YG36 – the thirty sixth group assigned the designation yellow – was my group. The ‘sunshine brigade’, as Jacobson liked to call us. Each of the colors were assigned a specialist from each group, as well as a couple of military goons to act as protectors, advisors. Eight people per group, with some of the military heads remaining predominantly in camp; those assigned to organization, camp maintenance, security, and all those other wonderfully necessary things.
The groups went out on ‘missions’ in rotations, at least at the beginning. In theory the groups would only change if one particular specialty needed extra hands because of some discovery or other. There was at least one specialty head in each group.
It was a weird system, but it wasn’t something I was going to complain about. I preferred to examine things alone. Going over notes, working out translations, those are fine in a group, but that initial impression, that first glance of a new puzzle is something that is almost…religious. Having other people mumbling theories in my ear is irritating, to say the least. Blasphemous at worse, when they are wrong.
There were three other women in my group; the geologist, the psychologist, and one of our bodyguards. The menfolk were all a little scared of that last one. First night in a couple of them, with what I’m pretty sure was a tongue loosened by nervousness and some stupidity, decided to start listing which women he’d like to get back in his tend.
Private Mira took exception to his rudeness and offered to take him out back to discuss proper etiquette. He’d laughed, called what he thought was he ‘bluff’ and followed her past the glowing lights of our camp into a darkened corner. Completely against regulations by the way, but no one gave a shit. He came back, eyes wide and cowed.
He hasn’t said a word about what happened. Neither has she.
I like Mira. I’m glad she came along.
Everything is dark here. Dark, dull, and lifeless.
Only greyscale scratches in the genetic makeup I’m watching from within. How can it change so quickly? How can it mutate.
This isn’t how genetics works. I think.
I was alway pretty bad at science.
I just want to leave. I want to go home and feel the warmth of that scratchy wool blanket my mom made for me. I want to drive down the road to my sisters house and smell the smoke and the dust and the manure. I want to eat beef and steak and silver. I want to read every inch of this romance and decide if the suitor is worthy.
I want to riddle myself and make it up the stairs to
Where am I? Why is everything so dark here? I feel so dull. So lifeless.
Oh. Someone is speaking. Maybe if I listen, maybe they’ll tell me who I am.
Of the eight people that made up Y36, only five of us made it back to SZB that evening. I’ll try and write down what I remember but even now, my hands shakes when I think of it. My mind blurs, and my memories are foggy at best. If I start from the beginning though, I may be able to piece it together a little bit.
The morning started like every one since we entered the Catacombs. We were woken by the Commander’s exeunt from her tent, and her shouts for her lieutenants to get their lazy asses out of bed. I don’t think she had an alarm clock, and to be honest, it would be hard to say if the time was the same anyways. Without the sun, with no natural light, and the timed lights that had given us a bit of a sense of days in SZA not installed yet, it could have been twelve pm, or am.
Either way we all crawled out of our tents to the suddenly blazing pot lights around camp, through our individual morning routines and up to the tables set out for meals. We each got a bowl of protein slop and our water containers filled to use how we saw fit. We ate in silence, or chatted with our neighbors, as personality dictated. We cleaned up, took our turns at one of the various menial chores split between the teams then prepared for whatever assignment we had for the day.
The bathroom line took forever. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I should have. It wasn’t like anyone ate anything different than they had for the last six months. That was part of why our food was so carefully regulated. When your bathrooms are essentially Porta Potties with incinerators and metal crates involved, you really don’t want a epidemic of food poisoning.
We were already behind then, by the time we’d gathered up our things and met by the north exit. I didn’t have much, just the normal trail pack, a couple cameras, notebooks, and pens. I always felt bad for the geologists, having to lug around field kits half the size of themselves. Not that the rest of us didn’t help, of course, but it was nice knowing that even if my bag got destroyed it would be easy enough to replace.
Mira was first, the surveyor right behind her as we crossed the threshold and out of the safe zone. Our second private, Don Hamilton took up the rear guard, the rest of us huddled between like naughty children. I was right in the middle of the group, so I have no idea when he disappeared.
[Specimen 1332.611 Left ‘Reebok Alien Stomper’ sneaker circa 1986, found in Area E-92
Notes: Seriously? A sneaker? A sneaker worn in the movie ‘Alien’? I found a ridiculously ancient copy of that ridiculous oldie and watched it last night. Is someone just screwing with me now?
