Barren Archipelago III
by Christopher W Gamsby
X and I followed a beacon east for several hours until we landed on a small island a few minutes away from the source. We couldn't see distant location in the darkness, and we decided to stop at a small island and rest until sunrise. X curled up in the starboard compartment and ran a recalibration matrix. I slept in the ship's port side compartment, which was slightly larger than the starboard hold, but not long enough to lay out straight.
The next morning we traveled to the beacon's location and hovered over the calm ocean. X ran the coordinates over and over again, but each time we calibrated the location, we ended up hovering over that same slice of ocean. I asked X to lower the star jumper closer to the water and opened the cockpit hatch. X's face plate flashed red in an apparent display of disapproval, but I didn't care and jumped into the pristine waters.
I splashed through the water and relaxed several meters under the surface. After my optics adjusted to the unusual light refraction, I made out a small complex on the ocean floor. A domed two-story building nestled between rocks 100 meters lower. The beacon tower that drew us to the submerged settlement raised next to a living pod. I swam to the surface, waved off X, and swam for the ocean floor.
Green specks of congealed algae or seaweed floated through the water and thickened as I approached the opened dome. I swerved off course to the transmitting beacon, and even though I had a mind to shut it down, I decided to leave it operational for posterity sake. Three short red fuel drums and two green rectangular supply caches encircled the beacon. I checked each in turn for any valuables, but the empty fuel drums didn't provide any help, and fractured shield plattings filled the supply caches.
I continued to the living pod, but the structure's main door wouldn't open, and I couldn't enter. Air and radiation tight seals prevented toxins or liquid from entering the living space, but pods designed for underwater usage rely on special seals on the door to allow entrance without flooding the space. The pod didn't have any such seals, which meant it wasn't designed for use underwater. Even though I can now guess how those buildings ended up on the bottom of the ocean, at the time I was perplexed.
I ignored the living space and swam for the observation dome. Cracks covered the dome's main doors. Half of one sliding entrance laid just outside the main entryway, and I swam in through the hole. A brown and green vine extended from the ceiling. I accidentally brushed the plant with my arm as I passed and in response, it released a cloud of neurotoxin that burned my exo-suit and caused my vision to flash red, an indicator from my exo-suit that I could take fatal damage. I swam out of the cloud and away from the plant and my visor stopped flashing and the suit self-repaired, but the thought of freezing on the ocean floor and slowly drowning terrified me to my core.
A green sludge covered the communication station's walls and panels. I placed my finger on a gel that was smeared on a nearby wall and bits broke off and floated out of the door. The gel encased the room's main control panel. This gel, however, solidified into a hardened shell. Thorns grew into the gel, resembling hideous teeth without a mouth. I touched the gel, but it didn't move under my fingers. Instead, the main consul turned on and beamed the building's logs into my mind, via my exosuit's neural interface. I can't remember everything the logs said, but chunks still come back to me.
Research station gamma x-ray 1 on planet Bluehayth, local name 'Barren Archipelago.' Research on planet Readroth, local name 'Perfection,' reveals no indication of water on the planet's surface until approximately 1,000 local years (730 HWY). Current state of the planet: approximately 78% of the total surface is covered by a vast ocean. Geographic surveys do not show indicators of long-term oceanic activity. Survey conducted in 17 distinct locations.
New survey of the planet projects estimates that ~79.5% of the planet's surface is covered by oceans. My predecessor's records indicate that he believes sentinels are using some kind of facilities to generate water. He didn't leave any indications to why. I believe this finding is either due to instrumentation error or possibly the phases of the Empty Darkness or Perfection just slowly causing changes to tides. These explanations make more sense than claiming flying space rats are generating water for some reason.
The ocean is now within 50 meters of the facility. Measurements from Gamma X-ray 1's first supervisor indicate that the ocean was 100 meters from the installation. The world is now 82.7% covered by water. According to gravitational tide patterns calculated by headquarters, these changes in tidal patterns could not be caused by current gravitational conditions. Also, techniques for measuring surface water volume are correct within 1.2%, well within the margin of error. I've filed an official inquiry with the Krovax science and exploration council to study the sentinels.
I've captured a sentinel and prepared for a dissection. The insides are fascinating. A Krovax is an artificial intelligence encased in a completely inorganic shell of composite alloys. These sentinels live as a hybrid organism. The sentinel's outer shell appears inorganic to naked sensors, but upon piercing the shell, the inner layers are built like organic tissue. The tissue surrounds and insulates mechanical sensors responsible for flight and biological functions. The self-healing tissue also gives the organism surprising adaptability and survivability.
Four days later and the sentinel just stares at me while I examine my data. Why is it just there mocking me while I work? I measured its secrets; I know its plans. I don't understand why it hasn't summoned others for help. It let me cut it open, and it let me examine the inside. Why? Why! It's terraforming the planet, creating a wondrous sea of life and I interfered. It's forgiven me, and I see that, but why?
Six days ago I've signed my death warrant. The sentinel released spores when I punctured the outer layer. Those spores silently drilled into my suit and into the soft flesh beneath. I have a precious moment of clarity, but my mind is twisting and warped. This planet needed organic life to spawn new creatures of the sentinel's design, and I'm that sacrifice. I've locked the doors, but I hear scratching and scraping at the entrance. They are here for their friend and to spread their germs. I've sent a transmission to headquarters. Don't come for me and don't come back to this planet...
I pushed away from the counter at that news, petrified to touch the hazardous substances left in the building. I swam out and to the surface. I searched for the spaceship and realized the folly of jumping into the ocean.