Far Beneath the Distant Stars

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Chapter IV

18th January 2163

I am now being held in quarantine in the medical bay of the Endeavour while I await results from some basic tests. It took me near on ten hours to make my way back to the landing site after I eventually found my way out of that labyrinthine and dark city.

I began my journey towards the surface from the heart of Tartarus by taking the walkways from one structure to another, heading in the direction of the staircases. I kept to the shadows and hid myself away in each building as I went, feeling as if ancient eyes were watching my every move from some unknown dimension. I thought I saw dark forms and shadows out of the corner of my eye, darting down the alleys or in the doorways of the buildings. Hulking figures, twisted and malformed, lurking in the peripheries of my vision, disapparating the instant I dared look upon their dreaded forms. I could sense I was being watched by them, these phantasms of those who came before, and the whistling in the wind sounded deeper, more foreboding, than it had before.

I quickened my pace as I took a short-cut to the stairs through one of the open structures. It was unimaginably dark inside, and as I took several hurried steps forward, I stumbled and fell to the floor. I landed on something soft, not hard and smooth like I’d expected from the obsidian architecture, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw why. I had tripped and fallen on the body of one of our security personnel, his helmet removed and face twisted into the deathly grin. A bloodied hole bore through the side of his head, and I noted the side-arm still clutched in his right hand. I prised it from his cold, stiff fingers, and stuck it in the storage pouch of my EVA suit. I never received weapons training, I barely know how to hold a firearm, but simply having it on my person made me feel a little more secure.

I don’t know how long it took for me to reach the surface; Tartarus is like a maze, a prison of the mind as much as it is for the body, where all concepts of regular time and space seem at odds. It’s not just located within a geological pocket beneath the surface, it feels as if it’s in a pocket Universe of its own, separate and distinct from the rest of creation.

The trek back to the landing site was a long and arduous one. I have no idea how I was able to make it back, having sustained myself over the last few days with only a handful of rations and minimal sleep. My oxygen meters were in the red by the time the Endeavour’s ramp was lowered, and dusk was starting to settle on Lyrae 438b. My journey back had thankfully been mostly under the magenta light of day, but trekking across this harsh and barren landscape, on my own, after all I’d witnessed and been through, was a harrowing experience. The vision of that monstrous entity, it’s shadowy tentacles and salivating jaws, forced its way into my mind, and I tried to push it out of my thoughts. Images of those whose lives had been lost to that place of darkness, to Tartarus, flashed through my mind, and I was able to finally pay my respects to each and every one of them on that long, lonely and sorrowful walk.

I was rushed through decontamination and isolation the minute I returned to the ship, and it wasn’t long before they were asking me questions about what happened to the rest of the crew. I detailed my experiences, how I was the only survivor, and my story was met with sceptical glances. My EVA suit was taken for further de-con, and the firearm I’d found on the officer was confiscated. I have a meeting with Captain Ward tomorrow, to issue a full report of what transpired down in Tartarus.

I have just been given a portion of nutritional paste to help my body recover, and a sedative to help ease my mind to sleep tonight. Despite the horrors I’ve witnessed, for the briefest of moments I can forget about them, safe aboard the Endeavour.

19th January 2163

I have been confined to quarters, and the remaining crew are refusing to hear me out. The idiots have doomed themselves. Only I know what’s going on, and if they don’t listen to me then things are going to turn into a nightmare very soon. The security guard posted outside my door won’t even give me the time of day…

I met with Captain Ward early this morning, and detailed my experiences in Tartarus to him. He sat at his desk in the captain’s quarters, nodding as I recounted my ordeal. I told him of the obelisk, of how it had changed Walker and he’d turned his gun on us, of the dark creature I’m sure I saw lurking in the shadows, and how I eventually made my way out of there. He told me that it was a fascinating story, and although his tone of voice and face did not show it, I knew he didn’t believe me. He pointedly asked me how, and why, I was the only one to make it out of there, and I could only offer an uncertain “I don’t know.” I was lucky, I guess. If you can call any of that luck…

He told me I would be under surveillance for awhile, to assess whether I was doing okay after my ordeal, and to ensure I was not a danger to myself or the crew. I know he claimed it was for my own good, but I know it was because he didn’t trust me.

