Read BENEATH - A Novel Online

Authors: Jeremy Robinson

BENEATH - A Novel (2 page)

7.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

-- Dr. Kathy Connelly, Biologist and Oceanographer


"Maybe this world is another planet's hell."

-- Aldous Huxley



Glowing dully in the light cast from the distant sun, a spinning chunk of interwoven nickel and iron the size of Khufu's Pyramid, cruised past the outer fringes of our solar system, missing Pluto by a miniscule six hundred thousand miles.

Moving at 75,000 miles per hour, the asteroid sped past the orbits of Uranus, Neptune and Saturn, bringing it deeper into the solar system and on a direct collision course with Earth. But, as often happens with solar intruders, a slight tug, a nagging pull of gravity began to exert its force on the interplanetary projectile. The course of the asteroid was modified and redirected towards the solar system's vacuum cleaner, mighty Jupiter.

Just as the ancient god Jupiter protected the Roman Empire by reaching out and smiting enemies with lightning bolts, so too did the solar system's guardian. Reaching out with its gravity, Jupiter pulled the asteroid toward its surface, threatening to crush it within a high pressure atmosphere of hydrogen, nitrogen, helium and other gases. The asteroid, now on a collision course with the outer atmosphere of Jupiter, began building speed, pulled in faster by Jupiter's influence.

Passing Jupiter's outer moons in rapid succession, the asteroid's fate seemed clear. But a near miss with Callisto, Jupiter's eighth and second-largest moon, altered its course ever so slightly, just enough to cause a premature collision. Noiselessly, the asteroid impacted with the frozen surface of Jupiter's sixth moon, Europa. The surface of the moon exploded with energy created by the impact and massive chunks of ice, launching stone and other materials into space. Some were pulled back by Jupiter's gravitational grip, but other chunks, moving fast enough to escape, tumbled into space and scattered across the solar system like a broken dinner plate across a tile floor.

One object in particular made off like a fleeing prisoner, toward the center of the solar system—toward Earth. The football-field-sized asteroid which once threatened Earth had been replaced by a smaller chunk of Europa, which slowly spun through the solar system, passing through the asteroid belt and the orbit of Mars without incident.

The house-sized object passed the moon and burst into flames as it entered Earth's atmosphere—3,053 years later.




Muscles stretched and bones cracked as Michael Peterson twisted his own neck with his hands. His mother had always told him that cracking his own neck would one day paralyze him. But Peterson had stretched his neck to the point where his vertebrae popped every morning since his was a child. He stepped out of the tent and shivered as the frigid air struck his lungs.

If only mom could see me now
, he thought as he looked out at the white expanse of the
where he'd come in search of meteorites. Every year, thousands of space rocks made their permanent home on the surface of the Earth, or in this case, the frozen surface of the
Arctic Ocean
. It wasn't that meteorites were more plentiful at the North Pole, just that they were easier to spot. Black specks on the stark ice usually meant one of two things, a polar bear's snout or a meteorite.

Peterson had the rugged look of a man who ought to be out in a cold expanse, seeking out new-found wonders. His face was covered in stubble, which helped block out the unending cold. His jet black hair had a slight wave to it, but was now covered by a wool cap and parka hood. Some teenagers might consider him old, but he was still ready to take on most any challenge his profession could throw at him. Not that there was much to being an astrogeologist with a specialization in meteorites. If he wasn't collecting rocks from around the world, he was dissecting them in a warm, cozy lab. But it was exciting work. He believed that the evidence for life on other worlds wouldn't be found through monitoring radio waves like the folks at SETI or by finding traces of water on the surface of Mars. No, the proof would come to us, in the form of microorganisms embedded in a meteorite. It only needed to be found.

He was only a child when the news of ALH84001 hit the papers in 1996, but it was one of his sweetest memories. The meteorite had been found on
in 1984, but wasn't analyzed for years. When it rocked the world with the possibility of extraterrestrial microbial life on Mars. The president addressed the nation about the find. Conversations of life on other worlds ran rampant. Peterson based his school science project on the Martian stone, earning him an A in eighth grade astronomy. He was devastated when the stone was proven to contain no evidence of life, but the flame had already been ignited. Earning his doctorate degree by age twenty-five garnered him the respect of his peers and allowed him to start working on his life's dream at a young age. It was now 2021 and after seven years of searching, he was no closer to his life's goal than he was at the millennium.

Peterson lifted a stone in his gloved hand and let it drop. He watched as the rock hit the snow, creating a small plume of icy dust, and a tiny pockmark. Lifting the stone, Peterson smiled at the mini crater. He had often pictured what it would be like, witnessing a meteorite crashing to Earth; bursting through the atmosphere and crashing to the ground. He'd seen the results when such collisions took place in the civilized world; car engines torn through like a tank had just taken a pot shot, living rooms destroyed, trees severed in half. It was a miracle no one had yet been brained by one of the falling stones. He'd seen it all, but when it happened to him, for all his years of dreaming, he found himself completely unprepared.

The streak overhead caught his attention as he stretched in the early morning, preparing for another long day of scouring the frozen cap of the world. His first thought was that it was a crashing plane, or perhaps a satellite. But something about the way it glowed and broke up told him the object falling across the deep blue sky was not man made. This was the real thing. An asteroid turned meteorite plummeting to Earth before his eyes.

It fell to the north, disappearing over the horizon. Peterson's eyes widened; he feared the object had been completely disintegrated by Earth's friction filled atmosphere. Perhaps he would find nothing but interstellar ash? Or maybe nothing at all. He was terrified that he would have nothing to show for the most enlightening, most invigorating and satisfying experience of his life. He held his breath.

