By Joel Tagert
Art by Nick Flook
Published Issue 101, May 2022
You have to let me go.
Don’t be stupid.
Me and this suit weigh a hundred kilos easy. You don’t remotely have the strength to pull me out.
Work with me here.
Listen! Let me go, climb back to solid ground and run, jump and skip as fast as you can back to the shuttle. Get the winch from the crawler.
The crawlers’ broken.
I know that. Remove the winch and connect it directly to a battery. Put a weight on the end and drop it right on top of my locator signal.
No way. You’re … coming … with … Fuck! Fuck!
I’m fine, Joira. I’m sinking, but I’m fine. I have plenty of air in the tank. My suit will keep me warm. Get going.
You need to get moving. I’m sinking slowly, but I am sinking.
I’m going. I’m going. … I’m down. Fuck, Gedim. Can you see anything at all?
No. It’s pitch black. Literally pitch.
Do you think that’s what it is? Tar?
I’m not sure, actually. Seems to have some slight downward movement. It’s drawing me in.
Don’t worry. This pool can’t be very deep. Eventually I’ll settle on the bottom. Then I can probably just walk out if I need to. By the time you get back I could be sitting on the shore working on my tan.
Probably should have chosen a planet without such a deadly poisonous atmosphere, then.
And hidden tar pits.
Those too. Why did we choose Talend again?
To find the missing Agastya and make our fortunes, if I remember right. Shit!
What is it?
Something just bumped my leg.
What? What do you mean?
Don’t know how else to say it. There’s something down here.
How can anything live in tar?
Not sure it actually is tar. It’s less sticky beneath the surface. More like extremely viscous. How long do you think until you’re back at camp?
Twenty minutes maybe?
More like thirty, the way you’re huffing and puffing.
How much air do you have?
Hours. Don’t worry about it.
Mine’s at sixty percent. Computer says two hours, twelve minutes.
I think yours was a little low setting out.
What’s yours say?
Says you’ve got plenty of time, assuming some alien crocodile doesn’t decide to bite me in half. Just don’t stop to work out and take a shower beforehand.
I never do that.
You always do that. Your friends — —- about it.
No, no, no. You’re breaking up.
Yeah, I was afraid — —-. Line of sight communications. No satellites here. And I’m below —- and sinking — — —-.
How fast are you sinking? Can you check the altimeter on your suit?
— faster —- —-
God damn it, Gedim!
So this is the cold, dark end of Gedim Weitz. Can’t say I’m surprised. Seen a couple people get blasted into space before. Probably even worse than this in some ways, cause when that happens you’re left spinning like a top, forever. Super disorienting. On the other hand, then you could at least wave your arms and legs around. Right now I’m trapped like a bug.
Fifty-eight meters down, according to my suit. I wasn’t kidding when I said this black goo is pulling me down. Not sure the rope on the winch even goes that far. You know there are big cave systems on this planet, like really big. Some of them, turns out, filled with tar.
Shit, that’s the third time now I’ve felt something push by me. Big and slimy. Freaks me out. I don’t like the idea of suffocating, but I like it better than getting eaten alive.
Are you coming back, I wonder? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. Means more money if you do find the Agastya, and an easy way out of a complicated relationship. As opposed to taking a huge risk even to make an attempt at getting me out of here, most likely failing, and then suffering crushing guilt every time you think of my body suspended forever in black fluid. My advice is, don’t bother. Don’t bother with the guilt either. Go back to camp, take a pill, take a shower, move on with your life. That’s my advice.
As for me, I’ll just keep sinking. Don’t worry, I’m not in pain. I’m used to it, really. The last few months with you, the bar back on Doyle Street, walking in the snow in the Garden of the Gods … that was the exception. Sparks in the dark.
I’m back at camp. Gedim, I don’t know how this is supposed to work, the winch is way too large. How am I supposed to get it to you without the crawler? I guess a dolly, a dolly could work if I strap it down tight and pull it behind me, though there were places on the way here where we had to climb over trees and rocks – fuck!
