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Terminal Velocity

terminal velocity

Estimated reading time — 4 minutes

I could feel the engines of the ship scream to life as the heads-up display flickered in around me, my hands grasping the control yokes with the kind of sweat that only drips when you’re afraid. All the stories ran loose in my mind, pilots throwing up their liquified organs, faces warped with all the fear and pain of a thousand lifetimes, but the death of our race was as sure as my own mortality. This was my moment. Glory or death – that’s what they tell you, until the day that you realize it was never a choice. These were our final stories, and they had to matter; not to the universe, but to us. We will die in the fires of war. Amphetamines surging through my veins, I screamed as loud as I could as I saw the tracks ahead of me flare with electricity, my knuckles white upon the controls.

“Magnetic catapult engaged,” said the on-board computer. The ship rumbling around me as it shrieked like a banshee, I started to accelerate, and the airlock at the end of the track opened up into an infinite blackness. I am not a coward. Gripping the throttle as I shot into space at the speed of sound, I wrenched it back, tearing open a wormhole that sucked me into a void of liquid stars. I could feel it even then. The slow prickle of my skin. The writhing doubt in the back of my mind as the pleading faces of my family flickered through my vision. The fall of their worlds as I fled in disgrace.

The void spat me forth into a storm of flames, and I banked down as the fiery remnants of a ship swung by overhead. I saw it, then, my skull thrumming with pain as I struggled to anchor myself. Drifting in darkness above the Earth in a haze of shifting matter, black, feathered tendrils and limbs writhed in unison, swimming eternally through a colossal mass of crawling eyes and razor-toothed maws. Images of chaos and death flashed through my vision as I screamed with raw adrenaline, trying to keep my mind from fading as streams of blood dripped from my eyes, but when another squadron tore forward from behind me, I had all the courage I needed.

Looking back as I steadied the wings, I saw the capital ships drop out of warp, firing their massive railguns in a blinding cascade of light. I pulled the control yokes, and my ship jaunted forward, picking up speed as its mass dropped to nothing. Tearing toward the target as the taste of blood filled my mouth, I hit the triggers, firing my guns again and again with a thunk, thunk, thunk that shook the frigate to its core. Nearing impact, I bowed the ship down, tearing beneath a flame-wreathed tentacle at impossible speeds before cranking the ship up again, the sheer force threatening to rip my body in two. The warnings on the display flashed red, and I banked to the right as a massive, misshapen hand swept toward me. Keeping the ship level, the metal shook with power as I pushed it as fast as it could go, and sped straight between the ravaged flesh of two fingers. Pulling a sharp turn, an unbearable pain shuddered through my mind as the abomination warped and expanded, bending space as it threw off a shockwave of horror and grief.

As it hit me, my vision trembled and distended, thrashing violently into a winding cascade of memory and doubt. I could hear myself screaming, firing off random electrical signals in my brain before the narcotic haze dampened the madness with an uncontrollable rage. My muscles jerking and convulsing, my vision ripped back to an advancing current of shifting, black eyes that wormed through my mind in a way that could only remind me of rape. I fired another volley as I clenched my bleeding teeth, the cockpit rattling with fury around me as my guns flared in the void. Overwhelmed with fear and adrenaline as I drew closer to impact, I pulled back the throttle and teleported through the abomination, swallowed instantaneously in a flash of color that I could barely perceive. Its flesh transcended the material world. I could feel it howling within me, screeching in a sickening, otherworldly chaos that needled my skin and flooded my mind with the maddened gibbering of primeval languages.

All at once, the void parted, and I shot forward into the blackness of space, blood trickling from my mouth as I sped between the rows of capital artillery that cracked like thunder around me. Lost in a haze of confusion and nausea, I felt the sickening lumps of my dissolved intestines wrench up through my throat, and my vomit smacked against the window in a splatter of blood. My hands slipped from the controls, and the ship began to waver, my consciousness lost between broken hallucinations and the sight of a frigate losing control ahead of me. Mindlessly shearing through space, it rammed into a capital ship at my side, detonating in a fiery explosion that pelted my vessel with burning shrapnel. Jagged metal tearing through my ship at the speed of sound, the window shattered into the vacuum.

There, I drifted, suffocating and strapped into the gutted vessel as I watched the remains of the fleet spiral into madness – watched as the nightmare convulsed, surging its awful form toward the Earth before engulfing it entirely, distant mountains torn from their foundations in clouds of debris, and entire oceans burnt away within fleeting seconds. The matter of our world corroded to dust as the entity swallowed it whole, flaring its tentacles in a blur of shifting motion as the sunlight swam upon its mass. Drowning in blackness as my mind bled away from existence, for once in my life, I had proven my worth. Spiraling down into a void of insignificance, hand-in-hand with the legacy of my species, for one beautiful, cruel moment in time, we were absolved of our hate, and at last, we were together.

Credit: Amelie C. Langlois

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