The world was dark when I awoke. I felt a stab of pain in my left hand; it was red and blistering around a faint white pustule. Some little fiend had bitten me while I slept, and now I could scarce close my fingers without a pulsating agony. Nightly sounds surrounded me; almost familiar, though not quite, but little could I tell the different after nearly seven years on a Corporate Administrative Dreadnought. Beyond the rustling of foliage in the ocean breeze, I heard a gentle bddrrt, bddrrt, bddrrt of something between a cricket and cicada with a lower underlying frequency than either. I stood up and stretched, careful not to extend my left hand more than was necessary. There was no moon, a fact I had forgotten and suddenly found disquieting. This would make my nocturnal navigation far less profitable, moreso as I had no means of making fire for a torch. I thought if I set off in one direction, I would eventually reach the shoreline, and then be able to follow it in the dimness of the stars to some other part of the island.
After what seemed like several hours of walking, I came to realize how easily darkness and forest can confuse even the most accomplished navigators. I must have been turned around at least seven times, and by then had no indication of which direction the shore lay. Long having overcome the almost hungover state after eating so many of the unnamed fruit, my awareness began once more to press on me the seriousness of my position. I had no food once more, no access to fresh water, I was lost on an alien planet without direction or even hope for rescue. I pondered these thoughts over and over as I pushed through branches and vines, becoming more and more fearful as I did, moving faster now, from walking to jogging to running, thorns swiping at my sides and face and hair, looking into a dark and moonless sky, panting and gasping for air in the humid climate. When I had climaxed in a flurry of human terror, arms reached out from below and grabbed onto my ankles. I shrieked a wild cry that excited several birds nearby and collapsed. Clawing at my ankles, I discovered the arms were merely vines that had become tangled up in my legs. As I removed them, I laughed at myself half-heartedly and ran a hand through my hair, my left hand, which squeezed with pain at the touch. My running had increased the blood flow to the spot, and now – though it was hard to tell in the dark – it seemed to be twice the size it was.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a tiny flicker of light. My eyes trained on the spot. It was like a star had fallen and twinkled in the distance, only with the orangish glow of a fading light, and once in a while was obscured by some dark cloud. I got up and made my way to it.
I misjudged the distance to the light, as well as its altitude. Back into the forest of island trees I went, skirting around them and once more almost losing all sense of direction. But now and again I would spot it, the light growing larger, peeking out from beyond the immediate obstacles in my path, and I would joyfully push on with renewed strength. Certainly the light of day would come soon? Or perhaps the nights were far longer on this planet than I was used to? Whatever the case, I had an Objective now. The ground harder to travel, and I had the distinct impression of traveling uphill. My legs wearied, though my determination did not falter from the Objective.
Suddenly, I stumbled upon a line of broken trees. Off to the right, the tops of several palms were snapped like a child’s playfully clipping the heads of flowers, and closer before me they were absolutely ravaged, shattered to the base by a mightier force. The ground was riven into grooves, and following these grooves to the end I saw the source of the flickering light. It was fire from a burning wreck, undoubtedly the Expeditionary-039! I ran to it with glee, approaching the blaze like a wild man, jumping and shouting with joy, laughing manically and tearing at my ragged and bloody clothes as though my salvation were near. It troubles me later to write of this, for now I know I was no closer to quitting the island than before, and in fact this discovery would lead to much greater anguish and true horrors unlike any I had hereunto felt, impossible though that seemed at the time. But I would not be reasoned with then, and I plunged into the flame looking for… what? I knew not. Food? Water? Companionship? I entered through a broken portal, wrenching the door off its frame and pushing around it to walk down the short hall. It led to the cockpit, where before me the windows were smashed and the nose irreparably compacted into the ground. On the pilot’s chair was a mass of blood, but no Samuel. I thought it was possible he was thrown outside the ship, so I searched the immediate area for a flashlight. Finding nothing, I went back down the hall and turned into storage cabin.
I felt along the inside wall, and on a bracket discovered the familiar heft of the object of my search. Lifting it from its metal bracket, I turned the flashlight on and swept it around the room. There was Johnson. The broken remains of his body were stretched out on the floor, a look of permanent fear stretching out his face in rigor mortis, and the lower half of his body fused to the deck in what must have been the hellish oven of a sudden suborbital descent. He was clinging to the only wetsuit in the cabin, one arm wildly tucked inside, as if he expected to be able to swim away from the Thing which brought had them down.
Even the insinuation of that Thing, and the memory connected to it, made me drop on all fours and begin to babble. My head shook uncontrollably as words poured out over Johnson’s deathmask. I felt my soul tearing away from my brain, unable to take the strain of continuing in the presence of my own memory. Only the callousness of an indifferent universe saved me then. Fire obeys the laws set unto it in a way the mind of man will not, and as such had been creeping steadily through the portal and igniting the flammables which before were withheld from its gluttony by the door which I had so thoughtlessly wrenched aside. Now it licked my heal, and I jumped in surprise. If I didn’t move quickly, the fire would make escape impossible. I cast around the room one more time, finding several things which I considered would be necessary in the coming days: a tank of oxygen, a mask, the wetsuit, which I carefully removed from the deathgrip of poor Johnson, several coils of rope, and a gallon jug full of distilled water. Then I rushed through the flames, which by now had almost reached the cockpit, and threw myself threw the jagged teeth of broken glass.
The ship behind me burned with an increasing glow, and I ran, trying to get some distance between myself and the inevitable explosion. Looking behind me through the trees, I stopped for a moment to remember my companions, thinking of them as their pyre went up into the atmosphere. Then the flames reached the fuel tanks, and Expeditionary-039 bellowed in several roiling explosions. The sound reverberated against the side of the mountain and echoed over the island. Black smoke crowded the site, the surrounding trees catching fire as sparks were caught in the breeze. Then I left the ship and trudged down the other side of the mountain into the night.