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Astronomica

by Aphotic 2 months ago in supernatural
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What horrors lurk in the dark and divine cosmos beyond mankind's contemporary perception

Astronomica
Photo by Majid Ghahravi Zade on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. But something has heard mine.

Mining stardust is not a novice endeavor. There are many dangers and a whole host of regulations in spite of these dangers. Becoming a stardust miner requires extensive training both in the lab and in the field prior to going on an official expedition as a certified extractor. It is a meticulous, tedious process that involves precision while navigating the cosmic void of space in a clunky spacesuit tethered to the expedition craft.

While the suits are quite less obstructive than their relic ancestors, they are still far more restrictive and uncomfortable than plainclothes. The headgear has been condensed over time so that it’s less cumbersome as well. We also no longer require hefty oxygen tanks strapped to our backs. There was a breakthrough many decades ago on the technology of rebreathers. They have advanced to the point where they infinitely convert carbon dioxide back into oxygen.

Scientists and laymen alike scoffed at the idea when it was first suggested. They would cite the laws of nature and scientific facts already known to man that would prevent such advancements. Their sentiments were merely echoes from centuries prior when the Wright brothers first conceived the idea of an aircraft to lift us into the skies.

Like the neigh-sayers of old, those who scoffed were eventually proven very incorrect. There were many more technological advancements to come that would render the same scrutiny before the final prototypes were released in all of their success and glory.

The same was true about the harvesting of stardust and its potential as an energy resource. Dr. Edwin J Goldwell had hypothesized the potential uses it could serve and people laughed. That was until his multi-decade spanning research paid off.

Since, stardust mining has become an imperative part of life in space. Without the years of research done by Dr. Goldwell despite the endless ridicule he endured in the process, our home in space would not exist to this date. Since Earth died in the year 2101, we are only able to rely on space resources and the amount of energy we are able to harvest from just one micrometer of stardust is insurmountable.

Any and all objects that drift into our orbit are scanned for stardust particulates and hazardous material. Once it is confirmed that the objects do indeed harbor the invaluable substance, they are then marked and an expedition craft is sent to begin mining. There are extra safety and retrieval precautions put into place whenever a hazardous or otherwise material is scanned in addition to stardust.

I am part of mining crew six. Our expedition craft is called The Harvester. I was having a cup of tea in the lounge of the mothership when a slow-moving asteroid entered Jupiter’s orbit—our home orbit—twenty-five meters away. We performed our initial remote scan from onboard the mothership, Bethlehem. There were no anomalies detected, but the asteroid had abundant traces of stardust. We saddled up so to speak and departed from Bethlehem.

When we arrived at our mark approximately forty minutes later, we began our second and final scan of the asteroid before diving into deep space to mine it. The scans expectedly came back perfect as they had at Bethlehem. We geared up for the dive.

By now, it was so routine that the steps were completed on autopilot. Check comms, check each other’s seals and rebreathers, secure our tool belts and collection containers, ensure the jetpacks are operating smoothly, check lights, etc. Once all checks were completed, we entered the airlock and secured our tethers. The tethers connect from The Harvester to the back of our suits , an extra safety measure in the event of jetpack failure.

Hans Dallas(pilot), Jessica Oswald(onboard engineer), and Akumi Keira(overseer of operations) are the crew members that will stay onboard the Harvester and monitor from afar as we collect the stardust.

Darius Rick is the lead miner and field captain. Harlan Oppanachau and myself—Eliza Gross—are elite miners. We are all scientists of varying degree. The three of us will be extracting the stardust from the celestial body while the remaining three maintain systems and monitor our work and vitals from afar. They are in charge of reporting progress to Bethlehem and making sure our expedition runs as smoothly as possibly without any hitches. They are also in charge of reeling us in if we run into any issues in the field.

This particular asteroid did not originate from the prominent belt between Jupiter and Mars’ orbits. It was evident by the high readings of stardust present. As dangerous and challenging as it was to navigate through the known asteroid belt, nobody had ever mined there; but our satellite readings were dead enough to tell us that it wasn’t worth mining there anyway.

This specimen came from somewhere else. Somewhere that a plethora of stardust gathers. Perhaps it only passed through such an area, but either way it had been somewhere previously that was inundated with the stuff.

When Keira and Oswald gave their signal, it was time for us to leave the airlock and float outside into space.

The jetpacks we have securely strapped to our backs are multi-directional and they are powered by stardust. They last for approximately twelve thousand kilometers from a top off, give or take depending upon the amount of power or speed being exerted. They allow us to navigate the buoyant abyss of space more effortlessly.

Once we had drifted several yards from the outer airlock door, it closed behind us and we jettisoned away from the Harvester toward the asteroid. To keep our craft safe, we anchored it a distance of approximately one kilometer away from our target. Our jetpacks would do the rest.