The Endeavour took off from the surface of Lyrae 438b at about 1200, and set course for the planet’s moon. Apparently during my time in Tartarus, the Captain had concluded we were unlikely to be returning and had been making preparations to gather minerals from the helium-3 rich moon. I resent he was so willing to give up on us and our survival, but at the same time… Who could blame him? After all, I was the only one to make it back alive, and even I don’t know how I managed it.

It was once we’d broken through the atmosphere, things suddenly took a turn for the worse. I was walking through the corridors near the Endeavour’s bridge, when I heard a familiar and haunting noise… A whistling sound, a sour note echoing through the ship. And then I saw it, or rather, a part of it, its vile tentacles slithering and writhing away and around a corner at the end of the corridor. I started to follow it, and the moment I rounded that same corner I realised where it was going: the bridge.

I burst through the door to the bridge and, without thinking, pulled out the side-arm I’d picked up in Tartarus. I don’t recall when they handed it back to me, but once again I was thankful to have it. The helm officer ducked beneath his station in fear the moment I entered, and I could see what he was fearful of. The entity, all tentacles and oozing mouths, was on Captain Ward. Its tendrils flicked and twisted around and around his body, and one of its hideous mouths bore down on the Captain. I did what anyone else would do, and opened fire on the alien monster. I squeezed the trigger once, twice, thrice. Three gunshots rang out, and the creature slithered away faster than anything I’ve ever seen, and I tried to shoot it again, but it lashed out at the cowering helmsman and disappeared into one of the ventilation ducts.

I rushed to Captain Ward, but it was already too late… The creature had claimed his life, and that of the helmsman, and the white floor of the bridge turned red with their freshly spilled blood. I stood there in horror and, after regaining my senses, began to back away from the bodies. It was then that two security personnel barged their way onto the bridge, guns aimed at me, screaming for me to drop the weapon and put my hands behind my head.

I did as they demanded, and knelt in a pool of the captain’s blood as they cuffed my hands. I was lead away from the bridge and back to my quarters, where I am now. I protested, I told them of the alien creature and how the gunshots they’d heard were me trying to defend the crew, but they didn’t listen. They simply threw me into my quarters and posted one guard outside to keep an eye on me.

They’re saying that the medic removed two bullets from Captain Ward’s chest. Another was lodged in the back of the Captain’s chair, and Waymire - the helmsman - had a gunshot wound in his neck, which had perforated the artery. Security says that I shot them both, that the evidence is against me. But I know what I saw, and I did what was right… I saw that creature sucking the life out of the Captain, and I watched it slice at Waymire’s neck with a barbed tentacle. I tried to save them, not kill them! In time, they will see. That thing is still out there, still on this ship, and I know it will claim more lives. I can feel it.

I still have most of my freedoms, even though I am confined to these four walls. I can record this log, for a start, and I have access to all of my personal belongings. My gun was confiscated, again, but I’m sure when they realise there’s an alien life-form on board, and that I’ve tried to kill it before, they’ll rearm me and anyone who’s left. We have to get rid of it somehow.

I’m now going to re-watch the vid from home, and think of my wife and children. We have to get rid of that thing, and survive, not for our sakes, but for theirs. For our families and loved ones. I’m so scared, but the thought of Emilia and Christian and Rose gives me the strength to carry on.

20th January 2163

There was a knock on my door early this morning. I immediately suspected it was something to do with the creature; another victim taken by it perhaps. I thought that this midnight visit was the security guard, come to apologise for his false accusations and set me free, so I could help hunt and kill this monster, and survive. I jumped out of my bunk and opened the door.

