Bryan Beal

Look Before You Leap

© Bryan Beal

Star light should have been there. It should have been as bright as the one back home, if not even stronger. Drew looked about him and saw nothing but ending darkness and shadow all around. He was not panicked, so he did not bother turning on his lamps. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the dimness that should not have been there. Even after twenty minutes or so, he could see no better than when he had arrived. Which was to say, nothing. The lamps went on.

Checking some of the readings that his suit provided confirmed that he was on the right planet. No one had screwed that up, at least. The atmosphere, thought plunged into darkness, came back as breathable. Drew would have taken his helmet off, but it was about the only thing that protected him from the next reading: negative forty degrees. It was warm enough to need a star close by, but Drew saw nothing in the sky above.

Then it hit him. He saw nothing in the sky above. There entire pitch black sky was devoid of any light, dust or moving speck. There was literally nothing up there. Now, Drew did feel the panic starting to push back against his self-control. He had been trained for every situation and scenario. Just, apparently, not this one. Whatever this one was.

The sky was just too much to handle at that moment, so Drew decided to focus on something more familiar. At least this place had a ground that he could walk on. It was an icy surface, but not very slippery to boots that had been designed for it. It had rocks scatter over it, which he could see until the curve of the planet vanished from view. No one would be slalom skiing on this planet.

With nothing better to do, Drew started walking. With nothing to suggest a better direction over others, he just started walking in the direction he happened to be facing. Careful not to stand on the rocks, he walked. After a few hours, it became a trudge. He was fit, but even this was taking its toll on his body. His legs were letting him know that this was not a fun little stroll.

With nothing to measure time against, Drew had to check with his onboard clock, which was set to standard Earth time. Pretty much useless in a place like this where a day could be a thousand years, for all he knew. Not that he could measure it with a sky that had nothing in it. It was just another frustration added to the one of walking. It was not as if he had anything interesting to discover. It was all ice. It was all flat. It was all dark. The ice looked dark, but that could have been the lack of light. When it reached his lamp light, it shone sort of white.

The first one scared him the most. The ground almost felt like it jumped. It was a short, sharp movement that nearly tossed him off his feet. He first thought it was a type of ice-quake, but it was nothing like he had experienced. If plates were moving deep underground, there should have been more shakes. This was just a single, though violent, jolt. Drew kept walking.

He was less shocked when it happened again, but he started wondering what was causing it. With nothing more than a guess to work with, he came up with nothing and that really did spook him. He continued to walk, but more cautiously this time.

Ice erupted from the ground about two hundred metres in front of him. He stopped and instinctively dropped behind the biggest rock nearby. The rock did not hide much, but it made him feel a little safer. Drew stayed stock still and held his breath. The dust and particles of ice showered down and eventually settled. When Drew peeked around the rock, he saw a hole and nothing else. He waited. He did not trust nothing at all in this place.

He felt slight vibrations in the ice under him. Rhythmic and repeated, they gently shook him at first. Then they got stronger and stronger. He realised they were moving towards him. He risked a second peek around the rock, but saw nothing. There were no marks on the ice and just emptiness. He still stayed where he was, breathing slowly to keep as quiet as possible.

The vibrations stopped. His cover suddenly flew away to his left. He looked up. Just the endless black sky and nothing more. The vibrations started again, this time very strong and receded as whatever caused them moved away. Drew hoped it was away. He stayed glued to the ice anyway. He was not taking chances out here. If something went wrong, which he suspected it already had, he was alone.

After what seemed a long wait, Drew stood up and began a very careful and slow walk. He resumed his direction and decided to check out the new hole in the ground. Even with some powerful lamps, he could not see the bottom. He resisted the urge to get closer to the edge. Drew had no desire to fall into it. With nothing really happening there now, he decided to move on.

What had become a slog through the icy domain of wherever this was, right planet or not, dragged on for what felt to Drew like an eternity. Look at the power that was left in his suit, nothing had decreased from full. Even with all of his movement recharging the power cells, there should have been some decrease in power levels. He looked really close and ran a diagnostic. Everything came back as functioning perfectly. The weirdness just got weirder.

