July 2015

EXTERNUS INCOGNITA

by Ty Karnitz

My involvement with the Haggard-Aguire Expedition arose from a technicality. On a Friday afternoon, Mr. Scott Ryall, chairman of the Federal Astrographic Society, and my boss, called me into his office for “a talk.”

It was a long elevator ride.

Expensive, old-world furniture decorated his office. In the center of the room stood a wooden desk and real leather chair. Beside the desk, an armillary sphere of the solar system ticked, ticked away like an ancient grandfather clock. Soft burgundy carpets covered the floor and in the corner of the room lurked two stuffed lions. “From Africa,” he said. “Man-eaters.” I went to touch them but he stopped me. “You never touch the art.”

He didn’t have the time to waste words. He was running late for a fundraising event and donors hate waiting. “An unsanctioned expedition has run into red tape,” he told me, sitting down behind his desk. From a folder on his desk, his pulled out a map, hand drawn and torn from a notebook. There were two planets on the map, labeled Z and Y. The center of the map was blank except for two words: Externus Incognita.

“This is a map of the Tsavo System. Heard of it?”

I hadn’t. “Not much of a map, though, most of it is blank. And what’s this? Externus Incognita? That’s ridiculous, things aren’t unknown.”

Mr. Ryall agreed with me. “But,” he said. “I’ve tried to get clear pictures of the inner system.” Mr. Ryall pulled out a stack of glossy photos from the folder. All they showed was darkness and a large, golden orb of light spreading out from the center of the Tsavo System. Then he showed me pictures taken in different spectrums. The orb appeared in every picture, obscuring all the details except for the two planets labeled on the hand drawn map.

“What is that?”

Mr. Ryall shrugged his shoulders. He picked up the map and held it above the desk. “Clive Haggard drew this on that expedition of his.” I didn’t need clarification on what expedition Mr. Ryall meant. Only one of Haggard’s many expeditions ended in complete disaster, the expedition to find the missing seedship Kipling. The same expedition on which his wife and crew vanished and his son returned brain dead.

Haggard refused to speak of the terrible misfortune that’d befallen the expedition. When he did speak, his words were tainted with the spiritual. His grip on science weakened. His silence turned him into a pariah amongst his colleagues at the Federal Astrographic Society.

Of course, rumors spread: suffering from cryomadness, he’d killed the crew and his wife and sunk their bodies in space.

“Mad Haggard,” they began to call him.

Mr. Ryall said, “Francisco Aguirre is funding Haggard’s return expedition to the Tsavo System. However, they can’t get the licensing to leave without us. I told them I’d get them the permits for exclusive story rights.”

“Aguirre is an illegal gold miner. Why would he fund the trip?”

“Tax right off?” He said. “I’m assuming he’s looking for gold. The government doesn’t have any jurisdiction there. He can mine however he wants.”

“Slave mining.”

He nodded. It bothered me, very deeply, that the F.A.S. would agree to help a man like Aguirre.

“Why me?”

“Sixteen years in cryo at near light speed one way with no time frame for return,” he said. “I’m offering you the assignment because you’re the only writer on staff that’s made a cryo jump before.” He tapped the desk. “You don’t have the ties the others do.”

He took out a bottle of top-shelf water and two tumblers. He poured me a glass and I sipped water without any hint of chemical pollutant. The condensation on the tumbler dripped onto the map.

“Compensation will ensure you never have to work again. The moment you accept, we’ll put a check into an investment portfolio for you. The interest will make you rich,” he said. He sighed, then. “Don’t you want to know what happened on that expedition? I want to know.”

Of course I did.

*

Two days after leaving Mr. Ryall’s office, I glimpsed the ship that would bear me into oblivion, the Wrath of God. A marvel of technology and money, the ship’s most impressive feature was the plasma deck, which wrapped around the outside of the ship like a patio in space. A large, plasma membrane separated the deck from the void. All along this deck were what appeared to be harpoons.

Waiting for my turn to go under cryo, I stood on the deck, hands resting on the railing, looking out into space and feeling like I could dive overboard. A bit of space debris floated into the membrane and it flashed like lightning at dusk.

Then the technicians called me over the ship’s intercom.

My breath fogged in the cryobay’s frigid air. Hundreds of cryopods lined the walls. Inside one of the larger pods a cow dreamed. Another pod held chickens, and another giant tortoises. They slept, waiting for the moment they’d awake for the butcher.

