Dave was having his repeating dream
again. He was floating face down in a viscous liquid, or perhaps some thick, neg-G atmosphere. It was hard to tell where he
exactly was as visibility did not extend beyond more than twenty meters; it was as if he was surrounded by a curtain of darkness.
A few inquisitive fish swam by, displaying their incandescent greens, reds and yellows.
didn’t realize that he was descending until the alien city emerged from the murky ink below. It consisted of tall buildings,
but without sharp corners, and they were all constructed from a bright green metal. There were no windows to speak of, but
there were dark brown, irregularly curved shapes scattered all over the architecture. Dave soon started to descend alongside
some of the high buildings, in one of the wide gaps that existed between them. Darkness lay below him. He
guessed he had been descending within the cityscape for ten minutes when he saw a mass of pink and peach colors swirling below
him, and as he got closer, he realized they were a form of seaweed, except that the tangle was thicker than the plants
found on Earth, and more tentacular in shape and texture.
As he entered the dancing, semi-flaccid
seaweed he saw a shadowy form deep in the entanglement below him. It soon resolved into a human shape, and finally he stared
in awe at the form of a naked woman. She had waist length black hair and it flowed all around her head in slow motion, highlighting
a pale, serene, and beautiful face. The dream was most disturbing at this moment as she bore a close resemblance to his wife,
Morgan, three long years dead—it was agonizing to see this girl, seemingly peacefully asleep, alive. She
then opened her eyes, just like all the times before, and her stunning green eyes locked on his. They invited him to her.
They mesmerized him. His gaze wandered to her body, her pale, silk-soft, unblemished skin. Her marshmallow breasts, soft and
inviting, and yet firm in form; her hardened nipples. His heart raced, this time from excitement rather than fear, and he
so wanted to touch her.
Dave joined his object of adoration, in a sublime, surreal freefall.
They embraced in a gyrating forest of rose tinctured tentacles. She kissed him deeply while he held her tightly, as if his
very existence was dependent on it; and then she locked her legs around his waist and he immersed himself in ecstasy…
The interstellar science craft Heinrich Schliemann, rocked
gently in the seas of 51 Pegasi-4. Dave Rorshach woke in a cold sweat. That damned dream again! It wasn’t
a nightmare, not one where there was terror—far from it, as the love making was so realistic, but he was tormented with
the memories of Morgan. The realism of the sex was not a pleasure on waking; rather, it was the ultimate torment. It crushed
him with what he had lost.
The dreams had first come to him about a year before, which
was no coincidence, as the ancient civilization that was destroyed by a planetary catastrophe on 51 Pegasi-4, was discovered
on that very same day. He had found this out much later, and it did not shock him. By then he had seen Morgan in the depths
of the alien sea so many times in his dreams he knew that he was subject to some supernatural, or paranormal, event. He was
a marine xeno-archaeologist, not a parapsychologist or mystic, and he cared little about the detail. What did concern him
was that he had to be on the first archaeological expedition to the water planet, and he had to visit the city and find out
why he was haunted by his wife. His manifest destiny to go to the planet was punctuated by the ease in which he acquired his
assignment, culminating in the Schliemann’s splashdown the previous night.
was too new a discovery to have been given a non-technical name—the fourth planet of the G4 yellow dwarf star 51 Pegasi
was earth-like, but covered entirely in water. Exo-biologists were the first to travel the 50.1 light-years and were astounded
to find the ruins of hundreds of cities beneath its waves. Dave was going to be the first human to have a close encounter
with this alien civilization. His colleagues had no idea that he was driven by the specter of his dead wife.
The planet was fascinating for the scientists and the crew of the Heinrich Schliemann. It was an old chunk of rock
and the geologists and climatologists were still determining what caused it to be totally covered in deep water. What was
more perplexing was that many of the larger ancient cities—the most intact—were five kilometers
beneath the waves. The atmosphere of 51 Pegasi-4 was unbreathable as it contained toxins, and there was a plethora of electrical
activity—over a million lightning strikes over the globe per minute. The palaeoclimatologists believed that this wasn’t
always the case.
Dave slid out of his sleeping bunk and quickly showered and shaved. He grew nervous,
very nervous. A year’s worth of haunting dreams were going to be resolved that day—how could it be otherwise?
he reasoned. But he had no idea what he was in for. He had breakfast with the other scientists and he did a good job of seeming
calm, collected, and looking forward to the first dive of the expedition. There were some jealous individuals, but the majority
of those there were simply excited with what Dave was going to vid and survey with the comp-links. Some of the younger men
were also interested in Dave’s considerable experience using the deep dive servo-exoskeletons, asking questions about
what pressure the suit could withstand, what depths can they reach, how easy are they to work with, and what processing speeds
does its onboard computer have. Dave had the answers and used it to distract his attention from his nervousness, and to complete
the façade of a single-minded professional.
