Messages to the Abyss

The passage of time flows differently in this strange place. Humans are always in a hurry, shuffling from one task to another. I feel time slip through my fingers every time this strange sun sets and you’re not by my side. Miss you more than you know.

Malina clicked the pause button, silence filling the space that her static-filled recording left. She shot a glance at the rest of the laboratory, which was already empty due to humans leaving early for Valentine’s Day plans and Karazai taking advantage of a lax evening without their human counterparts.

A lax evening was too much of a luxury that Malina could take. The notes strewn on the desk in front of her offered no solace, only more questions: How can one send a message across the rift? How do we tell the ones we left behind that we are okay?

Are we okay?

Though she was satisfied with her message, Malina replayed her message once again, this time listening to the cracks of hope in her own voice, a harsh contrast to her earlier messages she recorded. She idly rubbed her lanyard, her name and title of “scientist” prominently displayed. “Scientist” was a far more prestigious title from the educator status Malina enjoyed at home before she was violently whisked into this strange planet called Earth.

Home, Malina thought wistfully.

The laboratory’s door creaked open. Reena slipped inside, a coffee in each hand and two paper bags wedged between her fingers precariously. “Got you a scone,” Reena said, as way of greeting, before shutting the door with her foot.

“Thank you.” Malina pushed aside the notes so Reena could plop a grease-stained paper bag in front of her.

Reena settled onto a chair across from Malina before helping herself to the bagel inside her own paper bag. Malina watched as Reena’s eyes shifted to the corners of the room, though in a much less guarded way than the first time they met–when Reena had accused Malina of shapeshifting and stealing her appearance. Even until now, Reena was convinced they had similar appearances.

Malina bit into her scone, eyeing Reena thoughtfully as she munched. She couldn’t understand it before, but she saw it now–the kindred spirits burning inside them both. New to town, new to this convergence of worlds. They needed each other more than they knew.

“What is this?” Reena asked, pointing her chin to the device on Malina’s desk before taking another large bite out of her bagel.

“It’s an emitter,” Malina explained. She lifted the device, turning its clunky frame in her hands. “I’ve been recording myself on this–” she tapped the recorder– “and I’m hoping to send a message across the rift with this.”

“Any luck?”

Malina’s eyes fell. “So far, no.”

Reena’s lips pressed together in a frown. She then reached across the table and squeezed Malina’s arm. “We’ll find a way to let the people back home know you’re okay.”

“I can’t imagine them being so worried sick about me.” Malina’s voice cracked. “I also hope they are also okay.”

“I’m sure they are,” Reena said, a little too quickly. A little too rehearsed.

Malina smiled sadly at her friend. She knew Reena had to say that, because the alternatives were too terrible to imagine. “Though they’ve given me a degree of freedom to pursue communications across the rift, this particular project isn’t quite sanctioned. Hence the recorder. It’s more of a pet project.” Malina picked at her scone, trying to sound casual. “Do you know if the rift is open today?”

“It is,” Reena said, eyeing Malina suspiciously. “Why?”

Malina fidgeted in her seat, before finally saying, “I hate to impose this on you, but would you mind giving me a lift to the rift?”

Reena blinked in surprise. She then nodded. “Let’s go.”

Relief washed over Malina. She hated to ask Reena to break the rules, but she doubted they would let her do her pet experiment if she asked. Malina shoved her recorder into her bag before gathering her coffee and emitter device. She followed Reena outside, precariously balancing the emitter device as she shuffled into Reena’s off-road vehicle. 

Once inside–and after chiding Malina for nearly spilling coffee in her work vehicle–Reena entered a code to unlock the vehicle’s console. She navigated the screen to find the rift’s current coordinates before driving into the forest nearby. They crawled up and down grassy knolls and weaved between trees before arriving at their destination in a meadow.

Malina hopped out of the vehicle, her eyes never leaving the rift. Its presence was unsettling, the aberration–the unnaturalness–of the rift pierced right to the bone.

And, beyond that rift, was the man she loves.

“We have to leave by five.”

Malina turned to face Reena, who was glancing at her watch. “Big plans?”

“Not really.” Reena shrugged casually before sticking her hands into her jacket’s pockets. “I’m going to see Victoria.”

“Was she the one who tried to ruin your–what did you call it? Christmas?”

“Yes.” Reena snorted. “And she’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Seems like an odd choice of date.”

Reena rolled her eyes. “It’s not a date.”

“But it’s Valentine’s Day.” Malina folded her arms. “Are you telling me all this heart-shaped nonsense means nothing?”

Reena rolled her eyes. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you!” she hissed. “Can we hurry now? Before someone else sees us?”

Malina crouched down to place the emitter device on the grassy floor, connecting the recorder to the device through a cord. Reena tapped her foot as Malina operated the device, adjusting its antennae to point to the rift while studying the emitter’s console. When Malina was satisfied with what she saw on the console, she snapped on the emitter switch and stepped back.

Please work, Malina thought wistfully as the emitter hummed. She glanced up to the rift, which gave no indication that her attempts were received. Malina held her breath until the emitter stopped humming, its task completed.

If her calculations were correct, her message would be sent across the rift. That was, of course, assuming all the variables–and there were so many–were as expected. 

“How will we know if it worked?” Reena asked as Malina gathered the emitter.

“There’s a feedback mechanism in here,” Malina explained, pointing to the emitter’s console. “It should measure the integrity of the message and we should have some data in a few days.”

“So we can go then?” Reena asked.

“Yes,” Malina said hesitantly. She lingered as Reena headed back to the car, her body not wanting to leave.

Reena turned to see Malina wasn’t following her. She retraced her steps to her friend. “Or…how about we wait for a while to see if anything comes through?”

Malina smiled at Reena, gratitude swelling in her chest. “Thank you.”

