Later, Marris would feel a sense of satisfaction that the first instinct of every member of her team had been to move toward the unnatural screaming darkness rather than away from it.
At the time, however, all she felt was surging adrenaline, cold terror and the fierce determination to keep both firmly under control.
It was difficult in the face of that howling void – a gaping blackness framed, almost incongruously, by the drably painted laboratory wall – but she kept her voice level, willing it to communicate a confidence and certainty she only dimly felt. “Albright, Devereux, keep to the rear. Five metre gap. Coleridge, De Santos, Garrison with me. Coleridge, you’re on point. With me.”
Fortunately, the orders required little thought, as did the automatic flipping of her sidearm’s safety as she unholstered it. The pistol purred contentedly then settled into a barely perceptible hum. She paused for just a moment at the threshold of the corridor.
The screaming had been steadily rising in pitch since the blackness had first appeared. She couldn’t be certain, but she thought she heard distinct voices. Gomez and Hendrickson, perhaps? It was difficult to tell. She didn’t want to think about what might be happening to them to cause that agonising, desperate shrieking. She didn’t want to think about what waited for them beyond the threshold, the stark dividing line between light and…
The screaming stopped.
The silence that rushed to fill its place seemed almost obscene in comparison. There were no whimpers or sobs or moans. There was nothing. One moment their ears had been assaulted by sounds wrenched from the pain-wracked depths of somebody’s being. The next, a crawling silence flowed over them like a suffocating shroud, terrible in its implications.
She cleared her throat.
“Any readings, Garrison?”
It took a moment for the science officer to reply.
“My scanner is registering this section of the laboratory as perfectly normal. Matter consistent with the rest of this section of the ship. No unusual radiation waves. There’s a concentration of phased particles ahead of us, but it’s diminishing quite quickly. Almost as if they’re being absorbed into the fabric of the… whatever that is.”
Garrison sounded rattled. Marris didn’t blame him. She examined the darkness for a moment. It had substance, a troubling suggestion of solidity that scratched painfully on the blackboard of her mind. The light beams of her helmet seemed to sink into it, fading from her sight perhaps half a metre or so in.
She took a breath. And stepped over. Into the darkness.
She was aware of Coleridge beside her, aware of his breathing – controlled but louder than normal. Most of all, however, she was aware of the darkness, aware of the manner in which it clung to the walls, seeming to congeal upon them, seep through the fabric of them, leak out through them from some unfathomable reservoir of liquid night.
The sensation of envelopment, of incipient claustrophobia, threatened to take hold of her limbs. She made herself take the next step. And the next.
And then, like filthy suffocating curtains, the darkness parted.
In her ear, Coleridge swore; she couldn’t bring herself to reprimand him.
With awakening had come awareness.
With awareness had come a jumble of sensations, emotions and thoughts.
The voice continued to speak, its words soothing and reassuring, although there was an undercurrent of urgency to them that threatened to destabilise and disrupt its gentle crooning.
“Open your mind.”
It quivered, sensation rippling across its skin in soft undulations.
“You will be free…. Open your mind.”
What did the voice mean? How could a mind be opened? How could it be closed?
“Allow my thoughts to enfold yours. You will be free.”
Free of what?
“I will show you. It will hurt. Be prepared.”