Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Is all I hear.
On a world where everything uses parts of the visual spectrum humans don’t, we’d have been better off staying away. Far from its star, the eternally-twilit forests of Modbiaent XIV are protected by interstellar law and, more effectively, by orbiting weapons platforms. Naturally, this isn’t entirely about conserving the environment. Modbiaent XIV has stocks of a rare element, dubbed Biaeum, that has many possible uses. It’s been found on a couple of asteroids, but the quantities here are far greater.
Light in a spectrum that allows humans to see actually causes some indigenous life forms to break down. Labelled ‘photonecrosis’ by the media, it means that humans visiting this world should adjust themselves, rather than seeking to adjust the environment. Drysuits mated to space helmets using visual technology borrowed from the military is the current vogue.
“Tassy! What was that?” James sounds scared.
I made contact with him a while ago – not that we know where we are in relation to each other. From the delay, he must be further from the site than me.
“A Wubdern collapsing the habitat by landing on it.”
“How do you know?”
It’s also the best likely cause on this eerily quiet world. For months, we thought the silence was due to the nature of the environment. A silly assumption. There’s a more obvious answer: something dangerous is always listening.
Chas Wubdern was collecting samples using a hammer and chisel. The percussive noise attracted the thing that killed him. In his memory, we named them Wudberns. They look like a Pteranodon crossed with a Komodo Dragon with claws on wing joints, wing tips, and feet. We measured their bite strength at over 75kN.
Making the best of the loss, we set out to document Wudberns. To do that properly, we reasoned, we needed more than one example. Taking a cue from shark fishing, we ‘chummed’ the area using loud music, a breathtakingly stupid decision. Suddenly, we had half a dozen territorial predators prowling about and fighting. The battle between the biggest one and its closest rival crushed our engine module. The noise that made caused them to pound it even flatter during a scavenging frenzy.
With engineering gone, it became a race. Could the supply ship reach us before the habitat failed?
We hadn’t allowed for the Wudbern being curious creatures with rudimentary tool use, just like the Ratel. We were the ‘sweeties in the puzzle box’, as Rosie put it. It didn’t take them long to figure out that tools were only needed to pick over the wreckage: the habitat modules are quite flimsy if you land a 500-kilo predator on them hard and often.
I’ve been out here for two days. Switched every possible thing toward keeping me alive, vision system included. James is worse off: one leg broken. Then again, crawling away probably saved him. The Wudberns didn’t hear. That’s certainly what saved me. Donald ran off. While they chased and tore him apart, I tip-toed out into the wilds.
I haven’t told James that the ship’s been kept from orbit by the weapons platforms. Someone forgot to arrange clearance. Obtaining permission will take two days longer than my life support can last.
Unless I can find James and…
Something large lands in front of me. Something heavier falls nearby. Vision on!
There’s a boulder at my feet and James is sprawled in an untidy heap by a rocky outcrop. Good effort, especially with that injury. I hope he’s dead. If not, I have a pipe wrench. James missed. I won’t.