I was surprised to see, instead of the security guard, the body of Harrison stood outside of my door. His skin was a bluish-grey, pallid and lifeless, just as it had been when I last saw him in Tartarus. He greeted me with his rictus grin broad across his face, and his eyes were dead and unseeing. I knew his body had been brought back to the ship after he’d asphyxiated in the city, but I wasn’t quite expecting his body to turn up at my door.

My late-friend extended his hand to shake mine, and I accepted. I could feel his cold dead flesh against my skin. It was eerie and unnerving, and I pulled away from his limp and lifeless hand. I looked him in the eye, and he stared back, his expression glazed and unblinking. It was haunting.

I asked the dead body of Scott Harrison what he wanted, why he had come to me in the early hours of the morning. He simply stood there, unmoving, unblinking, unliving. After what felt like an eternity had passed, Harrison eventually spoke. He told me, in a cold and distant voice, that I knew what must be done. I asked him what he meant, but he didn’t offer any further guidance. He simply handed me the gun I’d had confiscated the day before.

And then I awoke. I convinced myself it was all a dream, but as I stood up from my bunk I noticed the gun laying on the bedside table. That was when I realised Harrison was right. I do know what needs to be done. The remaining crew are not taking my warnings seriously and refusing to believe there’s something alien on this ship with us. There are too few of us left to risk this thing claiming more lives. Now I know why Harrison brought me the gun... I need to hunt it myself.

I have opened the door to my quarters, and the body of the security guard lies bloodied against the wall opposite me. His face is battered and bruised, and his chest is stained with blood. The creature must have passed through this way during the night cycle. This is no time for caution. This thing needs to be killed. If it can be killed.

21st January 2163

The monster has claimed three more lives. There are only a handful of us left now, and I don’t know how many of us will survive this nightmare. The few that remain do not trust me, they think I’ve gone mad, that this alien terror does not exist. They’ve seen that dark and forbidding city of Tartarus, they know the lives that have been lost down there and now here on the Endeavour. How can they deny that some malicious entity is on this ship?

The alarms are sounding now. A lock-down is in effect. I’ve taken refuge in the safety medical bay to record the latest happenings aboard the Endeavour. My arm is still bleeding, but here I have enough meds and emergency equipment to treat my wounds. Plus, with the lock-down in place, the medbay is the most secure location on the ship (other than the bridge), so here I shall stay for a while to plan my next move. No-one would think to come here, to search the room where the dead do lie… It’s a morbid thought, how the dead outnumber the living on this ship.

Doubtless the two remaining crew are looking for me after what's happened today. They must have found the bodies by now. They'll probably want to throw me back into my quarters or stick me in stasis until we’re home, while that thing - that chaotic mess of black tendrils - continues to pick them off one by one. I’ve been constantly on the move since last night, trying to keep one step ahead of the crew, and of the creature.

I didn’t know where to start after I had left my quarters. I holstered the firearm that had been left on the table after the previous night’s praeternatural encounter, and stepped over the guard’s bloodied corpse. I may have disliked him for his treatment of me for the short time I was stuck behind that door, but I almost pitied him for the fate that had found him. His final moments, having that terrifying tangle of tentacles bearing down on him, writhing and squirming as its black, viscous saliva dribbles onto his face and it opens its terrifying maw… It would not surprise me if he died from horror sooner than anything that monstrosity could inflict on him.

The corridors of the Endeavour were cold and quiet, not a soul in sight. Everywhere was so still and empty that walking through these white starship corridors was almost as eerie as wandering around the black obsidian city. Consoles and monitors beeped and blinked to themselves as I walked alone, but I paid them no attention. For I heard something in the distance, an almost whispering noise coming from around the corner. I followed the sound through the winding corridors of the Endeavour, around innumerable corners, when suddenly it jumped me. I was knocked to the floor and winded by the sudden impact, and the repulsive creature with its innumerable mouths and tentacles bore down on me, maws snapping and and oozing as it came ever closer. I kicked it off of me, and for the first time I felt this alien creature; it was there and yet somehow not, appearing almost as physical as the rest of the ship, and yet intangibly it still seemed to fade into the ether like a thick black smoke. It felt like I had repelled it with the intention of the kick, more than the kick itself. I struggled back on to my feet.

