By Theo Kogod
I will save my daughter.
That’s the only thought that keeps me sane. It’s a dark determination—a grim subspecies of hope—that has held me together this long, pursuing our quarry from Mars toward the strangest celestial object this side of Pluto.
I scarcely breathe as I navigate The Interloper through the asteroid belt toward the giant corpse beyond: the Godlich. A colossal single cell larger than most moons. Occasionally I glimpse city-sized organelles or tendrils the length of asteroids glowing with a phantom light—a bioluminescence that cannot die out here in the empty vacuum of space. I adjust the controls, speeding toward it. For my daughter. For Hye-su.
Out past Neptune in the scattered disc’s half-light, the Godlich shines brighter than the sun’s distant twinkling. It was one of the last gates to be found, and it’s impossible not to remember the strange tales associated with this thing that formed and grew and died in the black of space before the earth was even formed.
This thing is bigger even than the fear gnawing my heart. If it were a planet or asteroid, it would be less eerie, but its stretching cilia distort perception, reaching in all directions and exerting irregular gravitational pressures that strain our ship’s hull.
“So that’s it,” says Ji-young, her Earth-accented words flattened by grief. “The Godlich.” I glimpse her gaunt veteran’s physique from the corner of my eye. Normally, I’d have to work to keep my eyes off her. I love her for her all her charms, conventional and un-. But right now, I love her because she’s all I have left.
No. We still have a daughter. Hye-su may be kidnapped, trapped in the bowels of a ship, but she’s alive out there. The cultists may have taken her, but every reading on my screen tells me that their numbers remain the same: all who took off from Mars are still alive.
Or were, before they ventured beyond the Godlich.
“I hate that name,” I say, steering between two asteroids. The frigate’s lights strobe white across the rocky scabs into the void.
“I hate everything about this,” Ji-young says. She gestures to one of the screens, pointing to the trail of the ship we’ve followed. It’s a Shoggoth vessel: not metal and plastifilaments like ours, but a porous living thing, covered in lumpy growths and bulbous tendrils. It eats holes in the Higgs field for fuel—fresh wounds in the universal fabric that leave a trail for our scanners to follow.
We don’t talk. I try not to think…Not to think about what we found in the ruin of our home back at the Martian shipyards:
All three of our husbands—blood streaks bathing our walls like dying sunlight, their shredded corpses painting our apartment.
The coppery stench and the bright arterial red of their bodies and—
I stop myself. I’ll endure anything to save Hye-su, but if I let the fresh trauma overwhelm me, we’ll be dashed against the comet-side. I’m no good to her dead.
I empty my mind, focusing on the void of space as I clear the last of the asteroids.
Ahead of us, I can see the colossal single-celled corpse glowing faintly, the hydrae of its cilia twisting with the god-germ’s slow rotation around its megalithic nucleus. There is something awe-striking about it, ripe with all we do not know of the universe. My head throbs with a dull euphoria that makes even thoughts of cultists and murdered husbands seem almost small by comparison.
Then I feel Ji-young’s hand on mine, and I come out of it. “Ready for this?” I ask.
She nods. I can only imagine what is going on in her head. We’ve both seen the devastation that religious fanatics inflict in their frenzy, driven mad by the extremes of too little light and gravity in the far reaches of space (or too much even further out), seen the hollow-eyed stares of people chanting prayers with blood on their teeth, but Ji-…she fought in the religious wars on Earth, and I know she’s haunted by memories I can’t even fathom. She holds herself together through sheer willpower.
I lean in and kiss her, needing to feel the solid warmth of her flesh to remember that we are real, whole, and alive—that our family can still be saved. The kiss breaks. I return to the task at hand, my focus renewed for what comes next. Ji-’s already turned her head away, looking back out at the promethean light ahead of us.
My hand moves toward the clutch. Then my veins tighten as the Godlich’s gravity pulls us closer. I accelerate. I’ve disabled the Krasnikov drive and switched to regular thrust drives. Even the slightest chronaspatial disturbance could ruin everything. Still, we hurtle toward it, surging into the gravity well with incredible speed.
