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Astronomica

What horrors lurk in the dark and divine cosmos beyond mankind's contemporary perception

By AphoticPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 12 min read
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Astronomica
Photo by Majid Ghahravi Zade on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Now, I can’t even hear my own.

As a miner of stardust, I always knew my line of work came with risks. With technological advancements in recent years, fatalities were significantly reduced and safety parameters increased. Becoming a stardust miner no longer came with a signed and sealed death warrant. I was fortunate enough to have tech on my side by the time I was old enough to enlist myself into the industry.

With its many uses, stardust became our most valuable resource as soon as we learned how to extract and use it. Just one micrometer can provide enough energy to power the mothership, Bethlehem, for what would be known as an Earth-year, or provide fuel for half an Earth-year.

Our current assignment was on Kas, a slow-moving asteroid in the Kastor belt. My team departed Bethlehem in a vessel known as The Harvester a day prior to landing the ship on Kas. The asteroid was nearly twenty times its size.

When we arrived at our mark, the captain began his final scan of the Kas and it’s makeup before we suited up for the dig. Once all checks cleared on the outside, my team inspected each other’s gear for leaks and malfunctions. This was an essential routine required on all mining expeditions. One small tear in the spacesuit, one small crack in the headgear, one short in the comm assembly could spell certain death. After that was complete and tool belts were clipped and containers prepped, we headed to the airlock.

Once outside, our field captain Mitchum began scanning the rock once more with a handheld device known as a Field Particle Detection Tool, or FPDT. It would get a reading on any and all components within a two-kilometer radius. Once the data was recorded, he would select stardust from the list of particles present on the asteroid.

There was minimal gravity on the space rock. We refer to our boots as space-cleats. They allow us to grip into the surface of low-gravity masses. Our suits themselves are equipped with a series of lights to help illuminate the darkness. They are much less bulky and restrictive than their archaic ancestors. More like what divers wore in the age of Earth. Technology and science allowed us to come a long way with a lot of things, but I won’t delve too deep into all of that. There’s no time.

Between our space-cleats and the tethers that fasten to our suits, we were routinely secure as we got to work collecting the precious material. There was copious amounts of it. The readings were off the charts. This expedition was going to yield an absolute bounty. I doubted we had enough storage to mine it all in one trip. The sheer volume would provide enough power and fuel to last for my entire lifetime at that rate and then some.

I was happier than a pig in shit. Smiling wider than a primitive child in a prehistoric candy shop. We were going to be the richest mining crew on Bethlehem. We would all be able to retire if we wanted, not that I would consider it myself. I enjoyed my work too much.

Kas came from somewhere else. That was clear to me now as I expertly worked to extract the space gold from its surface. Somewhere that a plethora of stardust gathers. Perhaps it only passed through such an area, but either way it had journeyed from far away, a place that was inundated with the stuff.

“We hit the fucking mother-load!” Jonesy whooped. His sentiment was echoed by the whole team.

“That we did, Jonesy. That we did.” Captain Mitchum agreed.

As I meticulously chipped away at the asteroid and placed my bounties of stardust into my collection container, I came across something…unusual. I flagged it immediately.

“Hey Mitchum?” I called to the field captain through my comm assembly. “I need you to come take a look at this.” It was atypical of me to request assistance during a standard mining operation, so he was prompt in his response and by my side again in a matter of minutes. From my position, I could see the lights of all six crew mates, glittering brightly against the pitch darkness.

Mitchum hastily scanned the unknown substance with his FPDT. The results were baffling, so he scanned it again, unsatisfied with the seemingly faulty reading. The results were the same. He smacked the tool in his palm several times and recalibrated it. He performed the scan several more times. Each time, the device yielded the same perplexing result.

ERROR: 0% MATCH

DATA INCONCLUSIVE

NO KNOWN PARTICULATES DETECTED

The tool had never registered a 0% match since its conception decades ago. Not even in its initial testing stages. The findings elicited two emotions. Excitement and frustration. Excitement for a potential new discovery, frustration for having to possibly cut short their most plentiful voyage to date.

It was the risk of toxin that Mitchum wasn’t willing to take with his team. 0% match meant that the residue possessed not a single atom of matter known to man. It could be harmless, but it could be catastrophically hazardous.

Mitchum closely examined the surface for some time, scanning and rescanning, seemingly convinced that the FPDT was experiencing technical difficulties. He ran an additional field test kit on the sticky black substance to test for hazardous matter, but all readings on that device were inconclusive as well. By now, the other crew members were getting curious.

“What you got over there, boss?” Jonesy pried through the comm assembly.

