The landing pod touched down on the barren planet as the crew took their first look at planet C42. “Landing pod to Space Center; We have touched down with no damage. I repeat, we have touched down with no damage,” the captain, Xavier Vanlaere, said into the com.
London Hill, pilot and navigator, barked orders from her seat. “Do not move until final orders are given. There has been no hull damage currently, but we have lost contact with C42 PS crew 01. We don’t know what we are getting ourselves into, so stay sharp. Their landing pod is 3 clicks north from here, and it is our job to find it. This was a failed mission and there are no presumed survivors. Proceed with caution and level headedness.” Flooding out of the ship, a scout squad armed with the latest high caliber weaponry strode out onto the desolate planet. Ice geysers stood frozen. Wind whipped through the suits of the crew, and frost was already forming around their feet. They felt the cold of course, but they weren’t prepared for what would come next. As they strode in rank and formation toward the signal coming from the landing pod’s radar, none of them knew what to expect, but whatever they did, it wasn’t what awaited them.
As they marched toward the signal, the soldiers took bets with each other, trying to ease the tension that electrified the air. All of them stayed alert though, their halfhearted voices echoing throughout the empty planet. The group rounded a corner and the landing pod came into view. They all halted.
“Son of a bitch,” one of the soldiers swore.
“Lieutenant Craw, send a squad to scout the ship,” Vanlaere barked. “We will remain here until you deem it safe. Be aware, soldier.”
The soldiers rustled with anticipation, and murmurs arose. None of them quite trusted this empty planet.
Ten minutes later, Craw sprinted back toward the ship, face red with adrenaline and fear. “Sir!” He held something in his glove.
Vanlaere snapped straight up. “What is it, Lieutenant?”
Craw reached them. “Captain,” he panted. “I’ve found something.” He dropped what looked like a hard drive into Vanlaere’s outstretched hand. “There’s not much else, sir. But this was in it. There were also test tubes, and it looked like it held some sort of blood.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
Vanlaere clenched the drive. “Let’s see what really happened to C42 PS crew 01.”
28 YEARS EARLIER
Toby: Mission log, C42-01. We found ourselves here after an unmarked planet showed up on our radar. Landscape appears to be mostly ice. Still unsure about going out of our landing pod, wind speed appears to be far greater than earth’s. Sensors outside the ship read 14.2% O2, unsafe for us. We found a frozen ocean, H2O with an abundance of Sulfate. Still don’t have a good reading on the depths of the ice, Betty was disabled following a gust of wind. One landing pod was busted on impact. We landed almost 4 kilometers from the projected landing zone. Gravity 1.65 Gs, so the suits will be able to handle it. Sea level is -13 meters relative to earth, and the tallest visible peak is 1642.2 meters. This is Toby, engineer, signing off.
Violet: Mission log, C42-02. The landing was rough as part of the landing gear got stuck in the ice. I was tasked with mapping out the new planet with the drone Betty 1.0 but during the first hour of her departure the connection was cut, and when we sent Bella 4.6 to look for Betty, Betty was missing. Since Betty was destroyed we have put off making the map. I also helped Toby with fixing the ship’s landing gear. Tessa and I got into a fight when she wanted me to go outside and I resisted. Man, I really want to go home. I mean, it can’t be as bad as last time.
Sammi: Mission log, C42-03. We have not explored outside of the pod. Birdlike creatures have destroyed Betty, but haven’t done anything to the broken skeleton since then. It appears they attack anything that moves and it is almost impossible to avoid them. Our landing gear broke and we don’t have the parts to fix it. We are stranded now, but the panic hasn’t set in for anybody yet. It’s only a matter of time though. The thermometer outside reads -121.2 C°. Our suits can handle the cold, but we are not sure how to avoid the birds to get to the ice and fish people. Ice geysers streak toward the sky then freeze in a curved position as a result of the hundred kph wind and climate. We have been sent food, and supplies, but command doesn’t have the parts for the landing gear Toby needs to repair the ship. We also need to get samples.
Toby: Mission log, C42-04. Found an instance of C42-C just now. It was chewing through some of the wires. I haven’t seen a specimen this size. Subject resembles a rabbit mixed with a mole, with completely white fur and red eyes. They tunnel around in the snow to avoid the birds and winds. These guys prove how versatile life can be.