We pass the wrecks of crews who failed this maneuver. They’re still trapped inside the Cell, still struggling in the ectoplasmic organelles years after they’ve died. Our comms buzz with the fearful transmissions of others who disappeared behind the vanishing point, their garbled staticky distress-calls forever unanswered. Those same time-space distortions could fling us to distant galaxies or trigger miscarriages in the wombs of our grandmothers thirty years passed.
But the screen shows our quarry’s path entering the Godlich, and I’ll follow them to the ends of space.
We rocket toward the nucleus, engines flinging us toward that black, city-sized pit. Outside the window, our shields flicker in the neon glow.
I brace, watching the dark exotic matter of the core swell as it fills my field of vision. And then a nauseous pulse surges through me as the ship creaks from compression and we crash into the cell’s outer wall—and through to the other side.
I know people scoff at the rumors and superstitions, exaggerating them into conspiracies that haunt the chatwaves, but I can confirm this much: traveling beyond the Godlich is a unique form of hell.
I’ve only gated twice before, taking the Jotunheim Gate on Earth that was discovered underground at Thingvellir and used to courier goods to the Proxima Centauri colonies on the gate’s far side. Strange as that gate is—and it is strange, a ring of ever-burning bones between the continental plates deep below the site where Vikings hailed their gods—I have heard that all the terran gates are the same. They distort gravity and compress the eyes and stomach. But then you’re through.
The Godlich is much worse—not least because it takes so much longer.
Just before we plunge into the nucleus, the gravity well compresses light and time around us. An acute burning courses through my circulatory system as my veins pressurize. The liquids in my brain and eyes start solidifying from the compression. I scream, as in that moment, the Godlich’s chromatin and giant nucleolus twist into the disjointed shapes of intersecting lines, burning yellow glyphs into my vision.
I recognize the sigil as the one scrawled in my husbands’ blood. My throat tightens, compressing my wails into the subdimensional crunch of folded space.
Then I’m out the other side, and the familiar dizziness and nausea set in, the phantom sigil still burning behind my eyes. I double over, retching, and hear poor Ji-young doing the same beside me.
She recovers first, her hands pulling back my already-soiled hair as I heave, tasting half-digested chunks of nutrient paste.
The controls are bathed in blue light. The tracker screen shows our quarry ahead. Fighting nausea, I resume steering.
Through the ship’s front window, we can see Ymar, a pale blue planet with swirling clouds that are blacker even than the surrounding void. The moon-sized station Alaqsa orbits the planet, reflecting the bright blue lights of Algol A and B—twin stars circling each other and holding the planet in a strange orbit between their outer axes.
Our nav-computers translate the stars’ names from the Arabic, rendering them “Demon-A” and “Demon-B.” Beyond the lich of god and in the light of twin demons, I press on. I try not to contemplate old superstitions about this sector, but can’t shrug them off. Somewhere beyond their glare is Algol-C, completing the unholy trinity.
I no longer need tracking screens. Through the window, I watch helplessly as their amorphous ship descends toward the Alaqsa docking bay and disappears.
We have maybe a minute to land, or else risk losing them in the station. I speed toward the docking bay, signaling our arrival. “Hold on, sweetie. I’m coming,” I say, knuckles white on the clutch.
We dock, and a thin-faced androgynous station guard greets us, hand on their pistol. Surgical scars form coronas around their prosthetic eyes, and a faint red glow pulses through their pupilless white orbs. While Ocular Date Information Nodes (or ODINs) have become increasingly common among security personnel, this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone who willfully traded both eyes for the implants.
“Identify yourselves,” they say.
“What’s your reason for visiting Alaqsa Station?”
“We’re pursuing a ship, a Shoggoth Harrier-class cruiser that arrived shortly before us.” I fight to remain calm, to explain our situation but not reveal too much.
The guard is silent, and I watch their fingers twitch as they review whatever relevant data their ocular implants display.
“It says you’re both part of a polyfidelous pentouple. Your other partners—”
The words sting me to silence—an unspoken accusation, probing at our loss.
“Were murdered,” says Ji-young, her words like steel. “We’re chasing the killers.” She twitches, a nervous tic that tells me she wishes she hadn’t left her guns on the ship.
