(Download the audio version of this story here, or click the play button below. Read by David Binks. Story illustration by Steve Santiago.)[audio https://lovecraftzine.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/extraction.mp3]
Through vast stellar space the Extraction Company crew travelled beyond their people’s safe cosmic horizon, the centre and spiral arms of galaxies wheeling and spinning past them. Unfathomable energies propelled the fleet forward and in normal spacetime they were nothing but an aggregate of co-ordinates and numbers, seen only in the minds of their cosmic theorists and scientists back home. This was because at this moment they were nothing but phantom voyagers, as close as they’ll ever come to being like the Immaterials.
Soon, one-by-one, the massive convoy of ships would leave the interdimensionality of hyperspace, and burst into real time and solidity and slower time speeds, capped by the near speed of light, and then their work would begin.
We’re coming, the Captain thought, get ready!
Beside him sat his Lieutenant Captain, a thin, lanky grey humanoid, with skin like the dangling wrappings of a mummy, and a head like a five pointed star. When they’d first been introduced Captain Sal Greta had thought he was an alien, until the creature told him he was from Earth. His phenotype, when they weren’t traversing outerspace, the Captain learnt, loved basting under a hot sun on Earth’s seas. The Captain himself had only ancestral connections to Earth, and so it was forgivable for him not to know this little detail. The Captain was born and raised on Earth 142.
“Nearing time to jump hyperspace,” the Lieutenant Captain said.
“Have all attack ships ready.”
Breaking into normal spacetime the fleet found itself alone, with only three moons for companions.
“Just as the Generals predicted, sir. Not a ship in sight. Should we command the fighter ships in.”
“Do so. Also, Brik, order for immediate construction operations to begin.”
Looking out the command window, Sal Greta saw infinite space stretch out before him. He also saw tiny pin-points of stars, a far distant sun, and then the real gem of these quadrants –A104X
He couldn’t actually see it, though he knew it was there, by observing the three moons which rotated around an empty spot. An empty spot which was planet A104X.
A planet invisible to sight and trapped, embedded, hidden in folds of space.
Sal Greta smiled as he remembered when his superiors had asked him if he was up to the challenge of going fishing for a world. He was and was now about to build the massive fishing rod that would pull the thing out.
The planets, the negative solids, the Immaterials, like this orb, were the diamonds of his people. With it they lived, died and maintained the survival of their civilization. The ship Sal Greta commanded was itself powered by an Immaterial. Its cosmic energies harnessed by the Dyson sphere or shell built around the negative planet. The shell was Sal Greta’s ship, named Earth 142.
“Should we go to the briefing now, sir?” asked Brik.
“No, you go on alone. I leave you in charge. I’m going to sleep. Wake me when the Construct’s finished.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Wake me when its time for extraction. What could possibly go wrong now?”
When he awoke Sal Greta felt a cold sucker on his face. Grabbing at it he realized the top was a hand. He inferred the sucker was a palm, and began to panic. He knocked the hand away as he sat up quickly on his stasis unit.
“It’s just me,” he heard Brik say. His second-in-command then turned away from him and walked towards a holographic unit, on which were projections of starfish.
“Why were you touching my face?” the Captain asked, as he became acutely aware of the darkness of his quarters and the strange silence that permeated it. “I take it its time for extraction?”
“No,” Brik answered, while looking intently at the projections, “that began some time ago. I’m afraid you’ve been asleep for quite some time, Captain.”
Puzzled, Sal Greta slowly moved one of his hands towards his side-weapon. Brik paid no attention to him but merely kept studying the starfish. Had thousands of years ago Brik’s ancestors been only starfish, Sal Greta tried to remember?
“Why wasn’t I woken up when extraction began?” he asked sternly. He then slowly sat up on his stasis unit and quietly removed his weapon.
“Interesting specimens,” Brik said, “but mother must know all about it.” He then looked at the Captain and smiling, rushed headlong towards the wall closest to him, and stretching out his six arms, curiously began to melt into the wall. Brik’s species could not do this. Alarmed and sure his Lieutenant Captain was about to completely disappear into the wall, Sal Greta opened fire, but this didn’t stop Brik.
