This page gives glimpses from all around the Robert Maas universe.
When Celia awoke she found the politic had ejected the five bullets from her body but the churning sensation was still there in her womb.
The furnace continued to roar a few meters away. She could feel its heat scorching her unprotected face and breasts.
She found the dregs of her strength and raised herself on thin, wobbling arms to begin the long process of dragging herself toward that light.
Even when I am burning, she thought, I can do it. Even when I am consumed, I can pull the rest of my body into that inferno.
Nothing must be left outside.
A movement in the corner of her eye made her stop and stare over at the boy’s dead body. It had stiffened in rigor mortis and the blood he’d ejected had dried to curls of brown on the white tiles.
One arm had been flung above his head when he fell. As she watched, that arm began to twitch and shudder. The skin of his hand puffed up. The arm began to erupt. Mouths punched out on hideous fleshy stalks from his shoulder and chest and began singing at her.
Celia Hinkley turned her face back to the furnace she couldn’t reach and closed her eyes.
Twenty hours in high gravity
For trying to protect my wife from a thug:
Hardly punishment. Next time
I’ll manage it—I’ll snap his fucking neck
While he’s still fiddling with his splash gun.
Let them crucify me on the bulkhead,
One more sagging corpse in a mural of death.
Even the septic tanks don’t stink as bad
As those Gallery bastards do.
Twenty hours down here in the box
That was used to hold astronomical equipment,
One of two in arms reaching out from the hab.
Pinned to the floor with the ship
Squatted on my chest and the universe
Awash in my head. I guess
There will be enough of Josie when I return
To hold my crushed limbs tenderly
Against her lacerated breast.
Twenty hours of this black compress
While the grill imprints itself in my naked skin,
Bones so porous from lack of calcium
I’d snap if I tried to lever myself up.
My eyes invent a panoply of stars
Sped up and whirling like a juggler’s hoops,
Flames dizzy with coriolis.
The galaxy’s frantic pool is just
Another gravitational drag.
Twenty hours—and if I live
A racked man, scarcely able to stand,
Let alone haul a plow or grub for roots.
What will I have learned? That Ixios
Long ceased to carry humans,
And if the welcoming party at journey’s end
Is truly as immaculate as we think,
And judge us by this spinning hell,
They’ll blast us from their sky.
‘I haven’t taken loop,’ I said.
Macon leaned back, stretching one hand out toward me as if he wanted to tussle my hair.
‘Why do you think we all vacated the lab so quickly, and left you alone down there?’ he said.
‘Didn’t Griffin tell you how volatile it is?’ Connor asked. ‘Mendiola’s men smashed up the lab. The place was thick with it—a colorless, odorless, invisible miasma of loop.’
He and Macon burst into laughter again.
‘So you didn’t ingest it the normal way,’ Connor said. ‘So you didn’t feel that punch in the brain—like the surge of your animal self shooting up from the coccyx to the pineal gland, a rush like the big one. Had you taken a drop in the eye, that’s what you would have felt.
‘I guess enough of it got on your skin and in your eyes to give you an effect, but not a threshold amount. The rest you inhaled, and loop doesn’t work so cleverly when you inhale it. That way it takes a while to come on, and when it does you might even convince yourself that nothing’s wrong.
‘You slipped under, Michael. You were under by the time we hit Mendiola’s place. Believe me, I wouldn’t have been able to get you out from under that seat otherwise. And you, the virgin boy from Montana, shooting a man in the face? With those swift reactions?
‘No, Michael, you were under, and you’re still under. And I hate to tell you this, my beautiful boy, but the moment you realize that you are under you’re going to be dragged deeper than you could possibly imagine.
‘So this is your dilemma, Michael. You’re either going to believe nothing happened, and that you’re unaffected, and that everything here is normal—as normal as it gets in this freak show anyway—or you’re going to get a freight train slam through your brain any moment now, when you dare to countenance the possibility that I’m right.’
‘Best way to deal with it,’ Macon said, ‘would be to take away the uncertainty. Two little drops in the eyes.’
