Ava listened on general comm as Sanjay and Olivia chatted about their discovery of the abandoned supply ship, but then she lost interest. She stood silently behind Jane and Frederick as they watched the camera feed from the astronauts, and her mind drifted back to the markings on the walls of the cave just outside. She wanted desperately to go back to the cave and have another look as if staring at the odd symbols would help her translate them.
After Sanjay and Olivia confirmed that the mysterious ship wasn’t even from the WSA and had been abandoned, Ava begged out of the control room, but neither Jane nor Frederick noticed. They were too busy trying to unravel the mystery that both intrigued and worried them. They didn’t acknowledge her excuse to leave the room.
While they debated what happened to the crew on board the ship, Ava slipped out one of the side doors to the base and beat a straight path to the mouth of the cave. She only paused momentarily when she noticed a cloud building in the distance. She’d only be on the planet for a couple of days, but she knew that another sandstorm was coming. Her stomach clenched, but she kept moving forward. She momentarily glanced at their own abandoned ship and the single cable that held it in place.
Ava ducked into the small opening and slid down the path to the room with the symbols. She ducked again and stepped into the room, which felt cavernous after wriggling through the narrow path at the entrance. She flicked on her suit light and angled the light around the room slowly, hoping to see something that she had failed to notice in her previous visits.
The cacophony on the general comm became too much. Olivia was yelling at Sanjay and a persistent howl filled the background. Ava barely registered that the sandstorm had reached them before she flipped off the sound. The stark silence pervaded her space and she settled into a studious trance. She traced her hand along the wall following her light as it struck each column of symbols. Nothing came to her. She had studied ancient languages in school and was familiar with many of them, but this looked like nothing she had ever seen, which was both frustrating and intriguing.
Her gloved hand scraped over the edge of the rock wall and caught what felt like an edge of some sort. She stopped and traced her fingers along the vertical line that was as tall as a door. She tugged on it, but it refused to budge. She stepped back and pulled with both hands wedging her feet into the rocky sand for leverage. Slowly, the rock wall parted along the edge opening like a real door in some mystical rocky house. Nothing but ink black darkness stared back at her. She swallowed hard.
At first, she shined her light into the new opening hoping for some insight into what lay before her, but the dark room swallowed her light and revealed nothing of itself. Her gut ached from the uncertainty of the unknown, but she did what she had always done; she stepped forward fearlessly.
Her suit light seemed powerless against the darkness. She only managed to project an orb of light around her immediate area. The room looked like it was shrouded in heavy black curtains. Her heart raced as she stepped deeper into the room. Suddenly, she feared that the door would slam shut and that she’d be stuck in the horrible darkness. She stopped and took one step back before she regained her composure. She became aware of her short, stunted breaths. She trembled as if her next step would be her last.
She backed up to the door and put her hand on the wall next to it. She aimed her light at the wall and only dusty, pale red rock stared back at her. She kept her hand on the wall as she traced her steps around the dark room. Her meek light did nothing for the room as a whole, so she aimed it at the wall beside her. At first, there were no markings to be seen, just plain rock, but after a few steps along the edge of the wall, more markings appeared.
The new markings weren’t symbols at all. They were drawings, pictures depicting something that she couldn’t quite grasp. The darkness conspired against her. She couldn’t see the whole of the drawings because the blackness swallowed her light as soon as she moved it to another position. She tried to step back and shine her light on the wall to no avail.
“Damn it,” she said to herself, exasperated by the futility of trying to see the entire wall. Finally, she gave up and continued moving along the edge of the room away from the entrance. She followed the wall for a while noting the various drawings as she moved forward. The new room was large, for it took her a while to reach a perceived corner. She turned and continued along the far wall, and after a bit of time, she turned again.
Before she made another turn and headed back to the entrance, the drawings stopped. The blank dusty rock returned to her view. By her estimation about three-fourths of the space in the room was covered in drawings. She wanted to see the whole of the message, but she needed a brighter light or a few lights to brighten the room.
She stepped out of the door being careful to leave it open. The room she had left seemed impossibly brighter, but she reasoned that the darkness of the new room had made her eyes very sensitive to even the faintest light. She climbed into the narrow passage way and crawled back to the mouth of the cave.
Before she poked her head out into the mouth of the cave, she could hear the howling wind without the aid of general comm. Bits of sand and rock whipped down the small opening and pelted her suit. She pushed forward and stepped out into the cave. Blowing sand engulfed the entire shelter. The racket of the sand beat against her suit, but she was far enough in the cave to avoid the most serious assault of the storm. She sat down at the far inside wall to wait it out.
Her insolence angered the wind and it flailed relentlessly against the mouth of the cave. The fading day had withered further under the weight of the sand. She shined her light toward the opening but the sand bounced it back to her. A faint shriek and whining reverberated just outside the cave. It rose and buckled as the wind whipped. Finally, an unnerving scraping of metal against rock started and stopped before it vibrated the ground around her. A pinging slapped against the metal and the scraping sound hailed down upon her until it stopped just as suddenly as it had started.
In the confusion of the blowing sand, she didn’t know what she was hearing, but then, she realized that the final cable holding their ship had snapped and that the wind had pushed the hapless vehicle over the edge of the cliff. Her heart thumped in her throat as she strained to see through the sand to the space where the ship had been, but the grainy, slithering skin of the storm obscured her view.
She flicked on general comm, but static filled her speaker. She ignored it and said, “Captain! Can you hear me?”
Static responded to her. She thought she heard someone screaming, but she dismissed it as more static. She didn’t bother trying again. She turned the comm system off to end the pain of the noise in her ears. The blowing sand crawled over her like bugs running for cover. She felt her way along the back wall toward the small opening and stepped into it. Only a smattering of blown sand filtered into the passage way. She sat down against the wall straining to see in the fading light but relieved to be away from the angry storm. Her breathing heaved under the weight of her suit as she slowly calmed down. She leaned her head back against the rock. Something in her mind clicked.