, unsure of what was going to happen next. “Here, I’ll open the door, you cover me,” Michael said, handing Liz the rifle. He heard the click of the rifle’s safety being turned off as he punched the door unlock code into the keypad.
As soon as the door opened, a blinding white light flooded outwards as air rushed into the room. Michael was pressed against the wall by force of the air. He only vaguely heard the explosions from the rifle, shooting into the heart of the light. As soon as it started, the winds died down and the white light was extinguished, leaving just a fine white mist, dispersing the lamplight into a haze and making everything look pallid and waxy the hall. The roaring was replaced with a cacophony of resounding silence and the low hum of a lamp perforated with bullet holes. The doorway was now a gaping rectangular-door-sized portal in the wall leading to a realm of ominous impenetrable darkness that seemed to go on forever.
It took all of the strength that he could muster for Michael to get up and press the “Airlock Power” button repeatedly and wait for the lights to go on. Meanwhile, Liz went back to the utilatran and grabbed the toolkit and flashlights, turned to Michael, and said, “C’mon, we have to go in there and find what’s wrong, unless you want to keep pressing that button.” Once inside with the flashlights piercing the darkness, they found that it was just the airlock, nothing different, and nothing changed. In a futile show of bravado, Michael strode over to a panel, took off the cover to expose the wires within, and said, “Aha, just as I thought, a power failure.” Outraged, Liz yelled, “What!? Do you call yourself an engineer or not? You saw that light, and you’re just going to say that it was a simple power failure?” Indignantly, Michael said, “Well, this wire looks a bit frayed, there’s obviously nothing in here, and everybody knows that ghosts don’t exist. That’s the best explanation I can come up with, and it’s better than any of your supernatural bullshit.” Liz slit her eyes and coolly said, “You’re a real bastard, you know that?” Michael opened his mouth to try to defend himself, but then thought better, and closed his mouth again. The ride back was tense and silent; neither Liz nor Michael would entertain any notion of reconciliation. When they arrived back at the office, they hastily filled out the required report, and went their separate ways.
The bombs were dropping on the city again, all because two leaders disagreed at one point, and now warplanes are dropping payload after payload of high explosives onto cities and killing innocent civilians. The world was a burning mass of bombs, explosions, gunfire, and death; it was everywhere. Whenever the shrill alarms would pierce the air, Michael and his family, along with other families, would go hide in the crypt underneath the temple to escape from the bombs. No irony was lost on him that the living would hide from death by huddling alongside it. It was in here that Michael first saw the impish grin of Jimmy, but he wasn’t in the crypt tonight. The bombs were now falling closer than ever before, the floor shaking with each impact. Closer and closer until they were almost on top of him, surely the temple above would give way and they would be buried alive. The bombs now sounding like knocks coming down on top of him, the temple couldn’t stand up to this for much longer. The bombs were now falling like rain, and the walls were closing in on Michael. Closer and closer the walls inched until he was about to be crushed by the tons of solid rock.
Michael woke with a start, drenched in sweat, and wondering what that sound that he was hearing was. With a jolt he realized that somebody was knocking on his door. He fumbled for his glasses and pulled on a pair of pants while trying to get to the door in a timely manner. Michael opened the door to find Liz; she looked a bit different, but he just couldn’t place it. “C-come in,” Michael said, “Is something wrong?” Liz pushed past him enough to get just inside the doorway to close the door, then in a faraway voice that wasn’t completely her own, she said, “When that bright light came, I had a vision, we can all live in harmony. All we have to do is set aside our differences and destroy all of the institutions of evil, starting with the Company. Follow me.” Wide-eyed, Michael slowly backed away from the door and with a very pronounced quiver in his voice said, “W-what? What’s going on here? Why sh-should I follow you?” Michael then noticed what seemed off about Liz, she had a maniacal white gleam in her eyes, even though the surrounding room was a dark with no light at the angle needed to cause a reflection on her eyes like that. Liz then pressed herself up against Michael and softly said, “I know what you want, and if you follow me, it’s all yours…” Michael then frantically felt around on the table behind him for something, anything. His fingers connected with the handle of a cold mug of coffee, he picked it up, and in an arc of his left arm, threw the contents of the mug onto Liz.