Glimmers. Not of hope, but some distance off to Drew's right, there were glimmers. He stopped and watched them for awhile. What he thought had been one big flickering thing turned out to be two. And there were murmurs that reached him across the distance. He decided to check this out. Somehow, it might be connected to his presence on this planet that had to the wrong one. He was careful not to get too close too quickly.

Upsetting the locals was not on the agenda, he chuckled to himself darkly. Dark jokes were the last refuge of a man on the verge of losing his grip on reality. Drew was not sure that the verge of his reality had not vanished into the distance behind him.

As the glimmers closed to within a hundred metres, they suddenly stopped and the murmuring dropped into a vacuum of silence. Drew suddenly stopped. The two glimmers edged closer. Eventually, Drew not moving a muscle, they were closer than ten metres.

The two pillars of energy glowed in ripples of blue fire, as if they were made of ice that had started combusting. Even the edges of them wavered and flexed in apparent random motions. It took a few minutes, but Drew realised that the murmuring had started again and that it had cleared up into words. When he heard the words, he noticed that the waves of motion were strongest. When they fell silent, their boundaries fell to small ripples, like they were thinking something.

“What is it? Is that what was detected?”, the left glimmer asked hes partner.

“I don't know. I've never seen it before.”, the right glimmer replied.

“Can we communicate with it?”, asked Left.

“How would I know? It might not even be sentient.”, Right replied irritably. “Try it. Who knows what will happen?”

“Are you sentient?”, Left called out to Drew. The ripples got larger, so Drew guessed it was referring to him.

“Yes, I think so.”, he called back.

“How odd. It's sentient and speaks but Dres could not see it.”, Left mused.

“What is your purpose on Frijzex Alpha?”, Left asked Drew, drifting slightly closer.

“I think I'm lost.”, Drew explained.

Both glimmers flashed sporadically in different colours, mostly greens and aquas.

“How can you be lost? Where did you come from?”, Right asked.

“Earth.”, Drew replied.

“Never heard of it.”, Left responded. “Where is it?”

“I don't know. I can't find it in the sky without stars.”, Drew explained.

“What is a star?”, Right asked.

That was when Drew suspected that something had gone hideously wrong. His silence soon got to the two glimmers.

“Is it trying to communicate in a different way?”, Left asked Right.

“Again, how would I know? We don't exactly have a long history with this thing's species, or whatever it calls it.”, Right snapped.

“Indicate the direction of this Earth, could you?”, Left asked Drew.

“I can't. I don't where it is. Up there somewhere.”, Drew said, waving a hand at the sky.

“Impossible! No one lives in the Abode. Everyone knows that!”, declared Right.

“Well, except for those Coporean conspiracy nuts.”, Left added. “But no one listens to them.”

“Is this the only planet with people?”, asked Drew.

“Well, yes. That goes without saying.”, Right affirmed.

“And you have never had someone come from up there before?”, Drew asked with the panic on full tilt.

“Of course not.”, Right replied sharply.

Something occurred to Drew.

“Hang on. What is different between you two and the one you called Dres?”, Drew asked.

“Dres is lower caste than us, of course.”, Right explained.

“I don't think it understands what you mean.”, Left interjected. “It's not from around here.”

“Then you explain to it.”

“Lower caste means those among us who cannot perceive so much of the universe. We see more because we are higher caste.”, Left went on.

“I don't really get why, but I can see what you mean. Dres left because it saw nothing there.”, Drew guessed.

“Precisely.”, Right agreed.

Drew had a sinking suspicion of what had gone wrong with the jump. This was the right planet. It just happened to be the wrong branch. Someone had screwed up after all. Being a fan of worrying about only what you can control, Drew shrugged his shoulders and fulfilled a life long dream. He rose his right hand, open with its palm towards the two glimmers.

“I come in peace. Take me to your leaders.”

#SciFi #ShortStory