Fiction: Concerning the Last Days of the Colony at New Roanoke

The following is a sample story from the Future Lovecraft anthology. Purchase it here.

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Concerning the Last Days of the Colony at New Roanoke

By Tucker Cummings

ACCORDING TO THE BUREAU of Colonial Records, the abandoned remains of the New Roanoke settlement were discovered on Independence Day, 3916 (Year 475 under the revised Imperial Calendar). The settlement was located on the northwest coast of Idris, the largest island on the surface of the planet Iranon.

Founded just 18 months prior to the tragic event (or so it was estimated), the colony of New Roanoke was the 5th colony to be established on the planet. The location of New Roanoke was selected because of proximity to both fertile soil and rich mineral deposits.

The proposed location of the colony had been contested by the regional governors, at first, as the site earmarked for the settlement was over eighty kilometers from the nearest sister colony. Ultimately, however, the board of governors gave Osiris Smith the charter and groundbreaking at the colony commenced in February of 3915.

The following items were removed from the site and catalogued by a team led by DCI Shane Yang and Lieutenant Colonel John Chastewick (assisted by Arianna Armitage, Professor Emerita of the Oread Theological College), and are currently housed in the Colonial History Collection at the college.

Our entire understanding of the New Roanoke Event is based on these 17 items.

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Exhibit 01: Child’s stuffed bear, brown-and-white fur. Approximately one-third of the animal has been burned away, with the remaining portion of the toy covered in heavy smoke stains. The button eyes have been removed. Examination of the remaining threads under magnification showed a clean cut, indicating the eyes were deliberated removed from the bear, rather than lost due to normal wear and tear.

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Exhibit 02: Cracked ceramic serving platter, blue-willow pattern. Stamped marking on the back reads: “Bell & Dobson 6871.”

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Exhibit 03: Twisted lengths of metal (6). Believed to be the wheelchair of Dr. Thurston. Five of the fragments appear to be from the frame of the chair, with the last piece of debris resembling a modified tread-style wheel. Thurston had been paralysed from the waist down since her mid-thirties, and had preferred to use a wheelchair with tank-like treads, which allowed her greater mobility on the uneven terrain of the settlement.

Exhibit 04: The field journal of Dr. Zulema Thurston, partial. Some pages believed missing, or possibly out of sequence. Handwritten notes on bound pulp, transcribed below:

Day 471: Several days ago, the engineers tried unsuccessfully to dig a new well. After Mr. Farre’s team abandoned their previous dig site, they attempted to draw water from a site farther to the east. However, the efforts at this site were also unsuccessful. Rather than uncovering more red water, however, the team broke ground into an underground cavern that the initial survey team must have missed.

There is still further digging to be done at the site, but Mr. Farre and Mr. Tydway brought me into the conversation, as some type of ancient writing adorned the walls of the cavern. As the debris is shifted, they say they will bring me images of the walls and any artifacts they find.

Who would have guessed I’d have a chance to use my doctorate out here in the colonies?

I’d expected my retirement to be boring. This could be the making of me.

Day 492: I got fed up with the digging team today and blew my top at poor Ananais. It’s no damn fun at all for them to bring me stray bits and pieces, so I’ve convinced them to increase the diameter of the dig and create an angled ramp into the cavern pit, so I can catalogue all of the findings myself.

It’s a testament to Mr. Farre’s character that he’s making way for me. I know, by rights, his priority ought to be finding more water, but, truth be told, I think he enjoys a good mystery more than most.

Except for books and the occasional show on the wi-vane, there’s not much in terms of entertainment out here. I think he likes this almost as much as I do.

Day 517: We had no idea. Or, at least, the survey team gave us no indication.

This planet, this whole planet, and our settlement in particular, had to have been populated. If not by an advanced civilization, then, at least, by a people who had a religion, writing and architecture.

There’s so much under our feet. There must have been a whole city, once.

I can’t translate it. Not yet. We need more text.

Day 533: The last bit of rock got chipped away, today. We found the source of the river, but more importantly, we found the center of the ancient city.