Liz then staggered backwards a few steps and fell to the floor coughing. It was all that Michael could do to stand with the empty mug still in his hand, transfixed by the floundering figure of Liz, and wondering who would rise, the only person on the Platform 19 left that he considered a friend, or what become. After a while, Liz stopped finally convulsing, weakly opened her eyes, and said in a voice slightly above a whisper, “Wh- where am I?” Michael timidly answered her question and asked what had happened to her and if she was okay. “I- I don’t remember,” Liz said, “The last thing I remember is sitting on my bed, there was a flash of light, I blacked out, and now I’m here. I th-think I’m okay” “Maybe you should go see the doctor?” Michael said, “Yeah, because I really want everybody to know I’m crazy,” responded Liz. “At least let me walk you back to your dorm.” Michael said.
Colonial Joseph Reinhart was intense and impatient, a true Company man. He was a veteran of over a hundred hegemonies and proud of it. He sat in his office, impatiently fumbling with his fob watch while waiting for Michael to come into his office. Michael stood trembling outside of Reinhart’s frosted-glass door, swallowed, tried to muster as much courage as he could, and walked through the door into a dark maroon and silver fleur-de-lis draped cavern. “Please take a seat,” each one of Reinhart’s words ringing cold and sonorous, destroying any semblance of confidence Michael had. Reinhart sat at his desk with his elbows resting on the polished wood surface and his fingers touching just below his nose, creating miniature gothic arches. He peered over his fingers and right into Michael’s soul, and said, “I have some very important questions to ask you, so it is imperative that you do not lie and do not omit anything in your answers. I have been hearing some whisperings of mutiny from certain people, and some reliable sources told me that you were fraternizing with a certain female coworker of yours, can you corroborate these allegations?” Michael just swallowed and looked at his shoes weighing his options. After what seemed to him like an eternity, Michael quietly said, “No, sir, I have not heard any whisperings of mutiny. As for the fraternizing with Liz, she just came to ask me a question, that was all, and then being a gentleman, I escorted her back to her room.” Reinhart then gave a devilish smirk, pulled a large goldenrod envelope made of heavy paper out from a drawer, and said, “You lie. We both know it; I have all of the evidence right here in this envelope.” “Can I see the envelope?” Michael asked. “Of course not, that would be a grave miscarriage of everything that the company stands for. Luckily for you, I am letting you off with just a warning, go tell your little rebellious friends of my act of mercy, and never expect it again,” Reinhart said coldly.
Michael could not exit the office fast enough. He stepped out into the bustling corridor, waited to hear the click of the door closing, and then breathed a sigh of relief. As he walked down the hall, Michael was met with a plethora of suspicious glances, every face was holding the same unsaid question, “why were you in there, and what did you tell him?” Keeping his eyes carefully glued to the floor, Michael stalked his way to the cantina, as it was after the breakfast hour but before the break for lunch, it was mostly vacant. The only person left in the cantina when he got there was a very pallid and visibly shaken Liz sitting at the far table- his table. Michael sat down; Liz gave him a sheepish smile, and they sat there with downcast eyes relishing in each other’s company for an indefinite amount of time that seemed to last both an eternity and a minute. The silence was finally broken by the din of faraway yelling that was rapidly moving closer. Michael and Liz jumped up and ran into the hall just in time to see a group of their furious co-workers pulling along a short, brown-haired, and extremely frightened engineer named Brian. Liz and Michael hid in an alcove until the mob passed, and then followed them into the cantina.
Inside the cantina, the mob had organized itself into a circle around Brian, who was being questioned by Reinhart. “I-I-I don’t know what happened, there w-was this blinding white light, then t-there was a loud noise, and a lot of s-s-smoke,” stammered Brian, “A loud noise and a lot of smoke? Three water pipes were broken and Jones was killed. This is no accident; this is sabotage. There is only one thing to do with traitors; get up on that table,” Reinhart said, “Any dissidents in the audience may want to take note of this, because if behavior like this continues, then events like this will become common.” Reinhart then climbed onto the table with Brian, behind where kneeling, took out his bulky ornately carved revolver from his holster, and placed it about half an inch behind Brian’s head.
