short stories & more
Dormancy pod test facility murders
Years prior the Saturn Expedition launch in 2108.
Two human techs check on a report by the AI monitoring staff that pod 1289 in row B low risk section is malfunctioning. Out of the thousands that have been tested a miniscule number of users have reported adverse effects. Instead of calm or euphoria, pure terror. This could be the fifth malfunction. The manufacturer maintains it is the test subject, not the equipment that is the cause. In all other cases it was a minor coding error and the test subject inside the pod was not affected at all. Official internal company reports state that four test subjects needed intense therapy for a few months and are currently leading normal lives. The two techs hop off the automated transport as it stops at row B. A red light indicates where pod 1289 is located. The two start to run diagnostics on the pod; one is looking for error codes, and the other is checking on the status of the test subject inside. Suddenly the pod bursts open, startled they jump back. AI staff get an alert; pod 1289 row B failure in progress. The two techs lay on the floor, blood pooling around their necks; their faces looking like they had been raked, clawed, and bitten. One is sprawled on his back a meter or so away from the pod the other is closer. Inside the pod there is blood as well but no signs of the occupant. Cleanup is ordered, and several automated units arrive and begin the task. An emergency exit door alarm reverberates through the entire facility. Something has escaped.
Days later a detective is assigned to two related missing persons cases. Retracing their last movements he ends up at the dormancy pod test facility. The detective has both arriving at the test facility to start their shift as techs. The facility’s security footage shows them arriving, then they both simply disappear while standing in front of pod 1289 row B. The footage has obviously been tampered with and it points to the two missing techs. This may indicate corporate espionage. The detective continues to view the security footage until the part where the emergency exit alarms go off. After that the security footage was deleted; scrubbed clean with no indication of who or how many exited the facility. The detective asks permission to investigate row B and pod 1289 himself. Permission is granted and he is escorted by an AI. The detective asks the AI to open pod 1289. It is clean and unoccupied, and documents show the pod is waiting for a test subject. The detective stands back letting the AI close the pod. Flecks of something catches his eye. He has seen it many times before, faint traces of blood splatter. Automated cleanup bots don’t have the dexterity to reach certain places. It is obvious no other human has been allowed near here. Thankfully his mandatory body cam is taking photos and feeding it live directly to headquarters. Just to be on the safe side and for his own records his HDM is recording everything as well. Finally he indicates to the AI he has concluded his investigation here and is ready to be escorted out.
Back at the precinct he prepares an official report indicating that the techs are MIA no leads. He knows better than to take on a Unified Earth sponsored company.
If they want it hushed up, that is fine with him. As he is leaving for the day, warning alerts start going off, there may be a gruesome serial killer on the loose. Mutilated bodies are showing up in the morgue. He returns to his desk and maps out similar instances. A history of mutilations has happened four times before all leading back to the dormancy pod test facility. He quickly yanks the power and battery, killing his computer in a futile attempt to cover his last inquiries. He bolts to his captain’s office, barges in and says, “We need to drop this case! Unified Peace Corps will handle this.”
In days the story regarding a potential serial killer becomes another fake news story about some organization trying to sully the good reputation of a Unified Earth supported company. All evidence disappears from police records. Except for the records on his personal HDM (It is like an early twenty first century smart phone) which he purposely kept from being connected to the net. The detective and his captain are in the captain’s office going over his missing persons case files. The two missing tech’s files are not among them. The captain pulls out a bottle of scotch and two glasses, pours a generous shot in both, holds his glass up and says drolly, “To justice and the unified way. Cheers.”
The detective heads home, where there should be a bustle of kids running around and to his beloved, tired spouse. It is deathly quiet. In his living room a strange man sits in the detective’s favorite chair. The man is unremarkable except for his steel grey eyes. He smoothly motions for the detective to sit on the sofa. The detective wonders if he should pull his weapon, he starts to reach for it, then stops. The man with steel grey eyes doesn’t even blink. The man’s stare made the detective realize that it would be a foolish gesture, so he sits down. Staring into the man’s steel grey eyes, is like looking into an abyss of nothingness devoid of anything. The man stands smoothly and says, “You are in over your head, drop it or your line will cease to be.” The strange man leaves, shutting the front door quietly. A few minutes later the detective could hear them. It sounds like the entire neighborhood of kids are heading this way. The door flings open, and his kids jump on him, hugging him. They are all blabbering about how lucky they were and not far behind are all their friends, all super excited to have met their favorite pop star. The detective spends an hour listening to everyone’s stories. He starts to place an order for pizza and another surprise, the pizzas are on their way, gratis, by a good Samaritan. A truly unified gesture. The influence, power behind all of this astounds, and unnerves the detective. With the kids and his spouse asleep, he is too amped up to rest, and quietly goes to his personal retreat in the basement. This is where he keeps all the private records of his life as a 20-year detective in the missing persons division. He unlocks the door, closing it and relocking it. He has a wall of paper photos of missing people that have never been found. Along with the two techs that vanished the detective had also added from his HDM, the eleven mutilated bodies. It took him a second to notice the pins and thin red string attached to every single death and missing person all going to a single point with a current photograph of him. Slouching down in his chair, he pulls out a bottle of single malt scotch. The next day, after his uneventful shift was over, he enters his personal retreat. He can’t believe his eyes. Two more deaths have been pinned to him. These new ones are well out of his jurisdiction. After a day off with his family, which he enjoyed immensely, the detective walked into his captain’s office and sat down.
