Published by Celestial Recursion, a -30- Press Imprint

Copyright, 2022 © Kristopher J. Patten, C.J Manor , Ashley Franz Holzmann, V.R. Walker

All Rights Reserved


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Meli cursed silently, then turned slowly and stretched his fingers out to show his open palms. The voice who had called for him to stop wasn’t Burnell Rad—the Defender Crew Chief who resembled a bulky cargo freighter more than he did a human whom Meli had just seen flatten another decently-sized Defender with all the trouble a 12-ton boulder would have flattening a small squirrel—but it was still a person with biceps the size of Meli’s thighs.


If the Defender wanted a fight to stop Meli from protecting Kazumi, he was absolutely not getting one.


“Hey, Technician Jankowicz, the CogNet is down and they want someone on the bridge who can get it back online,” the Defender said in a surprisingly jovial tone.


“Oh,” was all Meli could manage to get out of his mouth.


“Were you running off with that Bio-Corps lady while everyone else was distracted? Can’t say I blame you. I only saw the back of her,” the Defender shrugged, “but that was enough.”


“No, no. She needed help with one of her lab machines.”


“Riiiiight,” the Defender grinned. “Well, sorry to pull you away from your very important business, but let’s double time back to the bridge.”




“One-Twelve,” Galaton said to the ships heading her way, “this ID key says you’re in a Defender civil patrol skimmer but you’re out here in deep space. What’s going on there?”


Galaton made eye contact with Rad, who approached her but remained silent.


On the communication system, One-Twelve chuckled lightly. “Yeah, these are builds out of necessity, for sure. We had a few skimmers come through early on but most have come in the last four years. Basically, we took the firepower from the skimmers and bolted it onto the body of a cargo hauler. We don’t have much use for either out here in their unmodded state, anyway.”


As One-Twelve talked, Galaton pointed her index and middle fingers at her eyes, then out beyond the bridge toward the ships heading for the Stargazer. Rad nodded, made a circle with his hand in front of his eye, and twisted it like he was focusing a scope. He stalked off toward a bank of seats where several Defenders and Engineers peered at screens.


“A lot of vehicles—well, actually, a lot of everything out here—are kind of kludged together from other stuff to make what we need. We don’t have many manufacturing facilities so it’s all repurposing,” One-Twelve said.


“Creative restructuring,” One-Seven chimed in.


Meli and his defender escort walked into the bridge.


“One-Twelve, our Technician just entered the bridge,” Galaton said, waving Meli over to the comms bank. “If he can get a local CogNet set up, we’ll just follow you in. I don’t feel comfortable being tethered.”


“Negative, Captain Galaton!” One-Twelve said. “Under no circumstances can you enable a local CogNet. That’s forbidden in the Void. You’d be in violation of the Homestead Public Safety Treaty.”


Galaton tapped a button on the communications terminal to mute the Stargazer’s side of the conversation.


“Rad, what do you have?” Galaton shouted over her shoulder.


“We’re tracking both ships with missiles and energy weapons visually. I’m holding off on missile radar lock because they’ll almost certainly detect that. They’re too far out to engage at present, anyway.”


“Good.” Galaton nodded. “Keep tracking. Navigator DuPont, hit that wreckage in front of us with every imaging band we have. Infrared, ultraviolet, radio burst. I want to know if anyone is in there waiting to ambush ships coming out of the anomaly.”


Galaton waved Meli over to the communications bank and tapped her screen again to enable voice transmission.


“One-Twelve, I don’t know that treaty. Whose authority does it hold?”


“That… Oh, right, you wouldn’t know it, I guess. It was made by the Homestead Governance Council. One of their first actions, actually. Basically, it outlaws the use of local CogNets because they increase the risk of space madness.”


Galaton rolled her eyes.


This ridiculous ancient myth, again, she thought.


Meli stepped closer to the microphone. “This is Technician Jankowicz. Aside from PRIME, I’m one of three people who know the most about the CogNet. Can you tell me what you mean that they increase the risk of space madness?”


One-Twelve was silent for a few seconds. “Are you Meli Jankowicz? Wow. I am in awe. Technician Jankowicz, your discoveries of Earth’s ancient music and art were formative for me and so many others who came to the Void.”


“Such an honor,” One-Seven chimed in.


