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Author's note: The following story was inspired by the song Iron Man by Black Sabbath and is an entry to Hel's "Bible Black" Metal Contest

Hyperion-6 was the first manned mission through slip-space. Some of the brightest minds had been compiled into one giant floating tin can for the experience. The world watched in awe as a dozen men and women embarked on a journey no one thought was possible. The problem was that when it exited slip-space the ship had not moved across the known universe. It remained outside of Earth’s orbit, minus the eleven other people that had entered. Captain Richard Reed was the sole survivor of the Hyperion mission and had no memory of what occurred in the seconds between entry and exit. After the shuttle landed and the landing crew secured Captain Reed, the pilot was escorted to a facility for testing and debrief. Richard had not even had time to process the events before he was questioned. Even he wanted to know what happened to the men and women who had been with him.

Captain Richard Reed sat scratching at his arm, his eyes shifting from Dr. Vance’s pen as it scribbled upon her notepad and the rhythmic ticking of the clock on the wall. Between his dry skin, the silence from the doctor and that constant tap he was close to going mad. He had always hated visiting shrinks and this one was hard to read. He had spent the last three days being prodded, probed, and questioned. All he truly wanted was to go home but the longer he was contained within these walls the more he felt they would not be letting him go anywhere. Hyperion-6 had successfully traveled past the known universe and back but Captain Reed was the only one to return and the government had to know why.

“You said it felt like a dream,” Dr. Vance broke the silence, her eyes intent on the captain.

Richard sat forward again, interlocking his fingers, “Yeah, like I’d wake up any second.”

She made a few scratches of ink on her pad, “Have you dreamt since you have been back?”

The captain’s eyes narrowed a bit, “As a matter of fact, yeah. I have had the same dream each night.”

“About?” Dr. Vance quizzed, brushing her blonde hair away from her thick-rimmed glasses.

As Richard’s story began he started digging at his left arm again. He detailed a dream that was more like a memory, something he remembered from childhood. He was walking through an old peanut field that had dried out from lack of use. The air was warm on his skin, like summertime back home but the light was dim for midday. His eyes came to focus on a small boy with wavy auburn hair staring into the sky. It was July 13, 2018, and Richard had heard his parents and friends at school talking about a solar eclipse.

The event had shaped his future, making him sure at the young age of twelve that he would become an astronaut and witness events just like this one from space. Both versions of himself watched in awe as the light of the sun was blotted out by the moon for a few seconds then the boy turned to his older self with confusion on his face. They looked into eyes of the same hue and almost by instinct reached out toward one another. When their fingers approached one another a tingle could be felt within their fingers, almost like static. Once contact was made both versions of Richard disappeared. The dream had actually felt more real than the events of Hyperion-6. None of it made sense.

By the time Richard had finished his story blood clotted under his fingernails and seeped from the skin on his arm. When Dr. Vance noticed it, she grabbed a tissue from the small box at her side and handed it to the captain. She closed her notebook and exited the room, suggesting she had a first aid kit in her supply closet. Richard simply nodded and stared at the small wound on his arm. His entire body felt like the moisture had been drawn out of it like a sponge that had been left in the sun too long. Dr. Vance returned shortly with a bandage. Her hand reached out to give it to the captain but a small charge flickered between them and caused her to let it fall. She rubbed at her fingers for a moment as she stared at Richard. Anyone who came in contact with him since his return had the same result.

The captain apologized, which had been frequent in the last few days. Everyone seemed to be afraid of him now and he knew they simply wanted answers. The problem was, he could not give them the answers they wanted. Hyperion-6 launched from Cape Canaveral on August 5, 2025. The shuttle exited our atmosphere as planned. The Sabbatian Drive was initiated and the passage was opened. In essence, the human race had found a way to harness the power of a black hole. Richard could remember how amazed he was when the stars seemed to be engulfed by the giant ring of nothingness. He had been briefed but no report could truly describe the event. A final check was made for departure. The engines were disengaged and the ship was pulled toward the event horizon. As Hyperion-6 made contact with the passage all light streamed away from them and toward them in an instant. His body felt heavy and light all at once. The feeling could have been compared to the fastest roller coaster ride ever. Before he could truly form words to describe it, the ship exited slip-space into a field of stars just above Earth’s orbit.

A gray-haired uniformed man entered Dr. Vance’s office. The captain instinctively stood to attention, pressing the side of his hand to his head in salute. The triangular positioned stars meant General, regardless of status and Richard was still a man of discipline. He was addressed and allowed to rest at ease. The General spoke with the doctor quietly before turning to Richard. The same look of uncertainty rested in his eyes as he approached. With a gesturing hand, Richard was asked to take a seat, which he did. The General sat across from him, speechless for a moment and rubbing at the thick mustache that sat upon his upper lip. He was trying to choose his words carefully. The truth was always hard to take.

