Trick of light
Moments caught in flight
Make the shadows darker
Or the colors shine too bright
–Rush “Available Light”
Part I: Landing
We all stared out the observation window as the Mayflower IV approached Little Bear. There were 150 of us on board, from all different walks of life. I’m not quite sure how to describe my feelings as we neared the planet, but I think the enormity and reality of our mission sank in for the first time. Earth was almost 37 light years away, the sun just a speck in the great, obsidian vault of space. How to truly describe that feeling of crushing homesickness, that emptiness upon the realization that everyone I knew back home, indeed, even the ones who had sent us, were either elderly or dead. Those of us who had children were now physically younger than their children.
I was the one and only clinical psychologist aboard the Mayflower IV, and although I had begun my work before the launch, I now had no idea how to proceed. There was no body of research to draw from in this area, since a manned colonial expedition to another planet had never been done before. There were no studies evaluating the effects of leaving one’s home planet behind forever, or the effects of waking up after 40 years of cryogenic sleep would have. How could I even attempt to understand and quantify the thoughts and doubts whirring through all of our heads right now, and the effects that they would have? What would Professor Lovett, my old mentor back at University of Miami, tell me to do, aside from scolding me for being crazy enough to sign on for this? But then again, she was the one who always said that at least half of all psychologists have mental disorders themselves.
All I could draw from were some papers on the manned expeditions to Europa done back in the late 2230s, but those expeditions were done within the span of a few years, and the astronauts returned home. I had no experience like this to draw from, all I had was my work doing psychological evaluations for the military back on Earth, and the evaluations I had done for the various executive boards.
Little Bear’s name was derived from its sun, which translated to “Guardian of the Bear” in ancient Greek. The planet next to Little Bear was a gas giant almost three times its size, and so the two had been simultaneously named Big Bear and Little Bear. The World Organization for Space Exploration and Colonization, or WOSEC for short, had actually named Little Bear Arcturus Five, as it was the fifth planet from the sun in the Arcturus system, but we who were to live on it had given it a name of our own. It felt less intimidating somehow, to create a name for our new home that was ours and ours alone.
As the various probes had ascertained, the planet was habitable. The atmosphere was very similar to Earth’s, with more than enough breathable oxygen, and carbon dioxide for a diverse array of plant and animal life to have thrived, and there were several animals that we had been warned about. There was no evidence so far of intelligent life, but we each harbored hopes of finding ruins or artifacts of some ancient civilization, or even living intelligent life forms, although that was unlikely. Had there been any intelligent life on the planet, surely it would have been drawn to the probes hitting the surface and preparing our landing site. Considering what we did find, we should have been content with hoping for a nice, empty planet ripe and ready for us to settle on.
Little Bear was hotter than Earth, and towards the equator the environment would be too hot for us to stay for an extended period of time. But in both directions beyond the equator, the temperature ranged from about the climate of Egypt (closer to the equator) to a humid subtropical climate akin to North Florida, at the northernmost point of the landmass we were set to colonize, one of two “continents”. The planet was not tilted on its axis as Earth was, so there would be little seasonal variation. We had been sent with equipment that would allow us to cross the ocean that divided the two landmasses, but that had been planned for the distant future, after we had constructed a stable colony in the designated area. The area where we were to land and colonize was closer to the north, with a comfortably tropical climate close to my native city of Miami. Although a few of our crew from Canada and Russia would probably describe the climate as far less than comfortable.
There was also the matter of the planet’s mass, which was 1.125 times that of Earth, meaning that gravity would be stronger on Little Bear. Our bodies would adjust in time and with the aid of WOSEC’s nanotechnology, but in the beginning it would be uncomfortable. The nanobots injected into us upon awakening had begun to work, strengthening our muscle tissues, joints, and lungs, but it would still take time.
Of course, most of this information I am setting down was built on the small bits I gleaned from briefings and crew meetings back on Earth during our crew training. I am a clinician of the medical staff, not a scientist, and a lot of what I heard was gibberish to me. I was not alone in this, Dr. Andromeda Trelorian and her staff of five nurses also looked just as confused as I did during the meetings. We were put in somewhat of an odd position, being part of the “crew” and not the “civilians”, thus we were required to attend all crew meetings. Yet we did not have much of the mechanical or physical science backgrounds that most of the other crew members had.
During training we had become good friends, swapping stories of patients and talking excitedly about the mission to come. Back then it had all seemed a grand adventure. She was the daughter of a physicist and an astronomer, hence the name “Andromeda” which happened to be the name of another galaxy. She used to say that her parents had primed her for this mission by giving her that name, although usually she just went by Andie. I wondered if she missed them, or if they had been dead before she signed up.
I stood next to Andie as we approached Little Bear, a hazy greenish blue sphere basking in the light of the alien star Arcturus. Neither of us said a word, and I wondered if she was still thinking about Gabriel Kenning, the colony’s first casualty. His cryogenic chamber had malfunctioned, bringing him only partially out of cryostasis. Andie had been on the scene, but there was nothing she could have done. His brain had become deprived of oxygen and almost immediately, his eyes burst from the pressure, and his heart had ruptured trying to pump frozen blood. But still, she blamed herself for his death, and imagined procedures she could have done that would have saved him.
But as we neared Little Bear, her melancholy began to shift to wonder, tinged with a little of the terror and homesickness that we all felt. Here was a world similar to our own from an objective, scientific standpoint, and yet from a personal standpoint it was completely alien. We had all seen the videos that the probes sent back. They showed us a primal, tropical wonderland devoid of all traces of civilization. It was reminiscent of the computer generated images scientists created of how they believed Earth had looked millions of years ago.
But it was vaguely reminiscent at best, and even a primordial Earth would have been terrifying for us men and women of the 24th century. This was still an alien planet, and although there were similarities, there were also blatant differences. The sky was a pale green, and some of the wildlife was far different than anything seen on earth. There were animals the size of elephants that lived in the water but could walk on land, with faces covered in tentacles, and concealing a titanic, circular, tooth-filled mouth. The tentacles appeared to be sensory organs of some sort, since before consuming anything the creatures first felt it with the tentacles. They had one eye, and they were presumed to have weak eyesight. One of them had taken a bite out of a probe during the first unmanned exploration, and the species had unofficially and somewhat affectionately been named “Chompers”.
“What do you think?” I asked Andie.
She remained silent for a few seconds. “I think it’s beautiful, Joey. And terrifying.” She paused. “It’s-“
She never got to finish. Alarms began to sound, signaling that all crew must begin the landing procedures. Each of us sat down in a well cushioned chair on the observation deck, and at the press of a button several straps secured us to them, and protective helmets descended onto our heads. The ship would land itself, in a clearing prepared by the second wave of mechanical probes sent out by WOSEC several years ago, strangely enough long after the Mayflower IV had launched. Probes could be sent at faster than light speed using a method of propulsion that would be lethal to any manned ship. The first Mayflower ship, headed to Europa, had been the test of that. There was a memorial day every year to honor the lost crew of the Mayflower I.