“If you wish to see where the rest of your people are, come and follow me down towards the planet, Captain,” Sal Greta heard Brik say. Instantly, he realized the voice was impossibly coming from outside.
He rushed towards his quarter’s windows in time to see the thing that had once been his second-in-command and his friend, falling eerily towards the half-extracted planet below, like a bed sheet blowing in the wind.
Outside, with his exo-skeleton suit on, Sal Greta held on firmly to one of the millions of steel girders that ran along the length of the Construct. He was alone in the immense emptiness of space. Atop, high up, he could see his greatly diminished home, its ribs only, since most of its material had been removed to supply the body for the Construct. His people had been doing this for aeons, as had all the other 579 Dyson sphere worlds of the Extraction Company. It was this way of living which separated them from almost all the other alien and terre civilizations and also Earth’s great empire itself. They were a civilization of hunter-gatherers, and the beasts they hunted throughout the cosmos were the Immaterials.
Sal Greta blasted off the Construct intermittently, flying a few feet before landing and holding onto the girders. He slowly made his way along the Construct, which at this moment was, with inconceivable energies, extracting the black planet below him from its hiding hole in space. The Construct surrounded the planet like a great ring. As he advanced he felt like a tiny mite on a cosmic merry-go-round.
Cautiously he made his way to one of the few shaft elevators that stretched all the way down to about 20% of the distance to the Immaterial and which culminated in an observatory. From it he would blast down to the planet, thereby conserving fuel.
When first he’d left his quarters Sal Greta had run to the Dyson sphere’s main command bridge and had checked to see if he was in fact the only person left on his world. The computer told him what he feared and suspected –that this was indeed the case. He also learned that the ship-world was on low power and that most of its energy was concentrated on running the Construct.
Remembering what Brik had said to him he’d run a thorough diagnostic on the emerging planet below and had seen that Brik had not lied to him when he’d told him where his people were. Yet, why were they there and how were they alive? Never before had he encountered an Immaterial capable of harboring life, especially during the planet-wracking process of extraction, which threw out the equivalent energy of a flaring sun. At first he didn’t believe, but all systems said the life-forms were there –millions of them.
While he was checking and rechecking the readings the monitors had come on and he’d seen the barely discernable image of his world’s Supreme Commander, Oseia.
“Captain Sal Greta, is that you?”
After some hesitation he’d answered in the affirmative.
“Good. There’s much interference and I haven’t the time to explain completely. Come down immediately. Once we’d finished the Construct we all came down. Somehow, you were overlooked. I can’t explain everything now, but don’t worry, soon, everything will be made known to you. Come quickly. There’s a paradise here, Captain. You can’t imagine it. Come down. That’s an order.”
When her image had faded he’d run codes on the main computer and had been heartened to discover that someone had sent a distress bot into hyperspace and to the Generals. Eventually an emergency fleet from the 579 worlds of the Extraction Company would arrive.
However, it could take from a few months to up to two years for the fleet to arrive. Despite the message most definitely being a trap he needed to know if his people were safe now. And if they needed help, he needed to offer it now. Suicide mission or not, he would go to the planet below and reconnaissance the situation. It was his duty as the main officer in charge of this extraction.
And so he’d suited up with his most durable and toughest exo-skeleton, since all ships aboard Earth 142 had been gone, and had blasted down, even if it was to a trap.
For Sal Greta looking at the process of extraction never got old. He stood on the open cargo platform of the lowest rung of the observatory. He could hear only a low rumbling that vanished away into silence. Between open space, machinery, the process, the stars and infinity, he had never felt so alone.
He knew it wasn’t only the shade of his viewing screen, nor the toughness of his exo-skeleton suit, made to withstand from a distance the extreme buffetings and poundings, heat and energy of extraction, but something else, something in this slice of space, something willful perhaps, or perhaps some law of physics, some as yet undiscovered power, that kept him safe.
