Speculative Fiction 'DANGER ON DERMA'

Updated: Jul 8, 2021


Elixir of life, perhaps?

Introduction

The aim was to write something termed as micro-science fiction prototype or Micro-SFP. Micro-SFPs are complete stories in three or four lines of text. Needless to say, I failed miserably and the word count blew up. But often the best creations are accidental. The inspiration was a concept art on Pinterest. It showed this mind-numbingly tall Lovecraftian being, maybe an Elder God, walking over a landscape. It got me thinking about how meaningless our existence must be for such a being, infinitesimally unimportant in the grand scheme of things. This was the result. Hope you enjoy it.

 

A century ago, the human colonists came to the world called Surn, through a gate of the ancient Originators, the most profound and serendipitous discovery in human history, that changed humanity's fate forever. Littered through worlds, over an area that spanned a hundred thousand light years in this part of the Galactic arm, the gates provided instantaneous travel and access, allowing humanity to expand and proliferate in those worlds.

This world, named Surn in the Originator catalogue, was located at the very edge of the arm and a hundred light years below the Galactic plane. Or that was the initial assumption. Geologically active, the terrain was peppered with huge ridges and clefts caused by the constant shifting of plates. The hot sub-strata temperatures caused water collected in the deep clefts to evaporate forming vapour geysers. Perpetually ensconced in mist and humid tropical climate, the world supported numerous highly resilient flora and fauna, some actively dangerous but mostly passive and benign. The whole ecosystem seemed to have evolved around the dense mist and low light conditions. Hygroscopic "trees" grew along the slopes of the ridges, with fleshy muscular roots extending deep into the ridge surface providing a firm hold. Requiring little or no photosynthesis, these trees had no leaves, but filamentous, long hair-like structures grew on the branches, and remained suspended in the air, absorbing the moisture from the mist. Some of these trees grew up to a few thousand feet into the upper layers of the mist. Then there were the strange looking vermilingua, tall six-legged creatures that slowly traversed over the ridges. They were gentle and harmless, with long necks and slender bodies that had follicle strands for moisture absorption. They had no visible eyes but had a long thin snout that sprouted thin tendrils, which they used to feed on the mycelial enzyme. Apart from scientific value to academics and scientists, what made the world economically valuable was the strange alien mycelium that grew in certain areas or hot spots. However, the scientists studying the mycelium suspected that it branched extensively under the ground, not only growing deeper but also connecting hotspots across vast distances. The mycelium produced a proto-enzyme that reduced cellular metabolism. Humanity had found the mythical fountain of youth, the elixir of life.

Other than the mycelium scientists and geologists, most of the colonists were harvesters, enzyme extractors, siphoning the enzyme, which seemingly there was an endless supply of, and gating the extract off-world, for a burgeoning longevity economy. Much like the early gold prospectors of eighteenth century Earth, the colonists claimed hotspots and set up enzyme harvesters. Surveyors journeyed further out into the mist-laden landscape to find more virgin hotspots. Nearing the centennial mark of human occupation, there were slightly over a million colonists on the ridged surface of Surn. Unfortunate, as that was when the shedding began.


Seismic activity on Surn was routine, never decimating but always present like a bad itch. The colonists had adapted to this turbulent world and had accurate prediction and advanced warning systems. Harvester plants were seismic tolerant up to 3.5 on the Richter scale. But this time it was different.

Entire ridge masses, hundreds of kilometres across, shifted and slid and cracked. The massive extractor plants on hotspots crumpled like paper. There were no aerial vehicles to aid in evacuation due to the low visibility attributed to the mist. Not that it mattered, there was nowhere to go. The over several hundred thousand kilometres of surveyed land showed more of the same — clefts and ridges and moisture sucking trees. The only route to take was via the gate. A few hundred of the colonists did manage to leave Surn through the gate, but the swiftness of the devastating destruction was unpredictable and thorough. Unlike a normal seismic activity, there was no detectable epicentre. Almost like snapping of gossamer netting, the land just started to split and tear simultaneously all over. From the scientific data that was pumped through the gate during the calamity, future scientific communities learnt that the land masses were sliding and moving across large distances. Visual data showed the immensity of the change while audio data was mostly suppressed due to screams of terror and hopelessness of the colonists. In some areas, while the land split a secondary surface broke through that was devoid of any known geographical artefacts. Gravitational changes seemed to be occurring as machinery and other structures, including people were thrown off the ground but never seemed to fall back. It took a long time for scientists to decipher that they were seeing the colonists falling down a precipice that seemed endless.


As the visual sensors and instruments broke through the dissipating mist, one of the last visual feeds showed something gargantuan, vast and twisting, beyond comprehension, that without any reference points failed to anchor one's sanity. An eye the size of a moon seemed to be examining the falling epidermal debris and human colony. The light from the blue giant that hung in the sky illuminated an unimaginably vast landscape. There were things moving on it, alive. Things that shamelessly dwarfed human concepts of gigantic. And then the feed cut off.


While machine learning algorithms separated, denoised and reconstructed audio streams from the barrage of final audio data that had come through the gate, one transmission stood out.


"Oh God! What is that? It's looking at us!!" and then the voice broke down in a hysterical laughter shouting manically, "There was no planet! There was no planet!"


That was the only meaningful and last human voice that escaped Surn. The colony was gone. The Surn gate was gone. And without the gate, finding Surn was like trying to find a needle in the vast expanse of space. But most importantly, what was Surn? The search for the fountain of youth continues.

 

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