“I’m sorry, ladies, I—” the guard says, then stares at me in a way that suggests their ocular displays just scanned my karyotypes, making them worry that they’d misgendered me.
“Just help us,” I say.
“Help us find the monsters who did this,” Ji-young says, her fists clenched, the knuckles white as supernovas.
“I’d need something to go on. A name?” the guard prods.
“We don’t have one. He purged his records from our systems. But there’s a bloody mark carved into his hands, a-and he’s, uhhh, transporting—” I can’t hold back the vomit anymore, part residual gate sickness, part memory. Disembodied skulls and ribs amidst the crimson-stained ruins of–
the strange glyphs writ in blood across our apartment walls, drying slashes over the wallpaper—
“He stole our child,” Ji-young finishes.
“Your…daughter. Hye-su, aged five?” the guard asks, but it’s a formality. They can see the data.
I nod anyway. Ji-young squeezes my hand and asks what I can’t bear to.
“We need to know… why would someone bring her here?”
The guard frowns. “Any number of reasons. I can put a dispatch through and start looking into it.”
“Bullshit! The ship docked just before us. This is time-critical, so tell me what you know! Is it trafficking? Organ markets? What?” Ji-young reaches for the gun that isn’t at her hip, fingers closing on empty air. The guard notices.
“We just want to find our daughter,” I say. “Find her, and stop the ones who did this to our family.”
“Let me contact my supervisor.”
They turn away and make a call on their wrist-comm. I can’t make out the words; a built-in sonic scrambler prevents eavesdropping, turning their words into a dull hum.
The guard turns back to us. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you to our captain’s office.”
I swallow and nod.
“Can I get my bag first?” Ji-young asks. I know she’s thinking about the pistol she left aboardship.
“As you said, time’s short. Now please, come this way.”
The guard leads us across the docking platform past rows of ships to a set of doors in the side wall of the docking bay. We pass the steely-hulled human vessels from Earth, Mars, and the colonies; but I see more than one ship of Shoggoth design, their hulls just skins of protoplasm with ridged fins that sag to the floor.
We enter a room with a table and three chairs. “The captain will be here shortly.”
The door closes behind us with an ominous thud…
…Which is when I notice that each of the chairs is stamped with a familiar bright yellow sigil.
“Ji-,” I manage, suddenly dizzy.
“I see it,” she says. I know she’s scared and tired and probably just as sick as I am, but she holds me up, her eyes scanning the room for something she can use as a weapon.
Then she tries the door.
From her face, I know already what she’s going to say.
Dark thoughts fill me as we wait, worsened by the dull staticky buzz that moans from the ceiling like the sonics from the guard’s wrist-comm.
I think of Hye-su, her bright smile and her prankster’s laugh, her love of drawing and swimming and the way she sings to herself in the mornings as she gets dressed.
She drew me a picture at daycare, just days before she was taken, of Ji- and me riding the ice carousel at the park near the duck pond.
We’d all first decided to have a child six years ago. Adoption, natural birth, five-way gene-stitch—we debated night after night in our tiny apartment, as Ji-young, Josh, and Abe cooked together and Ahmed bent over his writing tablet, conjuring dreams and impossibilities in his stories to enrich the world into which our child would come.
In the end, Ji-young decided to carry the child. I watched her through her pregnancy, a hardened veteran who, in the days waiting for motherhood to begin, threatened to eviscerate strangers with her teeth if her dietary demands weren’t met.
After Hye-su was born, I held her to my chest as she wailed, telling her over and over that it was okay, that her mommies and daddies loved her and would make everything all right. As I handed her over to her fathers, she took hold of my thumb, and I repeated my promise.
Now, locked in this room where I physically ache to hold my little girl, to stretch out a hand to comfort her, my daughter is beyond my reach.
“This is worse than the wait before battle,” Ji-young says, pacing. Her tone is clipped, her movements jerky, but at least she’s holding together. How she got through the Data Wars without her body getting covered in blast-scars, I’ll never know, but her psyche wasn’t so lucky. She’s taking this even harder than I am. And as usual, I’m useless at helping her.
