The Arkology Reports
Day 1: Continued...
The hollow shrieking vibrated through the cabin as the hull ground against the metallic surface of Elysium. Clenching the armrest, my reptile brain wanted to slap my gloved hands to the side of my helmet for protection against the high-pitched whistles and the deep creaking of the bulkhead. Its noise was so deafening the crew’s screaming seemed soothing in comparison. Meanwhile, the viewports cracked as the Comet glided across Elysium’s exterior. We were completely at the mercy of the forces that had pulled us toward the massive object - it just felt unfair.
I didn’t ponder the cause for our demise. Just that I was about to die with all these strangers.
As an Associate, you expect to die a sudden death. I stared into its jaw plenty of times. But those moments were over before I could process what had transpired. A projectile missing me by a hair. A carnivorous outsider clenching its jaws an inch away from my face. After such moments, I would simply take a deep breath and move on.
But here I was strapped to my chair, confined to a cockpit, waiting for the inevitable. Before long I just wanted it to end, even if it killed me.
Then that moment finally arrived.
With a loud thump, the Comet came to a sudden stop and tilted forward raising the tail into the air. The safety straps reached breaking point at the moment of impact, and then we were forced back inside our chairs again. That was when the engines petered and the aft of the rocket keeled down, slowly.
As leaking pipes hissed all around us, no one dared to break the sudden tranquility. It took us several minutes before anyone declared that we were still alive. But then we're left to ponder what to do with the time that remained. We had just a few days of food, no plans, and no sense of direction. The only bright side was that, apart from being shaken and bruised, we were all healthy.
Released from my restraints, I peered past the cracks of a porthole. All I could determine was that we were lodged beneath an elevated plate of sorts. This didn’t help us in any way, so it was quickly decided to open the hatch.
As the doctor exited the craft I overheard him muttering something about us being the first humans on another astral body. He was correct, yet the entire experience of putting the first step on a world of legend felt rather underwhelming compared to cheating death.
We left deep prints in the dust on the blue metallic surface. I looked at the horizon dotted with geometrically shaped spires and other structures that broke up the skyline. An explorer's dream. But there I stood, still shaking and hoping that I would wake up at any moment.
The Doctor figured, finding a way into the interior of the machine shouldn’t prove to be difficult. Gravity was low, but strong enough for us not to go adrift. I was kind of used to it as I explored the ████████. But for the rest, it was a new type of experience. We feared Associate 111 would break her neck when she tried to jump down the ladder. Instead, she propelled herself upward waving her limbs about a toddler. Before we knew it she was about to hit the ground head first, be it in slow steady descent, if it wasn’t for Associate 205 who grabbed her. Lucky boy.
Gathered outside of the wreckage, we decided to explore this world. Each of us would travel in a different direction for about fifteen minutes and regroup back at the Comet. The Doctor would stay behind to guard the ship. Not that there was anything worth guarding. At this point, the Comet was nothing but a container filled with enough oxygen to keep us alive for, maybe a few days - if he managed to plug all the holes atleast. Food and water would be gone before then.
As I wandered away from the crash site, Elysium’s exterior was not at all what I expected. The area I was in, dust-covered and sickly-blue, looked like debris-cluttered slabs of stone, rough as rock straight from a quarry. Yes, something between bakelite and stone. When I inspected one of the many craters, it wasn’t deformed or bend like steel. Instead, it was comprised of a layered material, with a top layer that had shattered like chalk on a concrete wall. Beneath was a darker material that looked chipped, like thin layers of slate. The shapes of the massive slabs themselves were irregular, almost naturally curved, and puzzled together. It reminded me of old masonry discovered in Meso America.
If our ancestors could do it, surely those who build Elysium could. But the size of these slabs where a testament to their incredible, dare I say it, mythical prowess.
There were strange ziggurat-like towers up ahead, but the reflections of the pale metallic surface on my visor strained my eyes. I could only speculate these structures might have something to do with the Von Straub-field. That is when I looked up. The debris floated overhead like a scattered flotilla, but it was mostly centered in a neat orbit; just like the ring of Jupiter I imagine. Curious, I went looking for the planet Earth, and after squinting excessively, I noticed a bright blue ball hidden behind the debris. It wasn't as close as I imaged. Instead, it looked smaller than the moon as seen from Earth. But then I spotted another one, and another. Finally, I counted at least fifteen orbs that looked eerily similar to our blue planet. Maybe a reflection created by the Von Straub Field; which would also explain why these looked so small.
My wristwatch rang, announcing I should head back. As a bit of a game, I thread my left-behind footsteps in the dust: the only prints for miles. I started to wonder how long these would persist.
As I hoped from on print to another, it dawned on me that every discovery we made would be of no consequence, and nihilism started to cloud my thoughts. While approaching the Comet I didn’t even notice the others conversing. 205 was making wild gestures at the Doctor as the others stood idly by. Whatever he was talked about, they ignored me completely.
Then they told me. 205 had seen human shapes moving about. I was skeptical. It could have been anything from his imagination to shadows cast by floating debris. Or Shadow people, which wouldn’t surprise me either. This place could be infested with Outsiders, for as far as we knew. It just never came up in conversations. But 205 insisted, claiming he could make out their suits, which were attached to large cables or hoses.