It was at that moment that one of the crewmen rounded the corner, and he immediately drew his firearm and pointed it towards me and the creature. The thing warbled a horrendous and unearthly noise, and with its mass of tendrils it scurried towards the man. He didn't flinch, he just kept his gun trained on it, and I pulled out my weapon too to take aim. There was a shattering bang as the gun was fired, and I felt a searing pain in my left arm. He'd missed and hit me by mistake! With my left arm hanging limp by my side, in absolute agony, I tried to fire single handedly. I put two shots into the writhing mess just as it launched itself at the crewman, knocking him to the floor, and it immediately fled faster than any living thing I'd seen before.

I rushed to the crewman's aid, but once again the creature had claimed a life. Two small wounds pierced his chest, and his blood was pooling beneath his now lifeless corpse. The monster had driven two of its barbed tentacles straight through him, just as it had the Captain. I took a moment to respect the crewman's passing – Eli Knight, his name was, according to his ID – before investigating the damage to my arm. I had been fortunate; the bullet had only grazed me, taking a chunk out of my left arm and, although I was bleeding substantially, I was not too badly wounded. I tore some material from my sleeve to fashion an improvised bandage and stemmed my bleeding. It was agony, but my adrenaline kept me going through the blinding pain.

I staggered along the corridors in the direction that hellish thing had fled. My arm throbbed and pulsed with pain as it swung uselessly by my side, but I tried to block out the feeling. I had to carry on. I wondered whether any of the remaining crew had heard the gunshots, or whether they'd found Knight's body. If they did, would they once again put the blame on me? After a while of wandering the corridors, my weapon drawn and ready for another encounter, I could hear it again; that ethereal whisper calling me, driving me forwards. Once again, I began to follow the sound through the empty corridors in an almost trance-like state, until I came upon an open service hatch. A slick black ooze glistened on the rim of the hatch, and the ladder lead down into the engineering levels. I could hear voices coming from below, and that ever present whisper - somehow sinister - beckoning me forwards.

I slowly climbed down the shaft, silently cursing whoever had left it open; that mass of writhing tendrils could be anywhere on the ship with hatches like this one open! I continued my descent into the engineering level, following that ethereal whisper tittering away in my left ear. The engineering deck is a lot more bland than the operations area of the Endeavour, designed to be more functional and less aesthetic, with piping and cabling and generators cluttering the space, and the tall column of the Alcubierre drive, pulsing with blue energy, sat at the heart of it all. There was a member of the engineering division calibrating the drive's core, presumably adjusting the anti-matter chamber. Another was sat in a control room, and I guessed he was monitoring the readings from the core.

I crept along one of the gangways which ran across the length of the room, high above the main engineering level. The ladder down to the next tier was just up ahead, and from this height I had a good vantage point of the whole room. Again I heard that haunting whistling noise, that unnatural note from the hideous creature, and it melded with the eerie whispers. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and an icy cold sensation rushed over me. I could see that vile monstrosity hiding among the cables, its tentacles camouflaged in the midst of the tangled wires, and its red eyes blinked like flashing red monitor lights. I held my breath; and as my mind raced, I glimpsed a moment of opportunity.

The engineer working on the drive core was walking towards the airlock. He opened the inner doors, and stepped into the chamber. He started fiddling with some controls, but did not close the door. Seeing such an easy target, the alien form began to slither and slide across the floor from its hiding place and towards the open door, its thousands of shadowy tentacles wrapping and coiling around the pipes and cables as it went. The way it moved turned my stomach, like a combination between a mass of wriggling worms and an octopus walking across the ocean's bed. And yet it was nowhere near as Earthbound in form or movement as either of those things. It whistled and warbled like the wind through ancient caverns and caves in far-off distant mountains, echoing in my mind unlike any other sound. Why had the other engineer not seen this thing too? I glanced over to the control room, and saw him sat with his feet on the desk and drinking coffee.