The ship’s computers ran the necessary algorithms, adjusting the ship’s simulated gravitational fields as we began our descent onto Little Bear. The observation deck’s walls began to change from transparent back to opaque, in order to protect us from any unexpected radiation. All of us were tense, I could see it in the multitude of clenched fists and sweating knuckles beneath the straps that held us motionless. I could feel the beads of sweat trickling down my own face.
My heart leapt with every whir of the machines, and every time I heard a new system kick online I imagined it failing, causing us to plummet to the surface in a heap of mangled metal and plastic. Of course, there were numerous backup systems set up to take over if any of the systems failed. The Mayflower IV and the Little Bear colonization project was a multi-trillion dollar endeavor, contributed to by all of the largest nations of the now united world. It was a product of WOSEC, which was a product of the One World, One Peace treaty, in which all nations signed agreements of nonaggression, and destroyed their respective weapons.
Such a thing would have been unthinkable mere decades before, my parents had told me, but the horrors of World War III, the first global scale conflict since the mid 20th century, had taken its toll on all of the nations involved. The conflict had lasted almost 20 years, and over the course of the conflict it was estimated there had been 1.6 billion casualties, and not just from the military. There were biological weapons used, and attacks made on defenseless towns that held strategic value. In that war nothing was sacred, no atrocity too great to commit in the name of victory.
Before the war the movement would have failed, would have been laughed at even. But after 20 years of fighting a war in which few even knew the cause or reason anymore, it gave hope and promised change. The One World, One Peace movement began at the University of Tokyo, and caught on like wildfire. The idea was a change in perspective, a change in philosophy. Countries and nations would no longer be independent entities, but parts of a unified whole. The military branches that would be allowed to exist would not serve any one country, but all of them. I wondered briefly how the unified world government had held up over the years. But oddly enough, it was no longer a concern of ours, since we had separated ourselves irrevocably from Earth.
At last, we felt a bump as the ship settled gently to the planet’s surface. There were several clicks as the thousands of “talons” beneath the ship dug into the soil, securing it in place and stabilizing it so that it was horizontally aligned and not tipping one way or the other. The helmets raised themselves, and the straps retracted, releasing us from the chairs. For a moment, no one stood. Then, a red haired woman off in the corner of the Observation Deck stood up, swayed, and promptly fell back into her chair, amidst a chorus of nervous laughter. One could read about increased gravity, but that didn’t necessarily prepare for the experience of it.
I pushed myself off the seat of my chair, and immediately felt the difference. It was like a giant hand trying to push me toward the ground, and I found myself gasping for breath. Others were standing and stumbling around as well. I felt a hand on my arm as Andie stumbled into me, giggling like a little girl, all homesick melancholy forgotten temporarily.
“I feel so — heavy!” She said. Together we tried walking around.
Captain Michedek strode over to the podium, along with his officers. “We will spend the next few hours acclimatizing ourselves to the gravity,” Michedek’s voice boomed out from the speaker system. “Walk around as much as possible, and, most importantly, eat. Your muscles are going to need to strengthen in order to completely adapt to Arcturus Five’s gravity, and for that you need your nutrients. The adaptive nanotechnology will need materials with which to strengthen your body with, and movement will get the nanobots flowing through your blood faster.” He stepped back and his second-in-command Keiko Tatami took his place at the center. She was a dark haired young woman who would have been very attractive if she smiled more often.
“You will not adapt overnight, it will take weeks and even months until you no longer notice the effects. The nanotechnology WOSEC developed is good, but it is not a miracle cure. The days on Arcturus Five last approximately 25.3 Earth hours, as I’m sure you all remember from the briefings and readings you were assigned, and that will take some time to adjust to as well. But we must commence with the mission in the meantime. Tomorrow we will walk upon the planet’s surface, in the clearing prepared by the probes, and we will enter the first phase of building. My attention waned as she went into the various meeting times for the different divisions, but I tuned in when she mentioned our division. “And medical staff, your meeting will be at 2300.” Beside me, Andie cursed. “The rest of you please see to your preparation manuals to make sure you are prepared for the beginning of operations on the surface. Also, please set your standard issue watches to the current time, which is — ” She stepped back and consulted with another of the officers, who did some quick calculations on his handheld computer. “1200,” she finished. “They have been specifically designed for Arcturus Five’s days.” She paused and drew a deep breath, evidently feeling the effects of the increased gravity as much as the rest of us.
“Spend as much time as you can manage being active, and the better you will adjust to the gravity. Get plenty of sleep, too. And lastly, welcome to Arcturus Five, or Little Bear, as many of you have started calling it. This is our home now, for better or for worse.” There was a smattering of applause. Keiko Tatami was a terse and abrupt woman, and, while she had not done anything to make herself actively disliked, she tended to come off as distant and unapproachable. In contrast, Captain Michidek was warm and jovial, always ready with a joke or jibe, and had a way of giving orders that made a person want to follow them. Michedek and Tatami were inseparable; I had never seen one without the other nearby. There were whispers among the crew that they were more than just captain and second in command.
Michedek stepped forward, but what he was about to say we would never know. A great rumbling came from beneath us, and the ship began to tremble. Andie clutched my arm hard, and I braced myself so as not to fall. Several others were not so lucky. There came a creaking noise, which escalated into an almost metallic shriek. I like to think it was metallic, that it was just the ship’s Talon System adjusting and balancing the ship during the quake, but I know now that the truth is probably quite different. It stopped as suddenly as it had begun, with that shriek still lingering in our ears. That was our first indication that something was terribly wrong on Little Bear.
“Please, everyone, keep calm. In all likelihood what we just experienced was the ground settling beneath the ship’s weight. This area was evaluated for tectonic plate activity and was cleared as safe. There will be no earthquakes here.” Michedek paused, and chuckled. “Or simply ‘quakes’ as we must call them, since we are no longer on Earth.” A few people chuckled nervously, but most just whispered to each other. It was not a great omen for our new lives on Little Bear. Andie and I exchanged glances, but said nothing.
Part II: The Expedition
My “office” as I called it was a small room off the Medical Bay. There was room for two chairs, a large desk, and that was about it. The desk was taken up by a large holographic display, upon which several dossiers of the men and women who were to lead the first expedition beyond the clearing where we had landed and begun to settle. It had been 12 days on Little Bear since the quake, and no other disturbances had followed. I had begun my evaluations of the crew immediately after landing, beginning with the architects and builders, who would have the most immediate tasks of designing and building structures according to the demands of Little Bear’s environment.
