The Ouranos Expedition:
Final Logs of the Russian Federation Deep Space Explorer
A short story by Chief Elliott Sidnam
These final logs of the ill fated Korolev are part of a larger novel, The Ouranos Expedition. They are written in a style that may be unusual to some readers. My suggestion is to read it as you were listening to an old radio play, sitting perhaps in the dark, with only the glow of your screen to protect you. As to the theme and nature of this particular horror in space, I am in debt to the Old Masters and have endeavored to bring modern their ancient traditions, free from the trappings that have so plagued mainstream science fiction for so long.
March 18th, 2108
Received Burst Transmission, UNSA Expedition Control, Earth
Ouranos, Echo-Charlie Vandenberg sending. Per US Naval Intelligence, this brief has been authorized for all expedition crew. All information contained within is Classified Compartmentalized. You are not to discuss it with anyone outside the crew of the United Nations Deep Space Explorer Ouranos.
Fourteen hours ago; the Russian heavy cruiser Konev arrived at the last known location of the Korolev. Radiation and debris confirm that the crew of the Korolev had activated their prototype Sustained Fusion Device, destroying themselves and the Near Mars Asteroid 2045.12.
The Konev has identified metallic remains in the debris field that do not match the hull of the Korolev. Samples are currently being retrieved for analysis.
This is where it gets interesting.
At 18:49 hours, 2/16/08, Mars, Luna, Earth, and Titan all recorded abnormal events at their planet-side LIGO facilities. These series of gravitational waves correlate with the exact time that Commander Gabor reported that the NMA was undergoing a powered course correction. The origin of these waves is currently unknown, but is our top priority.
The Konev has calculated that the trajectory change of NMA 2045.12 put it on direct course to Mars. In response, Russian and American naval forces are coordinating defensive operations in Martian space.
The Chinese ambassador to the UN officially protested these deployments, calling it “an attempt to reassert dominance on Chinese civilian settlements.” In response, the PLN has redeployed their Second Fleet from Mercury to Mars.
Will keep you advised of developments. Given the sensitivity of your mission, Expedition Control has rescinded Eyes Only Protocol of Korolev holographic interpretation to include all Ouranos crew.
This is Echo-Charlie Vandenberg, out.
February 16th, 2108
Ship’s Log, Commander Fyodor Gabor
Ship’s Log, Russian Federation Deep Space Explorer Sergei Korolev. February 16th, 2108. After a long and uneventful approach, we have successfully rendezvoused with our objective. Navigator Lavrov is to be commended on his flawless performance. NMA 2045.12 is an unremarkable rock, measuring just over a kilometer on its longest axis. It isn’t scheduled to intercept Martian orbit for at least another decade…the true purpose of this mission will be to test the Sustained Fusion Device. Regardless of the rock’s immanent demise, our resident scientist, Dr. Ilyin, is eager to start on the mandated twelve hour survey period. Communications Specialist Boyarskaya will assist him. I think the rest of us will get some much needed sleep. Go to bed, you kids. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.
If only the rest of the crew worked as hard as you two. Ship’s log supplemental. Dr. Ilyin has found something worthy of waking me in the middle of the night. It seems that “Gertrude”, as Boyarskaya has taken to calling this rock, is fairly porous. The two of them have located an entrance to a fairly large cave network and have requested permission to explore it. I would have preferred that they do this in the morning, but Ilyin feels that he can not waste any time. His survey has already turned up evidence of weathering, suggesting that Gertrude has at some point passed through the atmosphere of a moon or planet. I have approved their exploration request provided that they set up a communication relay at the cave entrance. I foresee little danger in this, Alexandr Ilyin has twenty five years of space under his belt. And Mariya needs the suit time. Thirty-four, wake me if their signal strength drops below fifty percent.
AI 34: “Confirmed, Commander.”
Ship’s Log, RFDSE Korolev. February 17th, 2108. Just after nine hours after setting down on NMA 2045.12, Doctor Alexandr Ilyin has made an incredible discovery. He has already sent an initial report to the Polaris Institute on Mars detailing the weathering and erosion patterns that were found last night. His findings are now being processed in an attempt to match it with known environments.
Following the construction of a comm relay, Ilyin and Boyarskaya continued their survey of the cave entrance. Evidence of liquid water was abundant, but of particular interest to our planetologist were a series of “distinct triangular striated prints” found around and inside the openings of several caves. These prints were symmetrical individually, but their placement appeared to be random. Dr. Ilyin initially thought that these prints were the remains of some simple organism, bacteria or perhaps algae. No organic residue was discovered, however.
