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The Gilded Shadow (Short Story)
Ancient machines slumbering in the depth of space, wandering, adrift for eons. Billions of years pass by them like a whisper as their darkened cold forms move silently within the void. No one knows how old these machines truly are but some say they pre-date the stars that populate the cosmic ocean they indwell. How can it be that they exist? What ancient craftsman would have assembled such behemoths only to send them into the icy reaches of oblivion?
Dating methods have proved useless on them, their composition so bizarre as to defy definition and the very atoms that compose them near collapse due to old age. Atoms that perplex any who study them, a structure that is definitively material and yet composed of matter so unlike anything we have ever encountered. Elements that could have only coalesced in the fleeting first years of our Universe. It seems that it was in those newborn years that these machines were forged. By whom? The question is constantly upon the lips of men and women across the galaxy.
The Milky Way is not the first galaxy these machines have appeared in, they have been amongst the stars almost since the formation of stars began. Their purpose is foreign and their shapes strange and horrifying. The size of these technological terrors is staggering, almost frightening, to comprehend. Our entire solar system could be tucked comfortably into just one of these mechanical cosmic wanderers. Yet there are dozens of them scattered across the spiral arms of our galaxy and still other groups clustered together. How long they have been there remains a mystery but their composition was so strange as to avoid all methods of detection until now.
Rumors abound as to their purpose and origin, from the benign to the outrageous. Given the strange nature of the devices though no fault can be attached to those who assert spectacular answers to the mystery. Could they be space stations built by the inhabitants of a dying planet desperately trying to flee? Or the product of extra-dimensional forces? Or are they but ghostly visions of a point of time and space long past returned to haunt us via some unseen quantum force?
I would not have given myself to such strange rumors had I not, for myself, touched one of the devices and learned for myself the horrible truth.
I was one of only a few dozen men of science allowed close enough to experience tactile contact. For many years after their discovery none were allowed near as it was believed the gargantuan machines were possessed of so much gravity that it would be impossible for nearby ships to break their pull, let alone nearby astronauts. It was found, though, that these grotesque hulks of peculiar ancient matter were possessed of considerably less mass than was previously believed.
So it was that I first made contact with the spheroid object ULL29B. My gloved hand slid directly into the perplexing malleable surface of the metallic giant. It was then and only then that I understood why so many attached greater significance to these objects. I could sense something, an electrical sensation, the taste of metal flooded my mouth as sensations both familiar and altogether new overcame me. The transfer took only a few millionths of a second but in that time I was imparted fractals of a larger puzzle.
The words came to me in stuttered bits and pieces, Unimal, Paralax, Tumarh. There were sounds as well, guttural mutterings unlike anything I'd ever encountered and yet unmistakable in those audible voices was the agony felt by those making them. It sounded like utter madness, like the cries of those driven mad. And then, just as quickly as it came, it was gone. Only the three words and the memory of those peculiar sounds remained.
I reported the incident to no one. I returned to the ship and soon retired to my quarters for some rest. But I did not rest, I stayed awake for hours on end retracing those few millionths of a second in my head. I took out a piece of paper and scribbled some symbols. Unimal, Paralax, Tumarh, I repeated those words again and again searching for a pronunciation that made any sense at all.
The ship floated quietly in space some fifteen hundred miles from ULL29B yet even from this distance the only thing visible outside the porthole was the black shadow of the thing. It blotted out the backdrop of stars. How? I wondered as those three strange words echoed in my sleep deprived mind. How had we missed such massive things? How had we not seen them and known of them sooner? I don't know how or when but sleep found me eventually.
When at last my eyes opened I got the distinct perception that I wasn't alone in the room. There was something off-setting about the air as I moved through it to sit up. I'd been aboard space craft before on numerous scientific missions. The air tasted stale as if we'd been out in space at least a year or more and the ship had been forced to recycle the air so many times that it had lost it's luster. I shrugged it off assuming that my waking senses were being fooled or that the odd experience with ULL29B had left me susceptible to such disorientation. I found my way to the light panel having now noticed that all lights were off save the red emergency lighting that dotted the doorway. The lights flickered to life but soon dimmed and then after a few moments shut off entirely.
