Vacant, unblinking stare. Brown eyes, lit by a cold white sun. The light is more grey than white through the black slats of the blind. Brown eyes gaze down the length of a soft forest of shadows cast by the raised thread-trees of a faded, laurel-green terrycloth zig-zag-patterned bed-cover. A bed-cover-plain. In the distance, over the bed-cover-horizon, an ill-proportioned composition of cool-grey carpet, beige wall and window form a bed-sky. And in that sky a single speck of dust catches the grey sunlight as it floats toward the floor. It could be a flake of skin. Her skin. Part of her being. Or it could be insect excreta, or cigarette ash, sentient life en route to the bed-planet perhaps. Whatever its origin, it is agonisingly slow in its angled trajectory, its movement determined by some immeasurably small draft or other. Brown eyes stare at that speck of dust until their vision blurs and the smudge of beige carpet, louvered by the cold, slatted sunshine, and the wall and window become one great grey mess.

It had been precisely ninety-nine lunar years since first contact had been made. A single year for each of the ninety-nine names of God? Maybe. That inauspicious waxing gibbous moon on such an auspicious date – 35,082 days after we had first come upon one another. Way out there, past the moon, past everything we had ever known, in the sickening distance all those years ago, and our tiny, barely audible radio-signal, a minute click amongst the roar of background radiation, had caught someone’s attention. That is what they told us, anyway. It was probable that we would have found each other regardless; it was only a matter of time. If only they had overlooked that faint click, though. But too late, for now the world prepared to send one of its own out into the void, to travel through an inordinate expanse of darkness, to meet with this “someone”. Would that we had never sent the signal. Would that we had ignored the reply!

It took time before she realised she had awoken and that her tears had all dried. “How long have you been awake?” she wondered. She levered herself out of bed in an empty room. Packed and dressed, she felt arthritic, old. It was hard to get moving, even though it was already the middle of the day, even though she knew she must. “Breathe. Keep breathing,” she murmured. “Don’t lose your nerve.”
The safe suburban chatter and squeal of a school-yard reached her and then call to prayer began, the familiar song of the muezzin echoing over the rooftops. The azan and the white-noise-hush of the living city was a comfort, reassuring. She could do this. But then the thought of vast papery wings, opaque and membranous, came to her. Pulsating abdomen and shiny compound eyes the size of her torso, fidgeting antennae, mandibles. Images of a giant black and yellow wasp crouched beside two figures in white haz-mat suits came to her. It made her shiver involuntarily. “Keep breathing. Or you’re gone,” she thought.
During the press conference at The Centre she was quiet, lost inside herself, barely registered the technician speaking beside her. “Phyllomedusa bicolor. The giant leaf frog,” he said. “We synthesize the opioid peptides that provide a hibernation induction trigger from this long-extinct amphibian. The umbilical unit also contains a synthesized form of anti-freeze protein derived from tenebrio molitor that acts as a cryoprotectant.”
They all thought she was still worried about what she was going to find, that she was probably praying, but she had already prepared herself as best she knew for whatever lay ahead. She would trust to faith, but it wasn’t that. Despite her God, the four solid walls and the warm, water-tight shelter they provided, she felt a chill. Such a chill. The thought of the consort, the giant wasp, made her feel faint. “Sing a song. It might keep you warm,” was all she could think, but no song would come to her and she couldn’t help but laugh. Such a spineless laugh too, she thought.


            As she prepared to reach the point where rapid angularity would start – the event horizon – Red Jill Sohn-Shun felt her resolve once again begin to waiver. “Oh, come on!” she thought. “Not now!” She adjusted the tautness of her vespoidea interface, her neural link with the consort, checked the connections of the umbilical unit, felt the delicate response from the consort. Glancing back at the tiny blue dot of home and the pin-prick of white standing out beside it, Red Jill inhaled deeply, recalling the words of her mullah; “Remember Al Wali.”
The sudden rush of chemicals and beginnings of atomic disassembly snapped this train of thought. It always took her by surprise. As photons began to stretch out behind and in front of her she mouthed the words, “Insh’Allah, all will turn out right.”
In another, earlier time she had sought guidance to help her through her doubts. “Remember Al Wali; The Protecting Friend, Patron and Helper. Keep His name close, Red Jill,” he said grandly, looking at her expectantly. She sighed, looking down at the palms of her hands which lay in her lap.
“They have always claimed that they are just like us. All these years of information?” she wondered out loud. “They send us streams of vision, other proof to show us that they are human. Just like us.” He nodded. She looked off into the distance and went on, “They say they are peaceful, they just want to help us. But until we go there, actually meet them, see for ourselves, we will never know. How can we know?”
“How can we? Exactly right,” he replied. “And how can they, Red Jill? They are in the same position, are they not?”
“This is what they say. And they want us to go to them. How do we know?”
“We do not, you are right,” he confessed. Looking up at the ceiling a moment he shifted around on his seat to face her and said, “It is against our nature not to be wary.” She nodded. This wasn’t anything new to her. He went on, “But it is also against our nature not to be curious, Red Jill. We must trust their word and, Insh’Allah, all will turn out right. Only remember Ar Raqib, Red Jill. We are watchful, and we approach with caution.”
Later, in another conversation, he had said, “If we do not go, the not knowing will eat away at us all. It could destroy us, you know that.”
“It’s destroying me now!” and she thought then of the name Al Mumit; The Bringer of Death, The Destroyer.
“You are not alone, Red Jill. But only think; you can be the one to answer the world’s most nagging question!”
“Al Muhyi; The Giver of Life,” she thought, and she smiled.

