His skin was a blaze of frigid fire; it glowed fierce orange in the light of a slowly strobing emergency beacon as it bore temporary holes through the gauzy darkness. Ray stood naked and shivering, face upturned to the midnight sky.
The aurorae had poisoned his team, afflicting each member with a tranquility so profound they wasted away from self-neglect. Day and night they stood on the ice like a field of frosted sunflowers. With faces upturned they traced the celestial phenomenon across the sky, refusing food, water, even sleep. No amount of protest or beseeching, not even the threat of violence could penetrate their anesthetized states. Suffering from achromatopsia—a complete inability to perceive color—Ray himself could not appreciate the hypnotic miasma as it swirled seductively in the atmosphere; his undiscerning eyes conveyed a natural immunity to its apathy-inducing influence. He activated the emergency beacon and radioed for help.
Over the course of six days, forty-four men and women succumbed to dehydration and exposure. During those same six days, Ray received a number of radio transmissions, each more foreboding than the last. There were reports of low latitude atmospheric anomalies—brilliant serpentine ribbons pulsing on every horizon, day and night—and a pandemic of inexplicable waking coma spreading like wildfire. On the seventh day there was silence.
Abandoned and alone, Ray burned the bodies, stripped to his skin and, with eyes searching the sky for a glimpse of heavenly hellfire to deliver him into the hands of malignant indifference, waited for death.