The Devil’s Heart

The first rule of survival: Stay Calm.

My shipmates shot me out of Davy Jones’ Airlock. It’s a horribly contrived concept coined by delusional psychopaths who believe they are space-age pirates.

Who am I kidding? They are pirates. And mutineers. And they stole my spaceship. At least they extended me the courtesy of landing on a rock before ejecting me.

The holographic ocular display, HOD, is flashing red. Thirty minutes of oxygen left in my cylinders. There’s no vegetation. The radiation levels are rising. The sun crests the horizon and blisters the left side of my face. I order the suit to lower the shade and the visor silvers, protecting my skin.

Don’t panic. My heart is beating, thumping the reminder. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.

#

The second rule of survival: Define Your Priorities.

Oxygen. Must find oxygen. I conclude that I must be on an asteroid. Air is much more important than hydration for now because my suit will convert all of my biological waste, sweat, urine, and feces, into purified water. But if I don’t find food, then this will cease. Considering my last meal was four hours ago, and assuming that I find oxygen, my bodily waste will keep me alive for at least three more days. After three days the inhospitable environment and lack of resources will reduce my body into a dry husk.

I remind myself. Don’t panic. Stay calm.

The ground beneath my feet shudders. Fissures open up around me, and a brackish liquid is expelled into the air. I shield myself from the mist, wiping the putrid mess from my visor.

There’s a hellish pit formed three hundred feet down from the rocky ledge I stand upon. It is dark, but it is shelter. Clumsily I scuttle down the cliff to investigate how viable this cave will be as a shelter.

I remind myself of the rule of three, repeating it in my mind. Steam is jettisoned out of the dark cave. Where there is steam there is water, and where there is water there is oxygen.

You can survive for three hours without warmth, I remind myself.

You can survive three days without water.

Three weeks without food.

The HOD blinks. Five minutes of oxygen remaining. The cave is still so far below.

You can survive three minutes without air, I say aloud.

Three seconds without blood.

Three months without human company.

I chuckle at the last one, streams of sweat and tears running down my cheeks. They itch from the blisters. My throat constricts. My air supply is reported in seconds remaining.

A steam jet almost topples me as I pull the bulk of my weight into the cave. Condensation beads on my visor, and HOD informs me of rising oxygen levels as I penetrate the darkness of the cave deeper and deeper.

The walls of the cave glisten with the light of my torch. The temperature is hospitable enough that I remove my helmet. This subterranean world is like a sauna, but I am okay with this. The more water around, the longer I will survive. My suit will process the water dripping from the ceiling, purify it, and I will live.

The humidity soothes my throat. I take deep draughts of air into my lungs. For the first time in the last thirty minutes I feel hopeful.

#

The third rule of survival: Tackle the Priorities in Order of Importance.

Oxygen? Check.

Shelter? Check.

Water? Check.

Food remains, as does escape. The chances of escape from this asteroid are slim to none. Radiation levels are lower below the surface, but still significant enough that it may kill me if I’m stuck here for over a week. There is no flora or fauna to speak of. I can survive three weeks without food.

I turn my mind to escape.

My vacc suit feels restricting, but works effectively to purify the humid air of the cavern. There’s oxygen, but you can’t trust it’s the only thing you’re breathing.

Even hell has ice cubes, I lie to myself, so I check communications in my HOD. Not even a blip. There’s not even static. Just an eerie silence.

Looting through the pockets of my suit there’s a mashed up body temperature chocolate protein bar. My crew weren’t a very hygienic bunch. I unscrew my helmet again, and shove it in my mouth. I imagine it’s Halloween candy.

#

At night, when I close my eyes, I see her.

“Daddy?” the static in my communicator gurgles.

“Hello? Hello?” I call back into the comm. No answer. I don’t even have a daughter.

#

Three days.

My sanity is reaching its limits. Three months without human company is the statistic, so three days should be nothing. I dream of my mortality.

“Daddy?”

I don’t even call out to the phantom voice anymore. It plagues my final days on this rock. I’m alone. Completely alone.

A shadow dances across the cavern wall. Tiny footsteps retreat down a fissure I hadn’t yet explored. Weaponless, I grab a stone and skulk after it.

The rock pulses as I touch it. No matter how deep I travel into the fissure, the shadow is always out of reach. I hear the giggling in my communicator, the little girl. I must meet her. Why is she here? Does she have a way out?

The wall kicks back when I lay my hand on it. This is making no sense at all. The walls are spongy, and growing more damp. The pulse is growing louder, assaulting my ears with every beat. Finally I see why.

A red stone the size of an escape pod lies in a chamber with red and blue veins covering it like greasy spider webs. The large boulder is pulsating with each beat, the asteroid’s heart.

“You found me,” the shadow of the little girl is monstrous against the far wall.

“You led me here.” My grip tightens on the stone in my hand. “What are you?”

“Thing of flesh does not understand.”

The statement was confusing, and the tone lay somewhere between explaining it to itself and amusement. The beating heart beats stronger, faster.

“Take me home.”

“Earth. Earth?”

I hesitate for a moment. How does such a monstrosity know where I was born?

“For what purpose, thing of stone?”

“To feed,” the voice reverberates through my mind.

A high pitched ringing floors me. The room spins and the shadows swirl around me. My priorities have changed. I know I cannot escape here. I know that this monster reads my thoughts.

Radiation levels are skyrocketing. I claw my way forward, closer to the devil’s heart. The HOD has identified the source and leads me blind through the senseless ringing and ceaseless pounding.

The stone heart strikes my fist, my forearm feels bruised and shattered. The ringing grows louder, shadows encroach on my periphery. The room is a tunnel as I strike at the heart again, the stone beating back on me.

I will not die before I take this thing’s heart.

Riding the heart is like being on the back of a bucking bronco. My face flies forward and strikes it, the glass in my helmet shattering and lacerating my face. My body cannot take much more of this abuse. I rip my helmet off and strike at the stone again. And again. And again.

This devil will not reach Earth.

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