All but one were found to be fine. The one that needed treatment I diagnosed with Terrestrial Distance Anxiety Disorder, a disorder defined after the first explorations of Europa in which the astronauts had ventured farther than they ever had before, and were required to spend years away from Earth. It was essentially a clinical term for homesickness on a planetary level. It was something we all felt to an extent, but in this individual it was unusually intense.
I prescribed two hours a day in the “Earth Room”, a room aboard the ship with a virtual reality simulation of Earth, with over a thousand different simulation environments, from tropical beaches to snow-capped mountains, from small country farms (the few that still existed in the 24th century) to tremendous urban centers. Every major city had been programmed as a virtual environment, and up to twenty individuals could experience separate environments at a time, via headsets.
I was proud of the Earth Room, as it was my idea once I had been confirmed as a member of the crew. It wasn’t as hard to convince the administrative boards of WOSEC as I had initially thought, all I had to do was cite the Robinson Incident and that my idea was a preventative measure for such an occurrence, and they voted for it unanimously.
Andel Robinson had been among the crew first sent to Mars, and the incident tainted all future manned expeditions to Mars, until the planet was uneasily abandoned. The expedition was to last for three years, two of those spent on the planet, the other in spaceflight. After seven months on Mars, Andel Robinson showed severe strain, as evidenced in his transmissions to Earth. After a year, he began to show signs of suffering a severe psychotic break. But there was nothing anyone could do short of aborting the mission, and so the rest of the crew tried to calm him down. Two weeks later, Andel Robinson mutilated the rest of the crew with a blowtorch and hatchet, one by one, while they slept. Then, after a rambling, nonsense transmission back to Earth, he ignited the oxygen tanks, obliterating the ship and the fledgling base they had been sent to establish, and killing himself and all that remained alive. It was the most notorious event in the history of space exploration. Robinson’s final transmission was transcribed in several textbooks that I read while obtaining my PhD, and it has been analyzed endlessly by professional psychologists and amateurs alike.
Thus, one of my most important tasks was to watch for any signs of a potential repeat of the Robinson case. Robinson Syndrome had been renamed Terrestrial Distance-Induced Psychotic Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Version Eight, although most still referred to it as Robinson Syndrome. We were now on version eleven (referred to as the DSM-XI), and the disorder remained, despite the fact that none had suffered it since. The Earth Room was my preventative measure to Robinson Syndrome, as it would give patients as close to the true experience of home as they could get.
The first exploration team appeared to be psychologically sound, however. Most of them were adventurous by nature, and had already experienced all of the challenges that Earth had to offer. They had jumped at the chance to explore and settle a new planet, seeing it as just another new challenge. The team would be led by Lieutenant Elrik Maron, a charismatic and capable man.
I have gone over those dossiers repeatedly since then, looking for even the slightest hint of a psychiatric disorder, the barest possibility that I made a mistake somewhere, missed something crucial. Six times I’ve watched the recorded interviews I did with each of them, using the recordings to supplement my fading and biased memory. Not once have I found something out of the ordinary. Although it may ease my conscience, it does nothing to help me understand the events that followed.
It soon came time for the beginning of Elrik’s expedition to begin. Whatever tasks we had been set to, crew and civilians alike took a break to watch the live video transmission coming from Lieutenant Maron’s helmet camera. Video screens had been rolled down on the observation deck of the ship, and we all crowded in to watch. Backup cameras were installed in each of the other six team members’ helmets, in case Elrik’s camera failed. I could almost taste the excitement. Andie came over and sat beside me, along with her entourage of exhausted-looking nurses. Andie didn’t look all that energetic either, and as I watched she took out a packet of concentrated caffeine and drained it in seconds.
“Rough day?” I asked her cautiously. She could get irritable when she was overworked, as I recalled from our training days. She ran a hand through her strawberry blond hair and sighed.
“You have no idea. I’ve had at least five different patients with superficial bone fractures, but those are easy enough, the Med Caskets can take care of it. The problem is snakes, or what I assume are snakes — or something like Earth’s snakes. Whatever. I’ve had two workers come in that were bitten by what their colleagues swear were snakes, except there are three fang incisions, and the poison samples I’ve extracted are completely unknown. I’ve enlisted one of the chemists who has a crush on me to help with creating an antidote. Oh, and one of the builders lost an arm, and even the caskets can’t reattach it, there was too much nerve damage.”
I remained silent, realizing that by comparison maybe my job wasn’t that hard. Andie had the Med Caskets, computerized healing machines with rudimentary artificial intelligence, and they could automatically heal most minor injuries and complete small surgeries. But there were many complexities that could arise on Little Bear that the caskets wouldn’t be able to handle, and that Andie’s intensive training couldn’t even begin to cover. Then the video feed began, and everyone stopped talking and turned toward the nearest screen. Captain Michidek and Lieutenant Commander Tanami stood at the front of the room, watching the feed along with us.
Elrik faced toward the ship, his team in front of him. The ship looked colossal from that perspective, and for the first time it hit me how big the ship actually was, and shaped like a giant truncated cone. The observation deck was the highest level. I recalled that the ship had to be assembled and launched from space, since we had to have a special flight from Earth to the ship before the big launch that signaled our true departure.
Then they turned and waved to the ship, and then saluted Elrik, although from our perspective it looked like they were saluting us. He turned, the rest of the team sliding out of view, and began to walk out of the clearing and into the jungle. He held his titanium-edged machete in one hand, the tip barely visible at the edge of the camera screen. The rest of the crew was out of view behind him. The vegetation was thin this close to the forest floor, the strange trees that looked vaguely like very tall palm trees keeping the ground a mass of shifting shadows and light. Every now and then, Elrik or a team member would pause to hack at a hanging vine that was in the way. Animals peered out from some patches of underbrush, but never approached the team. It appeared as if they tended to have odd numbers of eyes, either one or three, but never two. I wondered what Elrik would do if approached by a Chomper.
At the bottom of the screen, a combined pedometer and compass tracking mechanism displayed how far the team had gone total, and how far the team was from the ship directly. So far the team had been forced to follow a zigzagging pattern in order to avoid patches of dense underbrush. I realized that we were seeing an environment entirely untouched by civilization. It was as if we had gone back in time billions of years and were looking at Earth long before mankind’s ancestors had crawled out of the oceans. I shuddered.
It should have been magical, but instead it was sinister, and I found myself wondering if some other intelligent species had landed on Earth, and observed it in its primal state, as we were doing on Little Bear. For some reason that idea made me feel violated on behalf of the human race. Earth was our planet. I felt the sudden notion that we shouldn’t be here, that we had no right to interfere in this environment. Perhaps this planet belonged to some future intelligent life form.
