In the distance against a glaze of particles, enzymes of light and illuminated bursts. The fractured dust. This is a phoenix, it has existed beyond time and is in retrospect egg like in disposition, its flames breath life and its death brought end.
Every ending starts with a beginning and every beginning needs to end.
I’m out of time, there is no time without the natural light of the sun, opulent incandescence, no seasons, no way to judge whether it’s September, November maybe March. We know only due to what we own. Keeping every second close to hand. In the black, it’s distant possibly non-existent. Without technology it’s possible I would never even know it existed until everything withered and died. Until our clocks stopped ticking.
How dire a life must be if there was no light in your life and you merely watched everything perspire their existential life, ebbing through their surface?
This world is a memory that’s not the captured recollections of my own. Not of my ancestors, relatives. It’s a world that against a haze of disparate burnt pages, that in some distance I’m not familiar or acquainted with, its surface once inhabited and now a vacant plot inside a catacomb of absent echo. My integrated respirator has become the rhyme of my pulse. The undulating steps of my breath. It’s all I hear.
Gaining momentum as the towers of dead men lay decrepit and broken. Held together by this planets ecological chaotic discourse. Its fauna twisting and entwining, natural enigmatic growths that layer above the spectral mirrored lives that once had existed.
The unknown has become a persistent fear of mine, within its absent conversation, it’s pale and volatile emptiness.
I’m never aware whether it’s bleak and desolate exterior is enriched by the light feeding through a distant sun. I’m not sure the light is protecting me from the planets sculpted dread that plays skeletal figures inside its shadowed famine frame.
What I know is that this world is both dead and dying. The memories are becoming further translucent, water is washing it away. Ghosts can only exist as long as there are people alive that remember the life which was in place of the absent holes that remain, otherwise it’s just a void. Empty black holes, mole grounds of decay, a red dwarf whose embers have receded into nothingness, emptiness.
My heads up display drags into view against the visor devised to protect myself from the outside world. The familiar faces of our crew are scattered inside several windows.
‘What’s the environmental pressure like?’ I speak with uncertainty, there’s no confirmation, my heart maintains a rapid pace. I wait until a reassuring reply filters through the delayed response, waiting for that moment and untill then there is nothing to ascertain that the communication relay is stable.
‘It’s perfectly reasonable no extreme gravitational encounters.’
‘Weather? Atmosphere toxicity? Pressure?’
I keep an eye on the relayed statistics as they feed information from the ship directly towards my suit. I keep an eye on every fluctuation. I seem paranoid because I am. Storms on volatile planets can flare up in mere minutes and consume everything within their glutinous wakes. Since my years as co-owner of the Veranders Gambit a beauty of a V20 Lupin Jet freight we have reclaimed resources that would fund our continuous existence. It’s a precarious life, where each and every meal has to be savoured in every chance it becoming our last, but it pays. Can pay substantially, this career is a small sacrifice to fund my family back on Primal One.
In the corner of my eye are the images digitalised and floating inside my visor alternating between my little girl playing in the park, her first birthday. She’s the reason I continue, she is the only reason I continue.
That’s what’s important, right?
It keeps us alive, pumping. It ties us together and we live.
‘Hi, Caleb can you hear me?’
‘Hearing you almost clearly Marcel’
‘Look. The environments composition seems to contain nothing harmful. You’re in the green. Visors by my measures are safe to take off. Its composition is in favour of oxygen. The planets natural plant life is managing to maintain a sustaining breathable atmosphere. In fact it’s better than Primal One. Amazing really considering the damage to this planets outer-zone layer. The prior inhabitants of this star were originally utilising some harmful and prolonged pollution it’s wounded its overall environment which suggests this planet hasn’t been inhabited by its species for…. Well years.’
Marcel was a close associate of mine. One I had known for well over five years and since being on the various expeditions with numerous clientele from the lucrative entrepreneurs to high flying establishments this was the big gig, bigger even.
Illegal and steps beyond our control.
