Starless Imperium

Morgan Argor Strange, Science Fiction Horror Author


The Sun Beneath the Glaciers 

Sepulcher of Strange Illustration by artist Kristian Strange for The Sun Beneath the Glaciers by author Morgan Strange

The Sun Beneath the Glaciers 

By Morgan Argor Strange

Bones illustration by Kristian Strange

01:00 – Ten miles deep was the gash that appeared across the Batholithic Sonar, but a thousand miles deep was my craving.

As the icebreaker boiled over turbulent waves, it was hard to believe it weighed 13,600 tons—for the writhing waters of the Amundsen Sea made it seem as helpless as a worm dissolving in a vat of acid. The merciless surge threatened to rupture the research vessel upon the glaciers at any second, and the clouds swirled so viciously against the backdrop of the full moon that I feared the sky itself would open up and swallow us whole.

Was this our punishment for trespassing in the unspoiled Antarctic wastelands, I wondered?  Had we invoked the wrath of the ocean itself by poisoning the final bastion of freedom in a soulless, conquered world? The raw display of nature’s rage filled me with such awe that I considered adding this storm-of-all-storms to my Psych Drive’s database—but before I had a chance to decide if it was worth the space, the wail of the Batholithic Sonar overshadowed everything but my curiosity.

When the the Batholithic Sonar screeched to life in the ungodly hours, not even the last whimpers of my own better judgment could keep my eyes fixed on the storm. This curious new invention was the most sensitive instrument on our entire vessel—but nevertheless, for the past fifteen days, its outputs revealed nothing but the lifeless pits of the Southern Ocean floor.

This was the first chance I had to get my heart pounding in weeks, I realized, and there was no chance I was going to squander the opportunity: I knew all-too-well that boredom drives men to far greater sins than curiosity.

The wail of the Batholithic Sonar was a devilish siren call, promising to satiate every craving, to soothe every torment, to cauterize every wound. Best of all, the 16,000-meter-deep cavern that screamed in the center of our Sonar made the holes in my own heart seem as shallow as the pits on the surface of a grape.

 “Shouldn’t that thing be muted at this hour?” Barked Umbersen, hovering in the doorway like a hungry wolf drawn to the scent of fresh blood. I didn’t expect the burly data scientist to hear the Sonar’s cries all the way in his cabin, but it seemed that the 6th of May, 2242 was a night destined for endless surprises.

My excitement quickly dissolved into annoyance as the world’s-most-boring-man sucked all the pleasure out of my discovery by simply daring to exist. He was a hopeless, dull old bastard, everything I never wanted to be. I was certain he was selected for this expedition because the Hemisphere authorities felt sorry for him—from his stories, it sounded like he hadn’t formed a single exciting memory in his long, pitiful life.

I, on the other hand, had the opposite problem. You see, friend, I’ve sailed to every corner of the Earth, from the frigid, hopeless hell of Antarctica to the Red Sea of Moses. So it’s no surprise that I’m running out of Psych Drive space fast.

When you out there reading this journal were but a rudiment in your mother’s womb, I was well on my way to filling up my first Tetra-Disc—and that was back in the good old days, before they laid down the law. Back then, you could archive as many memories as there are stars in the sky—And in that glorious era of freedom, my pleasures outnumbered even my forgotten dreams.

Like most people lucky enough to live through the Psych Drive’s early days, you can imagine how hard it was for me to adjust when the 89th World Amendment was passed: I should have had decades to decide which memories to abandon and which to bring along to my upgraded interface, but I only had a week.

There’s a saying we used to parrot in the good old days: “It doesn’t matter what you lost, but what you choose to hold on to.” And those are the words I cling to when the longing sets in. When I crave a taste I’ve never known, again and again, the only thing that brings me solace is this forgotten tidbit of wisdom. 

But I apologize, truly—I didn’t mean to let this tangent consume me, while you’re waiting so eagerly for me to divulge mankind’s greatest discovery since the patent for Memory Extension was written. Now where was I . . . Yes, Umbersen. 

