The vehicle raced forward, and I couldn’t hold back a scream as we slammed into that shimmering pocket of air. With a flash, we were through – and on the other side, another massive shipping facility, bright lights illuminating the metal grated floor over which we flew. I spun around, and watched the other vehicles re-entering the real world behind us. One of the last convoy trucks still had thin tentacles clinging to it, trying to drag the machine back through the portal, but they were no match for the massive engine once the tires had the traction of the grated floor. Further and further into our world the tentacles stretched, until one last spray of gunfire, this barrage coming from a new group of men standing next to the open portal, severed them and left them flopping around the floor.
Once all of the vehicles were through, the portal closed with a loud buzzing. We came to a rolling stop, and Kurt hopped out of the vehicle even before it had ceased moving. I waited for the tires to stop before following him, my heart still pounding in my chest.
Kurt stalked over to another man, this one standing well back from the action. He was dressed in a suit and tie instead of military fatigues, and he seemed to be slouching, lacking the military posture of the other men around him. “Report,” he said in a tired tone to Kurt.
“We lost one of the escort vehicles and four of the convoy trucks,” Kurt replied. “I’d estimate fourteen casualties.”
The man rubbed his face with one hand. “Still better than our average, I suppose,” he sighed. “All right. Get me the info for the families of those men. I’ll make sure their death benefits get paid out.”
As Kurt stalked off, the man turned to me. “Ah, and you must be the academic,” he said, trying and failing to put on a smile of interest. “How was your first trip through subspace? Looking forward to the return voyage?”
I couldn’t suppress a shudder at the idea, and the man let out a mirthless laugh. “What were those things?” I asked. “Where do they come from? Why are they attacking?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “No one knows,” he said. “And frankly, no one really cares. We certainly can’t study them – look.” He pointed over behind me, and I turned and gazed back at the portal. The severed tentacles, stretched across the metal grates, were letting off clouds of thick gray smoke. As I watched, they broke apart, leaving nothing but faint greasy marks behind on the ground. The smoke drifted apart and dissipated before it had gone more than five feet.
“The things can’t survive on our world,” the man explained. “At least, as far as we know – we’re not going to tempt fate by leaving one of these portals open. After all, they didn’t attack us at first either.”
I opened my mouth, but I had no response, no words to adequately sum up what I had just experienced. The man took advantage of my silence to lean forward, his words taking on a steely tone. “You will not write about what you’ve seen,” he hissed. “You will not share any information about these creatures, about what they do to us. You will instead write about how subspace is inhospitable, slow to cross, filled with natural dangers – but no sign of life. You will write this up, and explain how Actinide is doing the best job it can with the challenge. Is this clear?”
I nodded, unable to meet his unblinking gaze. The man held his intense pose for a moment longer, and then relaxed, slumping back and rubbing one hand through his thinning hair. “Christ, I hate this job,” he muttered, talking to himself more than to me. “Anyway, you’re dismissed. Get out of here. And know that if you print anything about what you really saw, we’ll deny everything.”
I hurried away, heading for the distant exit. I passed several fortified positions, bristling with heavy machine guns and cannons, all pointed towards the deactivated portal. My thoughts were jumbled, and I felt as though I hadn’t slept in a month. But one thing was clear. Subspace was not going to be the answer to our society’s problems. The incredible advance was a hollow lie.