“My name is General Osbourne. I do not believe we have met before but there are a few things we need to discuss. First, Captain, do you know what the date it is?” Osbourne questioned with concern in his voice.

“Well, the launch was on August 5th,” Richard pondered the question, “I have been here three days so it should be August 8th.”

“Of what year, son?” the General continued.

Richard laughed slightly, “2025 of course.”

There was a pause and the General looked back to Dr. Vance for a moment before speaking again, “Captain Reed, when Hyperion-6 embarked it was August 5, 2025, but you did not return until August 5, 2032.”

Richard laughed again and his eyes shifted between Osbourne and Vance, waiting for the punchline. There was not one and his laughter faded quickly, the fear creeping from the ones questioning to the one being questioned. The thought of being gone seven years with no knowledge of it was impossible. Had he been unconscious? Was there more to the mission logs that he had not heard? All recordings showed that Hyperion-6 had been on a mission for less than a few seconds. The ship did not even have enough fuel for a seven-year journey. This had to be a joke and the fact that no one else had laughed set up panic in the young captain. His chest grew tight and he had trouble breathing. Richard leaped up from his seat, forcing it over and rushed over to the window. Dr. Vance approached and tried to calm the man but he simply shoved her away. The captain’s hand grasped hold of the drawn string that held the blinds in place and before anyone could stop him he opened them.  If Richard had trouble breathing before, the sight before him made it impossible. The building he now stood in was in the middle of a wasteland that had once been an active government facility in Florida. Now it looked more like the deserts of Arizona.

General Osbourne escorted Captain Reed back to his sleeping quarters. The old man spoke but his words were garbled nonsense compared to what filtered through Richards' brain. The magnitude of the events that had occurred was almost more than he could manage. The world he had come to know had changed and seven years had been lost along with the rest of his crew. When the two of them came to a stop at the doorway the General pointed to the addition to Richard’s room. It was a thin laptop upon a small personal desk. An internet panel had been opened with a video clip waiting to be played. The thumbnail on the video depicted the Hyperion-6 and the captain immediately knew what that meant.

Richard thanked Osbourne before entering his room and closing the door. His hands shook as he took a seat at the desk. His fingers scratched at his arms again as he contemplated clicking play. There were so many questions that needed to be answered but did he truly want to know? The video began with a countdown and a time stamp. The shuttle launched and ascended into the sky. Within minutes shuttle was in orbit. A flash of blue splashed across the sky and disappeared as the Sabbatian Drive kicked on. The dark passage opened the heavens. You could hear the gasps from the people watching from the facility. Civilians had gathered outside of the gates to witness the dawn of a new age.

All was as expected until the shuttle reached the event horizon. Simultaneously the Hyperion-6 disappeared and a bright flash of greenish-yellow light appeared in its place. The light stretched from the stars to Earth in seconds and set the ground beneath it on fire. Sounds of excitement and awe were replaced with fear and pain. The crowd was burnt beyond recognition in a flash and moments later were ash. The light intensified until everything in its path was ablaze. Nothing survived. There was a cut scene with a time and date stamp for the day Richard returned. Someone had filmed the passage reopening and the Hyperion-6 reappearing in the sky seven years later.

Richard watched until the end then scrolled back to the time stamp at the first clip and then over to the next. His eyes widened at the thought. Captain Richard Reed had been gone exactly seven years, down to the second. The lone survivor of Hyperion-6 sat stoic, trying to process what he had just witnessed and the events following. He retraced his memories of the event, sure it had only lasted seconds. That was when he noticed the tab marked, “Next”. The click was audible as the video changed to a blank screen with a play symbol in the middle. Another click started an audio sample that he quickly recognized from the prelaunch sequence of his mission. His voice checked off the safety list.

Richard listened intently, having not heard this before now. The recording was just as he remembered up until contact with the passage then it went silent for a few seconds. Unknowingly, Richard had been digging at his arm fiercely while easing toward the screen. Then an ear-splitting conglomerate of screams erupted from the speakers, causing him to jolt backward and fall from his chair. His eyes were wide and intent on the computer as he listened to the sound of his crew cry out in pain. Then just as abruptly as it started, it fell silent again and the sound clip ended. The time read only a few seconds, just as he remembered. One question repeated in his mind, “How could seven years have passed?”

