Tusk: Prologue

Falling against the bulkhead in exhaustion, he winced. His uncut grey hair hanging across his ageing features was matting to his sweat-covered brow, knitting into his two-day-old facial stubble. He closed his eyes and pushed back the wave of nausea arising from the pure overexertion of running the length of the ship. He had been so careful for so many years. All this time he’d been driven, focussed and filled with hate and vengeance, but age had finally been his failing. The slow withering of the mind had left gaps in his defences, room for error. Chances for his enemy to find him, to destroy him.

‘Travis, stop.’

He grimaced with determination and pushed off again, running down the corridor as quickly as his eighty-year-old legs would carry him. He had been aboard ship for as long as he could remember, hiding in shadows and keeping to the mission plan. However, the mission plan was becoming vague and his understanding of his part in it was now almost forgotten. There was just too much fog in his mind. Memories of his wife, Zoë, and his children were hazy, and he started to get angry with himself again, as their names slipped recollection. How could he possibly forget his children? What kind of parent could he have been? What kind of useless parent forgets the names of his own children?

‘Where are you going, Travis? We need to talk.’

The door at the end of the corridor closed, cutting off his means of exit. He arrived at the door and hit the control panel but nothing happened. He keyed a passcode to override the door control—again nothing happened. He looked around frantically. There was a corridor a little further back and he stumbled off towards it.

In his head he heard voices, like those of the sirens he’d read about as a child. Beautiful and seductive, they beckoned him and directed him. They tried to reason their way into his thoughts and dreams. They tried to pull the truth from him, but he wasn’t going to succumb so easily. He wouldn’t give away his deepest secrets; Zoë would never forgive him. She was his one link to a world that once made sense and had true purpose and meaning: love and productivity. Now, he found only confusion and darkness.

More doors locked as he carried on down the corridor. Another dead end. Lights would flick out in the corridor as he walked. Another dead end. He felt like he was being led, like a rat in a maze, to a particular room for a particular purpose.

“You will never succeed—you can’t succeed! We’ll fight you until the end!” he screamed into the void about him, a little spittle drooling from his mouth in his rage. A side door to the corridor opened; he took it instantly and ducked into the room.

‘What have you done, Travis? You must know I’ll find out, whatever you’re planning. I’ll find out, somehow, the same way I found you—eventually, you’ll make a mistake.’

He was frantically looking for a way out, a door home. With a few more steps, he reached the door on the opposite side of the room and opened it onto another parallel corridor. It was his own fault that he’d stepped out of his cabin this morning without wearing his device. He couldn’t remember how he got it, or how it worked. All he knew was that it would keep him safe. That was what he’d been told once. There wasn’t much he was sure of these days, but he was sure of that.

After a few more corridors, none of the doors closed off his progress and he started to think he had escaped, in which case his only option was to make his way back as soon as he could to his cabin, put on his safety device and get back to work.

He came to a sudden stop. Ahead of him was the image of a woman, an angel. She was so beautiful that his heart was suddenly full and his chest thumped with the urges of a much younger man. In his mind, Zoë smiled on him and extended a hand to aid him. For some reason, he was unable to grip and stumbled a little. He frowned, slightly confused and befuddled by the misjudged contact.

‘This way, Travis. Sit and rest a while. You deserve a rest after your long years of service.’

She was right. He had done everything they had asked and more. It was time to rest, at least for a little while.

‘Have you completed your tasks, Travis?’

He seated himself on the floor with some considerable effort. He leant against the wall and relaxed, trying to grab some air while he was able, before he had to start running again. Wondering for a moment what he was running from, the voice asked him a question. ‘You have done well, Travis. Can you tell me that you’ve completed your task? Can you confirm?’

He smiled and closed his eyes, “Yes.”

‘Yes? Please confirm.’

“Yes. I’ve completed my mission.”

‘Confirm your mission.’

Why? Don’t they know? Seeing as how they set it, they should know. He opened his eyes again to view the woman that he’d thought a moment before to be his wife.

For a moment, he became lucid. A moment of cognitive reasoning sparked out of the fog of his mind. He saw a control panel, and the far wall seemed to have lockers for astrosuits or EVA kit. He turned to his left and saw the striped paintwork of the external airlock door, the strip of the viewing panel set into the upper section. Looking to the internal door, his panic began to set in. It was closed and locked, and the airlock sequence had started.

‘Confirm your mission, Travis. This is your last chance. What have you done aboard the Endeavour?’

He sat back and grinned. His work was done and he could go to Zoë and his children knowing he’d done right by them. It had taken him his whole life but he had done it right. They would be given the justice they deserved.

‘There are others, Travis. You will tell me eventually.’

He didn’t even hear her. The voice was nothing he needed to hear any more, nothing that conveyed anything of importance. Suddenly, all the energy left him and a feeling of complete calm and peace enveloped him. All his striving, all his trials and hardships, and he was now at the end. He was going to his family. His smile became one of complete contentment.

‘So be it. Goodbye, Travis.’

An alert sounded and the airlock performed an emergency depressurisation. The external door opened in an instant and the atmosphere and contents of the room were ejected into space in a spinning, expanding, spiralling mass. Ice crystals twinkled in what little light there was from a nearby star. As the trauma of sudden exposure to vacuum wrought its toll on Travis, his ageing heart stopped almost immediately. There was no final breath to give.