This short story, kindly given to Stranger Views by Andy Darlington, mixes horror, science fiction, mystery and some plain old weirdness. Typically for Andy Darlington’s writing it packs a hell of a punch into very few words.
On the screen: a planetoid on acceleration. A sensor trajectory that hurtles me, the viewer, into a dread fascination overload. Less than a micron to impact, and already I feel death crawling among my molecules…
A blaze of white fire gushes light like some hyperactive brat scribbling manically over my retina with fluorescent crayons, again and again and again. Steel rivets jackhammer through the roof of my mouth while someone else carries out open-heart surgery on my chest using raw bitten-down fingernails for scalpels. My intestines and stomach race each other up my throat to beat themselves to pulp against the roof of my skull, while my teeth become ill-matched stalagmites meshing stalactites hard into the gums of a mouth that’s now a huge cavern where insectoid creatures skitter. Unconsciousness flashes like a small thermo-nuclear device to the back of my head.
Vivid crimson fan-tail fish swim in iridescent ripples through my head until I wake. And when I do, the stars are small twinkling points of black in an endless gleaming white sky. I blink such nonsense away until the colours come right, but still deep space here is blacker than it has any right to be, dark with something more than just the absence of light. The rocks are glazed with rain. My long greasy swatch of hair slops messily, thick with moisture. My faceplate is shattered. I should be sucking vacuum, but I’m not. This doesn’t make sense.
A little way away, across the worldlet’s drab surface, the dead and mutilated starship ‘Charon’ has broken its back. Fragments of rock and pumice from the explosive impact have left radiations of corrugations like so much sand left by a receding sea. I get up, causing slivers of thermoplex to quiver from the face-shield down into the neck of my slate-blue suit. So I unhook it and step out in just my skin, and pace in all-over bare-foot across to what’s left of the ship. A dust-dimmed sunset sends bloody rays across fractured silver metal, setting up pools of a collecting darkness that pulses malevolently. Fore-sections of the ‘Charon’ are flatter than a stepped-on bug on a cement floor. Some aft sections survive at crazy angles.
I open the hatch as carefully as its misaligned hinges allow, ignoring the fact that I could’ve just walked straight in through the wall ruptures. The starship smashed into this fragment of a world FAST. Starships never do less than fast. It’s a statistical impossibility that I’ve been thrown clear. But in a meta-galactic cluster this big and this populace even statistical impossibilities have got to happen with monstrous regularity. Still – the rest of the crew weren’t so lucky. Platt-Mills, Ascherson – and Gensher, the female researcher from the Ministry of Myths. They’re here now, black tongues spiking the black sky, eyes sealed or goggling. All the screens as blank as zombie’s stares.
So I go outside again. The mauve double-suns are coming up. Funny – weren’t they setting a moment ago? This planetoid must have an odd orbital spin. The light gives everything a flesh-red hue. I look down at my nude torso, skin and soft body-hair that’s spent far too much time indoors, suddenly exposed to the thin clear light. Incredibly there’s not a scratch anywhere. I inhale the ludicrously impossible air and lope across the corrugations of sand towards the horizon, stumbling over my spacesuit. Glancing in through the shattered plexi-visor I can see my face inside, tongue stabbing the sky, eyes glazed in a zombie’s stare. My skin is lacerated and void-bloated. White and dead.
