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Space Too Deep, Orbit Too Wide

Have another beer. Some deepspacer spun this yarn. You can believe it or not. I don't care.

There was a pilgrim frigate out of the Plesh Cluster that got off course and was thrown into the deep. Drive started acting up. And so they took orbit on the closest Earth-like planet. Some great boggy sphere, barely a bit of dry land with an orbit so wide there'd be no sunrise for close to a standard century.

Scans showed there was food and water and a vein of ore and other materials they needed to fix the drive, and so the crew ported down, left their ship a ghost satellite. Story goes there were twelve of them--a family and some serfs: mom, dad, grandpa, two sons, a young daughter--that's six--and six serfs (I think they was slime-vatters, those synths with the white hair and the lousy senses of humor).

The expedition rolled on and had lasted about half a standard year. They'd built shelter and had a good fuel source and was able to harvest protein and milk from fungous grazer. No predators to speak of.

They was working that vein of ore with slow burn nano-drills and nearly had what they needed, all the while their ship just hung up there in orbit, a cylinder of steel and electronics blinking in the night sky.

It just so happened the daughter went missing. She was a little girl, wandered off in the swamps and those folks assumed she'd drowned. A month passed and they gave up searching and held a small funeral for her, fired an obelisk and ever-burning light in her honor. Still burning there, probably.

About month eight they were still working that vein and spirits were low on account of the lost girl. And then three of the synths were found dead, their milky bodies bobbing on the grimy water. And the peculiar thing was the manner they were killed. Something had sucked out their eyes.

Well, these folks were deepspacers and they knew that stranger stuff has never been found but on Earth-like planets with life and mutations and what not. And so, out came the bolt guns and the collapsible walls and they turned their little vacation bungalow into an armed fortress.

They continued working the ore but they kept their guard double up. And here is where things get stranger. One of the slime-vatters (you can't trust those synths--he might have just been malfunctioning) swore and swore he saw that little girl who had gone missing, only she was bright and fine with narry a scratch on her.

Well, of course they started up the search again. I reckon they was too spooked and too space-sick by now to realize the error of their ways. And yet, love and hope had heralded many a fall, yea?

Not long after two more of those synths were found dead, their eyes sucked out just like the other three.

That left--one little girl and three and two synths--six of them: grandpa, mom, dad, two sons and two serfs. That was eight eyes sucked out, not counting the little girl (whose body was never found).

By then they decided to get going, the planet being too hostile, the space too deep and the orbit too wide, and they being too few to justify staying to finish their job. They had enough material to rig something up in order to oar themselves to what they hoped was a more hospitable planet.

But on the twilight they tuck-tailed, the little girl showed back up. Pale and shivering, she was. And here is the weird thing: she was wearing a necklace of eyes preserved in glass. Ain't spoke a word since.

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About the Author
Jason Ray Carney teaches creative writing and popular literature at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. His work has appeared in Skelos: The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy, Swords and Sorcery Magazine, and several other literary magazines. His scholarship has appeared in the Stoker Award Nominated The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror as well as The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Fiction Studies. He lives in Virginia with his wife and cat. You can follow his tweets at @jrcarney52.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link