Providence Episode 1

Posted: March 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

Good evening!

This is an incredibly exciting addition to this site, and one that I hope will keep you coming back for more.

Until now, you’ve been stopping by to get your semi-regular dose of chilling short tales, but for this excursion, we’re going to have to go bigger.

Way bigger.

Tonight, I present the first of many episodes in an experiment in horror I began some time ago. Unplanned and unedited, this journey will take us to depths of terror we’ve not yet crossed together, meet people we will come to think of as friends, and crawl inside of nightmares like never before.

The time is centuries in the future. The place is the first space station in human history designed to house a large colony over the breadth of generations. It’s a unique outpost in the dark of space, rustic by the standards of its contemporary, and proud of its pioneering heritage.

But there is a poison lurking on board. A dark poison that has hidden in the shadows between stars for longer than the imagination can contemplate. A poison that has been waiting for us, for so very long.

So I welcome you to join me and the rest of the inhabitants on this station with a course plotted straight to horror. I welcome you to Providence.

Providence-1

Episode I

1

The door to the control room whispered open as Thomas lumbered in. He had his black lunchbox tucked under one arm and was trying to unscrew his thermos when he walked into a wall of blaring country music.

“Hank, shut that shit off will ya?” Thomas groaned. The music grew louder as a stocky man with three-day-old bristles and a cowboy hat to go with his official Providence coveralls swung around in his chair and grinned.

“Come on, T-Dog! This here will put some hair on your balls!” the cowboy said.

Thomas put his lunch down on a workbench, crossed over to the massive control console in front of Hank, bent over, and tapped a flashing red button on one of four touch screens. The music went dead. “I already got hair on my balls, H-dog.

Hank frowned. “You an asshole, Tom.”

“That hat isn’t regulation either, Hank,” Tom said, ignoring Hank’s comment.

“So?” Hank shrugged and spat a viscous brown jet into an old soda can with the top torn off.

“So, if Stacy sees you without the approved hat on, Hank, she’ll shit all over you,” Tom warned.

Hank gave Thomas a wicked grin and tipped the offending hat. “At least I’ll get to see her nekkid fist.”

“You’re a real sick fuck, Hank. Anyone ever tell you that?”

Hank’s grin grew wider. “Every day of my life, Tom. Every fucking day.”

Thomas shook his head, grabbed his thermos, and popped the top off. He sipped tentatively at the still steaming coffee, grimaced from the scalding sting it left on his tongue, and looked up. “So, what’s going on?”

Satisfied that the ugly banter portion of the day had come and gone, Hank sat up a little straighter. “Not much, man. Gravity amplifiers running strong, no power fluctuations, aquatic recyclers are at full, except number eight, but number eight ain’t been right for a couple weeks now.” He stopped to spit into the can again and roll the wad of tobacco in his mouth from one cheek to the other before continuing. “No warning lights. All systems go.”

Thomas nodded. “We had some lighting reports. Did those get taken care of?”

Thomas thought he saw Hank flinch, but if the cowboy did flinch, he converted it into a look of indignation with almost professional ease. “Of course! What, you think I just sit on my ass all day long?”

“No, Hank. I would never think that,” Thomas said without making even the faintest attempt to hide the sarcasm.

Thomas took another sip of the rapidly cooling coffee and ignored his co-worker in favor of the flat panel displays before them. There were six monitors in total, each one covered in constantly updated graphs, numbers, digital displays, interactive real time schematics, and camera feeds—the vital signs of Space Station Providence.

The engineer was born on this floating hunk of metal that orbited Jupiter. He’d grown up here, went to school, and graduated from Providence University. He could have gone anywhere—to any of the two dozen other, newer, better equipped colonial space stations, or even to one of the half dozen colonized planets in the Human Expansion League. But, you didn’t leave Providence. It was… a point of pride. People born on Providence lived Providence, it wasn’t just the place where you were born, it was part of who you were.

Therefore, while no one outside providence could hope to understand, Thomas was living the dream (although he could do without Hank being in his dream). Even as a kid he loved figuring out how things worked, and as he got older that passion pushed him further and further. Now he was standing at the control center to his home, and on any given day he, as part of his job, was privileged to have all of Providence’s inner workings laid bare for him to see. He started out with the insides of his toys as a child, and had progressed to the insides of the first colonial class space station in the Human Expansion League.

