Far Beneath the Distant Stars

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Chapter III

13th January 2163

I have taken the past two days to mourn the loss of my old friend and colleague, Scott Harrison. It seems strange that he lost his life almost 500 light years from Earth, and as morbid as it may seem, I’m glad that he spent his final days out here exploring a new world in the depths of space. He always longed to see the Universe. Now he is one with it.

The dreams of the dark city still recur every night, just as they have done since I first set foot in that chamber. I wander among the spires and pyramids, following the call of that distant beckoning whistle. The dead face of Harrison, grey and grinning in the dark of the city, haunts me even in my dreams, that disturbing look on his face flashing before my mind’s eye.

Last night, the dream changed. It began as it always had done, exploring the city, entranced by the ethereal whistle, when I round a corner and see something incredible and unnerving. It is a monument, sculpted from a dull, dark greenish vitreous substance, tall and imposing. Three points, or horns, twist upward, coiling around and around each other like the cords of a rope, culminating in a single spike at the peak. It begins to glow and pulse with an aura the colour of Lyrae 438b’s sky, a bright red light emanating from the green monument. Symbols carved along the body of this strange structure are illuminated against the dark green substance as they light up too. The whistling grows louder and stronger, and then I awaken.

These dreams only make that already alien city seem all the more unnerving and sinister. Captain Ward has said that the bodies of the missing crewmen have not yet been recovered from the city, and after five days of no communication are now presumed dead. With the lives of seven men (including Harrison) taken by that dark place, this world - once extraordinary and awe-inspiring - is now a place of death.

Exploration of Lyrae 438b continues. I’ll be joining another expedition in the next few days. I’m not looking forward to returning to that forbidding underworld, but the sooner I do the sooner I can return to the bright lights, white walls and warm labs of the science deck.

14th January 2163

The dreams are becoming more vivid. The terrifying expression of Harrison’s asphyxiated face grinning morbidly at me, the dark depths of the obsidian city like a nightmarish maze in my mind, and the sound of the whistling wind echoing in my ears. The glow from the twisted obelisk becomes blinding, enveloping me, and somewhere in the darkness I can see something writhing, squirming, and staring at me from the shadows with a multitude of eyes. I wake in a cold sweat every morning, and it takes time for me to recover and remember that it was just a dream.

Tomorrow I’m to join another expedition to the city to finalise mapping of the area. I shall also be taking samples and analysing the obsidian architecture to determine the age and methods used to construct this place. There’s something about that city that feels like it’s older than time itself…

15th January 2163

We lost six more men today, three of whom were part of my geological survey team. In the past week we have lost just over half of the crew of the Endeavour. The things I witnessed down there are unimaginable, and terrified me to my very core. I shall record the events that transpired here for posterity, and so that the families of those whose lives were lost may know what happened, but I have no doubt that the images of what I saw will stay with me until my final hours.

We started out early, scheduling for ten hours of exploration with about an hour’s travel either side. It was dawn on Lyrae 438b when we departed, and we arrived at the Dark Maw at sunrise. How appropriate of the first team to discover it to name it that, after all the lives that place has consumed… It looked even more imposing by the red and orange light of the dawn, the mountain casting a dark shadow over the entrance to the Maw. I’ll admit to being more frightened of it now, a sense of fear and dread dwelling in my heart as we drew closer to it.

The subterranean city seemed even darker than before, too. The quartzite spires seemed to gleam less in the darkness of the cavern, and the obsidian pyramids and ziggurats were cast from the blackest of stone. The light from our torches didn’t even seem to illuminate the way ahead quite as much, as if a veil of darkness had settled on the city.

We ventured around for several hours, our internal scanners charting our path as we went, around the five-sided buildings and down numerous shrouded pathways. In unison, we paused as once again those hollow airy notes beckoned to us. I’m glad I was not the only one to be drawn to the sound of the ethereal whistle. After some deliberation, we decided to follow the sound to discover its source; some hypothesised it to be caused by the wind blowing through holes in the rock formation, another entrance to the city, or just through the unusually angular architecture; other’s suggested - albeit tongue-in-cheek - it may be the call of the alien race, welcoming us to their city and wishing to meet us.

Instead, where the whistle lead us was to something straight out of my nightmares.

We rounded the corner of a spire, and directly ahead of us in an open space was one of the largest ziggurats we’d catalogued so far. Directly in the middle of it was a tall staircase, with several archways running up the height of the structure. As if following some long-forgotten trail, we slowly began our march to the top of the ziggurat, taking each step at a time. We climbed and we climbed, until we reached the pinnacle, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Before us, reaching up out of an altar situated at the very top, was a tall monument. It was so tall I was surprised we hadn’t seen it before reaching this point, but I was more surprised by the shape of it. Three points, or horns, twisted upward, coiling around and around each other like the cords of a rope, culminating in a single spike at the peak. Symbols not unlike those found on the pillars at the entrance covered the monument, and it was constructed of a dull dark greenish mineral. It seemed to be emitting the soft, haunting notes, but why I can not be sure. Around the monument, some five feet away from its base, lay five stones no larger than the palm of my hand, seemingly of the same greenish substance. I picked up a piece and turned it over in my hands; initial impressions would suggest it’s moldavite.