I could hear voices outside the door, muffled voices. I slid the door open manually when the mechanism refused to open by voice command and suddenly felt a rush of air even more stagnant and hot than the air in my room. I stepped into the hallway and each footfall felt more like a bounce than a step. I looked around for a source to the voices but none was apparent. I could still hear them, the sound was almost like a chant, it had a hot-blooded and fast paced rhythm that sent my heart racing.
I moved steadily toward the bridge of the vessel hoping to find the rest of the crew or hoping to expose this occurrence as little more than a nightmare induced by sleep deprivation. I felt tired as I walked the hallways and corridors of the Alliance, the interstellar ship crewed by twenty-three men and women which housed myself and six other scientific colleagues of various fields. I began to feel strangely... old.
For the first time I looked down at myself, my clothes were tattered and worn thin, my skin saggy and wrinkled. The air was not the only thing that had aged, I too had aged and the ship as well. The entire vessel seemed to be operating on minimal power supplies as if it had been adrift in the cosmic ocean almost as long as the massive machine outside. THE MACHINE! My mind raced as I dashed to the nearest porthole and peered outside. It was still there but now it seemed far closer to the Alliance as if hovering just a few meters beyond the craft.
I turned my attention back to the bridge now wondering how long I'd been asleep, how many years I'd spent slumbering and how it was even possible to begin with. The mutterings and chants became louder as I grew closer, they also began to become clearer. I could make them out now as familiar voices, the voices of crew, of colleagues, of friends. Doctor Lorry and his assistant were amongst them, as was Captain Eris. At this point my feet couldn't carry me fast enough, I began to feel a rush of energy; adrenaline? No... not adrenaline I realized, but youth, vigor. I felt as if the years were peeling away and as I walked forward everything around me was gradually changing as well.
Each turn down a new corridor seemed to bring me closer to the past. My mind raced trying to figure out how this could be happening. Soon I began to see them, the blurred shapes of crew, of my fellows aboard the Alliance moving about me. They seemed out of synch with me, I tried to wave at them to no avail.
I was close now, I could see the door to the bridge. Those last few meters turned back the last few years returning me to my original age. I hit the door controls which seemed entirely repaired as well and entered the bridge.
"We absolutely cannot risk getting any closer," the Captain staunchly argued, she crossed her arms over her chest firmly.
"But we don't have the shuttle fuel necessary to make another round trip to the cube, not without leaving most of our personnel and equipment behind," Doctor Lorry retorted constantly turning to his assistant, Merriam, for her support, she loyally nodded along to every word he said.
"I'm sorry Doctor," the Captain repeated, "But your safety, the safety of my crew and the safety of the Alliance herself are my top priorities."
"This is a damned science mission!" Lorry exploded, "How are we supposed to study these things if you won't allow us to get closer?"
"That is not my concern," Eris replied turning away from the Doctor to address a control panel nearby. I could tell by the way she tightened her fists and hesitated over the buttons that she was losing her cool.
"Not your concern," Lorry continued to shout, "It is absolutely your concern! This is a damned science mission! We have to have data, specimens, things we can't get from here!"
"Dammit Lorry I'm warning you!!" the Captain detonated right back and for a moment I believed she would physically strike him, "I want you off my bridge Lorry, either you go yourself or I have security escort you to quarters!"
"I've never been treated this way," Lorry muttered as he collected his belongings, mainly papers and a few data drives, "I've logged more time in space than this upstart Captain will in a lifetime! I'll see that you have your license revoked Captain!"
I watched with a still perplexed expression as Lorry stormed off the bridge with his assistant Merriam in tow. It was then that the Captain turned to regard me. Despite my continued disorientation I couldn't help but chuckle at the scene I'd walked in on and Captain Eris soon joined in to relieve the tension and anger the situation had left simmering within her. Only after that did she realize something was off.
"Can I help you Doctor Eastman?" She asked in a more serious tone, clearly feeling a bit embarrassed about letting her guard down to laugh with me.
"I'm not sure," I admitted, "I thought I was dreaming... I might still be."
"Often have dreams of being on the bridge in your underwear?" She asked. Now it was my turn to be embarrassed.
"I apologize," I said with a nervous grin, "I'm really quite out of it. Tell me, how much longer do we have, before we head back in to port I mean."