“Still trying to figure that one out.” I responded, saving Mitchum’s breath. He appeared to be deep in concentration. He was never one to assume anything or take a few field test results as gospel. He would want us to do a full lab inspection before we jumped to the conclusion that this was indeed matter that humans had never encountered. The conclusion that I was drawing? The material was completely alien to mankind.

“I’m going to collect samples to take back to Bethlehem for further testing. I don’t want anyone touching this stuff until we have confirmation that it’s safe. I’ll bag the spec, the rest of you pack up.” Mitchum ordered. He barely got the last word out before all of our illumination devices simultaneously sputtered and went dark.

In the thick of space, when the sun is situated behind this solar system’s largest planet, we can’t see our own hands in front of our faces without our headlamps and suitlights. They illuminate the otherwise pitch blackness, making them necessary. There are backups stored onboard the ship at all times, but even The Harvester’s lights had gone dark. Every shred of light aside for the distant stars had ceased to be at once.

“What the hell?” I muttered to myself.

Mitchum immediately cracked a red glow stick to illuminate a small portion of the immediate area. Then he reached out to the Harvester’s pilot, who remains onboard during our expeditions. “Keira, this is Mitchum. We have lost visuals and are in the presence of an unknown material. Please respond.” The comm assembly crackled as we waited for a response. Mitchum repeated his message.

“Keira, this is Mitchum. I’m requesting immediate emergency extraction. We have lost our visuals and are in the presence of an unknown, potentially hazardous material, do you copy?”

“Could our comms have gone down with the lights?” I asked, even though I could clearly hear Mitchum, something that was only possible through the comm assembly due to our thick headgear.

“Possibly long-wave, but I can hear you just fine.” He said before reaching out to the mothership. “Bethlehem this is Mitchum reporting from mining crew six. We have lost visuals and are in the presence of an unknown substance. The Harvester is non-responsive and we are in need of immediate extraction. Do you copy?”

The response was immediate.

“This is Dakota. We have a lifeboat en route to your location. We already received the initial distress call from the Harvester and have responded accordingly.” My stomach bottomed out. An intense dread filled my chest like a weighted vest.

“Keira is non-responsive, what is the transcript of the distress call?”

Seconds later, Dakota answered. “There was no message, the call was initiated by panic switch.” The blood in my veins froze. The panic switch is the last resort to report an emergency. It is only to be pressed when communication has become impossible or the nature of the emergency does not allow for a standard protocol emergency call. It sends a direct signal to the mothership and a geared up lifeboat is automatically dispatched to the last known satellite location that the signal originated from.

“How far out is the lifeboat?” Mitchum asked, agitation pricking his voice and something else.

“Lifeboat 001 is en route with estimated arrival time in twenty-nine minutes.”

“We will stick to this channel in case of further disturbances.” The other thing in Mitchum’s voice was terror and it mirrored the rest of the crew.

Klein was a healthy young woman, highly trained and experienced. The chances of her experiencing a medical emergency on the ship were slim to none, let alone one she couldn’t manage without tripping the panic switch. The strange residue suddenly seemed even more ominous. I tried to rationalize things, but the truth was we were in deep space. Human logic was of no use out there. Anything could be possible.

I was suddenly aware of lack of input from Jonesy. This was highly unusual, especially given the circumstances. “Jonesy, you there?” I called into the assembly. Nothing but radio silence followed.

Mitchum called out to the rest of the crew, to which there was also no response. Fear constricted it’s cold fingers around my lungs. The blackness surrounding was giving me claustrophobia and getting inside of my head. My mind was beginning to dredge up images of horrific, impossible beings.

I had a prickling sense that we were not alone. A person can tell when they are being watched. There is a certain unease that creeps its way inside, burrows under the skin, into the blood like an infection.

Mitchum and I could still hear each other just fine and if we could reach the mothership there was no technical reason we shouldn’t be able to reach our own team. I couldn’t shake the sinking, hair-raising feeling that something else had to be out there with us. The more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense in my mind. Especially taking into consideration the unknown residue we had discovered mere moments before the lights went out and its unknown makeup and origin.

“We can find our way back to The Harvester by our leads since we have no eyes on it.” Mitchum suggested. I had no better ideas and out here we were sitting ducks if we really were in the presence of a malevolent being.

“Got any more of those light sticks?” I called to Mitchum. Seconds later another light snapped to life, emitting it’s red glow. He tossed it my way and it tumbled to the ground a few feet from where I stood. I stopped to pick it up, half expecting something to run past the light. The stillness was suddenly eerie. I clipped the stick to my wrist and found the tether connecting me to The Harvester. A thought occurred to me then that stopped me cold as I grasped the line in my hands.

“What if there’s something onboard still?” I managed to choke out, my throat suddenly parched and burning. Of course there was something in the ship, our power source suddenly depleted. Keira had evidently hit the panic switch before the lights went out which meant she must have seen something…right?