The galaxy was essentially quarantined space. A fragment of clustered rocks designated by the union federation as too hazardous, registered as a liability for any space farer to venture.
Classification as grade one contagion. Yet to our knowledge no harmful bacteria was clinging to the air. Earth samples had confirmed no immediate harmful infectious viral spread as informed by the utilisation of the field research equipment supplied by Marcel.
Growing up Marcel lived within a stretch of apartment blocks in Apollo Central a vibrant city but he was by no means part of the wealthy populous a smart kid in youth no doubt, but plagued and dredged by an inability to get the funding to become a well versed scholar. Instead learning off his own back. Aged twenty five he joined my crew of five, since then we have been taking up contracts in obtaining both obscure artefacts and rare resources from across the known universal expanse.
Eventus an entrepreneur of extreme wealth contracted us this opportunity. Normally I would pass up the offer but Sarah my joint business colleague convinced me otherwise. I understood this could potentially be the type of funding that could reinforce a good life for my daughter. He was the type of man to pay above the required funds just to confirm discretion and some guarantee towards successful job execution. This was different we were putting ourselves at odds with the federation and grade one, grade goddamn one.
More of a risk than I’m used to, managed to haggle a bit more risk pay from Eventus.
His face had contorted into a misty shadow that blurred his descent to financial disagreement, but the object of his desire must have been worthwhile.
‘Breathe easy Caleb. It appears everything’s fine.’
Lucas our militarised mercenary intervened, I imagined the static of his video relay was the contours of his face.
‘Parameter is being reinforced. Ships landing strip is being fortified. Leaving constituted turrets at marked points. The local wildlife has adapted to a hostile environment. Could be some dangerous predators out there.’ Lucas explained. Old army veteran left the occupation to eventually join our crew. Every now and then I hear the manifestations of his past conjure from his sleep, he never got over the contingent war. He still recounts the lives taken and those he lost. It’s why he left, he doesn’t say it, doesn’t really mention the war, but I can tell.
To him what we do is different he can disconnect from what he is killing it’s just wildlife, but I’m still concerned, sometimes it floods back, sometimes it begins to open the cracks that are in place and sooner or later it will break down.
Joined with Lucas and Sarah, in formation we venture further away from base site. The pickup was a few clicks from our current location.
‘You made up with your ex?’ Sarah spoke as she tried to cut the eerie silence that clung to the hollow streets, the uncanny and empty dystopia. Utopia, I guess it depends on perspective.
‘No, she believes I’m more liability to my daughter’s development than a benefit. She still hasn’t forgiven me, after all these years. I’m not sure there is anything I can say. ‘
‘Prove you’re a changed man Cal. I mean, I’m no relationship advice expert.’
‘Damn right you’re not. I told you, me, Sarah were through and that’s the end of that chapter in my life. I don’t need to prove myself to Sarah. I’m just looking out for our daughter, that is all that really matters to me, leave something behind for her because Sarah damn well won’t.’
‘Sarah’s doing her best Caleb, maybe if you stopped playing the wounded party and claimed responsibility for your own reckless actions you wouldn’t be in this mess, and all this. It isn’t fair on your daughter.’
‘Both of you. I don’t give two shits about this discussion. What I do care about is making our way to the pick-up as safely as we can. That’s why this family of miscreants was hired right?’
An aviary worth of large pigeons darted from tarnished architecture Lucas levelled his Heavy AT Bolt, the weapons recesses waned with energy and pulsated a blue glow that Inver berated and reflected against stain infested glass.
Moving my heavy gloved hand against the window panes I peer inside just bleak darkness, various objects and décor litter the inside of the building, boneyard of inanimate objects.
Communication beams into life and Marcel emerges within my augmented eye line.
‘So fascinating news, this planet was certified as grade one back in the twenty first century. Can you honestly believe this, It has to be a prank right?’
‘How’s that possible?’ Sarah spoke confused, her voice wavered as this frontier of forgotten illusive time clambered fear into her mind.