Tessa: Mission log, C42-05. We have made contact with C42. The landing gear is stuck in the ice. This makes quick escape an improbable option. However this provides more time for data and sample collection. Violet has voiced how angry she is with me. I don’t understand it. Whilst trying to fix the ship Toby found a mole-like creature identified as C42-C. They tunnel under the ice and snow to hide from C42-B. This is how we could move without C42-B attacking us. We could use this to get to the C42-A. I need to get my hands on one of the C42-C to get samples. Sammi told me I shouldn’t touch them until we know more. I think she is a fool. We must act on this opportunity or we could lose it.
Violet: Mission log, C42-06. Toby found a white mole-like creature that tunnels under the snow. Tessa said we could use this to move around without being killed like Betty, and she is going to chase after one of those mole things. I mean, what if the thing scratches her or bites her and she gets infected and it spreads to Sammi and Toby and everyone dies? I also helped Toby with the ship.
Sammi: Mission log, C42-07. Tessa and I are taking a sample of the ice today. We have found a way to get deep under the ice to take the sample modeling after a new species we have discovered. C42-C looks like a hybrid of a rabbit and mole. It tunnels under the ice with sharp teeth and claws and seems immune to the cold, although it doesn’t have much fur. They are white. Tessa is intrigued but we don’t know its defenses and habits so I’ve told her to stay away from it for now. I’m running low on supplies to treat her if she gets injured. She’s not going to listen to me.
Toby: Mission log, C42-08. Finally got a clear reading on the ice depths after going through 3 different Bettys. Ice is .54 kilometers deep, and lowest layers are past 12,000 years deep. Did you know the atmosphere here used to be breathable? MRS 01 was destroyed by those damn birds and, oh yeah, none of our measures to bring down instances of C42-B have been successful. They are immortal. Great. On top of that, they attack anything that moves even an inch. I managed to get a signal up to Betty 1.0’s backup camera and found a whole horde of the things. They seem to be riding air currents in a massive loop. Still trying to get that landing gear fixed, can’t take off till we do. This is Toby, engineer, signing off.
Toby: Mission log C42-09. Well, command abandoned us. They said it was “too expensive to keep us alive.” So we have about two weeks till rations run out, and a further three weeks to starve. Of course, we can’t let that happen. The others and I are trying to formulate a plan, but I know it’s gonna be up to me to put that into action.
Sammi: Mission log, C42-10. Food is dwindling. We have enough to get us through at least a week and a half, after that…
I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but we have slowly been receiving less and less supplies from Command. Our radars don’t pick up their orbit around C42’s atmosphere. Violet hasn’t been keeping records of our food, so we don’t know when the food started to stop arriving. They’ve given up on us. Toby seems panicked, I think he realizes. It just got a lot more dangerous for us.
Toby: Mission log, C42-11. I think I have a plan to get off this planet once and for all. Command originally sent us some emergency flares, which have since been lost when I outfitted them to a Betty. But I think that If I can make my own flares and get to the top of a mountain, I can get their attention, assuming our orbital AED is still there. I’m planning to take everyone with me in a few weeks. Our food is low, so I should work quickly. I will update you on further progress. This is Toby, engineer, signing off.
Tessa: Mission log, C42-12. We found a way to go under the ice to get to C42-A. We have not had any stable ways to communicate with C42-A. As of now my attempts to understand the language have been nearly impossible. I have discerned that the only way of communicating with them is through pictures. I am attempting to build a C42-A to English dictionary. I have yet to collect the samples of the bioluminescent particles that create the patterns on the C42-A people. They always run away or avoid me when I ask to gather more samples. Perhaps this is a tender issue for them. Whatever it may be, my samples are far more important.
Sammi: Mission log, C42-13. Tessa and I have gone down once before and taken a sample of the ice. She received a gash in her suit and arm on the way up, and after treating her I have no supplies left to treat anyone else. We are going down again today so Tessa may get her water sample. She also wants a blood sample of the Matcian people. I tell her that that will not likely happen. We have found two clans at war with each other. The C42-A, a kind of fish people we named the Matcian people, it appears, have been forced to choose sides. They live and fight under the ice, but never break it. Violet is leaning more and more heavily upon me, because Tessa is emotionally unavailable. Toby is sending Bettys out like sacrificial pigs. I don’t think he’s getting any work done. He knows the safe word and has the strength to crank the lever to pull us back up though. But I have a gut feeling something will go wrong, I just don’t know what. It’s not safe, and I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by saying it is, but I believe we have a chance to get these samples. If everything goes according to plan. We just need to get off this damn planet.
