WHAT’S LEFT BEHIND
“Thank you, Diane. This is Kristine Uyeno at the base of Kilauea. Eyewitnesses report an object streaking from out of the sky and into Halemaumau Crater. The impact threw a plume of lava eighty feet high into the air, but officials from the U.S. Geological Survey at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory report no injuries. Asked to identify the object that crashed into the crater and whether it may precipitate an eruption, the geologists said that they did not at this time have enough information to speculate. From the base of Kilauea, this is Kristine Uyeno for KHNL. Back to you, Diane.”
The crust crumbles. A brief flash of grey and soot and Howard Ritter is through, into the two thousand-degree belly of the volcano. The basalt lava snags him, stops him, wraps him in yellow-white agony. Hair flashes into ash. Fillings in the teeth melt and slide away. Fat bubbles into gas and bursts through skin. Muscles sizzle and twist from bone. Bone cracks, marrow hisses. The magma scours the skeleton clean of tissue and then gnaws it into char. In minutes, Howard Ritter is consumed.
(AP) Silver Spring, MD – Marine biologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration (OOE) are abuzz with recent sonar sightings that hint at the existence of quick-moving life form capable of surviving at the greatest depths of the ocean.
In a brief news conference this morning, OOE spokesman Nicolas Alvarado announced the sightings. “As part of our mandate to explore and better understand our oceans, the OOE maintains and monitors a deep-ocean grid of sonar stations,” explained Alvarado. “The sonar station positioned at the Marianas Trench, just over the Vitjazdepth, recorded a man-sized object moving at over 150 knots at a depth of 36,000 feet. Obviously the speed and size of the object, both impossible at such depths, demonstrates an error in the sonar’s measurements. But if the sighting of an organism larger and faster than mere bacteria proves to be accurate then this could prove to be a startling discovery.”
Numbed by the relentless chill of the water, Howard Ritter at last grows still. He floats, blind, beneath seven miles of black ocean. Sixteen thousands pound of water push on every square inch of his skin, poking, prodding, searching for a way inside him. With a titan’s embrace, the water crushes the air out of his lungs, his rib cage collapsing, and then forces itself into his nose and mouth, rushing in glee to fill his lungs back up with icy brine. The air pockets in his inner ears implode, bone and tissue congealing into a gristly clump. Nitrogen scrambles from his blood stream, shoving aside oxygen to clutch greedily at every cell, smothering it, suffocating it, killing him inch by inch from the inside out. Blue and broken, Howard Ritter dangles lifeless in the dark.
NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL-INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
RE: DETECTION OF ORBITAL THREAT
SATELLITE IMAGERY AND SUBORBITAL RADAR DATA REVEALS UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT IN DECAYING ORBIT. ORIGIN OF MANUFACTURE: UNKNOWN. UTILITY: UNKNOWN. THREAT: UNKNOWN.
The stars, shrill and cold, stare down at Howard Ritter. Beneath him, the luminous Earth watches on. The vacuum of space coaxes the water from his soft tissues and blood. His body swells grotesquely with vapor. His blood lurches and stumbles to a halt; his heart beats futilely to rouse it. The air in his lungs, desperate to escape from their clutch into space, tears through tissue and capillary. At last his last breath bursts free, its moisture freezing in his nose and mouth, bearding him in ice. Muscles lock, then tremble, then let go. The Earth, having paid grim witness, coaxes the corpse of Howard Ritter back to its bright embrace.
Avatar bullets through the thermosphere, tendrils of fire creeping across shoulders and forehead even as the chill of empty space gives his toes one last nip. He feels neither the heat nor the cold. “Howard Ritter is dead,” he whispers beneath the shriek of his descent. He feels neither grief nor loss.
I am not human.