Half an hour later he left and never returned. Officially he retired, to take up a new career as a fiction writer. Another spate of gruesome killings happened and in his private retreat, their pictures appeared, and they were also connected by a thin red string to his photo. It was extremely frustrating and intimidating that with full security, only one way in and him now being in the room all day, that the wall was somehow tampered with. He finally decided to stop playing their game, locked his retreat and turned his full attention to writing sci-fi romance novels. Years later with the release of his first novel, the detective decided to revisit his, undisturbed (by him) personal retreat. Unlocking the door, he cautiously peers inside. Incredulous, he steps in, forgetting to lock the door because he sees even more photos lining the walls, all linking back to him.
Near the newly updated photo of himself, he sees a bizarre little note asking for an autographed copy of his book.
They liked it.
A hypothesis as to why Universe’s Edge Saturn Expedition book launch was delayed.
In a New York storage facility, production of an auction show starts. As the participants wander through to the first storage unit to be auctioned off, the group pass by one unit marked, Off-limits, Do not enter. Someone asks boldly, “What’s in there? Is it empty? Has anyone been in there lately?”
The storage facility staffer on duty says, “Not since I started working here seven months ago. It has not been rented out for a long time. We’ve all been told not to rent it out, period.”
“What’s in there?”
“Come on. Let’s open it”
They all start saying, “Yah let’s open it. What is the harm in looking inside?”
“Yah, why not. There’s no lock on it. If they wanted to keep us out-wouldn’t there be a lock on it?”
They all stare at the staffer. After a moment’s hesitation the staffer says, “Okay, just for a minute though.” Looking at the production crew.
One of the production crew nods saying, “Yes but briefly we can’t delay production.”
The staff person opens the door. The room is dusty. Tiny insects can be seen buzzing about. The lone dirt caked window has a tiny hole in it. In the middle of the floor sits a small cardboard box partially opened.
Some of the group step inside while a camera person starts filming muttering “You never know.” In seconds the filming stops. No one touches the box, but they all take turns peering in, just some paperback books.
Interest gone, mystery solved, everyone shuffles down the corridor to the next unit on sale. One person hangs back after the door is closed. Once the last of the group is out of sight the person quickly opens the storage locker door, steps in and quietly shuts it. Flicking on a small flashlight the person steps towards the box, bends over and opens the box fully revealing its contents. As everyone had said: it is just paperback books.
The person picks one up and reads the title, Universe’s Edge Saturn Expedition. On the back of the slim book is a sideways smiley face. The person grins, flipping open to the first page. Three hours later the person finally looks up from the pages, takes a deep breath and looks around, phew! Still shut in the dark in the storage locker. It feels eerily real. The person inhales deeply once more and places the book back in the box.
While leaving the storage locker facility the person starts looking up information about the author, not much on him or her. On twitter @Universes_Edge_ #UniversesedgeSaturnExp someone is actively promoting the book. The person is about to delve further into the mystery when still looking at their smartphone, steps out on to the street. Wham! The person is hit by a car, the smart phone goes flying through the air! The person’s head cracks open on the windshield. By the time the smartphone hits the ground several people have come running to the person’s aid. The car involved stopped a few feet beyond impact. A witness wrenches open the door. No occupants. Taking a closer look it appears to be a self-driving vehicle. Witnesses say it swerved into the person; others say it did not. A homeless person spies the phone on the street and darts into the accident stalled traffic to pick it up and then wanders off. After a few minutes of trying to get it to work the homeless person tosses it against the curb and the smartphone slips through a sewer grate.
Inside the Off-limits locker two alien beings stand in the corner watching the human read the book and leave. One asks, “Why don’t we reveal ourselves. We might get more answers.”
The other one states, until we discover why there are so few sentient beings in this sector it is best to leave the human race alone. The one closest to the window hears a collision outside. Using the human’s security system to scan the scene outside. The aliens say,
“Did you arrange that?”
“No, but someone did?”
“Do you any idea who?”
Moving towards the small box, needle thin fingers pick up the recently read paperback book. “No, that is why I retrieved the proofs of this book, I believe the answer lies within.”
“Why is someone trying to keep this book hidden from humans?”
As the alien quickly scans the pages it asks,
“Who are they?”