Seizing the moment, I made a mad dash for the ladder, sliding down it to the tier below, and raced along the gangway and down the stairs. The pain in my arm was beyond any description, and were I not overcome by adrenaline I would most likely have been writhing in pain. The tentacled monster was moving fast, and it was almost on top the engineer in the airlock by the time I'd reached the main level. Sprinting for the door controls, I slammed my fist against the emergency override, and the airlock doors snapped shut, trapping the engineer and the monster inside. The airlock warning sirens began to blare, and the engineer inside realised the horror of his situation. He banged on the inside of the door, screaming silently through the porthole to be let out, to escape his impending fate... I apologised, knowing there would not be another opportunity like this, and watched in sorrow as his body was sucked out into the void of space, along with the alien monstrosity. Its tentacles flailed in panic, much like the engineers arms and legs, as they both tumbled out of sight. The airlock doors automatically shut, and the chamber re-pressurised.

The entity was gone and sadly, so too was the life of the engineer, along with so many others from this ill-fated expedition. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing this ordeal had now been brought to a close, but the thought of all those now lost weighed heavy on my heart. I turned to walk away from the airlock, and bumped straight into the engineer who had been in the control room. I stumbled backwards and he lunged at me, waving a wrench above his head. I fell back against the bulkhead, hitting my wounded arm against a pipe. I was stunned by the pain, but managed to roll out of the way just in time, as I heard the wrench clank off of the pipe where my head had been but a moment ago. I scurried, in pain and confusion, away from the engineer, fumbling for my side-arm

Mnanh'gof'nn shugg,” he said in a tongue that was not his own. His voice was deep and resonant, and the words he spoke were so peculiar and alien. A chill ran throughout my body. I looked him in the eyes, and saw that same red glow as I'd seen in Walker's eyes by the obelisk, and as he approached me I could see something else; the wispy ethereal tendrils, like a thick black smoke, creeping out from his back and twisting and writhing around him. The creature hadn't been sucked out of the airlock; its body had, but its consciousness had taken possession of the engineer. I darted away as fast as I could, and I knew the monster had given chase. Running, ducking and weaving among the pipes and cables of the engineering deck, I tried to gain some distance between myself and the possessed engineer, and when I thought I had put enough space between us I span on my heels and drew my gun.

There he was, still following me, clutching the wrench in his right hand and swinging his arm loosely at his side. The black tendrils writhed and curled outwards and upwards, like a terrifying aura emanating from the man who had once been human. He no longer was, though. There was not a trace of humanity left in his cold and vacant eyes, marching unrelentingly towards me. I had no remorse firing a number of bullets into his chest, not when the man he once was was already dead. In some ways, one might almost consider it a mercy killing.

There are only three members of the crew left now, including myself. We've lost almost everyone who came on this ill-fated voyage to that dark and forbidding world, a damned crew on their way to a damned city. We should never have come out here, we should never have allowed our eyes to pry into that ancient and forgotten realm, but we allowed our curiosity to get the better of us. I saw that tentacled being of darkness get sucked out into the void of space, and yet I feel as if its presence still lingers on. I can not trust the only other members of the crew who remain; if that monster can take control of the engineer, then it can claim the minds of those two too. I must be cautious.

With this lock-down still in effect, I shall start fortifying myself in the medbay. I may only be a geologist, not the finest soldier or strategist who ever lived, but I can make this position defensible. Once I have finished barricading the doors and setting up a rudimentary camp in a position with good cover, I shall take some time to rest and recuperate. I have been able to stem the blood flow from my arm with the equipment here in the medical supplies, and I have a stock of adrenaline shots to keep me alert and fighting-fit.

Once I've rested, I'll assess the situation and try to figure out the best course of action. But for the moment, I need to soothe my pounding headache...

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