Dream of Endless Night

By Jacob Pilkington

He blinks.

Psy-cannons exerted themselves above the barriers, screaming as they shot into the icy distance of the frozen world. With their backs to the shields, Jaymes Rissen crouched with the other soldiers, a laser symphony playing over their heads. A boy came around with cold coffee. Jaymes looked further up the line to the officers. From the scattered activity along the frontier, it seemed that the fifty-sixth wave—their wave—was preparing to attack the forces of Iroquay.

The tantric rock had been found in the Rigby System. It was an energy source of such power and abundance that the Rigby planets—Terran, Iroquay and Chiton—could fuel all the Earth outposts, and Earth itself indefinitely. The native Iroquay peoples would not give in peacefully, so war had been declared, as had been done on the desert planets Farhad and Nassan seventeen years before (though the entire planet of Nassan had exploded). This morning’s radio-cast declared to the tired soldiers that Chancellor Orange was to be reinstated and there was to be four more years of war in the Rigby Sector. The planets of that system would be colonised and stripped of their natural resources.

The soldiers wanted to believe they were anywhere except behind a great shield, waiting for their line to be called. They shared cigarettes, passed flasks of whiskey around; they even sang with the radio.

The officers rose. The lieutenant turned and called the fifty-sixth wave to attention. An electronic bugle blared as dirt sprayed overhead. The soldiers spat away their cigarettes, threw cups of cold coffee and fished in the junk for their lasers. At the lieutenant’s request they stood to attention, activated the psy-armour over their Kevlar, and brought their weapons to their shoulders.

The bugle sounded again.

The soldiers of the fifty-sixth wave charged before the shields in one desperate rush. The enemy’s laser cannons cut through the psy-shields, spilling the guts of screaming victims. A line of Iroquay rose from nowhere two hundred yards before the known fortifications, firing ominously. With the recognition that they had been ambushed, the fifty-sixth shot back as two lines of Iroquay rose in a powerful demonstration.

He closes his eyes.

In a flood of black blood, fused wounds and corpses, Jaymes Rissen lay, moaning. Two explicit laser wounds had cauterised with his armour, but his right leg had been castrated. In a sea of pain reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, a swamp of dead and maimed soldiers lay dead and dying. His eyes searched the sky for a victory banner, but nobody was left.


The walls were white plastic and lights streamed into his dark eyes, momentarily blinding him. The room Jaymes woke to was a giant ward filled with sixty beds. There were servo robots running errands and serving the patients and nurses on rotation. Above them on an observation platform, the doctors worked. Two patients were throwing a tennis ball from one end of the room to the other.

The MSS Superior was a lovely frigate housing hundreds of patients, doctors, nurses and ship’s staff. It was too large to engage a jump, and anyway its slow taxiing meant greater convalescence for its patients. During the last month of deep space, the frigate had made its way by backwater colonies, slowly towards Earth Systems.

‘Gosh, I feel awful. What is the time by Earth?’

A tired gaze looked up from its magazine.

‘It’s about 2:45pm—About time you woke up.’

A nurse approached.

‘Welcome,’ said the nurse. ‘We’re glad you made it. There were not many survivors of The Four-Year Massacre.’

‘No shit, you’re a survivor of the Four-Year Massacre?’ said the person in the next bed.

‘That’s what they are calling it,’ said the nurse.

A red light blinked over in the corridor and the nurse left them.

‘Your guess is as good as mine,’ said the person.

‘Do you mind me asking whether you are a man or a woman?’ asked Jaymes.

‘Pig!’ said the person.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Jaymes.

A pause.

‘So, what do I call you?’

‘Just Skids,’ they said. ‘Or Lieutenant Skids, if you like.’

‘What did you do to get in here?’

‘Crane malfunctioned. Lurched while we were unloading some tanks and destroyed the cockpit. I didn’t even see battle,’ Skids said, a little embarrassed.

Jaymes was weaned off the painkillers. The pain meant that he was alive. He struck up a friendship with Skids and they got used to reminiscing about Earth.

‘Home?’ said Jaymes. ‘It might sound like a cliché that I ran off and joined the military, but that is the truth. My brother got drafted and died over on Chiton during the Early Wars. I couldn’t take it. I ran away.’

‘And you joined up to go where he died?’ asked Skids.

A nurse had sidled her way to the empty bed and began changing the bedsheets.

