By Leigh Loveday
A skull. It’s a skull. Comparable in size to the waystation we left eight days ago, tumbling through a surplus of nothing in soundless slow motion, haloed copper-white by a distant sun.
“Go in,” breathes Robertson.
I don’t want to. I want to defy his order. But I set my jaw and guide the scout ship in and around the cranial curve, matching rotation with the dreadful well of the eye socket. No great feat; six scouts could fit through side by side. Technical challenge is not the issue.
A rogue signal pings again from somewhere deep within.
As we pass through, I see no panels, markings or seams, no rivets or glints. The bone just looks like bone.
We have no idea why this thing won’t show up on our scanners.
The interior of the ur-skull is all stale, grainy black. There is no sudden pressure shift – but though we are old friends with the stillness of space, this, here, has an entirely different tenor.
We advance like prey, aware that we are not unnoticed. There is an attention on us like a searchlight of thicker darkness. The emptiness stretching away to distant bone walls feels rapidly more hideous and raw and is not, as we discover, empty at all.
No life could hold out for eight days in a place like this; no consciousness is here, recent or ancient. What does remain are memories. Vast, trapped memories rippling and rebounding through the space, converging on us and gushing through the hull as if we sailed in a primordial sea.
No alarms sound, no breach threatens. But–
Wars. Sacrifice. Wisdom. Venom. Languages like spoken fire, skins and minds unwinding in the black. The artistry of nebulae, unmappable arcs and whorls. Contact and conflict, derangement and debasement. Vandalised fate, its cancerous weight.
Inside the tiny craft, I spasm and shout; my bones twist and splinter. Robertson’s head drums against his seat as he chokes on obsidian-sharp curses suppressed for centuries. They hiss from his torn throat like steam to scar the air.
Idolatry and uprisings. Empathy and execution. Heart-hammering adoration in aeons of acid fear. The rotting warp and weft of worlds. Haemorrhaging gas giants. Planets cracked like porcelain. Ambition. Joy. Extermination.
The memories are too big. They are inconceivable and inescapable. We are shredded in the riptide. It is over in seconds.
Silence returns, sinking in for the long haul. Remembrance drains from the craft, a catastrophe in slow retreat, heavy as spilled oil.
We are still here. We drift unburied, deep in the cavity.
Answer our signal.
Leigh Loveday grew up in industrial south Wales and now lives in the English Midlands. He edits videogame blurb by day and writes fiction aggressively slowly by night, with stories landing in the likes of Aphotic Realm, Knock Knock and Shoreline of Infinity. Find him on Twitter (for as long as it lurches wretchedly onward).