‘Not sure. I’m not even sure the federation even existed within the mentioned century. It’s possible that it explains why the harmful contaminate has subsided. Perhaps the disease? Virus? Mutagen? It may have been the explanation as to what wiped clean the civilisation which existed prior.’
‘Keep your guards up crew. The federation doesn’t piss about, something historic occurred here? This planet, I don’t like it. It’s like some dried out corpse of a planet.’ Lucas was edgy and it didn’t help for consoling my already fragile disposition.
We walk through a dilapidated and drained water park its structure brittle and rust had long since begun to collude to the extent that any alloy most likely no longer existed. Spindly frames lay powdered by thick pollen and groaned, a lethargic groan as the wind billowed through its half open exterior.
Every now and then our ears would grapple onto a sudden bashing that ruptured in volume through the hollowed out tubes of what once was a structure of entertainment.
Percussions of horror.
Clambering over we had pulled ourselves over the buildings trailing guts, bricks that had been sundered by natures reclaim. We found ourselves walking past ancient automobiles static and more ornamental than functional. We had reached the central city limits and what once was a bustling high street, was merely a through fare for local wildlife and bristling weeds that had found refuge within its tormented image. Huge stags and does darting, pouncing along and through various vines of overgrowth. Huge cats following in their avalanching wake.
‘Quiet. We don’t need the attention.’ Lucas hushed as we watched as the maple felines fixate their brutal forms, barrelling towards the frantic prey.
We lay silent and still for a moment, we stayed for quite some time, it felt like forever trying to dampen every heartbeat, so much so that it wasn’t until Sarah tugged my environmental suit and fractured my focus did I notice that Lucas was having an episode. Some harmful reaction.
‘Problem here Marcel and it’s fucking bad!’ Sarah beguiled within urgency speaking to Marcel who was in the midst of eating some supplies.
‘I… I just don’t know we stopped for a moment, one second Lucas is fine the next. He’s having some kind of adverse reaction.’
‘Checking vitals Sarah, just remain calm and don’t panic. Keep a level head….. Ok. Sarah he’s experiencing a negative reaction to some of the pollen in the air. I wasn’t aware that Lucas had allergies. Normally I wouldn’t advise this but you need to get his respirator back on and secure a safe place. The medical supplies will have Epinephrine he needs to be administered with it.’
Quickly Sarah fumbled as she placed his visor back on. I threw glances around to find somewhere we could shelter. Night was drawing in and we were merely moments away from the location required. The aim was to arrive and leave before nightfall, but things were looking grim.
Combined with the strength of Sarah we had dragged Lucas into a collection of buildings, built in cohesion with a much larger interior, a labyrinth of corridors and partitioned individual blocks. Ones with signs saying M’onald and Ent, River I and ext. Buildings with what seemed to be imitations of the human anatomy and products of varying degree. Some fictitious men and women wearing what we would assume was the previous occupants clothing.
My voice spoke back in return and Sarah gave me a dirty glance as she continued to tug Lucas back into a corner.
‘Why do that! Caleb! You know what’s out there!’
‘Maybe someone else is still alive. Civilisations last stand, honestly I don’t know. It’s just. I can’t imagine they all died. I just can’t stand the silence is all, I get it this place it’s not home. This planet is like all the rim worlds volatile, distant. It’s the bleak and the bleak is un-relentless, but I need respite. I need a release. This isolation is crippling, how long have we gone without human contact? Days? Weeks? This expedition… is….’
‘You’re only drawing attention to ourselves when God knows what else is out there!’ her voice was like mouse sized exclamations. Restrained shouting.
‘Lucas can you hear me? Lucas?’ she persisted I could see tears welling in her face as she stared into the glazed visor of his limp form.
‘Why the fuck did we come to this place, why the fuck did you talk me into this.’ She spoke as she turned to me her eyes were smeared and glazing over in moisture.
I knew what I wanted to say, but it would have been insensitive to do so. It was hard to bare so I returned to the entrance of the partitioned room. There is something to be said about the desolation of a fallen civilisation when everything appears to have been just dropped within a moment’s notice. There is something to be said when a location losses purpose. It is captured inside your lungs and it is difficult to escape, it finds a way to just wallow.
