Hollow - Uncharted


By Victoria Brun

Braxton Royce took the elevator up the tower. He took the elevator down the tower. He stood in the elevator doorway, gazing out at the vacant dining area: at the five white tables, twenty silver chairs, and pristine grey floor. The elevator chirped at him, and he took a step back. The doors closed.

At the top of the tower, there was a small window. The glass was cool to the touch, and he rested his forehead against it and stared at the storm raging outside the station. It was an angry blizzard of churning regolith and wind, which set a sharp contrast with the sterile interior of the station. It had been storming for the past 462 Earth-standard days and likely long before then.

“Sue,” he said as he continued to stare out the window, “did I get any messages?”

“No,” the A.I. said. “There are no messages for you, but I am sure you will get a message soon. You are a valued member of the research team. They certainly haven’t abandoned you.”


The station was silent, like a crypt. Thick walls prevented even a trace of the howling storm from seeping inside. The only sound was his own breathing and the drum of his own heartbeat.

Several minutes passed as he watched the storm. Sometimes he imagined it was alive and furious with him for contaminating this desolate planet—the sort of alien monster that people used to make up stories about before they’d discovered the real ones.

He found himself gazing at the ceiling. He began to count the tiles but stopped at forty. There was no need to finish the count. He knew there were 162. He took the elevator down the tower.

“Sue, was there ever a response to my last message?”

“No, we did not receive a response. I will let you know if you receive any messages.”


He sat in one of the chairs in the dining area. He stared at the wall. He moved to an identical chair on the opposite side of the table. He stared at the wall.

A sensor went off. The high-pitched alarm jerked him from his lost thoughts, and he lurched to his feet. “Is it a message? Is someone sending a message? Is it a ship? Did a ship come here? Are they coming back?”

“There are no scheduled landings at this time.”

He sprinted to the nearest sensor panel. The alarm fell silent as his touch lit up the screen. He flicked through the readings, and his heart sank.

“There has been an equipment failure,” the A.I. said. “External sensor equipment is now offline in the C wing. It is likely that the storm has damaged the antenna.”

His hope scattered like the regolith in the storm. He stared at the panel for another moment, willing it to tell him something else, something good. It only gave him sensor data.

He dragged his feet down the hallway toward storage. He pulled his spacesuit from its designated cubicle. It was a bulky suit designed to withstand the hostile environment of this planet. It took him six minutes to get the thing on over his grey coveralls. It took him another two minutes to get the helmet secure. Not that anyone else was counting.

“Okay, Sue,” he said, with as much cheer as he could muster. “I’m heading out.”

“It is not required for you to inform me of your movements,” the A.I. said. “I am monitoring you at all times.”

“Right.” He pressed the button to open the airlock door. With a soft hiss, it slid open. He stepped inside, and the door automatically closed behind him. He punched the button to open the exterior door and braced himself, preparing for the onslaught of wind and regolith.

The door slid open, letting in the screaming wind—although it was sharply muted by his helmet. However, Braxton didn’t hear the wind’s anguish or even feel the drop in temperature, because the sharp and pungent terror that swept through him blotted out his other senses.

A person in dark full-body armor stood less than a meter away. Someone was here. Here. Someone who shouldn’t. Someone who had apparently set a trap for him. His eyes flickered from the dark helmet splashed with white paint to the gun held casually in the intruder’s left hand.

He slammed his hand down on the door lock, but the intruder was faster. It had already slipped one leg inside the doorway, triggering the failsafe and preventing the door from closing.

Braxton spun, diving for the button to open the interior door. He pounded on it, but the door didn’t move, and he knew that. He knew it wouldn’t move—not while the outside door was still open to the elements. The airlock failsafe wouldn’t allow it. The failsafe was going to kill him, he realized with a strangely distant feeling of horror.

He kept one hand clamped down on the button and glanced behind him, desperately searching for somewhere to go, something to use, someone to help—even though he knew there was nothing. The intruder stopped just inside the exterior door, yet it made no move to attack, no move to raise the gun. He could feel it studying him, and that’s when he noticed something that he had missed in his panic. It wasn’t merely a slash of white paint across the helmet. There were deliberate markings, like war paint. And he recognized them—they were hollow markings.

