Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick
A three-month crawl from the warp gate at Oberon Null.
Most of its surface is a relentless waste of brittle rock scabbed loosely over a seething ocean of noxious gas.
Most, but not all.
There is a place, a single place, nestled deep within a mountainous scar that cuts across the planet’s equator. A place that shimmers green and kind, even from orbit. Here, there is soil, willing and fertile. Water too, pristine and cool, that gushes up from deep inside the crust. Every night, a gentle breeze faithfully seeps in to sooth away the heat gathered during the day.
Those who have made this paradise their home call their settlement Able’s Promise. From a million and more light-years they have come, shedding their old lives like a tree discards its leaves in fall. Each hoping this strange oasis will somehow breathe spring again into their weary souls.
Faithfully, it does.
But not without a price.
In from the fields runs a boy, his chest heaving, his eyes wrenched open in terror. He stumbles into the common area of Able’s Promise, everything within him spent, save enough air left in his lungs to scream a single word.
The chattering bustle of life lurches abruptly to silence. Women draw their children close. Men set their jaws and draw in a single, collective breath.
Behemoth. Gas giant. Hideous, overwhelming torment.
No words are spoken. With grim determination, they move to armored containers scattered throughout the settlement. With practiced severity, they remove the implements and machines necessary for the task ahead. They strap bulky, insectile masks over their faces. Then, they form a line and make their way to the fields.
Across the flowing waves of wheat and barley, they see it. First, the blossoming expanse of mottled flesh, stretched taut with hydrogen, holding it aloft, almost twelve meters in the air. Then, the globular head, studded with sixty or so ocular organs, black and wet. Underneath, a tangle of undulating tentacles drags along the ground.
“Hanging low,” mutters one of the old men, grimly. His words are muffled and lost inside his mask, but still, the men standing nearby shift nervously. They notice it too.
“Point five six four kilometers!” The voice squawks out over a series of loudspeakers, echoing throughout the settlement. Instinctively, they all look back and up to the central communications array, where a single man clings precariously to the top of the tallest spire. “Wind is three twenty-one degrees, northwest!”
Relief washes visibly over them. Only one still seems anxious and tense. He arrived only recently, on the last transport. This is his first encounter with a behemoth, but he’s heard stories. One of the more experienced veterans grabs him and pulls him close.
“That’s good!” he reassures the newcomer, shouting to be heard through his mask. “If the wind holds, the bastard will stay in the fields and drift clear of the settlement!”
The newcomer nods but remains uneasy. He pulls away and stares out at the approaching gas giant.
“Point four seven! Wind steady!”
Across the field, the behemoth pulsates. From underneath it, behind the mass of its tentacles, a meaty protrusion emerges, descending ominously towards the wheat and barley. The protrusion swells, shivers, and then from it explodes a gelatinous torrent of Stygian sludge, which cascades down into the field, exploding against the ground in a great, mushrooming flood.
“Shit,” says the newcomer.
The older veteran nods, grimly.
There is a price for paradise. Every soul in Abel’s Promise is willing to pay. Still, they all pray the wind holds.