Everyone else watched the screen with avid, eager expressions. For about half an hour, there was no real change. The scenery kept on passing by. The only thing of note was a steaming, swampy lake, and at the far end a herd of Chompers could be seen roaming around and splashing in the water. Fortunately, Elrik and his team were too far away for them to sense, otherwise I was certain the creatures would have chased them. From what the WOSEC analysis team had been able to decipher from the probe videos, the creatures were vicious carnivores, and I didn’t see any reason why human meat would not be to their liking.
As we watched, the differences between Little Bear and Earth became more and more apparent, although not in concrete ways. The sounds coming through the observation deck’s speaker system contained pitches and noises that were utterly unlike any animal I had ever heard on Earth. The light from the pale green sky hit the trees in a different way, creating a surreal effect.
“What’s that?” The exclamation from the video screen drew me out of my thoughts. Ahead of the team was a clearing in the woods about maybe 500 yards off. The strange part was how clean the boundary was. The plant life did not gradually drop off, but ended abruptly. Black smoke billowed out from something in the clearing to disappear into the air. I think the same thought went through all of our minds at that moment. Another ship? An alien ship? Michidek grabbed the communicator at his waist and said something into it, presumably “proceed with caution” or something of that nature.
Two additional windows popped up on the screen, feeds from two of the other team members. Tatiana Russakov and Jean Felichis, I gathered by process of elimination. I had spent hours studying their dossiers, I knew the team fairly well. At about two hundred yards away from the strange clearing, Russakov and Felichis halted, while Elrik Maron, Dania Yearling, and Byron Garett approached the clearing slowly. We held our breaths as the clearing grew closer and closer on the screen, from the view of Elrik’s camera.
In the clearing was a pit maybe 20 yards in width, from which tendrils of thick black smoke flew out of. The hole was perfectly round, not the type of impression a crashed spaceship would make. Even a perfectly round ship would not make a perfectly round hole if it crashed into the ground. This was something else, and I shuddered as I stared into that inky smoke. Thunder roared all around, from the speaker system, and I couldn’t tell whether it came from the pit or from the surrounding area. The speaker system didn’t differentiate. Then Elrik’s screen went dark amidst a storm of static.
Keiko hurriedly pressed some buttons on the control panel, and the feeds of the other two team members enlarged to fill up the two halves of the screen. Both the captain and the lieutenant commander were talking rapidly into their communicators, presumably to different people. But they were interrupted by a bloodcurdling scream coming from the sound system.
On Russakov’s and Felichis’s feeds, there was a scream emanating out from the clearing. Two more joined it. Russakov and Felichis appeared in each other’s feeds as they looked at each other briefly, terror showing plainly on their faces. The thunder grew louder, beginning to overtake the screams. Russakov and Felichis turned and fled, almost in unison. But they barely got three paces before they fell, the ground rushing up to meet the cameras and the feeds showing close-ups of the soil, which was an odd reddish color. Then something began to drag them from behind, the ground moving beneath the cameras. The speed increased, and then those feeds went black. Michidek and Tatami abruptly stopped speaking into their communicators.
Andie was clutching my arm so hard that I could feel it going numb. Then she buried her face in my shoulder, the warmth of her body pressed against mine. I suddenly felt aroused, and then became confused as to why I was feeling that now. Stress can cause strange reactions in people, and I suppose that was my reaction to this event. Andie had only ever been a friend, neither one of us wanting more at least initially. Then we had kind of fallen into that pattern. But she was an attractive woman, even though I had never really seen her that way. She clutched me harder, either not sensing my arousal or ignoring it.
Captain Michidek calmed everyone down, using some kind of inspirational speech that I can recollect maybe three words of. Lieutenant Commander Tatami stood next to him, not saying a word and looking uncomfortable in the presence of so much emotion. There would be no more work for the rest of the day, and until the situation could be assessed, everyone was to stay inside the ship.
Andie straightened and moved slightly away from me. She leaned back in her chair, somewhat calmer now. “Shit, Joey, what was that? What happened to them?” She was shivering, and reflexively I put an arm around her. “I felt something strange, when Russakov and Felichis were being dragged away. I felt something reaching for me, through the screen — I don’t know what it was, but it was horrible, and…cold. So cold.” She shivered again. I said nothing. There was nothing really to say, nothing that could make any of this better.
I walked her to her room, and started to head back to my own, but she stopped me. “Will you stay with me? I don’t want to be alone right now.” And just like that, I knew that something had changed between us. Maybe it was the events of the day, or maybe it was something that had been building up since training back on Earth, but nonetheless I knew what was going to happen.
I walked into the room and sat on the bed next to her. She took my hand, and for a few minutes we sat in silence. Then she leaned over and kissed me. I returned it, and she kissed me deeper, her lips moving in tandem with mine. Together, we moved further up on the bed, and began to undress. She reached over to the wall, and pressed a button, turning off the lights.
Part III: The Return
I signed up for the mission mostly as a joke, at first. I was five years out of graduate school, three of those as a licensed clinician. I was 30 years old at the time, what hope did I have of being accepted for the mission? But to my surprise, I was selected as a candidate. They needed someone young, with a greater chance of surviving cryostasis. I had no genetic disorders or diseases, and I was in good physical shape. And beyond that, I had done well in school and in my somewhat brief employment as a military psychologist, working with both current soldiers of the Global Military Force and veterans of World War III.
I think, also, that they wanted a virtual fledgling like me because recent graduates are able to think more flexibly than clinicians who have been in practice for years on end. This mission would see circumstances and situations in which there is no research base to draw on, and being able to adapt was crucial. In addition, I believe Professor Lovett put in a recommendation for me, although she never mentioned it to me in our occasional correspondence. In short, from their point of view I was a good candidate, and from the few volunteers willing to leave their lives behind, I was selected.
But the more ambiguous question is why I chose to go through with it. I have no real answer for that. I had no real ties to Earth, I suppose. I had been through several relationships, but none of them were long term, and I had not been in one when I signed up. My parents had both died while I was in college, from one of the new, more malevolent strains of pneumonia that had been developed as a biological weapon in the war, and had never been completely subjugated. I had no brothers or sisters, no close family, and many of the women whom I had dated accused me of being “emotionally distant”. And so perhaps I took it as a cue that maybe I was cut out for this, capable of severing all ties with the planet I had known my entire life.
It felt right at the time, and even now, with everything that’s happened and everything that I fear is in our immediate future, I find that I don’t regret it. There has always been a part of me that has yearned for adventure and for new experiences, and this mission is the realization of that. The adventurous part of me can die happy, knowing that I landed on a planet in another star system and was a part of the colonization mission, however brief it was. Perhaps my name might even appear in digital textbooks studied by the next wave of psychology students.
I’m not sure why I’m mentioning this now.. Perhaps it’s an explanation of sorts, a justification for my presence on this strange, primal planet when I could have stayed on Earth and lived out my life in relative peace, maybe even gotten married and had children. I think about the life I might have had, the life that would be coming to its natural end now, had I stayed on Earth. Sometimes, in my darker moments, I believe in destiny.
