Author : Jeremy Koch
Little was known of Planet Bes save that it was a world of impenetrable darkness, and according to the chronometer in Simonova’s exoarmor, she had already been there for six days. Six days since the crash of the *Grigory*… six days alone. *I suppose that makes me the galaxy’s foremost authority on this world*, she thought as she watched the distress code transmit yet again. *What an honor.*
She turned her gaze to the edge of the pool of light in which she sat, cast on an ocean of blackness by the last of the scout ship’s floodlights, powered by her single functioning battery, and saw what she always saw: “inhabitants” of Bes, a collection of whitish, featureless ovoids balanced improbably upright, gleaming at the absolute edge of visibility, and along with them a weird forest of whirling, leathery triskelions whose revolutions produced a steady, sonorous droning. Simonova had been listening to this for six days.
“Maybe we should just kiss to break the tension,” Simonova commented into her helmet, sardonically addressing the bizarre formations. She didn’t exactly know if they were alive, but she knew there were more congregated at the edge of her swatch of light every time she checked though she never saw them move. They seemed unwilling to pass fully into the luminate area, content to gather in ominous silence except for the maddening rotations of the three-lobed wheels of flesh.
*How long do I have left?* Simonova wondered, but then cast aside the existential panic that tried to rise in favor of the ironclad cool of her combat training. *A soldier’s duty is to survive*, she reminded herself, and turned away from the lurking structures back toward the distress beacon’s signal indicator, which pulsed and receded as rapidly as a heartbeat. It transmitted, cooled down, cycled back up, transmitted again.
The floodlights went out.
Fear suffused her as she fumbled at her belt for her one galvanic candle; just as she found it, the ship’s lights surged back to life. She only dimly realized it at first through eyes squeezed tightly shut but when she opened them again, the luminous ring around the ship was much smaller, and weaker. The battery was dying, and the… entities had blazed forward and now loomed at the light’s new boundary, closely packed together in a sickly fence of rubbery white and full of unspoken menace; the triskelions’ gyration had picked up speed and their soughing roar filled the starless sky.
Simonova slowed her breathing and sought to suppress the quaking in her hands. She ran to the stuttering battery and then turned to the beacon’s now-dormant output panel and was horrified to realize her choice: the gradually failing battery could no longer support both systems. She mastered herself, and stared down at the candle in her hand. It would produce a fraction of the light, maybe not even enough to keep the encroaching entities at bay… but if the beacon stayed off, there was no chance at all of rescue.
The candle flared in her hand as she shook it; she rerouted battery power from the lights to the beacon, and was left in a flickering puddle of anemic yellow on the face of the black planet. She looked up and gasped sharply; the things were inches from her now, tottering grotesquely. She set the candle atop the beacon, its feeble luminance glinting off the spinning limbs of the mottled, pulpy gyres now crowding in around her, and stared into the endless night of the sky, her only hope to see an incoming brilliant pinprick of light.