Fine. Sneaker is in almost prestige condition except for a few scuffs that seem like natural wear from walking. It was found well inside the Catacombs but there were no bodies or anything. There was no obvious signs of its owner, or the other shoe.
No distinguishable signs of deterioration due to age, even though it can’t be less than almost sixty years old.
I did like the whole ‘chest birth’ scene. I hadn’t realized where that trope came from. In case whoever is making my job more difficult with their terrible sense of humor wants to know.]
The hallway beyond the doorway – really it was just a hole that happened to be door shaped. There was no frame, no physical door – was exactly ten feet, six inches long. It was made of the same sandstone as SZB with a single long groove carved – or it simply grew that way. I only say carved because it was perfectly parallel to the floor, five inches tall, two deep – into the left hand side. There was a single pebble sitting along it.
The geologists had measured the exact distance, examined the pebble for hours the evening before. I kept the measurements in my notebook but didn’t give it much thought beyond that. It could be part of a pattern, but you have to be careful not to try to link everything into a code – some things are simply what they appear to be.
A pebble on a shelf.
The room beyond the hall – I say room but that isn’t accurate either. The hall suddenly flared in all directions, the floor sloping downward, the walls away and the ceiling upward – was sloped in a way that was still easy to walk. I remember thinking that going back was going to be a pain in the literal ass. I was right.
As the walls grew away from us, the darkness closed in. With nothing to reflect from our flashlights showed only the slowly sloping floor.
Others had examined every inch of Area D-112. No markings or carvings had been found, only rough walls, rough floors, and an odd luminance from the ceiling. Biologists and geologists were still competing on sorting out what exactly made the stone glow, but it didn’t matter much to me.
I heard the two examples of those delicate breeds bickering in whispers behind me.
That was a common thing, the whispers. There was no reason to drop our voices, not really, but still your voice would shrink when you left the safe zones until on a shred of it remained. As the Catacombs weighed down on you, making you feel so very insignificant, as your world grew, as your mind grew, the need for words would sink away altogether leaving only-
No. I’m getting ahead of myself again.
Whispers were common. We all whispered when we travelled until stationary study allowed our voices to catch up with us. Other expeditions had reported the same.
We reached Area D-132, designation Vineyard, at ten in the morning. The sloping hall we had passed through had finally ended abruptly in a sheer wall, reaching out and up in either direction further than any of us could see. I didn’t need to see to know it would simply be more than the same. The reports said so, but so did my gut.
A narrow doorway identical to the two in SZB stood before us and we stepped inside, the sudden scent of growing things enveloping the entire team. I closed my eyes for just a moment, and I could feel the leaves of the tall vines brushing my skin. I could feel the earth crunch beneath my boots, hear the call of birds. I opened my eyes to another dark, perfectly square room.
The Vineyard is twenty feet by twenty feet, made of the same smooth sandstone as SZB. The floor looked polished to gleaming but the walls, well. The walls were why we were here. Delicate, intricately detailed carvings of blossoming vines and heavy grapes covered every inch of the room. The scent of growth lingered, but with my eyes open the other false senses disappeared.
“Well,” I said, my voice having finally joined me again. “This is going to take a while.”
Sometimes in the Darkness there is a glimmer. Or maybe it’s a vibration. Isn’t that what light is though? A wave? A wriggle of the universe that we are receptors for, biological radio towers happy to take in all the universe has to offer.
Unless it’s too bright. Too loud. Too red. Too blue.
We – humans? – are so used to only looking at what we are designed for we forget that the rest of the universe it out there.
What was I talking about? Oh. The wiggle.
Yes. That wiggle in the distance. That glimmer. Or maybe it’s a thought.
Thoughts can travel too. Most of the time in the medium of paper. Used to be stone. But that’s not true anymore. Now thoughts travel as electricity. As vibrations and pushy electrons and light.
Ideas are lights. Glimmers of imagination transmitted from and collected by humans through a rather brutal and primitive labyrinth of copper, cables, and cursing. So out there in the Darkness is an idea. Is it my idea? Perhaps it was an idea I had, but I’m moving to fast and its fallen behind. Or its sped ahead as I trundled along.
How long have I been here?
Where am I?
What’s my name again?
Do you see it? Sometimes in the Darkness there’s a glimmer.
This is a serial story updated once per day. If you don’t want to wait for the weekly roundup, you can keep up with the daily updates on my Medium series of the same name, on my Wattpad account, or on my tumblr blog.