Andie and I stayed together that night. For awhile we continued to enjoy each other’s company in the ways that we were unaccustomed to, and I realized just how much I had missed being with a woman. It had been a long time, before the launch and before training. But after we were done, we lay in bed, her back pressed to my front and my right arm across her stomach. With my left I twined my fingers through her hair. We lay in silence, knowing that things had changed but not quite ready to talk about it yet.
We were saved from that when we were both paged over the speaker system to report to the observation deck. We had both been paged specifically, along with Andie’s nurses, which comprised most of the medical staff. I wondered if something had happened, or if this was some type of emergency meeting. We hurriedly dressed, and headed up to the observation deck at the top of the ship.
When we got there, Michidek and Tatami stood at the transparent steel windows, looking out at something we couldn’t see. The Lieutenant Commander turned, and when she saw us she frowned. I realized that we must look somewhat disheveled, and wondered what she had inferred. But then Michidek turned, and from the mixed expression of joy and dread, I knew that some new development had occurred.
“Elrik’s expedition team is returning. The sensors picked them up, and their physical profiles match Elrik and his team. We don’t have visual confirmation yet, though. I have sent down a group of officers to meet them, and we need to assess what state they are in. We have had no communication since we lost contact at the Anomaly.” That was the name that the smoking pit had been given, the Anomaly. It described the thing as well as any name, I supposed. “It could be that their communicators and cameras are broken,” continued Michidek. “Or it could be that for some reason they’ve chosen not to communicate.” He sighed, suddenly appearing older than his 45 years. At 45, he was the oldest person selected for the mission. “We’re in new territory here, and I don’t know what to expect. No one besides us and the officers I sent down to meet the team know of this.” He paused as three of the nurses wandered in, one of them yawning. “Dr. Trelorian, I need you and your nurses to do a physical examination of the team as soon as they arrive. Dr. Rickardsen,” he pointed to me and continued, “I need you to do evaluations of their psychological functioning, and I also need you to try and find out what happened after we lost contact. I-“
“Captain, we have visual,” Keiko interrupted. She pressed a few buttons on the control panel, and the screen sprang to life. We all turned to see Elrik and his team bathed in light from the spotlights surrounding the clearing with its half-built structures, and the ship looming up out of the trees. They were all present and accounted for, and there were no wounds that I could see. Elrik was even smiling. But there was something strange about the way they walked, and Elrik’s smile was off as well. There was something predatory about it, and combined with the awkward, lunging gait that the team had all adopted, made them look like something not even close to human to me. I shuddered, and Andie stiffened, then began to shiver as if cold. Michidek headed to the elevator to join the welcome party.
Keiko switched camera views, and now we were looking at the scene from a camera mounted on the ship directly above the entrance, where the welcome party awaited. We saw Michidek come out of the entrance and take position at the front, a captain welcoming back crewmembers he had thought lost. We watched as the expedition team approached, and then stopped just in front of the welcome party. From this camera’s angle, we couldn’t see the expressions on the faces of both the groups, but in my mind’s eye I saw the cheerful smiles of the welcome party fade into unease, and then terror as Elrik lifted the machete he had been carrying and swung it into the collarbone of the captain. I imagined Elrik’s eyes, taken over by darkness so intense that it shone. Or maybe it’s just hindsight bias, I have no way of truly knowing what it looked like from down there.
All we saw was Elrik attack Captain Michidek, and then the rest of the team drew their machetes. But the officers were quick to respond, and they drew weapons as well. Their weapons were military issue Shockers, guns that delivered an electrical charge that sought out the brain stem and overloaded the nervous system with electricity, rendering the victim unconscious. Shockers could be lethal, but the need for that setting had not been anticipated, and had rarely been used in the One World, One Peace era. Lieutenant Commander Keiko Tatami, presumably now Captain Keiko Tatami, stood staring at the screen in shock.
“No — it can’t be, why would they — ” Tatami trailed off, and for the first time I saw real emotion written on her face, a sadness and terror that struck a chord in me as well. Then the moment passed, and instead of sadness and terror, there was fire.
“Dr. Trelorian,” she turned to Andie. “Go immediately to the entrance and attend to the wounded with your nurses.”
“Yes, Lieutenant- I mean Captain.” Andie stumbled.
“It’s still lieutenant commander, the captain could still be alive. Now go!” Andie nodded, and then she and the three nurses hurried out. There should have been five, but two had not shown up. Keiko Tatami turned to me. “Dr. Rickardsen, I will need you to evaluate the team once they have been secured and put under restraint. I want you to find out if this is Robinson’s Syndrome, or something else.” She turned back to the screen, where Andie and her staff had appeared on the scene. She was hovering over the captain, applying bandages and pressure to the wound, but I could see that it was no use, the man was utterly motionless, a spreading pool of blood beneath him, and there was no rise and fall of his chest to indicate breathing. After a few seconds, Andie reached down and closed the captain’s eyes on his upturned face.
Keiko Tatami, now the acting captain, suddenly swayed, and leaned against the wall for support. She suddenly appeared very young, possibly even younger than me.
“He was my mentor, and my adoptive father.” Keiko whispered. I’ll never be sure why she started telling me this, opened up to me. Perhaps it was because I was a psychologist, or maybe she just needed someone to talk to in this moment, and I happened to be there. Everyone has their breaking point. “My parents were killed in a drive-by shooting in Brooklyn, during the riots against the One World One Peace treaty. The One World movement began at the University of Tokyo, and there was still a lot of tension between the militant fanatics and the Japanese. I was only six, and Danicus Michidek was one of the soldiers on the scene. He and his wife couldn’t have children, so they adopted me.” I realized offhand that I had never heard Michidek’s first name before.
The new captain shook her head and straightened, as if coming to her senses. Her expression changed from a grieving woman into her usual neutral, analytical gaze. “This stays between us, Dr. Rickardsen, understand?”
I nodded. “Of course, breaking confidentiality goes against my code of ethics.” I smiled uneasily, and paused. “My forte is assessment, but I do have training in therapy. If you need a session-“
“I’ll be fine, Dr. Rickardsen, but thank you. Remaining strong is crucial right now, there are those among us that may believe I am not fit to be their captain. What I need most is for you to evaluate the expedition team, beginning with Lieutenant Maron.” She spat out the man’s name as if it had a bad taste to it. “I have plans to draw up, but they hinge on your results. If this was a case of Robinson’s Syndrome or another mental illness, then we have to intensify the psychological screenings and perhaps make it mandatory for each one of us to spend time in the Earth Room. We may also have to train some assistants for you. Our current system will have to be redesigned to prevent this from occurring again.” Captain Tatami let out a breath.