‘But we would say that, wouldn’t we?’ Connor said. ‘If we were trying to coerce you to put that stuff Griffin gave you into your brain.’
‘It won’t be much of a night,’ Macon said. ‘Not knowing for sure.’
‘I swear,’ I told them. ‘I haven’t taken loop. Have I?’
Brunning stood in the engineering bay. His gun raised, pointing at shadows. He was swaying, undulating, as if he was about to faint.
‘How could it cut all the feeds?’ he said.
Shannon sank against one of the piles of machinery. She felt sick. Her head was pounding. All the strength had left her body. She was about to start crying again.
‘It’s smart,’ she said.
Banging. Hard, fast, as if testing the hull. Like a man, Brunning thought, tapping a wall to see where it was hollow. Where he could punch through.
‘Firebug down?’ he called into the intercom.
‘It shorted everything,’ Magritte’s voice came back. ‘Blew all the fuses, sir. Scrambled the computers.’
‘What do you have, Jason?’ Shannon asked wearily.
‘I don’t have anything. Mechanical systems, hydraulics, heat exchanger, but –’
Scrabbling, hard and angry, somewhere above them. It was coming in through the hull.
‘Open the hatch,’ she said.
‘What?’ Brunning yelled. ‘Are you crazy?’
She leaped to her feet. Anger, irrational anger, cannibalistic in the face of the enemy, drove all the weakness out of her.
‘Listen to me,’ she yelled back. ‘It’s going to get in, either through the hull or through the hatch. If it makes it through the hull, we’re dead. If it destroys the hatch, we can’t get out of this ship, but we do still have the option of escape in the Firebug. I’d rather keep that option open.’
‘And if we can’t kill it?’
‘Retreat. One room at a time. One pressure door at a time. All the way to the Firebug.’
‘Abandon the outer ramparts,’ Brunning said. ‘Fall back to the keep.’
‘Something like that,’ Shannon said.
The noise was like a blinding white light, shooting through Brunning’s nerves and stabbing at the backs of his eyes. He felt like he was going to explode.
‘Jason,’ he whispered into the intercom. ‘Lower the drawbridge.’
Immediately the lid unsealed she was flung up against it. A wordless scream tore from her lips. It felt as if her lungs were being ripped out through her mouth. Her ears boomed. An intense pain drove through her body. Then the lid hinged back and she cartwheeled across the infirmary.
There was no air. She could feel it rushing away, skittering around the objects that littered the room and disappearing in the wall inlets. Jabbers and fragments of bottle glass whirled up in spirals.
She hit the wall and was thrown sideways into the open cabinets. From there she was hurled to the floor slicked with water and sodden towels.
She felt a chill scrabble over her naked skin. She felt the pressure inside her head begin to hammer at her skull. She felt the thin air sucking at her mouth and nose, making her ears boom a second time as it tore at their membranes.
The water that slicked her hands and face boiled off in bubbling drools.
Her vision clouded over. Her eyes gulped in their sockets.
Squeezing them shut, she dragged herself to her feet and pushed blindly across the infirmary.
It was no longer possible to remain on the floor. Every step seemed to propel her into the ceiling.
She found the edge of an airlock door and shoved herself through it. She couldn’t hear the roar of the disappearing atmosphere any more.
Her eyes opened a crack. The vacuum seared into them.
The empty module next to the infirmary, its walls like burnt flesh. For the first time, they didn’t stink. She scrambled along it, through the maze of flickering red lights, her hands and feet pawing ineffectually at the ground. Charred bare bones loomed up to one side, hollow like enormous pelvises. She felt the pain rising in her, the increasing pressure of her own body bursting in her chest. She couldn’t breathe. There was no way of breathing. All the breath had been punched out of her lungs leaving them collapsed and screaming in her chest.
She reached the door of the airlock leading to the control module and threw herself against it. Through squinted eyes she saw that the outer door was also shut.
With the last of her strength, she pounded frantically on the glass.
I crossed to the window and stared out into the night. Far below in the gloom, I saw the wasteland stretching off around the curve, its multitude of camp fires glimmering faintly through the haze.
Panic began to well up in me again. I was running out of time.