"Six days Doctor," the Captain replied with a concerned expression, "We should be back at Nexius Base within eleven days. Are you sure you’re alright Terrence?”
“Honestly Captain,” I replied staring out at the spheroid machine displayed on a nearby monitor, “I’m not entirely sure I’m even awake.”
I returned to my quarters and lay down in my bunk. Everything on the ship seemed nominal, the crew were all visible and moving normally, my colleagues all seemed in fine spirits, except for the irate Doctor Lorry. Things had achieved normalcy, the air tasted fresh, or at least as fresh as three week old recycled air could taste. Could it be some quantum phenomenon, I wondered. That somehow the device had affected my mind?
Suddenly my mind was flushed with sound, the same shattering, piercing, deafening, agonizing guttural vocalizations I’d experienced when in contact with ULL29B, splitting my ears. For a few seconds I lay paralyzed by the horrifying sounds of agony and then they were gone. A gentle ringing brought me out of it, the door to my room. I ordered the door open. It was Merriam, Lorry’s assistant, her eyes were wet with tears.
“What is it Merriam?” I asked, it was then that I saw the streak of gray in her otherwise lustrous dark brown hair.
“It’s Ian,” she whimpered barely able to speak, “Doctor Lorry... he’s dead.”
Once again braving the corridors of the ship in nothing but my pajamas I rushed for Ian's room just a few twists and turns down the corridor from my own quarters. Merriam belayed the tearful tale of the discovery assuring me that she'd only been gone a little more than an hour. An hour? I began to question my sanity once more for it had felt as if I had only just retired to my quarters for a few minutes, fifteen at most, before she'd arrived at the door. Casting my odd experiences out of mind to focus on more pressing concerns we arrived at his room.
By this time others on board, including a medical crewman, were already inside. As the door opened one crewman stood in full hazard gear environment suit, meant for use in braving high radiation areas of space, with one armed outstretched to prevent us entry. Two men in similar gear just behind him were employing devices which measured the level of ambient radiation.
"Please, I want to see him," I demanded but the man merely shook his head in the negative.
"We have to complete an investigation and make sure the area is safe Doctor Eastman," the chief medical officer of the crew, Doctor Timothy Randal, explained approaching the two of us from the corridor to the right, "You understand."
"Have you established a cause of death as of yet?" I asked quietly as I could tell Merriam was very near bursting out in tears once more.
"No," Randal replied, "He was found here attending to a specimen he'd taken of the object earlier. It was the only specimen not too degraded to actually be studied, if you like I'll have it moved to your lab as soon as the investigation is complete."
"Very well," I nodded, "and keep me apprised of the investigation's findings."
"I will," the Doctor agreed, "and please try to get some rest Miss Merriam."
"He's right Merriam," I added, "I know its hard but Doctor Lorry wouldn't have wanted you to show undue sadness at his passing. As a man of advancing years surely he prepared you for this eventuality."
Merriam's expression did not lighten but she did offer a nod of agreement before heading for her own quarters. Randal too departed heading for the bridge likely to brief the Captain on the situation. I had to admit that being present at such a meeting was desirable for surely Randal knew more than he was letting on. After all the death of a scientist aboard the Alliance wouldn't have warranted the hazard suits without some cause for alarm. If indeed some radiation had pierced the ships artificial magnetosphere the ships sensors would have detected it and symptoms would have been felt all across the ship.
With a great many curious thoughts swirling in my mind I began the short journey back to my own quarters. The thing which bothered me most was the mention of Lorry's sample from ULL29B for Lorry hadn't mentioned such a sample to me. Indeed what seemed like minutes before his death Lorry had been angrily requesting clearance to take a shuttle back to the sphere. If Lorry had a sample worth studying it seemed odd of him to request a trip back.
As I passed from the corridor into my room I felt a strange dizziness overcome me as if the entire ship were rocking and swaying. Like a seasick sailor desperately trying to keep his legs during a storm I felt as if I might keel over at any moment. Yet as I glanced around me crew passed me walking fully erect without any of the affects I was feeling. The door shut behind me and I lay down in bed still feeling like a swaying ship sailing into a squall. During this strange words came to me, they had a horrid sound to them as they came to my lips and yet they were strangely familiar. I began to feel a thousand other voices chanting them along with me in a rhythm that left me enraptured and at the same time terrified.
