The Crystal Library
by Michael Burnett
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Item 1: Unearthing the Asterian Catacomb
Audio Transcript from Sub-archive m/2: Fourth Reconnaissance OOC debriefing, Subject: Captain Victor Bracken.
Date: 14/04/2048, 15:46 CST.
(crackles and unintelligible speech)
Interviewer: Please, take a seat, Captain Bracken.
(sound of metal door closing)
Interviewer: Thank you for making yourself available to us this afternoon. The Operations Oversight Committee would ask that you provide a frank and honest account of the mission.
Bracken: Yes, sir.
Interviewer: Let’s waste no time. Bracken, you were part of a team of eight marines, The Fourth Reconnaissance, who were sent through the Rift into dimension Epsilon-9. You were phased out at precisely 0845 on 11 April 2048. Seven out of eight marines returned; Second Lieutenant Laing was killed in action. Can you confirm?
Bracken: Yes, sir.
Interviewer: Can you tell me what you saw as you phased in?
Bracken (coughs): The usual green-shift, then we’re in the middle of a huge field. Perhaps, a field, or a plain, a wide, open space with nothing but ash on the ground, in the air, swirling around in little grey whirlwinds. We had our respirators on but, like usual, the scanners showed the atmosphere was breathable. Identical to Earth’s atmosphere, just like all the others, sir.
Interviewer: Please, go on.
Bracken: Uhh... so, Commander Larkin ordered us to higher ground. We couldn’t see very far ’cos of the ash, and the illuminators were no help with that. We got to the top of the nearest hill, where the ash was a bit thinner, and we could see further. Kjelgaard set up the comms-unit and scanned for transmissions. She scanned for half an hour but found nothing.
Interviewer: Usual protocol is to make contact with Rift HQ in this eventuality. You didn’t do this. Why?
(Silence for seven seconds; faint sounds of movement)
Bracken: It’s hard to explain, sir.
Interviewer (sighs): Please, Captain.
Bracken: Commander Larkin ordered us to proceed north-northwest, down into a valley. (pause) We all trust Larkin with our lives. What happened was not his fault.
Interviewer: Be that as it may, you had no concerns at this point?
Bracken: Perhaps at first, yes. For maybe two, three seconds. But when I looked into that valley, I saw what Larkin saw. We all did. It sounds crazy. I almost don’t want to say it.
Interviewer: Say what, Captain?
Bracken: The valley. It spoke to us. An invitation. In the shape of the valley, in the air, even. I don’t know. We just knew where we needed to go because the valley showed us. (Short pause) Jesus, that sounds insane.
Interviewer: I’m not here to judge, Captain. I’m just here to find out what happened.
Bracken: The team navigated down into the valley. We walked for about two hours. The valley branched off a lot but it was always clear which direction to take. At the time, I don’t remember questioning it; it just seemed obvious. But when I look back, I can’t understand it at all.
Interviewer: And you found the catacomb in this manner?
Bracken: Yes, sir. We found the catacomb at precisely 11:10 CST.
Interviewer: And again, you did not contact Rift HQ at this point?
Bracken: No, sir. We did not.
Interviewer: Do you know why Larkin chose not to contact HQ? Did he explain his decision to you at the time?
Bracken: No, sir. But I didn’t think of it at the time. It didn’t seem important.
Interviewer: And it also didn’t seem important to leave the unsealing of the catacomb to the Archaeology Team?
Bracken: Affirmative. It... it seemed like we were being welcomed in and told not to wait, even for a moment.
Interviewer: You say you were welcomed in, Captain. In what way, precisely, did you feel you were being welcomed? You understand this is a little difficult to understand from an outside perspective.
Bracken: I know, sir, absolutely I know that. I mean no disrespect, sir. Again, it’s kind of difficult to explain. We barely spoke to each other. I’ve thought about it over and over. I realise now that we didn’t speak because... because we felt like we would have been... interrupting.
Interviewer: What happened next?
Bracken: Lieutenant Sampson blasted the door in with plastic explosive. The valley didn’t tell him to do that. Commander Larkin issued the order.
Interviewer: Please continue.
Bracken: So... we entered the upper level. We followed protocol to the letter after that.
Interviewer: That’s not in any doubt. Commander Larkin’s account is quite detailed in that regard. Please tell me what you saw when you entered this ‘upper level.’
(Shuffling of papers)
Bracken: My first impression... it was massive. Completely silent. It reminded me of those movies where some explorers break into an ancient pyramid, and all the walls are covered in hieroglyphs and pictures and everything. Only there weren’t any pictures, sir. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling in... shapes. Not pictures, just shapes. And just looking at them made you feel a certain way; a different feeling, or a different idea maybe, for each one you looked at. I don’t know how long it had been since any of the team had said a word, but we didn’t feel like speaking, still. Like we didn’t need to, like everything we needed to know was... I dunno. In the air around us, almost.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you can tell me?
Bracken: Yes. I mean, like I said, the place was silent. When I was a kid, whenever I watched one of those programmes on the TV, I always used to try to imagine what it would be like, inside a tomb. I always thought it would feel like the place was dead. But the catacombs. They’re not dead. I mean it, and I don’t understand it, but the catacombs are not dead. I wish I could explain what I mean by that, sir, but I don’t know if I can.
Interviewer: The Mission Log states that you were inside the tomb for just under four hours; your team returned to the surface at 14:48 Central Standard Time. Laing, by this time, had perished. We would appreciate your account of what happened to Laing.
Bracken: Yes, sir. So, we moved further into the catacombs; we found at least five levels, although they overlapped in places and it was difficult to be certain. Kjelgaard used the Nightmoth probes to create a virtual map, but I never got to see it. We found massive rooms full of hundreds of these things, like coffins, stacked up; all empty. We must have seen more than twenty rooms, full of thousands of empty coffins, all stacked and piled against the walls like... dominoes, twenty feet long. But all the time, feeling like we were walking through... I don’t know... the inside of a creature. (Laughs) I remember thinking it was just like Jonah and the Whale.
Bracken: Well... as I said, we got maybe five levels down. I’m certain there were more levels, but that’s when...
(Short silence, sound of chair moving)
Interviewer: In your own time, Captain.
Bracken: We, uh... found a room that was different from the others. No coffins or shapes on the walls. Just a big tank, or something, in the centre of the room. Clear, like glass. And there was a body in there... There is — still — a body in there.
Interviewer: Please, Captain. Tell me what happened next.
Bracken: Yes. I’m sorry, sir. So Laing, always the bold fool, goes up to this tank, with this huge dead alien floating in it. The thing’s twenty feet tall, just floating there in this tank, and it’s got this big ugly head, with a massive growth on the left side, like a tumour or something. It’s disgusting.
Interviewer: And what was the rest of the team doing at this point?
Bracken: Well, we were just staying the hell back, awaiting orders. I dunno why Laing always gotta go in all headstrong. I guess in a way he was always gonna get into trouble, sooner or later. But by the time the rest of us knew what was happening, well...
Bracken: Well... it was far too late. We just got the hell out of there after that. Some kind of machinery activated up near that tank, just masses of tiny machines, all going at once. Laing stood there like an idiot for about a minute, then — gone, sir. He was just gone.
Interviewer: ‘Gone,’ Captain? What do you mean?
Bracken: I mean, gone, sir. Nothing left but ash. Same as the stuff we’d been wading through for hours. Makes me sick, just thinking about it.
(Short pause; sounds of movement)
Bracken: Do you think that’s where they all went?
Copyright © 2021 by Michael Burnett