's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" Icarus "

Submitted by Evan MacNeil

Space was nothing new to me. How many days had I spent up there? All my time was on file somewhere, I suppose, down below in the agency's layers and layers of labyrinthine sub-basements. But to me, it was simply beyond count.

They called me in to talk about the new mission. I had spoken with the scientists innumerable times. I knew all there was to know. They were just checking in, having not been to the moon in decades. I asked why they weren't sending me or some other astronaut on a manned flight. The responses were the usual: no risk of casualties. Less interference from the 'human element'.

This was no surprise. I was a veteran. Everything had sort of blended together over the years, but I still recalled my first spacewalk, broadcast on live television. Five hours I spent out there, waddling and scuttling ponderously about on the ISS. Just a young man in a bulky white suit backlit with the blazing orb of the sun. An infinite scattering of pinprick points of light, impossibly distant and impossibly bright. The endless dark...

I sat in the lobby of their headquarters while everything was worked out. I couldn't help but think all the scientists and technicians looked worried. Concerned, anxious. Or maybe my own worries were coloring my perceptions.

An android strode down the hall, pneumatics quietly hissing as it went. A globe of metal on his ribbed cylindrical neck, seemingly blank surface covered in microscopic photoreceptors. These were the operatives and agents of the future. No longer would space exploration involve the risk of human casualties. Even the androids were mostly for show; an efficiently designed robot looked more like a heaping of jointed claw-arms and blinking LEDs jury-rigged together on a wheeled wire-mesh cube.

After hours of waiting they came out and told me they would be launching in a few hours. I was confused. No announcements had been made. We hadn't been to the moon in so long – surely the public should know? They said it wasn't important or interesting enough to warrant that. 'Routine, really'. A routine that had never been performed before?

I headed home unfulfilled and frustrated. My wife and children greeted me happily and asked what was going on. I told them it was nothing, just a standard procedure. They seemed only slightly happier with my answer than I had been with agency's.

I sat at my computer long into the day. They said the probes would land in about six hours. It had taken days for the first Apollo missions to land. Crazy.

I searched everywhere for more information. Nobody had been notified about this; there were no news reports or forum discussions to be found. Even the agency's homepage said nothing. A line of text sat tauntingly next to the login text fields: For more information, log in or register.

It clicked. I recalled the password and username I'd borrowed from Grady, my buddy in mission control. I'm surprised we both still had our jobs with the things we used to do on that account. How had we never been traced? I guess when it belongs to a NASA-grade programmer, any account is hard to get ahold of.

Hoping that Grady wasn't already logged in on it, I entered the information and found myself with a display akin to what you might get sitting in the front row of mission control. At the center of the screen was the video feed of the Icarus probe. The pale pockmarked sphere of the moon was close by as it tumbled slowly through the void. It grew larger and larger til the Icarus softly touched down on a relatively flat region. It extended its 'locomotion array', as the engineers called the probe's wheels, and began to roll about, passing by the crusted gray rims of gigantic craters.

A muffled voice came through. Mission control. “Where's the spot?”

“Dark side, thankfully,” another voice responded. “We're close.”

I quickly muted my own microphone as a precaution. Unauthorized viewing of a space probe through a home computer was almost certainly illegal. I was kind of disappointed with the agency's security; surely it shouldn't be this easy for anyone with a password and username to spy on their activities. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.

As Icarus went further toward 'the spot', the surface of the moon become steadily more unusual. It looked unstable, fragmented. There was something that appeared to be halfway between a chemical spill and a cobweb all over the ground, dark lines spreading from an indeterminate point past the horizon.

“Very close...”

“What happens when we get there?”

“Blast off and take pictures from above. Get a good look. Bring Icarus back and analyze what the fuck it is.”

We typically avoided profanity in official communications. I suppose they weren't planning to record this.

Five minutes later, Icarus began to slow. It had become apparent that the lines were deep cracks and grooves in the moon's surface, as if it had gone through an earthquake. The cracks grew wider and more frequent as time passed, and when Icarus came to a total halt they had culminated in a what appeared to be a giant pit, a chunk torn out of the moon. The probe was too far away to see inside.

“The hell is that?”

“Who knows. Let's bring her up, take some shots.”

Icarus retracted its locomotion array, folding the legs and wheels up into its chassis. Thrusters rumbled and it floated loftily into the empty space above. The moon below looked like a soccer ball, covered by a network of fissures and fault lines. The pit was utterly abyssal, a chasm cloaked in shadow. The probe continued to rise and something unsettling took hold within me. I began to shake. The sight of the moon, etched with narrow rifts and fractures which terminated in a jagged yawning hollow, looked uncannily like an animal's egg.

I froze in bafflement and terror as the entire thing quivered and the cracks widened. Chunks of moon broke off and glided into space. The cracks spread further along the surface.

“God almighty,” one of them whispered. “They were right...what does it mean?”

“Just what they predicted. It's hatching.”