“And if it’s not Robinson’s Syndrome?” I let the alternate possibilities remain unspoken, but we both remembered the smoking pit in the center of that strange clearing.
“Then I will have some real planning to do.” Her shoulders sagged a little. “And we must reevaluate everything we know of the universe and its laws. I will have Elrik sent to you after he has regained consciousness.” I nodded to her, and then left the observation deck on the elevator, heading to the medical bay and my office. Once there, I pulled up Elrik’s dossier again, the first of many times to come. I examined every detail of his profile, looking for the smallest hint of a risk factor for Robinson’s Syndrome. There was nothing. Elrik was an extrovert, with many friends and a charming personality. I found only one instance of violence on his record, and that had been in college, when he had protected a girl from the persistent unwanted advances of a drunken man at a bar. He had not been charged.
I rubbed my temples with my fingers, trying to ease the headache I could feel starting right behind my eyes. It made no sense. Andel Robinson had been a loner with a brilliant scientific mind but poor social skills. He had shunned the company of others, which was one of the reasons no one had seen the warning signs until it was too late. And Robinson’s Syndrome was progressive, it didn’t happen overnight. There had been a gradual decline in psychological functioning, and increasing inability to separate fantasy from reality. There were some who believed Robinson had been a schizophrenic, and the stress caused by the mission had triggered his first episode. I had heard both sides of the argument during the course of my training in Miami.
But Elrik didn’t fit the pattern for schizophrenia or Robinson’s Syndrome. He had been fine before the expedition, in the interview I had with him, and in the interviews I did with his peers. There had been no indications of an illness, or of anything out of the ordinary. My musings were interrupted by a knock at the door to my office.
“Come in,” I said. Two soldiers were carrying Elrik between them. His hands had been secured behind his back with thick chords of entwined steel wire. His feet were similarly bound. And yet even still, after one glance at his face I felt a coldness creeping into my stomach. He was grinning from ear to ear, and his eyes were as black as the void of space, twin abysses all but consuming his face. I could almost see smoke emanating from them, but I knew I must be imagining that. The soldiers put him in the chair facing me, and then retreated to the corners, keeping a watchful eye on their prisoner.
“What is your name?” The point of this question was to determine how in tune with reality he was. Elrik stared at me with those pitch black orbs he had in place of human eyes. This was not Robinson’s Syndrome, I knew that almost immediately. This was something much, much worse. And now, I could clearly see tiny streams of smoke coming from his eyes. I tried again. “Who are you?” His grin grew inhumanly, into a rictus that should have been physically impossible on a human face.
“God.” That one word, spoken with a voice that deep and cold, sent shivers down my spine. His tongue flickered between his exposed teeth, and it almost looked as if it was pointed, unlike any human tongue. I struggled to keep calm.
“Does the name Elrik Maron mean anything to you?” I asked hesitantly.
“It is the name of the — ” the thing that looked like Elrik paused, as if searching for the right word. “Clothes. It is the name of the clothes that I wear.” I realized that although I had been hearing words, there had been no movement of the lips. The words had been spoken directly into my mind. “I have — awoken. And there are so many — things to do.” As it said this, it raised its arms showing the broken ends of the steel chords that had restrained it. I moved my mouth, but no sound came out. I scrambled away from desk, and backed up against the wall, as far as I could get from the thing that wore the body of Elrik Maron. The soldiers lunged at it, but in one deft movement it raised its arm and bit down savagely on its wrist, spraying itself and me with blood.
It was then that I saw the true Elrik, as the blackness faded from his eyes. Just one fraction of a second before he died, I saw him. In those eyes I saw terror and subjugation, a state of pure — brokenness, perhaps, is the best way to describe it. I saw something similar in a former prisoner of war that I evaluated, a man who had been imprisoned and tortured for fifteen years. Yet even he had not been as severe as what I saw in Elrik’s eyes. I drew in a deep, shaky breath, and sagged against the wall. My legs gave out, and I slid down it until I was in a sitting position.
“Did you- did you hear what he said to me? Did you hear the conversation?” I asked the soldiers.
They looked at each other in confusion. “What conversation? He just stared at you for a few minutes, and then broke his restraints and bit a chunk out of his wrist.”
“Nothing. Never mind. I need to speak with the captain.” I told them.
“The captain’s dead,” one of the soldiers replied. I remembered Keiko’s remark about how some might not think she was fit to be captain in Michidek’s stead, and I wondered if maybe she had noticed something about the crew that I had missed. It would be something to watch out for.
“Lieutenant Commander Tatami was Captain Michidek’s second in command, and on his death she became captain. I need to speak with her.” I thought I saw a flicker of resentment in the man’s expression, but maybe I imagined it. My gaze flickered back to the dead man on the floor of my office, blood still trickling from his wrist and his face frozen in an expression of absolute terror.
Part IV: Flight
Captain Tatami met my gaze with a frown. “I suppose you’ve heard?” We had sat down in the officer’s lounge, to talk over some cups of good old fashioned coffee. The lounge was small, since there was little space to devote to luxury, and my Earth Room had taken up some space that would have otherwise been devoted to other amenities.
“Heard what?” I asked. I had not heard anything but what I had come to report, and that I had witnessed in person.
“The members of the expedition team killed themselves. They broke their bonds, which should have been physically impossible, and either bit their wrists or tore their throats out. And they did it at the exact same time, despite being kept in separate rooms. Dr. Trelorian confirmed the time of death with a margin of error less than three seconds. They all happened after Elrik killed himself in front of you.” She saw my expression, and before I could interject she continued “and yes, I heard about that.” She fixed me with her gaze. “So let me guess. You’ve come to tell me that this is not Robinson’s Syndrome or any other mental disorder.” I nodded. She let out a sigh, and sagged against her chair. “So what is it, then? Did we come into contact with an extraterrestrial form of intelligent life?”
I hadn’t really thought of it as an extraterrestrial life form. It was too far from my preconceptions of what an “alien” would be like. My head had been full of images of little green men with bulbous eyes, or other science fiction nonsense that I had read or seen as a child. Even those so-called aliens were human in many ways. They often had vaguely human form, spoke a language, had big, shiny spaceships, and often had very human-like agendas and goals. But this was nothing like that, this was something so far beyond human comprehension that I didn’t know what to call it.
“I asked it who it was, and it said it was God. If this is an extraterrestrial, then it is something very far from what we were prepared to deal with,” I said softly.
“And it is definitely hostile?” She asked, knowing the answer.
“I believe so. But we don’t really know anything about it. We don’t even know if it has a physical form within that pit, or beneath it, or if that smoke is its form. We don’t know what kind of species it is, or whether there are more of them. How would something like that even come into existence? Our notions of birth cannot apply to an entity such as that. We thought we would have been able to figure these things out if we encountered an intelligent extraterrestrial.”
