Morien Jones


Long Flight

by Cyril Lewis Jones &  Morien Wyn Jones



The laughing stopped when the end of the world was announced.

No, it wasn't to happen for fifty years but it would happen:  on the 12th of September (6.06 am to be precise.) Secret attempts to deflect the huge meteorite had already failed, and so there it was, careering massively towards Earth with remorseless predicted accuracy.

Emergency measures to evacuate Earth were all well in hand and all who wished to could reserve their berth on the Arks.

These Ipson Drive starships were the miracles of the age, a tribute to the indomitable human spirit. Preprogrammed for planets already supporting human life-forms, one's personal survival was assured. The snag? The nearest was 1,000 cryogenically suspended years away. Dreams would be suppressed, and muscles would be kept from withering through bio-responsive stimulation sensors.

The choice, as always, was uniquely personal. As the video 'counsellors' remarked, "There is no right or wrong in this case, it is a matter of balancing all factors." There was one's age to be considered, and one's present state of contentment with the Known, but limited availability of the Here and Now. Then there was one's genetic imperative and one's confidence in contemporary technology, and the unknowable futures of distant planets.

Proportionally larger numbers of Aquatics and Angels reserved berths on the Great Starships. Perhaps, on reflection, it was unsurprising in that they (or their ancestors) had already indicated a genetic predisposition to evolve by paying for the genetic upgardes.

Jason Froggart agonised over the decision for an age. As a Biotech Technical Executive his security status gave him priority on any starship.

As a vampire the thought of cryonic suspension for 1000 years infuriated him. In the three nights since the meteor announcement he had sated himself in an orgy of blood that even now scarcely suppressed his rage. Oh, to be denied the pursuit; the seduction of fear and the warm reward of human blood was a deprivation that would be heavily borne. The cool hideous passivity of the long sleep in the cryonic cubicles filled him with loathing and contempt. That his vibrancy should be reduced to an existence indistinguishable from somnolent humans!

He roared and wept his anger after he signed the consent forms for cryonic suspension in cubicle 10,093, on Ark X02., destined for planet Hocanfa of the star Untemeger in the Orion Nebula.  However, he and his future citizens would be welcomed to their future home by the descendants of the planet-pioneers. The research, of course, was meticulous - Hocanfa was sustaining human life forms at a similar state of development.

It was midnight, there was almost a party atmosphere on July 4th on the starship "Hocanfa Kiss". The thousands of emigrants boarded. Biotech technicians saw each and every pioneer to his/her cubicle with an egalitarian bonhomie that revolted Froggart. The Angels with their appalling feathered napes, and the ghastly gilled Aquatics were placed indiscriminately next to the lusciously natural human animals. Froggart had an Angel to the left and an Aquatic to the right. The only consolation was that he lay opposite a young woman in her mid-twenties. She smiled encouragement to him and he smiled back, gazing longingly at the steady beat of the pulse in her beautiful neck.

Through the translucent covers of the cubicles she mouthed to him, "See you in a thousand years."  To the sound of stirring music and the final shouted goodbyes the cubicles moved into place. Automatic syringes stirred and the cryonic process commenced. The girl mouthed a last "Good luck" before she and Froggart were mechanically tilted back into 'Store' position. Froggart had sufficient time to inspect the interior release pad before . . . .

Nausea . . . .

Weakness . . . .

Froggart felt himself sinking, unbearably heavy, into the body contours of the cubicle. Was this what death felt like? Compression of identity, pushing towards darkness. His eyes flicked open. Time lapsed. With strength of will he guided his right arm that lay heavy by his side across the eternity of his chest, to collapse on his left elbow joint. He watched his fingers scrabble at the syringe that still remained there. He gasped and felt better; clearer. He was still lying in 'Store' position.

He was fully awake in the cryogenic chamber.

He was awake with a damn syringe in his arm!

Froggart's eyes rolled wildly.

The starship was dimly lit, silent and cruising.

With the sudden strength of full realisation he plucked the syringe from his arm and hit the release pad.

The cubicle tilted upright and sighed open. He collapsed into the broad aisle and on his hands and knees gazed up then down the silent rows of cryonic cubicles that remained serenely in 'Store'.

He ran crazily, like a drug-crazed convict in a penitentiary. It hadn't worked: the cryonic chemistry hadn't worked its wonders on the plasmic cocktail that made up his rare blood condition. With increasing speed and desperation he pounded his way forward towards the control room. Compression doors hissed their derision all the way.

When fifty metres from the raised deck of the control room he finally slowed to a walk. The awesome blackness of space with its myriad of unattainable stars, even at the starship's incredible speed, was only moving slightly. He fell to his knees.

He looked up at the atomically accurate time: 11:03  am July 20th 2711. He had been here just 2 hours of the 1000 year sentence. He screamed. Head down. Then slowly he began to laugh. A laugh that lasted a long time.

