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Here’s another heart-warming tale of friends helping brush away the dark clouds of loneliness... even if they are a little... gloppy.

The Sacred South


Subodhana Wijeyeratne


The computer is beeping at me.

            I can hear the wind wailing outside; Phelion’s storms are always accompanied by this chorus of banshees. The walls of my pod shudder occasionally with the violence of the onslaught; I can even feel small vibrations running up the legs of my cot.

            Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep.

            I groan as I get up, out of my bed. Why do I groan, I wonder, seeing as there’s no one here to hear me. There’s no one else on this entire planet to hear me, no one to understand the subtlety of a middle aged man’s groan. This groan means doing this is an effort. This groan means why am I put upon to do these things. This groan means alright, I’m coming.

            Beep-beep. Beep-beep. Beep-beep. And outside the wind still howls.

            My pod is fourteen metres wide and twenty metres long. Its ceiling is segmented foam, insulating and fireproof, I am told. Or was told, rather, when I first arrived here. At the far end is my shower pod and toilet, sealed behind a screen that prevents smells coming into the sleep/research area. One wall is lined with consoles and computers; I am short-sighted so the lights melt into each other kaleidoscopically as I ease out of bed. There is also a desk, a small kitchenette. Everything is dull aluminium.


            I stagger over to one of the consoles. Sleep has become my enemy; it is boredom’s bastard sister, and it tempts me all the time. I discovered very early that I am not one of those who uses solitude productively. I get bored, and when I get bored, I get sleepy. Sleeping becomes a mean to an end. It becomes the reward undeserved, that I strive for every time I do something. Well done, you had a shower, now have a nap. Well done, you checked the temperature fluctuator, now sleep. Well done, long hard day doing nothing on your own, now slumber.

            I take the console’s reading, and then double check it. Then I sit down for a while, looking across the room, through one of the porthole windows opposite; there is no view, just a solid sheet of white. Then I check the reading again, rub my itchy eyes. The reading does not go away. I get up. I should have a shower, I think. I should prepare myself.

            Thirty-two years, and finally something is coming. Far above me, over the frozen violence of Phelion, something is coming toward me.

            Something from Earth.


The storm passes after two days, much to my relief, and I venture out. The wind is master here, and it obliterates everything. There are no geographical features it - no mountains or cliffs or cracks in the ground, just a sensually undulating expanse of snow panning out from horizon to horizon.

There are some tracks on the snow - Phelionites on the prowl for sunlight after the darkness of the storm the night before; when Phelion rages, the snow chokes the sky. As hungry as they must be, they are already gone by the time I waddle clumsily out of the pod and onto the snow.

            Off to the left of the pod is a tall, thin pole. It is designed to withstand the staggering winds of Phelion, made of a substance that never snaps. It is has hard as iron but I have seen it bent over so far by the wind that its tip – sixty feet above – touches the ground. A million years from now, when my frozen body sleeps peacefully in the ruins of the pod, this pole will still be here, a lonely reminder to the rest of the universe that there was once such a creature as the Human, that it wandered and discovered and left its mark on this universe so vast it swallowed even the stars.

Then it occurs to me – my body may not sleep in the snow. Something is coming, and if something is coming, there is a chance it may take me home. Hope rises in me like a fever. The idea that somebody survived – that I am not the last of humanity, stranded on this iceball a million miles from home – consumes me and makes my head spin.

            I head towards the pole with renewed vigour; this is the first time in three weeks I have left the pod, which lies behind me like a great silver beetle half buried in the snow. I’m excited. Though I am wearing a visor, may face is cold – Phelion’s cold is a vicious one, that reaches into all it meets and kills it from the inside. Even in my bio-suit, more than four hours out in this cold and I will get frostbite. But the cold is not without its charms; in the midst of winter methane condenses in the air and descends in greenish-blue sheets like auroras made tangible.

            The pole is working, but crusted; I smack it a couple of times with my thickly gloved hands and little glittering crystals of ice some showering down onto my head. It is hard work; under the thick layers of the suit I begin sweating. But it must work, it must emit a nice, strong pulse for the ship to measure its location by. I would not want them to miss me, or land in the wrong place.

Then I notice a small puddle of brown goo congealing up from the snow. ‘Huriman kakh,’ it says.

            I remember the first time I saw a Phelionite, back when I had first arrived here for my eight-week assignment. The rest of the team had decided not to tell me, so the first time one of them congealed in front of me and spoken I nearly fainted in shock. Had Marty – Marty who died six years ago, finally having had enough, running out into the snow stark naked and freezing to death before he’d drawn his second breath - not told me they were living creatures, I would never have believed it.

But alive they were, though for all intents and purposes they look like puddles of oil. This one is bluish-brown, and adopts a vaguely tear-like shape. When speaking to me they form analogue eyes, mouths, eyebrows, though the young ones get it wrong sometimes and form grotesqueries. I still have no idea how I can hear them, but hear them I do.

            ‘Hello,’ I say, panting.

