William Carter was going mad. He had been flying blind, lost in the void, for months. To be honest, he'd lost track of time. Cut off from the rest of the world the days ran together. Weeks dripped into months. Months could have blended into a year but he wasn't sure. The only thing he was sure of was that his co-pilot, Ryan Jones, had died three weeks ago, the last in a string of deaths that had plagued their mission since it launched. It was fitting in a way, they'd been sent to chase down a radio signal coming from an uninhabited region of space, a signal they'd discovered coming off of a small object no bigger than a man. A distress signal from an ancient astronaut that couldn't possibly be human.
"You know, Jones," said Carter. "I've been thinking." Jones was still sealed in his spacesuit and strapped into his station. His remains were safely cocooned in layers polymer and ceramic, and hidden behind a shiny, polarized faceplate. "Given how fast we've been flying and the vector of our alien friend here, we should have run into him by now. Now, I know what you're thinking 'Carter you failed astronavigation and linear algebra in your first year of the academy.' My math might be off but even with our sensors wrecked I figure we'd be able to see our friend on the visual display. We should be close enough to run him over. Something's not right."
Carter breathed a heavy sigh followed by a short laugh. Talking to a dead man was ridiculous, maybe insane, and he knew it, but Jones was the only company he had left. It was better than talking to himself. Shaking his head, he unclipped his restraint harness and drifted free of his chair. Grabbing a handhold, he pulled himself backwards out of the cockpit and drifted down the short corridor that separated it from the rest of the ship.
He paused at the heavy door sealing off the crew quarters. A meteorite had smashed through the ship while they slept. Somehow the computers had missed it, the early warning systems had failed, and the meteor gutted the ship, sending the entire crew, save for Jones and himself, spilling out into the void. Realistically he could have dumped Jones out of the rent in the hull too but it seemed wrong to throw him away. Jones had been his friend, and he deserved a proper burial.
The door slid open with a rush of escaping air. Carter clung to a metal bar on the opposite side of the door, slowly and carefully pulling himself towards the opposite end of the ruined chamber. The crew quarters were dead and silent. Streaks of blood patterned the grated metal floor and a cloud of dust and metal debris hung in the vacuum. The meteorite that had killed the crew was lodged in the floor, staring up at him with a look of hate and malice. He glanced over at the tear in the hull, glaring defiantly out into the abyss outside the ship. Reaching the end of the crew area he opened a second door and pulled himself into the cramped confines of the engineering deck. Carter floated over to a large pressure tank and connected his suit to it with a thick hose, watching patiently as the pressure gauge on his forearm climbed slowly. A warning chime interrupted his oxygen break.
"Jones?" he asked. "What's going on?"
Silence answered him.
"What do you mean we're picking up a signal?" Carter hastily pulled himself through the ship to the cockpit and strapped himself into the pilot's seat. "Jones, you must be crazy. The comm array died a long time ago. It can't pick up any signals."
Jones sat silently, stoically contemplating the starfield stretching out infinitely before them.
"Don't argue with me, Jones! I already know I'm crazy! I'm saying you've finally lost it, there's nothing out there."
The warning chime rang again, coming from the small radio built into Carter's spacesuit. He activated the radio, listening as a soft hiss of static echoed through his helmet. The static grew louder as the ship cruised through the void. He closed his eyes, listening to hissing white noise and angled the nose of the ship away from their usual course. The static grew louder. He chased the signal through space, following it until it faded to silence.
He opened his eyes, blinking in disbelief at a megalithic sphere of chrome filled the main display screen. The megalith spun towards them, a glaring red eye staring maliciously at the tiny space ship. Carter slapped the ignition for the reverse thrusters, growling in frustration as the ship's engines sputtered and died. A haze of red light skated over the ship, pulling it towards the sphere. The ship fell into the sphere's eye, passing through it with a crackle of static and a flashing arc of electricity.
It touched down gently onto a hard surface. Carter cautiously crept out of the cockpit and through the gaping hole in the crew quarters. He was in a massive chamber. The room was empty save for his space ship and a single drifting body. A body clad in a tattered, ruined space suit, a body that couldn't possibly be human. He kicked off the hull of his ship, flying towards the ancient corpse. Finally, he'd found it, but there was no way he'd be able to bring it home, his ship was dead.
With a sigh, he reached for the corpse's helmet. After travelling for so long he might as well take a look at the being they'd been chasing. The helmet pulled free and floated away into the darkness. Carter floated in silence, staring down into the piercing blue eyes of his friend, Jones.
"Jones?" he asked. "What are you doing outside the ship?"
"I've been waiting for you," said Jones, with a smile.
"But you died. You died a while ago. How are you here?"
Jones shrugged and adjusted the collar of his spacesuit. "Oh," he said, looking down at his feet. "That. The Jones in the cockpit is dead. I'm a ghost in the machine."
"The machine?" said Carter, his brow wrinkling in thought. "What machine?
Jones held up his arms, gesturing all around himself. "It's this. It's everything. It's a hundred thousand points of light scattered across the galaxy."
"But that doesn't really answer my question. What does it do?"
"It bends reality, warps physics, tears Einstein's theories a new one. Let me show you. Go back inside."
Carter followed the ghost back aboard and reality shattered. The world broke into a riot of light, colour, and sound. The chaos seemed like it would never end, but just as fast as it started, it stopped, leaving Carter staring down at something that looked an awful lot like Jupiter.
"Are we...?" he started, letting the sentence trail off.
Jones shrugged. "A little ways from Earth, yeah, but we're in the same neighbourhood. Let's get you home and tell the teams planetside what you found."
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