A Fragment of Hell

by Dave Hebden


“Hello, Frank. It’s me, Arlan. You should be fully awake by now, I think. I’ll bet you have been very anxious. After all, why would you have become conscious while you are still in your suspension pod, right? I know you have probably been struggling and can barely move in that snug little padded vessel so just lie still and my voice will explain everything. It took me quite some time to get this recording just the way I wanted it. I hope it suits.

Now, you know how upset I was when Brenda and I broke up. I will always remember how supportive you pretended to be. My goodness, it was very impressive how well you hid your secret. I thought Brenda’s performance was admirable as well but you see, we had been together for so long that she really couldn’t hide anything from me.

It was such a messy process, wasn’t it? What with you being what I considered a good friend at the time and Brenda being the only love I have ever had, I’m sure you knew it would be difficult for all of us once the truth came out. Of course, that didn’t stop you. Nothing ever stopped you from getting what you wanted, now did it?

I’m sure you remember that day when I finally started to act… what did you call it… “civilized”? Yes, I just suddenly stopped making those annoying calls and leaving those terrible messages all over the place. Perhaps you thought it was because of the success you had in getting me locked up a couple of times. Maybe you were thinking that I had finally come to my senses, that I finally realized that my crude behavior was going to get me nothing but trouble. Well, I’m afraid that wasn’t it at all. Actually it was on that day that I proved out the feasibility of my retribution plan. It took a lot of hard work but, well, here we are.

Where to begin? Well, I recall how elated you were when you were chosen for the Second Colony mission. And when you were able to pull your usual strings to get Brenda to come along you must have just been in Seventh Heaven. How exciting! Being chosen to be on board only the second ship of colonists ever to leave Earth bound for a new world must have been quite a feeling. To be going on that marvelous adventure with someone that loved you so much… how unspeakably wonderful!

I know those poor devils that went on the first ship so many years ago must have been very nervous about their mission. After all, they didn’t know what to expect. They could have awoken to find that Vita Nova wasn’t a habitable planet after all. They would have been doomed to live out their lives in that ship, just floating about a dead world that would remain dead. That not being the case, though, at least they got to spend a little time on the new world which certainly made it far from a wasted mission. I mean they all perished but the information they sent back has made this second mission possible and virtually sure to succeed. To be a member of the first generation of humans to establish a permanent colony on a new world would be an honor unequaled in the lifetime of almost anyone. However, you were afforded an honor that far surpasses that, Frank, and yet you never returned that honor.

Having Brenda fall in love with you was something that you took for granted, that you felt was somehow expected for a man of your stature and importance. Yes, I am sure you loved her as well but as with any other relationship you ever had, it was on your own terms and in your own selfish way. You knew she was enamored by your wealth, your fame, and your good looks and you took full advantage of that fact. You never respected her, simply holding her up as a trophy whenever the cameras were on you. Right to the last, as you were stepping into the suspension module with her, you couldn’t help turning her by the shoulder as you turned yourself for one last wave to the adoring masses, so beautifully adorning the final image of you here on Earth by having that angel at your side. Well, Frank, I am afraid your arrogance has cost you dearly. You see, you are never going to see that new world and you are never going to see Brenda again.

Now, please don’t think I would do something as primitive as to just murder you. That would be much too simple for me and far too lenient a punishment for someone like you. You have spent most of the years of your life using people for whatever they could do to help advance your selfish goals and boost your enormous ego. You have lived almost every waking moment in control of everyone around you. Well, not any more. Even though I am trillions of miles away right now, I am in total control of you. Fancy that.

You see, I had been working as a contractor on the software for this suspension module you are in right now. I saw you many times during your training sessions at the mission center. I know you thought I was far, far away so it is no surprise that you didn’t recognize me in my disguise. Perhaps you recall that man with the oddly puffy face, the full beard, and the port wine stain on his forehead that sat at the console closest to the water station on the promenade? That was me! Yes, I could have done my work from anywhere at the center but it was so much fun to watch you every day as you orchestrated the lives of so many others; smiling and laughing when you were obeyed, scowling and cursing when you weren’t. All the time, I knew that when this moment came, I would have been watching you do more and more to deserve it.

But I digress. As you are well aware, I have always been quite adept at all things technical, especially when it comes to software. I started to conceive my plan as soon as I heard that you were chosen for the mission. I’m not sure how but it just came to me. I had to take the job under a contrived identity but that was not so difficult for someone like me who has done so much work for the security industry. Once I went in and had a look at the suspension module’s control systems, I knew my plan would work. It was then that I stopped harassing you. I’ll bet you were quite pleased that day and probably thought that your conquest of Benda was complete. In retrospect, though, it was the most terrible day that you had ever had for it was precisely then that your fate was sealed. Go figure.

So here you are, Frank, lying in this padded shell unable to move anything but your eyelids. My program is controlling your pod and everything it is doing is masked from the main system by a very fancy little subroutine that I planted there. It will always report all things normal for you. As far as anyone or anything knows, you are and will be soundly in suspension sleep for another 72 years. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

What is going to happen is that my program is going to keep you in a nice, healthy cycle of eight hours of sleep and sixteen hours awake. It is going to provide all the nourishment, muscle stimulation, and waste management services that your body needs to live. I do realize that you will be drawing from the nutrient and oxygen banks and burdening some other systems much more than you would have had you remained in suspension. However, my calculations show that none of these excesses will adversely affect any of the other twelve hundred forty-nine colonists to the slightest degree. The variance will also be within the parameters that the main system has been programmed to handle autonomously without sending out notifications that there is a problem of any kind. I don’t think it would matter if anyone did find out what I had been up to anyway. After all, even in these modern times I am pretty sure no one has ever bothered to put a law on the books that would make it a crime to keep someone alive. Isn’t that deliciously ironic?

You are going to live out your natural life right where you are, Frank. Once you expire, my program will shut down your support system and then it will delete itself without a trace. Although you will probably get agonizingly close to your destination, you will not survive the entire journey as I don’t think you will make it to the ripe old age of one hundred and fifteen. And speaking of ripe, I do pity the poor other colonists that are going to have to open your pod when the ship arrives. That should be a very unpleasant experience to say the least.

You know, there is a Tradition of the Prophet stating that every journey is a fragment of hell. Boy, I guess he got that right in this case, huh? Perhaps at some point you will feel that you are better off dead. I can’t say that I would even hazard a guess as to whether someone like you, no matter what the situation, would ever consider ending their own life. No matter, though, as you have absolutely no way to do so. You could attempt to hold your breath even to the point of unconsciousness but your body will always begin to respire again. You are going to be in control of absolutely nothing except your own thoughts… unless you count blinking, of course. And the thing that satisfies me above all is that you will not be in control of Brenda. She will be very sad, I am sure, when she finds out what happened to you. You can rest assured that there will be no trace of my software and no one will ever know just how it happened. Eventually, she will get over it and I am sure that she will find that one of the other colonists can fill the void. In fact, she might end up with someone a little more selfless and realize that she is actually better off without you. I know I am.

Oh, and one more thing. I remember you telling me more than once that you never wanted me to speak to neither you nor Brenda again. You said in a very angry tone that you could not even stand the sound of my voice. Well, I suppose I could have sardonically granted your wish since having you lie there in silence could become unbearable and even drive you quite mad after a while. I do find that a pleasant thought but here’s something I find even more amusing. Ready?

Hello, Frank. It’s me, Arlan. You should be fully awake by now…”