‘Do I get another bunkmate?’ Jaymes asked.

‘I’m not supposed to tell you this,’ said the nurse, ‘but the patient they’re bringing over from maximum security is crazy. They’ve had him there on sedatives for a week. They think that moving him into population will help his case.’

Tucks into the blanket.

The nurse wheeled him in on a wheelchair. A doctor trailed behind them. As Jaymes watched him enter, he knew the man was relishing the attention. The male nurses untied him and lifted him from the chair to his cot. The doctor administered a shot and the man melted into the bed.

‘I’m not crazy,’ he said to Jaymes.

He lay back enjoying the pharmaceutical high.

‘Then what happened?’ asked Jaymes, drawn in by curiosity.

‘What is it about the stars that possess us? We crusade for land, for energy, for riches. We strive to dominate foreign lands and control the Indigenous. Man has the view that he has a right to take control. But out in the stars there is no truth, no control. All man will find is a dream within a dream.’


I worked the big cranes for the city builders, those ones you see working on the high rises. We started touring around Earth Systems for the work—you know, Mars, Saturn. But my wife was unhappy with the moves.

I saw the advertisements for the robots out in deep space: fifteen years of work, including travel, my family on the payroll while I was off-galaxy. I was nearly thirty years old and bored of life at home. We decided I’d take the work.

It takes three years to go deep-space to Scyth and you are in hibernation some of the way. The computer system controls your learning—geology, mechanics, planetary habitat—tells you everything you need to know to work the diamond mines. There were a few short stops at space stations like intergalactic shopping malls, filled with trans-universal life. As you get out into deep space, you become fully aware of aliens and androids. There are pressure changes in places and you have to wear an android suit. I remember standing on a railing, on Platearian Prime, watching those green and red planets eclipse and the alien traffic being diverted inside the space port.

I arrived on Scyth with a whole new bank of knowledge. The planet was a dream of vast plains with oasis of diamond mines in the populating cliffs. (They have just now found deposits of a new energy source and are going to strip the soil soon.) We miners stayed in town, centred in caravans, and drove the robot cranes by light, blasting and digging, transporting loads of diamonds in these giant android cranes.

Against my better judgement I started an affair with one of the workers. Marique was quite butch and other than the gash between her legs, looked just like one of the guys. For the last five years of my stay we shacked-up, enjoying it until we both left Scyth.

I spent nine years on Scyth. I stayed away from drink; I stayed away from scuffles; I stayed away from trouble. Nine years I spent with guys and girls that became more important to me than my own family. When twelve years had passed since I left home, I was sorry to see it all go away, sorry to break up with my girl and sad to leave the mine.

We were organised in ships of five. I was not on her ship. At the end of our orbit with Scyth, I said bye to the doll I knew better than my wife. As the starship left orbit, we had a sumptuous breakfast of Earth-food and beer. We were congratulated, before settling down into the flight-docks, to be frozen for the ride home.

Blinking, restless, too warm.

I hit the door to my dock and ran frantically to where I found the open porthole in the life pod. We had separated from the main ship. I ran to the other docks, helping my friends. Through the port hole we glimpsed the burning starship fall like Icarus. It had taken a direct assault from a wave of asteroids. We had reached our mark in the Earth-trade systems. I looked out… and saw nothing.

There were no planets, no moons, or star freighters. Just a cemetery of cold rock and hot fuselage. Man had finally done it. In his hubris he had destroyed not only his own galaxy, but everything beyond the outlying systems of dead space. This was a funeral.

After the recognition of our state, a depression settled in. We were eons away from the nearest hope. There were enough rations for five of us to last one month. We took our positions like greedy vultures. The great and lonely abyss opened and devoured us into a belly of stars.          

Days and weeks blotted in space. A veil of night covered our confusion. We were like card players guarding our hands. Each interaction could cause a miniature fall and we might dive in with wild eyes and keen teeth.

For weeks we lived separately, guarding our food stashes, sleeping only when we had to. In my brother’s eyes I witnessed the devastation of man and the desperation of one. And I thought but one hour, one day at a time.

We were like wild dogs, waiting for the opportunity to strike. A bell had gonged in our heads. Blind terror took over and the immediate threat of death stood as a weighty reminder. Drifting through space aimlessly, outside the life pod was only dream. I’m sorry to admit my thoughts were of sending myself out into the hatch and flying out in the cold, instead of slow starvation.