That’s when I hear the scream. At first it seems to be me screaming, but I eventually decide that it isn’t me. The scream comes from just across that horizon. I slope down to unclasp the blast-pistol from its suit-mounted holster-clip and lug it from there to here, the lip of a steep incline going down. The planetoid probably isn’t a proper sphere, and its irregularities include this deep wide rift, like an open wound across its centre, near splitting the worldlet in half. Low tentacular plants sprout where fissures starfish the magma just below the rim, and as I slither down, rattling pebbles and grit, they shimmy their fronds curiously in my direction. They become more frequent the lower and deeper down I get, replaced by bushes nestling in regular pockets that begin opening up into ledges like tiers or even mini-plateaux astink with vines and wet rotting flora. The scream comes again. My bare feet slip-slither in messes of biological ooze and plant goo. Drips of stuff shower down on me from overhead overhangs of fern and foliage like star-spits through a rippling soft-red darkness…
Bursting through a wall of mauve leaves and there she is. Beauty and the Beast. She’s sprawled on her back in skin-tight silver spacesuit (a style from prehistory), a shock of blonde hair like sunburst in her ovoid bubble-helmet, her arm crooked up to shield herself from the lurching red-hued saurian, Tyranny Rex or something, vast and vicious, blood-slaver curdling spittle through stalactite teeth. A huge dark shape of humping mass blotting out the sky. My gun goes up, terror shooting adrenalin through me.
I yell ‘hang tight onto the planet’ to her, and the stud goes in. The blaster splurges jagged crashes of atom-crushing power, searing hot knives of pain slitting open the monster as though it’s a polythene bag full of entrails. It roars and goes down like a dark-sun collapsing under its own mass. Afterimages dance iridescent ripples. I stand still till the dizziness passes, then shake my head to clear it. The dead T Rex is already decomposing. Land-crabs scuttle, and scorpion-things wade through its exposed guts fighting for juicy fragments.
She’s up, walking from the hips like some tri-vid model, so full-fleshed she quivers when she moves. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. The pistol-grip is slimy with my hot sweat. I run the back of my hand over my forehead, knuckling my eye-sockets, but when I look again she’s still there, half-turning, smiling at me. She’s unhooked the helmet and shrugged it back, fanning hair across her shoulders. So tragically beautiful I could love her within an inch of her life, start by licking her pretty toes and working my way up, not stopping till I can taste her earwax.
We go hand-in-hand down by the grotto-stream where the technicolour lyre-birds fantail through the spray, down towards the Lucite pleasure-domes that glimmer in the play of double-sunlight. For one moment I glance back over my shoulder at the way we’ve come, to where the healing T Rex is shamble-lurching to its feet. It looks dazed, a little confused…
‘I’m Eurydice’ says the goddess. ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’
I inhale the incredibly impossible air and lope across the corrugations of sand towards what’s left of the ship, stumbling over my spacesuit. Glancing in through the shattered plexi-visor I can see my face in there, black tongue stabbing the black sky, eyes glazed in a zombie’s stare. My skin is lacerated and void-bloated. White and dead. That’s when I hear the scream. I open the ‘Charon’s hatch as carefully as its misaligned hinges allow, and step inside, molten ideas surging and receding like tide.
I say ‘I don’t understand any of this, Ascherson.’
Ascherson shrugs eloquently. He’s slouched up against the console. ‘What’s to understand? We’re FTL-ing through the NGC 5907 Nebula’s glowing outer corona, where it’s at its most luminous, skirting its Wolf-Rayet double suns. This is the zone of myth and rumour, remember?’
His head is raw, like it’s been well-kicked. It’s cratered with open sores and all the flesh from the lower half of his jaw has either frayed or been ripped off so the white bone glistens through. Each individual tooth clearly visible as he speaks. ‘There was nothing on the screens. NOTHING! No solid bodies in parsecs. Then we zonk this planetoid FAST. Starships never do less than fast. How was the impact for you? How can you describe the vortex, the maelstrom of being sucked naked through a black hole? How can you describe being digested quantum molecule by quantum molecule by a space-time singularity? How to describe a dream born of madness and nightmare? To me, it was like I’d stuffed my head into the centrifuge and thumbed the switch marked ‘infinite acceleration’.’
‘Yes, but Eurydice. How do you explain her? It makes sense of a kind that the further we get in towards the planetoid’s core the denser the atmospheric pressure and hence the corresponding fertility, flora and animal-life. That makes sense. Doesn’t it? But through the domes is the temple and the thermal hot-water springs where we bathed. Where we kissed. Where we made our sweet love. Mere words can never capture the expertise of that goddess’ tongue. Mere words can never do justice to her touch. She makes the greatest tri-vid lover look a cheap reject from the bad skin-flick feelies. You know what I mean, Ascherson?’
