There had been nothing to report for the past three weeks. Doctor Gustav Cronin took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. It was a little after three in the morning and he had been staring at the monitor of the station’s weather surveillance radar since his shift began four hours earlier. There had been no activity of particular interest. At first, he had thought the equipment was faulty, but after a series of stringent and in-depth checks by the station technician, Alice Becker, everything was found to be in perfect working order. Every monitoring station in the northern hemisphere had been reporting the usual activity except this one. It was as if any form of wind or precipitation was bypassing the one hundred and forty-three-mile range of the station’s radar.
Cronin stared into the darkness outside through the small frosted portal next to his desk. It was always dark, but it seemed more endless and desolate than usual. He swivelled on his office chair and pushed away from his desk with weary legs and stood to make himself a cup of coffee. It would be his third of his four rations for the day. It was at this moment, as a series of alerts bleeped aggressively from the computer that Cronin span on his heels with the energy of a teenager, leaping to the monitor to read the data that was finally coming through. The whole screen was flashing with swarms of imagery, red and then green and then yellow. For the first time in the best part of a month the entire system was alive and almost overloading with the abundance of data. Then, as quickly as it started, the system went dead. The readings and mass of activity had gone. He banged on the side of the monitor a few times to get the activity going again.
He stood still in in the silence, trying to process his confusion. Moments later, Alice Becker and his assistant Jimmy Lin, having heard the commotion, rushed into the control room almost tripping over each other. The hope and excitement in their eyes turned to disappointment, realising that the activity had stopped, returning the station to a state of futility.
“I’ll take another look at the circuits”, Alice announced to the room.
Jimmy watched his mentor’s bleak expression as he stared into the empty monitor for a while, waiting in case he had something to say and then, realising he didn’t, sulked back to his lab.
Cronin pushed himself away from the monitor, fearing he might put his fist through an expensive piece of equipment. He slouched toward his own desk, opened the right-hand drawer and produced one glass and a bottle of vodka that he kept for particularly bitter nights. Tonight, he just wanted to drink. He poured himself a generous measure and returned to the view outside of the portal. Four deep sips later he felt a little better and started to enjoy the quiet view. He emptied his glass and was about to turn to make himself another drink when he noticed a small green light in the sky. At first, he thought it was just a plane or a helicopter, but the light was far too bright to be any aircraft and there were no flights scheduled in the area for at least another two weeks.
Cronin became transfixed by the ever-growing light. As it drew closer, he could see a tail forming with a bluish glow, much like the ion trail of a meteor or a piece of a satellite entering the earth’s atmosphere.
The object grew larger and brighter as it continued along its trajectory. It was only just occurring to him that whatever it was could hit the station. He called out to his colleagues, but nobody came. Sprinting over to the short-range radio, he picked up the receiver and tried to call the primary hub station and even some of the smaller neighbouring stations but received no answer before the signal went dead. The object became more threatening with each passing second, apparently gathering speed as it drew nearer. Cronin turned away from the blinding light coming through the portal and threw himself to the floor as the ground shook from a ferocious impact. Instruments and equipment fell from the desks and shattered on the station floor, light bulbs blew, and papers scattered everywhere.
When the emergency lights came on and the tremors had finally stopped, Cronin pulled himself up from the ground with the help of an overturned chair and gazed at the devastation outside. The object had crashed a few hundred feet away from the station, leaving a crater the size of a minivan. A dishevelled and frantic Jimmy sporting a nasty-looking gash on his head came flying into the control room. “What in God’s name was that?”
Lost for words, Cronin pointed at the scene outside.
Jimmy scrambled his way over to the radio and thumbed the receiver. Dead. Not even any static.
Cronin could not take his eyes away from the window. He was only roused from his trancelike state by the sound of a frantic Jimmy.
“Doctor! Are you listening? The radio is dead, and Alice is missing! What should we do?”
He had to fight through the haze before answering.
“You search the station and find Alice; she’s our best chance to get the radio going. I want to look outside”.
Jimmy looked at his mentor, his face covered in horror and disbelief. He shook his head wildly.
“You can’t go out there! We don’t know what it is. There could be radiation and we don’t have the right equipment!”. Tears welled in his eyes.
Ignoring Jimmy’s ongoing pleas to stay within the safety of the station, Cronin started with haste toward the sealed doorway and put on a sheepskin-lined parka along with a pair of battered snow boots. As he pulled the door’s lever to release the seal Jimmy placed a concerned hand on his shoulder and pleaded with him once more to stay inside, at least until they could get a signal back on the radio and help would arrive. With a final yank of the lever the door hissed open, releasing icy air into the control room. Without speaking, Cronin shrugged off the pleas and stepped out into the tundra, re-sealing the door behind with a sharp tug of the outer lever. Feeling the immediate drop in temperature, he pulled the hood of the parka up over his head and folded his arms across his chest in an attempt to retain his body heat.