Her consort had registered the shift in gravitational drag, a release of pheromones that evoked a response somewhere between confusion and the desire to seek out familiar points of light to navigate home by. Red Jill, the consort’s ward, was prepared, did her best to ignore her disgust, felt her neural response calming the consort; the slightest flattening of antennae, streamlining of wings and legs against thorax and abdomen indicating that she too was ready. Her consort’s exoskeleton, her own gloved hands on the bars of the saddle, the polycarbonate gold-plated plastic of her visor, all began to turn red and to elongate. At the same time the cool, heavy blast of chemicals numbed her senses as they descended into the impenetrable blackness, toward singularity.


            “Urgh!” she groaned. Her eyes refused to open. She wasn’t sure she wanted them to open.
“Am I still in the void?” she thought, and her eyelids creaked open, revealing bloodshot sclerae.
“We’re there?” Her mind swam. Where was “there”? Realisation, the conscious reality she had left snapped back into focus.
“Maintain protocol. Follow process, Jill! Take a deep breath,” she thought. She breathed.
“Oxygen synthesis appears to be fine,” she mumbled out loud, voice a croaky whisper. She thought better of speaking, thought it better to save her voice. She began to mentally tick off items on her post-journey checklist. “Oxygen seems fine. I can see my gloved hands, in tact. See the saddle. See the consort; in tact. How is the consort?”
No response. Glimmer of panic.
System malfunction should not have come as a surprise. And she had put herself in this position. She new the risks. She was calm.
“Nil comms.”
She ticked more mental checklists. It didn’t help.
“Nil comms! How is the consort? How is she? Are you there?”
No response. Shimmering, cold panic, the walls closing in, whining in her ears.
“Systems arrays all non-functional. Where am I? Deep space? No! In a space away from…”
She sensed a faint murmur, a minute sensation that made her think about running away and warning everyone else to do the same, but the idea that this had come from her consort was immediately blown from her mind the moment she moved her head and saw what lay slightly behind her, to her right. She whipped her head around to stare and let out an involuntary “Allahu Akbar,” at the same time overwhelmed with the voice in her head that screamed, “What is that? Is it a planet? A wall?”
How long she gaped at the sight she could not have said, but when she finally found her way back to process and procedure she was shocked once more.
“My God,” she thought. “There’s no air in here! What is this?”
Her hands tore at facets in the saddle, tearing open consoles, pounding sensors and pads, searching for a response.
“It’s all dead!” she rasped. “Everything’s offline!”
Her thoughts kept wandering away, to wonder.
“What is that thing? That wall?”
The perilousness of her more immediate environs kept her from any rational thinking in relation to the fantastic place she found herself. Panic, too, began to cloud logic.
“I can’t breathe! How is the consort? Oh, Allah! How is she? Wake up!”
She pounded on the umbilical unit, thrashed at her harness and bindings, felt herself weakening. She yanked on the interface, focused her energy to sending a signal to the consort, and through the growing pink tunnel-vision and searing tinnitus she managed a final hoarse yell.
“Wake up! Take me home!”


            A gargantuan plane of milky pink and orange, tending to vermillion and peach in places; a craggy, crystalline thing dotted here and there with dark clefts and recesses that crawl, quiver and fizzle with sentient black mania. A more or less flat surface, the vastness of which extends beyond sight, beyond understanding, in every direction.
In defiance of established theories, which posit that a thing of such a scale should have a mass of mind-boggling proportions and an equally staggering gravitational effect on the celestial bodies in its vicinity, gravity instead exerts its forces perpendicular to this wall; at right-angles. It compels all things to maintain a physical hold on its face as if it were a sheer cliff-face, to prop themselves parallel to or up against it lest they be sent sailing forever, not down, but across its surface and, presumably, eventually, away off into the void. A precarious existence, to be sure.
And that brilliant speckled void of immeasurable night, stretching away from it into infinity. That terrifying void of incomprehensible, horrifying loneliness and unimaginable distances, from out of which an infinitesimally insignificant little dot appeared, floating, agonisingly slow in its angled trajectory.
Vacant, unblinking stare. Brown eyes, lit by a cold pink wall.


Consort transmission extract. Mission time: S+25:22:10
Cognizance affirmed.
Sensory stimulus recognised; electro-magnetic radiation from unnumbered sources.
Locational uncertainty.
Cognizance affirmed.
Light-waves from unnumbered sources.

Procedural memory: searching for…
Chemical stimuli and response: locational uncertainty.
Light from unnumbered sources.
Cognizance reaffirmed.

Sensory stimulus recognition: nil audible pressure or displacement received. Ward unresponsive. Nil pheremone. Nil odor. Nil odor!
Procedural memory: searching for gravity… substance?
Residual levels of electro-chemical activity; vasopressin, norepinephrine, and adrenaline detected; enzyme catalysis from unnumbered sources.
Searching for…
Locational uncertainty.

Explicit memory: cellular respiration. Eupnea. Physical intimacy and physical response, serotonin, dopamine, glandular secretion. Now it is all gone. Where is her fear of me? Why does the ward not respond?

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