“How’re you feeling?”
was startled by the question and turned, seeing Miranda Seward take a seat next to him. He smiled, for she was the nearest
thing to a friend aboard the Heinrich Schliemann. They both shared the same age—thirty-five—and also the same
taste in music. “OK. The dive is deep but nothing earth-shattering. The exoskeleton is A-grade and
I’ve worked with the model before.”
Miranda stared into his eyes. Her tanned
skin and aquiline features were attractive, but she spoiled the moment by frowning. “I’m glad, and I know. But
that wasn’t my question. You’re a mystery, David Rorshach. There’s something about you that’s been
locked away deep inside you and you’re reluctant to open that box again.”
turned his gaze away, and realized he also sent a clear message of affirmation to Miranda in the process. “Perhaps…perhaps
I will unlock this mysterious thing another time. Over some very strong spirits. Certainly after this dive…”
Miranda frowned again, but said nothing.
Dave realized that his friend
was very smart indeed. She had latched onto his point about the dive. She was a sleuth. He changed the subject quickly by
turning to the topic of what his plans were with respect to probing a choice quadrant of the alien city. Miranda comfortably
slipped into the new conversation, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn’t cope talking about his wife while the
dreams were still fresh in his head: it would be like tearing his soul apart.
The long and complex task of donning the exoskeleton was normally done on the decks of ships or
equivalent platforms on interstellar craft floating at sea, but the continuous violent storms of 51 Pegasi-4 made the practice
impossible. The scientists and crew rarely exposed themselves to the outside world in their light environment suits, and usually
only briefly. Miranda placed the helmet over his head and Dave heard the last of the seals bind and the electronics of his
exoskeleton come to life, pumping air into his tight but comfortable fitting space. Air was being drawn from outside his suit,
and when he was diving, extracted from the water. There was only a few hours of compressed air in his emergency tank, but
he had never needed it in ten years of diving. Suddenly, the pitch blackness of his window-less helmet was illuminated with
dozens of heads-up displays, as well as full vision of what was outside his suit. He checked his equipment by looking at the
various displays and willing them to be switched off and on, and he caused himself to step forward. It worked effortlessly.
“AOK?” Miranda asked. Her voice was perfectly transmitted into his hearing apparatus,
and he could accurately sense where it came from.
“Fine,” he responded, hearing his own, clear
voice, pumping out of speakers at the master control board, which was unfolded on the desk in his assembly room.
“Good. Then we may as well get started. As you know, you should try to minimize your time
on the surface, just in case lightning hits you. It shouldn’t do any damage, and you are safe, but
we don’t want to risk this expensive equipment. As per plan, you will be down there for three days—we’ll
make it short this first time, and we expect you to have eight hours sleep for every eight you work. Have you checked the
virtual maps of the city in your geo-database?”
Dave eyeballed the map icon and
the 3-D macro-image of the city displayed over half his vision area. He then closed the program. “Fine. As expected.”
Miranda now came into his view and smiled, although her eyes couldn’t target his own properly.
“Then go! What are you waiting for? This is history!” She
clapped her hands in excitement and got out of his way.
Dave slowly walked through several
doorways and finally into the sepia-colored world of 51 Pegasi-4, punctuated with constant flashes of orange light from all
points of the compass. The Heinrich Schliemann was a huge ship and the ten meter diving platform was dwarfed
by the thousand meter length of the vessel.
Miranda’s voice came clearly through his system, but
this time from everywhere at once—she was speaking from the assembly room. “As I said, Dave, don’t waste
time. Get onto the elevator.”
“Yessir,” he replied,
without sarcasm. Miranda was a good team leader and he was happy to take her guidance.
moved as quickly as the exoskeleton allowed him to, and he stopped on a platform custom built for his mass. It immediately
started to descend toward the choppy seas, while he was given a magnificent view of the ocean’s horizon, lit up with
hundreds of lightning strikes. He wanted to say to himself that it was like being on another world, and
then he chuckled, because he actually was.
A massive bolt of lightning arced up from his legs and high
into the sky. The suit protected him from the blinding flash but he could see nothing for a second or two.
Then, when vision returned to his helmet’s screen, he saw the waves rush up to him and he then hit the water.
The light around him quickly dimmed. He hardly felt hitting the ocean, as the suit was designed to protect him from the elements
and enormous water pressures, but he had cried out as a natural reflex.
Dave! Are you alright?” It was Miranda.
Sorry. I was taken by surprise. Did the lightning strike knock me off the platform?”