The moment we made contact with the asteroid, Rick reported to our overseer that we had landed safely and she confirmed that all systems were up and running properly to begin mining. We thus began extraction of the precious material. The cosmic rock was flourishing with the stuff. I took the right, Rick center, Op the left. The asteroid was enormous. The amount of stardust we would mine from it would be enough to power the mothership for several space years.

Once in our respective areas, we could no longer see each other due to the asteroids sheer mass. Communication at this point was strictly audio. Our boots and gloves have special grips on their outsoles and palms that allow us to grip onto cosmic rock securely, without risking floating away. Our collection containers have the same grips on their bottoms so that they can be placed on the surface without drifting off.

Having done this dozens of times before, I was on autopilot as I meticulously chipped away at the asteroid. As I mined the stardust and placed it into my collection container I came across something…unusual, beneath the outer layer. I flagged it immediately.

“Hey Rick.” 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. He bounded over carefully, yet as quickly as the buoyancy in the lack of gravity would allow. It was like walking underwater out here. He anchored himself by my side to examine the area I had flagged.

He hastily scanned the unknown substance with his Field Particle Detection Tool. The results were baffling, so he scanned several times more. Each time the readings yielded the same result.

ERROR: 0% MATCH

DATA INCONCLUSIVE

NO KNOWN PARTICULATES DETECTED

The tool, called the FPDT for short, 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 fear. Excitement for a potential new discovery, fear of the unknown and possibility of toxin. 0% match meant that it possessed not a single atom of matter known to man.

Rick closely examined the surface for some time, scanning and rescanning, seemingly sure that the FPDT was experiencing technical difficulties. He ran an additional field test kit on the sticky black residue to test for hazardous matter, but all readings on that device were inconclusive as well.

He was clearly trying to hide his excitement, while keeping his skepticism and perplexion at the forefront. Rick 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 a substance humans had never encountered. The conclusion that I was drawing. This substance was alien to mankind.

Predictably, he broke our silence with; “We need to collect samples to take back to Bethlehem for further testing. I don’t want anyone touching this stuff until we have verified that it’s safe. As a precaution we will bag it in our hazards.” Then, to Op; “Oppanachau, pack it up, we—” 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 cannot see without our headlamps. They illuminate the otherwise pitch blackness for us. We rely on them for this reason. There are backups onboard in case the first one is destroyed. We also have a series of microlights on our spacesuits and illuminators inside of our helmets so that we can see each others’ faces, but even The Harvester’s lights were no longer visible a kilometer away. Every shred of light aside for the distant stars had gone dark at once.

“What the hell?” I muttered to myself.

Rick immediately reached out to the Harvester. “ Keira, this is Rick. Requesting immediate extraction. We have lost visuals and are in the presence of an unknown material.” The comm assembly crackled as we waited for a response. Rick repeated his message. No response from Keira.

“Dallas, this is Rick, I’m requesting immediate extraction. We have lost our visuals and are in the presence of an unknown, potentially hazardous material, do you copy?” No response from Dallas either. He tried again with Oswald, but to the same outcome.

“Could our comms have gone down with the lights?” I asked, even though I could clearly hear Rick.

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

Almost instantly a reply came through. I sighed in relief.

“10-4. 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. Over.” My stomach bottomed out. An intense dread fell over me like a weighted vest.. Rick’s next words to Bethlehem echoed the roots of my anxiety as did his voice though he tried with great effort to mask it.

“When was the distress call placed and who was it placed by? Over.”

Seconds later, Dakota answered. “Distress call came through at two hundred hours. There was no message, the call was initiated by panic switch. Over.” The blood in my veins froze. The panic switch is the last resort to report an emergency. Typically it is only utilized 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? Over.” Rick asked, agitation pricking his voice.

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

“10-4. We will stick to this channel in case of further disturbances.” Rick advised.

“Copy that.” Dakota said.

I was suddenly aware of the lack of a response from Oppanachau. “Op, do you copy?” I blurted out.

The sudden lack of sight paired with my growing unease was giving me vertigo by now. Even the Harvester had gone dark. That was highly unusual. In fact it was unheard of.

“Oppanachau, do you copy?” Rick echoed at a much higher volume and level of urgency than I. The frequency gave ear-splitting feedback in protest.

“Oppanachau.” He called again into the mic, commanding yet not nearly as loudly so as to keep the integrity of our eardrums intact. His voice was hard and serious, but it quivered with something else.

Fear bubbled up my throat and grasped with its icy fingers, constricting airflow. Panic rising. Running out of oxygen was not among my concerns. So when I started having trouble taking in air, I did not worry that it was my breathing apparatus. All thanks to persevering scientists. No, this was the clutches of panic at work. Fight or flight kicking in.