Violet: Mission log, C42-14. I finished mapping the planet it is really snowy and icy and I am starting to use the stupid AI therapist. It’s supposed to help but I don’t think it is. We discovered a creature that killed Betty 1.0. It’s a giant bird that hunts things that move. Tessa calls them C42-B. I spent most of my time with Sammi then Tessa came in with a gash and for some reason I started to breathe heavily and I don’t even like Tessa. Then the stupid AI said “You are safe. Everything is alright, you are in a safe place.” NO! I am not safe. This planet killed Betty.
Toby: Mission log, C42-15. Where is my wrench? Damn. Wait this thing is, oh. Okay, I think I finally did it. I finally outfitted the suit with enough oxygen to reach the mountain. I made some flares. I can finally talk to command. Only issue is, there is a stretch of water, meaning I can’t tunnel under the snow most of the way. It will be a run. I could go around, but that is a multi day trip, and I don’t have enough O2. Command can get me out of this planet, they can take me home. Violet has just been yelling at me, don’t think she realizes that if she tries to use the ship we’ll all die. They don’t think that it’s possible to get to the mountain. Don’t they trust their engineer? I’m planning to leave before anyone else. I’ll give you one more log, and then commands picking me up. This is Toby and oh yeah, one more thing. I hid Bella so only I can use her. Nobody else needs to know I’m scouting the mountain. These Matcians have been sacrificing themselves every few days, I don’t think they realize it does nothing. It doesn’t matter. I’ll be gone next week.
Tessa: Mission log, C42-16. My samples are nearly complete. I have yet to collect data from C42-B. Perhaps I should collect samples from C42-B before we return to command. The C42-A people seem to be at their wits end. I will not stop at this point. Sammi tells me I should be more careful to not offend them. My data collection is going swimmingly. Maybe Mother and Father will be proud when I return.
Toby: Mission log, C42-17. I started picking up poetry for my last few days on the pod. Found some Edgar Alllen Poe from my school days. Forgot I even had these. Might as well read them, I doubt I can ever see them again. I still haven’t told the others. They will just try to “help” me. I no longer need the unwillful cries to stray me from striding to my future. Was that good? Anyways, I don’t think I’ll be going on anymore planetary sweeps after this.
Toby: Mission log, C42-18. Woe is me, the lords of these lands have abandoned my memes. The breath of Pan has been breathed into me, yet I freeze in this sea of life-stealing cold. I have no will to go on, and I see that my life has none left to give. Those called “command” have left me. I see my path, burned into my mind, yet I hear the screams of the cruel, unforgiving, killing sky-tyrants. They cannot see me as my heartbeat slows. So many great persons have passed this way. I will join the scores of those living in the life after death, floating around the cosmos while my mortal form remains frozen. Free from this frozen hell. Let me rest now. Peace y’all.
Tessa: Mission log, C42-19. The C42-A has taken me prisoner. I have attempted to take samples from the walls as they seem to be made of some sort of spongelike material I have not yet seen nor identified. The rest of the crew have not contacted me in awhile. The C42-A chitter away whenever they pass by my cell. I wonder if the chitters work as echolocation.
Violet: Mission log, C42-20. Sammi and Tessa are out with the fish people and I’m in my room with my thoughts. Command has stopped talking to me. When I saw Toby’s tool and drone room I thought I saw Rex working in there I got really scared. I talked to the AI therapist. It said that “her mother didn’t care about her” but she DOESN’T HAVE A MOTHER *cries*. AI therapist: “It’s all right to cry…” NO NO NOOOOOO! SMASH! *deep breathing* I threw it. It’s gone. Okay okay okay I should talk to Toby. Hey hello? Toby, are you there? Toby? TOBY please please answer. I-I-I can’t. We can’t be without you. Don’t leave meee! *sobs*. Why did I come here? Why did I let myself come here? I was a great pilot with a good crew that did good missions but then they died and here I am about to die. I don’t want to die.
Tessa: Mission log, C42-21. They are taking me out of my cell and covering me in a firm sticky seafoam like gel. They are drilling through the ice. This seems to cause a large commotion among the people.
Tessa: Mission log, C42-22. I am done. Goodbye, thank you. Mother, father.
Sammi: Mission log, C42-23. Toby is dead. I can’t find his body. I don’t know how. Neither does Violet. She refuses to talk about it. Tessa was sacrificed to the Birds. It’s just Violet and me now. Not much else to report on. Still don’t have a lot of food, very little medical supplies. I don’t know. I’m a little bit numb right now. I’ll try to update later. What’s the point, though? Nobody will see this. Our engineer is gone. Our scientist is gone. Our food is almost gone. Everything but the painkillers are gone from the medical cabinet. Time is running out.