One month later, the supplies dwindled. I had but three food packets. I knew that some of the others had less. We plunged through space, that dream of death, that endless night. Just as I felt the life pod’s third engine stall, I looked up to see Davie grab an iron and attack Sedrick, for he had more food.

Hari and I watched, mirthful in our starved brains. I wasn’t sure which side to fight on, but I readied the surgical laser that I had found. Just as Sedrick had Davie in a choke hold, a blue light began to blink in the hold. I ran to the window and caught a glimpse of the hulking freighter heading towards us.

It was a great triangle. Along the foundation were giant bubbled compartments that reminded us of a beehive and sitting atop was a pylon that served as a communication network.

The malfunctioning radar on the life pod read ‘Unlisted’. I got the impression that this was a ghost ship, crossing the edges of the known and unknown galaxies. Davie and Sedrick had stopped fighting. We were cheering. But as I looked into Hari’s eyes, I saw a universe of dread. We pushed closer and a ramp released from the base.

‘We are saved,’ said Sedrick. ‘Of all the chances and this ship shows up.’

And Davie, who one minute ago was fighting with him, said, ‘We’d be silly not to go …’

‘This is a ship of the damned,’ said Hari. ‘I know this legend. This is a plague ship.’

The gate closed and the life pod rode the ramp into an empty hanger. It was a place inhabited only by ghosts of pilots and an invisible crew that had once livened its surroundings. It felt like I was returning home.

A servo droid hurried to meet us.

Over the speaker an attractive voice called out of the ship, a woman’s voice, both calm and sublime.

‘Greetings, travellers, please leave your ship at the dock and follow the servo to the mess hall.’

Davie, Sedrick, and even Hari and I curiously followed the android. We passed through the corridor, a strange sheen of sepia coloured the walls, gradually turning a greenish tinge. Our boots were sticky on the corrugated metal floor. A mysterious mucus stained the doorway. The door to the mess-hall opened like a great maw. Our stomachs bade us enter.

The sweet food tasted much like ice cream. We ate bowl after bowl at the central table. Hari found a juice dispenser and we partook of a sweet nectar unknown to us but resembling peach juice.

When the sentries came for us, they had the faces of men. Their skin was waxen, their bodies black plastic, with central boards connecting to their torsos. Eyes shone like red holes through the black visors. They walked with a staccato beat.

The lead figure opened its mouth, stepping forward, emitting a robot computer virus that at once assailed our ears.

Hari looked up from his bowl, emitting an animal groan. He got to his feet and leapt from the bench, past the guards, screaming as he passed the doors, ‘I’ll see you all in hell!’

One sentry left on the coattails of Hari. The lead sentry raised his electronic spear and buried it into the floor. Sedrick fell to his knees, clutching his eyes. Davie stood up.

‘You can’t mean it. This is insane. We are your guests!’

Two guards rushed forward, grabbing Davie and dragging him screaming out of the room.

The last sentry raised the spear and spoke his mechanical jibe.

Voices, as if beyond the bedroom.

Through the sweaty corridors with blowing fans and green and sepia muck on the walls, the sentry guided us. The stale sweat tinged the air and tentacles splayed over the corrugated floor. Torsos of spent mechanical androids were littered along cluttered corridors. We passed down into livid surroundings, where faces attached to walls opened their eyes and whispered warnings in alien dialects.

Then from a corridor to our left arose great screaming and the sound of a shot as Hari ran before us. The sentry dropped to one knee and raised the spear. However, Davie appeared from behind. The shot fired from his spear and hit the sentry, a gaping wound in its face. It fell back over itself.

‘Come on, we’ve got to get out of here!’ yelled Davie. ‘Hari was right. Have you seen those things? They’re dead bodies.’

‘But wait,’ I said. ‘We’re in a giant maze. How will we know where to go?’

‘Come on,’ said Davie.

Just then, Sedrick fell to his knees vomiting blood. He balked at the change with a face that looked like a child. The initial veins of the mutation worked within his face. I could see his body being corrupted. Great perversions of angles and limbs never seen before exhibited themselves. We couldn’t risk contracting the virus. The only solution was to leave him. We ran.