            ‘Something comes,’ says the Phelionite. It trickles up the pole until it is level with my face; I realise it must be young indeed. Only they are this reckless with the hariman kakh.

            ‘Yes,’ I reply, smiling.

            ‘From Great White.’ The sky, that is.

            ‘Yes, from Great White.’

            Delicate, concentric ripples emanate from its centre. I’ve never divined what this particular movement means; a combination of amusement and fascination, I’ve concluded, but it could just as easily have been derision. It is difficult to understand the expressions of a sentient puddle.

            Hariman kakh will be more?’

            ‘I do not know. Maybe.’

            Hariman kakh is thinking. Talking very fast.’

            ‘I am excited.’

            Kukuti think when storms come?’

            ‘No, not like that. I am happy.’

            Hariman kakh is strange.’

            I laugh; the Phelionite snaps up flat against the pole and trickles down to the ground.

            ‘No, sorry, I am sorry,’ I say, holding my breath. It slowly comes back up. Two lidless eyes reform on its surface.

            Hariman kakh does not like sacred south?’                                         

            ‘The sacred south has no other hariman kakh. I am lonely.’

            ‘Creators say hariman kakh is forever. How lonely?’

            How indeed? I stare off into the featureless distance; one long white expanse lies in front of me, solid nothingness, stretching off to a razor-sharp horizon where a sky the colour of blades descends to meet it. Ice dust is descending to the earth from high in the atmosphere; it forms a faintly rainbow-like haze. I cannot hear anything. There is nothing here, in the Sacred South, but for me, and my pod, and these strange creatures who think I am a god.

            ‘Forever is a very long time,’ I say.

            If the Phelionite is satisfied with this, I cannot tell. It trickles down unceremoniously, and leaches into the snow, disappearing from sight altogether.

            I head back to the pod. To prepare.


That night I dream of people. Of people I do not know. They are talking, and laughing. They are drinking something from funny-shaped glasses, golden liquid with bubbles in it. But I cannot understand what they are saying. They begin melting into brown goo, and slipping away through the floor.

            Beep-beep. Beep-beep.

            I wake up with a start, and am immediately surprised that I slept at all. Today is the day; the ship from Earth will be landing in an hour. I shower, I shave off my wild beard. I put on clean clothes and finish tidying my pod. It is pristine. I set up cups and saucers, for tea and biscuits. Whoever there people are, they have come all the way from Earth. They will be tired. I must be good to them, I think, so they can take me home.

            My hands are shaking. Memories long repressed are flooding through my head; warm sand and the rustle of leaves. Fresh smells – food and wet dogs. Rain- wet rain. The lap of the sea against stony cliffs. Laughter. Memories so strong they are like a drug; I can feel them in my blood. After a while it is too much. I cannot even put on my suit; I need to sit down and take a deep breath. And another. And another. Thirty-two years worth of waiting comes in and out of me. I am hysterical with hope.

            Finally, the suit is on, the door opens. The ship is only ten minutes away now; I glance up and I can see it, a bright new star in the iron sky, glowing pale yellow as it pummels through Phelion’s atmosphere. I take a few steps out off the pod and light up a flare, flinging it out onto the snow. They will know where to land.

            The flare attracts Phelionites; I can’t remember whether it is dangerous for them to be under a landing ship, if they’ll get burned up. They congeal around it, rearing up into fluttering sheets, flowing around it in mesmerising swirls. Some of them are green, some are blue, some are black. A little brown one forms into a cylinder and comes slithering towards me.

            Hariman kakh coming,’ it says.

            ‘Yes,’ I say smiling. I point up at the growing ball of light. ‘There.’

            ‘Hot,’ says the Phelionite. ‘Quick.’

            It’s right; the ball is growing very fast, and is approaching much too quickly. The horror unfolds slowly. After a while it becomes a streak across the sky, arcing over my head in a single flaming line. Five minutes later I can hear its roar. Now I can see that it is burning. It careens towards the horizon, and disappears. A few moments later, a mushroom cloud blossoms into the sky.

            I am crying. I began crying the moment I realised that whatever it was, it was on fire. My ship home, my chariot from the sky. In the depths of my misery I think perhaps I will go and search the wreckage some time; maybe there is something in there I can salvage.

            I fall to my knees; my tears and breath are clouding up my visor. Sobs wrack my body, and all I can see is snow. After a few moments the brown Phelionite oozes into view in front of me. Eyes and a mouth form on its surface.

            Hariman kakh is like sky during storm.’

            I don’t say anything.

            Hariman kakh is lonely now? Lonely now forever?’

            I don’t say anything.

            ‘Sacred South is hariman kakh’s home. Forever is home.’

            It reaches out with a single thin tendril; the browness oozes through my visor and touches my face. It is warm and soft, solid but so smooth it feel liquid. It runs along my cheek, collecting my tears.

            Hariman kakh is Sacred South now,’ it says.

            The wind picks up, the snows begin to shift slowly. The Sacred South is awaking from its lull.

            ‘Thank you,’ I say through my tears.

            The Phelionite smiles.