A woman took my jacket and helped me into my pod. She stuck needles into my skin, attaching me to the machine. She smiled and then gave the okay to someone I couldn’t see. The door lowered with the soft click, click of gears locking.

With the advancements in cryotechnology just 2.76 percent of people die after they’re put into cryo, fewer than 2 percent wake with cryomadness, and less than 1 percent wake without higher brain function. Those numbers used to be over 10 percent.

*

As a boy, Clive Haggard was my idol. Openly at first, and later, after my classmates informed he was no longer acceptable hero material, in secret. I read his books until they broke.

On his television specials, Haggard explored colonies on the fringe and told stories he’d heard from prospectors about asteroids that held evidence of alien life–either old ruins or derelict advanced technologies eroded by space. Of course, he never found evidence, mostly because the time it took a story to reach civilization was measured in decades. That never daunted Haggard, though, and his belief fueled my own.

Near light travel did strange things to Haggard’s career. He is the same man my grandfather and father worshipped as boys almost unchanged. After exploring for three hundred standard years he looked no older than forty-five when I first met him.

The day I turned fifteen, Haggard held a press conference. The news broadcast it over previously scheduled programs. He’d returned from his last expedition only a year ago but he was ready to leave again. He remained tight lipped about the whole affair until the week of departure. Then he strode to the press podium, his second family standing beside him (his first family had refused to travel with him and had died a decades ago).

As he spoke, the Federal Astrographic Society logo blazed behind him.

“Eight hundred years ago, the seedship Kipling vanished into deep space. What became of the Kipling remains a mystery. However, I’ve discovered a distress signal, a final transmission from the tenth generation crew, and managed to pinpoint the signal’s origins. I leave you all to go find the Kipling’s final resting place.”

Haggard put his arms around his wife and son. Together, the three boarded the Endurance and were gone.

For the next few years, the Kipling‘s fate was dramatized in bad movies and documented in books. One of the seven seedships sent to find habitable planets when people thought Earth was beyond saving, what made the Kipling unique was that it disappeared.

Fifty years later, Federal Rangers found the Endurance drifting. A ghost ship.

*

Coming out of cryo is similar to waking in the middle of the night because you’ve lost feeling in an arm. For a few, stretched moments you cannot feel any part of your body. You wonder if it’s even there. Then the feeling comes back slow and steady. You tense against the pain, knowing it’s going to be bad, but it doesn’t last.

When I opened my eyes, I saw Federal Ranger Jon Martel standing above me. Not the prettiest man, he’d had his nose broken a dozen times, and because he was shirtless I could see the scar where a bullet had shattered his shoulder. He handed me water and a protein bar. We were the only two people in the cryobay.

“Aguirre and Haggard are getting things together upstairs,” he said. “You are working with me.” He tossed rubber gloves and a thick apron into my lap.

We woke a cow. Before she’d opened her eyes, though, Martel put a bolt gun to her head. “You never get used to it,” he said. “Don’t let them open their eyes, that’s the trick. They open their eyes and… just don’t do it.”

A drain in the floor took the blood away as he dressed her. He knew how to work a knife. I took the cuts of meat and put them onto hooks. I’d never seen uncooked meat before. It’s red and pink with white muscle on it, and much heavier than I thought it’d be.

“There’s a lot of blood,” I said. I didn’t dare look at myself.

After we washed our hands, Martel poured us gin, the cheap kind that you have to keep cold to find palatable. He’s a man who likes to drink and talk. That’s when I learned that though Martel was a Federal Ranger, he was Aguirre’s man first. They grew up together. When Aguirre took over the family business, he got Martel a position with the Rangers. As a ranger, Martel had two jobs. First, if The Federation raided an area Aguirre might be mining illegally, he made sure they found nothing but footprints. Second, he gave The Federation information about where Aguirre’s competition had set up operations.

Martel is just one of hundreds of corrupt rangers looking for an extra paycheck because no one really cares if The Federation fails to collect taxes from the fringe. The real complaints about the mining comes from environmentalists who believe the mining creates unsafe levels of radiation and tons of industrial waste which ruins a planet’s chance to develop life, and from humanist who complain about the slavery. Of course, it’s hard to say which worker is a true slave and which is just an indentured servant with so much debt he’ll never buy his freedom.