After some deliberation, we went back inside the Comet to discuss our next course of action. It was quickly decided that we needed to enter the structure of C-08 because If there were people here, they were probably out looking for whatever hit Elysium. If we found a viable shelter, we could figure out how to make the first contact. We didn’t have any weapons, so any display of force was out of the question. It was then when one of the pilots cried out (I never got their names. One was Slavic. The other, I have no clue.) ‘There is something out there! Right there, upon the ridge,’ he warned, pointing at the edge of the crater just above the ship's bow. We leaned towards the front window and observed the ledge. ‘There is somethin’ there, I swear!’ he insisted.
I didn't want to believe him. What could be alive up here? Then I remembered the fifteen bright blue planets. What if other civilizations were lured here, just like us? Or what if this place was never abandoned, to begin with, and the Von Straub field was intended to hide their presence? My breath grew heavy as I stared at our surroundings.
‘I think he is right,’ 111 whispered nervously with her visor pressed against a porthole.
I told her to move aside as I was compelled to confirm this for myself. And then I saw the round shape of a helmet, just smaller than ours, stick out above the surrounding debris. Its mirrored visor was facing me directly. Even when I could make out my own reflection on its surface, the stranger didn’t hide.
‘What is it doing?’ the Doctor asked.
I shook my head. ‘Nothing. It just looks at me.’
‘You sure it sees you?'
‘What does it matter, man?’ I snapped at the old man.
Now the other pilot got up. ‘There are more of them. They are up to something.’
We looked back at the ledge. Two of them were handeling somtehing and gesturing at someone out of sight.
‘Oh no, another-. No two!’ 111 cried and pressed her back against the consoles opposite to the door. ‘They are coming! They have weapons.’
She shook her head. 111 was a mathematician with a fondness for botany and the works of Pythagoras, so of course, she was completely out of her element.
Again I glanced through the porthole. Two, big fellows this time. Their suits looked more like armor than any hazard equipment I have ever seen. Their helmets were elongated and all they could see through was a porthole for a visor. And they brought mechanical tools. I don’t blame 111 assuming these were weapons. One carried something that looked like a combination of a jackhammer and a drill, the other a type of circular saw. Both drew power from batteries, I assumed, they carried on their backs and from the ways they moved I deducted they were not shy in wielding them.
‘Open the door!’ the Doctor commanded, suddenly.
I looked at the old man. ‘What?’
I could see his pale cheeks turn red inside his helmet. ‘Open it!’ he bellowed.
Actually intimidated, I grabbed the wheel and released the lock. Without hesitation, the Doctor climbed out, as nimble as a young man, stood in the opening, and raised his arms. ‘We come in peace!’ he cried over his speaker with his hands in the air. 111 and I stared past the doctor's ankles at the armored cosmonauts who had stopped dead in their tracks and then looked at each other. ‘We mean you no harm,’ the Doctor announced unironically. ‘We crash-landed,’ he continued over-emphasizing every word. ‘We were testing out our rocket ship and something went horribly wrong.’
The cosmonaut with the buzz saw turned around and beckoned his fellows. I could barely hear a word, but the other ‘aliens’ came out of hiding and started gathering in front of the chairman like a curious crowd before a snake oil salesman. It was then I noticed the white noise and beeps of their radios, enclosed into their suits. I inspected their peculiar gear. It looked man-made, but these seemed alien in an unexpected way. Exotic almost and consisted of crudely made parts surrounded by decorations of outlandish design. One of them had a yellow button of some kind with a smiling stick-figure-esque face.
‘That is right. We are in need of your help,’ the Doctor continued. ‘Could you take us somewhere, safe?’
The strange group deliberated in their alien languages, which included a lot of hand gestures it seemed. Finally, a man of small stature stepped forward and saluted us awkwardly. ‘Hello?’ he exclaimed through a speaker of questionable quality. ‘Wert thou from?’ he asked in an odd accent.
The Doctor turned to us, uncertain how to respond, and then addressed the man. ‘Earth!’
A snicker escaped the stranger's helmet and he repeated the answer in jest to his colleagues who started to laugh.
111 whispered into his ear. 'Maybe we should be more specific about which one.’
‘I am sorry, apologized the Doctor to the cosmonauts. 'But back home, we were not aware that there were people alive up here.’
The small stranger responded. ‘Ye got my ear. We don’t receive many dwellers upside. Now, If thou promise to behave we can take dee downstairs. But understand this. We lads don’t risk life and limb because we enjoy jumping them incomers. However, if thou grant us the salvage rights on ye' ship then we’ll guide yea downside, all safe and snug.’
‘Downstairs? Where exactly?’ the Doctor asked cautiously.
I lay my hand on his shoulder to grab his attention. ‘Are we seriously considering this?’
‘Shut up!’ he snapped back and then friendly asked the scavenger. ‘Where will you bring us?’
The small man straightened himself theatrically and place one hand in his side. ‘The little place we call home,’ he replied. ‘Arkology!’