The Long Game
rating: +48+x

[T -11 days]

On the 2nd of November in the year 2000 my dad's dreams died. He never recovered. Not really. He wasn't alone, of course. All our dreams died that day. We'd been so close. Excruciatingly close.

He'd grown up, as we all had, assuming that our job was to keep the dream of the Great Work alive for future generations. And he was satisfied with that. He had a normal job as a butcher, he served his community well and every 28 days he would meet with 7 friends and discuss the coming of the Beloved.

It was fun, back then. They shared anecdotes about new encounters with The Beloved, read letters from other branches and dreamt of the maybes and the could have beens and the what ifs.

Then the letter came from the London office. The Lucid Crown had been found. The Lucid Crown had been tested. The letter could not have been clearer: It's time.

[T +10 days]

I can't make this place let me die. I slam the doors and pull the levers and I press the buttons over and over, every possible combination. I try to ignore the angry noises it makes in reply. There's a computer but it makes no sense to me and I can't remember how it works but I must try.

I have been at this for two days. Or two hours. Or forever. Or I haven't even started. I can no longer tell the difference between imagining a thing and doing a thing.

I see you sometimes. I ask you to help me but you're just so far away.

Something I have done has worked. I am the proverbial monkey on the typewriter and I have somehow managed to type a real word.

There is a tremor and a terrifying metallic groan. I feel movement and I know my fate is now out of my hands. Be kind to me, my beloved.

[T -9 days]

It was my dad that spotted the problem first. He was the one who looked at what happened on the 2nd of November in the year 2000 and realised the dream was dead, just like that. At the last church meeting he'd been given his instructions, where to go, what to take and what time His Awakening would happen.

He came back from that meeting to find me, still just a kid, sat in front of the television. "Dad!" I'd said. "Look at this!"

And he looked, and… have you ever seen someone's face at the moment their heart breaks? Just, forever and ever, something snaps in their mind and that's it, they're never going to be the same again? It was like, just for a moment, I was looking at a stranger. My dad, the friendly local butcher, he could never look so sad. Not my dad. Not my hero.

I remember looking back at the television. On it were the faces of Bill Shepard, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. Humanity had just entered a new age. From now on we would have humans living in space. I looked back at my dad. His skin looked pale and clammy and his eyes, moist and afraid, were locked onto the screen.

[T +8 days]

Time has no meaning now. I find myself lost in thoughts and then I realise I have cut myself again. And again. And every cut has a new glistening turquiose thread growing from it, floating in the air around me, reaching out to find something — anything — to touch. I feel warm towards these threads because we share the same need, the same hunger, that desire to connect.

I have been thinking about my escape plan more and more. I know that it probably leads to me getting trapped then suffocating. Or I burn. If I did it a million times then maybe on that millionth attempt my escape leads to you?

There's nothing for me here. I have not slept in 8 days. Death will be the only sleep we can ever know. Because of you. I would rather embrace the fire than endure your absence another moment. I hope you understand. I love you.

[T -7 days]

I wish he was still with us. The thing he had realised, that no-one else in the church had realised, was that whilst we'd got this perfect plan to put everyone on Earth to sleep all at once and bring forth his Beloved majesty into our reality, not every human being was on Earth now. That by the time the church was actually ready to activate the Lucid Crown, humanity's presence in space would be permanent.

I think sometimes it's better if you never have that sort of hope. Having it taken away is worse. But… I'm bringing that hope back, Dad, wherever you are! I wish you could see me.

Anyway I'm writing this from Kazakhstan, they're keeping us pretty locked down at this point. Launch will be in a few days.

[T +6 days]

I found out what happened to Anatoly and Elizabeth today. I couldn't get into that module because I couldn't remember how the controls worked and…

… well that's bullshit. I just didn't want to know. The stench alone was enough to know that what happened to them wasn't anything good.

They've been fused together. It is the same material that's growing out of the cut in my arm. It had enveloped them completely. Glistening blueish green threads wind in and around and through their bodies and out towards the walls of the component, leaving the ruins of their bodies floating in the air.

They look surprised to be dead. Have you punished them, my beloved?

I am truly alone. The threads from my cuts seem drawn to the Anatoly/Elizabeth gestalt. It is a sign that I can't stay here.

[T -5 days]

So the church considered a few ways to solve this problem. The first one, the obvious one, was to build a rocket, fly up to the International Space Station, put them to sleep. The American Group were especially keen on this idea, they thought it'd be fun but when questioned none of them knew the first thing about rocketry or orbital mechanics. They refused to give up but no-one expected that project to deliver.

The main avenue of attack, of course, was political. We'd had members inside political bodies around the world for decades and naturally politicians always hate spending money so our attempts to get the International Space Station defunded and burnt up in the Earth's atmosphere looked very promising. But no matter how much money we managed to rip out of NASA's budget, they kept sacrificing every program except the ISS.

Which brings us to the third plan. The Long Game.

