It was my first year in the military. The Empire (may it stand forevermore) had been pretty peaceful, but I needed at least two years for my Curriculum Vitae, so the social sciences pay off – and on Arcturus II, I got a cushy job already.
“Welcome aboard the ISV Augustus Caesar!” Commander Claudius greeted me and patted my back. “Haven’t seen you since university, how did that turned out?”
“Good.” I replied to my old friend. “I never want on faster-than-light travel. Is it safe?”
“Safer than you would think. Come, allow me to show your seat. We fire up in twenty minutes.”
He lead me to a room, where in rows, seats waited us. I noticed the soldiers whom carefully strapped themselves in and that some tried on the semitransparent masks that dangled there.
“What are those for?”
“Hydration. FTL is pretty strainful on the body. Never had any of these trainings?”
“Not on these. I am just a social engineer, I do paperwork.”
“Ah. Well, that runs the Pax Imperia, my friend. I got other things to attend, but I think anyone here can help you. Right?”
Nods, murrmurrs and some basic jokes about “the new meat”. I noticed that there were some other women in this cohort, so I presumed Claudius had led me to the auxiliaries. I got to the seat/bed they had and started to strap on.
“Hey. You know the commander?” one asked.
“Yes, we went to the same university.”
“That’s cool!” someone else said and it seemed everyone agreed. They talked over each other, saying “he is a great man” and “he’s win us wars”, then the topic shifted. The guy next to me decided to turn to me again.
“You strapped in wrong. Let me help you. We don’t wish you arrive empty.”
“What you mean?”
Silence fell on a small orb around me. The guy looked up on me with his gray eyes.
“Well, FTL is pretty… Harsh.” “Yes, like a meat grinder.” “More like an atomic splitting.” “Nah, definitely like a meat grinder.”
“What you mean?” I asked again, as the soldier strapped me in.
“Well, if the GUYS WOULD SHUT UP! Thank you. So, you know what happens when you try to go faster than light?”
“Exactly, you can’t. So, we got to get as fast as the light. Light is made of photons. So, they split us up and make us into photons.”
“Don’t feed her lies, Armenius.” another one said near. “They just split our atoms and reassemble them on the other end of our destination.”
“You guys are not techs, right?” a woman said from somewhere behind me. “They open a transuniversal gate here and another on our destination. We don’t go as light or so, we are essentially hop from this universe to the same one, but elsewhere.”
“You are a tech?”
“No, but my brother is! He is in the next room.”
“Hah, nepotist!” someone laughed, and the area around me joined in, but….
“They split our atoms?”
“Kind of. It is somewhat more complicated than that, you know.” the same woman replied.
“And it is dangerous?” I started to ask but a high ranking officer barged in.
“Move it! We got five minutes! Everyone, secure your masks!”
“We got a new guy here, sir.” the soldier on the right said, and the commander walked in my view. He looked for anything on my uniform, then recognized that I must be in the paperwork part as he silently put on the mask on me. I was shaking as he simply walked on.
“Wait, wait, what this entire thing means? It is dangerous?!”
“Not any more than being dead.” he snarked and left me to make sure all is right.
“What you mean by that?!” I shouted, sound muted. The same officer walked in my view after some time, pressing some button. A small glass door closed before me, encapsulating me in the miniature room. I could move my hands in a way, and something slid on my ears.
“Automated system on line. We got. Four. Minutes. Until. FTL jump.” the mechanized voice sounded in my ears. It was snipped together from parts what someone said up a long while ago, I felt. “Currently in the. Audio book. Menu. If wishing to. Continue. The Principles of Advanced Mathematics, by Algarius Mersem, please, press the button under your. Left. Index. You can change by the. Left. Hand mo…” My mind drifted off. It was not a routine spaceflight. It was FTL, and I knew nothing besides that it is fast and automated.
What they said? They split our atoms? Turn us into photons? I wanted to ask the computer voice, but it was a military design, only capable of the menu system under my hands.
What if they are literally splitting our atoms and forget to put something back? Can a living organism survive that? They said empty – maybe they meant that our brain might be left out? Would the various parts of my body land a step before me when we emerge from the other side?
“Two. Minutes. Until. FTL jump.” the machine said. I poked all the buttons around me and the machine replied. “You had pressed. Four. Buttons at the same time. Please, try again.”
I tried to find anything, and managed to get to the menu.
“Menu. Left. Index: music. Left. Middle: audio book. Left. Ring: information. Le…”
“Regretfully. Information service. Is unavailable before. FTL jump. One. Minute. Until. FTL jump.”
I was panicking, and I tried to press music. Something shook under me as the horns and harps started playing some old tune…
“Thirty. Seconds.” I tried to pound on the padded seat around me.
“You had pressed. Two. But-- Twenty. Seconds. – Pressed. Two. Buttons at the same time.”
I leant back, eyes wide open.
Gave up… Countdown went and I felt my heartbeat slowing down.
I could see out of the glass, and see the three rows of seats before me, having space only to fit between them. The walls on the other end were… Whiter than usual. Shinier. I tried to peek more as the restrains allowed me. The wall was stretched into infinity, and I seen this new shining wall coming closer. The first row of seats stretched and I started to panic more, randomly pressing buttons but only the computer replied the same canned lines.
“You had pressed. One. Button at the same time...” “Regretfully. Information service. Is unavailable…”
I could not see what happened to the people in the seats or pods or how to call them. The first row disappeared into the infinite light, and the second started to stretch. I looked elsewhere but the light got stronger…. The pod before me stretched, and I felt how my own starts getting infinite… I saw the molecules stretching and shining up, and when I saw my uniform stretching slowly, I ggaaaavvvvvvvveeeeeeeee uuuuuuuuuuuuupppppppppppppppppp…………………….
Light all around.
Not a simple sound, just my thoughts.
Is it Elysium? Am I worthy for it?
Then, like a veil, the light disappeared, and darkness came for a few moments. I heard smoothing music and some shuffling noise before me.
“Well, look here, the new meat slept it over.” the grey-eyed soldier said as I opened my eyes and looked over them. Three of the soldiers were in my view, the doors open and they were laughing like if something funny would have happened.
“Well, how it felt to be dead?” one joked and the other laughed, before stopping. “Commanding Officer on deck!”
They saluted as Claudius walked in the frame. I felt my body would dangle from the restrains if it would have not be so snug.
“Well, soldiers, instead of throwing these old jokes out, you should have helped our guest to get better.” he said as he removed the mask. “How you feel?”
“Like someone who was chewed up and threw back.” I replied, to which someone laughed up before forcing their mouth shut. Claudius smiled.
“Well, first time experience is such. This is why we use a sleeping agent and smoothing music or an audio book to calm our feelings. The brain tends to be hyperactive, and even while only a few moments pass, the brain remains active.”
I was trying to ask something but felt stupid. It was so… Obvious. I could feel all my muscles aching, so I was not dead or sleeping.
“Why did they said it is alike being dead?” I asked as he got me out and walked me down the walkway between the seats. It felt nice to see some other soldiers be as dizzy and cramped as I am, despite they having trained for this.
“Well, you know. They are soldiers. Humour helps them ease their nerves. They don’t like to think that they sit above a two gigaton nuclear engine.”
So, please enjoy. :3