A second later, he heard a distant thud. The meteorite had struck the ice, and not too far away. His mind spun with the possibilities that came when any meteorite was discovered: proof of extraterrestrial life, new elements, maybe even evidence for the beginning of the universe. The possibilities were endless. This object that just fell into his proverbial backyard could be as old as the universe itself. He stood there for a minute, pondering what he would find, and then suddenly snapped out of his thoughts, sounded the alarm and gathered his crew.

"Benson! Get your ass up!" Peterson shouted as he shook the outside of the sturdy, orange tent.

"I'm awake. I'm awake," came a voice from inside the tent. Seconds later the tent was unzipped from the inside and a tired, bearded face gazed out. "What the hell is so important?"

"A meteorite," Peterson said, with glowing eyes.

Benson was annoyed. "Yeah, we find a lot of those up here, but not at six o'clock in the morning!"

Peterson leaned in close and spoke with a voice that demanded attention, without the use of volume. "You don't understand. It just hit. I saw it hit."

Staring straight forward for a moment, Benson was lost in thought. "You're sure?"

"Saw it with my own eyes," Peterson said. "Wake the others. We're leaving in twenty minutes. And we're not taking any chances, so break out the bio-suits."

"Are you sure that's necessary?" Benson asked with a snicker. "You do realize how improbable it is for us to find life on one of these rocks, don't you?"

"Just do it," Peterson said as he walked away.

Within thirty minutes, they were high above the crash zone, circling a crater the size of a typical backyard swimming pool. Peterson looked out from the side of the helicopter, peering through the clear faceplate of his bio-suit. His heart skipped a beat. There was something at the center of the crater.

Something red.

"Take us down," Peterson said to the pilot, who instantly brought the chopper around. They landed fifty yards away, sending up a blinding plume of snow.

As soon as the chopper came to rest on the ice, Peterson, Benson and three other men, dressed from head to toe in silver biohazard suits, entered the swirling wash of snow and set out toward the meteorite. As though rehearsed, all five men reached the outer perimeter of the crater simultaneously and froze.

"Oh my god," Stewart, one of the interns, said as he gazed into the crater.

Peterson looked at Benson with a smile stretching wider and wider. "You're with me."

Slowly and calmly, Peterson and Benson descended into the crater which was six feet deep and smooth. The ice melted and refroze. It was tricky navigating the steep angle but the bio-suits had been designed for use in the arctic and the built-on crampons bit into the ice. Once at the bottom, Peterson opened his hip pack and took out a small device he had designed specifically for his line of work. He called it a geospectrometer.
for short. The device could scan any object, geological, biological or man-made, and tell you what it was composed of—instantly. What was more important to Peterson was the device's ability to detect the presence of life, or even the residue of life, down to the microscopic. It was the astrogeologist's magic wand. Many finds which would have taken years to scrutinize now took seconds with a degree of error that put human analysis to shame. Every find was valuable, but thus far none had contained even a hint of life.

He looked down at the object. It was the size of a football and deep red in color.
This is definitely something new
, he thought, and then frowned.
Or waste ejected from the space station

He held the
over the object and watched as an array of numbers danced across the LCD screen, working calculations and identifying the rock's chemical and physical makeup. The numbers changed to words, listing out all known elements, several of which were common in all meteorites. Then it stopped.

Peterson's eyebrows furrowed deeply. That couldn't be it. Nothing in the list of elements listed on the
could account for the vibrant crimson color. Before he could voice a complaint at the device he had created, a new set of words were displayed on the screen.


Unknown element: classification - 001EL

Unknown element: classification - 002EL

Unknown element: classification - 003 EL

Geologic Analysis: Unknown materials present.

Biologic Analysis: Unknown potential.


Peterson's jaw went slack. Not only had they discovered three new elements, solidifying that this was indeed from another world, the biological analysis came back:
Unknown potential
. This by no means meant that he had discovered life, but something in, or on, this rock had confounded the geospeck. And
was something worth getting excited about.

"Unbelievable," Peterson said to himself. He looked back at Benson, Stewart and the others. "We've found something...something...I don't know...."

Stewart's excited eyes widened behind the bio-suit's mask. "Life?"

Peterson smiled. "Maybe."

Stewart looked confused. "Maybe.

"That not good enough for you, Stew?" Benson said.

Stewart looked uncomfortable. "Well, I—"

"Try to understand this from our perspective," Peterson said. "We've been coming here and collecting stones from space for how long now?"

"Seven years," Benson said.

"Seven years," Peterson repeated. "And this is the first truly unique meteorite in all that time. It contains something we—something
no one
—has seen before."

Stewart looked pleased again. "So this is big then?"

Peterson chuckled. "Very big."

"Famous big?" Stewart said.

Peterson put his hand on Benson's shoulder. "We'll see."

Stewart leaned over the lip of the crater and peered down at the meteorite, half buried in the ice, its red surface shining in the bright sun. "—" Stewart lost his balance and fell forward. "Whoa!" His arms spun madly, like a penguin trying to fly, but it was no good. Stewart spilled into the crater, tumbled head over heels and began to slide, face first.

Leaping out of the way, Peterson realized that anything falling inside the crater would inexorably be drawn to its center, where the meteorite now lay. Half out of fear for Stewart, half out of concern for their find, Peterson yelled. "Dig in with your crampons! Don't hit the—"

But it was too late. Stewart's forward motion came to an abrupt halt as he smashed face first into the meteorite. Everyone stared at Stewart's motionless body, waiting for something, anything, to signify he was still alive.

7.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Snow Angel by Chantilly White
Play Dead by Richard Montanari
To Love by Dori Lavelle
The Way You Are by Carly Fall
Villainous by Matthew Cody
Hammered by Desiree Holt