He could see the beauty of the harnessed power and miracle below him. He could see the ring of the Construct as it vanished in a circle, fading in the distance, and below him, on one side, a black planet emerging; on the other, empty black space.
It was a planet being pulled from extreme curvatures of space, from where it’s nearly inconceivable density, pent up energy and weight, and the laws of nature, had embedded it so deeply into reality, that reality had curved over it, like a black marble pushed hard into a soft pillow, becoming hidden from view. This was the working hypothesis of his people’s scientists.
Sal Greta fixed on his view screen where the millions of his people were located, then setting his thrusters in the proper direction, powered up and blasted off the open observatory towards the Immaterial.
Oseia had said the planet was a paradise, but as yet he could detect nothing of a paradisal nature on it. It was black just like any other Immaterial, except once past a certain limit, all signs of extraction disappeared. It just looked like dead rock.
His sensors picked up the distress signal from the fighter ship of his Chief Tactical Officer. He recalibrated trajectory and headed in her direction.
His propulsion blasters were powering down, his sensors were reading no massive energies or heat, incredible this close to extraction, when he heard it.
As he neared the planet he heard a slowly rising crescendo of noise that slowly turned into one great concerted wail, like the death of a species, the death of a world, a scream of madness.
Simultaneously with it he shut down his auditory mechs to stop the noise from pummeling his ear drums and switched his helmet screen to comp view to swathe the planet below him. In less than seconds, in an over-all view, he saw great patches of lighted dots, of groups and swarms of people, disappearing, until in mere seconds all lights went dead.
“Shit! Shit! Fuck!” he yelled.
He landed softly on flat rock and saw all before him acres of exo-skeleton suits, derelict ships and empty clothing, lying motionless, like one vast boneyard of detritus.
The planet was dark, the only lights coming from the stars and the faint sight of extraction in the sky above, coruscating like a high up aurora borealis. The Construct was barely noticeable here from this distance, though an alien moon in the sky, separate from the sectors original three, pronounced itself as Earth 142. His Chief Tactical Officer’s ship was nearby, still sending its distress signal.
Numb now and emotionless, he sat down and rested.
Suddenly his automatic auditory warning system came on alert. His bio-detector told him there was another life-form near him, by the fighter ship. Sal Greta looked in that direction and saw one of the exo-skeleton suits trying to get up. He knew who’s it was.
“Lorna! Lorna!” he yelled, as he tried to shake the sunken form into life.
He could clearly see through his Chief Tactical Officer’s view glass and what he saw upset him greatly. She possessed the face of a thing that seemed to have melted and had then recombined again, though not completely in the same way it had formerly been or should be. There was now no trace of her former beauty. Pangs of long gone memories and of lost love began to surface in his being. Love and anger were at war in his chest, though there was more of pity in it. Now was not the time for such feelings, he thought. There was no place for humanity here. Not at this time, nor in this place.
“Captain,” she barely whispered while in pain, through voice chords that now were not hers.
“Sal, we were deceived. You were asleep for so long. So much happened.” She tugged at him desperately, with what, he could not bring himself to imagine, beneath her armor.
“Just lie there, officer. Do the med mechs aboard the ship work?”
“Don’t. Listen. Why do you think in times past the Immaterials were never noticed? Because they weren’t there. They were placed there recently, as cosmic time goes.”
“What? By whom?” he asked franticly, but she could no longer answer him. Her face, perhaps her whole body, he couldn’t tell, broke down into something like porridge and then set itself again, but this time into something less human. She couldn’t speak, her rudimentary mouth barely allowed her to breathe. There were no more eyes on her.
She stopped struggling.
Sal Greta got up and pointing his arm weapon at her view glass, fired.
“Good night my sweet princess, may flights of angels sing you to your rest.”
Something behind him began to seep towards him. Something old and yet young. A thick liquid like black mire that undulated under the stars as it came. Like cold lava it stopped behind him and then and there began to grow and expand into a living entity, as cellulose skin covered it. Spirals became etched on it, its tissue coarsened and became prickly, it turned grey and then the head and flat piscine face of Brik appeared.