Michael knew what was going to happen next, and promptly averted his eyes. He waited for the cruel blast, but got nothing, just the low buzzing of the cantina lights. Then the blast and dull thud came. Then just the low nonchalant buzzing of the lights, as if nothing had happened. When Michael finally chanced to open his eyes, Reinhart was still on the table, stowing the cruel gun back in his holster, eyeing the crowd with his cold stare, and saying, “I never want to have to do that again, but I will if the dissent continues, so if you suspect someone, please tell me so I can… deal with them private. Now, all maintenance personnel, clean up this mess, and all engineers go and fix the damage.”
Michael surveyed the scene. The corridor was partially flooded with warm rose-tinted water, the broken pipes gracefully arced away from the wall ending in jagged shrapnel-edges, and bits of metal from the pipe were lodged in the floor, the ceiling, and perforated an over-simplistic placard that said, “Panic kills! Keep a cool head & work together.” Quietly, Michael said “This wasn’t sabotage, unless someone managed to get the bomb inside the pipe, all the debris is on the outside.” The three remaining engineers left worked in near-silence all day, occasionally aided by Ravi, the Company doctor.
No one talked much during the next few days; everyone was too busy watching each other, waiting for someone to slip up. Michael walked into the cantina, got his food, sat down, and nonchalantly attempted to start eating. Half way through his first bite, he felt as though someone was watching him, and looked up from his food. He saw the back of Liz’s head, her body language screaming that she wanted to turn around and talk to him, but through sheer determination managed to stave off the impulses. Past her was a burly security guard named Morrison with a menacing look in his eye and one hand on his holster. Michael made eye-contact and an instant later regretted it; the security guard had gotten up and was walking towards him. “Oi, what’re you looking at?” Morrison snarled, “N-nothing, I was just staring off into space,” Michael said, “I don’t believe that, you’re up to something, what’s that you’re reading?” Said Morrison, “It’s just a novel, nothing too subversive” Michael said. Seeing nothing too incriminating, Morrison just scowled and stomped away.
Back in the bomb shelter, the tomb that was a haven for life, the explosions and the drones of the planes’ engines far overhead radiating fear throughout the city. Michael was sitting in an alcove with Jimmy, the rest of his family sitting just outside the alcove, waiting for the caterwauling air-raid sirens to stop blaring. Michael had woken up in the predawn darkness to the sound of the sirens, and twelve hours later, they still had not been silenced. Overhead, the low rumble of an engine came, lower and closer than anything else previously had. The hard bedrock floor started vibrating again, but before anyone was able to do anything, daylight broke into the tomb, and then with a thunderous roar of falling rock, the tomb became deathly silent and dark as night.
Michael and Jimmy were preserved in the alcove, which had been blocked in creating an air-pocket. Pin-pricks of light came streaming down between gaps in the rubble. They dug and dug, each handful of loose rock bringing them closer to the surface, where Michael could hear a tapping. As they got closer to the surface, the tapping grew louder; Michael started digging faster and faster until the tapping completely consumed him.
All Michael could hear was a sharp rapping, then realized that he wasn’t dreaming anymore, the knocking was real, and coming from the room next door to his- Ravi’s. After a few more knocks, Michael heard the door open, some muffled voice, a sob, and a gunshot. It took all of Michael’s strength to not cry out as he crept to his door. He opened the door a few centimeters, enough to see a grey uniformed security guard carrying a large and bulky sack down the hall.
Michael went back to his bed, lay down, and spent the rest of the night trying to purge the night’s events from his memory. Gingerly he opened his eyes and glanced at his clock with horror. Nonchalantly it read 7:14, “Oh shit, I’m late for breakfast,” Michael thought. He ran to the cantina, grabbed a cup of coffee and some preserved fruit in a can. “Hey Killer, how’s that coffee?” said Liz cheerfully. “It tastes like it was strained through an old toupee,” Michael said groggily, “Oh, so it’s a good day,” Liz said cheerfully. Michael had wolfed down the fruit and drained the cup of coffee, but still could not shake off the miasma that had set around him. As they left the cantina, Michael’s pager started beeping and the little screen displayed that he was wanted in Reinhart’s office. As he started down the all-too-familiar hallway to the office, and noticed a knot of people outside the office, scrubbing what appeared to be some of graffiti off the wall.