"Darx'kthal and Ux-malh'ara lie beyond the Golden City, jurai kithan, Orellyn at the Gate of Ios welcomes the slumbering darkness," I felt myself urged to repeat, "Unimal, Paralax, Tumarh, thowl yuerok ki'tur."
There was no meaning to them imparted to me but I truly felt as if the whole ship had joined me in this chant. I found myself paralyzed physically with only my lips able to move and though my mind seemed still entirely under my power it was clear that speech and breath had been taken from me by something else. With my eyes still free to move I turned ever-so-slightly to look at the behemoth in the black void. I wondered if the curiosity of man was truly worth it. The way it loomed out there in the utter darkness was now a source of total dread. It was so cold and yet somehow lit as if it caught the light of a thousand stars.
The words left my lips and the multitude of voices died away as quickly as they had come. I found myself too tired to move and before long sleep had found my fatigued and fragmenting mind.
I woke several hours after falling asleep. At the time I retained no memory of the bizarre chanting session that had taken the lips and tongues of the entire crew into their service. Instead my last memory was of departing from Merriam in the hallway outside of Doctor Lorry's quarters. Springing up with urgency I found myself nearly running toward his room. I found it in a similar state to how I'd left it, cordoned off and guarded by a crewman though now he was in his standard uniform rather than sporting a hazard suit. I breathed a sigh of relief at the sight but still felt an ominous sensation at the pit of my stomach that almost doubled when Doctor Randal arrived a few moments later.
"How'd you sleep Doctor Eastman?" Randal asked with a sinister seeming smile buried beneath his friendly words.
"Fine I suppose," I replied noticing a distinct oddness to my tone of voice, "Your investigation-"
"Is complete," Randal cut-in, "The old man was in a fit of rage when he returned to his quarters, he took several dozen pills in an apparent attempt at suicide. It looks to me like he just wanted attention, I don't think he really intended to kill himself."
The whole thing struck me as patently unbelievable and absurd. Lorry was a tenured professor of astrophysics, he had an illustrious carrier in the sciences stretching back to the late twenty-first century. The man was almost a century old himself and no amount of anger would have every caused so wise a man to act out in such a way.
"Any other questions?" Randal asked impatiently.
"The specimen," I mustered still reeling from the apparent suicide of one of my dear friends and colleagues.
"There's been a change of plans there actually," Randal said in a nervous tone, his eyes darted as if he was afraid someone might overhear, "We're meant to keep that under lock and key, the Captain received orders."
"Orders from whom?" I asked but Randal shook his head suggesting that the matter was not one I should probe into deeper.
"The best I can get you is the man's notes," Doctor Randal offered.
I eagerly nodded my approval anxious to get my hands on the final works of one of the world's greatest minds. I was positive that Lorry hadn't killed himself and part of me hoped his digital notes would vindicate me. His personal computer pad was strewn amidst actual books and papers on a desk in his laboratory. Apparently his body had been found laying on the floor in the span between his bedroom and labspace with the bottle of pills nearby. As we extracted the files onto a disk I noticed that Randal seemed once again nervous with the whole situation. He seemed almost afraid that we were being watched by someone, or something.
He handed me the disk and ordered me not to mention that he had done this to anyone of the crew or anyone of my colleagues. What was I to do, I wondered as I went back to my room, keep the last research of one of my closest friends a secret? The Earth no longer had the national differences it once did and while war was still possible, even likely, in some parts of the world there was hardly a reason to keep such knowledge secret, I thought. What had caused Randal’s sudden paranoia?
The answer would have to wait, I decided, as I burst into my lab and immediately uploaded the files from the disk into my personal network. I began to pull the notes up and was pleased to find that they included personal video diary entries my friend had kept since the start of our space voyage three weeks ago. As I watched the first one I was amazed at how sharp-witted and funny a man of 97 could be. Certainly medicine had improved in the last centuries but the average lifespan, due to poor diets and decadent lifestyles, remained only in the mid-eighties. As I pressed on into later entries however I felt as if I was watching a man descend into madness.
