Nov 7, 2022 • 11M

Ithaka: Chapter Four

 
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Thank you for coming back to read (or listen to) the short story “Ithaka” in the Listening Room, presented by The FLARE Substack.

In episode three, Anaella and Minos were getting closer, while new light wad shed on the investigation. And in a flashback, we met a Headley ancestor. In this episode, we learn about the planet Helios.


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4.

“If there are people living on Helios, then maybe it’s worth looking at how they got there,” Kane said. “I’m meeting Felix to look at the metal we found. Let me know what you find out on your end.”

“The story is buried somewhere. I’ll find it.”

Anaella poured over old volumes detailing the first voyage through the Gemini Belt nearly 500 years ago and subsequent crash on Helios to the first years on Minos. The USS Poseidon had spent nearly twenty years in space, trailed by the USS Hermes, before coming within 93 million miles of Helios. Reports from there detail a suspected asteroid storm that damaged critical ship systems. Poseidon went down with a crew of 300. Transmissions to earth came from Hermes, which was positioned within the Belt and relaying messages to Earth on carrier probes.

It was never clear how close to the crash site Hermes came. Photographs and audio were shoddy, attributed to magnetic interference. The Hermes was ordered back to Earth but a rescue mission was not mounted. The public accepted the catastrophe as truth and voyages out to Helios were halted for half a century while aeronautic agencies shored up spacecraft designs and communication systems.

Nearly a century after the crash, a ship landed in Waystation to build a colony. More unforgiving than even the most desolate Milky Way planet, the terraforming processes seemed hopeless until telescopes found a Goldilocks planet beyond Helios. Waystation developed as an enclosed community until enough supply came to begin the trek forward. It was from there that the first ships since Hermes passed through the Gemini Belt and landed on Minos.

“Ship’s captain—“ Anaella murmured.
“Henry Allan Marshall.”

Anaella popped up from her chair and let out a yelp. Minos was standing behind her with a mischievous grin.

“Fuck sake. You could have just knocked instead of creeping around.”
“Sorry. I wanted to see you. What are you looking for?”

Anaella slipped her hand off her chest and exhaled sharply. “Stories about the first wreck on Helios.”
“Sounds interesting.”
“Look, I’m working right now. I can see you later.”

Minos held up his hands in surrender and slowly backed up toward the doorway with a pasted smile. He looked out passed the private study room to the empty library front desk.

“She didn’t crash. She landed,” he whispered.
“What?”
“The Poseidon.”
She looked up at him with a rigid stare. “Okay. You have my attention. Landed where?”
“Helios is more alive than you think, right down to the soil.”

Anaella reclined in her seat with a grimace, cocking her head to one side, and scanning Minos from head to toe as he leaned in the doorway. “But, people who have gone there all say the same thing: It’s a dead planet.”

“How much of the planet do we actually see? There’s the crash site and what else? I don’t think anyone here knows,” he teased.
“No, I guess we never bothered to look. No reason to.”
“Everyone’s very occupied here. You’re pretty comfortable and satisfied with life. No need to go searching for anything beyond what’s in front of you.”

She turned her ring round and round, silently facing Minos. He cleared his throat and began telling her more about his time in Waystation. He wove a tapestry of a colony with two faces: one funded by Earth for scientific advancements for the betterment of all and the other side which he hinted was developing dangerous weaponry. There was a sinister cast on his face which quickly crumbled as Anaella’s phone rang. It was Kane.

“I’ll see you at home later?” Minos said brightly after she hung up.
“Not sure. I have a lot to do.”
“Maybe I’ll wait up anyway.”

Anaella trudged through Mr. Lane’s field once more, back to the dumping site. Her brows were knitted and her face hardened in thought. She’d felt a slither inch up her spine that needed to be shaken off.

Kane stopped short of the clearing where they found the body. In the outline of a curled corpse were tiny green sprouts.

“What the hell—-“
“There’s plant life in the soil. Our sample even started sprouting right out of its container. Look at this. We came out here six days ago.”

Anaella crouched down and peered at the smooth, green leaves which rocked in the breeze, coated by tiny droplets.

“Whatever is in that soil grows mighty fast. Let me show you something else.”

Kane bent on one knee and waved a palm-sized magnet near the soil surface. He flipped it over to reveal tiny yellow-white shards.

“They were everywhere.”

She gazed curiously at the clump of shards which vibrated against the magnet.

“It’s not iron, steel, or copper. It’s not even tungsten, which is the strongest metal know of. It’s stronger than tungsten.”