Abe and Ahmed and Josh, sweet Josh with his construction projects and curly hair, they comforted her while I was away flying cargo crews back and forth between Mars and Enceladus Station, returning with harsh news of the other worlds where Shoggoths ate the dead and Valkyries picked through the blasted warzones. I was never any good at staying put, always finding excuses to travel for my job. But we’d made our family work.
Being stuck here now, I feel hopeless, helpless. I don’t know how to save the daughter I was never there for. But I’ll do whatever it takes to get her back. And Ji- will help me.
There’s a pneumatic hiss as the door slides open. A man enters, hard and slender as a war automaton, his eyes like Chthonian planets, huge and yet somehow naked-looking, stripped bare by what they’ve seen. Scales flake about his arms and lips, probably the result of some poorly-managed dermal graft. His uniform bears signs of rank and he’s got several dated-looking weapons on his belt.
“So, you’re our wayward mothers,” he says, attempting a smile. “Captain Aaron English, at your service.”
“Where’s our daughter? And why’d you lock us in?”
The captain attempts another joyless, scaly half-smile. I suppress a shudder, revolted.
“I apologize for the…precautions. We couldn’t have you wandering around until you’d been vetted, and your personal…‘concerns’ fall to me.”
“By now, you must know which ship we followed. Tell us anything you can,” says Ji-young, forcing calm into her voice.
“We do. It’s just the latest of many Shoggoth ships to berth here, part of some mass religious pilgrimage fueled by all the refugees from Earth.”
“So, you have them?” Ji- asks.
“No. The crew vanished shortly after your arrival. I fear a number of my officers were among them, and have misused our facilities.” He gestures to the yellow-painted glyphs on the chairs. “From what we can tell, they’re part of the Church of Starry Wisdom, an old order with ties to the nineteenth-century hysteria of occult psychobabble that ravaged the Anglo world. They’re fanatics! Deadly, unreasoning, and spreading like a plague. They’ve put out lights all over the station to commit ritualized killings, striking in the dark.”
“I’ve encountered them before,” I say, remembering the Martian chapter that had wreaked such havoc until two of its chaplains were ejected into space for committing crimes too taboo to describe in the official reports.
“Then you know what we’re dealing with,” Captain English says. I don’t answer. “We will handle this. In the meantime, I suggest you see yourselves to your ship. The station is… unable to accommodate you at this time.”
Why’s he getting rid of us? Then with a shock, I realize: to him, Hye-su’s a lost cause.
“We’re not going anywhere without our daughter!” I shout.
The lights flicker. I watch fear crinkle the captain’s scales. Then blackness, pure and all-consuming.
I can’t feel the electric buzz that should be powering the station. Thoughts of oxygen, life support, and computer system failures flash across my mind, and with them comes a renewed panic for my daughter’s safety. A chair scrapes the floor. Someone bangs the table. I grip my seat, afraid to move.
Then the lights zap back on, static crackles overhead, and I register the return of the ceiling’s murmur, so subtle I’d forgotten it. I soon forget it again, as the captain looks genuinely panicked for the first time.
“Wait here,” he says, drawing a pistol from his holster.
“No.” I start to follow him when the lights flicker again. More static. The overhead humming continues, now overlaid by an inhuman moaning chant, the words nothing but an eerie mix of metallic scrapes, hisses, and wet meaty slurps through the tinny speakers.
I shiver. Ji-young grabs my arm, pushing ahead.
The docking bay is in chaos as we cross it. Several of the Shoggoth ships have melted, their bubbling protoplasm spilling across the floor as twisted protrusions sporadically extend from them like grasping hands and chattering mouths, only to collapse again into the mush. Several black-robed figures stand upon the only ship that hasn’t discombobulated. Guards surround the ship, but it too is changing, writhing tails and stingers sprouting from its sides even as it rises toward the ceiling like some sick, cyclopean tower.
One of the figures atop the ship throws off his robe, and I recognize him instantly.
It’s the monster who stole my daughter.
Who killed my husbands.
Who stole my life.
“Ji-, that’s him!” I shout, like she doesn’t already know. “That’s him!” I repeat, louder this time for the guards to hear.
