The Others

(Written Dec 2023)

I don’t know how long I’ve lived at the station on this planet. Last night I stood outside while the sun set, and the dust clouds rose. A dangerous thing to do. Nobody is sure what is in the dust. Something evil, it’s hard to say. Fear is never far away here, well, fear was never far away back on earth, but that was a different kind of fear. At least I’m free here, even if it is boring as hell.

               Tonight I stayed in and watched, through the dome window, the dust rise as the sun set. It’s about two meters round and sticks out the side of the station. An observation window. A good view but it lacks the feel of last night. The threat and the howl of the dust, the burning of the setting sun.

               I check my watch and wonder why I bother looking at it. I’ve had a package meal, my coffee sits by. The light fades and the internal lights stay off. I have disabled the auto-on switch. I like it as the light fades, it’s a kind of dying as the light goes. Then a rebirth when I banish the dark. The auto-lights just mean the same old dull, all the time. These days they aren’t as bright as they used to be, I think the batteries are going, or the solar array.

               I look out at the dust wiping up in the last of the sunlight. It’s blotted out all the view of the dusty mountains. I think I should take the truck out there one night, but they used to say the dust would stop it moving. How long ago was that? I’m not sure. Each day is the same here. It could be years or just months since the others were here.

               I sip my coffee. The only life out there is a small rodent creature. They have little elephant noses. I caught one once and tried to make it a pet. There is a cage, quite large. I don’t know what it is doing here but it was just right for the little creature. I made the cage nice. Dust from outside, like it lives in. I put it in, but the sod just stood there on its back legs, glaring at me.

               For about three hours it stood there. I kept checking on it. The thing just glared at me. I couldn’t stand it, I picked it up, took it outside and let it go. It shot off at incredible speed. Like it had some sort of appointment. Could anything have an appointment in this godforsaken place?

               There is something weird about the dust. I can’t quite place it. But it doesn’t feel nice. Perhaps that little weird creature has friends in the dust.

I took the truck out to the old spaceport today. Not sure why I did as the place is starting to collapse. It’s been so long since it was used. There are several super ships still, I don’t know why they were left behind, perhaps they came here empty under AI control. I rooted around the place but there was little to see. The ships are all sealed and refused to open. Reminded me of an old air museum on Earth, lots of dead hulks of aircraft, never going anywhere again, gradually falling apart. I think the power in them must be dead as none are hooked up to the recharge points. There is no power anyway, unlike the station with the solar array.

               I switched on my head torch and went into the dark rooms around the edges of the spaceport. Past the dark retail outlets, off world prices, apparently. Now dust over everything, that dust, insidious. I grabbed a few bottles of soda and some snacks. They were still good even though well past their date. Nothing goes off on this planet.

               Snacking on a bar of something I carried on into the cargo stores. Everything dark, shelves stacked high above. So much useless bounty, would have been worth a packet once. I tried to get into a few ships. The real bounty must be on them, but it was no good. I went back to the truck; the whole place was making me depressed.

As I approached the station, I realised I’d left it too late. The dust was coming down as the station came into sight. I felt the creeping feeling that something was coming with the dust. Then the truck started to feel weird. All the time I could just see the station tower as the visibility was going, I was just enough in sight of it. Gradually I was getting there but gradually the truck was slowing and feeling strange to drive. The electric engine had been less powerful for a long time but this was much worse.

               Soon I was in close, but the truck was packing up as the dust came down. Then near the foot of the station it stopped completely. I opened the door and the dust started to pile in. A horrid feeling came over me as the dust gripped at me and I felt a weirdness in my head. I got down to the ground and then bolted for the station door. It was wide open, and I dived in and slammed it behind me. Some dust had come in with me and clung to my clothes. My head swam as I brushed it off.

               All the lights were on in the station which had banished the dust. It was like a vampire and hated the light. Feeling groggy I went up from the garages and workshop to the living area. Everything was quiet and the windows were blocked out by the dust as it enveloped the building.

