This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.
At first they came slowly.
The discovery of a new planetary body was nothing new to the crew of the Endeavour. The fact that it was entirely habitable by humans was strange. That its atmosphere was so similar to the motherland was unexpected. But celebrated.
Never before had they found such a perfect planet.
Parva sat with her legs dangling next to the rover’s loading dock, absently listening to Makan run though his long list of maintenance tasks. The low hum of the ship was like a heartbeat that was always present, but she listened carefully to Makan’s shuffling feet. She had half a protein bar in her mouth.
Makan ticked off the final check on his list and folded the tablet, storing it in his jumpsuit. ‘Who’s going down? You know?’
Parva shrugged. ‘Not me, that’s for sure.’
Makan laughed. ‘Well above your pay grade, baby-botanist.’
Parva threw the rest of her protein bar in his general direction. ‘You think they’ll finally find aliens?’
Makan dodged her assault, sitting beside her on the raised platform. ’What? Three-hundred-thousandth time’s the charm? We’d have seen them by now.’
‘You would have,’ Parva joked, waving a hand in front of her eyes in a self-effacing fashion.
Makan watched as the automated cleaning robot came to scoop up the battered remains of Parva’s protein bar before disappearing back into it’s shoot.
Parva hummed, following it’s trajectory with her ears. ’But maybe we wouldn’t. Not if they’re hiding.’
Makan laughed. ‘They’ve run scans — ‘
‘I dunno, why are you so paranoid anyway?’
Parva squirmed uncomfortably. ‘It’s like deja vu? Like something bad is gonna happen.’
‘Come on, let’s go to the viewing deck with everyone and get ready for launch.’
Parva grimaced. ’Nah, I’m gonna head to the green house.’
Makan watched her for a moment. ‘You sure?’
Parva shrugged. ‘You heard one, you’ve heard them all.’
Makan gave her hair a ruffle. ‘Be good.’
Parva rolled her eyes, heading down the labyrinth of corridors towards the greenhouse. The greenhouse was her home away from home on the ship. She much preferred it to her sterile quarters. As the doors opened she was greeted by a rush of floral humidity and made her way over to her trusty hammock. No one would know she was slacking; they were all too preoccupied with the launch.
The emergency alert sirens were difficult to ignore, even as deep into the fog of sleep as Parva had sunk. She bolted upright as the entire ship sealed down in a heartbeat.
The captain, Alba Enstwer, came over the communication system.
‘— attacked by creatures that only exist when they are perceived.’
Parva shook her head free of cobwebs, rolling from the hammock and casting around for her cane.
‘I know it’s a lot to think about and to take in,’ Alba continued, ‘but these creatures are volatile and predatory. We have lost crew today that will never be replaced. But, we are safe now, on the ship and away from those creatures.’
The horrible feeling that had been suffocating her all day returned like an old enemy to choke her.
There was a scream, a crunch, a rending and tearing. On instinct, Parva leapt towards where she knew the speaker was and turned it off, collapsing back onto the floor. Screams began outside the door, and Parva covered her ears, curling into a ball.
And then nothing. The ship was eerily silent. The screams had left behind a terrible drowning silence.
Parva whimpered, managing not to scream at the last second, and pulled out her tablet.
‘Parva listen to me,’ Makan was whispering, ‘You’re the only one who stands a chance in hell now. You’re the only one who can’t perceive them. Get to the escape pod on level E.’
There was a desperate resolution to Makan’s voice. Parva breathed in a ragged breath. ‘You saw, didn’t you?’
That one simple word fell like a death sentence between them. ‘I’m sorry.’
Makan exhaled like a deflated balloon. ‘Me too.’
‘Dead, everyone’s dead Parva.’
The stark emptiness in his voice was a magnet for tears to spring into Parva’s eyes. The Endeavour had been her home for five years. The people she loved on this ship were innumerable and now they were gone.
Parva blinked away her tears. ’I can get there through the cleaning robot vents, right?’
‘Yeah.’ Makan inhaled. ‘I’ll guide you from here.’
Parva’s voice caught. ‘I don’t want to leave you.’
Makan laughed sadly. ‘You have to. Go, Parva.’
Two days later.
Curled into a ball in the seat of the escape pod, drifting through vast, empty space, Parva was ripped from her sleep by the beeping of the command console.
She groaned. ‘Computer, read message.’
’This is Captain Logger Brant of the Settler, we received a distress beacon from the Endeavour, please advise.’
Suddenly wide awake, Parva opened the call on the console. ‘Captain Brant? This is Parva Greane of the Endeavour. I’m the only one left and you can’t go there. To the ship. It’s not safe.’
‘And why is that, Miss Greane?’
‘There’s something on the ship, sir,’ she said. ‘Something deadly. It killed everyone.’
‘Are you okay Miss Greane?’ the captain’s voice was alert. ‘What is that thing behind you?’
Dread shot through Parva’s system, turning her blood to mercury. ‘Don’t come for me. Don’t come for the ship. They only exist when you perceive them.’
And Parva slammed her hand onto the emergency override for the airlock.