So, the Alien Artifacts SF anthology was released a few days ago! It includes my story “The Nightside”, and you can read an excerpt from it below. But beware – if cold, dark, unforgiving places which can kill you in a thousand ways give you the goosebumps, consider crawling under the blanket with a cup of hot tea before you read further. Your considerate author.
In some other reality, seeming so unreal and faraway now, Christmas time was approaching. It was snowing here.
Linus checked the updated weather feed. The snowfall had thickened recently due to the increased activity on the dayside. Here, hundreds of kilometers safely behind the terminator, the tiny flakes of condensed iron and titanium were drifting slowly to the ground. Barely a micron across, the metallic snow was invisible to human eyes. However, after millions of years of continuous fall, a fortune in purified ore had accumulated in these regions.
“All good here,” reported Linus and closed the hatch of the tiny control room. “Moving to the last one.”
The nuclear-powered furnaces stood tall and wide in the perpetual night, spawning one block of iron or titanium after another. A few also processed other metals: aluminum, chromium, nickel… Tireless trains transported the raw ores here from the mining sites.
Linus couldn’t wait for his stroll outside to be over. Visual inspections of the machinery were largely outdated but they were still a mandatory part of the process for what if and human resourcefulness reasons.
“Going back,” he announced and set off for the maintenance rail.
“Trying to break the inspection speed record again?” answered a playful voice.
Linus frowned. Miranda always teased him when it was his turn to go outside. She seemed to enjoy the landscape; he did not.
He would never admit it but it struck some chords buried deep in the human mind, the fear of dark and cold, and the chords in his brain seemed to be particularly well-developed. Not a good trait for someone stationed to remain at this place for a whole year. But it could have been worse, he reminded himself. Actually much, much worse. He should be grateful for this.
But he felt most grateful when the train released him next to the airlock. He couldn’t wait to get out of the suit and spend as long as the scheduled water supply allowed in the shower.
When the cabin was pressurized, Miranda appeared and helped him out of the suit. “Everything okay?”
“Yes. Everything in perfect working order.” We’re useless here, he added for himself.
“Great. Though from you, it sounds like a funeral speech,” Miranda remarked.
Linus left that without reply. He felt streams of sweat running down his whole body. The thought of a shower sustained him.
It was getting worse every time. He would have thought he’d get used to it—but the more time he spent on the planet’s surface, the more shaken each visit left him.
Five more months, he reminded himself. Then it’s over.
He staggered out of the cabin and headed straight into the tiny bathroom.
“You’re welcome,” Miranda called after him, still putting the suit’s components back in place.
“Sorry,” he mumbled though she couldn’t possibly hear that.
Just five more months. You can hold it.
He turned on the water and closed his eyes.
Linus skimmed through the data. A chill went through his veins. No, he stopped himself, it’s inconclusive. On the verge of the probe’s sensor range. All kinds of weird effects happen to electronics here, especially by the terminator with all the metallic snow and radiation.
“We’ve gotta confirm it,” Miranda whispered.
“Agreed. Let’s send a drone.”
“No. We won’t get anything useful. Hell, our machines have a hard time just mining there and coming back. The probe’s got about the best sensors here and you see the results.”
“You’re not going to propose…”
“It’s the only logical solution, Lin.”
Linus felt his insides shrink. He knew where this was going. I’m a software engineer, Lin. You’re the scientist. I can back you up from here.
“No,” he said, hardly audible.
“Come on, Lin. You’ll just take a rover and then a really short stroll. It’s no more dangerous than walking on Earth’s Moon.”
It is. The gravity is higher here, help is further away, we’ll lose connection before I get there…
But she was right on one thing. One of them needed to go. He just had the bad luck of being more qualified.
Three hours later, Linus found himself driving to the terminator. So far, the rover more or less drove itself and he just sat there, looking out nervously. He was on the verge of panic.