It’s the silence which is the biggest construct, a wraith. It hides the true colours of its surroundings until any amount of noise becomes amplified like a silent bird learning to scream for the first time. It sets you off guard and drags you further into fearful despair.
The rattling, it sneaks a persistent plague of disconcert.
‘You seen this?’
‘No time to play games Caleb.’
‘I’m serious Sarah. This shit, it’s…’ before I was able to finish the radio re-emerged and Marcel’s voice intervened.
‘It’s bad guys. I mean the environment. I have been utilising the survey equipment. Some points are down. Eliminated. I relayed the last footage and it appears some kind of electromagnetic interference has disturbed the footage, the precise moment of capturing any viable video. It’s coming up to nightfall and there is something distinct. I have noticed the wildlife… it’s…. it’s…’
‘Going into hiding Marcel I know. There’s something on the wall I want you to see I’m relaying the evidence now.’
In front of myself was writing painted across the surface of a weathered wall. Rays of light, laser in configuration scanning over the section of wall which my suit was directed towards.
Can you hear it? Hear the dark? Hear the grim night? It is coming. It’s coming for you. Never forget. Never. Never forget their out there, you may not see them but their always there.
‘Marcel. Please tell me you’re surveying our location.’
‘No heat signatures Caleb, You can always distribute motion drones but their configuration is only good if they capture whatever predator is out there around their motioned proximity.’
‘Portable defence drones… the bag.’ Lucas muttered in pain as his staggered breaths found it difficult to rekindle its flame.
It didn’t take long to find the first bundle of corpses, huddled, scared, drained of everything. Their bodies had become inductive of tight dried sordid protein. Tightly bound around fragile marrow that had begun to corrode a photo most awful. Preserved and withheld from most of the wildlife. Something had gotten to them but it wasn’t interested in their carcass, their flesh and bones. Grabbing a scalpel from my bag I curiously cut into the stretched flesh. It peeled back, rolling back like a scribe of tortured tapestry and just as dust layered.
His internal organs had become no more than dried fruit, and where each capillary was in its place are the network of pipes inherent in abandoned waterworks. Outwards the body had suffered puncturing from viper like fangs and claw marks.
‘Humanoid in complexion Marcel. Similar to ourselves, wouldn’t you say?’
‘Coincidence not so sure Caleb, it’s possible that there are other species in relation to our biological origin.’
‘Possible? I think this is cohesive evidence.’
Somewhere in the distance the phasor shots of pulsated blasts ricocheted through the empty interiors that we had barricaded ourselves in.
The last remaining words I recollect during this torn network was ‘No-one survives the hours of darkness. Embrace the dawn.’ I remember the words etched into the walled confines, amongst the dead bodies that littered the room.’
Returning to discover the source of the echoes of distorted pulses in a mad rush to triangulate and discover the inherent fear of this spectral planet. Whatever had disturbed the drone had vanished in the short span of time, like the shadows themselves, were the things made of nightmares. The drone had seen better days as it no longer floated like a wisp within its processed route it had degenerated into spare parts littering the floor. Though the floor had seen better days long before the dismantling of the droid.
‘Caleb, ships informed me of a drone down. Is everything ok?’
‘I’m fine Marcel not so sure about the drone.’
‘Did you see it?’
‘No. Frankly. I’m not sure we want to. I have left Sarah and Lucas back in one of the old settlement buildings. Not sure their safe. Keep me updated. The sooner I reach the pick-up the better.’
‘Not sure that’s the best course of action Caleb. Our surveillance can’t capture these things and our dispersed satellites aren’t even capable of tracing what’s out there. The best we have are some big cats a few vicious predators and in all honesty; something else is out there. It’s distorting all video footage.’
The muffled sounds made it hard to discern but the ship itself ruptured into a broken sound.
‘Wait… what was that… sorry Caleb but I need to check the port of the ship.’
