Link to first chapter here: https://jordansharpe.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/bring-in-the-neighbours/
Her suit started beeping. Eysa muted it, let me have peace, she thought, shutting her eyes. Lights began flashing across her visor.
“Just let me die,” she said, her voice hoarse from gnawing hunger, she shut the message off. Then her suit began rapidly warming and cooling. Sensory alerts.
Sighing, Eysa thought of Kay. The older woman”s lined face, beautiful blonde hair falling around her shoulders. Kay had installed these sensors, was proud of them and waiting on a commission from the Fleet.
“For you Kay,” Eysa said. Open radar.” Her vision of the nebula returned. Her suit firing thrusters it reoriented her. She gasped.
There was a ship. Elongated like an egg and mottled brown with streaks of blue running in starburst patterns across its hull.
“Incoming transmission,” her suit said.
Eysa stared, black hair floating across her face. Not believing her eyes.
“Receive,” she said, stumbling over the command.
Silence. “Hello? This is Commander Eysa Ryan. My ship is gone. Please assist.”
Her vision blurring from hunger she swallowed, her dry tongue feeling like a sponge in her throat. “Please.” She said. Her suit’s communication status flashing blue for connected transmission. “Is. Is anyone there?”
Her head aching and lips dry, Eysa repeated her question. The ship began moving towards her. Slowly wheeling until, what she guessed was the front, was coming at her. There was a burst of light, a cone shining through her. Eysa cried out shutting her eyes.
“Power restored,” the A.I said.
“What?” Eysa said. The cone of light disappeared. The ship was beside her. Blue patterns swirling, expanding, filling her vision. Eysa shut her eyes, cerulean light blinding. Her stomach dropped. Light extrapolated to energy, she thought, Emern would have loved this. Her body felt like it was in free-fall. Eysa’s stomach protested, bile rising in her throat.
“Axis rotating,” her A.I said. “Unclassified environment detected.”
Blinking, Eysa focused. Unclassified. What?
“Oh god” she said, placing her hands on the floor. There”s a floor, she thought. It gave under her weight and then springing up as she raised her arms. Reminding her of the stiff trampoline at the community centre back home.
“Where am I?” She said, querying her suit, but she knew. She was on the ship. Pale emerald light shining out from an unseen source, coloured the mist around her. She could barely see. It was silent.
“Oxygen levels breathable,” her suit said.
Pounding heart filling her ears Eysa hesitated. Emern would be teasing her. Kay’s mask would be off already and recording everything on that annoying device of hers. Jones would have his weapon out. Him and his damn guns, Eysa thought.
She hesitated and then bypassing the suit’s warning system she deactivated her mask. Eysa took the deepest breath she could, filling her lungs with alien air. Her heart rushing she shuddered and laughed. She was breathing.
Looking around all she could see was rolling white mist. As if she sat inside a cloud.
”Is anyone there? My name is Eysa Ryan, Commander of,” She faltered. “Former Commander of the Fireside Explorer. I owe you my life.”
The mist began swirling around her feet and Eysa leapt back. Did it hear her?
It followed her, rushing at her, funnelling like water down a drain. Something began wrapping around her legs, so cold even her exo-suit couldn’t deal with it. Eysa crushed her panic. What did it matter? Eysa held her arms out, closing her eyes.
A blasting wail suddenly cut through the air. Eysa fell to a knee, grabbing her head. It sounded like a crowd of torture victims crying out in a cacophony of pain. Eysa collapsed as images began filling her mind.
She became an observer of a dying race.
A city, a planet, all crumbling. A last gathering of elongated, back skinned creatures with yellow eyes and large hands. They walked on all fours, standing upright like humans at intervals.
She saw a fleet of grounded ships just like this one, readying for launch. Blue and patterned and surrounded by the creatures, they prostrated before it. Rising onto two legs and back to four. In the distant sky, ships of other colours were launching, streaking across the honey yellow sky.
All of a sudden the creatures turned, facing the same direction. Their unified motions broke down and they scattered like frightened animals.
Something was coming, the end of their race.
Black clouds. Swarms like locusts, a darkness arcing through the planet’s amber sky like a whip. They surrounded the ships, wrapping around, constricting, crushing. Wails rose up from the yellow-eyed creatures, a keening louder than anything Eysa had ever heard. All falling. Darkness killing.
Pity welling in her chest and tears on her cheeks, Eysa watched a planet burn.