But no, he had a lot to learn about a long time.


Days/weeks/months later.
How long had he been crawling into the approaching blackness of space?
He had no idea.

When he came to himself it was with a hunger for blood that gave him clarity of mind.
In seconds he had run back to the foot of the solitary empty cubicle 10,093 and was staring at the base of 10,095 that now lay horizontal at waist height. He was held momentarily as if by a strange umbilicus and then he launched himself across the aisle so that he was staring down through the crystalline seal at the face of the woman who'd wished him Good Luck.

He flipped open her cover like the crimped top of the Coca-Cola bottles that still captured their silly nostalgic imaginations. No, he checked himself, they were all dead, all that had vanished about a century ago.

He stared down at her. She was beautiful. He looked steadily at her throat for the beat of that pulse. Nothing. Nothing but a cool impassivity that induced a crest of rage that lifted, curled, and fell upon her throat.

The seep of cold blood, still liquid at minus 10º centigrade shocked. His fangs streamed with mist from zeronic blood that vaporised in the ambient air. There was something reminiscent of blood in the warming smear that was on his lips but nothing enjoyable in the cold gullet full of cryonic wizardry he had imbibed. His strength returned and he knew he was nourished. He looked up and around at a larder that revolted him in its availability.

He roared his defiance. No one stirred. The starship hummed. With eyes that expressed the hatred that none but he could feel he drank her to the dregs. He shrank back into the anonymity of womb 10,093. It was the only other cubicle of which the cover was raised.

For months he lay torpid and then drank cold and deep murdering three or four. Then for weeks he would sip abstemiously from two or three in a rota. Sometimes he'd run in a frenzy, screaming up the long aisles of his despair terrifying no one but himself. For a decade he would slowly stalk, flitting furtively from aisle to aisle, towards predestined cubicles that never fled nor resisted, but waited coolly for his arrival.

He gorged for a week and stared for a century at the approaching stars. Nebulous as the uncountable nebulae,  he giggled uncontrollably for weeks on end; then sat still for a month.

Many times he tried to revive members of the crew. Not principally because their blood might taste better, but just for someone to talk to. He could have also measured the time by their aging. Novelty clocks. But all his attempts at reviving passengers before the predetermined time set by the cryonic program always resulted in instant death.

He held his breath as a planet passed for a lung bursting, brain darkening three minutes and forty three seconds. He screamed for hours; looked around; screamed; screamed; found himself parodying his scream at a higher pitch; practised it an octave lower; did it running; and then hopping; left-leg-high-pitch; right-leg-low pitch.

There was the hundred lost years. No mental record. Nothing.

There was the Great Census of 2809, when with clipboard and pencil he rapped officiously on each cubicle in turn waiting politely for a response. Then he would state in suitably practised impersonal rhythms, "As presiding officer of starship Hocanfa Kiss and with the authority vested in me as sole sentient being I duly record the number of your cubicle as ( pause for appropriate digits ) and that your status is: ( human; human deceased due to haemic debility; Angel; Aquatic; ) Thank you for your co-operation in this matter."

As a result of the Great Investigation of 3004, that followed closely on the heels Great Census of 2809, Jason Froggart discovered that he could not survive and reach planet Hocanfa if he continued to drink the blood only of humans.
He held a Great Debate on the Bridge of Starship Hocanfa Kiss, watched by a gallery of stars. He summoned the finest advocates to present the cases for :-
(a) abstinence from any further nourishment whatsoever;
(b) the drinking of humans and Angels only;
(c) the case for a mixed diet;
(d) the case for the parsimonious sipping of remaining humans.

There was a speech of astonishing brilliance which lasted for a year pursuing the intellectual intricacies of the case for abstinence; then, a devastating riposte of 14 seconds duration that threw all in doubt. There was pandemonium in the House as parties waved their ballot papers, divided, coalesced, and formed new alliances.
The vote eclipsed all expectations in its drama. It was pushed through by a difference of just one paper!

Jason Froggart ran dementedly along the third tier of the cubicles and found himself staring into the chiselled features of a 51 year old angel. He flipped the lid and stared with growing revulsion at the feathered wings folded crosswise at his breast. Their touch was as inevitable as the down that rose up to the neck where the pulse should be.
He bit deep. The novelty of feathers could not disguise the same cold seepage of cryonic fluid called blood. He sucked, then lapped his own cold tears of despair.

The first Aquatic of 3389 was a further horror recorded on the tangled heap spilled from the spool of Froggart's thousand year history on board the Hocanfa Kiss. Somewhere in that muddled mass of memory, delusion, fantasy and madness was this:
He was weeping uncontrollably. Salt tears coursed from his eyes as he looked at the young aquatic so far out of her depth. "Salinity for the salt," he murmured as his lips brushed her sweet gills. No pulse; no matter. He drank.

