Named for HP Lovecraft's awful descriptive vocabulary.
By Balbh Agus Óg
I had queued up some data to process and needed to kill some time. Distance was a factor, I was aware of that, but there was something else slowing communication to the central hub and I was not sure what. It was an unknown factor, I guessed the weather? I kicked back from the desk and raised myself to my feet. The light coming through the filtered window had ever so slightly changed as the planet rotated around its fixed point. The nebula was the colour of a tropical ocean on Sol-3 and the Star shone silvery white. I slept. I washed. I dressed. I ate. I waited.
Approximately eight hours left, 37 percent. I stare through the clear plastic, out over the cliff of the craters edge looking at the horizon. Maybe I need to get out of this place. Small space, long time, no real human contact. Remote. Suited up, mask clicked down, air pump on. Phssss phuw phssss phuw. Smells stale and metallic, although safe according to heads up. Walk about. Mash exit button in airlock and step out. Air is clear today, vision is good. Approach the craters edge. The rings of the planet are just rising above the horizon, they give the impression of giant mountains far in the distance. Rocks floating above mountains. I begin My Descent.
The stone is rough and pitted. Micrometeorites pelted this surface for eons. Good grip, low gravity, sharp tiny edges. Decide to climb down. I'll save the energy for the return journey. The drop in front of me is vast. The light stops about a mile down, but I know it decends further. Much further. The crater is several hundred kilometers in radius and is like its own little planet. The weather here is unique from the surface. The chemical composition of the rock is unique to this crater. I have been at its lip for two months but I have never seen its depths. I have no intention of seeing them today.
I pat the spare battery that I have taped to the outside of the suit, just to remind me, reassure me, that it is still there. The thrill of this walk keeps me sane on this planet. It gets lonely. I've been down to the very edge of the darkness below. I am returning there now. I'm not mean't to, but I like to watch a sort of artificial sunset there before my rise from the crater, when I then chase the sunset up the crater wall. I am ten thousand kilometers from my fellow geologists, my fellow humans. The only other people within light years. It was my turn to man this post on the edge of this hole. It gets very lonely. The darkness swallows me up. I sit there feeling miserable, watching the HUD temperature drop quickly. The environmental conditioner in the suit jumps into action, I dim the HUD. I cant seem to move a muscle. I lied on my application forms. I said I was healthy and fit for space flight. A friend of mine, well an uncle actually, used to work as a psychologist for these people and I grilled him on that part of the test. I knew what to say. It wasnt physiological so apart from the questions they had little to go on. They needed people like me. Willing volunteers with PhD's in the right place. Willing to leave Sol and go out there. Three, four maybe more years asleep, travelling. Maybe they did know, maybe they didn't care. It is getting to be nice here in the darkness. It is like the rock beneath me remembers my presence, makes me feel more comfortable with each return. I stare down. Blackness.
I sit for some time. My fingers are twitching. My sweaty toes wiggle. I fidget therefore I am. I reach for a button upon my left wrist. Speaking to the suit would ruin this moment. I'm about to light up this dark patch of rock, bringing noise too just seems rude. As I remove my gloved finger from the button I notice the symbol for the suits' lights has been almost entirely worn away. The dust that is suspended in the air here can grind down anything. A shiver goes up my spine. Maybe a walk. I rise with a grating sound from the ledge that had been a sort of getaway spot of mine on many occasions. I'd climbed down here maybe a dozen or so times. Always to this same spot. Not always the same route, but always the same ledge. Must move on.
Disjointed memories come flooding in, but from where, what caused them. Why now, I hadn't thought of her in years. I don't feel well. Stomach churning over. A girl I loved back on Sol-4, tall red beautiful funny cruel. I realise there is no sensation of rock beneath my feet. I stretch out to grab the rockface in front of me but it's just a little too far out of reach. I see the face race upwards as I fall. "Stablise", I croak. The first words I've spoken aloud in a couple of days, maybe more. "Unrecognised Comm..". I dont quite catch the last part of it, as something catches on the cliff and sends me hurtling in a series of backflips. Another crash, pain, hissing noise, the smell of sealant. I start to slow. Is it adrenoline or is it the automatic propulsion slowing me. Must have been the first, the suit once again cracks off some rock - and I black out.
I wake. 20.8 hours elapsed. HUD light flickering. Chest sore, arm hurt, pressure around ankle, auto turnoqueted by suit. Darkness everywhere. Suit in low power mode. As I move, the suit comes to life. In a slurred, low powered voice it informs me, "<Jason>, you have been saved by ExoTech(TM) auto landing procedure four, You have sustained several injuries during your fall of <twenty two thousand, seven hundred and sixty eight metres>". "<Right Arm, fractured>. <Left hand broken>, <right ankle broken>, <Ribs broken - Four, internal bleeding and severe bruising to the chest>". "It is advised that you remain motionless while an ExoMediTech(tm) technician locates and aids you,(Location unknown) (Message send failure, must help self)". Then, almost as an afterthought, "You have six minutes of oxygen left, power at point zero zero zero six percent".
I roll uncomfortably onto my back. The right hand side of my chest hurts like hell. Worst I've ever felt. I'm scared. I think I'm going to die here on Delta-Ep 4.2. Something is sticking uncomfortable into my side. I reach around to move it or me away. It's the spare battery, damaged. Must have come free from the suit during the fall. The battery is venting the tiniest spray of something or other into the atmosphere. I press a button on the side of it, but the sudden shock of the pain in my left hand makes me drop it and and shout in anger. The shout reverberates off the plexi-glass of the visor and echoes back into my lungs. The visor fogs. My ribs scream in pain. The batterys' readout blinks in a bright green, 50%. It's simple digital display and a sign I'm not going to die. Fifty percent is enough to get my ship back into orbit, nevermind this suit and my body to the surface 22k up. I rest a minute before my suits HUD flashes red, Warning ! <Jason> you have 5 minutes of oxygen left. Please return to suitable atmosphere. It's now or never, I think quietly to myself.