“Pray sit down,” Reinhart said as he motioned towards a chair in front of his desk. However what Michael heard was, “Prey sit down.” Without thinking, he sat down in the old hard maroon-colored leather chair in front of the desk. Reinhart’s cold blue eyes flashed daggers, fire, and ice, all at once. In his slow, sonorous voice, he said, “A truly splendid performance, you caused enough damage to take Platform 19 out of commission for a year, and you managed to evade capture and death twice. However, you made some fatal mistakes, when you blew up the generator last night and blamed it on the doctor, you left a screwdriver at the scene, then this morning you thought it would be funny to show some more disdain for the Company by marking up the wall outside my office, but you arrived late to breakfast, which just made everything point straight to you.” In a small, intimidated voice, Michael said, “But sir, I had nothing to do with any of these a-” “Do not lie. We both know you are,” Reinhart said, now standing at an ornately carved set of shelves, fingering a glass bauble with one hand, and the other on his gun. Michael could not say anything; he was too busy hyperventilating when a knock came on the door.
“Mr. Reinhart, we have some important information about a dissident,” said a voice from behind the door. To Michael, Reinhart said, I will lock you in the closet; do not even think of escape, I will deal with you later.” Michael was ushered into a small windowless room, as a group of four security guards came in. Escape never crossed his mind rather; he dropped to the floor to watch what was happening from the crack between the door and the floor.
Morrison, the head security guard strode up to Reinhart and said, “We have found another dissident, sir.” “By all means, do what you feel is necessary,” Reinhart said. Morrison’s eyes flashed manically, and with a bright white gleam in his eye, pulled his gun out of his holster. Reinhart quickly grabbed a stout ceremonial scepter from a shelf and with a loud crack, brought it down across Morrison’s face, causing him reel backwards and fall down unconscious.
As Reinhart was turning to the others, Michael thought that he saw a slight white gleam in his eye. In his slow, almost blasé voice, Reinhart said, “Now, does anyone else have any complaints?” He slapped the scepter against the palm of his hand and said, “Because if anyone does, please state them now so I can make the necessary adjustments.” At this, the three security guards left lost their nerve and backed out of the room.
Reinhart pressed a button on his desk to close the door and placed the scepter back on the shelf. He then went to the crystal decanter inside an ornate cabinet, poured himself a glass of wine, and sat back down at his desk, relishing his recent victory. After a short time, Reinhart pressed another button on his desk, which summoned the head of maintenance who carted off the still unconscious Morrison.
Reinhart then opened the door to the closet to let Michael back into his office. Reinhart said, “I do hope that you learned a lesson from what just happened, you can try to be a rebel, but organization always wins.” Michael just said, “But I’m not a rebel, all of this is just a series of coincidences and hysteria.” Reinhart’s eyes gave off a maniacal white gleam in the poorly-lit maroon-and-silver draped office as he said, “Why must you constantly lie? This is a warning, one more lie, and I shall have to execute you. I have all of the evidence I need stored in an envelope.” At those words, Michael’s heart plunged. He wondered if this is what a sheep being led to the slaughter felt like, but could only say in a soft voice, “But you won’t let me see the envelope, you won’t even let me defend myself.” Flying into a fit of rage, Reinhart said, “I have been more than reasonable with you, yet you continue to defy me and capitalize on my naive mercy.” He then stood up and pulled out his ornately engraved revolver and pointed it at Michael’s head. All Michael could do was stupidly stare down the barrel like a deer in the headlights. The barrel was like a black hole in the room; it canceled out any light or semblance of reason.
Michael deafly heard a blast, but didn’t feel anything, then looked up. Reinhart had dropped his gun and was looking through a hazy jagged hole in the wall where the door was, and where Liz, along with some other people were stepping through, guns and other hastily-assembled weapons at the ready. He saw Reinhart’s revolver lying on the carpet less than a foot away, and grabbed it. Using the butt of the revolver, he smashed the glass case surrounding a large red “panic” button, and punched the button as hard as he could.
The mechanical system attached to the large red panic button sent out a standardized SOS message in all directions and one directly to the Company headquarters. The transmission sped away from Platform 19 at 299, 792, 458 meters per second; it would reach the nearest ship in under a minute, but there was no guarantee that actual help would arrive anytime soon.
