Flash Fiction

Impressions of Home

Got another one for you today! It’s a longer story because it wouldn’t behave and got away on me. But I think you’ll like it. Can you guess some of the inspiration that led to this one?

Impressions of Home

Omari paused at the mouth of the cavern. Not quite two meters high and a half-meter wide, it was going to be a tight squeeze in the exo-suit to get in. But Titan’s atmosphere still didn’t allow him to remove it, not yet. If the terraforming worked, the atmosphere should be breathable by the time he got to the first cavern. Planetologists said they couldn’t push the terraforming any further without irreparably damaging Titan’s fragile ecosystems. Well, at least what passed for ecosystems on a proto-life moon like Titan.

“Still seems to be a rather dismal place for a new colony.”

Static, then an electronically filtered voice filled Omari’s helmet. “Please repeat, Phantom One; Phantom Lead did not copy.”

Image by Alan Frijns from Pixabay

“Disregard, Phantom Lead, it was nothing.” It had slipped Omari’s mind that his comms channel was locked open. TerraCorp claimed it was a safety thing. Omari believed higher-ups didn’t trust their Scouts and wanted every scrap of data they could get with no filtering through a human brain. Even if that human brain had been genetically engineered.

Omari took a breath and squeezed himself through the cavern opening. The passage stayed narrow enough his exo-suit left scrapes and gouges as he forced himself along. Orbital scans indicated it should narrow a little further and then widen out in another fifty meters.

An alert popped up on his heads-up display, letting him know the methane ice surrounding him had narrowed enough it tripped the first suit safety.

“Phantom Leader, I’ve reached the halfway point to Cavern One.”

“Copy, Phantom One.”

Omari checked the atmospheric readings. All of TerraCorp’s data showed he should reach a point where the air was technically breathable, if everything had gone as expected. The indicators flickered a string of data across his heads-up display. Omari nodded. Everything seemed to work as planned based on the suit’s readings. He still didn’t want to gamble, though, and left his helmet sealed until he got further underground, further away from the heavily laden hydrocarbon atmosphere at the surface.

Right on cue, the path widened. Omari glanced back before continuing his mission. Long furrows at least five to six centimeters deep lined both walls, a clear sign of just how narrow it had gotten. He shook his head and continued on.

The first cavern wasn’t much to look at. At about five meters wide, seven meters wide, and three meters tall, Omari was still grateful for the additional space that allowed him to move easier.

Omari’s heads-up display continued to stream data to him about the atmosphere, gravity, detection of organic matter, and more as he crossed the cave room. Two smaller cracks splintered off to his left, but they were much too narrow to fit through with the exo-suit. Perhaps some intrepid explorer might fit in nothing but a jump suit, dragging gear behind them. But it wouldn’t be Omari, and it certainly would not be today.

The passage in front of him had no issue affording him room to pass. This one, Omari recalled, should be about one hundred meters long, again angled down deeper into the moon, and open out into a massive cavern room. Scans estimated it to be around a kilometer long, eight-hundred meters wide, and a hundred meters tall.

“Phantom One, Phantom Leader is losing your signal. Please report.”

Omari paused. This wasn’t supposed to happen. “Phantom Leader, Phantom One. All systems are green and no anomalous findings. Should I continue?”

Nothing came back. The hum and faint whoosh of the life support filled his ears. Seconds dragged on. Just when he’d decided to turn around, the click and static of the comms channel filled his ears. “Negative, Phantom One. Execute mission as planned. If no contact in one-hour, Phantom Lead will terminate mission.”

Terminate mission. The exploration vessel that brought him would head back through the jump point to Earth, abandoning Omari on Titan.

“That is what they pay me the big bucks for, though.” Lucky for Omari, this time, Phantom Lead didn’t pick up his sarcastic remark.

Omari continued down the tunnel. Something bothered him about this path, though. It didn’t fit somehow, but Omari couldn’t put a finger on it. His heightened senses ratcheted up another notch or two as he continued, and the unease grew.

A red warning light flashed in the corner of his left eye. Omari flicked his gaze over to check it. The signal with Phantom Lead had been lost. Omari sent the suit a command through his neural connection to set a time for forty-five minutes. He didn’t want to risk not regaining a comms signal with Phantom Lead and get left on this frozen moon.

At the eighty-meter mark, Omari realized what had been bothering him about this passage. It wasn’t natural. Literally. This tunnel had been bored somehow. The walls showed no natural deformities, the angle at which it descended held too steady, and not one jagged spot showed anywhere. He stopped. Forty minutes remained. He widened the sensor arrays in his suit, looking for anything else out of the ordinary.

The data stream increased, but wasn’t anything beyond what he could handle. Seconds turned into minutes, yet nothing in the data that came back gave Omari any reason to be concerned. Something just didn’t add up, though.

“Maybe it’s a good thing the comms signal is down. At least it’ll take a while before the scientists get their hands on the suit’s data.” Omari’s voice sounded loud in his helmet. Something about knowing no one could hear him on the other end seemed to distort things.

He took a deep breath and covered the last twenty meters between him and the enormous cavern room. Adrenaline surged as he neared the opening. A faint glow emanated from the chamber beyond.

What Omari saw as he hit the threshold stunned him. Not only did the cavern’s size boggle him despite having foreknowledge of it, but it was what the cavern room contained that rooted him in place.

Someone had carved every square meter of the walls into elaborate building façades. Columns reached up to the ceiling, ending in delicate knotwork unlike any Omari had ever seen. Doors stood three meters high at regular intervals, evidence that each façade contained a separate building. Lintels held intricately detailed carvings of living creatures, both humanoid and not. And the whole thing glowed in bioluminescent light.

Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Omari’s timer blinked in the lower right-hand corner of his vision, but he couldn’t respond to it. TerraCorp had hired to confirm the terraforming attempts at Titan had succeeded enough to settle it as a colony, albeit one with much more extensive technological support than usual. He was supposed to be the first sentient life on the moon.

What he saw before him, though, belied that piece of information.

2 thoughts on “Impressions of Home”

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