Copyright 2010 Zack Metcalfe
Illustrated by Jake Metcalfe
For my family,
My mother, for keeping me sane and steady,
My father, for his motivation and confidence,
and my brother, for being the like mind I could always count on
Table of Contents
Chapter - 1
Chapter - 2
Chapter - 3
Chapter - 4
Chapter - 5
Chapter - 6
Chapter - 7
Chapter - 8
Chapter - 9
Chapter - 10
Chapter - 11
Chapter - 12
Chapter - 13
Chapter - 14
Chapter - 15
Chapter - 16
Chapter - 17
Chapter - 18
Chapter - 19
Chapter - 20
Chapter - 21
Chapter - 22
Chapter - 23
Chapter - 24
Chapter - 25
Chapter - 26
Chapter - 27
Chapter - 28
Chapter - 29
Chapter - 30
Chapter - 31
Chapter – 1
It was a still evening. Usually I could hear the subtle creaking and moaning of the ship’s hull around me, expanding and contracting with the changes in temperature. Not tonight. The ship seemed to find a shape it was comfortable with, leaving me with a chilling silence.
The halls here were narrow, crisscrossing each other, with walls so solid it was difficult to imagine anything beyond them. The grading floors were twisted and warped in places, forcing me to watch my step, lest they harm my bare feet. I crept along with tempered breath, my eyes darting this way and that, my ears trained for any noise, a heavy crowbar clutched tightly in my right hand.
The lighting in this section was dim in spots, missing in others. My crew and I hadn’t had time to repair them, not that it had mattered until now.
I often looked behind myself, checking the dark expanse of corridor from which I had just come. I froze at even the most innocent sounds, peeked around every corner before turning them. I knew nothing was there, no monsters hiding in the dark, but it made no difference. My imagination was powerful. In a place like this, a place I barely knew, my imagination ran rampant.
Proceeding quietly, I came to a place I recognized. I was going in the right direction. Allowing myself a sigh of relief, I looked down the halls visible to me, seeing nothing.
Just as I turned down the correct corridor, I heard something behind me. It sounded like a hollow thud against metal, which echoed through the halls. I turned back quickly, standing very still for a short while. The noise didn’t repeat itself.
I resolved to move faster. The more time I gave to my overactive imagination, the more noises I would hear. Quickening my pace, I descended two staircases and came to a section of even narrower halls.
I pressed my back against a wall and peered around a corner. I could just make out the solid door at the hall’s end. There was nothing else. I made for it quickly, but before reaching it, I heard the noise again. I paused and looked behind me, but of course there was nothing to be seen.
Keeping my eyes trained in the direction of the noise, I backed up slowly towards the door. Nothing showed itself, and no further noises came. My back pressed against the door, and I groped blindly for the latch with my free hand. When my fingers curled around its chilled surface, I turned and pulled the door open. Slipping inside, I eased it shut, again latching the handle.
I allowed myself a moment to catch my breath. My hands were trembling, my skin cold, and my heart pounding in my chest. It’s difficult to keep control sometimes, to remind myself of reality. In those moments, when my imagination presents itself in the most vivid ways, it’s beyond me to stay calm. Instinct takes over. Fear grips me, and there’s little I can do to rationalize my way out.
I turned to face the chamber in which I now stood. It was one of the larger spaces in the ship, perhaps twenty five by fifty metres, five large pools of water in the floor. They were pools of drinking and bathing water for my family, the ship’s only crew. On the wall to my left were small circular windows, showing the glittering stars beyond.
Beside each pool was a control terminal. One had a red light flashing on its surface. The air in this chamber was moist, and the water was perfectly still, difficult to distinguish from glass.
I moved to the flashing terminal, terrified by what I might find. Any number of messages could be on that screen, many problems I couldn’t hope to fix. I placed my crowbar gently on the floor beside the terminal, then stood to read the message. After scanning the terminal’s plastic surface, I exhaled heavily. It was a simple problem, one I could fix. No error, however, was an ideal one. If the problem couldn't be fixed at the panel, I'd have to enter the pool. A shiver ran down my spine at the thought, and I turned to the terminal again.
As my fingers worked, I became aware of a very soft noise. I looked behind me, my gaze landing on the door from which I had entered. The noise came again. It was different this time, like a soft scratching on the far side of the door. It continued, getting steadily louder, and fear soon built in my chest. My breaths became panicked.
Just before losing all control, I shut my eyes, squeezing them tight, shaking my head from side to side.
“There is nothing there,” I said to myself aloud. “There is nothing there.” My voice came as a whisper, echoing softly in the room. I opened my eyes and turned back to the terminal, trembling slightly as I fought to ignore the noise.
“There is nothing there,” I repeated, more softly this time. The scratching faded, finally disappearing all together. I exhaled shakily.
A rare triumph.