Michael glanced at Liz, at the rifle she was aiming at Reinhart; and at the white gleam in her eyes. He then dropped the gun and dove behind the desk as Liz fired twice. Both shots hit Reinhart in the chest, causing him to fall backwards a bit, hit the wall, and slide down, leaving a crimson streak down the centre of the fleur-de-lis of the Company flag hanging on the wall.
Liz dropped the gun as the room fell silent; the only sound was her muffled sobs. Michael put his arm around her in an attempt to comfort her, but the cacophony of voices and footfalls in the hall outside the office quickly extinguished any attempt to make Liz feel better. The footfalls were getting louder, Michael picked his gun back up, everybody went back into fight-or-flight mode, and were dead set against flight. The lights flickered a bit and completely shut off. In the darkness, everybody looked at each other, looked at the hall, just waiting for what would come next. The lights came back on with a flash, and Michael was overtaken with a strange sensation.
The world sank into slow-motion monochrome; all the sounds were monotone and faraway. He felt that the weight of the world was taken from his shoulders; he was floating through the macabre scene as if it was just a bad dream and nothing really existed. He didn’t want to think, he didn’t need to think, his actions just happened of their own accord. Michael felt like he was flying; he had no worries, he’d automatically do the right thing, and someone else would worry about it and deal with the consequences later. He was free. Free from worries, pain, emotion, and all of the other fatal flaws that had bested the heroes of antiquity.
Morrison led a group of people into the office, all brandishing weapons, and antiphonally screaming, “Traitors! Dirty murdering traitors!” Morrison, the most intelligible one of the group yelled, “You killed Reinhart. I should’ve gutted you when I had the chance.” Michael vaguely heard himself say, “That’s not what you were saying when you tried to kill Reinhart yourself earlier; you even still have the mark on your cheek.” The room fell silent for a minute, both sides waiting for the other to make the first move. Finally, Morrison growled, “You bastard,” and leapt with full force at Michael as the rest of the room descended into chaos.
Michael knew what was happening. He dimly saw himself fighting, like he was watching the whole affair on TV. Punches and bullets were flying everywhere; a bookcase was upturned, spilling its contents all over the combatants. Morrison looked up from across the fray as Michael saw himself raise the gun. In slow motion, he pulled the trigger; saw the flash of bright white light and Morrison was doubled over. Morrison took two steps back, hit a set of shelves, and died as the shelves rained the glass baubles and other curios over the office.
Michael suddenly had a sense of stark realization, like he had just come out of a dream, but the dream was carried over into reality. He was still in the office fighting for his life against his coworkers who wanted to kill him. A burly security guard lunged towards Michael with a menacing knife, Michael jumped out of the way, just trying to survive. Another explosion, the room filled with smoke as Michael dodged the knife again and backed into the closet. He punched the button to close the door as his assailant was about to cross through the doorway. Michael breathed a sigh of relief, he was safe for now.
The chimes that come before an announcement on the PA system came before any further yells or explosions. “Everybody stop what you are doing. Put your weapons down and come out of the building with your hands on your head,” said a calm disembodied authoritative voice on the loudspeaker. The sounds of the fray immediately stopped, and were replaced by a slight whimpering and the footfalls of the former combatants exiting the room. Michael opened the door and looked around. The room was a mess, Morrison was dead, and the shelves had been knocked over so the room was littered with books and bits of the broken former occupants of the shelves, the maroon carpet was partially torn up and moist to the touch, most of the wall hangings and draperies were askew or completely torn down, and everything was covered in a gruesome patina of dust, blood, and gunpowder. Michael walked through the room, trying to not look at anything too closely. When he got to the door, he took one last glance around the room, around his old life, and turned off the light as he left.
Michael walked out of the office building with his hands on his head and surveyed the scene. There were about twenty maroon-clothed Company paramilitary guards with guns pointed to the door, their captain, and about ten more people guarding the rest of Michael’s co-workers. Once everybody had been accounted for and handcuffed, the commanding officer, a man not unlike Reinhart, came over to give a speech, “You have all committed treason towards the Company, and I am putting you under arrest, and you can expect all of harshest penalties lain upon you when we return to port.” With that, the captain walked away and led them towards his ship in single file. As the captain turned, Michael noticed that his eyes radiated a sinister white glow, thought to say something, and sank back into silence.
The story doesn't end here, watch for the sequel, coming eventually.</I>