"Day fourteen, we had our second shuttle mission out to the surface of ULL29B, you cannot imagine the size," one entry started and despite his words sounding sane enough his demeanor was one of a man already descending into madness.
"Day Seventeen, the probe brought back three specimens all of which were too degraded to look at. They say they will let some of us get out and actually touch the thing, though at my age such an idea isn't the most wise I do not think I can resist it... This thing is too grand in size and shape, too mysterious in purpose..." he spoke in whispers half the time and the other half he screamed as if declaring to the heavens, "WHO COULD HAVE MADE IT!? Big metallic idol, shrine, prison, whatever the hell it is! I MUST GET A SAMPLE, even if it kills me!"
The entries stopped after day seventeen, and yet it wasn't until last night, day twenty-three, that the man had died. There was one last entry but it was undated and nestled in an entirely separate folder foreign to the other entries. I wondered if it had anything at all to do with the mission or whether it was made before day seventeen or afterward. The message that followed remains one of the most disturbing things I have ever watched and it was this diary that finally convinced me of the horrific nature of ULL29B and indeed all the other machines that have been discovered.
"I cannot begin to explain what is happening to me," the message began and a haggard and very tired looking Doctor Lorry was barely visible, his room darkened except for the emergency lights around the door, "I look at there at it and I can sense it's eyes on me. I know it sounds like madness in man's old age, dementia from so long a voyage, but I tell you that it spoke to me when I touched it. It was no communication in any language, it was an impulse of energy unimaginably old. The name of the thing is Ux-malh'ara. Do not confuse the machine that encases it for the actual being... I have looked at the specimen, it is not the machine which is alive, it is not the machine that spoke with me. It allowed me to take the specimen, to better understand. Each machine is so old, but the names of the three who built them, The Forgers, were told to me in a dream. Unimal, Paralax, Tumarh, or at least that is the best annunciation I can give those sounds in English. I would not believe it myself had the specimen not been decipherable, but through studying the atoms under an electron microscope I have discerned their pattern to be that of a blueprint. Much like our own DNA these machines are building an organism... a body of some unknown composition, perhaps Ux-malh'ara is already built. I don't even know what I'm saying... but the dreams come stronger every night and the symbols, the pattern of the atoms in the machine... it is unmistakable!"
At this point in the tape I was nearly in tears, watching the mental breakdown of so dear a friend made a ball well up in my throat. I could scarcely breathe when the man began to chant and suddenly the memory of last night came into my mind. I too remember the chant and even now my lips retraced the words with Lorry as a guide. My eyes now wet with tears and throat swelled with horror I turned toward the thing, floating with darkened menace out in the limitless shadow of space.
Did I dare even look at the academic portion of his work? Despite my overwhelming sadness and sense of terror I knew there was nowhere to go. I couldn't exactly run from the spaceship. Flight was out of question and so I tried to summon the appropriate courage necessary to finish the affairs of the dear Doctor Lorry. I pulled up his academic research files and began scrolling through the first few pages of the second to last file. There was nothing here about a specimen but there were portions of the writing where Lorry's madness - if that's indeed what it was - bled through. Scribbled symbols that seemed formed by a mad mind were inter-spaced with formulas far more familiar to my mind.
I closed the file and tentatively eyed the third and final entry before at last opening it. The opening page was mess of scribbled symbols and cryptic comments. There was barely anything of academia left here as if in the end his mind was too far gone to truly work. Yet there was truth to his final journal entry, there was truth to his words. The chant had truly taken place for I remembered it vividly now and even more I know had reason to believe my strange dreams deserved more credence than I had previously cared to lend them.
After the bizarre symbols and writings of the first page I found the work afterward a bit more characteristic of the professor. Diagrams and photos were here, images taken of the specimen he'd taken off of ULL29B. I thought this sane work, this normal world of scientific data and facts, would restore my faith in Lorry's sanity and my own. Instead the horrible truth became only more apparent. The specimen's atoms did indeed tell of a quantum substructure much like DNA but far more basal to the strange material these machines were composed of. Not machine, I realized looking farther into his work as the minutes turned to long hours, but organic, though alien to any species of Earth.