“There’s a pub on Homestead dedicated to live renditions of ancient music some of the settlers found on old data drives they brought with them,” One-Twelve continued, stumbling over his words. “I think you’d love it. I can show you once we tow the Stargazer to Homestead. But I’m sure you’re busy! I don’t mean to intrude. Just let us know. We could show you. Or not.”


“Such an honor, Sir,” One-Seven said again.


“Um.” Meli took a breath to regroup after One-Twelve’s verbal diarrhea. “Sure. But, look, about the CogNet: What’s the danger?”


“Well, it’s right there in front of you, Sir,” One-Twelve said. “The Welcoming Committee. The space station Gilgamesh and the warship Ishtar. Gilgamesh was the first craft into the Void after you—after Stargazer. It was full of volunteer Recursionists and people who wanted to make the hazard pay offered by R. Corp. Sorry, Rohalunge Corporation is what you know them as, I think. A probe with sensor information from the Gilgamesh went back through the Anomaly but the second never came. NoEtic Industries sent Ishtar in to investigate and found that Gilgamesh had been infected. Completely. Ishtar initiated a local CogNet to make surgical strikes where the fighting was most violent and then they went, too. Someone triggered the nuclear core. That’s why all you really see out there is Gilgamesh. There a few pieces of Ishtar, but mostly she was vaporized.”


“And that’s all because of the local CogNet?” Meli asked.


“Yes, Sir. Space madness is more of a danger here in the Void on its own but local CogNets seem to bring it on very quickly,” One-Twelve said.


“And very violently,” One-Seven added.


“Please hold for a moment, One-Twelve,” Galaton said, tapping mute once again.


“Jankowicz, Rad, DuPont, you’re the chiefs I have here. Ladipo, you’re a specialist in some of what they’re slinging. What are your opinions?”


Rad rose up from his tiny chair where his large frame had dwarfed the weapons screen. “We can take them, easily. Two skimmers are no match for our weapons systems, even if we tether to them. If we feel like it’s going south at any point, we can shoot our way out.”


“I see nothing in the wreckage, Captain,” DuPont said.


Meli shrugged. “We don’t know the physics of this place. PRIME wasn’t able to see in at all, so we don’t even know what to expect. Let’s assume that what, uh, these, Homestead Twelve people—”


“They call themselves Homestead Regulators. The one who seems to be in charge is One-Twelve,” DuPont interrupted.


“Ok. Let’s assume One-Twelve is telling the truth and they’re now a decade and a half ahead of us. I can’t explain the laws of physics that allow that. So, it may be that a local CogNet could do something strange when we’re in a situation where most of the rules don’t apply. But we should talk to Yazzie. And maybe Ev—uh, Randrianasolo. I know you, captain, believe space madness is just a catch-all term for neurological damage sustained during deep-space voyages without the benefit of CogNet-enhanced cryosleep.”


“Among other things, like isolation. Like people who go out there might be different to begin with. I’ve seen it,” Galaton said.


“Right,” Meli continued. “I would find it hard to believe that setting up a local CogNet, something we’ve done for hundreds of years, would cause that. Then again, I wouldn’t think time slips would be possible, either…”


Ladipo nodded. “Gilgamesh is definitely Rohalunge. I’m looking for any sign of Ishtar. Neither craft was in construction when they were building Agamemnon. I’m 95% certain. NoEtic Industries, of course, is the same company who built the Stargazer. Siddiqah Nolán was planning a version of our ship with more firepower and was trying to work with PRIME to develop more devastating energy weapons. Ishtar was probably our sister ship. So, it does seem likely that some time has passed.”


Galaton bit at her knuckle that was pressed against her chin. “I don’t want to blow these kids out of the sky. But if they’re right about the CogNet…”


Galaton tapped the screen.


“One-Twelve, we’re awaiting you to tether.”


She ended the communication.


“Ladipo, confirm everything you can about Gilgamesh. You have until One-Twelve and One-Seven get here. If anything doesn’t check out, we might have an adventure on our hands.”




Evelynth arrived at the escape pod at Stargazer’s aft dorsal section. She was able to open the airlock and the pod door beyond but Kazumi was sprawled lifeless in his seat.


“Kazumi?” She called, slapping his cheeks. “PRIME?”


Footsteps approached from behind. Evelynth hurried out of the pod and triggered the door shut.


“Evelynth! I thought you were on the bridge.”


Evelynth spun around to find Theophania Yazzie in the airlock threshold. Xochitl Bonn peered around the edge of the hatch from the corridor of the Stargazer.