Proceeding inside the cavern, the team encountered an environment that clearly had been at one point submerged. Ice covered the entire interior, which was filled with numerous formations that bore resemblance to stalactites and stalagmites. Again, Ilyin discovered the strange triangular prints. These, however were found to be placed radially around the cave formations. Still more were found at the furthest extent of that cavernous room seemingly in parallel tracks leading abruptly to the cave wall. It was at this location that Dr. Ilyin made his fantastic discovery. In his words:
Dr. Alexandr Ilyin: “Artifact seven-c is made of soapstone, measuring six inches long and one and a half inches thick. It is unlike any other formation in the local area, and was found partially buried next to a stalactite adjacent to the furthest wall. It is green in color and bears a curious smoothness and regularity. One end bears the resemblance of a five pointed star with all arms broken off. There is a small depression at the center of the unbroken surface. Unknown as to what type of weathering caused these features. Image magnification reveals several series of bumps in triangular patterns. If nothing else, this find will give reason to postpone the scheduled demolition of this asteroid until further studies can be conducted. We are returning to the Korolev now, to report to the Commander, and confer with my colleagues at Polaris. When we return in a few hours I intend to bring proper lighting and lab equipment. With some excavation equipment, we could breach that wall…”
The others are waiting for me, but I must make my log entries. When Dr. Ilyin returned he had the ship AI wake the crew and gather us in the maintenance bay. There, he presented his EVA logs and finally, his find. Sealed in a materials case, he allowed us to pass it around for close examination. While I had my reservations as to the biological nature of the artifacts, I agreed to radio to Cosmograd for an extension to our mission plan. Four hours later we reassembled in the bay, ready to provide Ilyin with the necessary support Payload Specialist Orlov assisted in constructing a laser bore that could be powered from the ship. He instructed EO Vassilovich in its operation. That brings us current. The four of us, Ilyin, Boyarskaya, Vassilovich, and myself are wearing type four exploration suits with extended support packs. Though the cavern was only a couple of hundred meters from the Korolev, I have no intention of being caught unprepared. We are also taking an inflatable pressure tent should our little expedition take longer than expected. Navigation Officer Sergei Lavrov and Payload specialist Mikhail Orlov will remain on board the Korolev. After our survey of the area is complete, I intend to continue with our original mission. Lavrov will assist Orlov with the construction of the SFD. The others are ready, all the equipment is loaded on the EV work sleds. They can wait a moment for me to send word of our discoveries to my wife on the Ouranos.
Later. Our team made the trek to the cavern entrance with no difficulty. We have established a temporary camp just inside the first room. With adequate lighting this place looks quite majestic…the ice sheen makes everything look radiant. Vassilovich swears that it reminds him of his church back home. We have made some progress. Laser imaging of the cavern has confirmed the pattern analysis of the triangular prints. With seven exceptions, all emanate from the barrel like rock formations found on both floor and ceiling. These formations indicate that this asteroid was part of some planet or moon with sufficient gravity for an atmosphere with liquid water. This supports Dr. Ilyin’s theory that the tracks are biological in origin.
12:45 hours. The team is taking a break. The last five hours have passed in a blur. After scanning the “cathedral” with the Laser Imager, Dr. Ilyin had us set up a terahertz frequency radar to get a better picture of the cavern system’s layout. We had to modify one of the Korolev’s navigation radars for this purpose, but Dr. Ilyin assures us that this device will be able to scan through fifty meters of solid rock. I think we all would rather know what is behind the wall, before we drill through it. Vassilovich says that the drill is ready to go.
13:38 hours. Strange readings from the terahertz radar. The scan revealed a large network of caves permeating the asteroid. Placement and shape of the rooms are inconsistent with known natural formations. Highly symmetrical. Rooms seem to connect radially in pentagonal patterns. There is a large blind spot at the center of the asteroid that the terahertz radar was unable to penetrate. The closest point of the occlusion is the barrier wall we are set to drill through. There is additional data, but the others are too eager to begin drilling.
15:03 hours. Important discovery. After drilling for over an hour, we have finally breached into the next chamber. The drill was slowed by some unknown mineral layer which both occluded radar and has high temperature resistance. Vassilovich had to cycle the laser in ten minute intervals to allow cooling. This room is unlike the first. No signs of weathering or exposure to elements. Triangular prints end at chamber wall. Floor and walls are all very smooth and appear to be crystalline. The room is five sided and is about twenty yards across. A central column connects floor to ceiling…covered with marks and scratches. Surrounding the column are five monstrous barrel shaped…Ilyin is calling them fossils. Unknown organisms measure two meters long by one meter wide. Both ends taper to a point measuring one third meter. Bulging ridges run equilateral lengthwise. Dr. Ilyin thinks that they resemble some species of marine radiata on Earth. Their tissue appears to be preserved by mineral salts abundant in the local environment. Vassilovich attempted to cut one finding the tissue very resistant but unexpectedly flexible. Further examination reveals curious broken stubs spaced in the middle of the ridges. These match what we are now calling the arm that was previously found. In the furrows between the ridges are spiny wing like appendages. Most of the specimens are damaged, but one one seems to be relatively intact. Dr. Ilyin has suggested that we take two fossils back to the ship. He has selected the intact one and one damaged one. His reasoning is that we will keep one intact sample while having one to examine in further detail. I cannot deny his logic.
15:47 hours. We have left Vassilovich and Boyarskaya behind to continue the exploration. Dr. Ilyin and I are having some difficulty moving the specimens back to the ship. Unusual radio interference encountered upon exiting the caves. Unable to contact the Korolev for assistance. The specimens are massive. Moving them on the sleds is slow even in this micro gravity. We both feel a tremendous sense of excitement over the magnitude of this discovery. But looking at these things…we must go on. We have to get them back to the ship for proper examination.