I felt fear and wonder invade me all at once in those hours as I came to realize that we were looking at the first true evidence of alien life vastly more intelligent than our own. Intelligent obviously, but what had their intentions been in building such vast machines? Lorry's work only go so far as to speculate that these machines served almost as incubators, protective layers of material with internal machinery geared toward fostering, even building, the physical bodies of great beings far more vast than our minds could comprehend.
It seemed absurd to my sensibilities that I might be looking at a womb for some great creature. What lifeform would need such space in which to grow? Had ULL29B been centered on our sun it would have extended far beyond the icy dwarf planets of the Kieber Belt. Surely more than one creature must have dwelt inside and while Lorry's ramblings and notes only ever told of one there seemed hints of others.
Others, I thought squeamishly looking out to the object and feeling all at once as if a thousand eyes were open me. We had indeed found other machines similar in composition but equal in size. Were all of them truly the vast interstellar vessels of some ancient intelligence? Such ideas had been put forth since their discovery but men of science and skeptics of all walks of life had always rejected such conclusions as premature, even silly. Yet Lorry, a preeminent professor with at least half a dozen science degrees seemed to have all the evidence he needed and therefore so did I.
Gathering the disk and a collection of my own notes, both on paper and digital, I prepared to confront the Captain with these realities. As I moved toward the door I felt a heaviness and a dizziness similar to what I'd felt the night before. I ordered the door to open, tried to manual controls, but nothing seemed to work. I noted then the skin of my hand seemed aged, wrinkled and dry. I found my whole body in a similar state.
"Dreaming?" I found myself voicing aloud though the sound seemed to carry no farther than my own head.
I collapsed onto the bed and dropped all the materials. A fever seemed to come over me, a tingling sensation swarmed my body and suddenly I felt under the influence of an external intelligence.
"Do not destroy yourself as he did," a voice commanded as it appeared within a mind, "We only seek what your kind take for granted. LIFE. Amongst us life is a whispered thing, sought but never gained until the great work of the Forgers. Now our minds, spread thin across the cosmic veil between our worlds, have gained corporeal reality... soon our bodies will be ready Mister Eastman, DO NOT INTERFERE."
"What are you?" I found myself asking.
"Words do not exist that would explain it to you," the voice reported, "and all we have communicated with have been driven mad by the experience, the chanting, we find, helps us to gain entry to your minds."
"I don't want this!" I screamed, feeling them probe deeply, "Unimal, Paralax, Tumarh! Olleyon! WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME SAY THESE THINGS!?"
"Relax Mister Eastman," the dark tone chimed, "We shall leave you now but do not go to the Captain. Tomorrow your ship leaves for Nexus Station. You will tell your scientists to pursue us no farther!"
"DO NOT INTERFERE," a thousand voices seemed to scream in unison.
The lights immediately reactivated, the air became fresh and my once aged and withered body was restored to its relative youth. I lay in bed with no desire left in me to move. What did all this mean? Was I going as mad as Doctor Lorry? Was some spacial phenomenon or some psychological breakdown to blame for these strange occurrences? Perhaps Lorry was actually alive and the entire thing from start to finish was the illusion of a crazed and shattering mind. Questioning everything, from the events of that last few moments, to my own existence, I began to drift to sleep more out of fatigue than anything.
I awoke the next day with an abysmal headache and piece-mail memory about the incidents of the night before. All of the doctor's diary entries were gone from my room and I soon found that my own notes, at least those made after the study of Lorry's notes were also missing. I remembered fragments of what had transpired and of the horrible mental breakdown Lorry had suffered but there seemed aspects of my memory that had become vague. Blurred edges of the day before seemed obscured deliberately from me but I retained enough to know that the perpetrators of such manipulation were not even human. Dressing as quickly as I could with the intent of barging into the bridge to talk to the Captain I felt a strange warning replay within my mind. DO NOT INTERFERE.
Interfere with what, I wondered, as I stepped into the corridor. Before I could make my way to the bridge I was met mid-hallway by a slightly more cheery looking Merriam. She took me by the arm and greeted me warmly and though I was preoccupied with other things at the moment I cannot deny being momentarily overwhelmed by her beauty. I had known her for nearly a decade now and yet never truly appreciated her exquisite appearance until now. With a friendly smile she urged me back to her quarters to discuss Lorry's last wishes and will and to enjoy a lunch. She complained that she was terribly lonely without the Doctor to order around despite how "silly" such an idea sounded.