               I made a coffee and then sat there in the comfortable chairs, brooding about the experience I’d just had. It was the first time I’d ever been caught in the dust.

               The others had often talked about getting caught out. They’d so many stories much creepier than the one I’d just had. I’d never been so sloppy to get caught out until tonight. My eyes fell on the big window with the dust swirling about it and I started to imagine shapes in the glass. Faces and eyes looking in, broken trucks, broken ships. The spaceport. I wondered what had happened to the others. I wondered if they had slipped away into another reality. I had no answers. I shook my head and blinked the shapes away; then grabbed my pack of cards and delt a klondike deck, sipping coffee as I played.

               I remembered the others playing cards. I started to think about the old days, Earth. The game went unregarded and the coffee was finished. I wondered when I had come here, how distant Earth was, if at all. Maybe this was still earth? Maybe the others had all gone away? I wasn’t sure. What did happen on Earth? I realised I had no answers, I really had no idea what had happened. I had no idea when the others had been here. Where was I now? What was this planet? I started to feel worried. Then I dismissed the thoughts and went back to my game, best not to think about it.

In the morning I got the truck inside. There was no dust in it. Once it was in, I walked back to the garage doors intending to close them. But as I looked out over the sand I started to wonder what was out there. Where had that little elephant creature rushed off to? What was so important out there? All I could see for miles was sand, it just went on and on to the horizon. Even the huge spaceport was too far away to be seen beyond the yellow expanse.

               I went back to the truck and checked the charge level. Its onboard solar panels had charged it up as I had left it outside. It wasn’t as full as charging from the station but I thought it would charge on the way. I decided to drive out to the horizon. Getting in, I pointed it randomly at the distance.

               An hour went by and the truck plucked on. I could still see the station behind in the distance. Nothing had changed around me, just yellow all around. Nothing to see. I stopped the truck and got out grabbing the binoculars as I went. The sun beat down on me as I climbed the rear ladder onto the roof. I stood there and pointed the binoculars into the distance. There was nothing. No change anywhere. Sand, sand and more sand. Yellow upon yellow.

               My heart sank as I investigated the distance. Not a stick of vegetation, nothing, not a stick of anything. Infinite sand.

               I went down the ladder and back into the truck. Checking the instruments for anything out there. The scanner was at full range and swept a full 360. Nothing. Only the station registered. I tried several other types of scan but in the end had to admit, the only thing that existed here was indeed, sand.

               With the station just visible behind, I started the truck heading directly away from it. I knew it was folly. It was already too late to return to the station, but this was absolutely asking for it. The truck carried on and the station finally vanished. That was it, sand all around, nothing else.

               There had to be something out here, even if it was just an elephant creature. Where did it go? Down a hole? Certainly, there was nothing to climb. But there was no evidence of holes. The sand was complete, undisturbed.

               The sun started to sink to the horizon. The truck had covered miles. I started to feel worried. There was no going back before the night came and I feared what the night would bring. I’d been looking at the scanners, but still there was nothing. The yellow was interminable.

               The truck was fairly cool but I knew the sun had been pounding on it all day. Without the A/C it would have been a sweat box. I watched the sun nearing the horizon through the tinted window panel. As the sun got low the dust was rising. There would be no escaping it this time. I wished I’d turned back when I had the time and was back in the station with a coffee.

               Too late now.

               The sun burned away with dust swirling around it, which meant it was also swirling around the truck. The truck started to feel sick and it slowed. The engine blipped. Then it stopped and all went quiet. It had happened faster than I could have imagined.

               Quickly the cabin became stuffy. Outside the dust was filling the windows. It was dark and the only sound the moaning of the dust around the truck. The air was rancid. I’d have to open the door. It got more and more stuffy. I couldn’t bear the foul air. I moved to the door and yanked the handle. As it opened the dust came in. I pushed the door wide but it was dark and I felt the dust everywhere.

               I was breathing it in, I felt smothered, at one with the dust. Finally, I realised where the others had gone.