‘Marcel… for fuck sake no! Lock yourself in…. Marcel listen to the bloody communication! Marcel!’
I knew it. Swirling inside my suit, pressed up against my visors interior, it’s like we want to be a hero delusions of being more than what we are and what we are is human. Marcel loved our ship, more than his own fragile sense of being. We needed to maintain it for atmospheric exit to escape back into the void. The void of course was already with us and it was on our ship.
Marcel for sky bound sake you should have swallowed your own advice. Should have waited for backup. Sealed the emergency doors.
When darkness becomes your landscape. The panorama that exudes nothing but distant ambience. When you’re left with nothing but the light you carry and little is left. You realise how alone the stars really are. When nothing but some silent filament flickers and you want that warmth to continue, it will eventually fade and absence is what remains in its place.
I was alone.
The light beckoned forth from my suit, it flood lit a wave of white as it slowly built up the ruinous, temples of commerce. Then I saw it.
Another mercenary group Opius Reclamation, some such company, women and men broken and spread into one final stand, their disgruntled forms in bloody massacre. I noticed a reader it had one last message unread built into the fractured suit.
Moving the data recording I transferred wireless information directly to my own reader.
‘Date June 16th 4052- contacted by a peculiar individual to reclaim some distant relic within quarantined space. Payment too good to pass up and we’ve done this line of work before. Not particularly strange. Collection of a box. Upon atmospheric entry nothing was apparently harmful. The planet was in good health.
We were wrong.
A disease has plagued this planet since before the colonies, it has fed off the very existence of those who tread within its darkened frontiers and it has been hungry for human blood since its progenitor existence, the lack of such has driven these beasts feral and decrepit. Most of my colleagues have gone missing or are dead. In memory and thanks to Rachel Strouse and Trent Moore, Henry Deacon, Lucy Richards, Faye Drendon and finally May and Carl Brentford. I have discovered these things… species. Whatever they are that exist inside the darkened bleak, they have a grand aversion to light. Their pale tort complexions flare up into blistered mucus. Their animated structure begins to collapse.
I haven’t got long, the light is fading. So please learn from our mistakes leave this place, drop everything and go, for there is nothing here for anyone. Remember.
Follow the light.’
The recording cut out, his image merely a silhouette until it dispersed into a painted canvas of abstract black.
‘I’m sorry.’ I muttered. Not sure who I’m speaking to, myself, my crew or the broken image of a man filled with a regret he couldn’t reconcile.
I wasn’t far from collection. Steps further and any death was not in vain, if my daughter could prosper with a good life, there would be no further need for this reckless lifestyle.
The street seemed to stretch out forever and I could see no further than the few feet my beaconed light granted me. Every so often the half exposed bleached out structure of a forgotten city remained as a last reminder of a past I shouldn’t have learnt about.
The three dimensional map had re-entered field of view and I had reached my destination. It wasn’t what I expected and made for discomfort. Stood in isolation the building hung over me like the disquieted dread that had long since remained from stepping foot on its parting mortality.
‘Evan’s and Son’s funerals’
What did Eventus want with an ancient funeral directors business?
Stepping inside, a stench was laden thick within its interior and was overwhelming, with little effort it persuaded me into filtering its stale interior.
I saw the box, Eventus had informed myself and crew to not let curiosity take us, forbidding the opening of the box and observing its contents. The box bared an engraved date and name Mary Brooks 2547-2597 I was fairly certain as to why Eventus didn’t want us to look inside. Maybe the mummified remains of some renowned figure, some sign of alien life but curiosity had grasped me and after everything… I felt it little compensation towards what had happened. Opening it up I find the corpse remains of a women, within her hands a barely tangible photo of a gentlemen, this gentlemen was with who I could only presume was Mary in blissful happiness, interlinking arms.
Light began to creep into my head as a realisation dawned on me. The man in the photo was familiar. The image of this man was the direct copy of Eventus, written in free hand upon the back of its faded structure, was a brief notation.
‘We all leave a part of us behind, some more than others.
Then there is that, we can never leave behind.’