At long last, Jimenez saw the blazing white lance of the beacon in the slate green haze, and after a few more steps forward Leroux’s slim profile appeared near the beacon’s base. He wasn’t moving. She tried hailing him. No response. No surprise; she’d been hailing him for hours.
Jimenez approached carefully over the crevices of ice and rock, taking her time. She had plenty of it.
She couldn’t decide if the perpetually hazy atmosphere was more green or blue, or whether she’d have had a different opinion if she’d been able to look through her own eyes. The first trip to Proxima b was still too long for a normal human lifespan, so the six-person team had their brains removed and reinstalled in robotic platforms. Her eyes had once been brown. Now they all had matching glowing sockets of yellow light. At least they were humanoid. It was crude, but the life of a pioneer is never without sacrifice. The ground crunched underfoot. She knew it was cold, but luckily she couldn’t feel it.
She was finally upon Leroux. He was locked in a strange pose, slightly bent with one heel off the ground. The base of the beacon before him was split open, but not from the cold. No, this was something else. The improbable image that came to mind was one of a spectacled bear shredding the beacon as it climbed it like a cloud forest tree. She looked up; no bear.
The beacons were critical, linking the crew to Earth, and to each other. As wrecked as this one was, it would still have to be repaired. But first, maybe she could get Leroux’s platform running again. The environment was harsh, and the platforms were cutting-edge technology. Sometimes these things happened.
She jacked into the hard port on his chest. Wasn’t working—bad connection. She disconnected, brushed off the port, and cleaned it out with a blast of compressed air. Jacked in again. Nothing. Jimenez jumped back with an instinctual revulsion. Dear God, was Leroux dead?
The beacon’s lance began to brighten and dim, slowly at first, but crescendoing quickly to a rapid flicker. Power surged through the beacon and the air crackled. She turned to flee but the beacon emitted a powerful pulse of energy that it shouldn’t have been able to build up in the first place, let alone contain. And in that instant her robotic body froze solid, a statue of fear without expression. She knew now. Leroux wasn’t dead. He was in there, trapped, just like her. And that’s when she saw it; a shifting figure in the distance, scurrying along the lip of a crevice.
A dark shape, formless in the mist. Something else was alive here. It had lured Leroux out here. And now her. And next, the others, one by one until they were all immobilized. And then what?
Her mind raced. She had to warn the others, but how? Suddenly she didn’t have as much time as she thought she did.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Thu Berchs, used with permission.