Authors: Dan Rix
Table of Contents
Message from the Author
What follows is purely an adventure story. I make no moral or religious statement whatsoever and wish for nothing to be construed as anything other than a fantasy. If I have misrepresented any of the world’s religions, I am deeply sorry.
So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth
men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air
for I am grieved that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7, NIV)
The Interference Zone
Mauna Loa Observatory
, site of cosmic microwave background observatory
Mauna Loa, Hawaii
Cosmology postdoc Joan Martinez pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, tapped a few keys to amplify the signal, and watched the triangular blob progress across her LCD monitor again.
“Do you see it?” she said.
“I see it,” said Dr. Peter Granger, her postdoctoral advisor. He sighed and dragged his hand down his face, mirroring her own sleep-deprived bewilderment.
It was definitely moving.
She paused the playback and the shape vanished, camouflaged perfectly against the blue and teal thermal readout of the cosmic background radiation.
They had spent the last three months preparing this data for their joint presentation at the USP Cosmology Conference in São Paulo, which started Monday.
It was Saturday afternoon. Outside the windows of their portable, the shadows were already lengthening across the barren landscape of volcanic rock. They had twenty-four hours before their plane flight to determine how—if at all—this artifact would affect their results.
Joan buried her face in her hand and exhaled slowly through her fingers, dreading yet another all-nighter.
The cause of the artifact was obvious. Something way out in space had passed in front of their radio telescope at exactly the wrong time. Now it could render their entire data set useless.
As it was, the hot topic at the conference would be the recent spike in high-energy neutrino emissions from the galaxy’s core, not cosmic background radiation; their project was in serious danger of going unnoticed.
“How did we miss this?” said Dr. Granger.
“It only showed up after image processing,” she said. “Otherwise it’s invisible.”
“It’s alright, Joan. We can leave this set out if need be.”
“It’s our best set, Doctor Granger.”
“I know.” He peered intently at the screen. “What’s in the sky up there?”
She consulted the list they had printed out from the UCS Satellite Database. “Just EchoStar-9 and Galaxy-23, direct broadcasting satellites. They should have been downrange, though. Could it have been military? A spy satellite?”
“No, that area of disturbance is too big.” He leaned over her and tapped the screen. “At least five miles across. Plus the optical telescopes didn’t pick up anything. Whatever’s up there, it’s just interfering with the CMB. I’m guessing it’s just a cloud of dust, maybe debris from something older.”
“I can’t believe we had three months with this data and we never caught it,” she said.
“Like you said, it’s invisible.” He checked his watch. “It’s going to come around again in a few hours. Let’s aim every telescope we got at it. I’ll call around . . . see if I can get some more powerful eyes.” He patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure out what the hell that thing is.”
Two Years Later
The Largest Cruise Ship in the World
Cedar Edgerly followed his dad and younger sister out of the cruise terminal and up the gangway, now absent of their luggage, which the porters would bring to their stateroom separately. After hauling his bags into and out of taxis, security gates, and airports for the entire morning, his hands could find nothing to do, and he jammed them into his pockets.
Through the glass and metal struts encircling the gangway, he glimpsed a dozen thousand-foot cruise ships presiding over the piers of Port Canaveral like giant condominiums. Ahead of them, the gangway plunged straight into the white hulk of their own ship, the MS
He craned his neck and counted ten levels of gleaming white balconies before his view cut off. He couldn’t even see the top.
At 1,187 feet, the
was the largest cruise ship in the world. She carried over 5,000 passengers and weighed in at 110,000 tons, just shy of the gross tonnage of a
-class aircraft carrier.
The eighteen decks packed twenty-four different restaurants, a zip-line, a rock climbing course, twenty-one swimming pools, a basketball court, two theaters, a miniature golf course, and even a carousel. He wondered why they were even bothering to sail—they’d have just as much fun if they never left harbor.
wasn’t a ship, it was a floating city . . . a
floating city. Cedar’s gaze fell to his sister’s blonde head, bobbing in front of him on the gangway. He would need to keep an especially close eye on her.
They reached the end of the gangway and stepped onboard the cruise ship into a marble-floored atrium alive with excited chatter. The fragrance of roses and expensive leather hit him hard, like the perfume department at a mall. Cedar wrinkled his nose and jogged to catch up with his dad and sister at an elevator.
Before he could join them, though, he spotted a group of teenage guys playing Hacky Sack by a bar. One of them, an asshole in a tank top and aviator sunglasses, was ignoring the game and staring in their direction.
Cedar didn’t have to follow his gaze to know why—the kid was ogling Brynn, his fifteen-year-old kid sister. Blonde, blue-eyed, and an insufferable flirt, she drew way too much attention from guys for Cedar to ever relax when she was in public.
He veered to the other side of her, blocking the douchebag’s view and replacing it with his own ice-cold stare. After a second, the guy glanced away, and Cedar finally unclenched his fists.
