My latest story written for R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast has a rather ponderous title, and I decided to try out something a little different for it. The story prompt for this episode was this photo:
And it was also inspired by the book Stranded by Bracken Macleod. I knew I’d probably write a scifi story for this, and I also kind of knew what it would be about. The form, writing it as a recording, came to me pretty early too.
You can hear me read this story (with a lot of other wonderful authors reading their stories) on the latest episode of the Word Count Podcast: listen!
Recovered audio file #27 from research ship Trident [classified]
Nadia, I’m looking at the moon through this porthole, imagining you looking down at me from Luna Station. Then, I imagine you telling me what a sap I am.
God, I miss you.
I keep talking into this stupid recording device, hoping you’ll hear me, knowing you won’t. The ship’s engine has been dead for two weeks. The navigation unit has been busted since before we got stuck in the ice, and now the comm’s smashed. You’d think the Company would have sent someone to retrieve us by now, but we’re a low priority vessel. And we’re on Earth, where everything’s old-school and nothing works. It’ll probably be another week before someone gets here.
I’m so tired. I haven’t been able to sleep properly since I came back from that job on Europa. Until now, I’ve managed OK with self-medication and denial, but even pills and booze haven’t been enough since the screams woke me up two nights ago.
That’s when I locked the door.
It wasn’t a dream, Nadia. I’m sure it wasn’t. Since that night, I’ve heard no screams, no voices either.
Since then, I’ve only heard the singing.
I’d heard that same song, deep and low and wordless, off and on since I got on board this ship, but since that night, it hasn’t stopped. I’ve locked the door, stuffed earplugs in my ears, but the song is always there. Humming in my ears, vibrating through my skull, thrumming beneath my skin.
Can you hear it?
Before, when I still went out on deck, I sometimes thought it was coming from the sky. But since I locked myself in here, in the belly of the ship, it’s all around me, reverberating through the hull, as if it’s coming from the ice we’re stuck in. From the deep beneath.
After the bots had to drag me out of the fucking water on Europa, you’d think the Company wouldn’t have sent me anywhere cold. But of course, they shipped me off to the Arctic. An easy Earth-job, they said. No more solo missions for a while, so we’re giving you a few weeks with a crew, a routine op, supervising deep-sea bots.
You know how it is. The Company always gets its way.
I wish they had sent me closer to you, but as you know, there are no jobs for ocean techs on Luna.
I don’t know why the Captain hasn’t come looking for me. It’s been three days since she accused me of smashing the comm. Someone took an axe to it, she said, and I knew right away she thought it was me.
Then, she pulled the axe out of the broken console and swung at me.
That was after I asked her about the singing. I know she could hear it, too. They all could. They just wouldn’t admit it.
They must have heard it.
I know they did.
I dreamed of you. At least it seemed like a dream. You were standing on the ice below the ship, and I wanted to go to you, but I woke up instead. And the moment I was awake, I remembered everything.
All those blank spots I told you about, the stuff on Europa I couldn’t remember no matter how the Company probed and prodded me with psych-meds and questions at the debrief. I remember it all now.
This song, it’s the same one I heard before everything went to shit on Europa.
There, it was coming from below the ice, from that area we’d blasted and drilled through to send the bots down.
When I went out there, Nadia, the singing…it was everywhere. All around me. Above and below, inside and outside. Calling me. Pulling me closer. The monitors showed nothing, no sound, no presence, nothing, but I went in.
I went in.
Oh, god, Nadia. I went below. And even there, even there I heard it. Below the ice.
I don’t know why I can hear it here, half a solar system away, but I can. And I know the Captain heard it too, even though she told me she didn’t. I know everyone on board this fucking ship must have heard it, but they kept lying to me.
How many times did I ask them to tell me the truth?
I just wanted them to tell the truth.
I left my room today. Took a blaster with me and searched the ship. There’s blood everywhere, Nadia. This whole ship is slick with it. Trails of blood, leading to the railing, to the side of the ship, and then… I can’t see what’s happened to them.
I think they’re all beneath the ice.
When I came back to my room, there was blood on my door, in my bed, everywhere.
There was blood in the bathroom too. In the shower. In the sink. On me.
Was it there before? I don’t know.
Nadia. She swung the axe at me first. You have to believe me.
The song. I know where it comes from now.
It comes from me. This morning when I looked in the mirror, something else peered back at me, through my own eyes. And then…Nadia, my mouth opened, even though I tried to stop it, and I felt the song in my mouth and throat.
Did I bring it with me? Did I? Did it sing to me on Europa? Did it pull me down beneath the ice, did it slither inside me, has it been waiting all this time for me to bring it to another frozen sea?
I’m on deck, at the railing.
I miss you.
Can you hear it? Can you hear the song. Can you?
I can see the moon from here, but it’s too far away and so are you. Everything is too far away. Only the ice, only the sea, are close enough to reach.
© Maria Haskins 2018.
The artwork for this story is made with Canva, using an image from NASA: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/jupiter-moons/europa/in-depth/