• Nitojec

Break

Dullas twiddled his thumbs and sipped his cold coffee, staring blankly at the computer screen. Numbers that meant very little to him scrolled past, the same as ever. He leaned back in the chair, clacking his mandibles. It was just another day in the life of a soulless heretic, doing evil deeds to destroy everything the Unity held dear. If only it were as exciting as they made it sound when they recruited.

Observation duty. He’d been for the last ten hours, and expected to be for the next three. All that aside, at least he got to sit down, unlike patrol duty. Pointless, as both of them were.

He stretched his aching muscles and stood, pacing the length of the small room. Industrial lighting beyond the glass looking down into Sector 1 cast harsh shadows on the far wall. The artifact was the same as ever - the same as the first day he saw it - and probably identical to the last time he was going to see it. The non-Euclidian shapes didn’t play with his mind anymore, and he paid it no mind. As a Jr. scientist it wasn’t his business to probe too deeply into things classified past his eyeclusters.


The chair squeaked as he sat down, threatening to crumple under his weight. Repeated testing had led him to believe that it would hold him, as old and decrepit as it appeared. His fingers flashed across keys on his terminal and he ran his personal suite of programs. It was another thing his superiors didn’t need to know about.


His mouth twitched in satisfaction when they returned the status of his sensors. Nominal. As ever. If he’d gone through standard procedure to do the same thing, it’d taken him four times longer. In his mind, the lazy engineer always finds the most efficient solution to problems.


Which gave him plenty of time to grab more coffee from the machine down the hall. It burbled into his cup, darker than black. Just how he hated it. Dullas grimaced and took a swig, praying to the caffeine gods to give him energy.


Motivational posters plastered the makeshift break room. Happy people stared down at him, imploring him to work hard and believe in himself.


He scoffed and refilled his cup, leaving the condescending figures to fight amongst themselves.


It felt good to walk around after sitting for so long. Worth the risk of being caught and reprimanded, in his opinion. Not that any of his bosses ever used this hallway to get to the artifact. They were far too important to take more than a step out of their way. Because, after all, the science must go on.


He already daydreamed what things he’d have his underlings do when he got a position worth his time. Nothing as cruel as thirteen hour shifts though, that was just stupid. Nobody could stay alert that long, no matter how much coffee they drank. Granted, observation duty wasn’t exactly critical, but alert underlings could save your ass if you messed up. Diem would probably learn that the hard way sooner or later; the senior scientist was notorious for being old fashioned and incredibly stubborn. Which made him a terrible boss, in Dullas’ opinion. His chair groaned when he sat down with his fresh mug.


Dullas gawked when a row of lights flickered to life on his terminal. He blinked and stared at them, trying to will them away. They remained, dashing his hopes for hallucinating them. He looked into the error and started to sweat. It had to be a sensor malfunction. There was no way this could be accurate.


He ran a sensor reboot, squirming in his chair the entire time. Practiced motions brought him back to the same errors, the same impossibility. The numbers were decreasing. His hands started to tremble and he eyed the trigger for the alarm. Thin glass stretched over the panel, preventing false alarms.


On one hand, if this was real, he shouldn’t hesitate. But his stomach clenched and twisted into knots at the possibility of it being a faulty sensor. Dullas ran through the sensor logs again, making sure he wasn’t about to make a massive mistake.


Indeed. The constant, older than everything known to his species, had changed. The number that previously always counted up had stopped and started counting down.


He ran a quick calculation. All energy went out of him and he slumped in the chair limply. Not only had it started counting down, but it increased in pace. If his calculations were to be believed, within a day the number that had been ticking upwards for millions, if not billions of years, would reach zero. He had no idea what it meant, but it filled him with dread.


Dullas smashed the glass covering the alarm panel and pressed his palm into the general quarters button. It chilled him, and in the moment of silence before the alarm shrieked he felt infinity breathing down his neck.


The corridors echoed with awful and indistinguishable noise: lights flashed and bulkheads sliding shut. He knew his career was over but didn’t care. All Dullas knew was something was waking up, yawning and pushing the boundaries of its prison. Breathing for the first time in eternity, and opening its eyes. Sector 1 was alive.


Dullas felt its gaze and lost his mind, drowned in the presence of something that shouldn’t be.


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Science Fiction and the pursuit of escapism, 2020.