All The Universe Has To Hold

It was impossible to tell, from the readings, whether the star was dying or the world’s orbit was tumbling out of its Goldilocks zone, but this planet was getting colder.

There was a continent over each pole, as if someone had tried to make a planet sandwich, and the filling was a steel-coloured and storm-wracked ocean. Under these dark skies photosynthesis was a hopeless dream. Across each continent cities spread out from towering gardens constructed over the mouths of volcanos or fissures. The EGSHEL had photographed metropolises made up of smooth, six-sided towers that looked as if they had been carved right out of the stone ground.

The only habitats not clustering around the cracks in the world’s surface for warmth were the small towns scattered along the coastlines of each continent.

It was a dying planet, but it would not die in ice. When the Fermi arrived, this world’s fate was sealed. Some unknown fault had ensured the spaceship’s engine obliterated every star system in its wake. Its crew, unable to stop or disable their craft, simply clung on to it for dear life as it plunged from world to world through the sky, leaving only devastation behind it.

But sometimes, they needed supplies. This was why the Fermi’s lander, Spider, dropped towards one of those coastal towns. It dipped into the pea soup fog, flashing its search lights through green mist.
The ship settled on a wide cobblestone quay, its rear hatch hissed open, and Connor Brandt climbed down the steps.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come?” Samson asked over the radio.

Samson was vastly more qualified. Throughout his life Samson was bestowed with every genetic, environmental, and pharmaceutical enhancement science could bestow on a human. Connor, meanwhile, was his control group. But Connor was working to hold his own.

“Very sure,” he said into his helmet mic. “They were really specific about wanting me to come alone. I’ll walk over there, do the deal, and then when they inevitably betray us and try to kill me you can come and rescue me.”

“If you’re sure,” Samson said, not sounding sure.

Connor nodded, forgetting for a moment that Samson couldn’t see him, and began to walk. The quay disappeared into the emerald haze. Only the fuzzy outlines of some distant lanterns suggested where the shore lay. Even through his helmet Connor could hear the roar of the sea behind him, mingled with the sound of pissed off whale song. He turned to look past Spider and saw, or thought he saw, enormous dark shapes moving through the fog.

Advancing again, Connor stuck carefully to the middle of the quay and away from the black waters on either side. The fuzzy outlines of the lights began to resolve into shapes. Connor saw a courtyard emerge, on the right-hand side, a cluster of what looked like log cabins, on the left, a monster.

Naomi Grant- the ship’s flight surgeon and biologist, was always going on about parallel evolution. Different animals occupying similar niches will evolve similar solutions. Predators will usually evolve eyes at the front, prey, eyes at the side. Her favourite example was that a shark, an ichthyosaur and a dolphin, despite evolving from fish, reptiles and mammals, all evolved to be roughly the same shape. The Fermi had passed, and destroyed, many worlds by now, and Connor couldn’t deny he’d seen shapes start to repeat, or that he felt an instinctive sense of “rightness” when looking at a new creature.

This creature looked like a woodlouse had evolved to fit the same niche as a whale. It’s body, as far as Connor could make out the whole thing in the fog, was cetacean, but covered in a thick, multi-segmented carapace of bleached bone.

Halfway down its flank the carapace had been cracked open, and rectangular cuts of black meat lay beside the open wound.

“Whoah, you seeing this?” Connor asked, directing his helmet cam up and down the beast.

“It makes you wonder,” Samson answered.

“Wonder what?”

“Why something that big needs armour plating,” Samson said.

To Be Continued…

In the mean time, the further adventures of the Fermi’s crew can be found at Scarlet Ferret and Amazon.