It was not a person. It was a hollow. A monster. A parasite.

A hollow was here.

He suddenly felt cold, as if he’d plunged underwater. He wasn’t just going to die. It was going to take his body, wear it like a costume, and carve those markings into his face. For a moment, he could not even breathe.

“Are you Braxton Royce?” the hollow asked. The voice was feminine and emotionless. It was the voice of a dead woman, of this hollow’s latest victim. In his terror, Braxton could barely hear the words let alone glean any meaning from them.

The hollow took another step forward and out of the doorway. The exterior door slid closed behind her, locking them both in the narrow confines of the airlock. Braxton pushed harder on the button as if that could force the interior door open any faster. 

“Come on,” he begged. “Open!”

“I am detecting an elevated heart rate,” the A.I. said in his helmet. “You are experiencing stress.”

The door slid open, and he half fell, half-ran through, and then fled down the hallway, moving faster than he would have thought possible in the bulky suit. He paused for breath in the dining area, looking for a place to hide, but there was nowhere to go.

He was going to die here. The cleaning bots would scrub his blood from the floor. They would take his corpse out with the trash—if there was even a corpse left behind. There would be no sign he ever existed. He would be a data entry error in some record no one ever reviewed.

Panic surged through him, and he sprinted to the elevator and stepped inside. He pounded on the button for the top of the tower and watched, his hands trembling, as the hollow strode into the room, showing no sign of being in a hurry. He assumed she had come to the same conclusion. There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.

The doors of the elevator shut, and it began to rise, but he knew that he would be no safer at the top. Without contemplating the results, he turned the key to trigger the emergency brake. The elevator shuddered and then stilled.

“The emergency brake has been pulled,” the A.I. said.

Braxton let out a panting breath and collapsed on his knees on the floor. His hands kept shaking. A hollow was in the station, and he was trapped in an elevator. Fish in a barrel. He wondered whether he’d just crafted his own coffin.

“Sue, I think I’m going to die.”

“There is no sign of injury,” the A.I. said. “You do have an elevated heart rate. You should try taking deeper breaths.”

“You are not helpful,” he told her, yet he tried to follow her advice. He took a deep breath and let out a sharp, panicked gasp. The air inside his helmet was hot and uncomfortable, but he didn’t want to take it off, despite knowing it offered him little protection.

Minutes passed. Eventually, his panicked breaths began to slow and finally subsided, which left the air silent. Completely silent. “Why would a hollow come here? How did she know my name?”

“I am sorry. I do not understand the question. Consider rephrasing your question to improve clarity.”

It was puzzling—no, it was absurd. There was nothing here. No one came here. Could she need a new host? A new body to take over and cut up? But that didn’t explain how she knew his name.

There was an uncomfortable twist in his stomach. Had he misheard? Could he have imagined it? What if he had imagined it all? It if were real, where was she now?

A painful silence permeated the air. He bit his lip. He hadn’t been sleeping well. He’d been stressed. Anxious.

“Sue,” he whispered, “there is a hollow on the station, right?”

“I am sorry. I do not understand the question. Consider rephrasing your question to improve clarity.”

“Is someone else on the station?” he tried again.

“No. You are all alone here.”

Braxton frowned. “No intruders?”

“No intruders are detected. You are the only person on the station. Video and audio feeds confirm you are alone. Entirely alone.”

“I couldn’t have imagined it,” he whispered.

“You have not been sleeping well,” the A.I. noted. “You are in distress.”

“I saw it,” Braxton said more firmly. “It had to be real. She said my name, but why would she know my name?”

The A.I. was silent. She apparently had no programmed opinion on this matter.

Suddenly, his helmet was suffocating. He fumbled with the latch and took it off, but the air in the elevator offered no relief. He leaned back, banging his head against the wall. “She set a trap. She damaged the antenna to make me come out. She was waiting for me. I couldn’t have made that all up.”