He nods. ‘Eurydice, you say?’ He’s playing the console so a confusing mesh of data scrolls across the screens. At first, as he nods, it looks like a single huge tear is slithering down his cheek. His hand lifts from the key-pad to brush it clear, and as the index finger scrapes the mess from his face it becomes obvious that the viscous fluid is his eye, aqueous humour liquids that drip and quiver glitter-silver and blue-green.
‘I’m cold’ complains Platt-Mills, spinning the swivel-seat. ‘What’s it read out there?’ He glances out through the wall-rupture. Across the rock and striated pumice. Across at the horizon where the dust-dimmed double-suns are setting – or rising, their bloody rays prisming on moist metal and filling low pools with a pulsing darkness.
‘It’s 40K. It’s total void out there’ says Ascherson. ‘But that’s not why you’re cold. It’s your stomach. Look… it’s gone! I can see clear through it to the seat-tread.’
‘And Eurydice’ from Platt-Mills. ‘You want to know who she is? I can tell you who knows. Gensher knows, don’t you? She’s the person to ask – the researcher from the Ministry of Myths. The woman who micro-adjusted the course parameters so we pass right through HERE!’
There are hot springs here where we bathe. Vivid crimson fan-tail fish swim through the iridescent ripples like thoughts flitting through dreams, or those that haunt nightmares. There are orchids blood-maroon and ebon, creamy Hellebores, azure Borage and other blossoms that have no names in blazes of colour so bright I can HEAR them. Technicolour birds preen in the gentle spray, wading and clucking through the shallows, through the silt of fine white sand. My body, and her body, glisten and distort when seen through the lens of the water’s ebb. This world is hollow, and here inside it, the sky goes on forever, deeper and bluer than any sky on any planet I’ve ever trod. My fingers trace the warm yielding contours of her neck. She tells me stories I only half believe of a galaxy I’ve long forgotten somewhere outside the worldlet’s shell, beyond its protective carapace. But I hardly listen. I’m busy working on telepathic communication with the emerald spiders who lay pearls in their webs. I’m busy watching the seeds that spiral and drift on the slight thermals, hatching into butterflies before hitting the ground.
‘So why did they exile you, Eurydice?’ I ask, although I’m not really interested. ‘Why, when you’d been priestess of the double suns? When you could rip open the sky and scald the stars, when you could weave the very fabric of spacial flux into tapestry. Why seal you into this hollow asteroid and set you adrift into eternity?’
‘It’s all in there, isn’t it Gensher’ rapped Ascherson. The green glare of the screen adding to the already gangrenous aspects of his decaying face. It now looks as though his head has been taken apart and reassembled inside-out.
‘Yes, it’s all taken into account in the course corrections plotted by the Ministry of Myths. But you’ve got to realize the time-scales we’re dealing with. The priestess Eurydice was entombed some twenty-four thousand years back, long before the plague-centuries, the collapse of galactic empires, the regime of the world-smashers, the Spiral Arm Confederacy…’
I inhale the incredibly impossible air and lope across the corrugations of sand towards the wrecked starship, stumbling over my spacesuit. Glancing in through the shattered plexi-visor, I can see what’s left of my face…
‘You ask ‘why the exile’?’ a hiss resembling escape gas from Gensher. ‘Listen, O rapt ones, I’ll tell you why. For necromancy. For the reanimation of corpses. That’s why. And the myth is that she still waits to snare unwary star voyagers. Only you have to die first to be able to reach her.’
That’s when I hear the scream…
This is the second short story given to Stranger Views by Andy Darlington after Ravenous:a tale of when two apex predators meet.
Andrew Darlington is a published writer who, when not writing short stories like this one, has interviewed many people from the worlds of Literature, SF-Fantasy, Art and Rock-Music for a variety of publications. You can visit Andrew’s blog here. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.
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