Work with the terminal proved fruitless. Gathering my willpower, I picked up my crowbar and moved to the pool’s edge, finding the ladder leading to its depths. I removed my shirt and threw it aside. Carefully, I lowered myself onto the ladder and descended, reaching the rung just above the water.
The pool's depths looked deceiving. I should be able to stand, but I wasn't sure. The crowbar in my hand would make it impossible to stay afloat, if I was wrong. Taking a deep breath, I lowered myself down another rung, then another, and another, until I was up to my waist. My next step met solid floor. The water stung my skin as I was immersed in it. I forced myself to take one step after another, heading towards a wide pipe connecting with the base of the pool. It was roughly two metres in diameter, half of it exposed to air, half under water.
Coming to its mouth, I peered inside, seeing a hatch deeper inside. Its function was to spin counter clockwise, opening for water to pass. This wasn’t working properly. According to the terminal, the ‘open’ instruction was being given constantly for the past many hours. Still, the hatch didn’t move.
The frigid water was making my teeth chatter. I pulled myself into the pipe, soon slipping and falling to all fours, freezing water splashing up and covering my face. I gasped at the sudden cold, wiping water from my eyes. I gripped my crowbar and continued along in a crawling fashion down the pipe, my wrists stinging from the fall.
I reached the hatch, running my hand across its grooves. It was jammed. Finding a place to wedge my crowbar, I set my feet where they would not slip, then pulled on the bar heavily. The hatch didn’t move.
I tried throwing my weight on the bar, holding it there as long as I could. After this yielded nothing, I tried again, so hard the bar dug painfully into my side. Suddenly, there was a loud crack, and the hatch rotated into place. Again I fell i
I waited there miserably for a moment, shivering. I wiped my hair from my eyes, collected my crowbar and returned to the mouth of the pipe, stepping into the pool and moving towards the ladder. As I struggled forward, my hand cramped, and the crowbar slid from it, sinking to the bottom of the pool. I cursed myself, then knelt down to retrieve it. I grasped the cold metallic object and pulled it out of the water, only then acknowledging how much I was disturbing the water’s surface. The reflections of stars from the small windows above were distorted by the small waves, stretched one moment, compressed the next. As I stood, the water slowly settled.
Something caught my eye in the reflection of the water. It may have been a crude trick of my playful mind, but I didn’t think so. I waited, watching, and it came again, something gliding past one of the windows. I looked up at the windows themselves. The object passed by the third window on the wall, then the fourth.
I couldn't see very well from where I stood. I wanted to know what the object was before it passed the ship and continued into open space.
I began struggling my way to the ladder, ascending it as quickly as I could. Once at the top, I dropped my crowbar and ran around the pool to the windows, waiting for the object to appear again. It did.
What I saw was a beautiful golden chain, only inches in length, with five of the most glorious pearls attached to it. They glided gently past the window, running parallel with the ship. Moving to the next window, I saw them again. The gold sparkled, and the pearls were small, so clean I could almost see my reflection in them. In my life I had never seen something so valuable or luxurious, but yet so simple.
Where they had come from was a mystery to me, and the odds of them passing my ship were unimaginable. I couldn't just let them leave. I don’t know what possessed me then, but I was overcome with the urge to have those pearls.
I bolted for the door, entering the corridors and running to the stern of my great ship. If I moved quickly enough, I could beat the pearls to the airlock. Once I arrived, I saw the robotic arm mounted against the airlock's inside wall. I ran to the controls and powered up the machine, opening the outer door of the airlock and extending the robotic arm into space. The machine was equipped with a net on its end, very large and fine. I hadn't used the arm in years, and never while actually in space. It was jerky, but seemed to function.
There I waited. It was agonizing to think the pearls may have already passed, or perhaps had been traveling on a slight angle, missing the airlock entirely. The only thing I could do was be patient.
The pearls glided into view, glimmering elegantly in the starlight. They were moving slow, giving me time to work the controls and have them land safely in the net. Feeling exhilarated, I retracted the arm, then closed the outer hatch, pressurizing the airlock. I opened the inner hatch before stepping away from the controls.
Suddenly everything was quiet. The room was flushed with freezing cold air from the airlock, my wet hair crystallizing, my soaked body freezing. This caused me to step back against the far wall, where I waited for temperatures to equalize.
I approached the machine once enough time had passed, and knelt down next to the net. Resting inside were the pearls, unmarked and shimmering. I reached in, the air getting colder as my hand drew near. They stung to the touch, so I pulled my hand back and waited still longer.
Eventually, I lost patience. I picked them up, enduring the pain as they rested in my open palm. They looked untouched, as if only created yesterday. The chain was a dark gold, and the pearls were a beautiful silver, save one, which was pale blue.
I could feel an energy flowing in my hand, and very faint images seemed to be dancing across the surface of each silvery orb.
Abel by Zack Metcalfe / Science Fiction / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on16 votes