The orb was dead. I stood alone in the chamber where the hive mind once swarmed. Echoing sounds of wet dripping all around me. No thoughts, no dreams invaded me. I could see again with ascendant vision, but the lingering build up of radiation in this place still shortened my sight.

The voice which had commanded me was also silent. Gluttonous, it had drowned in power, resolved into an inner corner to hibernate. How long would it ruminate. I felt an unease. That something had become untethered. I could not feel the reach of my true body.

I waded up to my shoulders through a thick and ceaseless swamp of muck. By now, without the power of the orb, of the dream maker, most of the vessels of frozen light had breached, and their delicate contents had liquefied in the sudden exposure to the pressure of atmosphere. Poured out to collect at the bottom of this place.

There was a shock of power when the orb died. I did not fully feel its wake due to the overwhelming might it filled me with. Many of the towers of constructs had broken apart away from the blast radius. Chunks of the twisted metal, stone, and shattered crystal littered the massive area.

My arm ached. I attempted to lift it up and noticed my suit had been damaged. Pain shot up from my fingertips where I had slaked that voice with the orb’s life. The cost of power exchange.

Lights from my visors illuminated the way ahead of me. Broken red fractals floated on the surface of the viscous liquid, which still drained from the constructs above in a constant flow. The red clung to my suit.

My breathing was heavy with the work. This body had grafted onto me. Devoid of its original soul, it now truly saw my light as its own. But soon I would have to return home and leave it without soul or will. By the time I had reached the stairway through the wrecked maze, I was blind but to the inky dark of the pooling rot.

What happened to the other man? I returned up the stairs and through the chambers of the catacombs. I listened as I wandered. There was only static on the com channels. Dots on my visor were the pathing bread crumbs of the steps I had made before. I pushed my myself toward the chamber where we had found the bodies.

As I neared, I heard humming on the com. Soft singing over the haze of noise. I tried to speak out. Raspy and unpracticed, but something had broken in my helmet’s mic. Receive only. I could only listen to the haunting, lonely, despairing song from that man.

There was another way, I thought, and moved to broadcast an encode message, but before I could finish my visor lit up as my suit responded to an automated emergency ping, and moments later a confirmation returned. His song went silent.

“You alive?” He said in a quiet voice over the constant wispy noise of radiating static.

I tapped on the arm of my suit to respond in manual encodes.

“Suit damage. Receive only.” I replied.

“Oh.” He paused. Static breathing hung over the com. “I need help. My legs are stuck, pinned down by debris. Tools too far away.” More breathing and static. “You won’t believe what I’ve found.”

“Confirmed. On my way.” I replied again in encodes. Encodes were not like writing out sentences. Standardized key pattern pairs. Encrypted, resilient. They worked on the same tech as the pings, sending data over distances even through miles of solid stone.

“Your suit signed that you were dead. Then alive. Then you disappeared completely. Didn’t know what to think. I was on my way to check your last points when… a tremor hit and collapsed part of the tunnel I was in. Massive energy resonance from below.”

He continued speaking as I neared his position. The paths had become tighter and more perilous. The arm I had used to take the life of orb was numb and heavy, more difficult to move.

“Got a signal from a ship. Not our ship. But a ship like ours. No response if anyone’s on board. My auth codes didn’t work, but the ones on the others should. Need time to decipher one of them.”

I struggled through the hole in the wall where the other crew had been digging and entered the chamber where we found the bodies. Deciphering was a standard practice, it was by design. It could be done by our suits. Matching hashes over a deterministic mathematical series. Why did I know that?

“You’re close. There’s a drill close to me already.”

The man was on his stomach. His suit had protected him from a slab of stone that had broken and fallen onto his legs. If it were not for the resilience of the suit’s armor, the stone would have reduced his legs to paste.

I found the drill’s case, opened it, and mounted it to my good arm. Slow work breaking off chunks of the stone around his body. Little by little, until the rest of the large stone slab fell the last few inches onto soft dust of this tomb. He was free.

“Thanks.” He let out a sigh of relief as he got up slowly. “Thought I was done for sure. Recorded my last will. Was sure you were gone too. Glad you’re not.” He grabbed my shoulder. Then looked at my lamed arm and pointed to my suit with his other hand. “You’re busted up? And covered in gunk. What happened? Where’s your piece.”

I tapped in encodes. “Explored. Deep. Expedition. Xenos. Anomaly. Injury. Lost.”

“Right.” He said. He stood still for a few moments in silence. Thinking. Then he turned to a path I had not been before and waved for me to follow. His rifle in hand. “I set up a tent and parameter. I’ll know if anything moves near us. We can rest there while the cypher runs. I already moved the other kit there, along with enough of their supplies. Still good. Mostly.”

I followed him through winding paths upward. To another cave where he had discovered the other ship rested, submerged. There was a feeling around me. An unease in the distance. It made my body ache with pain. Another heart beating, longing for connection to mine. While an other gravity sought my core.

“Did anything attack you? Like before?”


“Was there anything alive?”

“Was. Xeno.”

“I’ll look forward to reviewing your records. First, we need to get on that ship.”

I felt weak, disassociated, at the mercy of fate.

We entered the tent, and I immediately laid down. My body was heavy with fatigue, and without an extra thought, I slipped into a dreamless, dark sleep.

As Above So Below!

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