18:00 hours. I have forgotten to update the log. We now have the specimens aboard the Korolev. Orlov has secured them in the aft hold. We have taken every precaution against biological contamination. The hold is depressurized and kept close to zero degrees kelvin. Local EM interference continues. Unable to locate source. Ship radios able to compensate. Minor electrical fluctuations with on board systems. We have received word from Vassilovich and Boyarskaya that they have discovered numerous additional specimens. Use of terahertz radar revealed that rock formations in outer cave were calcified remains of barrel creatures. Ilyin suggests that triangular marks were made by them. Patten then suggests some form of mass migration to cave system, though why some stopped in the outer chamber to be destroyed while others proceeded inside and were preserved remains unknown.
18:12 hours. We lost main power for seven minutes. I have had enough. I have recalled the crew back to the ship. All equipment to be left behind. Lavrov, Orlov and I are attempting to shield the reactor from further instability. Dr. Ilyin is in the hold with the specimens attempting to dissect the damaged one. He is having difficulty penetrating the skin with a medical scalpel and is switching to the surgical laser. He must take great care not to cause unnecessary damage to the body. Even with the room in deep cold, the intact specimen is showing signs of thawing. Its limbs now float limply alongside the main body. The tube-like wings are starting to unfurl. With the importance of this discovery we cannot afford to make mistakes. We are broadcasting a feed to Earth on a secure channel…another fluctuation. As soon as Yuri and Mariya are aboard, I intend to lift off and place as many kilometers as I can between us and this rock.
18:32 hours. They are making it back in record time. No problems with the EVA. It is a shame to leave so much undiscovered, but it won’t be long until we return with a full expedition with better equipment. EM fluctuations have died down, the magnetic shield seems to be helping. Lavrov and I are running a final systems check before we go. Orlov is trying to get through to Cosmograd and Dr. Ilyin is securing the specimens. We have not heard a response from them since the anomalies started. I wonder if our transmission made it through. We should lift off in ten.
18:49 hours. Massive eruptions across entire asteroid. The orbital rotation has destabilized and torn the ship from its mooring. Minor damage to dorsal hull but no breaches. Unable to raise crew on the surface. I fear the worse. We have to get the ship stabilized and try to rescue Yuri and Mariya. Orlov is suiting up in the Service Hub now. I am on my way to check on Dr. Ilyin. He hasn’t been responding to comms.
It’s coming through! It’s coming through! Secure that hatch! Oh, gosh! How could we have known?
Payload Specialist Orlov: “Hatch secure. I think it will hold. Commander, we need to…”
Oh, gosh. Alena. It was right in front of us. It was dissecting Ilyin…18:55 hours. They aren’t dead. I should have realized something was wrong when Ilyin didn’t respond. When I opened the hatch, a wave of hot, humid air bellowed out. The smell was terrible. Some of the lights were damaged, but I was able to see Ilyin’s perfect specimen standing upright in the center of the room. It stood motionless, appendages stretched out, like a tree from some nightmarish prehistory. The other damaged body was dissected on the table, it’s yellow ichorous blood smeared over the examination table. Then I saw Dr. Ilyin…
Payload Specialist Orlov: “We have to do something, Commander. We have to find some way to kill it.”
He was tethered from the ceiling by one of the creatures tube-arms. It had cut him open from the front like…it was dissecting him!
Payload Specialist Orlov: “Commander!”
It must have been in some form of hibernation. Ilyin must have done something to awaken it…
Payload Specialist Orlov: “Comrade Gabor! This hatch will not hold forever. You need to act now and save your ship! We have to secure this hatch. If it gets in here…”
The hub connects to every part of the ship. Forgive me, Mikhail. I…we must do our duty. Just let me think a moment.
19:10 hours. We now have a plan. After taking a suit to Navigator Lavrov on the bridge, Specialist Orlov and I are prepared to fight the creature. Our plan is simple. With the Maintenance Bay hatch barricaded to the best of our ability, Orlov and myself intend to exit the ship via the primary airlock and then enter the bay through the cargo lock. We will then depressurize the bay. We hope that rapid decompression will kill or at least force it back into hibernation. If not, we will have access to the tools in the bay. Their flesh may be resistant to Dr. Ilyin’s scalpel, but I will test it against my plasma torch.
19:23 hours. Orlov and I are outside the cargo lock. We can waste no time. Radiation levels near the asteroid have risen dramatically. Lavrov reports that the creature has stopped its assault on the door. If only we could see in there. I know that it is intelligent. Like us, it must have a plan. Lavrov says he can hear noises coming from the bay, but he is unable to identify them. There! We are manually cycling the lock; the control panel was unresponsive.
This is it. The outer lock is open. We are ready to override the inner lock and breach the compartment. I am having Lavrov launch the Korolev’s log buoy. Mikhail wants to say something.
Payload Specialist Orlov: “This is Major Mikhail Orlov of the Russian Federation Space Forces. I am here to do my duty for the Motherland and all mankind. To hell with this thing!”
I love you, Alena. We are going in now. Kranzny Goryzont!