He glanced over at the key for the emergency brake. “Could I have imagined that?” There was only more silence. He pressed a hand over his face. “I’ve lost it.”

“You should try taking deeper breaths,” the A.I. advised.

He could not take deeper breaths. He could barely breathe at all. Hollows didn’t act like this—shouldn’t act like this. They were monsters, body-stealing parasites who carved up their hosts’ faces so badly you’d never mistake them for mere humans. The pattern painted on their armor was supposed to match that on the skin.

He supposed that this could be just a human in a marked helmet, but that explanation still didn’t explain her presence on the station.

The elevator creaked as if something were on top of the car. His whole body froze, except his heart, which raced into overdrive. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

“Are you alone on this station?” the hollow’s voice came from above him.

“That had to be real,” Braxton whispered so quietly that he could barely hear his own words over the sound of his racing heart and the blood pounding in his ears. However, he felt no comfort from this decision. “Sue, there is someone else in the elevator shaft.”

“There is no one else in the elevator shaft,” the A.I. said over the intercom. “You are the only person on the station. You are alone. You are safe.”

“What are you talking about? She’s right above me.”

“I am not here to harm you,” came the voice of the dead woman. The ceiling creaked again.

Braxton scrubbed his hands over his face. “You just came here for a chat, then?”

“I am looking for your commander. Commander Felix Ross.”

This comment only added to Braxton’s confusion. “Well, he’s not here, and he’s not my commander anymore.”

There was a pause. “Do you know where he is?”

“No,” he said. “Go away.”

There was more silence.

“Do you know a Nicole Finley?”


A prolonged silence followed. It lasted so long Braxton began to wonder whether the hollow had somehow left. Or had never been there. Then there was the sound of metal sliding across metal, and he knew with the worst kind of certainty that it was a ceiling tile being moved. He covered his head with his hands. There was a soft thunk as the hollow landed a few dozen centimeters away from him. He didn’t look up. He scrunched his eyes closed and waited.

Nothing happened. After a moment of silence, he opened one eye and peered through his fingers at the hollow. She was standing over him, still wearing that helmet marked with that modern Jolly Rogers, but she’d raised the visor; he could see glimpses of scarred flesh marring pale freckled skin. The gun was holstered at her side.

He sucked in a breath but lowered his hands. “Why are you here?”

“I am looking for Commander Ross.”

“I already told you. He’s not here. No one is here but me.”

The dead woman’s brown eyes stared at him. She didn’t blink enough. He found he could not stop staring.

“Why are you here?” the hollow asked.

“I was assigned here,” Braxton said, puzzled by the question. “This is a research outpost. I’m maintaining it.”

The hollow continued to stare. She was as still as a statue. Inhumanely still. Braxton had an urge to put his helmet back on but was too scared to move.

“Your species is a social one, is it not?”

“I guess.”

“Then why are you alone?” the hollow asked after another pause.

That question startled him even more than its predecessor. “Being alone isn’t that bad,” he said, suddenly feeling inexplicably defensive. “I mean, I get to do whatever I want. I don’t have to follow orders. Lots of peace and quiet. It’s relaxing. Right? That’s what they said. Relaxing. It’s not like I’m stuck here forever. A new team will show up any day now, and I’m not completely alone. There is an A.I. who talks to me, and there will be backup any day now.” Braxton didn’t know where these words were coming from. They just spilled out of his mouth like vomit—driven by fear or a desperate need to talk to someone, anyone; he didn’t know which.

There was a terribly long pause before the hollow spoke again. “I’m not here to harm you. I am just looking for the commander.”

“Why are you looking for him? Are you going to kill him?”


“Then why?” Braxton probed.

“I have questions for him.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Do you know where he is?”

“No,” Braxton said quickly.

The hollow stared at him for another moment. “Then I am wasting my time here.”

She took a step forward, and Braxton pushed himself back further against the wall as if he could somehow merge with it, but she ignored him. She reached over him, turned the key to the emergency brake, and then pressed the button for the ground floor. The elevator shuttered and then started to descend. After a few seconds, the car stopped, and the door slid open.