The man is slender, pale, and hairless, his body scarified with sharp-angled glyphs. His hands—the hands stained with my family’s blood—rise into the air, and I can see the newest sigils sliced red and raw into his forearm.
“Behold the return of the Faceless God, behold the Face Eater, Father of Bats, who comes now to destroy the light-dwellers!” he cries, arms aloft.
“Behold the Crawling Chaos, behold the scion!” chant his cohorts.
“Scion of the Black Pharaoh, awaken, awaken unto yourself!”
“Praise to Nyarlathotep!” the chorus answers.
“Praise, praise, and raise the scion!” He lifts his hands once more, and I watch as he holds my daughter over his head, reveling in the ritualized horror of his cruelty. Her dark hair is in mats. I can see bruises around her wrists and mouth, dark clots under her eyes and across her back and thighs. My daughter has become an open wound.
My scream is inhuman, primeval. I’m scrabbling forward, half-running and half-floundering in a mad rush toward Hye-su. She’s all that matters. I will break through to her.
I surge past the guards, only vaguely aware that they’ve fallen to their knees, clutching their skulls.
My hands slam into the ship’s scabrous hull between two writhing appendages. I climb, scrabbling with fingernails and knees and chin pressing into the bubbling folds. They’re cold and stink of vacuum and halitosis. My handholds recede as a fin grows from the space between my arms, pushing me back. I adjust my grip, refusing to be stopped. Above me, the chanting rises.
I’m almost at the top and can see my daughter above the worshippers’ robes. My arm extends, reaching for ankles to grasp, yank, claw.
I fear they’ll stomp on my hand, but they don’t. They don’t notice me at all.
I seize hold of an ankle when something slams into my side, and suddenly I’m flying backward through the air, staring at the crab-clawed tentacle that just grew from the hull and struck me. Its pincers close around the cultist I pulled down with me, scissoring his neck in a spiked vice meant for me. I watch aghast, and then my skull hits the floor.
The world’s spinning.
My head screams with a concussion worse than any injury I’ve had in years. But the physical hurt means nothing: they still have Hye-su!
“Nyarlathotep! Ii’ellyiel’lkkhingra Nyarlathotep!” chant the cultists.
I struggle to my feet.
There’s a roar, short and sharp, and one of the cultists falls. Several more blasts. The prayers falter, cut off by the report of Ji-young’s pistol. Her steady, two-handed grip makes every round count as she stalks toward their ship. The moment she has a clear shot at their ringleader—the monster holding our daughter—she doesn’t hesitate. The man drops.
Hye-su falls from his now-limp arms.
I watch them both descend—the cultist tumbling backward, my daughter plummeting between us.
I sprint toward her, my head spinning as I desperately stretch my arms before me.
I don’t catch her, but I break her fall. She lands on my head and neck, and I slam down against the ship.
But now the guards are standing again, wiping blood from their ears and rushing towards the cultists. And I have Hye-su. My daughter is pressed against me and nothing else matters. She is my everything. I hold her close to me to feel her realness, her warmth, and I kiss her again and again, saying her name. She sobs into my chest.
“Mommy,” she cries. “Mommy.” My heart breaks.
“It’s okay, honey. I’m here. It’s going to be okay,” I tell her, my tears joining hers.
Ji-young’s arms press close, holding us, joining us. Our family is together at last, making a whole of our broken parts. And as I sob, I feel like we’ve made it.
But it’s never that simple.
Ji-young and I sit in the captain’s office an hour later as he enters, looking even more exhausted than before.
“The med crew’s just about done checking on your girl. So, do you want the good or bad parts first?”
“The good,” I say, and at the same moment Ji- says, “The truth.”
“…the truth,” I echo her.
“Your daughter…sustained serious trauma. These cultists, they’re obsessed with using taboos to ritually break the rational mind. It’s supposed to allow their captive’s unconscious psyche to channel aspects of their gods. Your daughter is lucky to be alive at all, and she will recover from her physical injuries…But psychologically—you must understand this— she may never be as you knew her.”
“What did they do?” I ask.
He hesitates. Ji-young raises a hand to halt him before he speaks. She asks instead, “What can we do?”
