Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The room is unadorned. No evidence of tooling; not even a scuff mark mars the bare rock. No dust, no insects. Nothing moves. This place is still. It’s uncanny. Unnerving for some.
Jeffrey Palist found it fascinating. He wiped himself down before stepping into the room with a deliberation that bordered on reverence. Taking the few steps across the downward-sloping rock surround, he walked out onto the yellow-striped grass until he stood at the centre of the room.
Fortunately, he left his drone camera on. The recording shows him turning around, clearly looking for something. He spread his hands, uttered the words “I can’t see you”, and dropped dead.
The rescue team didn’t even make it to his body. They each took three steps onto the grass and died. The second team were dressed in biohazard suits and found all organic materials on the first team had desiccated to the point of crumbling when touched.
Jeffrey’s body wasn’t desiccated. It looked like it was melting: slowly seeping into the pale earth. Any striped grass that protruded from the liquid mess was quivering.
A decision was made to leave everything in place until further research could occur. The second team were on their way back when they too dropped dead.
Six days later, beautiful flowers bloomed amidst the remains. Metallic purple, glacier blue, blood red, snow white. Petals arranged around pistils that resembled jade green compound eyes, with no visible stamens.
Five days after that, the petals drifted down and shattered. The compound ‘eyes’ were revealed to be shells, from which golden worms hatched. Those asymmetrical horrors opened rings of glossy black eyes and wriggled toward the exit. People were still panicking when Sarah Jackson noticed they were dying while ascending the rock surround. They shrivelled as they went, falling apart while struggling up the slope to escape. The pieces rolled back and sank into the pale earth.
Nineteen years later, Sarah stands next to me as we watch another batch of worms die.
“So the amount of material only affects the number of worms, not their size?”
“The worms are all the same length, give or take a millimetre or two. None of them are more than two centimetres wide. A hundred kilos of animate organics will create twenty. A hundred kilos of inanimate organics, four. Blooming and hatching periods never change. The grass never exceeds eight centimetres in height, and is shorter toward the edges of the container.”
“We’ve monitored this thing for nearly two decades. The room is precisely designed to keep it alive, but nearly dormant: dependant on prey wandering in. The rock surround emits radiation whenever living material comes into direct contact. The worms are killed by a gamma burst that never goes further than thirty millimetres from the rock.
“This whole edifice is largely impervious to penetrative scanning. What we’ve found is baffling: indications that the interior of the rock sometimes exhibits liquid properties. Scanning the grass reveals a hemisphere of living material, flat side about five centimetres below the surface. It’s nearly fills the container. All gaps between hemisphere and rock are filled with the same dirt the grass grows from.”
She turns to look at me, gesturing in the direction of the room.
“This place was designed to keep the hatchery alive, but to never allow the hatchlings out.”
“You’re trying to find out why whoever built this place didn’t just kill the thing, and you don’t believe any of the ‘religious cult’ or similar theories?”
“Welcome aboard. We could be at this for a very long time.”