First steps lead to a terrible thing on a space station bordering a dark expanse.
|Velligis looked through the viewport into the black expanse. Nothing looked back; nothing ever did from the Forbidden Zone. Complete emptiness...no stars. No radiation either: gamma, x-ray, infrared, microwave, chromatic. In fact, the FZ acted much like a black hole, absorbing EM, gravitic, and even quantum nuclear forces when projected at it.
It breathed though...subspatial interferometry showed how it expanded and contracted fairly randomly. Right now it was 30 light minutes away, close to the average minimum for the event horizon, the point from which nothing ever returned. Over time it could come as close as ten light minutes away. The Proscription had learned that the hard way over the centuries with dozens of boundary stations lost in sudden exhalations.
The Watch Console lay before Velligis; two gray-black metallic glass spheres, so simple and yet so complex. Every day prior to this had been in preparation for this day-the first of many protecting humanity and the Others from wandering into the FZ and being lost forever. Over 1800 years of other Proscriptors standing the Duty. All the training he’d endured led to this. Activating the systems on the station was the final test; it was different than in training. The FZ and monitoring systems...interacted. The impact of the interaction differed with no obvious pattern.
Some simply never made the systems come online; the Watch Console simply didn’t work for them. These quickly were reassigned and most never rose beyond Proscriptor. Others became strange and distant quickly. They retired early. A few went mad instantly. And every once in a while a new Proscriptor died...horror and fear filling their dead faces. Stories were told that said others entering the room could feel them dying over and over, they called it Aetheric Feedback, like the ghost stories told by primitive cultures, except these were real.
There was no way to know what would happen for sure, but the Prosthenics had become fairly proficient at weeding out those more likely than not to experience an adverse effect.
He would never admit it but fingers of cold black fear made him wonder if he would fail. Could he handle this? Once he touched the monitor, there was no going back. His hands hesitated over the control spheres.
This was the right choice but still...there could be consequences. No...resolve was needed; he alone among his class he had what it took to handle the training.
He placed his hands on the spherical monitor interfaces and the viewscreen came alive. Velligis's mind filled with information and overlays on the condition of the station, EM radiation, subspatial interferometry, and details poured in.
Something else hit him: he had no words for it. Velligis had been told to expect this. A chittering feeling of dread and fear. Voices he couldn't place. It felt...alien and wrong. A side effect he had been told. Every Proscriptor felt it when they plugged into their Duty station.
These thoughts flashed quickly through Velligis; it took him a moment to realize that outside the flickers of fear and anxiety he felt fine. He let out the breath he realized he'd been holding.
He was doing it! He was truly Proscriptor Velligis. He felt his face flush with the excitement and a grin spread on his face. Everything had led to this moment.
“Proscriptor Velligis reporting,” he noted aloud into the air, “I stand the Watch.”
A sense of another presence swept across Velligis’s mind. Different from the chittering dread, it felt warm and pleasant-a human mind, but there was a hard edge of coldness, something not quite right, like a column ever so slightly askew.
“Acknowledged, Proscriptor Velligis,” a voice replied back, “Proscriptor Actinis, standing down.”
Eight duty stations were on every Boundary Watch Station and Proscriptors stood 6-hours watches. It allowed for a full watch to be maintained at all times and if there were ever breakdowns (which happened not uncommonly-the technology was finicky) there were extra stations enough to keep a full watch.
Velligis settled in; six hours of his full attention. He could never wander or daydream but the Proscriptor Training had installed that kind of discipline. The scar from the cybermant still hadn’t full gone away.
Time went away as Velligis entered the Oneir, the waking dream that Proscriptors used to focus. As long as nothing changed, Velligis could be there; his mind absorbing everything around him. Later, he would use the perfect recall drilled into him to assess everything consciously for his report.
Something felt off though. Velligis felt his heart racing and red-blacks tendrils creeping around his mind. They called to him and whispered things to him. He felt himself be sick and vomit over himself. No! A voice screamed.
Velligis’s mind registered two things before the blackness came. A massive, ruined hulk of ship exiting the void of the Forbidden Zone and the screams of a madman. His screams as his mind broke.