[T +4 days]

Please let me sleep. Just for a moment. My brain isn't working. I used to be a scientist, I think, with a head full of procedures and algorithms and equations and fancy words. 4 days without sleep, that's all it took to get rid of every bit of that.

I'm seeing things. I thought I had something crawling under the skin in my arms. There are no knives here. There's nothing sharp. I found a box made of very thin aluminium, realised I could smash it and tear at it until I got myself a fragment with a jagged edge.

I stabbed myself with it, to get at the thing under my skin and… something grew out of the hole. At first I didn't see it because when you bleed in microgravity it doesn't run down your arm, it jets out like you're squeezing a ketchup bottle. In the blood, though, was something else. A gossamer thread, like a nerve, and I knew:

This is you. This is the proof you're here.

[T -3 days]

My dad came up with the idea of the Long Game and at first they dismissed it out of hand as absurd. Perhaps they just didn't want to face up to the reality that he'd realised the moment he laid his eyes on that television set and knew, in his heart, he wasn't going to live to see The Great Work fulfilled.

It would take a generation, he said. Maybe many generations. What we do, he said, is turn one of our sons or daughters into an astronaut and get them sent to the ISS.

Find the best of us. The ones who can fly planes, who can do science, medicine, those who are peak physical and mental specimens. If we don't have anyone like that, he said, we raise someone like that.

We've got to get one of our own on that station.

And they hated the plan because they knew it was going to be years, maybe decades. The older ones, like my dad, they knew what it meant.

And they knew there was no other way.

[T +2 days]

I'm running the CFE-2 experiment. I think. It's to find out how capillary flow works in micro-gravity. I send the results to mission control as normal but I haven't heard from them for 2 days. I still haven't heard from Anatoly or Elizabeth, but I'm operating on the assumption that they would contact me if they needed me.

Furthermore, after 2 days of trying to sleep, I've started to accept that this state of sleeplessness may be permanent. The data correlates with the information in the church's book and I see no evidence that contradicts that.

I can't go home. There is an escape route, of course. Back the way I came… but this is a complex procedure and the likely outcome without support from mission control is drifting forever or burning up. I fear it's already too late, I no longer remember the emergency procedure.

I'm not really feeling myself here. It's not like normal sleep deprivation. I've gone without sleep for 72 hours before but, like, normally you have these micro-naps where you black out for a few seconds. That's… not happening. I was keeping a log of the symptoms but struggling to read the computer screen. I feel like I'm underwater. Everything's too bright, everything's too loud.

I keep getting flashes of spiders everywhere, which is worrying. Hallucinations are a symptom of sleep deprivation but we didn't expect to experience side effects as a result of you being in our universe.

You're in Europe at the moment. Every 90 minutes I fly over you and see your crimson magnificence and it's what's keeping me going. I love you.

[T -1 day]

We'll dock with the ISS in another day. Anatoly and Elizabeth are still excited about all the science they're going to be doing and I'm mentally calculating the actual probability of being here, right now, in this Soyuz module, having been shot into space on a hundred and sixty tonnes of propellant. I make it one in four hundred thousand, although obviously that's just an estimate.

Training began two years ago. I learnt Russian. I learnt how to fly NASA's special jets. I had medical training. And, somehow, like a miracle, NASA's psychologists had never suspected a thing. They believed that I was this paragon of ability and virtue. They trusted me with one of the most difficult and challenging jobs a human could possibly do. That's who they think I am.

In a way they're right, although my critical job isn't quite what they think it is. My real job is simple: put everyone on board the ISS to sleep at exactly fourteen hundred hours UTC. On Earth, meanwhile, although the original Lucid Crown had again been lost, a new one had been made, with new keepers ready to use it.

They're all just waiting for me. Everything depends on me. Your wait is almost over, my Beloved.

[Zero Day]

I wake up to alarms blaring. In the dream I asked you, my beloved, to send me a piece of yourself. I'd been unable to smuggle one of the fragments with me, they're just far too strict for that, but fragments are easy to come by: one simply has to sleep and ask.

The alarm was blaring, though, because the fragment had materialised inside the station and fired away from me at high speed, smashing straight into a window. Luckily the window survived. Anatoly is already dealing with a surface crack, cool as you like, but he's concerned about what caused it. I can hear the Russian mission control panicking so I'm reassuring them that everything is under control.

I grab the fragment, the fragment of you, and tell Anatoly that I will investigate. He seems satisfied. I look at my watch and it's so close now. I float through the station and look down at the Earth. So calm. So peaceful. So imperfect.

It's time. I take the fragment and place it against my forehead and I close my eyes. I can feel the fragment sending me straight under once again. As my consciousness begins to fade I can hear mission control worrying that all the crew seem to be losing consciousness too.

I yawn. I giggle. Nothing can stop us now. Dad… Dad this is for you. We played the Long Game, Dad… and… we…

…won.

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