by Bruce Boston


The entire vector array, primary and backup, has fried itself  to an asteroidish lump. There is no explanation and no means of repair. You must navigate by the stars alone. The familiar  constellations of Earth are warped by the light years to caricatures of their classic configurations. The Big Dipper is quashed to a runcible spoon. Orion's belt has become a necklace for Diana. Each interspatial jump you make carries you farther from your destination. 

Your final miscalculation sends the ship plummeting into an uncharted region of unreasonable space where there is no turning back and moving forward casts you into the maw of a ghost star that offers neither light nor heat but gravity aplenty to hurl you down the death trap of its inky gullet. 


The Captain, a man you have respected and admired, paces the bridge helplessly, his grizzled countenance empurpled in a grim and silent rage. The crew have deserted their stations to wander the dingy corridors, lashing out at one another or gathering beneath the flickering light panels of iconographic displays to hatch plots to activate their passive mutiny. They blame you and the Captain for the situation in which they find themselves. Perhaps rightly so. Once they seize the bridge it is not a question of whether or not they will kill you, only of how slow and painful your deaths should be.

You cower in your cabin, afraid that if you show you face it will precipitate a chain of events you have no way to control. The periodic pounding on your door--with fists and pipes, shouts and curses--you refuse to respond to in any way. You are now aware that these men and women you took for friends are nothing more than chance acquaintances whose camaraderie was not derived from any shared perception of the world you inhabit but only your common incarceration in this tenuous metal hull.

Neither mutiny nor your death will make a dust of difference in the long run. You know this third-rate freighter of uncertain origin has little business in space let alone a space such as this. It is too late for anything to make a difference except divine intervention. And you put no stock in that. 

You are a man of little faith and prayers have never been your style. 

What spiritual beliefs you do claim, some pantheistic claptrap about the sanctity of nature, resides in a neglected compartment of your mind. You espouse it whenever the discussion takes a religious turn but its impact on the actions of your life has been negligible.


As you fall deeper into the pit of the gravity well the ship begins to disintegrate. Just as you expected but not in any way you could have imagined. There is no shriek of rent metal ripping outward into the blackness of space, no whoosh of atmospheric pressure dissipating in the vacuum. Instead, the molecules and atoms that compose the craft and its contents begin to juxtapose themselves in stray combinations that defy the laws of matter as you know them.

Your cabin rearranges itself into a pulsing tetrahedron that has borrowed segments from all over the ship. Your closet contains someone else's clothes and possessions. A diagonal swath of control panel with lights  still blinking slices across one wall and part of the ceiling. Over your bunk there is now a crude painting of a sombrero galaxy with a Tridabl prayer wheel tacked to its canvas and spinning rapidly.

Apparently someone has appealed to higher powers...but to no avail. 

A table materializes in the center of the room. It contains a coffeemaker, the glistening segments of a freshly sliced orange, an opened tin of ration coffee. Taking up the rest of your diminutive floor space there is half a couch from the so-called lounge where that table and coffee maker should reside, a half that remains upright despite the fact that it is supported by only two legs.


While there is still room to escape you stumble into an unfamiliar corridor--thankfully empty--that funnels to a black dot in one direction and in the other flutes to an abstract vista of oddly altered perspectives you are unable to decipher. Your body is also undergoing transformations. Your right hand has become the left hand of another. It is a woman's hand that you recognize as that of second-engineer Jeseka. In spite of her baggy coveralls and the angry spikes of her dirt-blond hair, she is a woman about whom you have often fantasized. 

Beneath your own coveralls, high on your chest, you feel strange growths forming. You sense that you are sprouting breasts but are afraid to reach out and touch them. This hand that you would have no doubt held if it were offered, these breasts you would have fondled and kissed, attached to your body they have become grotesqueries rather than objects of desire.

You right foot is gone and your right leg resembles a segment from one of the triridium struts that lace the ceiling of the cargo hold. Like a peg-legged tar of old Earth you hobble in a direction you take for that of the bridge You tell yourself that all of this is taking place in your mind. It is no more than a series of hallucinations vented by the irregular space you now inhabit. Yet none of it possesses the shifting quality of hallucination. Each aberrant vision you experience strikes you with a clarity so sharp that it flirts with pain. Each change is confirmed by your other senses. 

As you cross the Schwarzschild radius the ship is passing through a region that has been theoretically mapped by transfinite mathematics but never physically conceptualized by the mind of human or alien or machine. A series of metaphors from third-school hyperphysics skips across your brain. 

(1) You are a tridimensional creature perched atop an asymptotic cusp of the space-time continuum. 

(2) You are about to tumble down a cosmic rabbit hole into an n-to-the-nth-dimensional plenum. 

(3) You are floating at the center of a Klein bottle that has been turned inside out and stuffed with the building blocks of the stars.

Perhaps a god's mind could grasp such abstract notions, but there are no gods here. Only the usual assortment of misfits who manage survival by traveling from one ball of dirt to another at post-relativistic speeds that leave them out of sync and out of touch with all except their own kind.


Once you make your way to the bridge, or what remains of the bridge, you discover the Captain has been affected differently by whatever unreality jag is taking place. For a moment you think the crew has acted out its threats of mutiny and execution. But that is not the case. The Captain is not dead, though perhaps he would be better off that way. Like a machine that has outlived its usefulness he has been dismantled into his component parts for salvage. 