“It called itself God. Where did it get that word from, Elrik’s mind?” She sighed. “Does a being with peers, a being with others that are like it, call itself God? Or is it just a narcissist?” She smiled wanly at me. “I know a bit of psychology too, I had a class in it once. And there are people who have declared themselves to be God. One of them even had a pretty decent following.” She paused, and I took a sip of my coffee, not knowing what to say.
“Do you know that there are some people that believe Andel Robinson was not psychotic, but that he was a prophet and a martyr? They call themselves Disciples of the Iron Dragon, and they worship the entity that they believe told Robinson to massacre his crewmates and destroy the station.” She drew a breath and took a sip of coffee. “I had a distant relative on that mission, you know. Maria Selerani, she was from my mother’s side of the family; that was her maiden name. The Robinson Incident happened long before I was born, and yet I wonder sometimes — there are so many things we don’t understand.” She rubbed her forehead with the palm of her hand. “What the hell am I talking about? Never mind. I have some thinking to do. And I must prepare an address for everyone concerning the events of tonight.” She looked at her watch. “It’s almost dawn. Get some sleep, Dr. Rickardsen.”
I hadn’t felt the extra gravity in a few days, and I thought that I had successfully adjusted to it. Suddenly, I felt it pulling me to the floor, a giant hand bearing down on me, trying to squash me like a giant cockroach. Or maybe it wasn’t the gravity, maybe it was just the stress of the night. And the day as well, I realized, although it seemed ages since Elrik’s expedition had set out, with everyone watching excitedly from the observation deck. And I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept.
I headed over to Andie’s room, hoping she had returned and hadn’t fallen asleep yet. It wasn’t sex that I wanted now, only companionship. After the things I had seen, I wouldn’t be in the mood for anything intimate in the immediate future. I knocked gently at her door. “Come in, Joey,” she said wearily.
I opened the door and walked in. She was stretched out on the bed, fully clothed, looking as if a giant weight was pressing down on her, the same way I had felt after meeting with Captain Tatami. She looked too tired to cry, or maybe she had cried herself out during the footage of the expedition’s tragic end. And she was shivering, although the room was quite warm. “How did you know it was me?” I asked.
“If anyone else wanted to see me, I would have been paged.” She said from the pillows. I sat down on the edge of the bed. Due to most of our time on ship being spent in cryostasis, none of us had bothered to decorate our rooms, and there wasn’t much space for clutter. Andie’s room looked almost identical to mine, bare white walls, and a few articles of clothing scattered haphazardly against the walls. “Captain Michidek died right in front of me. Tatiana Russakov killed herself while I was examining her wounds. She tore out her throat after breaking free of the steel cables wrapped around her wrists. And her eyes, damn it Joey, her eyes, they were black, pure black — “
“I know. Elrik Maron killed himself in front of me. His eyes were the same, and he was wearing a grin wider than should have been humanly possible. It consumed his face.” I paused, trying to shake the memory out of my head. Did — did Russakov say anything to you, before she tore out her throat?” I asked. Part of me wondered if the exchange with Elrik had been imagined. Maybe I was losing it. But no, there was no way I could have imagined that cold, deep voice telling me it was wearing Elrik’s body like clothing. The conversation might have been telepathic, but it had been real.
“No, she didn’t.” Andie said.
“Elrik did, or whatever was inside Elrik did.” Andie sat up and looked at me.
“What do you mean, inside of him?” Andie asked hesitantly.
“That wasn’t the real Elrik, no more than you saw the real Tatiana Russakov. Come on, Andie, think about it,” I said when I saw her doubtful expression. “Can a human being break bonds of steel cables? And you confirmed the time of the team’s death as being within seconds of each other. How did they do that? There are no clocks in the holding cells, even if there was one in the room you were examining Russakov in.” The holding cells had been designed for crewmembers that disobeyed orders, or for civilians who committed crimes. WOSEC hoped that they would not need to be used. “And what turned their eyes black, Andie?” She didn’t have a response to that.
“So what is it, then? An intelligent, extraterrestrial life form?” She asked dully.
“It’s something far beyond our ability to comprehend. It spoke to me, Andie. I asked it who it was, and it said it was God. And that we had woken it up. It’s not finished with us, it doesn’t want to be left alone.” The words came out rushed and panicky, in a single breath. I drew in a deep breath, and stared hard at Andie.
“All right, I believe you. It didn’t seem right to me, but I couldn’t — I just couldn’t — ” She trailed off.
“It’s okay, I understand. I just came from meeting with Captain Tatami. She knows the situation too.”
“And will she be able to lead us out of this mess, get us away from this — thing?” She asked, doubt edging her voice.
“She is a different type of captain than Michidek was, but I think she is just as capable. She may lack his charisma, but I think she has more than enough intelligence and dedication to make up for it. She’s strong, and that’s what we need right now.”
“If you say so. Perhaps she’s as good as anyone.” Andie sighed, and leaned back into me. I put my arms around her. Her skin was strangely cold. I hoped maybe by holding her I could stop her shivering. It was strange how comfortable it felt, when only yesterday our relationship had been strictly platonic. Yet now, it was almost as if we had always been this way. “Will you stay with me tonight? I don’t really feel like being alone, and I doubt you do either.”
“Yeah, of course,” I said, and she sank even deeper into my arms. I lay back on the bed, and pulled her up next to me. We lay in silence like that, entwined in each others’ arms, and before I knew it I was fast asleep. If I dreamed, I don’t remember. But when I awoke, Captain Tatami was paging all crew and civilians to the observation deck for a meeting in an hour. Andie murmured something unintelligible into my shoulder, and then pushed herself up. Keiko repeated her summons over the speaker system.
We took turns in the shower, dressed, and hurried to the observation deck. People were milling around, muttering to each other. I gathered that bits of the events of last night had spread to those who had not been involved. Keiko Tatami, now wearing the captain’s sigil and unique style of plumed cap, stood in front, at the podium. There were dark circles under her eyes, and I gathered that she had not slept last night. But she looked alert and wary, but also worn, the mantle of leadership already weighing heavily on her shoulders. When she saw us enter, she beckoned for us to come up to the podium. We wove our way through the restless crowd until we stood in front of her.
“Dr. Rickardsen and Dr. Trelorian,” she addressed us. “I need to make a statement about what happened last night, and I want you to tell your accounts of what happened during your respective evaluations.”
“Is there anything you want us to — omit?” I asked her hesitantly.
She paused, considering. “No, tell everything. There must be no secrets among us now. I led another team out to the edge of the clearing at dawn, and I-“
“You-you led a team to the clearing? Why?” I was too stunned to realize that I had just interrupted and questioned the commanding officer of the ship, but she seemed to be expecting it, and was probably too tired to reprimand me for it.