Violet: Mission log, C42-24. Sammi came back from trying to get fish people samples… without Tessa. *sniffle* WE ARE GOING TO DIE HERE. First Toby dies, then Tessa dies by being sacrificed by the fish people to the birds. I got it, I got it. We can leave even if there are parts broken, we can probably still fly and get out of here. Yes. This is going to work, we are going to be out of here and I will never step foot on another hostile planet again! Hah hah, I have figured it all out, no one will die ever again. I’m going to tell Sammi all about this. Sammi Sammi we should just leave. Even though some parts are broken we can still fly. Sammi: “The bird things will probably get the ship if we try to fly away.” Okay we can’t fly away. *cries*
Sammi: Mission log, C42-25. I found his body. He was impaled on an ice geyser. He was my companion. I was stuck with him for almost three months. I feel empty. But not sad. Not lost. All I feel is worried for myself. Should I feel bad? I didn’t know him that well, but… he was my crewmate. I don’t feel anything. It’s like an endless spiral into hell and insanity, and I don’t know a way to fix this. How do I help us? How do I save us?
Sammi: Mission log, C42-26. Violet is unstable. I cannot deal with it. She talks and talks and doesn’t do anything. She asked if I missed anyone. Then she asked if I had a partner. Then it was onto pets. Then it was a monologue on how much she missed her family. Then she explained every aspect of her social life. Next, she launched into every part of her education. Then she started sobbing. I hugged her, and patted her back. I can’t take much more of this. I need to help myself too.
Violet: Mission log, C42-27. So, things have been going well and no one has died. WE CAN’T LEAVE WE ARE GOING TO DIE HERE. I shouldn’t have thrown the AI therapist. At least I have Sammi. Speaking of Sammi, I’m going to talk to Sammi.
Sammi: Mission log, C42-28. I miss Mom, Buddy, and Dad. Damn it, I miss Tessa too. We weren’t family and we didn’t know each other before the trip, but we were stuck on an ice planet together for four months and all Violet does is talk to me. She won’t leave me alone. I don’t have a lot of alone time, but when I do my only thoughts are: Is this worth it?
Sammi: Mission log, C42-29. It’s not. It’s not worth it. Not with my entire crew almost gone. I’m going to try to get the samples of C42-B tonight. For Mom and Dad. I love you.
Sammi: Mission log, C42-30. I’ve used almost the last of my painkillers. They make me forget. I should probably stop but I can’t. I can’t stop.
Violet: Mission log, C42-31. Sammi died! *cries* She overdosed on pain meds so she wouldn’t have gone crazy. *Ship door opening* *Quiet* Ohhhh I know what I can do, let’s go visit the fish people! Oh you must be the cult. You want me to join you. Rex, everyone! You’re here! I thought you died. I’m so happy. Guess I have to go. *Splash*
Four dead. A small sacrifice in the scale of humanity. And all in the name of science. Military personnel don’t flinch in the face of death, yet knowing the truth of what happens to astronauts who lose contact is more… grim. “Pack up and let’s move out!” barked Hill. “We gotta get this bird off the ground! There is nothing else for us here.” She avoided the eyes of her crew. It felt wrong to leave their memories here, but how else. Their families were dead, as far as any of them knew. There was nothing left. Nothing else to do. As the ship ascended out of the atmosphere, Hill couldn’t help but think about whether their deaths were necessary.
Watching as the planet’s dying sun rose over the horizon, the dead crew’s landing pod fading into a black dot in the distance, Hill muttered to Vanlaere, “Do you think they had to die?”
“Had to?” He responded. “No; but it’s not up to us, and what’s done is done. Best not to think about it.” He kept his eyes on the horizon, not looking at Hill. Hill glanced behind her, through the film of the atmosphere. She took note of the soldiers behind her doing the same. Her guilt pounded through her with every second the ship got farther from the planet.
The icy planet grew distant, and most of the soldiers turned back. Hill stayed twisted around though, staring out the glass until her eyes glazed and her back ached, yet she stayed. The very least she could do to pay tribute to the four who died. Who no one would remember. And so she looked. The icy, desolate, bare, hostile planet that used to be full of life. The last London Hill and her crew saw of the planet C42 looked almost peaceful, when the harsh winds, and cold climate couldn’t be felt. Peace. She hoped those four crew members had found it.
Or is it…
Yes. It is.