By the time Richard realized the nervous scratching he had already torn through his skin and blood had pooled on the white tile below him. He frantically searched for a way to cover his wound, finding only the spare clothing that had been left for him to change into. He used the white t-shirt to press against his forearm and it quickly dyed a dark crimson hue. He cursed his misfortune and pulled the damp cloth away and again he was left in shock. Beneath his stark white skin was blackness. Richard wiped at his arm repeatedly. Even after all he had been through he still could not believe it. Under the shell of his epidermis was a layer of some hard material. It was dark but shimmered in the fluorescent light of the room, with streaks of blue, green, yellow and pink flickering across. He had never seen something like it and as his nails drug further up his arm more skin flaked away in warm wet clumps to reveal obsidian.

The questions continued and Richard had a few of his own. He sat in front of various groups of scientists and doctors. Every expert had their own theory as to what had occurred during the seven-year disappearance of the Hyperion-6. None of the preliminary flights indicated any complications with the journey or return trip. Each unmanned vessel returned within moments of departure. Each of the scientists came to the same conclusion: there had to be a variable they had not included in their formula. Each of them rambled in jargon that made little sense to Richard. That was until they began suggesting that the variable must have something to do with Captain Reed. They had his attention.

He sat picking at his bandage as they stared, concerned about revealing his secret. He did not want to become a lab rat the rest of his life but sharing that secret might be the only way to discover what occurred on August 5, 2025. So he began removing the bandage and as it pulled away from his arm more skin peeled back. Once he was finished the foreign material stretched from his wrist to his elbow. The entire room gasped at the sight and chairs shuffled as they all scrambled for a closer look. The streaks of color are what drew the most attention. It was almost as if the material was alive with light. One of the men suggested that it looked just like Osirium. The word rang in Richard’s head. He had heard that somewhere before. The door behind the group suddenly swung open with force and men in hazmat suits took hold of the captain’s arms and escorted him to an isolation chamber. The door slammed shut, a locking mechanism echoing just behind it.

Richard sat in that small room for what felt like hours. It was cold and quiet, the only sound being the air that filtered in from a single vent eight feet above his head. The silence was suddenly interrupted by a metallic click and the wall adjacent to him began to shift. The white paneling lowered into the floor to reveal a large window pane. On the other side stood General Osbourne, Dr. Vance, two more scientists from the interrogation and two armed guards. A buzz could be heard as Osbourne keyed an intercom and asked if Richard could hear him clearly. The captain nodded and was asked to give verbal responses to check the audio receiver. Richard gave a proper, “Yes sir,” out of habit and General Osbourne smirked in response.

The General touched the glass and an image appeared upon it. A large metallic cylinder with seven interlocking rings appeared upon a digital representation, “Do you know what this is?”

Richard nodded, “That’s the Sabbatian Drive.”

“Have you ever seen it in operation?” Osbourne asked.

Richard shook his head, his eyes narrowing in confusion, “No, it is dangerous to observe the active drive due to high radiation levels emitted by the device.”

Osbourne touched the glass again and the image became alive with motion. The interlocking rings disconnected, rotated, and then reconnected repeatedly. The faster the rings moved the darker the material seemed to grow like a shadow enveloped the machine and the more powerful it became. The metal became darker than night and small lines of iridescence appeared upon it. Soon the light engulfed the dark and you could barely discern the machine amidst the stream of color. The different hues blended into white. The General touched the glass again to stop the cinematic. Richard knew what all of them were thinking. The material beneath his skin bore a striking resemblance to the Osirium that was used to create the Sabbatian Drive when it was active. The only difference, the device depicted required vast amounts of energy to use and this material was reacting to Richard’s body. It surged with energy and the captain could feel it vibrate within him.

Richard could feel the panic rising with his heartbeat. He stared at the blackness under his skin and began running his hands across his arms. Again, his skin fell off in layers and despite the commotion from the other side of the glass, he continued to pull hunks of his flesh away until there was little left of it. He picked at the white that remained on his neck and felt it rise up away from his body. The group on the other side of the wall watched in horror as the face of a man was removed piece by piece to reveal something alien in nature underneath. Fingernails and toenails fell away along with hair fibers. All that remained of what was once Richard Reed was his the pale blue and white of his eyes. The rest was obsidian with a rainbow of color dancing upon it. Richard shook like a leaf in the wind as the truth sunk in. His body had become Osirium, the material humans had used to harness the power of space and time.

“What the hell happened to me?” Richard yelled as he looked back to the group of gawkers.