Saul Walker, one of the security personnel attached to my team, took several tentative steps forward. With my nightmares manifesting before me, I slowly backed away, and rested against one of the obsidian pillars marking the five corners around the monument. Walker reached out a hand and stroked the symbols on the green monument, which glowed red at his touch. I held my breath as the entire structure began to glow red, the whistling notes growing louder. The rest of my team took a few steps back, and I almost ran, but something held me back. Walker backed away from the monument too, but when he turned around I knew something was wrong. His eyes were not his own. They glowed red, like the monument and its symbols, in the dark of the city.

He took a few uneasy steps forward, and without warning he pulled his side-arm on us and began firing. The gunshots rang throughout the cavern, disturbing the uneasy peace of this sinister place. One shot after another after another, all in rapid succession. Only after the final gunshot had fired did my colleagues drop to the floor, wordlessly and silently, as lifeless husks. The other two security personnel didn’t even get a chance to ready their weapons.

I started to back away from him as he turned to face me. His face was fixed in a terrifying grin, all too similar to Harrison’s, and he slowly began to remove his helmet. He stood there before me, exposed to the inhospitable atmosphere, the broad smile almost forced across his maddened face. His sinister smile was unwavering as he put the gun to his temple and blew out his brains.

Strange black shadowy wisps came floating out of the monument like tentacles, gently grazing over each of the bodies, and for one moment of madness I thought I could see a monster in the darkness. There and yet somehow not, lurking just beyond the scrim of reality. In my mind’s eye, I could see it, a writhing congeries of tentacles and a multitude of red eyes which stared into my soul, glowing and blinking asynchronously in the dark of the chamber, and its mouths, numerous black gaping maws lined with row after row of terrifying teeth, seeping and oozing with a saliva-like black viscous fluid.

I have no idea what possessed Walker to open fire on the geologists, nor why he spared me. Nothing will erase the sight of that rictus grin from my mind, and a part of me wishes one of those shots had been meant for me. But what I saw thereafter, that intangible mass of tendrils, I can not begin to fathom. I know that it can not possibly exist, that maybe it was a hallucination (maybe that’s what Walker saw? He was driven mad by a hallucination?) or a delusion from my nightmares. And yet, despite all logic and reason, I have no doubt that that thing I saw was real.

I need to get back to the Endeavour, but the very thought of coming out from this small structure I have spent the past few hours hiding in fills me with dread. The dark and ancient city beyond these five walls feels alive with mal-intent. I can not bear the thought of being in this place any longer, but I’m too afraid to try to leave. If I move even an inch, it feels as if I would be exposing myself to any number of cosmic horrors which may lurk in this place, just outside of my perception. I‘m holding on to the moldavite-like stone, and it brings me a sense of comfort. There’s a sensation of heat emanating from this ethereal looking crystal, warming my hand and spreading in to my body. I feel as if I’m absorbing some cosmic power from the stone while I sit in this construct.

One thing I know for certain is… Whether I stay here or try to make it back to safety, I can’t help but shake the thought that my days are numbered.

16th January 2163

I am still here, in the dark depths of this evil realm. I have named this place Tartarus after the deep abyss of Greek mythology, as far below Hades as the Earth is below Heaven, a place of torment and suffering, and the prison of the Titans. I feel as if I have left reality behind and stepped into the heart of darkness straight out of myth and legend. How I wish one of Walker’s bullets had been meant for me...

Last night, after many hours of sitting in the same corner - too afraid to move - I eventually plucked up the courage to explore the structure I had hidden myself away in.

There are several such buildings found across this place, much smaller in size than the pyramids, ziggurats and spires, but they still adhere to the uneven angles of the pentagonal/heptagonal architecture. The building I am in is several stories high, also made of irregular obsidian masonry, and connected to other buildings similar to it via walkways extending out from the second and third story. I have not dared venture out onto the walkways or to the other buildings, for fear that something may discover me. A number of the wall panels within this structure are dotted with irregular and uneven holes, almost like a honeycomb pattern carved into the obsidian wall. I have yet to fathom what purpose they serve - perhaps they served as vents? - but I do not wish to examine them any further. The mere sight of these discordant orifices fills me with revulsion and sends an inexplicable tingle down my spine and a peculiar numbness in my arms.

Aside from the unusual architecture, the thing that strikes me most about these structures is that they are entirely empty. Something about them gives me the impression they are like homes (whereas the other buildings are more like temples, tombs or communal areas), but there’s no sign of any homely commodities; no beds, tables, chairs, appliances or anything of any kind. They are simply empty.

The longer I sit here, the more I can feel the cold claws of death clutching at my mind. My oxygen supplies have a day or two left at most, and if I don’t leave soon, I will meet the same fate as the others. I may as well try.

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