“Something like what?” Mitchum asked, though I’m certain he knew what I was getting at.

“You know.” I cleared my throat, hoping to break up the lump that had formed there. No such luck. My voice was thick with fear. “Something unusual.” I chose my words carefully. “Like this weird residue.” I added, gesturing toward where the matter was flagged, even though it resided outside the reach of the glow sticks.

“I think we’ll be a lot safer on the vessel.” Mitchum countered. I couldn’t see his side. It was clear that something must have gotten in. I tightened my grip on the tether and began walking myself along back toward The Harvester.

What felt like an eternity later, The Harvester’s emergency lights came to life, mimicking the red hue of the glow sticks only slightly brighter and further reaching. We were closer to the vessel than I thought we would be and it was somewhat of a relief. Momentarily.

The airlock was wide open, both the outer and inner doors fully agape. “There’s no way Keira forgot to shut those doors.” I stammered. The inner airlock door gets sealed before the outside is opened. Like clockwork, Keira had made sure to shut them before opening the outer door to space.

Inside, the once white walls were now painted crimson as they bathed in the ambience of the emergency lights. I hung back outside while Mitchum entered the ship against my protests. Even if all systems were a go, I planned on waiting for the lifeboat. Something felt very wrong about going inside. I was afraid not of finding something inexplicable, but of having to see Keira’s final moments frozen on a terror-stricken face. I watch nervously as Mitchum disappeared inside. I could see objects from within floating against the ceiling, suspended in slow motion.

I anxiously waited, wishing I could bite my nails or pull at my hair strands. My fear was validated when I took closer notice to one of the objects floating against the ceiling inside. A wave of nausea came over me and I prayed I could keep it down. In that same moment I realized that the emergency lights were not responsible for the red hue. I wanted to warn Mitchum, but my vocal cords were seized with terror.

Mitchum appeared back in the doorway. When he spoke, his voice quivered and cracked. “You were right. There is something…unusual out here.” All of a sudden a darkness enshrouded the interior of the ship behind Mitchum. He screamed into the communicator and placed his hands over where his ears would be, even though it would be no use to block out any sound since he was wearing a helmet. I couldn’t find my voice or form any coherent thoughts, so I just watched the shadow as it hovered behind, over, and around Mitchum, almost fully enveloping. He collapsed to his knees and after a few moments of suspended wonder, the darkness swallowed him completely. The shroud engulfed the entire interior of The Harvester

The darkness itself seemed to be alive and breathing in the buoyant abyss. I became ill with dread. I swore I could feel the darkness pulsating.

Suddenly, My ears filled with a deafening sound. I let go of the tether to instinctively and uselessly cover my ears. Then there was the unmistakeable sound of a sonic boom replacing the otherworldly screeching. A force blew me back at the same time, dislodging my cleats from the ground and I flew violently upward and back.

I flailed my arms in slow motion through the open space as I was launched up and away. When I reached the end of my tether, I was jarred by the stopping force. I could instantly feel the whiplash. The cord was the only thing anchoring me to Kas. The only thing saving me from drifting out into the endless cosmic abyss.

There was a crunching sound in my ears followed by total silence and an itching sensation in my ear canals. A stinging in my brain. I couldn’t think.

Just then, my headlamp and suit sputtered back on along with the ship’s interior, still emitting a red glow. This time due to the layers of blood splattered over the lights. I uselessly swallowed at the lump in my throat. A small light drifted in my direction, growing quickly as it approached. I watched the airlock, petrified that the thing would appear in the doorway, whatever the hell it was. As the light drew closer to me, I could see clearly that it was a helmet.

As it passed by, illuminated within, Mitchum’s face was staring back at me. It was twisted and contorted into a grimace of pure terror. I screamed as I realized I was looking at my field captain’s severed head. Disconcertingly, I did not hear my own scream. I thought about the popping sound and the stabbing pain in my ears.

I train my eyes back on the airlock doors, frozen with fear. Mitchum’s head continues to float up and away into the vast expanse beyond my peripherals.

I see lights approaching in the distance. The lifeboat! My heart is threatening to pound through my sternum. I need that lifeboat here yesterday.

I watch anxiously as it approaches, my nerves shattered into a million pieces and firing chaotically. I have never been more hopeful and horrified at the same time. I worry that the thing is still lurking in the darkness around me even though I no longer feel the heavy, pulsing weight of its presence. That is until I know for certain that it isn’t.

The lifeboat illuminates the distant dark. Then it’s lights fade to black.

supernatural
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About the Creator

Aphotic

Horror|Sci-Fi|Fantasy|Poetry

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