“The Batholithic Sonar detected a 16,000-meter-deep rift in the area formerly known as the Erebus Fracture Zone. There’s an underwater vortex that’s scrambling the curve of the Earth on all the monitors, large and calm enough to sail into. It appears to have opened up in the past hour,” I declared, doing my best to sound as awake and alert as humanely possible, even though half of my soul was still dredging through the doldrums of sleep.

“Erebus . . . Sounds ominous,” Umbersen mused. “But believe it or not, that Fracture Zone was named after the ship that discovered it, not the essence of shadow itself as the name would imply.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, not in the mood for poetry. “Out of all the memories you could have erased to make room for whatever we’re going to find out here, you held on to that?”

Umbersen said nothing, wandering over to take a closer look at the Batholithic Sonar. The skepticism glistening behind his huge black eyes made it clear that at least part of him suspected I was hallucinating. But soon enough, his lips curled into a scowl of disbelief.  

“No, this can’t be right,” he muttered, his deep, gravely voice cracking as he too fell victim to the monitor’s siren call. “A ten-mile-deep rift opens up overnight, and all you can do is stand there and stare off at the wall. Nope . . . You don’t believe it any more than I do. I’m going back to bed. We can fix the Sonar in the morning.”

Just as I felt the toes of my excitement slipping back into the trash compactor men called reality, the device let out another ear-splitting shriek. This time, as Umbersen’s lips began to quiver with the ghastly uncertainty that only midnight could bring, I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same.

He spent the next few moments examining the Sonar, forcing himself to accept what I already knew. His slick black eyes burned into mine, and my heart began to palpitate as he muttered, “The Sonar seems to think there’s something huge on the other side of that rift, and it’s giving us the go-ahead to sail through. You know what we agreed upon . . .”

“I know,” I replied, allowing my voice to devolve into the coldest impersonation of fear I could muster. “We have to do a full reformat.” But in truth, letting go of old memories didn’t bother me at all anymore. I was a veteran at it, even—a true master of forsaking the past to make way for the skin-crawling uncertainties of the future.

In fact, it was all I’d ever been good at: While countless people spent the first 150 years of their lives mourning the loss of memories they never even would have had before the invention of the Psych Drive, I reveled in taking out the trash. 

“No, it’s . . .” Umbersen gulped, staring back at the screen for another moment before finally facing me once more. In that moment, I finally knew he believed me: After all, testing this cutting-edge paragon of engineering was why both of us were here: so we had no choice but to trust the Batholithic Sonar.

“. . . This isn’t like the others, Cherish. According to the Batholithic Analysis, there’s a 99% probability that what we find inside the Fracture Zone will be so all-consuming, so mind-blowing, that we’ll have to clear out 10,000 TeraPsychs of space for the data. Are you prepared?”

“10,000 . . .?” I rasped, doing my best to smother my ecstasy and sound utterly terrified. What could be so profound, so full of wonder, so mind-expanding that it would require 10,000 TeraPsychs to store? That was a lifetime worth of memories—or several lifetimes, depending on whether or not you were rich enough to buy a backup body to store old data.

“I have no idea,” Umbersen declared, clicking through yet another analysis on the smooth, crystalline screen before rasping, “But if we want to find out, we have to wipe our Psych Drives by tomorrow morning: Because according to these calculations, after 08:00, the rift will be impassable.”

“That isn’t long to decide,” I muttered, wandering back over to the bed and sitting down.

“It isn’t,” Umbersen declared, cocking his eyebrow with suspicion. It was then that I knew he saw through my act as clearly as he saw his own face in the mirror on the far right wall. “But something tells me you’ve already made your choice.”

With that, he headed for the door, propping it open with his massive elbow before disappearing into the blackened throat of the hall. “I’ll see you in the morning, Cherish. Make sure this is really what you want: Because once you initiate the full reformat, there’s no going back.”

03:33 I’d soak my brain in acid for a thousand years if it would wash away the memory.

Do you ever feel yourself becoming consumed by an obsession that takes on a life of its own? Have you ever become so addicted to a person, or maybe even an idea, that no matter how much you try to snuff it out, the corrosive tentacles of your obsession contort and boil inside your chest, worming their way up your throat and down into your guts, until they burn away everything but the craving?