He didn’t know whether he was more pissed at Brynn for wearing those stupid cutoff shorts or at their dad for letting her. But one thing he did know—he needed to warn her about guys on cruises. Before it was too late.
Once they got to their stateroom, he’d remind her that for the next seven days she was not to stray from his sight. Ever.
“Bro, come on!”
Eighteen-year-old Jake Carmelo looked down to see that the Hacky Sack had landed on the marble floor at his feet. He had been distracted.
He rolled the sack onto his toes, kicked it into the air, and whacked it back into the circle. Another guy caught the sack on his heel and dished out some wicked freestyle. As the footbag moved faster and faster between his feet, the other guys cheered him on.
Jake wasn’t interested. His eyes wandered back to the source of his distraction—the girl who’d just walked aboard with her family. Chin held high, confident. Just his type.
Before she boarded the elevator, he caught another flash of her long, flowing blonde hair, cute lips sparkling with lip gloss . . . flawlessly tanned legs. She looked awesome in those cutoffs.
Still, on a cruise ship that held over 5,000 people, he doubted he’d ever see her again. They might as well be in different cities.
“Bro, seriously . . . are you in or out?”
Jake glanced down and saw that once again the Hacky Sack had landed at his feet. He kicked it back into the group. “I’m out.”
He left the group and wandered back toward the guest services desk, where his parents were still trying to finagle their way into an ocean view stateroom.
He checked his cell phone.
In a half hour, the cruise ship would depart Port Canaveral. Their first stop—before the islands of Bermuda—would be just ten miles up the coast.
Tonight, the passengers onboard the
would have front row seats to the midnight launch at Kennedy Space Center.
Brynn Edgerly led
the way down the long, crowded hallway to their stateroom on deck fourteen, her dad and older brother in tow. The thick, royal blue carpet sank under her sandals, and every few steps she passed through the cold draft of a ceiling vent. They had cranked the air-conditioning up to the max to battle Florida’s August heat. Except for the fact that the end of the hallway was a long, long way off, they could have been in a luxury hotel.
“Deck fourteen. Room six-sixty,” she said, stopping at their room. She slid her key into the door, and the latch opened with a green flash and a click.
The room was spacious—a grand suite, after all—complete with a balcony, two twin beds, and a kitchenette. Their luggage had already been brought up.
She bounded into the room. “Dad, which bed do you want?”
He had already made a beeline for the bar to fix himself a scotch. “You take the one by the window.”
Which left the foldout couch for her older brother, Cedar. Served him right.
Brynn tugged open the sliding glass doors and burst out onto the balcony, and a warm breeze whipped through her hair. She ran to the glass railing and leaned out into the sun. A bird’s eye view of Port Canaveral stretched to infinity.
Below her, the dock bustled with activity. Forklifts carried food pallets into a loading dock inside ship. Crew the size of ants barked orders, gesturing wildly. Off to the side and clad in blindingly white, creased uniforms, a group of officers stood chatting, coffees in hand, proudly admiring their ship.
The cruise was starting off well. She had even seen a cute guy playing Hacky Sack—in fact, maybe her boyfriend Simon had even tried to reach her while they were boarding. Feeling giddy at the thought, she pulled out her cell phone.
Zero missed calls.
A pang of sadness jolted her heart.
Stop checking, Brynn
Behind her, the sliding doors slammed shut, startling her. She spun to see Cedar step onto the balcony, wearing a tight frown.
want?” she said, curling her lip. Another lecture was the last thing she needed right now.
“We need to talk,” he said. “About ground rules. Now.”
Seeing the mutinous
look in his sister’s eyes, Cedar cut right to it. “If I so much as find you in the same room as someone’s dick, it’s getting cut off and you’re getting handcuffed to your bed for the rest of the cruise.”
“Jesus Christ, Cedar. I’m
Freaking fifteen. She had that number stuck in her head like it was some kind of badge of freedom. “Did you hear I just said?”
“You want to cut someone’s dick off, go ahead,” she said. “They have cops on ship’s too, you know.”
“You didn’t hear what I said.”
“No guys. I get it.”
She didn’t get it. She wasn’t listening. She
listened. Every single conversation with her was harder than the last.
But he had heard of rapes and murders aboard cruise ships. Somehow, he had to impress this into her thick skull and into that tiny brain of hers. “These are the rules: on this ship, you don’t go anywhere, you don’t do anything, you don’t talk to anyone . . . you don’t take a piss without my permission. Got it?”
She flipped him off and yanked open the door.
“Brynn, where do you think you’re going?” He chased her into the room.
“What do you think, asshole? I’m going to go find a dirty creep to have sex with.”
“Great, we’ll go together.” He threw his clothes back in his suitcase and laced up his shoes. “We’ll tour the ship.”
“I didn’t say you were invited.”
“I’m inviting myself. As your older brother and the only responsible one here,” he nodded to their dad, already comatose on the bed with a half-empty bottle of scotch at his side, “I am the law.”
“Cedar,” she whined, stamping her foot, “you always do this!”