4. Division

Digging the rabbit hole

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

I’m staring at a 404 error for the home page of Dr. Alfieri’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory: http://fieri-interferometry.it. The site doesn’t exist. And a quick search on Google and Wikipedia provides no information for Dr. Dante Alfieri or for his observatory. I called McMurdo and not only is he not there, they’ve never heard of him. I inquired about the research team and McMurdo had no record of that either.

As a scientist, I cannot rule out the possibility that I’ve lost my mind. However, everything else seems normal. The Array, the transmissions, the transmission that I sent…as far as I can tell, all of that actually happened. Though, when I cycled the Array on December 15th, I cleared its memory, then wiped the data on the servers, so no one from the McMurdo team would discover it. And now, the only records of the transmissions I received are on my personal laptop. There’s no way for me to prove to anyone, or even myself, that the data is authentic. And apparently the Array has been idle for the last 8 days, so I don’t know if there have been any new transmissions.

Am I so insane that I’ve actually been sending transmissions to myself? Am I Maxim Akihiko Broussad?

I just saw Dr. Alfieri

Friday, December 25th, 2009

I just got up for a glass of water, and when I got back I saw Dr. Alfieri sitting in my chair. He looked transparent, like a ghost. I screamed and dropped my glass. Then he turned around and he screamed, but he made no sound. Then he vanished.

It’s official. I’m nuts.

Wraiths

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I’ve seen the entire team of researchers from McMurdo in different places throughout the station tonight. And they’ve seen me. And they all seem just as surprised and terrified as I am with the encounter. Their ghostly figures are there for an instant, and then they vanish.

Crib death

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I dug a little deeper on the Internet and found a reference to a Dante Alfieri, born June 4, 1951, in Milan, Italy. But apparently this Dante Alfieri suffered crib death when he was just 2 months old. I don’t know exactly how old Dr. Alfieri was, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was in his late fifties. Of course, this is all completely insane. I’ve probably read this news story before and my broken mind used his name to fabricate the character.

Photo shoot

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

This morning I awoke to someone I didn’t recognize standing over my bed, pointing at me and screaming. His mouth moved, but I could hear nothing, and like Dr. Alfieri and the others, I could see right through him. Another wraith of a man ran into the room and  immediately started taking pictures. I laid there, horrified, gripping my blanket, my throat so constricted that I could hardly breathe. The flash bulb popped over and over, eerily, like slow puffs of smoke, as the cameraman bobbed and weaved around my bed, taking shots from different angles. I wanted to scream, but my throat protested. I don’t know how long they were there—forever it seemed—but eventually they got harder and harder to see until there was nothing. Once I relaxed enough to move, I leaned over the side of my bed and threw up on the floor.

D20

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

After this morning’s freakout, I grabbed a pint of J&B, and headed outside.

I took Buzz down to the Array to check out Dish 20, the transmitter I used to send the “SPEGG” message on December 21st.

Everything was exactly as I left it. The transmission was still in the dish’s memory, and the log showed that it has been repeating once every day at 18:57:09 for the last seven days.

After clearing D20’s log and re-syncing it with the ARC node, I climbed up the dish’s ladder to the platform above and drank for a while. Buzz lingered below as I tipped the bottle again and again, staring out over the icy landscape. I stayed in that position for I don’t know how long. It was the most normal I had felt in weeks. After a while I carefully climbed back down, brushed the fresh snow from Buzz’s coat, and headed back to the station.

We climbed out of the valley and headed over to the storehouse for some provisions, when a ghostly helicopter suddenly landed on the makeshift helipad. A crowd of wraiths hopped out, and together they shuffled into station. Immediately afterward, the chopper lifted a few feet off the ground, then sort of rippled out of existence. I turned and cocked an eyebrow at Buzz, who was scratching at the storehouse door, oblivious.

I shrugged, drained the last finger of J&B, then skipped the empty pint over the ice.

Hair of the dog

Monday, December 28th, 2009

I woke up this morning in the storehouse next to Buzz, another empty pint of J&B, and a half a can bacon bits scattered on the floor. I brushed them aside and rolled my forehead against the cold concrete, trying not to throw up.

After I gained enough courage to move, I crawled over to one of the storage bins and fished out a pair of the darkest looking sunglasses I could find, then grabbed a bottle of Tylenol and swallowed a few without water. Buzz was up and walking around and the sound of his nails on the concrete pounded in my head like a kickboxer at band camp.

