Subcutaneous Magazine Issue 1 - Page 39

Planet “Y” by Eric C. Friedman The “thud” had me awake and at the controls seconds before the alarms starting going off. The ship had definitely hit something – not something big, but something. Damn, out in the vast expanse of space, and I find the one piece of space junk.... I scanned the sensors, but they showed nothing out there, nothing at all. The ship was on an fixed trajectory; no way of turning it around to check. The internal sensors showed no damage to the ship at all, and no register of the hull coming into physical contact with anything. “Thud!” What the....! It happened again while I was looking right at the sensor display, and nothing. But that time I felt it more than heard it. But there was no detection on the sensors. I turned off the alarms and listened. Nothing but the steady sinuous humming of the engines. The ship had passed Pluto and I was just 6 days out of cryo, having been awakened to navigate the Kuiper Belt, but nowhere near any known objects in space. “Thud!” I felt and heard that one, but the sensors still showed no physical contact in or on any part of the ship. Now past the belt, I was on my way to Eris - once known as “Planet X” - there to orbit and see if I could detect what the astronomers thought might be “Planet Y;” a significant shadow detected orbiting our Sun beyond Eris, but which had managed to evade any measure or other quantification. I was supposed to go back into cryo in a few hours and sleep until that orbit was established, but with unknown and undetectable objects apparently out there, I would have to put that off until I knew my trajectory was clear. *** A “thud!” followed by a strange squeal or screech – the sound of metal tearing under extreme stress, but with what distinctly sounded like a voice or breath behind it – is what I heard on the ship’s computer log after coming out of cryo in orbit around Eris. There had been no further incidences for ten hours after the last one, so the computer cleared me to return to the hibernation chamber. Based on the prior lack of detection of any material cause, and because it happened while the ship was entering and establishing orbit, the computer let me sleep through this last incident but alerted me as soon as I was awake. Again, nothing on the sensors, and no register of any physical contact with the hull. I ran a few extra scans and found a disturbing measurement; the ship had gained almost a kilogram of weight after the last “contact”. But other than that measurement and the recorded sound, no other physical characteristics were detected. Had some stray Kuiper object with weight but no mass been absorbed by the ship? That’s the only thing I could think of, and I thanked my lucky stars that it hadn’t screwed up the orbit. All instruments were displaying optimal readings.... Except for that gain of 808 grams. I repeated the scans, but the new weight could not be specifically localized. Soon I would have to interface with the long range detectors; the mission was specifically timed and I was coming around to the far side of Eris – the side away from the sun, and towards the “shadow.” So, I started my relaxation exercises, closing my eyes and adapting my breathing to the rhythm of the engines. Their sound ebbed and flowed like a tide of electronic waves on a metallic beach. As I attained a consistent cycle attuned with the ship – establishing a certain rapport with the instruments – the sensor interface automatically emerged from the top of my chair and closed around my head like five very long fingers of a metal claw gripping the top of my skull. Soon my senses were no longer focused in my body sitting in the chair, but now extended from the ship itself out into the dark cold void of space. At first I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the sheer immensity of nothing and the profound insignificance of myself in relation to it. All my training had not prepared me for the shock of the trans-Neptunian vacuum I was facing. I had to recover my breathing and restore it to the ship’s rhythms. Once I had done that, I looked around and started to see stars gradually fading into sight. Now I was overwhelmed by the simple beauty of it all.... And was suddenly struck by the profound significance of the fact that I was the only human to have the privilege of this experience. Tears of ecstasy formed in my eyes; I had to fight not to return to my body.... I realized I was holding my breath, and again re-established the patterns of my breathing, attuned to the rhythms of the ship. I looked around further, and suddenly realized that there was a large circle of my vision in which I could see no stars, but rather what seemed to be a giant pool of indigo ink blocking out my view of the space beyond. Planet “Y.” It was enormous! The planets out here were supposed to all be dwarf planets, but this must be much larger than Jupiter! I stared into the “ink pool” for a few minutes, trying to see if I could detect any detail. After a little while, I believe I noticed a change in color; the indigo gradually lightened into a dark purple. After several minutes more it had lightened to a dark mauve. I suddenly realized that it was reacting to my presence, as if the planet itself had some kind of.... Intelligence. Upon that realization, I was immediately overcome by dread and foreboding. Palpitations of fear gripped my heart, making my chest ache. I wanted to return to the chair, but something about that intelligence reached intomy mind and grabbed hold of it. It wouldn’t let me go – I tried to pull away, and I distinctly got the impression that it was squeezing my consciousness with a sort of psychic claw... I heard a voice inside my ѡ)ٽѽɸх$($+qe՝ѠeѠɅɅeѠ)e՝Ѡt($)$ѡ$ѕ(((0