“Be supportive. Hold her. Love her.”
It’s not a real answer, but I know it may be the only one.
“If they wanted to kill her, they would have. So why didn’t they?” I don’t really want to know. I want to leave, to see Hye-su, but if I have to wait here like this, I should at least try to understand.
Captain English sighs. “Killing her would have been…merciful. But she wasn’t a sacrifice. When we did X-rays, we found etchings. On her bones. These people, they were trying to change your daughter.”
I force myself to meet his gaze, while inwardly I imagine the cultists carving my daughter’s skeleton as she screams. Involuntarily, I clutch my sides.
“What? Why?!” Ji-young snaps.
“They were trying to turn her into some sort of avatar or gateway for one of their gods. Nyarlathotep.”
My hands rise to my mouth.
I don’t know much about these religious sects, but I’ve seen the images that haunt the chatwaves, old pictographs and strange statues of a light-eating shadow with only the vaguest human aspect.
He continues. “The cult has cells all over the station. Seems the landing pad was chosen for its view of space, and for the acoustics. You heard the staticky hum on the speakers. Turns out the cultists were bombarding us for months with an infrasonic signal that undercut our neuropathways, triggering something when mixed with their chants. Paralyzed us. Hurt like hell. But if they did this to us…”
He looks away.
I don’t care about infrasonics or the station’s crews. All that matters is Hye-su. Hye-su and her mothers, together again. A family, cracked but whole. I need to know about my daughter.
The captain sees my concern. “I can’t offer much more. But I can tell you I will personally lead the hunt to take down every single cultist on this station and jettison them into the Demon Star. Now, are you ready to see your daughter?”
He leads us to in the med bay where Hye-su waits. She’s wearing a gown and lying unconscious in a cot behind the plate glass of her room, like a corpse on display.
I touch the glass, reaching for her. “You locked her up?”
“It’s temporary,” the captain says. “We don’t know what she’ll be like when she wakes.”
“We belong with her,” says Ji-, with a quiet control I can’t manage. The captain relents, finally allowing us inside. We each hold one of our baby girl’s hands. My poor child… At least she’s safe now.
For a moment I can almost believe it could be like before, when she’d wake from a nap and we’d go feed the ducks. Her eyelids flicker.
Her pleading eyes when she begs for sweets
We lie in the one cot, the three of us stacked sidewise, Ji-young pressed against the wall and me clinging to the edge as we hold Hye-su, warm and safe between us.
I wake to the ceiling speakers crackling in absolute darkness, blinding me for the second time since my arrival.
I reach out instinctively to get my bearings. Ji-young is cold in the bed beside me. I feel a wet slick against the sheets.
And worse, where our daughter lay between us—so recently returned—is an empty space.
“Hye-su!” I shout, echoing through the dark.
I fumble my way to the consoles, flipping the useless light switch.
I feel along the wall when Ji-young groans behind me. She holds a flashlight, a pale glowing bar that stings my eyes as they adjust. Her face, pallid, is gashed temple to cheek and the sheets are soaked red.
“Don’t go,” she says.
“But Hye-su…she’s missing!” I hear my voice crack with panic. “We had her! How could this happen?”
“Hye-su…” She touches the wound.
“We have to help her.”
It must have been the cultists. Who else would kill the lights—take our light? Ji-young rises, staggering from another wound in her leg. I wrap one arm around her, taking the flashlight in the other.
The corridor outside holds nothing but locked doors, deaf to my frantic pounding. I take small, groping steps, supporting us both, but it’s slow going. My flashlight’s beam streaks across bodies lying in the hall. There’s scuffling out in the dark and I point my flashlight’s feeble beam toward the sound.
A new dull chant echoes through the murk as the shadows teem with shambling things that shrink away from the light. We near the end of the hall. Beyond the bay doors, the reinforced windows look out into space, admitting the faint blue-white light of Algol’s triple star. Ships’ silhouettes loom in the half-light. I hear a little girl’s voice.
“Nyarlathotep.” Her voice is high, shrill, drawing out each syllable. “Ny-arrr-lath-o-tep. Nyy-arrrr-lath-o-tep!”