As Sal Greta looked at the dead waste before him, Brik said, “Beautiful isn’t it.”
Sal Greta did not bother turning around. Did not even show surprise, but merely whispered, “Why?”
“When minds are the same they share the same points of reference, the same biology and mental make-up. In a story told by someone with the same mind as you, you understand what suspense, fear, darkness, love are, because your minds are the same. But what if your minds weren’t the same? What if your minds didn’t share any points in common. The words would be merely gibberish. The story –incomprehensible. Our story is incomprehensible to you.”
The surface rock below Sal Greta’s feet now became as slush and all around him in the blackness of the planet the exo-skeleton suits began to move and the discarded clothing began to fill up with bodies. The mire was reconstituting itself into his people.
“Come, sisters!” Brick yelled.
He looked down and saw Lorna breathing again.
He could sense the black liquid trying to blend in and pass through his armor.
The planet began to shake.
“What is happening?” Sal Greta asked, angered.
“Mother is finally fully awakening and we, her children, rejoice in it. Across your universe her sisters are also awakening. Look up!”
He looked up and saw his home suddenly and violently explode, sending fiery debris and a white light hurtling through space. What was left, like the after-birth of a cracked egg, was a planet-sized, white, spider-thing, suspended and twitching in space.
“It’s now time for final extraction,” Brick said.
The Captain jumped quickly to one side as one of Brik’s six arms tried to violently grab him. He turned and fired a lethal blast at his former Lieutenant Captain. The creature fell back and disintegrated in fire and smoke. Luckily he had saved enough energy for one massive blast.
He then dashed towards the ship’s doors. They opened, recognizing the identity of the Captain. Yet as he tried to step in, two hands held on to his shoulders. They pulled him back. He fell and the attacker fell on top of him. The assailant didn’t have an exo-skeleton suit on so Sal Greta could see the man’s face. It was a soulless, dead face, with large, black as night, eyes. Except for the mask-like resemblance, there was nothing human about it.
Using all his strength Sal Greta managed to shove the shape off himself. Then quickly getting up he kicked the man hard on the side of the head. The man went limp.
Once inside the ship he quickly removed the exo-skeleton suit with the mire seeping into it and threw it outside.
He rapidly closed the doors and began to panic when he felt the ship tilt and begin to sink into the planet.
He threw himself at the controls and firing the thrusters, lifted the ship off the muck. Great lumps of ooze fell from the ship as it sliced into the sky.
On monitors he could read the life signals of his people again. He heard from the comm a recognizable voice.
“Sal,” Lorna said. “Sal, come back. You don’t understand.” After a few seconds of silence she continued, “We had many great adventures together across the galaxies, didn’t we? I love you.”
He turned off the comm.
He maneuvered close to the twitching monstrosity in the gulfs of space.
As he powered up the fighter ship’s attack weaponry his concentration was forcefully jerked to one side, to the Immaterial instead. He gasped as the black planet horrifyingly came to full life and began to constrict and then try to wiggle its way out of the space it was embedded in. Spacetime dilated violently as the planet, like an insect trying to free itself out of a cocoon, thrashed in two different dimensions of reality. It tried to heave itself out.
Unexpectedly many tentacular appendages popped out of the embedded space. Their moon-sized widths whip-lashing brutally into his dimension. Their sudden action sending energy like a disturbance, like a cosmic tidal wave, rippling destructively out in all directions.
Just as this pulse of energy crashed into Sal Greta’s ship and sent it reeling uncontrollably he’d fired his weaponry and missed the spider-thing. Then his ship went dead, drained of all energy except for that running his life-support systems. This was impossible. He’d had enough power to last at least 52 days. Now he was dead in space, without the ability of motion, and at the mercy of those inscrutable things.
Helplessly he watched as a wormhole opened near his vicinity and the planet, now a strange black tentacular beast, with many eyes and mouths, flew squid-like into hyperspace, followed by its millions of children.