There is a stone ziggurat at the centre of the centre, a sacrificial altar at the top of it all. The altar is carved with circles and spheres, and it appears to be made of a red stone, while the rest of the pyramid is moss-covered greystone.

Translation is getting closer. Ananais is coming over, later tonight, to help me cross-reference the inscriptions against some of the books he brought. He says his great-grandfather left him a strange, antique book that has odd writing in it, too.

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Exhibit 05: A rubbing from a bas-relief, graphite on butcher paper. Pictured are a series of concentric spheres with beams of light emanating from them, hovering over a cityscape. A border of skeleton-shaped keys frames the entire image. There is some text in an unknown language along the bottom-right-hand corner of the rubbing. Red pencil has been used to write initials on the upper left corner: “YOG.”

When questioned by DCI Yang and Lieutenant Colonel Chastewick about possible meanings of the initials, Professor Armitage declined to speculate.

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Exhibit 06: Unopened bottle of Tokyo-style whisky. Ju-On brand single malt, aged 12 years. Slight moisture damage to label and minor tears on the wrapper around the cork, but otherwise in excellent condition. In fact, the condition is quite impressive, given the disarray the settlement was found in and the state of many of the other New Roanoke items enumerated here.

The only unusual markings on the bottle are five bloody fingerprints, too smudged to be matched with any certainty to any of the colonists.

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Exhibit 07: Damaged solid state drive. Files include the following:

A: Translation.txt: Contents: jibberish symbols, letters, and numbers, save for one fragment in English text, which reads, “He no longer lurks.”

B: Video file of iridescent glowing spheres, four seconds in length. Thought to be some sort of meteorological phenomena.

C: Image, likely from a colonist’s personal library. Depicts a naked shoulder with a key-shaped tattoo.

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Exhibit 08: Polyphasic rifle, damaged in such a way that it appears to be melted like a candle. Yang and Chastewick identified it as Bell & Dobson Mark Seven, making it the second artifact from this conglomerated firm to be salvaged from New Roanoke. Both investigators were at a loss as to what sort of environmental conditions could cause this level of damage.

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Exhibit 09: Femur. Likely from male in his mid-forties. Remarkable in that it is the only human remain recovered at the site. It is unknown whom the femur belonged to, as many of the men in the colony were around that age.

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Exhibit 10: The diary of Ananais Farre, lead engineer for the colonial dig expedition (incomplete). Partial text follows:

Day 460: We attempted to dig a tertiary well to increase the amount of potable water available, and also with hopes to increase water pressure at the South facility. However, when we began the dig this morning, we found that all water brought to the surface for testing was a blood-red, as if tinged with ochre or a microbial bloom of some sort.

As the samples sat waiting for analysis, they turned brown and began to solidify. I would say, “to clot,” since the water was so vibrant and red, but, of course, it was water and not blood we extracted from the ground. Testing was inconclusive, but, for obvious reasons, we stopped drilling and will not consume the water from the area.

We will begin digging at an alternate site in several days’ time, after reviewing the remaining candidate sites.

Day 490: While we initially thought the underground cavern was completely useless (except as a diversion for our resident academic), further investigation showed that there was an underground stream of clean, fresh water at this site. My team will aid with the clearing away of debris at this site, in an attempt to find the aquifer from which the stream stems.

This news is of course pleasing to Dr. Thurston, as it means more strange linguistic puzzles for her to pore over. I often think she must be very bored out here in the boondocks of the galaxy. She must miss the libraries of the old great cities, since she’s always asking to borrow my books.

Day 507: Dr. Thurston has full access to the cavern system. The team hasn’t found the source of the water yet, but the doctor has begun her attempts to translate some of the writing on the walls and on the artifacts we’ve turned up during the ongoing digs, as we follow the river underground.

Zulema was particularly intrigued by some of the wall carvings, at least, the ones further down, where there starts to be art and not just text.

The look in her eyes…I’m not sure I’d seen her smile once since we settled here, not until today.

Day 520: We found a door, today.

Or a seal. A big slab of rock used, Zulema and I think, to act as a final barrier between the outside world and what we think we will find beyond.