The captain’s eyes fell upon another imagine upon the glass. A black figure in the shape of a man lay strapped to a table in a room much like the one he stood in now. The eyes were closed and the openings where a nose or mouth should have been were now gone. At the top right of the photograph was a file name, “Osiris”. General Osbourne looked to the group, then back to Richard. None of them understood how this was possible. They all began chiming in theories for what could have occurred and this only served to anger Richard further. Someone or something had screwed up and it had ruined his life and who knows how many others? Richard rushed the glass, yelling at the group to tell him what was going on. None of them seemed to be able to hear him through the glass or care that he was upset.

Then one of the scientists began rambling about the possibility of time manipulation and how Einstein believed that in order to travel faster than light one would possibly travel backward in time. Everyone stopped talking immediately after that and Osbourne pressed the glass once more. The wall closed between the group and Richard. The captain grabbed at the wall in an attempt to stop it but it was no use. He pounded upon the wall repeatedly, screaming to be set free but no one appeared to be listening anymore. He was trapped and he had no idea what they intended to do with him. He slammed against each wall for an hour or more before giving up. He was tired and could no longer hold his eyes open.

Within his tormented mind Captain Reed replayed the launch. His dreams were as vivid as reality as his former self went through his list. Life support, navigation, communications, and mechanical were all clear. The crew was a mixture of nervousness and excitement, even Richard. He kept reminding himself that if he could just get past the event horizon without throwing up then the world would regard him as a hero. As the Hyperion-6 entered the passage and the light began to bend around them the screaming started. The ship seemed to expand and contract violently along with the crew inside it. Each one of them cried out in pain as they were dismantled to the smallest particle and became one with the blur of light around them. Seconds later the entire ship and its contents were reconfigured. That which was once his crew was assimilated piece-by-piece within his own body while being bombarded by sub-atomic particles. Richard’s body formed in Osirium and his skin wrapped over it like a blanket.

The metal man shot up from the floor of the containment room, the screams of his former crew still ringing in his head. The streams of colored light whipped violently across his darkened form as if energized by his anxiety. He could still feel his heart beating within his iron chest and it still rose and fell for oxygen. His fingers trailed the hardened exterior of his form and a charge surged from it to his fingertips. He thought about the humanoid creature in the video and the destruction it caused. His life had been forever altered and thousands more had been destroyed in the pursuit of power than humans were not ready to harness. The more upset he became the more violent the energy from his body seemed to manifest. The blues, greens, yellows, and pinks flashed and rolled over one another until they blended to white and blanked out the darkness of his dark shell. His body vibrated and stretched much as it had on the Hyperion-6 but without the pain. Then the light faded and the charge surrounding him dwindled to calm. When his body became stable again Richard was no longer alone in the room.

The captain leaned over a table where a form that could have passed for his copy lay restrained. Its abdomen flexed with each breath. It was alive and somehow sensed Richard’s presence. The eyes opened slowly, revealing faded blue pupils beneath black satin eyelids. It seemed scared and Richard tried to communicate how sorry he was but the being had no mouth to use in response. The eyes shifted to look at the wall beside them and Richard’s gaze followed. He wondered if there was a glass behind that wall too and if the General was on the other side. A metallic hand grasped hold of Richard’s wrist, which pulled his attention back to the table. Tears welled up inside the human-like eyes of the figure as it pointed to itself and then toward Richard. It took a few moments for the reality to sink in but once it had there were even more questions than answers. How could this thing be him? Suddenly Richard felt a pulling sensation at his abdomen and his body began to expand and contract once more.

When the light faded again he was once again alone but the building he once stood it was in flames. The energy emitted from his transportation had been so great that the facility could not contain it. Richard searched the wreckage for survivors. Dr. Vance and General Osbourne’s bodies were curled into the fetal position on the other side of the facility. Piles of ash were scattered among the rubble of the building. Short of the flames whipping in the wind, there was no sign of life left. Richard thought about all the pain this mission had caused. What had been intended to propel the human race forward had become their undoing and Richard could think of only one way to stop it.

His eyes closed slowly and he thought back to that old peanut field. His mind envisioned the eclipse and how amazing the event had been. Energy engulfed his form again and in moments he stood in that old field. The younger version of himself was a few feet away staring into the sky. He attempted to call out but his throat felt coarse. He tried to open his mouth again to speak but his lips would not part. The Osirium was consuming him and he knew he did not have long before he was pulled back to the present. The boy turned to see the metal man, head tilted in curiosity, “H-hi…I-I’m Rich.” The heavy skinned man knelt down to eye level and nodded in response then reached forward with one hand. The boy returned the gesture. The larger of the two touched his own chest before reaching out and pointing to the boy. The two of them were soon engulfed in light and when it faded neither remained.

Written by L0CKED334
Content is available under CC BY-SA