Ancient clouds


It was hard to believe she’d been on Mirzam V for the quivalent of 10 Earth days. The longer days made her secondment on this weird planet feel like a life sentence. She’d jumped at the opportunity of being the correspondent for InterGal News (strapline “Beamed Beyond the Stars”), but hadn’t realised what the reality might be.

Her first taste of intergalactic travel had not been good. The rusty, rattly old bucket of a space shuttle she was booked on was poky and uncomfortable. She downed a double dose of Oblivion and slept through most of it.

But the comfortable hotel, where she’d been allocated a long stay suite, was good and she had some fun playing with the Autobutler, which would serve, via a smoked glass hatch set in the wall, whatever she ordered.  After a while, though, the novelty of asking for hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows wore off, and she swore that the Autobutler now sighed when responding, “Yes, Madam” to her chocoholic requests.

The episode with the Crimson Salt, unpleasant and nauseating as it was, had unexpectedly solved her writer’s block. She’d written about her unnerving experience, filed it, and her boss at InterGal News was delighted. He asked for more of the same.

So today, she was on her way to experience Mirzam V’s Ancient Clouds. She’d learned that they appear once every 952 zobdars. “Oh,  so that’s what they call years on this poxy planet” she’d muttered to herself when she absorbed this in the daily briefing, beamed telepathically to all guests at the hotel.

The Ancient Clouds show up, radiating beautiful colours, displaying shapes which mutate and re-form, and at the same time they make music and sounds which are said to transport those who view them to other realms of imagination and fantasy. She was up for this; the hot chocolate was getting a bit boring.

She joined the other guests on the sky terrace as the clouds started to appear. It was packed. She edged into a space near the edge of the crowd and looked up. Strange and distant discordant musical sounds had started and seemed to getting louder. The crowd swayed in time to their erratic rhythm. People began to spontaneously elevate, drifting several feet into the air whilst humming and chanting, eyes closed, clearly blissed out as the clouds themselves formed kaleidoscopic swirling patterns.

She, however, had started to feel queasy. The spinning clouds, the discordant sounds and the deep, throbbing rhythms were affecting her, but not in the same way as the residents of Mirzam V. Her gut was churning, she felt faint, dizzy and sick. It was a horrible.

Grabbing hold of the gleaming purple safety rail which surrounded the sky terrace, she leaned over and threw up.