Anaella rolled a thread of metal between her fingers. It was pliable.

“Just for the hell of it, Felix and I charged them with electricity and they hovered on their own. If they are mining the strongest metal across two galaxies, then even Minos is about to change.”
“How?”
“Think about it. Soon there’s going to be ships coming from all over to buy this metal. We need to go to Helios. Tonight.”

Angular and rusted pieces of metal poked out of swirling pits of red ash. It was itself a ruinous city of twisted hull and wire with sloped and curved awnings along narrow paths. Once backlit buttons were hollowed out with copper colored earth and empty chairs looked hollow without their occupants.

The crash site spanned over a mile, from the initial impact crater to the bits of clothing blown then embedded in a far off rocky plateau. The bulk of the ship’s remains stood inside a clear, enclosed structure sturdy enough to walk on. Signs recalling details of construction, journey, and eventual end dotted the outside.  It was an unattended and morbid display, with even the excavated skeleton of a passenger laying lonely and exposed.

Their helmet displays lit up and beeped, mapping the landscape and weather patterns. They trudged along the site toward a far end with a guard rail and warning sign to stay out.

“Let’s head passed here,” Anaella said.

They climbed over the barrier through clouds of dust and unsteady ground. It was just as everyone had described. Hiking along a desolate and harsh terrain bore omens of death from its barrenness. Time was a slow drawl.

“How’s that roommate of yours?”
“He’s okay. Sweet. Very cute. Ignorant.”
“Your type, then?” Kane chuckled.
“He’s always got a question about something. It’s draining. Though something weird happened.”
“What?”
“He was telling me this stuff about the Helios crash, stuff that sounds like conspiracy theory bullshit.”
“Okay. People believe all sorts of bullshit. Why does that matter?”
“His name is Minos Headley.”
“For real?? You didn’t tell me that!”

Anaella sunk her shoulders and lumbered on.

“Nae, i-it’s fine, I just want you to be careful.”

She let silence hover between them on the turbulent gusts of fine red particles surrounding them.

“What are we looking for?”
“I don’t know. Just looks like a million miles of nothing.”

They scanned a landscape cloaked in a haze. Kane shook his head in resignation when he caught faint shimmering threads floating within the dust.

“Look!” he shouted.

Along a ridge was a steep drop approaching the horizon. They crept to the edge and crouched down to see a vast crater covered by a dome-shaped, glossy forcefield. They scaled down the rocky embankment close enough to hear the pulsing buzz of peripheral emission devices generating the barrier. They hovered at a spot along it, getting close enough to peer through to see a featureless sprawl dotted with tiny humps and the sprint of tiny crafts between them.

Anaella reached out her hand and grazed the edges of the hazy field. It tickled her palm and felt like pops of static through her gloves. She advanced forward and pressed along a surface that felt like smooth glass.

“Kane, you have to feel this. It’s…” Her mouth was still agape when she turned around to find Kane standing with his hands up. A slight figure stood pointing a weapon to Kane’s chest.

“Get up,” they said.

Anaella raised her hands and stumbled to her feet. The guard was in a stark white, seamless suit and slick white helmet with a tinted black front piece obscuring their face.

“What are you doing here?”
“We’re from Minos. We’re trying to get information on someone from this planet.” Kane said.

All three froze as the wind howled and beat against them.

“You’re coming with me.”

They lowered the weapon and waved their hand along the force field. A portal opened and they gestured Anaella and Kane to enter. Beyond the threshold were steps down to a landing which overlooked the expanse. The portal filled in behind them.

The guard removed their helmet and shook loose tresses of fiery hair. The pair followed their lead.

“So what’s this about?”
“We believe one of your citizens was killed and dumped on our planet.”
“Is that right?” They narrowed their suspicious eyes. “Well, you’re lucky I found you. Anyone else would have shot you on sight.”
“This is Kane. I’m Anaella. Is there someone we can speak with about this case?”
“I’m Tory. And, uh, no one is going to be investigating this case. Does anyone know you’re here?”

Anaella shook her head.

“Good. If you’ve come this far, I’m sure there’s things you already know about this planet. You must know about the mines.”
“We suspected as much,” she said.
Tory placed a hand on their holster, scanning the surrounding landing and the scaffolding below.

“We should get out of here then. I know the man you’re looking for.”


Thanks for tuning in to episode 4 of “Ithaka”. Next week, we’ll take a break from the story for a thread discussion. It’ll be your chance to catch up with the story so far and share your insights. As always, you can email theflare@substack.com. See you next week.


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