Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 3: “The Song of Akinyi” • by Jonathan Sherwood


Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and fantastic things have begun happening, and it all started just a few days ago, in a little bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t merely warp the fabric of space/time, he made it totally bent…

“The Song of Akinyi”

by Jonathan Sherwood

My name’s Ray Cornwall. My dad always said I was born with a goodness that’ll carry me anywhere I need to go, and I’ve always been really proud of that. When I was just a kid, an older kid got to pushing me around on the walk home from school. He was a lot bigger than I was, so I knew I wasn’t gonna win any fights, so I just kept trying to be nice to him. After a couple of months, I noticed he wasn’t pushing me around anymore and we were just talking. Being a good person can get you far in life.

But I’ve gotta admit, as I sit here looking at all this burning wreckage, my arms and legs all mangled up, and knowing that my best friend Hans is in there, somewhere, burning or dead, it doesn’t seem like being good helped all that much in the end. Maybe it was good for me; I was still alive. But I was hurt, inside, and maybe that’s just as bad as being dead. See, Hans was that guy who used to push me around, back before he became my best friend. And now I’m sitting here, and I just hurt.

Hans and I got jobs at Galactic Mining on the same day. He did it to support his wife, and I was just looking for some scratch. We left Earth and headed out to this new colony—Odin III. For about a year we did all kinds of usual stuff, like fixing mining equipment. But then they gave us an amazing opportunity to test out a new kind of space drive. We flew in this little modified hopper called the Song of Akinyi up into low orbit, and then we had to line it up on Odin II and pretty much just push a button.

Well, we did that. We did everything we were supposed to. But nothing happened, and the brass on the radio started yelling at us that we did something wrong. But we hadn’t. And they started yelling that we were going to have to pay for all the damages when we got back, but obviously Hans and I didn’t have that kind of money.

Hans said, “We’ve gotta try and fix it.”

I didn’t know anything about fixing something like an experimental prototype engine, and neither did Hans, but I was scared I’d never pay off Galactic if they said we broke the engine.

“Maybe the oxide ratio is off,” I said. I had no idea what I was talking about.

“Maybe.” Hans didn’t look convinced.

We broke the lock on the hatch to the back of the hopper that led into the engine, and as soon as we did we got this whiff of something that smelled wet and acidic.

“Whoa,” I said. “That reeks like that bar where all the ‘shroom miners hang out.”

Igitt,” he muttered in German, face screwed up. “Yeah it does.” He almost didn’t go through the hatch, but then he nodded and stepped through. I stepped in after him.

I may not have known a lot about this prototype engine, but I know when there’s no  engine where there’s supposed to be one.

We were crouched down in a small compartment loaded with pipes and valves all obscured with steam. It reeked of those mushrooms. Hans shuffled forward a little and I did, too, right behind him.

It was loud with a hissing sound, of steam  and tubes running around with gray liquid in them. And there was this one sound, like a hiss, but regular, like with a rhythm, that seemed to stand out from the rest.

“What’s that?” said Hans, pointing at the floor a little farther in. I kind of hung onto his shirt as we shuffled a few more steps in. There was a bend in the little compartment, and the steam was mostly lit from some light coming from around the corner. We shuffled a few more steps, and Hans’ face was all lit up from the light. And then he made a face that scared the hell outta me. I started pulling on his shirt, and then I saw, down near the floor, what he’d seen before. It was a foot. Someone sitting there, lying there, around the corner where the engine was supposed to be, and Hans was looking right at ‘em with his jaw open and just the worst look in his eyes.

I pulled harder at his shirt. “C’mon, Hans. We gotta go. We’ve got to get outta here,” I said. See, that foot had some tubes stuck into it, into the ankles, and that gray stuff was pumping on into it. It was bad. It was all bad.

But even though I pulled at him, he pushed me back.

“You okay?” he said to whoever was around the corner. He reached out to them, even as I pulled him back. “You okay, ma’am?”

And I think he touched her because I felt something hit me like electricity in his hand and I yelled and fell backward. But Hans, he was still crouched over, hand still touching her, and shaking all over. And then it seemed like everything around me, the walls, Hans, even my own hands, went translucent for a second. Like I could see the stars outside the ship. And then it all snapped back to normal, but Hans was completely gone.

I turned around and scrambled on my hands and knees out the hatch and out of that mushroom stink. And when I got to my feet, Hans came tripping out of the hatch right after me. He looked around like he didn’t recognize where he was, and then he saw me and it was like he remembered. But he had dirt on his face from somewhere and this crazy look in his eyes.

He ran to the pilot chair and started flipping switches.

“What are we doing, Hans?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

Zur hölle damit. We’re doing what’s right, Ray. You’re the one who always showed me to do what’s right.”

The Akinyi’s nose dipped, and the people from Galactic on the radio started yelling.

“I’m real sorry about this, Ray,” he said, and I really believed he meant it. I strapped into the copilot chair as the hopper began to fall back down to Odin III. “What they’re doing back there, that’s not right.. But what they want to do with it is so, so much worse.”

“Was that woman hurt? What’s going on, Hans?”

Hans pushed all the sliders forward and we started falling back down to Odin III.

“I saw—I walked around in the future. She let me walk around in the future. Galactic isn’t telling anybody the truth about what they’re doing. They’re messing around with some really bad stuff, and they’ve got plans.” He was still pushing on the sliders even though they were maxed out. “They’ve got some really bad plans.”

“Are you trying to crash us?”

“I’m really sorry, Ray. I have to stop this. I have to stop this all now. I’m just trying to be good like you.”

I didn’t want to die. “Hans, you got a wife.”

He gave me a smile. “I’m not crazy, Ray. We’ll be okay. I’m trying to have a kid. We’ll eject. Our parachutes will kick in, but the ship will be demolished.”

He had underestimated Galactic. They didn’t give a damn about the crew.

The eject button didn’t work. Hell. The ship probably didn’t even have parachutes.

* * *

Now I’m just lying here, in all the wreckage. My leg is smashed up badly. Really badly. A bunch of hoppers came, but none of them seem to want to take me to a hospital. Not for a long time. And I probably hit my head, too, because I swear I remember Hans, right before we crashed, say, “I’ll see ya later, Ray. Take care of yourself.”

I don’t know what he meant. I looked at my hand, where that shock had jumped from him to me, and somehow, deep in my bones, I knew he was right. I’d see him later. In a way, it made me feel better to know I’d see my buddy Hans again.

But in another way, it didn’t feel good at all.


Jonathan Sherwood has written about science and scientists for research universities for more than two decades, and science fiction for even longer. He holds a bachelors in science writing from Cornell University and an MA in English from the University of Rochester. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, and others.