Exploration. Short Story.

Been a bit of a long week last week. One of our dogs, Dougal, had to be put to sleep. He had a sudden downturn over a few days. One day he was completely fine, the next he wasn’t. In a way I’m glad it happened quickly, it wasn’t long or drawn out for him. He really was a very good dog, one of the nicest dogs I’ve ever known (though I know I’m biased, he was extremely sweet to everyone.) He’ll definitely be missed.

“What was everything covered in blood?”
“No, it was much, much worse than that. If everything had been coated, it would have given us some hope that what had happened to them had happened quickly. No. What we saw was far too horrific for words. Bodies contorted in agony, people caught in lovers embraces as they fought to the death, their mouths full of the others flesh. And much worse besides. I have nightmares about that place. I have no shame in admitting it. I do not know what happened to them. I do not know what they encountered, but I do know it was pure evil. They can give their own theories and explanations as to what happened, but you will never convince me that something that had no idea of right and wrong could cause that much agony. You could see it on their faces, even as they died, they enjoyed the pain. They revelled in it. No. What ever did it to them, a great god or a lowly virus, it was evil.”

“What happened? Afterwards?”
“All data was expunged, stricken from the records. All of us were sworn to secrecy as to what we saw. Said it would deliver a potentially fatal blow to the confidence of the people if they were ever to find out. We couldn’t do that, after all we were so close, and we truly were. It was just a few short years later that we achieved success. We all agreed to take it to our graves. After all, the missions were done in secret. We couldn’t let anyone know what we were trying to do, not until we were successful. But if that had gotten out.” He shook his head. “There would have been no recovery. No travel or exploration. We’d still be stuck on that little rock in the middle of nowhere. It was for the best, I know that. But I still have nightmares.”
“Why now?”
He shrugged, “I’m old, I am dying, perhaps I feel some guilt. Take your pick. I’m the only one left of all of them. Even their families are gone. Which truly was for the best. Better for them to think their loved ones died quickly in an explosion than for them to know to truth. It was the first test, but it wasn’t the last.” He reaches out shakily and picks up his cup of tea, he takes a gentle sip, then puts it down again. “I can’t stand the stuff. But it’s supposed to keep you healthy. I need all the help I can get at this point. Where was I? Oh yes. The others. They were only the first test. Only a few knew of what happened. Those who went next didn’t know what they were getting into. How could we tell them what happened to their predecessors? Sure they knew there was danger, thought they might not return, or die outright. They wouldn’t have gone if they knew the truth though. All in all we sent seven crews out. Of the seven, six returned. None were as terrible as the first. If any of them had come back like that we would have stopped. At least, that’s what we told ourselves. Of the six that returned, four of the crews were dead, of the other two, one group were insane, the other were catatonic. Those who were insane died within the next two years. Suicide. All of them. The last, Johnny Macintyre, used his teeth to rip out the veins in his wrists.” He shuddered and reached for the tea, halfway he paused and let his hand drop.

“Those who were catatonic remained that way. Two of them are still alive. I’ll get their names for you if you want to look them up, though there isn’t much point really. The other crews, the ones who didn’t make it back, they were easier to explain. One group suffocated, a problem with their air supply. Another starved, they were gone much, much longer than any of us anticipated. People know about that one. What they don’t know is that some of the bodies had chunks of flesh missing. We didn’t look too deeply into that, we didn’t want to know for sure. One group returned frozen solid and finally, the last, well, the last were just dead. There was seemingly no reason for it. They had plenty of supplies, they had warmth, nothing could explain it. One day the logs just stopped. None of the machinery was effected, there was no sign of anything boarding or leaving the craft and no sign of any struggles. They were the last and after that we questioned ourselves. We had before you understand, but now it was different. We had yet to have a crew return unscathed. We wanted to stop, shut it down, but we were not allowed. You won’t find that mentioned anywhere either. The day of the uprising.” He began to laugh and after a few seconds the laughter turned to coughing. He hunched over, handkerchief pressed tightly to his mouth.
“Are you ok?”
He nodded, waving off the attempts to help.
“I’m fine, I just need a second.”
He took another sip of tea, then grimaced.
“It was a poor uprising. We went to them, all of us, demanding the program be shut down. It had taken us too long to see the dangers, the technology we had wasn’t sufficient. We were throwing away the lives of young men and women and for what? Nothing. We were given two choices that day. Go back to work or be shot for treason. No one was shot that day. I think it gave us an extra push. We knew now that we had no choice. Sure it was suspected, but now it was confirmed. We were stuck, sending more and more people to their deaths. Unless we figured it out. So that is what we did. We couldn’t bare to watch these people that we knew, our friends and almost family die at our own hands. It was terrible before, but it became worse. It was us or them and we chose ourselves every time. Until finally, we did it. We figured it out. The details of the previous missions were swept under the rug, people were told they had died, but not how. No one went into details. I figured it out though. I was the one that made it work. It made me rich, famous. It cost me my soul. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to work out what exactly happened on all those other attempts. We knew the basic principle, everyone does at this point, but we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We were just groping blindly in the dark. But I figured it out. We sent them through, but they didn’t get enough power, they stopped part way, the ships couldn’t handle the strain, they needed a break. They landed in different dimensions. I’ve done my own tests and managed to find out what happened to most. All but that first crew. But I think I now what happened. They went to hell. It’s why I’m telling you this now. I want people to know what happened. I kept logs and a journal at the time. It’s all here.” He patted a bundle of paper next to him. “There are multiple copies, all being sent off as we speak. You’ll have them for about three or four days before anyone else gets them. A month from now they’re to be released to the public online. I’m sorry to put pressure on you, but I had to be sure. I won’t be around then. I don’t know if the afterlife exists, I don’t really want to know. I do know that I need to pay for what I did. Pay for what happened to all those people. So I’m going, I’m going to hell. I’ve ensured there will be no way to follow me. The ship will return in a few months time, with a record of what happens to me. I want people to know, to see what happened to that first crew. To see what we continued to do after it. People need to know.”

He stood from the chair and passed the bundle over, then he turned, “Thank you for listening to me. It feels good to tell someone this. It’s been a while since I’ve had anyone to talk to about it.” He left the room, the door closing behind him. The young man didn’t try to stop him, he watched through the window as the ship took off, watched as it dwindled to nothing. He looked down at the pile of papers and opened the journal marked with a number one.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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