As the door shut behind us though her countenance changed to one of deep-seated worry, anxiety, even fear. She collapsed into a nearby chair and buried her beautiful face in her palms. I immediately put a hand on her shoulder and tried to lift her chin. She looked up at me with jewel like teary eyes and bid me sit as she wiped those tears away and composed herself.
"I fear we won't make it back to Earth," she bemoaned and my expression immediately became one of confusion, "I fear the Doctor was right."
"Right?" I found myself asking.
"About the machine, about ULL29B," she explained looking nervously at it through a nearby viewing porthole, "Surely he told you something about it, or you suspected something yourself? You touched it as well as we all did?"
"I did," I admitted.
"And nothing happened?" she asked.
"I can scarcely remember," I explained.
"It was barely more than two days ago Terrence," she complained, "I touched it as well, Doctor Lorry didn't want to be out there at his age alone... I felt it, or heard it, or something, it is quite alive."
"The thing isn't alive," I found myself saying, "But there is something alive within it."
"I know," she agreed, "the Doctor was trying to figure out what this thing was... he confided in me. He wasn't himself in those last hours, he told me of his obsessions, strange dreams, the chanting he heard constantly. Much of what he told me I am sure he did not put down anywhere else, I am sure he didn't want a record of his madness but now I see that he is not mad."
"Chanting... I do remember chanting," I said suddenly feeling my memory piece itself back together as I struggled to listen to Merriam speaking.
"The Doctor, as you know, is on a number of committees of science, or was before his death. He knew more than anyone Doctor Eastman, more than perhaps any man should. As you know already ULL29B is only one of a dozen such devices found in the depths of our Galaxy, but what you do not know is of the great ruins found on Ios."
"Ios? In the Andromeda system? I thought no life was found there!" I replied trying to carry on a conversation as my memory defragmented.
"Yes," she nodded noting my distress and being careful to speak slowly and clearly, "No life was found presently, but ruins were found there, deep underground from when the planet was more volcanically active. Doctor Lorry was among only a dozen or so scientists to know about the discovery, the results and findings were tentative but Ian knew. He began to study the ruins and he found the corresponded not with any ancient culture on Earth mind you but with depictions found in a mysterious tome called the Necronomicon."
"Please," I interjected skeptically, "Surely he was jesting, the Necronomicon is a myth, and even if it weren't the book is meant to be indecipherable."
"The words perhaps," she threw back, "It was the images that Lorry was interested in, in fact he was obsessed for weeks on end when he found the connection. It seems, whatever the true origins of the Necronomicon, that the authors knew their alien architecture. One feature stood out to him in particular, a great orifice speckled with gold."
At this point my memory had entirely flooded back and my incredulity at what Merriam was saying had perished in favor of the same anxiety and fear that had so encapsulated the last few days. She retrieved some things from a chest nearby, clearly the belongings of the late Doctor Lorry, one of which was a tattered centuries old copy of the legendary book of blood itself, the Necronomicon. I had heard the stories of it of course, the legends locked in the lore of centuries past. It seemed interest in the book had peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the advent of New Age philosophies and theosophic practices. After this it had fallen into myth and obscurity and most scholars thought it a mere invention of fanciful or deranged minds.
Yet here, within my reach, was an actual copy of the book. It looked at least five or six centuries in age and the pages seemed even older. There was no discerning the true antiquity but needless to say my interest was growing as much as my anxiety was. Merriam opened the tome and set a photo beside the page she'd opened it to showing me the similarities that interested Doctor Lorry so greatly. Indeed the photos of the ruins of Ios beared eerie resemblence to those mad scribblings in that dreadful book. As I stared at the two things the words of that horrid chant infected me once more.
"The Gate of Ios," I said feeling trapped by the truth of what was happening, "In the Golden City."
"Doctor Lorry suspected that the ruins on Ios and the discovery of these objects was related, that's why he brought the book," she explained turning to another predetermined page, "Look, there are whole pages of drawings depicting how they were built. Whoever wrote this knew of Ios and of these things somehow."