There’s so much text on the slab that Zulema is sure she can crack the code of the language today. And it’s the funniest thing. I think I recognize a bit of it from an old book.

Another odd thing: the further we go into this cavern, the more slime is accumulating on the walls. It has the most peculiar odour.

Day 541: What have we done?

We never should have translated the inscriptions out loud.

The moons are down.

I can’t find her anywhe—[End of log]

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Exhibit 11: Hutch, the New Roanoke mouser. During this period of colonial expansion, it was common for colonists to bring a cat to their new settlement. The cat was something of a communal pet for the community, but its main role was to kill pests in the fields or in food storage areas. The cat was alive and seemingly healthy at the time that the abandoned New Roanoke site was discovered.

However, when the cat was removed from the surface of the planet (along with the rest of the salvaged items), it coughed up a hairball, went into a paroxysm, and died shortly thereafter. One of the crewmen on the transport ship, whose father was a taxidermist by trade, stuffed and mounted the cat for posterity.

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Exhibit 12: Heart-shaped locket, nickel plate. Clasp damaged, chain found knotted three times. No pictures within the locket. Testing revealed trace amounts of a gum adhesive on the interior of the locket, suggesting that there were once images of one of the colonist’s loved ones within.

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Exhibit 13: An antique leather-bound copy of Dire and Akashic Chronicles by John Dee, with certain passages underlined. The notations seem to be in two hands: One uses red ink and a single underline, while a reader who used a blue pen (and much more pressure when writing) underlined certain passages twice for emphasis. While some sections are underlined by both parties, most are not.

It is worth noting that all of the sections containing dual underlining are written in Duriac, with one exception: “July 13th, Mr. Talbot came abowt 3 of the clok afternone, with whom I had some wordes of unkendness. He confessed that he neyther heyrd or saw any spirtual creature any more and left my howse.”

The Duriac passages remain untranslatable, according to Dr. Armitage.

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Exhibit 14: Partial map of New Roanoke, hand-drawn on butcher paper. What remains of the map shows the location of the settlement’s water wells, mineral deposits, and nearby geographical features.

A green ink square has been used to note the coordinates of some important locale, but the missing section of the map is positioned just under this green marking, prohibiting the reader from determining what this mystery location could be.

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Exhibit 15: Gamer’s dice (3). Hand-carved from bone. Six-sided, roughly cubic in form, approximately fifty millimeters tall. No further testing has been done on them to determine what kind of bone was used to create the dice.

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Exhibit 16: Signet ring in 10 carat gold. A lion is formed from three initials, though there is some dispute as to which letters are used. Armitage believed the intertwined letters were BCH, while Yang argued that the letters were, in fact, PCD. Neither set of initials matched the name of any colonist, leaving Yang and Armitage to concur that, whatever the initials were, they referred to an ancestor of one of the colonists: possibly Elyoner Dare or Dyonis Harvie.

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Exhibit 17: The “Eldritch Slime”. So named by Professor Armitage for its strange volumetric properties. The slime is semi-opaque and pale-green. Collected from the ground at New Roanoke by the salvage team, it has been stored in a liter storage jar (pharmaceutical grade).

Armitage found the slime unsettling for several reasons, the most prominent being that the slime has the ability to increase in volume by approximately ten cc every eleven months.

No plans are currently in place to “re-plant” the slime in a larger container, as no consensus has been reached regarding the proper procedure for safely doing so. Professor Armitage estimates that, within the next four years, the slime will have grown too large to be contained within its original storage jar.

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Tucker Cummings has been writing strange stories since the day she developed sufficient hand-eye coordination to hold a crayon. Sadly, her handwriting hasn’t improved much since then. She is the author of a 365-part microfiction serial about parallel universes, which can be found at MargeryJones.com Her work has won prizes in fiction contests sponsored by HiLoBrow.com and MassTwitFic. Her stories have been seen frequently on OneFortyFiction.com and she is one of the contributors to The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (HarperCollins, 2011). Her upcoming publications include Grim Fairy Tales (Static Movement, 2012) and Stories from the Ether (Nevermet Press, 2012).

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