Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 103

This story is for Miranda Kate's weekly flash challenge. This is from Miranda's post:   

This week's picture prompt is from German Photo artist Veronika Pinke.  She calls this one Magic. 

Here's a link to the prompt photo.

Back to a sci-fi tale this week. Poor Wendell is having problems again (he's had a lot of problems in my stories...)

Please note that anyone can join in with a story up to 750 words. Mine has 611 words for those who are counting (not including the title). 

There is a link to a downloadable PDF version of the story at the bottom of this page should you prefer to read it that way.


 

Empty Nester

    by K. R. Smith

Wendell hated his assignment. Being posted to this backwater of a planet was like a slow death. It even had a fitting name: Aeterna. It meant eternal in an old Earth language, and appropriate in so many ways. The never-ending twilight, the flat plain that covered most of the surface, featureless other than the skeletons of a few tall tree-like plants and the omnipresent tufts of dead grass-like vegetation poking from the sandy soil.

Nothing seemed to change on Aeterna. No wind, no real clouds—only a moist, vaporous low-hanging fog. He had been here thirty Aeternian days already—the equivalent of nearly two Earth months. Even the star around which the planet revolved appeared to be in no hurry to move across the lifeless sky.

This was his first scientific mission to the outer systems. He'd finished the preliminary analyses. Oxygen levels were low, but sufficient for basic life, with atmospheric pressures slightly higher than Earth. Temperatures stayed within the range acceptable for colonization. Organic molecules were abundant, though there were no signs of active life. Everything here looked to have died some time ago. Wendell was used to having too much to study, of never having the time to devote to a thorough job. Here, the biggest problem might be sensory deprivation. Aeterna was a still and silent world.

He glanced back towards his transport vehicle. He had walked farther from it than safety guidelines allowed: When alone, always stay within 100 meters of the transport vehicle per safety protocol 11-06-A.

"Protocol," he snorted. "The most dangerous situation here is boredom."

Despite his contempt for the rules, academy training had been deeply embedded within his brain. His feet refused to take another step. He shook his head. "Yeah, whatever. Returning to vehicle per protocol 11-06-A."

Before he could finish his first step, something grabbed his attention. He wasn't sure what it was. Wendell stood as motionless as the Aeternian sun, waiting, listening for whatever had happened to repeat. He stopped breathing for a moment so the noise within his bio-suit would be minimal.

He thought he heard a faint click.

Wendell turned up the gain on the external microphone. Every now and then there was a clicking or cracking noise, short, but sharp. Sometimes it sounded faint or far away. Others seemed nearby.

He stood there, mesmerized by this eerie, ethereal song. Then a loud crack echoed through his ears from right at his feet. He turned down the gain on his mike, then scanned the ground around him. There was only a single grassy clump close by.

He knelt, peering down into it. The click came again. He pulled the stands away to see the center of it. An opening in the tuft showed a smooth, rounded surface between the dried filaments. He reached for it, but before his finger could touch the object, it cracked, and a claw as long as his foot poked out the top, waiving in the air.

Wendell jumped back and saw a mark on his hand. The edge of the claw had sliced through the outer skin of his bio-suit. It wasn't enough to cause a leak, but disarming, nonetheless. 

He checked another tuft. It was the same. And another. They were all the same. The clicking sound was getting louder with each passing second. Even turning off his external microphone didn't help. He could feel the sound through his suit.

Wendell looked to his vehicle. It was impossibly far away, with the path between it and himself alive with thousands of flailing claws.

The tufts weren't just clumps of dead grass; they were nests.

And what was in them was hatching.


 

While you're here...

Author Troy Blackford and his family is having a difficult time due to the potentially fatal illness of one of his sons. Help him out if you can. You can also find him on Twitter

Author Terri Deno has a new book of poetry available:  If It Was New York, Summer 2009. Please consider purchasing a copy. Writing is her only means of support, so let's support her writing! 

Thanks!


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