Ask this of most people, and they’ll stare at you like you’re the next Jeffrey Dahmer, meat between your teeth and all. But I’m not most people: and these compulsions alone were what drove me to dedicate my life to science.

When I heard about the Amundsen Rift Society, it was only a matter of weeks before I sold all my belongings and headed for the South Pole. Before I knew about the fault zones large enough to swallow entire ships, or the endless months of solitude, or even the Psych Drive reformatting clauses, I knew that I belonged in Antarctica and always had.

While people like Umbersen were prime candidates for this mission because their landscape of memories was so vacant and bleak, I came here for the opposite reason: because I knew what lay inside those faults was the single missing shard in the stained glass mosaic masterpiece of my existence. Umbersen had nothing to lose, but I had everything and more—but such is the tragic paradox of immortality, at least until they find a way to surpass the current memory limitations.

Suddenly, I felt the gnawing tendrils of envy springing up for the humans of antiquity. Those poor, blind bastards lived and died happily, foolishly, without being asked to choose between their greatest memories. Those were the true glory days of man, I realized with a scowl.

But soon, I remembered in that era of death and darkness, they didn’t have Batholithic Sonar to unlock the glorious secrets that lurk in the bowels of the ocean—and my resentment was soon a far-off nightmare.

When Doctor Shazu unlocked the secret to telomere regeneration, no one ever expected memory limitations to be the one thing holding humanity back from our true potential. But like the machines we’d poured our souls into for so many decades, we found ourselves running out of storage space, weighed down by an overload of data. At first, the logical solution was to create backups—and for a while, we did—but you can only get away with creating throwaway clones to store your memories for too long before some meddlesome ethics community comes in and chokes your freedom with needless regulations.

Most people are too young to remember the 89th World Amendment—either that, or they decided the memory wasn’t worth holding on to. It’s so painful to recall that glorious, fleeting interlude when a few lucky humans could savor both immortality and infinite memories, before the amendment ruined it all.

In the shadows, the rich probably still live above the law. But I am not rich. So I’ve spent the past century searching for a better version of what I’ve lost, a cruel imposter of what I was forced to sacrifice.

So I held on to only the most priceless, irreplaceable of memories, eternally searching for the moment I’d finally find something great enough to surpass them all: And now, that moment has finally come.

Graduating from the Amherst Academy was the memory I’ve carried with me the longest: The final, haunting vestige of my former life. I recall nothing from before that day, not even my mother’s face or my father’s voice. In fact, I’d have to search for my birth records to even tell you if I had a father on record. But I don’t need the memory of earning my Earth Science degree to remind me that I’m a tectonic fusion analyst—I’ll have the icebreaker vessel beneath my feet for that.

But you don’t have to be a tectonic fusion analyst to know that what’s inside the Erebus Fracture Zone is worth selling your soul for. Even Umbersen couldn’t deny that it was worth the ultimate tradeoff: The Batholithic Sonar told us that what lies inside the fracture is 10,000 TeraPsychs of pure, soul-cleansing amazement, and the Sonar doesn’t lie.

The day I changed my name will be the hardest memory to part with, but also the easiest one to forget. Most people don’t remember the moment their parents named them, so why should this be any different? I wish there was a way for me to take the pride of finally stepping into my own skin with me to my grave—but as a realist, I know whatever I find inside the Erebus Fracture Zone will be worth a thousand forgotten names.

The legacy of Caroline will be another easy burden to shed. In truth, I’m starting to think I only held onto her visage for so long so I’d know where to find her. I never wanted to reconnect, only ruminate about what could have been, and blame her for what was not. But now, tonight, I’ll seize what is.

The Sonar is wailing again. The rift will be impassable in less than 5 hours. It’s finally time to wipe my Psych Drive of all extraneous memories—to free myself from all the dreams that didn’t make the cut.

Really, they’re nothing but reminders of failure disguised as nostalgia. If they meant anything, I’d still be living those memories today.

What lies inside the Erebus Fracture Zone, however . . . Hell, I’ve wanted it since before the first line of code was written for the Psych Drives, before I even knew what telomere extension was. I’ve wanted it since the first whisper of blood came to life in my veins, before my soul was formed. There’s nothing that could satiate this craving besides plunging headfirst into the great unknown, and even one second inside that glorious rift will be a worthy tradeoff for all my favorite memories.