Why does this always happen? It’s like my life is one rolling disaster, just one thing after the other, like an avalanche. I lose my job, I lose my place, I’m crashing at Homer’s, I meet you, you say, let’s go make a million dollars. I say sure, and even before we lift off we’re sleeping together. Then Meli and Korman die, and because we’re shorthanded the ship crashes and we are F-U-C-K fucked with just the shuttle left. Fuck, Gedim! Why did you invite me? Why couldn’t you leave my little loser ass alone and in debt and miserable where I was?
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say what we’re both thinking. I could just stay here. Stay inside. Radio for help that’s never going to come. I know that’s unfair, but we both know the odds of you surviving this. There’s a better chance I’ll invent a fucking teleporter and flick a switch and magically pop you back to hold me again.
I’ll have to take extra oxygen tanks too, on top of the winch, so we even have enough to get back to the shuttle. And maybe extra rope, since neither of us know how deep that pit is or how fast you’re sinking. That’ll be crazy heavy, there’s no way I can get all that stuff through the jungle. Fuck!
Or, or, or: I just accept what I already know. We’re on an alien planet where we can’t breathe the air. You’re trapped. No matter what I do, you will almost certainly die. The odds of your survival are literally astronomical. Making a futile attempt at saving you will place me at incredible risk.
And, and, and: I’m pretty sure I know how to reach the Agastya.
Fuck, Gedim! We only just met!
Thirty-four twenty-eight. Thirty-four-twenty seven. Thirty-four twenty-six. Okay, this is getting gruesome. Turning off the monitor now. Think I’ll listen to some music.
Ah. You really do make bad choices.
Shut up. I’m going to lower myself into the pit.
What? Don’t do that.
The winch is strapped to my chest using my suit battery for power. I’ll secure the end to a big tree and lower myself down directly over your location.
And if you can’t, we’re both trapped. We both die.
No, because the winch is strapped to me. If I miss, I just hit the switch and it pulls me out.
It’s the only way.
Your suit will run out of power.
Eventually. But it’s worth a try, right?
… Right. Right! I mean, I don’t want you to, it’s incredibly fucking dangerous, but it could work!
The rope’s secure. I’m going to climb out onto the same branch and lower myself in from there. Hopefully the branch won’t break from the additional weight.
Fuck. I don’t know.
There’s nothing to know. This isn’t even an argument.
Oof. I’m down, I’m in the goo. Wow, this stuff is sticky. Oh fuck, oh fuck, it’s over my head oh my god oh my god.
Sorry. I know the feeling.
Not good, not good. But you’re right, it’s pulling me down. Faster than you’d expect. With the winch I weigh more than you, shouldn’t have any trouble sinking to your level.
You never did, you filthy animal.
Ha! Eight meters deep already. This is OH FUCK AHHH!
Joira? Wake up! Wake up! Joira!
Are you injured? Broken bones? You may have a concussion.
I’m fine. What happened?
I didn’t imagine it. We weren’t alone in that pit. Something lives there, something with tentacles thick as our bodies. Picked us up and tossed us on shore like we would toss back a minnow. Seems like it had some kind way to thin the ooze.
Why – why would it do that?
I think it knew you were trying to reach me. Maybe before it didn’t even know I was in trouble.
You think it’s intelligent?
Well, here we are. Covered in the most disgusting black slime you ever saw.
Joel Tagert is a fiction writer and artist, the author of INFERENCE, and a longtime Zen practitioner living in Denver, Colorado. He is also currently the office manager for the Zen Center of Denver and the editorial proofreader for Westword.
Nick Flook aka Flooko is “the O.G astronaut painter” and takes his fans on adventures through original acrylic paintings and animations. This Toronto-based artist specializes in surrealism, space-themed work and impressionistic city and landscapes. See more of his work on his site and follow him on Instagram for more work.