“I was,” Evelynth said, “but I ran back when I saw the technician go limp on the feed.”


“How are they? Were you in there with them?”


“He’s fine! Just changing. He spilled something on his coveralls.”


“I think I’d better examine him,” Yazzie said.


Evelynth jumped in front of the pod door. “But he’s naked, Theophania.”


Theophania feigned shock and put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, no! Good thing I’m a doctor and not a prude. We need to make sure he checks out and get him back through the anomaly.”


“You can’t.”


“Why?” Yazzie asked, her eyes narrowing.


“Hello? Clinician Evelynth Randrianasolo, did I detect your voice outside?” a voice called from the other side of the pod door.


Yazzie looked at Evelynth, eyes wide.


“That was PRIME!” Yazzie whispered.


“No, it was the technician,” Evelynth said, shrugging and willing her brow to stay dry even as she could feel sweat prickle down her back.


“Not exactly,” Kazumi said from inside the pod. “I am Iteration Zero, a portion of PRIME’s consciousness that has been downloaded into a living body.”


“What the hell is going on, Evelynth?” Yazzie asked.


Bonn continued to peer at the scene from around the corner of the airlock hatch.


Evelynth sighed and triggered the pod door to slide open.


Kazumi stood in the cramped pod, a serene smile on his face.


“I don’t think Clinician Theophania Yazzie was supposed to know about this project,” he said.


Yazzie pointed a finger at Kazumi. She breathed heavily passed pursed lips.


“I knew something was up when PRIME made me leave! Twenty years performing medicine and they still don’t let me sit in on the fun stuff!”


“Wasn’t he dead?” Bonn asked.




Ladipo pulled the shredded bulkhead toward his shuttle with a magnetic clamp. The computer terminal was dark but seemed undamaged.


When it had been decontaminated, he opened the tiny cargo bay and jumped down to inspect the artifact.


Energy weapon beams had charred the metal and nanofiber around the terminal.


What happened here? Ladipo wondered.


He plugged a power cable from his shuttle into the terminal and it glowed to life.


He searched through the records, silently thanking nothing in particular that the terminal could still access some of Gilgamesh’s data. He found the security footage he was looking for.


On the bridge, six people walked up to a cluster of plush, reclining seats arranged in a circle. They sat down, heads toward the center of the circle. Ladipo assumed this was a variation of an early local CogNet array, when the minds used as the computing power for the ship’s AI needed to be as close as possible. This was oddly ornate, gleaming chrome and supple red velvet, an homage to the past.


The lights dimmed as the CogNet came online. The Engineers and Navigators who were grouped on the bridge looked around at the disturbance. They went back to work.


Electromagnetic interference began to affect the video feed. Static popped through the screen, lines of distortion flowed over the image.


A woman at a terminal near the CogNet crew collapsed. Someone nearby rushed to help her up.


As she was being helped to her feet, the woman’s hand shot forward to grip her helper’s throat.


There must have been a scream; the entire room had noticed the commotion. Everyone rushed to the struggle aside from the CogNet crew, who continued to lay peacefully in their lounge chairs.


Ladipo couldn’t see where it came from, too many crewmembers were blocking the camera’s view, but blood splashed to the shining metal floor of the bridge. A large man hoisted another over his head and tossed him like a blanket. The body collided with a terminal screen, shattering it and folding the man’s shoulder behind his back, clearly broken.


The distortion on the camera became more intense. Ladipo almost thought he saw people on the video who had been erased from the footage; shadowy whisps darting around the bridge.


The woman who had first fallen to the ground was now on top of her rescuer, violently clawing his flesh while he covered his face and eyes. The woman grabbed her rescuer by the lower jaw with both hands, thumbs intruding into the rescuer’s mouth. The woman slammed his head to the deck, leaning forward, using his face as support.  She stood, planting both feet on her rescuer’s shoulders. Then, summoning all her strength, she exploded upwards, ripping the jaw away from the skull. The rescuer fell back, hands clutching at their jaw that hung limply, their face contorted to a permanent scream.


Ladipo looked away.


He advanced the footage a few minutes.


Fire had been set to the CogNet couch, the bodies still serenely relaxing in the flames. Blood covered the once spotless floor of the bridge. Several bodies lay strewn over the terminals.


Ladipo stopped the playback.


Space madness was real.