“Do you know,” Martel said, pouring himself his fourth glass of gin, “I found the Endurance?”

“No,” I said.

Martel smiled. “That ship, there was something wrong with it,” he said, shaking his head. “I didn’t like it at all. Power was going, like the ship was bleeding out, like some sort of floundering whale dying on a beach.

“Orders were to search the ship for survivors and raid the computers. We marched through corridors lit only by emergency lighting. There was writing on the walls and bones… bones on the ground built up like a child’s block city. And the ship’s computers, they were spliced with technology hundreds of years old. That’s how we knew they’d found the Kipling.”

“Did Haggard say anything about the trip?”

He shook his head. “He only talked about his wife. Said he left her at Z.”

“Left her? Like she’s still alive?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Aguirre wouldn’t spend all this money just to find Haggard’s missing wife.”

“Of course not. Aguirre’s after the gold. We found gold on the Endurance, a lot of gold.”

*

The candlelight surprised me. The flicker of real fire is not something I expected to see in space. The door was mostly closed, but from the corridor’s shadows, I could see half the room. Inside, Haggard stood over his son’s prone body which lay on the floor. It didn’t surprise me to find Haggard’s son on board. In his condition, no one else would’ve taken care of him. I was ashamed that I didn’t remember his name, though.

I know it now. Rowland.

Haggard cleaned his son with a washcloth.

I felt strange watching something so intimate.

Then Haggard went to a nearby cupboard and pulled out bones, backbones, and encircled his son with them. I backed up, pressing myself to the wall in the corridor. I couldn’t leave but didn’t want to be seen.

Haggard left my field of vision. When he returned, he carried the head of the cow I’d butchered earlier. Blood dripped from the cow’s neck. Haggard let the blood drip over his son’s body. Then he put the head beside his son and pulled out a purple velvet bag from his pocket. He poured flat, gold coins into his bloody hands and put them on his son’s body. One on his forehead, one in each palm, four on his chest, two on each leg. As he placed them, he chanted in an eerie, guttural tongue.

Mad Haggard.

A hand grabbed me.

Haggard didn’t hear my startled gasp.

Aguirre stood next to me, beckoning me away from Haggard and his son. He led me away. “Dinner is ready,” he said.

“Did you see that?” I asked.

Aguirre nodded. He looked young, far too young to be as rich and powerful as he was.

“Poor bastard,” he said.

“I think I’d rather be brain dead than paralyzed. He doesn’t know what he’s missing,” I said.

“I didn’t mean Rowland,” said Aguirre. “Haggard’s the poor bastard. Don’t misunderstand me. I feel bad for Rowland but there’s nothing we can do to change that. He’s barely alive, really. I know it sounds horrible to say, and please don’t quote me on this, but I wish he’d just died along the way. Don’t give me that look. I don’t want to sound like a monster, but I’m pragmatic. He’s a burden to his family and society.” His tongue ran over his lips. “I see you disagree with me. Think about this, though. Since his son’s condition, Haggard’s not the same man. He’s a husk. He can’t move on with Rowland around. If his son died, he’d return to normal.”

“You sound young,” I said.

“You don’t like me,” he said, stopping in the corridor. “I’m not surprised. Most members of the Federal Astrographic Society don’t like me. In all your articles I’m portrayed as an environment destroying slaver.”

“So we should portray you as an altruistic man who put his family’s fortune into this expedition so Haggard can find his wife?”

He laughed. “No. I’m here for the gold and glory.”

“Not enough gold on the fringe for you anymore?”

He tried to put his hand on my shoulder, as we were friends. I stepped back. “You don’t know, do you? I thought you’d know. Have you heard the Kipling‘s distress signal?”

I shook my head.

He went to the closest computer control panel and played the message. I didn’t understand the language.

“Haggard told me what it said, but I had it independently translated. Things went well for the Kipling. In the Tsavo System, they’d found a planet suitable for terraforming, Z. After terraforming, when they were about to land, a comet appeared. It hadn’t shown up on the computers but they watched it come closer with their naked eye. As it drew closer, the ship’s computers malfunctioned and the systems failed. The crew stopped the ship from crashing, but only just. The comet came closer and closer, passing through the atmosphere, burning across the sky. Bits of the comet’s tail rained down on the planet. Those bits of comet were gold. Haggard encountered this comet, too. It does something with computers, we don’t know what, but it interferes with them somehow. What’s more, the gold is different.” He took a gold chain bracelet off his wrist and passed it to me.