In an hour, I’ll plug my Psych Drive into the same computer the Batholithic Sonar is hooked up to, the same monitor that I glimpsed the rift on for the very first time. And I’ll initiate the reformatting sequence, and usher in an era of true prosperity not only for my own soul, but for all mankind.

26:66The most beautiful thing in the galaxy will burn out our eyes if we stare into it for more than a second, and that is the greatest tragedy in the history of man or machine.

We can’t get out. For six days we’ve searched for any trace of a passage back to the outside, but the Batholithic Sonar was scrambled from the moment we sailed into the Fracture Zone. Now, all our electronics either refuse to turn on or emit a hellish blast of white noise from the second the power button is pressed. If only we knew what horrors awaited us beyond the mouth of Erebus, we would have smashed the Sonar, sailed for the coast, and forgotten we’d ever heard of the Amundsen Rift Expedition.

I’ve revisited our passage through the Fracture Zone a thousand times, scanning what remains of my memories for any hint that might lead us back to freedom. I even combed this very journal for clues, but when my eyes scan over the previous pages, the words scramble and dance upon the page until they’re nothing but an illegible blob of ink.

The Amundsen Sea has melted into a horrific black slurry resembling ink mixed with pus. The stench is sulfurous, obscene, unlike anything my mind or body can recall. Although my Psych Drive has been reformatted, the cells of my sinus cavity still remember the fresh spring breeze: And this is the necrotic antithesis.

Black dreadnaught ships boil upon the waves in the distance, but as we sail closer, they only seem to get farther and farther away. I tried to catch a glimpse of the ship’s inhabitants once, through the periscope, but I found nothing on board but hairless, rat-like creatures with all-black eyes and flat, protruding teeth.

The black sun never sets, burning far larger and brighter than the one that licks the surface of the Earth. Umbersen theorizes that it’s not a sun at all, but the core of the Earth—but at this point I’m convinced that it’s the fire of hell incarnate.

My Psych Drive has failed as miserably as the rest of the machines upon this vessel, its circuits fried by the radiation of this blistering inner sun. The sickest irony of all is that my memories have begun to come back. I’m remembering things I wish I could forget: Things I thought I erased forever, a long time ago.

Does this mean the memories were there in my brain all along? Was the purpose of the Psych Drive not to store memories, but to inhibit them? I suppose it doesn’t matter, if I’m doomed to spend the rest of my existence drowning in this warped bastardization of the Amundsen Sea. At least I can take solace in knowing there isn’t much time left: Without the yearly refill of my Telomere Extending Polymerase, I’ll die in another 40 years anyway.

No matter how far we sail, there’s no trace of solid land. Even the endless fields of icebergs that we spent several hours a day weaving through back on the outside have been melted by the hellfire from above.

I myself have never been able to resist the temptation of diving down the throat of the beast. But why couldn’t Umbersen have had better judgment than I did?

Speaking of Umbersen, I haven’t seen him in what feels like weeks. The computer tells us we’ve only been in here for six days, but I forget that all the screens are either frozen or broken.

I remember what it feels like to be young. I can see my mother’s face. All the mirrors shattered the moment the sea turned black, but when I look down at my hands, they’re far more wrinkled than I remember them being on the outside.

UNITED SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE BI-ANNUAL REPORT 2246

Citizen Noncompliance Exhibit 7889-B-9094

This journal was recovered on the West Antarctica South Beach, on the shores of the Amundsen Sea, on March 12, 2246.

The citizen in question, Cherish Adonia (born as Michael Olin-Hemstraught in the year 2012) is no longer a threat against the United Southern Hemisphere. As a long-time skeptic of the Psych Drive and a known conspiracy theorist, she was a prime candidate for the Amundsen Rift Society pseudo-mission. Her body has never been recovered, and neither has the body of her shipmate Marcellus Umbersen—proving that the fabricated Erebus Fracture Zone missions are a highly effective method of processing Psych Drive skeptics.

Our recommendation is to begin searching for a much-larger crew of 20 to 50 members for the next mission immediately.

Bones illustration by Kristian Strange

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