I’m armed only with the flashlight, and as I support Ji-young, we move at the pace of easy prey. Footsteps skitter against the floor. I twist, pointing the flashlight, and a hunched figure in black robes scampers behind a pile of cargo in a blur of wiry appendages and milky eyes.
I finally manage to follow Hye-su’s voice. She stands in an open space near our ship, her head thrown back, thin lips spread with the name of a dark god bound beyond the recesses of time. Twisting shadows rise from her shrieking mouth, spreading into ghastly writhing shapes.
As my beam illuminates it, I hear the shadow-thing’s own throatless screech mingling with Hye-su’s as it tears itself from her mouth to escape the light, ascending to the ceiling and blotting out the windows.
I drop Ji-young to sprint for our daughter. I cling to her. My tears almost swallow her name—“Hye-su.”
“Mommy…” she says, and it’s her again—my daughter, and not some invasive presence.
“I’m here, sweetie. Mommy’s here.”
“No, Mommy. He’s here,” she says, pointing.
I glimpse oily skittering thing on the ceiling where she points—one of how many more I can only guess. Then I notice the planet Ymar below, its blue surface blotted out by ravenous black swaths that rise and spread to consume distant stars.
The station lurches and begins to slide out of orbit toward the mass of darkness devouring the planet.
“We have to get out of here,” says Ji-young, crawling for our ship.
The black mass above us slams against the magnetized bay doors, shaking ships from their moorings and threatening to break the pressure locks. I point the flashlight at a massive dent, oily talons and cilia retreating from the beam.
Ji-young leans against our ship’s hatch. I clench one arm around Hye-su, scrambling after my wife to board. Silence as I switch on the engines, frantically powering up all necessary systems.
“C’mon, c’mon.” A black-robed cultist slams against our windshield, inky tendrils spilling from his throat and eyes as squiggly forms writhe beneath his skin.
Outside, the black horror cracks the bay doors, sucking cultists through the breach as the station loses pressure. Our vessel slides toward the doors and I grip the shiftstick, coaxing the ship to start.
The doors rip off, spinning out into space.
Ships and men spill out in a cloud, buffeting us as we too are dragged forward toward the rent. I engage the thrusters and we hurtle forward, spinning into the void even as I fight to dodge steely terran freighters and protoplasmic Shoggoth ships.
Somehow, I clear the debris field. Watching darkness swallow the planet below, I race towards the far edge of the Godlich. Safety. If we can reach it.
But then it too goes out, obscured by an eldritch murk deeper and older than the stars themselves.
I race for the gate anyway, my Krasnikov tubes warping space-time to propel us forward. No one’s ever gated with Krasnikov tubes engaged before.
And then there’s a fracture in the darkness as the Demon Star quakes and shimmers, a triple-star’s supernova answering the universal call for equal but opposite reactions.
The ship crunches around us as we throttle forward, Newtonian forces squeezing against the hull. My empty stomach spasms. The controls spark and go out. Indicator bulbs burst.
And then we’re through, spat back into the far corners of our home system.
I pant and gag, try to be thankful we’re all alive, but even as I look out at the sun’s distant glow, all I can see is Algol, the Demon Star, and its burst of dying light. Cultists’ glyphs slice through my vision amidst the necrolumiescence between the Godlich’s massive cilia, and I try to tell myself that they’re just the aftereffects of brain compression.
Even as I retch with sickness in the dim light, I laugh with relief.
I turn toward Hye-su and Ji-young. We’re back—together, alive, whole.
I fumble for the distress signal, but as I brush the switch, Hye-su opens her mouth, and the last of the ship’s lights go dark as she speaks the name of the new lich-god who just crossed into our home system—and who will not suffer the light.
About the Author:
Theo Kogod is a writer, educator, and activist. These days, they primarily do freelance writing and editing work, producing regular features for the comics journalism site CBR. While working as a teacher in Japan, they helped found the magazine 3 Feet Left as its Resident Writer. Their fiction has appeared in the SWFA publication Diabolical Plots, the anthology A Flash of Silver-Green: Stories of the Nature of Cities, and a handful of other places.