Day 50. 118 pages, 53,413 words.
They stood side by side and looked down through the viewing panel at the thing lying in the ice just outside the airlock. Predericon felt like a child again, looking into the ground-floor public window of the Makester Building’s Hall of Horrors.
It was thin, skeletally so, its approximately Molran-height body stretched out flat on the crushed ice of their base sector, although due to their misaligned gravity plates and the subsequent slant they’d built into the airlock, it appeared to be displayed on an angled sheet of ice for their inspection. Prone, evidently frozen solid, it was pallid-skinned and covered in something that could be robes, could be bandages, either white or simply frozen. They hung around the shape like a shroud.
It wasn’t a Molran, and Predericon could tell even at this distance it wasn’t human. Its skin looked hard and glossy, like enamel, and she didn’t think it was simply the cold that made it so. It looked artificial, but why anything so grotesque would be consciously created was beyond her. Its head was domed like a human’s rather than broad and flat-topped like a Molran’s, but its proportions were even more exaggerated, the head elongated. Its limbs were smothered in the garment it wore, so it was impossible to tell anything about them except that they were thin.
Its face was likewise warped, with no visible mouth and an almost-normal nose composed of vertical slits surrounded by folds of hard white skin, the visage dominated by a pair of colossal eyes. Hand-length, they were nothing but two more vertical gashes in the thing’s head, only darkness visible behind the ice-rimed lids.
“You dragged it back here?” Predericon asked.
Gyden nodded. “Strapped it to the sled. It weighs a ton.”
“And it’s dead?”
“Certainly looks like it. I found it amidst some ridges near the edge of our map. It looked like it had been flung there, maybe by a crash. It was in a little debris-field but I couldn’t find anything else nearby except ice and rock,” she raised her recording pod. “I’m going to make a best-estimate line for its possible trajectory, and follow it back. See if I can find a ship.”
“Can you identify the species?”
Gyden shook her head. “Nothing in the current database, which is weird – even if the database has taken some corruption. Not to jump to conclusions, but-”
“It does support your theory that we’ve been transported to a distant region of the Void,” Predericon allowed. “New information is good. I assume it was clean?”
“Absolutely sterile,” Gyden didn’t take offense at the implied suggestion of code violation or negligence. “We could bring it in here and it wouldn’t even upset Old Man Lelhmak … except of course I’m still not entirely certain it won’t wake up if we thaw it. But I checked it and ran all the tests. It barely even registers as organic, it’s so clean. And look at this,” she expanded an image onto the airlock wall. “Inside its eyes.”
Predericon stared at the inky black surface between the long eyelids. It looked crystalline yet damp, despite the freezing temperatures. She recognised the substance. “That’s a zirgox sensory data interface.”
“That’s what I thought,” Gyden said, “but you’re the expert there. So it’s either an organism with integrated machine parts, or it’s a machine built to look like that.”
“And zirgox is a known Corporate data technology,” Predericon said, “so it’s either a case of parallel technological development, or it’s a known Corporate species or artificial that our database has either lost or never acquired in the first place. Fascinating.”
“Also its fingers are blades,” Gyden added, and put up a second image. In it she had clearly lifted aside some of the frozen wrappings, revealing a wicked white hand that really did look as though it was made out of ceramic knives.
“And you want to follow this thing’s debris trail back to whatever ship it fell out of?” Predericon asked in disbelief.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while coo coo ka choo.