It was big. This was really bad luck. I’ve switched the master controller to diagnostic mode. I should
get a reading about what damage, if any, has been done.”
Dave was relieved. Miranda was
calm. He eyeballed the underwater maneuvering icon to straighten himself, as he had landed in the ocean
face down and he was descending in the same position. For a second he thought about his dreams. No, he
thought. This is a coincidence.
The icon did nothing. Since he was still in terrestrial mode
he tried moving his left arm. Nothing. Panic started to rise. “Miranda! My movement
processes are frozen. I am sinking and fast.”
There was a moment of silence;
far too long for his raw nerves. “Sorry, Dave. I’m getting the diagnostics readout and its
serious. Real serious. That lightning bolt did a lot of damage and…you’re
right, your motor functions are rat shit. I need more time; there’s a lot of stuff coming out of the report.
We’re getting someone else suited up but it’s going to take time. When you hit the bottom
we can pick you up and take you to the surface quick smart.”
Dave felt some comfort in Miranda’s
analysis. “Fine. It will take a few hours at this rate to hit the base.
Backup will be an hour and a half behind…and then three back. I can live with that.
“Dave, I have to read this stuff and get the other guys in to help.
Hang in there! I’ll talk to you in…say fifteen minutes.”
The fish here will keep me company. I like their colors.”
sighed. “Good. Seeya.”
It suddenly was silent and he
saw a murky darkness far below him, interspersed with the ambient olive colors of the sea in his immediate vicinity every
time a nearby lightning flash lit up the sky. Damn you lightning!
Dave couldn’t believe what he heard. “Miranda, will you say again?”
She was crying now. “David, your oxygen converter is dead. It’s
been dead since you were struck by lightning. You’ve been breathing air from the emergency tank from
He understood what she said but he needed a few moments to digest it. “I’m
dead then. At best I might have enough air to breath to see the city, and then…nothing.”
heads-up display indicated that he had passed the four kilometer mark in his journey to the alien city.
tried to sound cheery. “The boys are trying to assemble the mini-sub as quickly as possible. If they
can get it going safely, it would only take twenty minutes max to get to you, and twenty, twenty-five out.”
“Forget it. You know as well as I it’s too dangerous to just ‘put
it together’. I have half an hour at best, maybe if I take it easy, forty minutes. I’m gone.
Done for.” He surprised himself by taking it so soberly. Almost as if he
was prepared for it.
Miranda sobbed. “I’m so, so sorry, Dave. I should have waited until we had
better backup. This is so unprecedented…”
“Don’t blame yourself,”
he interjected. “I was the diver and I didn’t think of it either. No-one did. It
was a one in a million…” He suddenly stopped.
Are you alright?”
“Not dead yet, Miranda,” he replied. He started
to laugh. “One in a million. That was the type of odds I was playing with since a year ago. My dreams.
My assignment on this mission. The skills being just right. The first dive.
No backup. Sheesh.”
Miranda sounded scared. “You’re
rambling, Dave! You aren’t making any sense!”
I am making a lot of sense to myself. But you know what, I have to ask the question…is it
the same strange one in a million chance that caused this accident, or is it that this was predestined, and it was the one
in a million chance that I had the visions to see it coming? Heh?”
understand.” Miranda started sobbing again.
Dave sighed. “You
don’t have to, dear. It’s all too late. I’ll let the mystery out of the box. I came here not just to explore
a wondrous, amazing, ancient alien city, but also to find out why I keep dreaming about what I am doing right now.
And somehow my dead wife is caught up in all of this. That’s the only bit I can’t figure
Miranda simply cried. She didn’t cut the communication…it
was the only way she could comfort him.
The sea had been very dark for some time and the only distraction
was the odd translucent fish that inspected his exoskeleton’s powerful lights. But then Dave saw
the city appear before him and it was exactly like his dream. “It’s beautiful Miranda.
The city is so much more beautiful than the virtual graphics.”
“I’m in the city now, Miranda. Still descending, but
I’m surrounded by alien structures. Amazing. I wish I could turn my head to see
them better but they’re still fantastic!”
She couldn’t say much else. There were no words that could express what she felt.
my god! The seaweed! Just like my dream! I’m going to enter
them soon. This is amazing Miranda! Do you know what this means?”
“No, Dave. What does this mean?” He could hear her sniffles.
“Morgan. It means I’m joining Morgan. But this
time it’s for real. No disappointment at the end, no more brightness and then darkness.
“I don’t understand. Who is
“Brightness, Miranda. That’s who she is.”
Miranda waited five minutes and then started to hear David’s breath starting to labor.
“There she is! Oh God; all fucking mighty God! I…