What was concerning above all else was of course the lack of response from any team members. There was also the pitch black darkness surrounding us. The unknown substance we were all but standing in that could be toxic or dangerous for all we knew was another grievous concern. And then there was the prickling sense I had 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.

I tried to rationalize a host of different possibilities that could have caused communications to be lost the way they had been, but it made no sense. Rick 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 was out here 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 origin.

“We can pull ourselves back to The Harvester by our leads since we have no eyes.” Rick suggested. I hadn’t thought of it. There are protocols for gaining entry to expedition craft from outside in case of emergencies such as the one we had found ourselves in. I began feeling around in the darkness for my tether. A thought occurred to me then that stopped me cold as I grasped the line in my hands.

“What if there’s something on our ship?” I mustered the nerve to ponder aloud, my throat burning and in need of water or a good cry—I wasn’t sure which. Perhaps a combination of both.

“Something like what?” Rick asked for clarification, though I’m certain he knew what I was getting at. If I said it out loud though, it would become real. I didn’t think I was quite ready for that. I hesitated.

“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. I could hear it myself so there was no doubt Rick would pick up on it too. “Something unusual.” I chose my words carefully. “Like this weird residue.” I added, gesturing toward where the matter was flagged, even though he wouldn’t be able to see the gesture or the matter in the complete blackness.

“I think I’d feel a lot safer on the vessel.” Rick admitted to my dissatisfaction. I silently disagreed for aforementioned reasons, but obeyed his unspoken command anyway. I tightened my grip on the tether and began pulling myself along back toward The Harvester. It would take us a while to get back this way and we were sure to become fast victims of fatigue.

What felt like an eternity later, our headlamps flickered back on. As did The Harvester’s lights. We were closer to the vessel than I thought we would be and it was somewhat of a relief. An actual light at the end of the tunnel.

As we drew nearer, we were alarmed to find that the outer and inner airlock doors were both gaping open and the ship’s contents were free-floating in space and along the ceiling inside. I did not dare step through the airlock.

The interior of the craft had a red glow to it. Its once white walls were now painted crimson as they bathed in the ambience of the emergency lights. I hung back while Rick 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. If the airlock was open, then our crew couldn’t possibly be alive inside. I watch Rick disappear inside.

I anxiously waited, suspended in the suddenly ominous cosmos. My fear was validated when I took closer notice to one of the objects floating against the ceiling with the equipment and other prefects. In that same moment I realized that the emergency lights were not responsible for the red hue. I wanted to warn Rick, but my vocal cords were seized with terror.

Relief washed over me when Rick appeared in the doorway. His face was grim and his voice quaking as he spoke. “You were right. There is something…unusual out here.” All of a sudden a darkness enshrouded the interior of the ship behind Rick. Rick screamed into the communicator and placed his hands over his ears. I couldn’t find my voice to warn him about the darkness, so I just watched the specimen as it hovered behind, over, and around him. After a few moments of suspended wonder, at the speed of light—or dark, rather—the thing engulfed him completely so that I could no longer see a square inch of Rick. In the same instant the interior lights went dark again as did my headlamp.

Startled, I let go of my tether and began floating up swiftly away from the ship. I flailed my arms in slow motion through the open space as I drifted up and away. I was slightly jarred when I reached the end of my tether, the only thing still anchoring me to the ship. The only thing between potential survival and drifting out into the cosmic abyss.

I was unable to move, frozen with fear and too afraid to operate my jetpack for fear that whatever the hell was out here would come for me next. If the quickness with which it enveloped Rick was any indication, my jetpack wouldn’t be enough to outrun the thing. If it could even be called a thing. By the looks of it it had just been darkness itself.

My headlamp sputtered back on all of a sudden along with the ship’s interior, still emitting a red glow due to the layers of blood splattered over the lights. I swallowed at the lump in my throat but it still wouldn’t budge. A small light drifted in my direction, growing quickly as it approached. When the object landed in my headlamp’s beam, I shrieked against my wishes. I couldn’t hold it in.

As it passed by me I saw Rick’s face, still illuminated by the helmet that was still encasing his head. His severed head, face twisted and contorted into a horrified grimace. My scream was instantly followed by a ringing in my ears that was more eerie than the feedback from Rick yelling for Op. I looked back to the ship, the gaping airlock doors bleeding the light of the interior out into space. I watched the same blackness that consumed Rick so effortlessly slide into view and then slip into the dark expanse between me and The Harvester.

The lights go out again and I am left with a crippling terror and no eyes.

They say that nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space—but whatever is out here has heard mine, and it’s coming for me.

Where is that goddamned lifeboat?

supernatural

About the author

Aphotic

I'm an amateur with a passion for reading and writing even though I'm not very good at it. Please leave constructive criticism🤓

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