I collapsed back on the floor, and for the next hour or so I kind of did this thing where I’d roll on my back until I got nauseated, then turn over until that made me sick, and then again on my back, etc, etc, etc, until I eventually got the upper hand and was able pull myself up and lean against the storage rack for a while. Once I mastered that, I shuffled over to the door, slapped at the handle, swung it open, and stumbled out into the 24 hour sun.

The cold air felt wonderful, but I resisted the urge to cuddle up next to the nearest snow drift and staggered back to the station. I threw open the door, and surprised a wraith who clung to the wall and howled silently as I passed, and collapsed into my desk chair. Propping my feet up on the desk, I unbuttoned my jacket pocket, pulled out a fresh pint of J&B, and took a long pull. I closed my eyes and inhaled.

I reached for my keyboard, and with one hand slowly typed the commands to resume scanning RA12h42m36.9s,DE-11°19′35″.

Little brother

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

It’s coming up on 18:57:09, the only time of day that I’ve received a transmission on the Array. Because I can’t rule out the possibility that I’m—I think the technical term is—batshit insane, I’ve attached a web cam to my PC and I will record my actions to verify whether or not I’m the one sending these transmissions, and not some deep space pilot named Maxim Akihiko Broussad, lost 650 million light years away and 176 years in the future.

The wraiths have been rippling in and out of the room all day. Whenever they appear, they seem surprised and start pointing and running around frantically, but I can’t really tell, nor do I care, what it is they’re after. The dark sunglasses and the J&B are making them easy to ignore.

Ripple

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Get back to work, I said. Get back to work…

At exactly 18:57:09, as I was sitting at my desk, waiting for a transmission, I suddenly felt a presence behind me. I swiveled in my chair and shrieked as I found one of the wraiths towering above me, grinning. Without warning, he lurched forward, yanked me out of my chair, and tossed me to the ground.

The wraith screamed, “I got him! I got him!”. Immediately, a whole crowd of them stormed in and grabbed my arms and my feet as I tried to punch and kick my way loose. Within seconds they had me fully restrained. Then, a completely solid and very real Dr. Alfieri stepped into view and grinned, “Well look what we’ve got here.” I wheezed in horror as he removed a pair of handcuffs from his jacket pocket. The men rolled me over and Dr. Alfieri slapped the cuffs on my wrists.

“Get the chopper ready,” he said. “And phone McMurdo. Tell them we have the prisoner. I don’t know how, but we have him.”

I squirmed and tried to wrestle them off, but there were too many. “You’re not going anywhere, asshole,” one of them said. I cursed in protest and spit sideways at his face. He wiped his cheek and muttered, “Big mistake, Robertson.” Then he raised his fist and swung. I cringed, but his fist sliced through my face and struck the floorboards. He howled in pain.

In that instant, the handcuffs sluggishly slipped through my wrists and clattered to the floor. Then my captor’s hands started slipping through my arms and legs. One of them lost their balance and fell over. “We’re losing him!” someone hollered. “Get ahold of him, Goddamnit!” screamed another. “He’s fading!” said another. But their voices and the scuffling of their feet got quieter and quieter, then became distant and dreamlike, until the room was completely silent, and their forms started to ripple into transparency. Then whatever doorway that had opened and let them in clicked shut, and they were gone. I rolled over onto my back and stared at the bottom of my chair until I caught my breath.

I got to my feet, my body sore from the blows and the grips they had on me, and, shaking, reached for the J&B. I picked it up, raised the bottle, but paused, and set it back without taking a drink. On my monitor was a flurry of activity from the Array, what looked like dozens and dozens of transmissions. I kicked the chair out of the way, turned off the web cam, and double clicked the .avi file it had recorded.

I forwarded the recording to 18:57:00 and hit play. There I was on the screen, sitting at my desk, staring at the monitor as the seconds ticked away. 18:57:02, :03, :04… nothing unusual. :05, :06, :07, :08. Then at exactly 18:57:09… the screen turned black. “Oh God,” I exhaled, pawing for my chair. I sat down, watching the darkness on the screen. Nothing. Then one minute later, at exactly 18:58:09, an image of myself  holding the bottle of J&B appeared. I watched myself put the bottle to my lips, then set it back down without taking a drink. Then I saw myself bend over… and the recording stopped.

