"Inclusion" by J.W. Huff
The following is an excerpt of "Inclusion," featured in its entirety in Volume 6: Saturn's Return
Gary Busey 13c was a revolutionary by nature, so seizing the opportunity of Titan was the natural next step. Somebody had to do it, to lead the charge. After all, he had been the foreman of the great overhaul nearly thirty years ago on Mars, which secured the last two decades of successful colonization there. Whereas the years it took to get Mars off the ground had taken a toll on Gary—had taken his thirties into his forties, a lot of hard work, and, of course, there was the strain of maintaining order among the many egos of the crews. The warring against the Martian terrain had been the real work, and kept him feeling young and fit and in imagined high standing in the Universe at large. This he had found on Mars, and this he would find on Titan. Failure was not an option. And yet, failure he had found.
Nearly three months in, Gary hadn’t the heart to break it to the crew that their efforts were in vain. He had yet to accept it himself, as it were, paying them out of his own pocket for the past month, all the while drawing up new strategies to combat their struggle against the terrain. If Mars was heaven, Earth hell—Titan was, well, Hell.
They were all undeniably out of their depths, theoretical preparation be damned. Gaseous hydrocarbons found on Earth pooled and flowed as liquids on Titan, as puddles becoming rivers becoming seas. Something like Earth’s water cycle was occurring, and thereby a constant flux of surface temperatures changed the landscape daily. Erected structures either crumbled or toppled, accordingly. Insofar as excavation went on basically unimpeded, to this end Gary focused most of their efforts. But they were out of time. They were out of funding. Ergo, they had failed.
Accidentally burning his tongue on his coffee substitute, Gary did a very human thing: he misplaced blame and cursed God Almighty. “God Almighty!” he seethed, setting down the steaming cup. He stood irked, smacking his lips. It wasn’t God’s fault, of course, but no matter. Presently his attention turned to a fuss at the mouth of the dig.
There stood Will Smith 129c in the middle of it all, bringing progress to a standstill. Will vehemently swung his arms to and fro, his face brazen and sharp behind his helmet. In a dramatic fit of finality, he threw himself on the ground over a fissure in the ice. The final running engines died, and the rest of the crew closed in to better inspect things. Gary groaned, feeling the icy tendrils of responsibility digging in.
Will always did this. He was an archaeologist, the best in the field, supposedly, though he was fresh in his twenties—a fact Gary could never overlook. Gary considered himself to be a fair and abiding boss; he didn’t dislike anybody who hadn’t given him reason to. And though Will proved to be inept enough, he had always been a little too blunt and cocksure for Gary’s taste. As all Will Smith’s seemed to be. It was in their programming, Gary thought. Not to mention an all too common symptom of young age. Gary sighed, feeling the weight of his own age perhaps for the first time. His limbs and heart were heavy as he suited up, passed through the Pequod’s airlock, and strode toward the commotion.
It was not Will, but Ada Yonath 2, the crew’s crystallographer, who approached Gary first. He strode toward her, as it were, often seeking out Ada’s counsel when he found himself out of the proverbial loop. He admired her. Ada was younger than he, in her mid-fifties, but to be certain, she did not look it. She carried herself as she always had, Gary imagined, her body as steadfast as her character, demanding not only admiration but respect.
Clicking on his communications, Gary said, “What ith it?”
Eyeing him, Ada wordlessly handed him a fragment of ice she was holding.
“What—ith it?” Gary repeated, trying not to sound harsh, defeated as he felt.
“It’s life!” she shouted, pointing toward a great fissure.
Gary regarded the fragment, wiping away a dusting of ice, revealing—he remained unsure just what. A strange thing, like an aquatic butterfly. The creature was an aquamarine green with a chitinous, almost metal, shell. What looked like gills were etched into its horned wings.
“There are hordes of them,” Ada said, indicating the broken ground around the great fissure in the ice. “I’m calling them Puddleflies.”
Presently the radio chatter died, and Gary sighed in relief. At least I have their respect, he thought. He hunched forward, critically eyeing the crew as they retreated from the cave. Something was wrong. They ran from it, falling all over each other. “Thtop!” he demanded as they stampeded past. Will was the last to step from the mouth of the fissure. His eyes were wide-open oysters. His camera dangled limply from a cord in his hands, daring to drop. He pushed it into Gary’s hands, looking scared, Gary realized. Such a look wasn’t meant for such a face.
“What am I looking at?” Gary asked. Toggling the forward motion of the 3D image, Gary was surprised to find that the fissure opened into such a cavern. The walls of the cave were the familiar aquamarine of the Puddleflies, blindingly phosphorescent; the ice let light pass through. The focal point of the picture was a great blur of ice protruding from the rest. There was something inside of it, multiple figures. Gary squinted and saw the lifeless shapes, and their eyes.
Cold fear touched him then, and he staggered back, his mouth slack, his mind reeling. He tried to return Will’s camera, but Will said, “Keep it.” And he strode off in the opposite direction of the base, back toward the cavern.
“Where are you going?” Gary shouted.
Will did not respond. Instead, he removed his radio transponder, dropped it on the ice, and disappeared out of sight.
Behind Gary, all around—panic. The crew was violent now. In a rather short span, the evolution of ages had fallen away, it seemed, and savagery ensued. Screams rode their communications like thunder. Far off, a flash of light; presently Gary heard the boom, the concussion. He threw his transponder on the ground, head ringing. They were setting fires in the ships, killing each other. Another flash in the distance. The white smoke of burning metals and bones went nowhere on account of the volatile atmosphere and pressure, and Gary found himself glad of that much, though it no longer mattered. He had lost control. He had failed. Not philosophically, but definitively.
....The rest of this story may be found in Volume 6: Saturn's Return, now available on Amazon.
J. W. Huff is a Pushcart-nominated writer and musician from the Missouri Ozarks, USA. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Flatiron Anthologies, Dirty Chai Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Blink Ink, and other lovely places.