It tingled in my hand, almost as if electrified.

I about dropped it.

“You feel it?”

“How?”

“It’s not pure gold. It’s about ninety percent gold in an organic matrix, or something like that. What it comes down to is that some creature has assimilated a large portion of gold into its body and incorporated that into an exoskeleton.”

I stopped him. “A creature?” He nodded. “A xeno? You’re telling me that I’m holding proof we’ve found alien life?”

“The math always said we’d find them eventually,” Aguirre said. “Of course, that’s mostly gold. It’s just from something alive.”

“Haggard knows it’s alive?”

“Of course. He thinks the comet seeks out ships, like it’s curious.”

He held out his hand and I returned the gold bracelet. He snapped it back over his wrist.

“I’m not very hungry anymore,” I said.

“You should eat anyway.”

We continued our walk to the kitchen.

“Did Haggard ever say what happened to the people on the Kipling?” I asked.

“They degenerated into a savage, backwater people who practice cannibalism in the name of the comet.”

*

After dinner, Haggard explained the plan. We all sat around the table, except for Rowland. Rowland sat in a wheelchair in the corner, wrapped in a blanket, cleaned of blood, his unfocused eyes staring in our direction. I couldn’t look at him.

Martel poured coffee for us all.

“In five hours, the comet will appear. When that happens, the computers will go down. Jon, you’ll start the backup generators.”

Martel nodded.

Haggard rubbed his face. “Get anything you want from the computers now,” he said. “We land on the comet in ten hours.”

It felt odd, wrong even, that we’d already reached our destination. To my mind, we’d been gone less than a week. How could we find a mystery of the universe so soon?

When the computers went down, it sounded like the computer’s sighing. I waited in the bowel’s with Martel. We sat on pieces of mining equipment, all designed to work in low to zero gravity environments. The lights went out and then Martel struck lit an oil lamp. In the shaky shadows, he cranked the backup power supply into life.

When the generator started, the lights didn’t return in full. Just faint emergency lighting glowed in the corridors.

“Power’s back,” he said. “It’s almost time for the show.”

*

I waited on the plasma deck for the comet to appear. The planet Z spun through space below us. Did Kipling‘s colonists still remain? Did they really eat each other? Is that what happened to Haggard’s wife?

The door to the deck opened and Haggard pushed his son out. He stopped and took a cloth to his son’s chin. I’d imagined that because we were on an expedition together, we’d bond over adventure but he felt more distant now than when I’d watched him on television.

I didn’t think he was going to answer any of my questions but I took out my journal anyway and asked. Then, like a zombie from a corpse, he came alive. The old explorer shambled through the grizzled beard and weathered face.

“I never thought I’d find what I did,” he said. “I’ve seen all sorts of cultures that developed along the Federation’s fringes but never anything so primitive and bestial as I saw on Z. The people believed in magic and in a tangible god, the comet. It passes by every five years, and when it does, it enters the atmosphere and rains gold dust from the sky.”

“Comets can’t enter the atmosphere.”

“I know. Aguirre believes he can mine it.” Haggard shook his head. “It won’t let him, though. It’s not a comet. It’s a god.”

“You really believe that?”

“I know it,” he said. He pet his son’s hair down. Then he pulled out one of the gold coins I’d seen him use earlier. “The witches showed me how to use it. Watch.” He pressed the coin to his son’s forehead. Rowland’s eyes suddenly focused. My mouth went dry.

“See,” Haggard said. “It’s a being that lives in space, and it’s benign and benevolent. I just have to ask it to heal Rowland and then he’ll be strong and good, again.”

I wanted him to be crazy, but Rowland’s eyes…

“There it is.”

The comet appeared on the horizon, starting as just a speck of golden light. We were directly in its path. The light pulsed, like a heartbeat. Could Mad Haggard be right?

It came at us without care. That’s when I knew this thing couldn’t be alive, not really. A living creature would notice our presence and turn away from us. It would avoid us. This comet was just along its orbit.

Then it got closer. It dwarfed our ship. A creature its size would never notice us. It was only my ego that made me believe it would have to notice us.

Z’s gravity took the comet’s tail and soon the golden dust that ran behind it was gone.

The plan was to harpoon ourselves to the comet and then bring The Wrath in. Martel joined us on the plasma deck. His job was to harpoon the comet.

