Did you ever feel as though your mind had started to erode? Five days in and 400 million kilometers from earth, I’m slipping further and further into madness. I flipped through my notes, starting from the beginning. I received my current assignment from high up in the command chain. The only thing I knew was that my background in linguistics would come in handy. By the time I had arrived I had poured over all the details given me and still had no idea what I was doing here.
I stood in the airlock at the entry to Outpost VII. Years of space travel has made me something of a recycled air connoisseur. Moon Base Beta is the gold standard, you’d swear you were back on earth. There’s some good air on Mars Station, but these small asteroid mining outposts are some of the worst. Every breath I drew came with the sting of stringent chemicals and not enough oxygen. The LEDs in the door frame turned from red to green and the grey titanium panel slid open as if it was a quarter of its weight.
“Welcome Inspector, to Strand Corps Selenium Mining Outpost Eight. I am Rebecca Walsh chief of operations.”
“Nice to meet you Ms. Walsh.”
“Please, call me Rebecca, Ms. Walsh was my mother.”
“Very well. I’m inspector William Channing, you may call me Will.”
She smiled. Her green eyes appeared more vibrant in the lighting as did her auburn hair. It was in a right bun at the top of her skull. The sides were shaved and when she spoke again, I noticed the stainless-steel dumbbell through her tongue. “I can show you to your quarters so that you can unwind.”
“If it is okay with you, I’d like to see the artifact. I’ve had 37 hours of spaceflight to unwind.”
“I understand. We don’t get visitors out this far very often, but we’ve arranged comfortable quarters, I’ll have your belongings sent there.” She touched her wrist comm and instructed me to leave my bags at the airlock. “We have the artifact in one of our materials labs. It’s right this way. You can leave your bags here and I’ll have someone take them to your quarters.”
I only had one case and my travel computer but felt it rude to say anything, so I left the case. I followed her from the airlock to the hallway on the left. “Your report says the artifact was found forty-seven meters below the surface.”
“Yes, one of our survey drones came across it in a chasm we recently uncovered. Deep penetration scans must’ve missed it. To be honest if it weren’t for an eagle-eyed operator, we’d never have seen it. Here we are, the lab is right here.” She pressed several keys and the door opened with a whirring sound.
The light in the lab was much brighter than in the hall and my eyes blinked into an uneasy focus. The artifact sat on a metal table in the center of the empty room. “No one’s been in here.”
“Not since the bodies were found.”
“Good.” I approached the table. The artifact was an eight-sided polyhedron shape, a little larger than a human head. “Metallurgical analysis has not turned up anything?”
“It’s no metal known to humankind.”
As I looked over the surface of the thing, I could make you several characters etched on the surface. “These markings weren’t in your report.”
“I know. Corporate lawyers suggested we not reveal that much about the artifact yet. The mining charter gives us first rights to anything we find something like this and the bean counters on earth only see potential profit. Do you recognize the letters? It’s weird, the same four symbols just repeat over and over.”
I nodded. “It’s a little beyond strange. Though I do not recognize them. And you ran them through your computer database.”
Rebecca put her hands on her hips. “We’re a mining outpost. That database only has minerals and compounds.”
She was right. There was nothing I could use. I had to take scans and transmit them to the language database of the Tillerman Institute back on Earth. Unfortunately, with Jupiter between us it took several days for the transmission to arrive there. That gave me time to look at the deaths of the two materials scientists, Reginald Task and Vivian Connors. Right away I suspected an interpersonal matter. Miners spent eighteen to 48 months out here so it’s not uncommon for relationships to blossom and wither. The position of the bodies made a murder-suicide look plausible.
“That’s what I thought too,” Dr. Richards said. She walked over to her view screen. “Then we looked at the tissue scans. First the bodies died seconds apart.”
“Plausible if one wound was more fatal than the other.”
“Deaths were instant. Plus, internal scans reveal that the damage worsened the deeper we looked.”
“The report listed a hypersonic hammer as the weapon.”
“We found the hammer in close proximity to the bodies, but this damage wasn’t caused by it.” She paused. “It seemed logical with all the crew disruptions we had been experiencing lately.”
“I’ve read through the reports. I know a fair share of incidents are common but are you saying that this was out of the ordinary?”
“That’s one way to put it. Something is tearing through this crew. From fights to anxiety, it’s as if a switch went off,” the doctor said.
She was right. Back in my room I looked over the outpost incident logs, and they clearly pointed to some type of malaise running through the crew. It all started when the artifact came on board.
Over the next few days, my notes piled up and the interviews continued but I wasn’t any closer to undertanding what happened, other than it was definitively not a murder-suicide. The door chime broke into my thoughts. “Come in.”
Rebecca entered with a data screen. “This just came through coms for you.” She looked at my notes and scribbles all over the table and bed. “Is this helping you get anywhere.”
“It’s a mess but helps me bounce from thought to thought,” I said as I took the screen. I read through it twice and put it down.
“Were they able to translate it?”
I nodded. “The symbols are letters from an old Earth language that belonged to the Israelite people. It’s the letters, Y,H,W,H, yodh he, waw, he. In standard English it’s Yahweh, also referred to as the Tetrgrammaton, the holy name of God.”
“God? We have some up here who are Sciterrian and see the universe as a living entity imbued with god-like properties. Are you saying this thing is a manifestation of that?”
“In Earth’s ancient past it was not uncommon for people to worship beings that existed solely in their collective minds. Often it was a response to phenomena they could not understand.”
“So how does an ancient earth language wind up on an artifact dug out of an asteroid floating in space?”
I could feel one hell of a headache coming on. “Well, there’s only one of two possibilities. These ancient people had a space program that launched this artifact to this asteroid. The other that an alien being, from which this language originates, may have visited earth in the Middle Eastern desert some fifteen centuries ago.”
Rebecca rubbed her forehead. The headache must be catching. “I suppose the first possibility is not likely. Though the second would prove that humans may have had contact with an alien species.”
“They may not have realized what they had contact with. Still, it doesn’t help us identify what this is, or how it may have killed those two scientists.”
“Is that your conclusion?” Rebecca didn’t try to hide the incredulity in her voice.
“I talked to everyone, looked over all the reports and autopsy results. Something in that room killed them and it wasn’t that flipping hammer.” I had just finished when the alert siren went off. In the last couple of days, it had become a regular occurrence.
Rebecca went to the comm panel and pressed the red button. “Opps, what’s going on?”
“Becc,” the strained voice of her second in command came over the comm. “You better get down here. Our reactor’s gone critical.”
C L A S S I F I E D
Strand Metals Corporation
Outpost VII Final Transmission
Time: 19:45.15 06.27.2158
This is Inspector William Channing. I am placing Outpost VII under immediate and permanent quarantine. Reactor critical. Sabotage. Radiation leak. No salvage. It’s sentient. The damn thing is planning…
Vincent A. Alascia is the author of, “The Hole In Your Mind,” “Undead Heart,” “In the Presence of Gods,” and, “Xristos: Chosen of God,” available on Kindle and paperback as well as works that have appeared in anthologies and online. Originally an East Coast native, he makes his home in the Portland Oregon area with his wife. Vincent has been a librarian for over 15 years and is also a musician. He is currently working on a Steampunk Horror novel and a guide to reading Tarot. Website: www.vaalascia.com