Author : J.D. Rice

I fell.

My body twisted and turned for what seemed like minutes, but through my bio-suit I didn’t feel a thing. The artificial gravity system and inertial dampeners built into the suit made sure that even a fall like this felt more like diving into a deep swimming pool. The world spun around me, the slope swirling up, to right, to down, to left, over and over and over, but I felt none of it. No pain. No nausea. Inner ear implants and motion stabilizers compensated for everything. All I had to do was relax and enjoy the ride. Such are the wonders of modern technology.

When I finally reached the bottom, I landed on my feet. I took a moment to right myself, more out of habit than necessity, then glanced around at my surroundings. What I had thought was a hill was actually the edge of a massive crater, one I had just fallen into. High above my head I could still see my land-rover, parked neatly just on the edge of the hill. The ground had broken under me the second I stepped out of the driver’s seat.

[Mason, are you there?] a garbled voice says through my speakers. It keeps speaking, but I can’t make out of the words beyond the opening question. This deep in the crater the signal is disrupted. I’d heard of it happening before. Rather than bothering to answer, I looked out across the center of the crater, looking for some sign of the meteor that punched this particular hole in the planet’s crust. But it had disappeared ages ago, dissolved in the bitter dust storms. It’s fiery fall only a memory.

[Mas~~~ a~~~~ t~~~~ t!] the voice said, louder now but just as unintelligible. Annoyed, I tapped my own comm system, knowing they’ll probably never hear my voice.

“I’m fine, stop nagging,” I said, before adding. “You should really warn me next time about that drop.”

I knew it was my idea to come out this far, but…

Then I saw it. The monster, stalking closer to me. It looked like a man in a bio-suit, its feet dragging as it marched across the meteor plain. Closer and closer it came, always shuffling, never slowing. I took a few steps back and to the side, and still it came towards me, adjusting its course to match mine without moving its head. I suddenly remembered the stories of all the men who have gotten lost in these chasms, how so many reckless fools thought they could stand on the edge of oblivion and not fall. Why had I come so close?

Scrambling, I tried to climb the side of the crater, only to feel my feet slip and slide back towards the center, closer to the man-monster who approached. The artificial gravity, so adept at protecting me on the fall, was suddenly useless in climbing this hill. I began to feel dizzy, my inner ear implants failing.

They said it happened to the others. Some kind of selective malfunction. But why me? Why now?

Turning back to face my enemy, I saw that he had nearly reached me. Just yards away, still walking with those shuffling feet, still moving with that same, slow speed. No rush in killing me. No rush in making me disappear.

I felt a sudden burst of defiance and lunged towards the creature. He caught both my arms with his hands, fingers clutching like vices. A few sparks flew from my comm system, crushed with inhuman strength, and still the fingers squeezed. I yelped in pain, dropping to my knees, all the fight taken out of me. He could have me now. No point in resisting.

The man-monster leaned forward, pressing his helmet against my own and showing me his face at last. His face is mine. The monster is me.

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