“I needed to ascertain something, and that was the only way of doing so. And I couldn’t send more of my people out there while I sat comfortably inside the ship, drinking coffee. We went to the point where the Anomaly became visible, so we could plot its location. Then we immediately turned back. I have an announcement to make after, and we need to be united in this. And everyone, crew and civilians alike, need to know the truth.” She paused for breath. “You will both stand behind me with the officers, and when I tell you to, you will each come up and give your account to the people.”
“As you wish, Captain.” I said, and Andie nodded in agreement. We took our places behind her, and waited for her to begin. Soldiers were taking count, making sure everyone was there. When they each gave her a thumbs up, she stepped up to the microphone to address the crowd.
“Men and women of the Mayflower,” she began. “You may notice that I now wear the captain’s sigil of command. That is because Captain Michidek died last night.” There were several sharp intakes of breath. “Many of you were present to watch Elrik Maron’s expedition from the video feed in this very room, and you were there to see the feed cut off as contact was lost. Late last night, the expedition team returned, but they were not themselves. Something had taken over them, something that they encountered on that expedition after the feed cut off. And it was that entity that killed Captain Danicus Michidek and injured several others as they stood to welcome the team back.” Keiko waited a minute for the shouts of outrage to die down. “It was not Elrik Maron or his team that did this, although it used their bodies to accomplish it. The entity that did this is something that we cannot even begin to understand. I will now call Dr. Johann Rickardsen to give his account.”
She gestured toward me, and I stepped forward. I suddenly felt nervous, addressing this crowd of upset and angry people. But as I told them in detail what happened, I began to even forget they were there, so deeply were the details of last night burned into my mind. “I am confident that it was not Elrik Maron I spoke with, but something else inhabiting his flesh. This was not Robinson’s Syndrome. No mental disorder can account for what happened last night,” I finished. “My colleague Dr. Andromeda Trelorian will now tell her experience with one of the members of Elrik’s team.”
Andie stepped up and numbly gave her account, most of her statement just confirming what I had said, but also mentioning how the all the members of the team had killed themselves at the same time, despite being separated, and how they had all been restrained with steel chords that would be physically impossible for a human to break. She had begun shivering again, I noticed. When she was done, she stepped back, and Keiko stepped forward.
“The first thing we will do is hold a funeral for Captain Michidek and the expedition crew. The expedition crew is not to blame for the murder of Captain Michidek, although some of you may still find that hard to believe. They fearlessly ventured out into the unknown, and ultimately gave their lives for the mission.” She stopped and let that sink in. “Captain Michidek was like a father to me. He was my mentor since I first began basic training, and no one is more distraught by his death than me. But it is in his honor, his and the expedition team’s, that we must carry on and survive.” She paused for dramatic effect. I noticed that she didn’t go into detail about her past with Michidek, but I figured there were some things she wanted to keep private.
“Early this morning, I took a small group of soldiers with me to where we were in view of the clearing where the expedition team was lost. I calculated our distance from the ship, and compared it with the distance recorded at the last point of contact with the team. The clearing, and the entity within it, has moved over a mile closer to the ship. There is no trail from where it originally was, but nonetheless it has somehow moved. I have checked and double checked, and there is no mistake. The thing that killed our captain and the expedition team is coming for us.” Now I understood why Keiko had gone out to the clearing, but I had no idea how she had suspected it in the first place. Perhaps she had just wanted to see the Anomaly for herself.
“This ship was designed to be our habitat until we built the beginnings of a civilization. It has most of the comforts we had been accustomed to on Earth, and it gives us the illusion of safety, but only the illusion. This entity is something beyond our comprehension, and we cannot know the limits of its power. Tomorrow, we will abandon the ship and head for the coast. From there, we will cross the ocean to the other continent. We have several vehicles in the cargo hold, which are equipped to be used as boats.
“It was WOSEC’s intention that we eventually travel to the other continent, and they sent us with the equipment to do so. They did not intend for us all to go, and so it will be somewhat cramped, and we will have to make at least two trips across the ocean even so, with one group setting up camp at the coast. But this is our only option, and I will not allow anyone to stay behind and possibly become possessed by this entity. It is my earnest hope that the Anomaly will not be able to follow us across the ocean, or that it will not bother. In any case, I am certain it is safer than remaining here.
“Mechanics, technicians, and engineers, I will require your assistance in mobilizing the vehicles in the cargo hold. The rest of you, take only what you absolutely need, every inch of space must go to food and other supplies. The funeral for Captain Michidek and the expedition team will be at 1700, which should coincide with sundown. Briefing on departure procedures will be at 0700 tomorrow morning, and we will be departing at 0900, and not a minute later.” There were angry mutters, but they quailed under Captain Tatami’s stern gaze. “Dismissed. Mechanics, technicians, and engineers, with me.” She finished curtly.
It is now 0500, 2 hours from briefing, 4 hours until we set out for the coast and ultimately for another continent, hoping that the entity will not be able to follow us there. And so, in four hours, we leave the ship behind and head for the unknown, or I should say the greater unknown. We know virtually nothing of the other continent beyond the rough images the satellite probes took before landing.
I understand Keiko’s decision, as does Andie, but we have both seen the Anomaly and know what it is capable of. Very few others understand, even those who believe. The decision to leave, Captain Tatami’s first decision as captain, was not a popular one. I only hope that it does not turn into open rebellion. As she said earlier, we need to be united in this, and we are far from that. There are those that think we should stay and fight, as if this thing is something that can be fought. But most think that the captain has gone mad, and has either forced Andie, myself, and some of the officers to tell fabricated stories, or that we have all gone mad, Robinson’s Syndrome or something worse.
There is something I am hesitant to put down here, but it is something I am afraid even to admit to myself. There is something — wrong with Andie. She is not acting strangely, like the expedition team, but I think she may be sick somehow; she shivers constantly now. Perhaps the Anomaly has multiple ways of affecting us. I don’t have the heart to report it to the captain, or to even bring it up to Andie. She knows, and she knows that I know. It is unspoken between us, but I don’t know what to do. There may be others that have been affected, and my silence may be condemning them, if help is possible. But there is the possibility that the captain will force Andie to stay behind if she knew, and I couldn’t live with that. If it means I am weak, then I am weak. That, I can live with.
Andie tells me I should get some sleep, but I cannot, I am too haunted by the images behind my eyes. The night before, I was too exhausted, and the experience too fresh, for it to disturb me as it does now. I think back to what I saw, the utter blackness in those eyes that were and were not Elrik Maron’s, like twin abysses boring into my soul. I remember it telling me that it was wearing Elrik Maron like clothing. I think of that smoking pit in the middle of the clearing as it appeared on the video screen, and the feeling that we are intruding. There is something here, something ancient and terrifying, something utterly beyond our ability to understand and relate to. Perhaps we have, in truth, found God.