The plasma window flared purple as it held off bits of debris. Then the comet was so close there was nothing to be seen from the plasma deck but gold. That’s the moment Martel launched the harpoons. A hundred harpoons, each the size of a man, shot out from the ship and hurtled the three hundred meters toward the comet. When the harpoons landed, they began to drill into the golden surface and anchor themselves into the leviathan.

When the harpoons struck the comet, a cloud of golden debris blew up from the comet’s surface and enveloped the ship. The plasma membrane cracked again as the dust struck it, and then passed through it. Being closet to the membrane, the cloud enclosed Martel before he could retreat to the safety of the ship. He vanished into the gold and began to laugh. “It… tingles,” he said.

And then he screamed.

*

When the cloud passed, we dragged Martel inside.

“It’s in my arm! It’s in my arm!’ Martel screamed. He’d torn his arm apart with his teeth. Blood and flesh covered his lips.

“Get him a sedative,” Haggard said, too calm.

Aguirre ran for the first aid-kit.

“Get it out!” Martel’s lips curled back, his face stretched tight and red.

I kept trying to hold him down but he was stronger than me. He threw me off him and went back to biting his arm. Aguirre took too long. Haggard punched Martel to knock him out. It took more than one punch.

Only after he stopped moving did we get a chance to examine the wounds he’d caused himself. Inside the bite marks, thousands of tiny golden worms, like miniature maggots, crawled away. When I touched his chest, I felt millions of them moving. His body tingled.

We put Martel in cryo. The maggots in his body slowed their wriggling. With the hundreds of tiny bumps under his skin, distorting his face and hands, it looked like he was infected with smallpox.

Haggard was at least partly right. The comet was alive but it was not benign or benevolent.

Once Martel’s vitals read stable, Haggard left us, the door to the cryobay closing behind him.

“What if those things get out?” Aguirre asked. His breath clouded the glass on the cryopod, hiding the terrible sight of Martel’s skin.

“They won’t,” I said, turning away so I didn’t have to see.

“You don’t know that. They could eat their way through him and through the pod and into the next pod, and then what do we do? Do we risk our lives for his? There’s no help out here. We should get rid of his pain.”

I met Aguirre’s eyes. I always thought a man would drop his eyes after suggesting murder but Aguirre didn’t.

I shook my head. “We can’t,” I said.

But if we did, we’d have to do it before he wakes up, before he opened his eyes. It’d be easier that way.

“Look at him,” Aguirre insisted.

I wanted to tell Haggard what Aguirre plotted, so he could stop him. I went to leave the cryobay but the door didn’t open. I heard the mechanism attempt to open the door but the door didn’t move.

“Aguirre, the door is locked.”

“It can’t be locked.”

Aguirre tried the door but it didn’t open for him either. Aguirre turned on the intercom. “Haggard,” he said, “open the door.”

“Why would he lock the door?” I asked.

It took a moment but Haggard replied. “I won’t let you mine it,” he said. “I’m going down to the surface. You should put yourself in cryo, both of you. You’ll freeze to death otherwise.”

No matter how we shouted through the intercom, Haggard didn’t respond again.

In the end, we used the ducts to escape. We crawled over wiring and through frigid air and came out on the far side of the door. Haggard had jammed the door closed with a crowbar.

Aguirre ran off as soon as he climbed out of the duct. I tried to keep up with him but he was faster than me. I thought he’d run to Haggard’s room but he didn’t.

I opened the door to Haggard’s room and found he’d written strange words along the walls in blood. A flat table, covered in drying gore, stood in the center of the room. Chicken entrails dripped from its metallic surface.

Aguirre came back for me. He looked at the mess on the room and shook his head.

“He’s mad,” I said.

“He’s gone off the ship, and he took the keys for the miners. The bastard took the keys. I can’t mine without those keys. We have to find him.”

Two spacesuits were missing from the wall by the airlock, but Haggard hadn’t tampered with the others. He didn’t think we’d get out of the cryobay.

Aguirre helped me into my spacesuit.

“I don’t know if this is safe,” I said, as he zipped the front of my suit up.

“We’ll be fine.”

“But Martel,” I said.

“The suits will keep the gold worms out. Trust me. Besides, where’s your sense of adventure? I thought you were a member of the F.A.S. This is what you live for, right?”

I remember nodding.

