2947-05-28 – Tales from the Inbox: The Siren Stone

Apologies for the late delivery; the system we have developed to ensure reliable delivery of Tales from the Inbox and other text feed items is online, but a few hours to propagate the data across the HyperCast network from multiple distant sources are required. In the future, Tales from the Inbox will continue to arrive a few hours later than its previous ingestion timestamp, but we are working to tighten that gap somewhat.

Today’s entry was sent in by none other than Nojus Brand, back in action after his run-in with a chitinous predator on the arid world of Barsamia a few months ago. Evidently he lost all the footage of his most recent brief, dangerous expedition to a solar flare – but he wanted to make sure to let everyone in both of our audiences know that he’s back with new dangers in mind.

Nojus paused to glance out the tiny, radiation-proof window in the side of his landing craft several times before he finished suiting up and checking the seals. The world outside was nothing like the tropical hothouses, frigid crags, and baked deserts he usually frequented on his little expeditions, and for once, he felt a little bit uneasy.

The uneasiness, he told himself, had nothing to do with the nearly fatal outcome of his most recent outing, or with the long shadows cast by the dead, corroded hulls of two much larger landing craft which he had chosen to set down beside. No, it was something else. The picturesque, untamed wildness that marked most of his destinations had become a familiar and even comforting factor in Nojus’s travels, and now that he had found an entirely new type of peril, the sense of danger lost long ago had made a creeping return. This time, he would have to tackle an environment without his Reed-Soares Personal Survival Utility.

“Warning.” The lander’s comm, still tuned to the frequency of the beacon installed beside the two dead landers, spoke in the recorded voice of a previous visitor to the system. “The surface of Golgotha A is a Class 2 hazardous environment. Do not land without proper precautions. Warning…”

Tromping over to the control panel, Nojus switched off the volume. The beacon would repeat five times, then go silent for ten more minutes, as it had been doing for at least fifty years. Most Class 2 hazards needed no beacons, of course; the hostility of such places was usually detectable from orbit. The first of three planets in the Golgotha star system, however, hid its horrors well; all that the first explorers had seen was a barren orb with a nitrogen atmosphere, crust studded with valuable mineral formations.

Later expeditions, seeing the hulks of abandoned landing-ships studding the surface near the most promising mineral fields, must have proceeded with greater caution. This caution had done them no good; for two whole centuries, nothing that landed on Golgotha A ever rose to orbit again.

The Elliway Expedition, first to return from a ground survey of the aptly named Place of the Skull, had survived thanks more to luck than to Captain Elliway’s incorrect theories about the fates of all who had come before. One of the junior researchers had stumbled on the vacsuited corpse of one of her predecessors and discovered that every electronic component - shielded or otherwise - in the dead explorer’s possession was hopelessly fried. After a bit of exploratory simulation, she had warned her compatriots, and Elliway had lifted off only hours after arriving.

Armed with the data brought back by Elliway’s crew, Nojus would not be the first to safely spend time exploring Golgotha A, but he suspected he was its first tourist. His equipment had all been modified to minimize risk, with the replacement of all ferrous and conductive parts with composite and ceramic. With luck, that would stave off the fate which had befallen many explorers before him.

Camera drones would of course carry the same risks as any other equipment, so when Nojus activated his cameras, they extended off the roof of his landing craft on a pair of long, articulated booms. Panning them in opposite directions, he recorded several seconds’ footage of the gray desolation and the corroded landers. Introductory voice-over work could wait until he was back in the relative safety of orbit.

“Day one on Golgotha A.” The suit microphone picked up the words as usual. “I’m about to open up and take a step outside.”

Taking a deep breath, Nojus stepped into the airlock. His suit-gloved hands were empty, and his right hand hung uselessly at his side, missing the presence of a survival multitool. It couldn’t be helped; Reed-Soares’s smart-metal construction used a large amount of iron, and just like the rest of his kit, all iron had been left in orbit. A few “dumb” composite tools housed in an external compartment would have to do on Golgotha A.

The magnificent desolation outside the lander was something Nojus suspected only the first humans to have landed on Earth’s moon would have found familiar. Grey, powder-fine dust covered the flat plain of the landing site, which stretched to the horizon in all directions except where craggy mineral formations rose into sheer bluffs. The thin atmosphere bore enough wind to scatter footprints, but the ruined remnants of partially-unpacked research equipment lay scattered around the wrecks of long-dead explorers’ landers. Most of the expeditions seemed to have wandered about the landing area for several hours before meeting their doom.

“Beautiful scenery.” Nojus remotely pointed one of the boom cameras at the nearest stand of mineral formations, so the viewers could see how the massive formation glittered and threw off tiny rainbows when the ruddy Golgotha sunlight struck it. “I recommend a visit.” This, he punctuated with a laugh; his viewers would know better. He hoped they would, anyway. Only he was crazy enough to go for a hike on such a perilous planet.

The laugh seemed hollow and empty, like the landers’ hulks in the foreground. “Right. Let’s go take a walk to that formation.”

Nojus took only a few steps before his boot turned over a fist-sized chunk of crystal underneath the dust. Stooping, he picked it up, fingers tingling in knowledge of what he was holding. The grayish crystal formations studding the planet were beautiful and would serve as an ore of several valuable metals, but like the sirens of legend, they enticed with one hand and slew with the other. The crystals had doomed every expedition to Golgotha A, manned or automated.

“See this?” Nojus held up the crystal for the boom camera he knew was following his progress. “If I were wearing a standard suit, I’d be dead right now.” He hurled the crystal off into the distance, away from the pieces of corroded equipment at the landing site. “But I’ve come prepared for this place. No iron in any of my equipment.”

The crystals were deadly because of their odd interaction with iron, of course. Baked by their red-dwarf primary’s eons of irradiating solar flares, the unique mineral had a high-energy crystalline lattice which, though quite stable, would break down quite violently with the right reactant.

Metallic iron was, of course, exactly the reactant the crystals desired. The electromagnetic emissions of this breakdown were violent enough to fry electronics of all kinds and stun the human nervous system, especially since the reaction ate away at the ferrous alloys of standard shielding. Even the tiny crystal chips blown by Golgotha A’s wind, blown against the side of a landing craft, were enough to wipe out an entire expedition, and this was likely the fate of the first explorers to set foot on the world.

“Nobody knows if there’s life on Golgotha A.” Nojus continued, for the benefit of the audience. “Soil testing has proved inconclusive. If there is, it’s probably underground.”

He turned then to stare at the camera. “And if there are predators here, I mean to find them.”