February 28, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

By Shreyas Kuchibhotla

Posted 17th June


This story was part of our sci-fi short story competition.

You open your eyes and are greeted by a shroud of darkness, breached piercingly by the lurid flash on your wrist as your watch announces 4:03. Your fingers clench a metal bottle, filled to the brim with water, and your toes crumple listlessly in your tight hiking boots.

You hear the leaves rustle inches before you as you catch sight of the unflinching stare of a viper. You halt, allowing it to slide among the foliage. The silence is somehow even more unnerving than the darkness, and is punctuated only by your heavy breathing as the oxygen levels around you begin to fall.   

As you grimace and push forth through the viscid air, you feel a searing pain shooting through your nerves. Merely opening your eyelids seems like fighting a losing battle against gravity, and you collapse onto your knees, resting your head on the great tree stood before you.

As if in a fever dream, you see the snake materialising into an ephemeral cloud, only to disappear once again into the same pile of leaves. Your exhausted skull suddenly begins to collapse into itself from above, and you gasp desperately for air. A minute later, your thoughts and memories seem to be squashed down into a single pitch-black point as you lose consciousness.  

You open your eyes and are greeted by a shroud of darkness, breached piercingly by the lurid flash on your wrist as your watch announces 4:03. Your fingers clench a metal bottle, filled to the brim with water, and your toes crumple listlessly in your tight hiking boots.

You wonder what possessed you to leave the cabin on such a brisk morning after a casual night of movies and chips. Your thoughts wander amongst your inane, silver-screen-induced slew of ideas – that you might be able to diffuse through a wall, travel through time, photosynthesise and whatnot. You direct your attention to your surroundings.

There is so much you do not know about this deceptively beautiful ambience, a calm which exudes fear and a lull which is both gentle and yet fiercely alien. You wonder with trepidation what Lovecraftian horror might befall you in the uncharted jungle.  

As the air around you becomes perceptibly thicker, you start to weaken. Objects around you appear to merge into a grotesque shapeshifting phantom. Are you under the influence of some mysterious narcotic? An airborne toxin hitherto unknown to mankind, so rare it was never discovered and so potent that those few who did manage to find it went to their graves?

The trees, the leaves, the ground on which you stand – they all begin to dissolve into one another, morphing into a nebula which obscures your already weak vision. Looking upwards, you sense a strong downward push, as if your entire world will be compressed into Flatland.  

As you wonder what fearsome, unfathomable location you have landed yourself in, time itself appears to lose its meaning, a state your feeble human cognition cannot even aim to explain. Your speculations attain a horrific quality – are you being transported to a parallel universe? Perhaps another age? Are you about to forget it all, or simply be sucked into some kind of rogue black hole far removed from civilisation? Are you somehow diffusing backwards through time?

If you were, would your body and your surroundings, even in the most cryptic form of molecular memory, perhaps remember where they had been – even if your mind did not? You feel yourself being dragged backwards by a powerful force, one that overpowers your half-hearted attempts to gain your footing. You hear a screech as your bottle scrapes against what little remains of the tree, and then all goes black.  

You open your eyes and are greeted by a shroud of darkness, breached piercingly by the lurid flash on your wrist as your watch announces 4:03. Your fingers clench a metal bottle, filled to the brim with water, a peculiar scratch adorning its smooth exterior.