The devil-kin, resembling smaller versions of their parent, filled the hell spaces around him.
He saw as Lorna flew past his ship’s window, and looking unemotionally at him with her black eyes, dived like a sea-thing into the void.
Defeated, he lowered, then raised his eyes, only to see Brik staring back at him from the other side of the window, smiling.
“Mother and her fellow centillions and more of sisters have now awakened throughout the universe,” Brik said, his voice breaching the hull of the fighter ship. “Grandmother is now headed to the galactic centre of your terre civilization. It will be one of many stops. Her visits will reform all life-forms, even those unknown to you and those greater than you, throughout the cosmos. Don’t think that any help will come. The 579 Dyson sphere worlds are no more.”
Brik left, and Sal Greta saw as the last of his people disappeared into the wormhole, like schools of fishes.
As it closed he felt the impression of something grand, malign and galaxies-wide, pass and brush by him, from that other dimension of hyperspace.
That must be the grandmother, he thought.
Days later, with the fighter ship’s life-support systems nearly depleted, Sal Greta had resigned himself to his and his human civilizations possible destruction. If they were to be destroyed, so be it. They’d had their time and that brief time, however short, was better than nothing. They’d lived and breathed, and even if the universe should forget them, it couldn’t erase that fact. What had it all meant? That humankind had existed –that’s all the meaning he needed it to have.
Curiously he watched as the former Immaterial planet which had once powered his home Dyson sphere began to tilt so that he could finally get a good view of the creature’s underside.
Once, years before, when he, Lorna and Brik, had been young, they’d travelled to a small watery planet on a diplomatic mission. This was after the first missions of their salad days and before their involvement and decorated heroics in the Yzqill Wars.
On this planet, young cadets who’d wished to rise to the next tier of their careers had to go out on ships and hunt on vast seas a monstrous, carnivorous whale-like creature called a Jirmak.
The elders of the planet had decided that if the three interlopers wanted to be listened to, they too would have to hunt a Jirmak and prove themselves.
For 73 days the three of them had hunted through wild seas the thing.
Then, on the last day, while sinking into the ocean after their ship had capsized, Sal Greta had caught a glimpse of the belly of the great fish. As it turned to face him he’d seen rows upon rows of terribly sharp teeth, as much as perhaps thirty or more, within its huge mouth. Beasts as large as plesiosaurs and megalodons were staked upon them. Parts of bitten off lands and buildings were in that mouth. The mouth was ripped and raw.
The moon-sized mouth he now saw rapidly and voraciously coming towards him was more terrible than that sight.
Yet now, as then, bravely he stood.
Julio Toro San Martin was born in Santiago, Chile, but resides and grew up in Toronto, Canada, and has had short stories published online in Innsmouth Magazine and The Lovecraft Ezine, and also in the print anthologies Historical Lovecraft and Future Lovecraft. He will have an upcoming story published in The Fungi Anthology.
If you enjoyed this story, let Julio know by commenting — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.
Story illustration by Steve Santiago.
Thanks Steve and Steve. It’s a great illustration!
Great story! I too was thinking about more on the Jirmak.
It was a pleasure to provide the illustration for your story Julio.
I, too, liked the ending and the reference to the Jirmak- an awesome monstrosity that certainly deserves a reprise! Some deliciously ghoulish scenes. Loved Brik. Nicely told Julio. Look forward to more!
I root for the Maple Leafs sometimes. lol True. I agree. Possibly Capt. Sal Greta and his hunt for the Jirmak might make it into a Lovecraftian story frame someday, but as to his eventual fate and humankinds, I’m afraid that might remain forever unknown. The reader finishes the story in his or her own mind.
Julio, another winner of a story. Do you root for the Maple Leafs?
We need a fleshing out of this tale “On this planet, young cadets who’d wished to rise to the next tier of their careers had to go out on ships and hunt on vast seas a monstrous, carnivorous whale-like creature called a Jirmak.”
It would also be nice if we humans can make a miraculous comeback.