There is no sign of blood from this systematic carnage. Each element of his disassemblage has somehow survived its vivisection. 

His decapitated-dismembered torso, breathing irregularly but still breathing, inhabits its usual chair before a console he can no longer access. His head is nowhere to be seen. His limbs lie scattered about the cabin, some dissected further, all twitching with blind life in search of their owner. As you watch, a loose hand finds a loose leg and grasps its ankle. The leg spasms violently, kicking free. The hand scrabbles crab-like in pursuit.

You turn back in flight from this fleshy jigsaw horror but there is nowhere to run. A deck plate has reared up to block the corridor from which you entered. Its pitted metal surface has been polished to a dull sheen by the passage of many booted feet. It offers a blurred reflection of your akimbo terror and multiplies it further. For it is not your own face that confronts you but that of the Captain. Atop your shoulders you are wearing his grizzled countenance and his hoary head.

You collapse to the floor with a whimper. Yet even as you curl into a fetal lump your thoughts continue to race. Isn't this reflection proof that it is your perceptions that have lost their moorings and not the physical universe? For if you were actually wearing the Captain's head then you would be the Captain. You would be thinking his thoughts rather than your own. Yet despite your apparent transformation to a being of disparate parts, you still cling to your identity. At least you think this is your identity. Of course there is no way to be certain. Perhaps you have been transported into this consciousness only seconds before and invested with a complete history to support the illusion.

You feel your breasts pressing against your thighs. You realize that both of your knees are bent. The triridium strut is gone and you again have two legs, only one of them is not your own. It is a bare and shapely leg lightly downed with pale hair. You begin running one hand up and down its length in a mixture of sexual attraction and abhorrence. For a moment you cannot remember whether you are a man or a woman. 

As you embrace your mutated body you are embracing the singularity that envelops you. You have no choice in the matter. It consumes you with a force as irresistible as the kiss of death. Yet if this is death, again, it is like no death you could have imagined. For it is not only your own life that flashes before your eyes but the lives of the other crew members as well. Although they may be nothing more than chance acquaintances, although they would have your hide for a lamp shade if they could, they have become your brothers and sisters. Further still, they have become you and you have become them. You experience the dreams and the despairs of each of their individual lives as if you had lived them yourself.

The bones of memory have tried on flesh and you are trapped within the forms they have created, reliving past scenarios without being able to change them in any way. Time has assumed the texture of running water and you can feel its variable currents swirling about you. Time is a river that has looped back on itself and roils in an eddy where cause and effect flow in all directions.


You are the Captain long before he held such a rank, young and green, being dismissed from military service for gross incompetence in a docking accident that claimed three lives and caused structural damage to a class-M destroyer. You don't believe any of this was your fault. Yet they have accused you so often and embroidered their arguments with such clever sophistry that you can no longer be sure. 

You are Jeseka as a child, growing up beneath the double suns--red giant, white dwarf--of a world where darkness seldom falls yet when it does strange customs are followed and unspoken practices abided. 

You are the Captain again, not that much older in years but cynical and increasingly weary, swallowing the last of your pride by shipping on a commercial vessel run by interstellar conglomerates who despoil the worlds they pretend to develop.

You are a cargo handler, a scarred giant of a man named Boalye who speaks in grunts and monosyllables. You know the intricate paranoias that play within his brain and hobble an intelligence you never expected he possessed. You experience a complex rage for all those above your station. You know it in your heart of hearts and burn with its ineffectual fury. 

You are Jeseka, barely grown, exercising your own liberties during nightfall by slicing the carotid artery of one of the men who repeatedly took you against your will as a child. You are chagrined that the other man, your father, is already dead. 

You are the tentacled amphibian that occupies the environmental tank in crate number seven-ought-seven. You are that same creature on its home world, swimming freely in a methane sea, devouring when you are hungry and fleeing with powerful dorsal fins whenever you feel threatened. Destined for the aquarium of a rich collector, you have now encountered a different fate.


You have passed beyond the event horizon. You have entered a space from which news of your demise will never escape. But your multiple awareness knows no such bounds. It casts its net across years and light years. It occupies a moment of ultimate density and infinite possibility.

You are a sentient world desperate to speak with those who inhabit it yet only able to communicate through seismic and meteorological phenomena that ultimately drive them from its surface. You are the unknown ancestors you have never thought of except for a casual moment, the passions and matings that have formed your genetic blueprint from your eyelids to your blood. You are the light from a meganova in NGC188 that will reach the Earth in approximately sixty-five-thousand  years. You are the children you will never have except in an alternate history that is clearly destined to transpire somehow, somewhere, somewhen. You are the wet black leaves that carpet the forest floor after a storm. You are the rainwater that sheens those leaves You are the primitive hive-mind of the virus that infects the trees that causes those leaves to fall before their time. You are the silence of the stalking predator and the fear of prey in flight.

You are embracing the multiplicity in the singularity. You have become the singuplicity in the multilarity. Your consciousness has expanded to a single extrapolated thought so jammed full of discrete yet interlocking propositions and correlatives that its syncretic logic encompasses the relative and absolute universe. You are a sentence as long and complex and difficult as life itself. You are a parenthesis as abrupt and startling as the sum of existence. You are traveling at a blood velocity that can only be found in the fiery ventricles of a collapsing star.


            illustration by Dreamcatcher
            background by Bannerzus

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