This thought alone, when he allowed himself the brief moment to think it, would often put a smile on his face, but one of the numbers on the upper left screen made him frown. “What’s with the atmospheric scrubbers?” he asked.

Hank shrugged. “Hell if I know. What’s the problem? It’s still in spec.”

“Expand for trend analysis,” Thomas ordered. Hank sighed and shook his head, but leaned forward and manipulated one of the touch screens.

The entire upper left panel went black for a second before it was again lit up with a series of line graphs. Each line graph depicted the performance over time for each of the eight massive Sandouli-X Atmospheric Scrubbers. The Sandouli-X was a marvel of its time, using a host of different techniques from ion exchanging to organic respiration to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide. It was what let people breathe. It was also woefully obsolete, and by modern technological standards, horribly inefficient.

This is why none of Providence’s scrubbers were expected to operate at above sixty percent efficiency, and no one really worried about them unless they approached the thirty percent efficiency mark which would put the entire population of twenty thousand people in mortal danger. It was also why Hank, who didn’t really care about anything work related unless Thomas or Stacy forced him to, didn’t seem to give a shit about the trend that Thomas was looking at right now.

Thomas let one of his fingers trace the lines on the screen before him. Three of the eight scrubbers were showing a gradual reduction in efficiency. “Looks like they are… magnify please? Thanks. Yeah, they’re dropping at about .005% every eight hours or so,” he muttered almost to himself.

“Big fuckin’ deal,” Hank said. He contorted his face into a look of melodramatic horror before screaming, “Dear Sweet Jesus we might lose a couple of our scrubbers in four years!” He cackled. “Slowest moving apocalypse I’ve ever heard of.”

“Shut the fuck up, Hank. Until we know why they’re dropping, we should be concerned.”

Hank stood up. “Blow it out your ass, Tom. It’s quittin’ time for me. Besides, boss lady will be in soon. Take it up with her.”

“I’m going to,” Tom said, his eyes still glued to the line graphs.

“Give you something to do besides trying to get in her panties,” Hank shot over his shoulder.

“Fuck you, Hank,” Thomas replied, but more out of habit than anything else.

2

“That is weird,” Stacy Munoz said as she stared at the same graphs Thomas was looking at earlier. “.005 percent, you say?”

“Yeah,” Thomas said. He coughed. Stacy stood at the control panel, her face cast in the dull blue glow of the monitors. She was biting her lip the way she normally did when she was puzzling something out. It wasn’t a sexy look, exactly—definitely not intentional at least. But it turned Thomas into a wobbly, yearning mess anyway.

One of Stacy’s delicate fingers swiped across a touch screen, and information slid across the monitor in a smooth blur. Thomas tried hard not to look too hard at her; from where he sat at the console, if he turned his head even a couple of inches, he would be staring at her finely sculpted ass. The coveralls they were required to wear by regulation weren’t flattering. Unless they were worn by Stacy—she could make any type of clothing inspire impure thoughts.

“Did you run a full diagnostic?” she asked.

“Wha? No. Uh, I thought I’d wait for you,” he sputtered. For the first time since he’d shown her the troubling graphs, Stacy looked down at him with narrowed eyes. It was a curious look, a penetrating look. It was the kind of look that really wanted to know why her assistant supervisor, a man who was more than capable of running a diagnostic, didn’t. And maybe, he thought, she could see the answer wafting off of him, because she didn’t bother to ask the question. Maybe she just didn’t want it said out loud that the only reason he didn’t run a diagnostic was to create an excuse to talk and work in close quarters with her. That might cause problems.

“Well, let’s get that done,” she said. Absent-mindedly, she slid her hat off her head, and shook out hair that looked still damp from the shower. The floral scent of shampoo washed over Tom as she efficiently tied her hair into a tight pony tail and tucked it through the hole in the back of her cap. He had a brief glimpse of her lightly tanned exposed neck that flooded his imagination with carnal images so intense he could feel his fingernails dig into the arms of his chair. He wanted to feel how soft that neck felt against his lips, to know how her skin tasted on his tongue.

Before she could take notice of the delay, Tom wrestled his imagination into submission and started tapping away at a different touch screen. The graphs and numbers Stacy was studying were replaced by a host of status bars that slowly started to fill. Each one represented the main engineering computer as it scanned all of systems that ultimately made up the atmospheric scrubbers: power, gas levels, biological signals, ionic and chemical exchange rates, waste collection, fouling, and a host of other attributes.