A flash caught my attention. A hundred meters from the edge of the unit, I saw a solitary building in a brake of dead trees. I knew that building, though I had never been there. It was a kind of temple, from what I gathered from Aaliyah, a place of pagan ritual.
A figure, a mere outline against the ruins, was signaling up at me with a shard of mirrored glass.
I turned and ran back down the stairs. I was sure there was an exit on this side of the unit. I reached the corridor and pounded along it.
Just as I turned the final corner before the exit, a man stepped out in front of me. It took only a moment, too quick for me to raise and fire the rifle. I heard the hiss of a spray can. Something cold bathed my face.
Ambient. I went down, coughing. Somebody snatched the rifle away. Another man hauled me over and began to unbuckle my armor.
My consciousness fluttered. I tried to reach for the dopamine inhibitor in my medical kit but a hand slapped mine away. I tried a second time, but by then I was too weak to move.
In the instant before I succumbed altogether, I imagined I was sitting with Aaliyah on her bed. She smiled and opened her arms. I fell into them gratefully.
The action was all at the docking berths. Most the others had already donned their Sokol suits and were reading through the last of the checks.
I found the empty cul-de-sac of the Rassvet storage module and flung myself in it, quivering with rage. I wanted to beat the walls with my fists. If I tried hard enough, I could probably batter my way right through the shell of this pathetic bolted-together junkyard. Then I would howl my anger to space as I hurled shards of snapped-off solar panel at Earth below.
Yes, I was still looking for revenge. I’d always assumed I could blame Portland because it was easy to blame him. I couldn’t both love Joanne and hate her at the same time. Therefore it had to be Portland’s fault.
But Portland was dead and it hadn’t changed my feelings at all. I didn’t feel the slightest closure, and even the satisfaction that he’d blundered into his own machine had dissipated.
I had to face the facts that it really was Joanne I blamed, all along.
Rape her? I had no interest in raping her. But I could imagine myself bludgeoning her repeatedly with some heavy object, all the while sobbing about how much she meant to me.
Wasn’t that, after all, the true human conception of love?
I wanted to rend these walls apart. I wanted to scream. I wanted the universe to die around me in prolonged and hideous agony. I had, I thought, spirited the supertessera lattice out of my own hatred, summoned it from the demonic layer beneath baryonic matter by infusing the discord with my own vibrations, the disgusting mental vibrations deep in my black-hearted psyche.
I had spirited this evil on our universe.
It was my great revenge, writ in letters the size of galaxies: the anger of the gods.
The parking lot was bathed in a fierce blood-red light, the light of a bloated sun. Black shapes loomed out of the redness. The nearby shacks, the gleaming edge of the nearest of the trucks, a corner of the empty diner. The ground was textured black and red in a frantic rubbled pattern. Something large and dark was lying a few yards away.
Shadows whipped around and around, as if the light was being shone down from directly overhead behind some kind of fan that kept occluding it. Crouched as if under a helicopter’s rotors, hands now grasped at the cold hard ground, she dared herself to look up.
The spaceship was an enormous oval void punched out of the clouds. She had the feeling that what she saw was just the stub of some far vaster object that had poked through the cloud layer from above.
A single brilliant light shone down from the base of the object, deepest red except when she tried to look at it directly, when it wowed silver and left a violet glare. She got the impression of long, craggy promontories reaching out all around the object like the legs of an insect.
The light began to change color again, to climb back toward white. There was a series of heavy concussions that made her head ring. Then the insect-leg promontories all folded together abruptly and the spaceship gulped upwards into the clouds that billowed and gaped in the hole it left. Light pounded through the cloud layer, changed color to red again, and vanished.
A rolling reverberation came in from the mountains, and then there was silence but for Leona’s own retching lungs.
The dark thing that was lying nearby kicked weakly at the ridges of the frozen mud, rolled over, and began to heave itself up from the ground. It was Joe.
In that moment, Leona knew. She knew before she steadied her breathing enough to shout the question at him. She knew before he managed to lift a trembling hand to point through the hole in the clouds.
‘Joe, where’s Mark? Where’s our son?’