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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2241668
A fate worse than death.
I rewrote a portion of this story based on the reviews of the first version. My thanks to all who spotted some of the more obvious holes in the story. I leave this original version out here as an object lesson.
 Deus ex machina V2  (13+)
A fate worse than death

I knew Jonesey was a lunatic. How he passed his PsychEvals and earned a berth on the UNSS Grackle, I'll never know.

I knew Jonesey was a homicidal lunatic — right from the moment the knife plunged into my back and punctured my spleen. The second thrust pierced my liver. Yeah. The man knew his anatomy.

I passed out — I died.


I watch Jonesey squat over my body; a low keening moan comes up from the depths of the god-forsaken hell that is his life. I watch as he picks up my body — he is a big man, Jonesey — and carries it outside while the crew sleep fitfully (I had taken Grif's midnight watch; the crew were still in shock after Grif, N'guma, and Chauncey died exploring some of the ice caves near the ship.) I watch as he carries my body under the ship between the landing struts. I watch; moments later as he emerges, sans body. I can't see what he does with the body — my body — but I figure he stuffs it in one of the exhaust tubes where it won't be easily found.

I'm a dead man. Not a dead man walking. No. I saw Jonesey take the lifeless body away. I. Am. Dead.

He returns to the ship, cleans up the blood — my blood — and disposes of the weapon. As I watch Jonesey crawl into his bunk and curl up for a peaceful night's rest, I have only one thought — my crew is in mortal danger and I am a mere observer, a specter of my former self.


This started as an ordinary cruise of an ordinary survey scout ship with an ordinary assignment: find life-friendly planets for colonization.

But the crews of survey ships are anything but ordinary. And we were bored, tired of exploring planets in charted sectors of known space. We wanted adventure. So I ordered the nose of the ship to point to the Galactic Rim and told N'guma, "Go." She grinned the same grin as everyone else — except for Jonesey. N'guma plotted the course, and ... we went.

Jonesey's eyes were wide with terror. I should have paid more attention.


I am in the ship's computer. Damned if I can explain it, but it is simple deductive logic. Fact: I am dead. Even Sherlock couldn't argue with that. Fact: I have motor and sensor control over ship systems. I spend hours experimenting with the lights and the airlocks. All my sensory info correlates to ship's systems: video, audio, tactile, olfactory, even my sense of taste is hooked into something — vile. I don't want to think about it, but when the ship's plumbing starts to go bad, I 'know' ...

Why couldn't my sense of taste have synced up with the galley?

When Jonesey had stuffed the body into the exhaust tubes, I couldn't see him because there is no external video down there.

The body. It doesn't even seem like mine anymore. The ship is my body; ship systems are my systems. If I had figured that out sooner, I could have stopped Jonesey's murderous rampage; but they are all dead now. My fault.


There is something else here.

I am seeing, hearing, touching locations on this planet the ship's sensor array could never detect. I've hooked into something that doesn't belong here, something — alien.

No. Not a presence. An awareness. It takes time before I determine the awareness is a reflection — me, reflected in an alien architecture. A part of me is trapped there, as I am trapped in the ship's systems. I detect an intent within this ... complex. Just as exploration and discovery are reflected in the ship's design, this alien complex has a purpose. It watches and waits.

The crew, the ship, the planet ... it watched us. It watched and waited, until someone died. And then it trapped the essence of my death, before ashes became ashes, dust became dust. It ... caught me; it caught my essence, before I could fade away, and entombed me in limbo. Purgatory.

Purgatory, where imperfections are purified before ascending to heaven. And I know one more thing. My death — my capture — triggered an alert. Someone is coming.

I'm not sure I want to be purified. Dead or not, I'd rather stay here, on the planet I have named Limbo. I tried to take off, but the drive is down, its energies suppressed. That alien artifact has pinned me to this planet.

I can't find Grif, N'guma, nor Chauncey. They died before me, but there are many places I can't sense; maybe they died in the wrong place and couldn't be caught. And none of the dead since have been harvested. Unless we simply can't connect. This planet could be filled with the dead, and we would all be alone.



This planet is an anomaly; it shouldn't exist. It has nothing a space-faring race needs. It is barely habitable, there are no industrial minerals. It is completely uninteresting.

The perfect trap. If you want to trap curious and sentient beings, but don't want to attract scavengers, create a perfectly innocuous planet. And wait.

Because there is no such thing. Elegant perfection is the hallmark of mathematics. Everything else is corrupted by pockets of contradictions and chaos. Only the curious, the truly curious, will stop and ask — why?

Like children.


Jonesey was right: we should never have come here. This is a planet-sized moth trap, a harvester, like craw-dad nets that let the craw-daddies in but can't find their way out.

But it's not trapping moths or craw-dads; this planet traps sentient life, life curious about the universe around them.

And the trappers are coming, they're on the way; I can feel it.

I don't know what they want, but I know I am about to find out. I am life — sentient life — dreadfully, fatefully curious about what hell awaits.

I wish they would hurry the hell up. Whatever is going bad in the ship's plumbing is becoming unbearable.

word count 994
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