Saturday, 12 August 2017

Close encounters of the scary kind...

One of my favourite scenes from the Eden Paradox is the following, where Blake and Pierre have finally made it to the new planet, Eden, and realize they are not alone. They are tracking an alien they've not seen up close yet, looking for its nest so they can steal an egg for study, but are about to get a lot more than they bargained for...

Blake skidded to a stop in front of Pierre and held out his arm. Pierre managed to stop just in time, on the edge of a precipice, as they entered a cathedral-like chamber. Sharp cracks stabbed the silence, as small rocks they had just pushed over the edge tumbled to the bottom, landing within a couple of seconds. Tardy, deeper echoes told him the vastness of this subterranean cavity, the torch beams dissipating hopelessly in the dark void. Blake put down his rifle and extracted a stubby pistol from his backpack. He lifted his arm and fired a magnesium spike flare upwards into the middle of the cavern. It found purchase in the massive domed ceiling, illuminating the cavern in a ghoulish twilight.
Pierre looked down below, across the plain stretching out before them. "Eggs," he said, a hollow feeling in his stomach; eggs, as far as he could see. But they had been cruelly misled by the Hohash image. It was almost a joke. Steal an egg, they’d decided. As if they could put one in their rucksacks. Pierre recalled that when Blake had seen the Hohash image, there had been no frame of reference. He gazed at the nearest row. Each egg was twice the height and width of a man.
            He switched into scientist mode, to allay the welling-up of fear. He cleared his throat. "They must hatch fully grown. Makes ecological sense for a predator."
            Blake crouched on the solid-rock floor, and tossed a pebble over the side of the small cliff. He pulled out a navcon from his backpack and swept the surrounding area, before the light from the flare dimmed. When it sputtered and died, it felt worse to Pierre – not seeing the silent arrays of eggs, yet knowing they were there.
            "The navcon has ninety-five per cent of the image," Blake said.
            They both retrieved and donned their goggles, and switched off their torches, plunging themselves into abyssal darkness. Pierre flicked a switch on his goggles and instantly could see pretty much what he’d been able to see in the fullness of the flare a minute before, whichever way he moved or turned his head. Pierre recalled this gadget had come close to getting the Nobel Tech prize. He reckoned it should have won.
He activated his transponder, so the navcon could map their relative positions and overlay them onto the recorded scene, stopping them from bumping into each other. Peering over the edge again, he saw the eggs – large and rugged-looking, sitting upright. Of course he was seeing where they were, and was assuming – hoping – that nothing was moving down there.
            Pierre heard Blake remove his goggles briefly, so he did too, flicking his torch on.
            "Motion sensor," Blake said, lobbing a small device back into the tunnel behind them. He then took out a self-burying eye-bolt, placed it on the rocky floor, touched the two-second primer, and stood back. With a sound like an underwater gunshot, it fired itself into the stone with a reassuring thud. He attached the auto-feed wire system to the eyebolt via a karabiner and replaced his goggles.
            "Wait twenty seconds, then follow."
            He swung himself smoothly over the edge and abseiled down.
            Pierre counted to twenty, attached his own auto-descent system to the wire, and replaced his goggles. He backed toward the edge. He thought he heard something, a distant rumbling, coming from the entrance. Uselessly, he looked toward it, but of course the goggles could show no movement. He leant back, bent his knees, and kicked off, propelling himself away and down the cliff-face.
            A shrill electronic whine, rising in tone, made him misjudge his descent, and his knees smashed into the cliff face, stinging with pain – the motion detector had sensed something approaching, fast. The whine was drowned out by the creature’s roar, and it felt to Pierre as if the whole chamber vibrated. He pressed the freefall button on his harness and dropped faster, but was suddenly yanked upwards. Pebble-sized rocks pummelled his head and shoulders.  
            "Cut the line!" Blake shouted from below.
            In disbelief Pierre looked upward and saw nothing, then raked his goggles down and managed to switch on his torch – the creature was hauling him up. He could see its trapezoidal head, the blood red breathing slits writhing on its black-blue face. The creature’s roar made Pierre’s hands freeze, clinging to the cord.
            "Pierre! CUT – THE – LINE!"
            He rose rapidly in jerks, a metre at a time, the creature’s forelegs feverishly pulling up the line, like a spider reeling in a fly. Pierre could hardly breathe, as his right hand flailed behind him groping for the knife. His head bashed against the cliff face knocking his torch from his left hand as he tried to protect himself. He knew he had only a few more seconds. His outstretched right hand fingers brushed across the hilt and he gripped it with all his might. Another yank pulled him up almost to the ledge. With a yell not far short of a scream, he whipped the knife above his head and severed the line, feeling a gust of air as a claw lashed past his face. He freefell, hurling the knife sideways so he could lock his elbows around his neck and head, the creature’s howl of fury chasing him as he tumbled into the darkness below.

You can purchase the Eden Paradox here, along with the other three books in the series.

© Barry Kirwan |
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