A day with the drillworms

A day with the drillworms

I met Skazit the day I landed. Khamun IV is a hard planet, all gorges and boulders and sharp crystal surfaces. It’s dark, too, when the rings are angled just right in winter. I was young then; I landed in the dark zone anyway. I lost track of the ship right away. The duraline sliced in half on a crystal, and the locator beacon reflected off so many surfaces it might as well have been off. I stayed calm, though. I had a full tank of air, and all I had to do was backtrack. Think and backtrack. Take my time. If it hadn’t been for the drillworms, I’d have been fine.

We still don’t know much about the drillworms. They only come out in the dark, and they tunnel straight up through whatever’s in their way. We’re not sure what happens when they reach the air, but evidence suggests they explode. That’s what the feet of my lander suggest, anyway. Maybe that’s how the worms reproduce.

Anyway, there I was, lost in the dark, surrounded by edges, and only half a k from my lander. I’d have been able to see it if I could climb onto one of the boulders. I picked the one that looked the least sharp, and I’d put one foot into a handy notch when I felt a buzz at the sole of my other boot. I’d like to say it tickled, but truth is, it scared the heck out of me. Instinct took over, and I pushed down on the upper foot. I kicked pretty hard, I guess; I launched up in the air to the top of that boulder. I got a glimpse of my lander off to the right. Down below, where I’d been standing, something jagged and black was just poking through the surface. I windmilled for all I was worth, trying to swim through that thin atmosphere to the top of the boulder – only it wasn’t there anymore. What I’d taken for a rough sphere was now a broad cup of dark obsidian. I hit hard, and that transparent stone just folded over me as I gasped for breath. We rolled like a pinball, dancing around boulders and chasms in a rough line toward my lander. I got banged around plenty, but could see it, every revolution when my head came up top, if it happened to face that way. There were little bursts of bright orange light every now and then, and then a light tinkle. I guess that was the drillworms exploding; at the time, it looked like blaster fire. When we got to the lander, I didn’t even have to get out – the obsidian just shaped itself into a long tube that went straight up to the hatch, and spit me into the airlock. I landed on my feet and threw the hatch shut behind me. I lay there for the next hour, just shivering, except for one time, when I thought I felt something vibrate under me. Turned out it was just a kinked compressor tube.

I don’t know her name’s really Skazit; that’s just what I call her. I don’t know she’s female, either; that’s just a label. She saved my life, though. I go out there, sometimes, in the summer. Maybe late spring, early fall. Never winter. There’s a big boulder out there, about where I landed. I sit there by it and tell her how I’m doing. I bring presents sometimes. A Malatherian root-crystal, a chunk of spaflerite, maybe a shear of high-pressure axonot. They vanish. I like to think she takes them. Once, I thought I could see a crust of amethyst, deep inside the obsidian. Maybe it was just the sun.

I have a little dome now, here at the pole. We’ve got the orbital mirror to keep the lights on all the time. Not a lot of people come. It’s a beautiful place, though, if you know how to see it.

from the notebooks of B. Morris Allen

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