Before the hollow stepped out, she reached up and slid the dislocated ceiling tile back into place. Her boots were silent as she strode across the white tile floor. A small cleaning bot chased after her, clearing away any trace of dirt she left behind.

She really was leaving, Braxton realized. She hadn’t killed him, she was leaving, and everything was going to go back to normal. It would be as if she had never been there. He would be alone. A sudden, visceral fear seized him.

“Your heart rate is elevating again,” the A.I. said.

“You see her now, right?” he asked. Pleaded.

“I am sorry. I do not understand the question. Consider rephrasing your question to improve clarity.”

“I don’t und—” he started but then stopped. He bolted from the elevator, just as the doors began closing. “Wait!” he yelled.

The hollow stopped but didn’t turn around.

“You don’t want to hurt him, right? You just want to ask him some questions?”

The hollow turned. “This is true.”

“What sort of questions?”

“I am trying to find out what happened to a human known as Nicole Finley. I believe he knew her.”

“Is she missing?”

“You could say that.”

Braxton stared at the hollow for a moment. “Okay, so I might know where Ross is.”

The hollow was silent, waiting, and Braxton obligingly filled the silence. “They sent him to the north station on Kappa 5. He may not still be there though; that was over a year ago, Earth-standard.”

The helmet tilted toward him slightly. “Thank you, Braxton Royce.” She paused, still seemingly studying him. He swallowed, waiting, although he did not know what for. Finally, she spoke again. “Would you like to accompany me to Kappa 5? My ship can accommodate another.”

He was floored by the offer. The offer to leave. Leave this station. Leave this planet. It was everything he wanted, everything he dared hope for. It was too good to be true.

A thousand times too good. And it was coming from a hollow.

Instead of filling him with hope, the offer froze him with icy suspicion and fear.

“Where is your ship?” he asked.

“I set down about 500 meters to the geographic north.”

“Why didn’t you use the dock?” In this storm, 500 meters was far. It was a doable hike in the proper gear if you managed not to get lost, but that was a big if.

“I didn’t want to risk being seen and fired upon.”

“We don’t have weapons.”

“I was not certain of that.” Her helmet tilted to the side. “Do you wish to come?”

He stared at her. If she were not real, if this were a hallucination, if there were no ship and he went wandering 500 meters from the base, he was surely dead.

But she had to be real. He was looking at her with his own eyes. Yet, she was impossibly wrong. A million questions nagged at him. Why had she replaced the ceiling tile? How did she know about his connection to Ross? How did she know he was here? Why was she making this offer? He bit his lip.

The cleaning bot finished scrubbing the floor and darted away. It was all pristine grey tile in front of him, except the hollow herself.

“Sue, do you see any ships 500 meters north of here?” he asked. It was a long shot. In this storm, seeing five meters was a feat.

“No ships are detected in the area.”

“Who are you talking to?” the hollow asked.

“The A.I. I call her Sue.”

“Did she answer you?”

He frowned, confused by the question. “What? Did you not hear her?”

The hollow stared at him for a moment before responding. “I heard nothing. No one but you, Braxton Royce. But I am leaving. If you would like to come, you must leave now.” She turned and started walking away. Each step was silent. His hands trembled as he watched her leave, but he did not move.

“You’re not real,” he whispered. “You can’t be real.”

As she neared the airlock door, his heart rate quickened, but he still did not move. “Sue, there is no one else on the station?” His voice cracked.

“You are the only person on the station. You are alone.”

He watched the hollow’s form disappear through the door, and he told himself it was all an illusion. She was a hallucination. He had been alone far too long, and he was inventing things, seeing things. She wasn’t real. Following her was to die like a fool in the storm.

He wasn’t turning down freedom. He was turning down death. He was safe here. He had everything he needed. He watched the door close behind her.

“Sue, you’re real, aren’t you?” he whispered.

“I am sorry. I do not understand the question. Consider rephrasing your question to improve clarity.”

“Of course you’re real,” he said. “They wouldn’t have left me completely alone.”

He took the elevator up the tower.