So this was death. Sitting in the Command Seat he saw time stream past in points of light while he compacted and compressed and grew minutely darker.
Two stars ran brightly alongside flanking the Starship. Two more joined them; then others in a glorious armada escorted her towards the outer atmosphere of Hocanfa.
He'd made it: Jason Froggart had survived the longest voyage of consciousness ever recorded.

Heaping the unwound spool of his identity back into his mind, Froggart looked at the Intergalactic chronometer.
Arrival minus twenty - years?
No, minutes.

Lying in cubicle 10,093 as he had done on and off for 1,000 years he trembled with anticipation, wildly energised as if awaiting birth. The whole ship buzzed and whirred as it came alive. Panels brightened and each cubicle purred and hummed as the temperature rose.

For the first time Froggart experienced the tremendous power and distant drone of the Ipson Drives as they went into retro mode. He was landing. Froggart felt himself tilted from the horizontal to the vertical as all the cubicles on all the aisles of the store in Hocanfa Kiss attained an upright position and eased open their covers.

Froggart stepped into the aisle. The "Good luck" girl fell heavily at his feet and all before him . . . above him . . . behind him . . . below him . . . the dead declared their judgment as they tumbled loudly from their cribs.

Like a false messiah, in a parody of his own second coming, he ran hurdling bodies that flopped across the aisle from the right and left or launched themselves loudly from the upper decks. The ship resounded to the thuds and bumps of bodies toppling from store to floor. And their eyes! He tried to avoid the damn judgemental eyes almost as much as the deadly weight of their tumbling carcases.

Froggart stopped running and stood watching; listening; as this community of the dead achieved an animation greater than Froggart had ever known them to possess. All these beings to sustain him; all the inexplicability of their transient flesh presented itself and moved him unbearably. Apart from the pallor of death they were perfect and without fault. He fled like a guilty thing with his arms wrapped about his head. He achieved the safety of the bridge and sealed the door behind him, sliding down into a bunched heap, clasping his hands to his ears to shut out the sounds of imagined pursuit.

But Froggart was no fool. His 1,000 year incarceration had taught him not only to fake a systems error to explain the imminent destruction of Hocanfa Kiss, but also how to explain that his cryogenic cubicle had shorted twenty minutes earlier, and therefore he would be the only one to make it to the escape pods before the tragic, but  badly engineered  Hocanfa Kiss, blew when entering the dense atmosphere of Hocanfa.

He stumbled wildly into the escape pod in which  he had calmly seated himself over 100 times before.

As the G-Force from the starship's escape pod brutalised his aquiline features; he inwardly smiled as he remembered the reason for choosing Hocanfa. The vast planet revolved slowly so that its days and nights were the equivalent of a terrestrial month. There would be ample time to adjust.

His pod was picked up by an Hocanfa Military Grapple-ship and placed with precision on the New South Wales runway. The ramp extended  and the artificial lighting revealed the glare of publicity he was to receive. The warm supporting arms of the welcoming party embraced him. They had monitored the flight for the last eight months and were convinced that all but one were dead due  to a failure of the cryonic support system. Jason was a heroic human bringing hope to his fellow creatures in a distant galaxy. "Long Live Froggart!" - "Jason the Argonaut!"

His personal attendant took him to rest. She was in her early twenties and warmly reminded him of the "Good luck" girl of hundreds of years ago.
He watched her move around the room . . . and then towards him. She leaned over him as he rested. His eyes moved from hers and watched the steady beat of the blood through her warm neck.

The slow stir of desire unexperienced for over a 1000 years moved within him. His eyes glistened once more . . .

She leaned over him, allowed his lips to kiss gently along her cheek and down the exhilarating warmth of her throat. There was leisure to pass lightly over her pulse. It had been so long that there was a disconcerting strangeness about this once familiar rhythm.

The moment had come.

What he could not have imagined was the triumph of cybernetics on Hocanfa. The twin pillars of pleasure and freedom of choice had been worshipped there too. Her pulse appeared to beat, but beneath the skin a wizardry of microcircuits had long since replaced the blood.

When his teeth penetrated the skin he received a damn electric shock!

His eyes dilated in horror as he tasted the liquid semi-conductive silicon that smeared his lips.

On Hocanfa, it  had been the ancient,  unchallenged convention to remove the circulatory system of infants shortly after birth, and replace all human organs with artificial, more durable, more efficient alternatives.

Another miracle, oh yes, it had been a thousand years since human blood had coursed through the veins of the citizens of Hocanfa.




Copyright Morien Wyn Jones 2008. All rights reserved.

A short story by Cyril Lewis Jones and Morien Wyn Jones first published in Tomb Magazine in 1996 under the title "Hocanfa Kiss".



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