It takes me three excruciating minutes to get myself to my knees. The green readout light of the battery is constant. The number, it turns out, is not. 49%. The red flash of the HUD colours and changes the shadows on the rock beside me. Red, Green, Red, Green, Red, Green. Shadow, long, short, long, short. It is only then I notice something wrong with the rock. The shadows of the pock marked stone flicker to my left and right, but beneath my knees is smooth. Perfectly, machine polished smooth. "What the fuck!" I manage wheezedly. "One Minute Warning", my head is thumping, my chest aches, and worse than that it crunches and moves in bad way as I reach for the battery. I realise, with seconds left to live that I have to do all this with my left hand. The broken one. I have movement with two of my four fingers, and it's a simple enough job. "C'mon this is chicken piss", "just do it – now". Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh with a exhale of pain and what might by my last oxygen. I have been talking to myself for weeks now. Mostly encouragment when i know things are bad. Click. I feel the old battery, lighter that expected roll away from my back and bounce down from my left calf muscle. Blackness. The HUD fails. Peace at the end. I cough and splutter. Fog blurs the darkness, reflects nothing. I try to turn a little to help with the the job at hand. My ankle takes the pressure. My legs stretch and give way in pain, I slump to the ground. No warning this time, no power, no oxygen, no HUD, no voice. I gasp my next breathe from the contents of the suit, sucking against the Air scrubbers. My lungs scream. I exhale, again, back to the ground, staring up at the rough circular shape of the crater impact. The suit medi systems begin to fail, pain swells up in my ankle, the turnaquet is loosening. The oceanic blue nebula and glorious white sky are unimaginable, beautiful. I think I'll have a rest here. After all it seems warm enough, the suit is comfortable, if I don't move, there is no pain. I see a dot in the sky, something new in a sort of familiar sky. It's red. Strange, because thrusters burn bluey-green. A ExoMediTech vessel? I thought I was in an "unknown location". My vision shifts and changes. I black out. I gasp awake to pain. How much time has passed - battery. The vessel, my nurse, my life, the mirage of thrusters turns out to be a tiny red dot of blood that I coughed up on the visor. Again my back is prodded with the battery. No time to loose.
Everywhere is sensitive, everywhere feels like it's going to die. I slide the new pack into the slot in the rear of the suit. My left index finger grinds against one of it's bones as I click the battery home. The green flickering stops. The suit immediately begins to warm. "Welcome, <Insert Name Here>". I check the power levels on this battery, my enquiry is interupted by another message "Oxygen scrubbers now working at 100% capacity". I finally get some answers. The power is at 11%. I worry. I take a few painfully deep breaths. 10%. The suit is consuming, or losing huge amounts of power. I've no idea why. I turn again to stand. I dont notice what is venting from the battery into the cold depths of this crater, because it's too dark. I might have enough power to propel myself topside. I might not. Gravity might allow me, then again, it might not.
My head swims as I balance there on one foot. It's taken me a few moments to get this far. The air is better now, but it's causing my head to swim. My ankle feels better, the tournequet is obviously working. With my back towards the cliff I click on my wrist control panel for lights. Instantly I flick it off again and allow what was burnt onto my retinas to sink slowly into my muggy brain. Flat plain polished surface, polished by a circular device. In contrast to the dizzying circles of the polisher work stands a perfectly square box, about two or three times the height of me. It's hard to say, perspective is strange down here. The angles just wont allow my brain to register its true size. "Suit, lights 10%", I gasp. Around me a circle of light, about five metres grows. So dull it shows nothing but ground. I slide a foot very gingerly forwards, testing my left ankle for support. It seems fine. Pain is there alright, it's dull, like a bruise, not a break. I put my weight on it. Mistake. I fall.
I come to a second or so later. "<Insert Name Here>, You have just fallen point five metres.", You have sustained several injuries during your fall of <point five metres>". "<Right Arm, fractured, swollen>. <Left hand broken>, <right ankle broken, circulation and nerve damage, swollen>, <Four broken ribs,major internal bleeding and severe bruising to the chest>". "It is advised that you remain motionless while an ExoMediTech(tm) technician locates and aids you, (Location unknown) (Message send failure, must help self)". "You have six(time almost stops)ty six minutes of oxygen left, power at point five percent".
My gloves have some grip on the polished floor. I drag myself forward. A recess in the giant black block is highlighted by the suits lights. I dont know why, but i reach out to touch it, As if it is a handle that will allow me to pull myself to safety. I'll be the first human to touch something made by alien hands. The plain shiny surface vanishes, tiny swirls of particles kick up and play in front of my eyes. I drag myself inside. Darkness. "You have point zero nine percent power left, please prepare to return to suitable atmosphere". "Failure to do so will result in breach of .." - "Cancel audio". "Copyright and ExoMediTech will not be held responsible for any injury and/or death caused – appears in definite, clear bold text in the HUD."
I am unaware of the panel of darkness closing again. I am in a large chamber, towards the far wall a section of ground angles down into the surface of this planet. The ceiling of this place becomes translucent and it brightens.... and brightens. I raise my arm to block my eyes. I cough. I am scared. I am dying. I know now. My lips are cold, my neck is tingling. I feel warm liquid roll around the back of my neck. I think, this place must be alien. I've found aliens. I remove my hand. The visor is a red blur. I cough. I exhale.