When I stepped onto the comet, all I could think about was Martel and the golden maggots possessing him. The tingling sensation coming from the comet came through my boots and I tensed for the pain and madness. It didn’t come. We followed the footprints and wheelchair tracks in the faint layer of gold dust on the comet. The comet was warm, like body heat.

Aguirre led. He carried a bag over one shoulder, and as we walked gold dust began to cover the bag and our suits and the face shields. We became gilded automatons in search of a madman.

Sharp, gold spikes, sharp enough to cut our suits, protruded from the surface. We avoided them.

We found Haggard next to some sort of vent. Every few moments, a warm, golden dust plume blew out of it–the comet exhaling.

Rowland lay on the ground. Haggard drew a circle of blood on the ground using a butchered chicken. The blood didn’t soak into the comet but pooled on its surface. Haggard dipped his fingers into the blood and spread it across his son’s face shield, painting more weird writing. The gold dust sparked over everything.

“Stay where you are,” he said when Aguirre and I were about five meters away. “Don’t cross the circle. If you cross the circle, you’ll break the spell and his spirit can’t return.”

“What are you doing?” Aguirre asked. “You’ve wasted our food.”

“I’m helping my son.”

“Haggard,” I said. “This is crazy. Come back to the ship. This isn’t going to save your son.”

He didn’t respond.

“At least tell me where the keys are,” Aguirre said.

“You can’t drill here. This is alive, it’s a god, and it will heal my son.”

“You’re son’s gone,” said Aguirre. “I’m sorry. I know how it feels to lose someone close.”

“The hell you do,” said Haggard, standing. “You don’t know anything. You haven’t begun to understand. I was on Z. I understand. I know what’s down there. I know what we’re dealing with here.”
“Come back to the ship,” I begged.

“Why isn’t it working?” Aguirre asked. “Why doesn’t your son stand up and speak again?”

Haggard stopped talking. He looked down at Rowland and then back at us.

“It’s only for the pure of heart… that’s right. You two aren’t pure of heart. You don’t believe. You have to leave or it won’t work.”

“It’s not alive. It’s just gold.”

“This isn’t gold!” Haggard shouted. “This isn’t gold!”

“Yes, it is.”

Haggard started to chant.

“Haggard, please,” I said.

“You have to stop this, Haggard. Your son isn’t coming back. He might as well be dead. But you, you can go on. You can be the man you used to be. Just accept that your son is dead.”

The chanting stopped. “He’s not dead. He’s alive. He’s going to walk again. He will.”

“Haggard,” Aguirre said. “You used to be…” I didn’t hear what Aguirre said. “He’s not going to walk again.”

Aguirre unzipped the bag he carried and pulled a bolt gun from it. Aguirre crossed the circle and put the gun to Rowland’s face mask. The bolt burst the mask and the Rowland’s face froze and cracked in an instant. The boy didn’t move once.

I expected rage but Haggard only fell to his knees and held his dead son. On his suit, the chicken blood, kept warm by the vents, shimmered with golden specks.

“Look,” Aguirre said. “He didn’t move. He wasn’t alive.”

When Aguirre killed Rowland, I stepped back from the circle. I didn’t step forward and try to be a hero. I didn’t come between Haggard and Aguirre.

“It’s just gold,” Aguirre said. “All we have to do is mine it and take it back. We’ll be rich. You’ll be the hero you were.”

I don’t believe Aguirre planned to kill Rowland. Once he did, though, I think he realized he’d have to kill Haggard or Haggard would’ve killed him. And then he’d have to kill me because I’d seen him murder two men.

When Aguirre put the bolt gun to Haggard, I ran.

I made it back to the ship and locked the airlock doors. The chemical bath sprayed over my suit and the golden dust fell away. Thin worms popped under my boots.

Aguirre banged on the hull, used the bolt gun on the door.

Aguirre had five hours of oxygen with him. If the computers had been running properly, he would’ve been able to get the doors open from the outside. But the computers weren’t running properly.

It took me seven hours to figure out how to get the secondary engines to run without the computers. The cables on the harpoons let go with a loud rap against the hull and the ship almost seemed to fall away from the comet. Thirteen hours after I stepped on the comet, the Wrath of God’s computers came back online.

Radio contact with home will not be possible for another sixteen years at near light speed. I’ll put myself under cryo in a few hours. When I do, I’ll remind myself that less that two percent of people wake with cryomadness.

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