All I could think of was we were in the heart of a dragon. Rooms replaced rooms, like the shifting of a puzzle. Doors assumed walls, and corridors grew where surfaces had been. Something slithered its way down the corridor. The air grew tepid and mutations filled the halls. It seemed like the ship was breathing.

Too much light.

Davie stepped through the room and fell. I stepped, stumbling too. The room was a mash of metal gates and slithering gestations. Tubes littered the floor like so many intestines. Grasping hands along the walls were circumvented by a mechanical sickness. From a growth in the corner, a figure lowered on dainty spider arms, as if part of the wall. The glassy eyes of the matriarch curiously regarded me. She was an inamorata, the one lover I would never recover from.

‘I will see you now,’ the ship’s voice said.

We were all dumbfounded, standing as the woman called to us:

‘Don’t be hysterical. Isn’t it something of a dream? Isn’t it everything that you hoped for?’

‘Marique?’ I gasped.

Her half-desiccated body was discarded in the corner.

‘We came upon them just three days ago,’ said the woman.

Davie chimed in: ‘By what right—’

She but raised a finger and it shot into a point that slashed through Davies’s heart.

‘Don’t interrupt me,’ she said.

‘I am the one you call for, the one you dream about. I am the great paramour.’ She opened her legs and a mouth opened.

‘I am come!’ it screamed.

‘Can’t you see this is everything you ever wanted?’

‘But you are not human!’ I stammered.

‘True,’ she said. ‘I am part arachnid. I never had a mother to fend for me. My sisters and I ate her after birth. But I have seen you humans; I have seen so many races. And of all of them yours is the most ridiculous.

‘Your male programming! Born with the need to bed your mothers. And you men live only to yoke your women, the true founders of your race. You must control them, you must own them, you must bed everyone you can.

‘And everything else—your art, your culture is trash! I will show you what it means to be devoted!’

The tongue lashed from between her legs metres to Davie’s neck and pulled him to be devoured by her encroaching form. He was sucked in by a giant snake.

And I ran, turned and left the room while she devoured my friend. I ran the way my intuition told me, only to find Hari. We fell into each other, then the floor.

‘Why are you running?’ asked Hari. ‘This is everything we ever asked for. This is more. Don’t you see she’s in love with you? She doesn’t want to devour you like the others. She wants to have your children!’

‘Hari, we’ve got to get out of here. She’s crazy.’

‘Listen,’ said Hari, ‘she’s not the villain. Man is the villain.’

Hari rose above me mechanically. I cowered before his preternatural strength. As I was dimmed and disoriented by the blow, I could not recognise anything of the man I once knew. His eyes blazed red, dragging me back into the horror.


‘I charged through light, past the debris and broken planets. Flying solo, led only by intuition, I fell into the abyss—and found a voice, a radio message telling of a thermonuclear explosion at a galactical level. I followed the radio to your frigate, and you took me in.’

Turning over.

‘This is bullshit,’ said Skids. ‘You’ve had a long drift back from Scyth and your mind played tricks on you. Nah,’ they said, ‘he’s in psychosis. They got his air wrong. Didn’t the nurse tell you, he’s crazy!’

‘Well crazy this!’ shouted Ivan and stood up on his cot. His gown ripped away at his stomach. Ivan stood naked before all.

‘Fucking pervert,’ said Skids.

As Ivan’s stomach was denuded, a trenchant mien emerged from the tissue then pushed through the flesh. It thrust him apart, leaving Ivan open like the beginning of new mutation. Only his face remained at the top of the monstrosity.

‘I have done everything you asked,’ cried Ivan to the emergence of his queen. ‘I have brought you to the humans.’

‘And you will have your reward,’ said the face. ‘From nothing, from oblivion, from the putrid rim of your disgusting race, have I emerged, a new Hive Queen to rule over your decay!’

The thing that was Ivan was pulled back and shed, like excess flesh. A new and regal form emerged from the discarded person. The Hive Queen stood exultant before a cabin of scared invalids. Rope-like veins emerged from her wrists, embedding themselves into the stomachs of nearby patients. Sucking noises choked through the veins like a hungry motor. 

‘I am ready for you, my dears, ready to take you into my warm embrace. Aren’t I everything you ever wanted?’

Jaymes had made it to the door when a vein grabbed him by the ankle. He turned to the empowering harridan and screamed:

‘Oh, mother, please help me!’

He wakes.



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