In the mere minutes between the impact of the object and Cronin leaving the station, a thick mist had surrounded the area restricting the view to less than a metre ahead. The snow grew deeper and his wet trousers grew heavier with each step, his boots sticking in the deep powder. As he made his way closer to the point of the impact, the mist became dense and acrid. Cronin pulled the edges of his parka up and around his mouth to avoid breathing it in as much as possible.
There was a light and a humming on the horizon. His steps became more cautious as he edged closer, the hum becoming more rhythmic, like a pulse traveling through the earth’s core. It was seductive, like something was calling to him.
His body ached, and he was out of breath, but he had finally broken through the mist to reach the edge of what was now a twenty-meter-wide crater. As he looked across to the far side, he noticed even more of the landscape crumbling down into the abyss. The surrounding area had its own strange atmosphere, warm and dry, not even the lightest trace of a breeze. The greenish yellow glow emanating from the bottom of the crater was almost blinding and throbbed with the now booming hum of the ground. There was something intoxicating about it, making it hard for him to turn away. He shook off the effects in a panic and turned on his heels to run back to the station but was stopped in his tracks by a whisper that seemed to come from all around him.
He looked back over his shoulder toward the Crater, saw nothing and tried to assure himself that he was hearing things.
This time the whisper came from within, like his brain was speaking with another part of itself that had been dormant. Something was compelling him to go back toward the crater. He had lost control of his body. His mind wanted to run away but the rest of him continued toward the light. His feet dragged in the snow as he fought the urge to move forward. Now at the very edge of the crater sweat dripped down from his brow and into the unfathomable depths. Poised on the tips of his toes, fear and panic ran through his mind.
Without warning, a force that came from nowhere threw his body into the luminous pit. He clenched his eyes and prepared himself for the impact and the prospect of his impending death. It never came. His body continued to fall for what seemed like an eternity, plunging at speed surrounded by a maelstrom of light and heat. He found himself unable to scream or cry out. He desperately wanted to but had somehow lost the ability.
His fall came to a halt, like someone had slammed the brakes on, leaving him suspended in the air. Wisps of green light and energy surrounded him and then streaked away toward the walls exploding into millions of little strands. As if somebody had flicked a switch, the lights disappeared, and the humming stopped. Cronin thought he had gone deaf and blind all at once. All his senses seemed to fail him. Panic returned as he imagined himself hanging in endless nothingness until the end of his days.
The strands of green light returned, only a few at first, but within minutes, just as many, if not more than before. Flicking and twisting around the ensnared doctor’s body like sea snakes. An ear shattering sound erupted from the bowels of the crater, like a deep booming foghorn blown by the devil himself. This seemed to signal the luminous strands to stop their twisting and twirling and instead they started fizzing and cracking like electrical sparks. Another deep boom came from the depths. Cronin could feel watery, warm blood trickle from his ears and drip from his chin into the depths below him. A third, higher pitched boom sent the strands into a frenzy, circling the helpless doctor, furiously prodding and poking like they were trying to find a way into his body. He let out a curdling scream as they forced their way into his mouth, ears and nostrils. Choking and coughing soon muffled the scream. His body shook and convulsed until every strand had found their way inside. His limp body continued to hang in the darkness.
When Cronin opened his eyes, he was laying in the snow a few metres from the edge of the Crater. He picked himself up and brushed the snow from his wet clothes. The mist had cleared, and an icy breeze swept past him as he looked back toward the crater. No green lights and no sound. Just a deep dark hole in the middle of the Alaskan landscape. He patted more snow away from the arm of his parka and walked toward the faint lights of the station.
Jimmy was already waiting to greet him when he reached the entrance to the station, smiling from ear to ear. Happy to see his colleague return. A smile that soon turned into a look of horror and shock, his mouth hung open to accompany his wide-eyed expression. As Cronin got closer, he could see the tip of a bloody screwdriver sticking out from the front of Jimmy’s chest, hot vapour drifting up from the wound. His body convulsed and dropped to the floor, Alice Becker standing behind him, her hands and clothes covered with Jimmy’s dark red blood. She flashed a toothy, chilling smile at Cronin, a pulse of green swept across each iris as her eyes met his.
“Welcome to Earth master”.