Rift

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Given the events of the past few days, I believe I’m caught in some kind of rift in space and time. In the world that I occupy, Dr. Alfieri doesn’t exist. And his intrusion should be considered a profound threat to myself, my research, and perhaps even the fabric of the universe.

In the storehouse is a box of explosives Telders recovered from the old Norwegian research hut while his team was assembling the Array. I have collected them and will begin rigging a trap for Dr. Alfieri and his colleagues. Tomorrow at 18:57:09, if they appear in solid form again, I plan to draw them out onto the ice field… and obliterate them to hell.

Hell is where you hang your hat

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Yesterday I hid out behind the fuel dump at 18:57:09 and watched as at least twenty men, two helicopters, and a pile of scientific equipment sprung out of nowhere. Some of the men were offloading more equipment from the helicopter, others in heated discussions, and a couple of men stood quietly and alert, guarding the entrance to the station. Weaving in and out the crowd was a pack of pure white huskies. I ducked down behind the 55 gallon drums and checked my watch. 18:58:01. I slid up and peered back over the top of the barrels. Suddenly one of the dogs raised his head and barked. The guards spun around. They shouted, drew their sidearms, and fired. A ball of fire engulfed me.

I woke up in the snow later, I don’t know when, my head ringing, and the stench of scorched hair in my nose. I put my hands to my face and checked for blood or missing parts. But aside from a raging headache, I seemed to be intact. I glanced at the fuel barrels. No damage. No evidence of a fire.

I stood up, brushed off the snow, and stumbled inside.

It appears that the McMurdo team had a similar plan. My existence was a threat, and I had to be eliminated. But they had acted too late. A fraction of a second longer and I would be dead. I won’t make that mistake.

It is currently 14:00 NZST. Station151 is now ringed with explosives. In less than five hours I will commit mass murder.

Rubicon

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

There wasn’t much left to do, but wait. I placed explosives under small mounds of snow, near every exit of the station and the storehouse, and at the point where I had seen the helicopters before yesterday’s skirmish.

At a safe distance from the fireworks, I dug a small trench and ran the wires from the explosives under the snow to a plunger. There I waited. And at 18:57:09 the men, the helicopters, the pack of huskies—everything—popped back into existence. I took a long breath, then stood up and fired a shot from my rifle into the air. Instantly, the men who were outside started screaming, the dogs started barking, the doors to the station flew open, and more men rushed out, brandishing pistols and assault rifles, Dr. Alfieri among them.  Shots rang out as I dropped into the trench. Tufts of snow exploded around me and lead buzzed overhead. I grabbed the plunger, the box shaking in my hands, yanked the handle upward, and was about to lean into it when I suddenly stopped….

The rift was a trick. A little inter-dimensional slight of hand. I don’t know how I got stuck in it, but killing everyone certainly wasn’t going to get me out. Even if I did, more helicopters would come with more people who had more weapons, and I would fight them, and those who came after them until eventually they bested me.

There was another way out.

I disarmed the plunger, clenched my teeth, and leaped out of the trench. I leveled the barrel in the direction of the oncoming horde, and within seconds they gunned me down.

Woke up dead

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Another dream…
I was lying at the bottom of the sea, supine, in a bed of snow covered coral. Hundreds of grotesque fish with human limbs and long, squid-like tentacles circled above, occasionally darting toward me, then retreating. With each pass they gained more and more courage, inching closer and closer. I struggled to move but the ocean pressed down. One of the fish shot forward, within inches of my face. It stopped and stared, then bared its teeth. I screamed, a column of air bubbles gurgling out of my mouth. The fish grinned a savage, wretched smile of satisfaction, one corner of its mouth bending around the side of its body, upward toward its drooping, misshapen eye, and the other splitting into twisted gills that pulsed and ballooned irregularly as it breathed. Suddenly it lurched forward and took a chunk out of my face, then darted away. I howled as my blood filled the water, and they all attacked.

I awoke with a start, outside on the ice field, supine, my face numb and covered with snow. I rolled onto my stomach and got to my knees, a sheet of powder sliding from my chest. I brushed off the rest. A smattering of bullet holes riddled my jacket. I fingered them uneasily but they only led to solid flesh. I exhaled and sat back into the fresh powder.

To my right was the trench I had dug, the detonator buried under the snow. I checked my watch: 18:57:57.

24 hours had passed. In the other world I was dead. The rift was closed.

Next: Chapter 5. The Stranger