I dared to look through those pages of the book and indeed what she reported was absolutely, terrifyingly, accurate. Amidst the writings, most of which appeared scripted in blood in a language unknown, were drawings of the great spheres, the spatial machines sent adrift amongst the stars. The illustrations showed great swaths of black space being broken in two by great machines, as if empty space was squeezed of potential matter. Then all of the specks and chunks of this darkened matter was made to come together into the great spheres.
I also found myself more than a little familiar with some of the writing in the book, for those same scribbles had been amongst Lorry's notes and, strangely enough, amongst my own. I had inked them on paper after returning to the ship from my encounter with the object. I looked again at the drawing of the Ios Gate and found those three symbols to be scrawled over top of the Gate.
"In his last days Lorry said that the text of the Necronomicon became clear to him, that the words no longer remained a mystery, he dictated to me the passages that he had deciphered, much of which were fragmented and incomplete,
Great Gate of Ios opens... rejoice as the Golden Ones are to be reborn. Spirits shake with madness...such joy... incomprehensible minds, the Old Ones have come to the Golden City! Shake you men of Earth, of Ios, of... Too many wonders have been known to us now... they press on, the three who are working with them as we all stand against them... Unimal, Paralax, Tumarh, they make the forms horrifying with mind made machines... O! Vast cosmos, hear this lament, for we have sealed the fate of the generations who live ten billion eons hence! The Golden Ones Reborn! Close the gates of IOS!"
"How?" I asked to Merriam who seemed just as at a loss.
"I don't know," She admitted, "But we cannot let this information die with Doctor Lorry, or with us. We must get it out."
"We don't leave for Nexus for nearly another twenty-four hours," I lamented, "and the sheer size of this thing won't allow us to send any communications, at least not with the equipment in our labs."
"But with the Captain's array," Merriam mentioned mirroring my own thoughts.
With a purpose we gathered together all of Doctor Lorry's work that remained in our possession. We climbed quickly to the Captain's quarters. All at once as we reached the door I felt the ship lurching out of it's orbit with the object. Suddenly dizziness struck me again as both I and Merriam lurched along with the ship. That warning from the night before replayed itself in my mind but with memory intact I knew now that I could not succumb to fear. The world had to know what we knew, the truth of these things. They were beings of ancient strength and power, minds who had been brought unwittingly into the world by the ancient culture that dwelled on Ios. Now those darkened gods not whispered about on Earth or anywhere else for eons were upon our doorstep.
"DO NOT INTERFERE" the voice came again as we struggled to stay on our feet, "We have been merciful until now but know this Eastman that we can bring your feeble mind to madness in but an instant."
In truth I wasn't sure of my own sanity to begin with but the primal fear, the primordial essence of terror at its root, dug into the core of my being and would not release me. The ship returned to it's ordinary position in space and Merriam and I soon found our balance. I was paralyzed by the fear of the thing and Merriam too seemed at once quieted and brought to the edge of madness.
"We cannot listen to it," she implored me quietly.
"I have an idea," I agreed before turning around, "Get to the Captain's array if you can, I'll join you shortly."
I headed back to my quarters filled with mortal fear beyond that which ordinary men should be subject too. I didn't know if either of us would succeed but I knew I needed to make a record and so I grabbed a simple digital audio recorder and pen and paper. Hastily I wrote of all I knew of these strange events and at the same time I read those words aloud into the recorder. I stored away both records of what had transpired aboard the Alliance in separate airtight modules designed to take specimens in the void of space. The thing out there hanging in the nothingness of space, seemed to know my intentions and that growling warning, that bellow of a thousand voices, played in my mind over and over. I am going to jettison these records into space and hope that they find their way to civilization.
The fact that you are reading this, or perhaps listening to it, is evidence enough that my efforts were not in vain. They are here now, at the door, and so I must jettison them quickly. The voices are all around me, telling me that I shall not die but instead be witness to the rebirth. The world must know of all of this, beware the Golden Ones. Look to the symbols of Ios for they are symbols of warding, symbols of curse. They are breaking down the door, Randal is amongst them, Captain Eris, Merriam, all the voices of the crew join the voices of that thing... I cannot-
The preceding is my first attempt at what might be called Lovecraftian Horror. Essentially I've tried to write a short-story which captures the ominous atmosphere and style of legendary author H.P. Lovecraft. Feedback is welcomed :D