Friday, January 31, 2020

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 142

Just a reminder: It’s okay to leave comments!

This story is for Miranda Kate's weekly flash challenge. This is from Miranda's post:

This week's photo is of a sculpture by Rook Floro. He calls it 'Shadow.' If click on the link you will see a variety of angles it is taken at. 

Here's a link to the prompt image.

Please note that anyone can join in with a story up to 750 words. Mine has 699 words for those who are counting (not including the title and byline).

The Shadows of Vagus

    by K. R. Smith

    The planet is officially known as HD 254618 c, but as best we could tell, the primitive beings who live here call it Vagus. It was chosen to be the most distant outpost humans had ever attempted. Because of that, we would need to be self-sufficient for decades.

    As planets go, it was quite hospitable. The few native inhabitants were peaceful, even timid, and as accepting of our presence as could be hoped, even offering to help build our shelters. It was not always easy to communicate with the Vagusians, as we called them for wont of a better name. They had a limited vocabulary, relying on hand signals much of the time. Still, they were patient, and we all seemed to manage things together somehow to the benefit of both.

    While life wasn't the easiest on Vagus, it wasn't terrible, either. The days, filled with the routine tasks of farming, setting up the base for future arrivals, and making sure the shelters were clean and repaired had become routine — even dull, to be honest. Until the comet appeared, that is.

    The first thing we noticed was the Vagusians mostly stood around to watch the comet once it became visible. That slowed our progress considerably. When we attempted to inquire about their fascination with the comet, they would point to the sky, the ground, and then the dark hills in the distance. It didn't make any sense to us.

    As the comet grew nearer, they became anxious and wouldn't come out of their huts when it was visible. We tried to explain that the comet wouldn't hit their planet, but that seemed beyond their comprehension. Must be a superstitious lot, we figured. Any of their children, who seemed to be as excited as we were about this otherworldly event, were given a harsh scolding if caught outside. Well, that's what it sounded like to us. The Vagusians had never exhibited that sort of behavior before. Eventually, they didn't come out at all.

    On the night the comet passed, many from our colony stood on a small rise to enjoy the display. I had duties inside and was more than a little perturbed to miss what might be the chance of a lifetime. During our break, the few of us pulling shifts decided to check the external cameras. Even a little peek at the action was better than nothing.

    A few hundred meters away, we could see our crewmembers looking up at the comet. Then Sarah, who was watching on a bigger screen in the main section, said it looked like it was starting to snow. We were passing through the comet's tail, and talk came up that perhaps there was enough water coming down to cause this to happen. It was just a few flakes at first. Then it came down so fast we could barely see the crew.

    That's when the radio calls came in. It wasn't voices, just screams. Whatever was in the snow appeared to stick and burn. Perhaps dissolve would be a better word. A few wanted to put on hazard suits and try to rescue them. We weren't really sure if that would work. Before we could make a decision, the snow had stopped. So had the calls on the radio.

    When we finally ventured out, all that remained of those watching the comet were black, glassy ashes in the form of humans, looking like frozen shadows. The celestial snow was gone.

    When the Vagusians arrived, they began to carry our dead towards the hills. Not knowing what else to do, we followed. They seemed quite solemn, almost grieving, while they performed their task. As we approached the dark hills, we understood. Body upon glassy body of Vagusians, from who knows how long ago, were stacked high above the plains. Now many of us would join them.

    It took a while, but our small group slowly began to comprehend the Vagusian language as their mixture of words and gestures became clearer. They had tried to explain the cycle and how the comet had returned. And they hadn't been pointing at the ground; they had been pointing at their own shadows — the shadows of Vagus.

© 2019 K. R. Smith All rights reserved