As the status bars filled, another screen started to display the various bits of data that the diagnostic test had already discovered. Stacy studied this intensely while Thomas studied her. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, which she was. There could be no debate about that. It was, however, that she was beautiful, wickedly intelligent, and yet she was grounded enough that she was easy to talk to. Well, she’s easy to talk to when you aren’t stuck on how bad you want her, anyway, Thomas corrected himself.

She laughed easily, made you laugh, and was on top of all that, one of the best bosses Thomas ever had. It would have been perfect if he wasn’t so stupidly in love with her.

He cleared his throat. “So, Stacy, did you get my audiomail?”

She frowned. “When did you send it?”

“Last night.”

“I was busy last night,” she said. “What was in it?”

With as much nonchalance as he could muster without vomiting on himself, Thomas said, “Oh. Well, they opened up a new restaurant on the strip. Dabo’s. Supposed to be authentic cuisine from Planet Valhalla. I was thinking maybe we could check it out some time.”

Stacy flashed him that look again, and Tom got the impression that what that look really meant was, “Where are you going with this, Tom?” What she did say was almost as bad. “I don’t think Marco would take that very well.”

Marco. He owned and operated a garage on the fourth deck, had a stubbly chin, a body cut from wood, and tattoos. He was also an asshole. At least Tom thought he was an asshole. Everyone else seemed to like the guy, but as far as Tom was concerned all of Providence would be better off if Marco was stuffed into one of the waste and disposal air locks and kicked out into space to die by asphyxiation. Tom hated Marco. If pressed, he would admit that the only reason he hated Marco was because he was Stacy’s live in boyfriend, but that was enough.

Ignoring the pain in his chest, Tom laughed. “Oh jeez Stace… I’m not asking you out on a date! Like I’d ever,” he said, desperately hoping she would accept the blatant lie.

Her narrowed eyes lingered for just a little bit longer before she nodded, turned her head back to the display panel, and said. “Yeah. Okay. Maybe we can grab some lunch there or something.”

“It’s a date!” Thomas said cheerfully. Stacy’s head whipped around, her hair a black tail swinging wild in its wake. But before she had a chance to get out a word, Tom threw his hands up in the air and quickly said, “Kidding!”

Relieved, Stacy threw a look of mock anger at Thomas, scrunched her nose, and returned her attention to work. “Oh, look.”

Tom sat up straight, a part of him grateful to have something else to focus on for once. “What’s up?”

“More weirdness,” Stacy said.

Tom quickly scanned through the data readouts on the screen. “Computer says the baffles are fouled, but…”

“…the contaminant is unidentifiable,” Stacy finished for him.

“That can’t be right. This thing has a library of ten million different possible contaminants,” Tom said. He tapped repeatedly at a touch screen. Each time he did, his eyebrows furrowed further. “This really doesn’t make sense.”

“What?” Stacy asked.

“Well, I just checked to make sure the computer was pulling from all the libraries. You know, biological, chemical, radiological, mechanical… It really should be able to identify the substance. But, no, all the libraries are turned on.” Thomas leaned back and chewed a nail. He’d been an engineer on Providence for five years now, and he’d learned to trust his equipment. That it was failing him now did not sit well with him.

“You know what this means don’t you?” Stacy asked as she punched futilely at a different touch screen.

“I really wished I didn’t,” Tom groaned.

“You’re going to have to go down and look at it yourself,” she said.

“Me?” he said. But before he forced Stacy to officially outrank him, Tom sighed and repeated with an air of finality, “Me.”

Without too much of a huff, Tom rose, grabbed his Virtual Multi-tool, and shoved it in his pocket. “Right, boss. I’m off to see the wizard.”

“Thanks. I’m going to see if there’s anything else I can work from here,” she said.

Tom started to make his way out of the control room when Stacy called his name. For a second he thought she was going to tell him to be careful, like they used to in the old movies before they were mostly replaced by Interactives. The thought made him cringe and he wasn’t sure why. But instead she said, “Stop by Sci-Lab and get some sample containers. Maybe you can collect enough of whatever this stuff is for them to analyze.”

“Okay,” he said.

“And if you don’t take too long, maybe you can stop at that Dabo’s place and grab me something spicy?” she added without looking away from the console.

“Yeah,” he said. His shoulders sagged. That was not exactly how he planned on sampling the new restaurant with her. Not even remotely.

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