Malina and Reena settled on the ground, leaning back on the grass, their legs stretched in front of them. Thin clouds drifted slowly overhead. Minutes turned into hours. The sun sank lower toward the horizon.

No sounds came from the rift.

“Maybe they can’t send a message back?” Reena suggested.

“Possibly,” was all Malina could croak.

“Or maybe the message is too long?” Reena offered. When Malina didn’t respond, Reena said softly, “I’m sorry.”

Malina only nodded, disappointment weighing down on her. She wasn’t going to cry, not in front of people–even if it was only Reena. She got to her feet, dusting the dirt off her pants. “Let’s go.”

The women rode back to the laboratory in contemplative silence. The emitter device hung loosely under Malina’s arm as she walked around the car to Reena’s window after they pulled up to the laboratory. “Thank you for taking me to the rift today.”

“Let’s not make breaking the rules a habit,” Reena said with a wink. “Stay out of trouble.”

“Tell that to your date.”

“Not a date!” Reena called out from the window as she drove away.

Malina watched her friend drive away, a pang of loneliness seeping into her chest. Instead of walking back to her office, she took a seat on a nearby bench, turning the emitter device in her hands to review at the console.

No feedback yet.

Malina sighed as she turned her eyes to the sky, at a planet she couldn’t see.

It’s been a while since we last saw each other. Not a single day passes that I don’t think of you. I cannot wrap around where you might’ve disappeared to. I hope that you are well and that one day you will read these letters.

Dulin scanned the purple skies above, squinting against the rays from the sun that sat close to the horizon, its twin close at its heels. He then rested his eyes on the crater before the stone bench from where he sat.

Scenes of that dreaded day replayed in his head. One moment, he was looking at Malina, her face bright smiling at him. Then, the next moment, she was gone. Vanished, along with so many others. His whole world imploded, leaving behind a gaping hole in the ground and in his heart.

And this mysterious rift.

Teams buzzed around the rift constantly, entering notes into tablets as they prodded the rift with machinery. Fellow observers hung around the perimeters. Dulin watched from his stone bench, as he did every day since the incident, wistfulness hardening into anger as he waited for a breakthrough.

“Mind if I join you?”

Dulin’s eye shot up to the woman standing next to him. He had seen her around this area, though never spoke with her. She buzzed around with the group that was researching the rift with absolutely no progress to provide answers on what happened that dreadful day. Dulin shoved down his resentment enough to nodded mutely at her.

The woman took the seat next to him, her hands clasped together in front of her. “Did you lose someone during the incident?”

Dulin simply nodded again.

The woman nodded. “Me, too. My husband and son.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What are you writing there?” The woman gestured to the letter in his hand.

“A letter,” Dulin said. “To my wife Malina.” When the woman gave him a quizzical look, he explained impatiently, “We used to write cheesy letters to each other when we were younger. Malina would turn those letters into songs. She was a gifted musician and singer.” He let out a sad laugh. “I guess writing these letters helps keep her alive in my head.”

“She is alive,” the woman insisted. “Somewhere out there. They reckoned that a hole was punched through the universe.”

Dulin stared at his letter, boring a hole. He had to cling to the chance that Malina was still alive out there.

He felt a hand squeeze his arm. Only then did he realize he had been crying. He looked over to the woman, who gave him a faint smile.

“We’ll find them,” the woman said. Her voice was firm with resolve.

A resolve that Dulin no longer had.

Miss you.

If the feedback reports from the emitter are correct, the message had a 0.00022% chance of being received.

Malina snorted. Message? More like “noise.”

In her most recent attempt, she had whittled down her message to just two words, in case Reena was correct about the message length interfering with the transferability of the message. The chances of the message being sent across only increased to 0.00025%, before the message’s integrity devolved into a muddled mess like the one blaring in Malina’s office right now.

She had failed.

Frustrated, Malina punched the emitter, crying out at pain that shot into her hand. Her efforts only made the emitter play the garbled noise louder. She rubbed her bruised hand as she sank back into her chair and pressed her forehead onto the emitter’s cold steel, letting the feedback noise wash over her, relinquishing herself to discord. She found that, by just letting go of all her expectations on the message sent through, that the noise mercifully ebbed and flowed rhythmically, almost in a soothing manner.

Almost like… a song.

Malina bolted up in her chair. She replayed the noise again and again, before scribbling notes into a chart. She replayed the feedback noise from previous attempts as well, ignoring her hand as it cramped as she wrote out more notes. 

Hours later, Malina sat back in her chair, studying her notes, a pattern emerging.

She began to craft her next message.

Please come back to me.

Dulin folded his note. Today, he didn’t have the heart to write more, had only the energy to shove the note into his pocket.

He closed his eyes, letting the surrounding noise drown his thoughts–the clanks from machinery, the hollers from the investigation teams, the whistling of the wind. If he listened long enough, the noise became static, fading into the background. Occasionally, a lilting note may emerge from the dissonance. And another.

And then another note. And another.

Dulin’s eyes flew open, scanning his surroundings to find the source of the tenacious notes–and finding none. He dared to not move a muscle as he focused his full attention on listening.

A simple melody persisted from cacophony, faint but unmistakable.

It was Malina’s song that she wrote for Dulin when they first met. She sang the song to him, a goofy smile incongruent with the tender vibratos her voice deftly navigated. It was an image that would last forever in his mind and his heart.

A smile crept across Dulin’s face. He couldn’t prove that Malina sent it. The impossibility of the event dictated there was no way she could have. But the impossibility of those notes–those exact notes–also suggested it had to be her that sent it. 

He had to believe it was her. He had to.

Dulin leaned back and closed his eyes again, listening to the pulses of Malina’s song as he slipped into her embrace.