I entered the door leading to the cockpit. Johnson was there, eyes wide and frightened, and when he saw the poor state of my mental constitution written in dark shadows across my face, his fear grew to terror.
“Where are they?” He asked. But I had grown tired and despised human company. There was not a soul on this ship who could – indeed, would even try! – to understand what lurked in unseen waters beneath the incomprehensibly vast deliberations of a world consumed by ocean. It was all I could do to repeat the first answer I gasped to Victor before pushing past him and heading to my seat in the cabin.
“Gone?! What do you mean? Explain yourself, Gelios. Gelios!”
But I was beyond hearing. I collapsed into my seat and pressed my palms into my eyes as if to wipe away memories wrought by those unremitting nerves. If I hadn’t been so appalled at the thought of indescribable agony, I might have gouged them out then and there to rid myself of their possibility of ever seeing what was now indelibly marked upon my mind. As it was, my sudden retreat from the visible world was a laughable attempt at escape, as the moment I closed my eyes It returned. The awful form, the vague displacement of water about the open abyss, horror in the eyes of my late compatriots, and the glowing spot, which might even have been an eye, stared back at me. But then the image froze, and that glowing eye took stock of me, acknowledging my existence alongside its in the order of universal matters. I went rigid. It was a memory, reprimanded the logical mind, a thorough reproduction of a past and unrepeatable event, without either contemporaneous relation or agency. But I was not so sure. A memory rarely exerts effort to know the rememberer.
Gelios. The word rolled about in my head, whispered quietly. What did the word mean? I no longer knew.
Gelios. There again, a vaguely dissimilar repetition of the same sequence of vowels and consonants. Surely it meant something. But I was made dumb by this Beast which was drawing the soul from the mind of the being whose name was Gelios. It was not in my faintest wish to escape the waters. I wanted to go back. To fall. I craved annihilation.
Gelios! The eye was fading. No! Come back again and speak, bring me to nothingness!
“Gelios!” Johnson was violently shaking me. I looked up. My name was Gelios. And Johnson was concerned for me.
“Gelios, we’ve almost reached the Heath-Adams Atoll. Samuel’s been calling, he needs you to prepare the surveillance buoys. How are you feeling? We need to finish the mission, but if you’re not well enough to do the job…”
“I’m fine, Johnson,” I snapped hoarsely. I shoved up out of my chair and headed towards the stern. Down the hall. Through the launch bays once more, as quickly as I could manage. Into the tail of the vessel, where were stored a dozen small geostationary sensor buoys each no larger than a can of paint. Antennae extruded through the thick, waterproof carapace on the top and bottom like some omnidirectional insect with useless feelers. Several diodes blinked an easily accessible status report on the operational stability of the micro-circuitry of their interiors: blue and green signified that every one was ready to drop. I tapped into the com.
“Buoys ready to launch.” I said into my wrist. The response crackled through from the other side.
“Launch on my signal,” said Samuel from the pilot seat. I put my finger on the control panel in the wall, where protruded a large button with a single word engraved into it: “launch.”
“I’ll be watching this time, my dear Gelios.” Said a voice from behind me. I spun around: Victor had been hiding between the launch silos of the buoys. His smile was more of contempt than amiability. “A steady hand, a competent mind, and a loyalty to the Corporation is all one needs to succeed.” I had heard this phrase before: it was the favored slogan among Corporate propagandists and stooges alike. “We shall see in which of these you lack. So carry on, Gelios. But I’ll be watching.”
Moments later, I heard Samuel again. “Launch buoys on my mark.” I waited. He counted down from ten. Then, “three… two… one… Mark!” I pressed the button hard, eager to dispel any chance of misfire with enthusiasm. The faces of the silos slammed shut, and two by two from the front to the back they hissed the telling release of their charge.
Right as the final two buoys released to drop into the ocean, three things happened. First, Expeditionary-039 tilted violently to one side. Second, Samuel screamed like a maddened animal through the wrist communicator. I shall never banish the sound of his demented babbling from my mind! Third, I heard the sucking again. This was the most horrible of all. I knew it’s Source, it’s monstrous Source, that Thing! I collapsed to the floor, my heartbeat exploding within my chest, and my vision blurring as I was throwing into a rant of inexplicable purpose, perhaps spilling the final remnants of sanity through guttural expletives and chanting the Name of the Beast in worshipful adulation, though my soul knew not the Name, and I was divorced from all agency with my mortal frame. Victor was nowhere to be seen.
What our altitude was will be forever a mystery, as will the power of the Thing to climb and tear at a metal bird so far beyond its domain. Perhaps it was a experiment in Nature’s pride, callous and indifferent as it is; or maybe humanity has yet to plumb the deepest terrors this side of the opaque barrier of death. Whatever the truth may have been, if ever we dared look it in the eye, Expeditionary-039 dropped from the sky. And as through a keyhole out of my broken mind, I preserved one final memory from the seen of destruction as we careened out of control. It was Johnson frantically signaling for Victor to activate the auxiliary thrusters. So there was an engine down, and with it an entire wing. But Victor, as I have already said, was nowhere to be found. Johnson’s voice was lost in the screeching – of metal, or Monster, I knew not what – and I blacked out.