One of the yellow-eyed creatures was standing over a stone basin. Surrounded by hundreds of others they were all staring at the rock edifice.
Eysa knew that body language, remembering the posture of her grandmother in church. It was reverence. Dipping elongated arms into the basin the creature, wearing a headdress of sorts with long, clear tubes coming out and curling down its back like hair, took hold of something. Spindly arms raised a seed up.
It then turned and looked at her, projecting powerful emotions of hope, need and want. It sees me, she thought, her mind buckling under the assault. There was a keening wail and it’s meaning stretched across time, space and race.
The vision faded.
All of a sudden waves of energy rippling the air like a storm hit her. The blue light around her flashing violet and pink like a sunset. She pictured the basin and the egg, and them looking right at her.
Eysa nearly wept. Kay and Jones were trying to have a baby. Jones’s haggard look during flight checks balanced against Kay’s determined smile. Eysa thought about their little jokes.
Gathering suddenly the mist took the form of a pillar, drifting past. Eysa followed. The mist-form stopped by a pulsating wall the colour of flesh. Eysa got close and the wall retracted like a membrane, sliding away like an opening eyelid.
The golden glow of the nebula poured inside, bathing her face in its light. Eysa closed her eyes, pretending she was on her front porch back on X35.
“What are you trying to show me?”
She searched the deepness, seeing a tumbling asteroid like the one that had destroyed her ship. A tendril of blue mist shot out from the ship, moving like a snake around the asteroid.
A crack. Shimmering of pale blue light all around her. Eysa heard a thump. She spun.
Emern lay prone on the ground, his deep brown eyes blinking behind his suit’s clear mask.
She rushed over throwing her arms around him, tears on his sister’s cheeks. He stared at her strangely, suit beeping in his ears.
“Ice!” He hugged her, burying his head in her shoulder. “Where?” He said, voice hoarse and raw.
“Ship,” Eysa said. “Alien.”
“Yeah,” and then raising an eyebrow he said, “never seen you cry before.”
“Shut up,” grinning she sat beside him, her hand on arm.
“Why did they save us? And who, or what are they?”
Eysa’s eyes looked over his shoulder, focusing on something distant.
“I saw them die,” Eysa said.
“What?” Air is breathable his exo-suit said. Emern acknowledged and kept his mask on. Eysa frowned, eyebrows furrowing like she was working out a math problem. She suddenly turned, meeting his eyes, and told him about the vision. “Why do they want you?”
“Where are Kay and Jones?” She said.
“I don”t know.” He said quietly. He started scanning, gathering information. Streams of numbers and stats flickering on the inside of his helmet, building a report.
Eysa suddenly clapped her head, moaning.
“What is it?” He grabbed her arm, his suit taking her readings. Her temperature was high, heart-rate normal. She got a green on the scale. What’s happening to her?
“They want me to do something.”
Just then another wall slid open and a different view into space was revealed. Emern whipped his head around. He got and ran over.
“There’s blue arms leaving the ship.”
“That”s what it did when it brought you on. Oh my god, do you think-” A flash, a purposeful mist gusting around them, the wall slid closed with a faint sucking sound. Warm turquoise light filled the room.
Kay and Jones appearing a few feet above the floor. Jones dropped immediately and Emern rushed to his side.
“Jones, can you hear me? We’re ok.”
“Emern look at Kay.”
Kay remained floating. Writhing sapphire arms were running over her body. The arms pulsed and then she was lowered gently.
Kay and Jones’s exo-suits retracted. Kay sat up first. Her face wet and eyes unfocused she looked at Emern and Eysa, lips moving.
“Where are? I. Oh,” she said, dirty blonde hair damp and sticking to her face. Kay’s green eyes widened. “What happened? The hull breach, the noise and-” She quickly put her hand over her stomach, face going white. Jones had sat up and had his arm around her, holding his wife close.
“How far along?” Eysa said.
Jones’s bald head glistened with sweat. A razor burn rash on his neck angry and vivid. H
“Four weeks in,” he said without looking at Eysa, eyes on Kay.
Emern was quiet, thinking about the way the alien presence lingered over Kay. She’s pregnant, why did that matter? Did it?
“Why did they save us?” Jones said. The viewport was still open and light from the nebula coloured the mist a warm yellow.
The flesh wall beside them suddenly began moving. The four shuffled back. Sliding up it revealed a pod. The capsule was twice the size of a man and the surface of it was pulsing.
“I think there’s something in there,” Emern said. He opened a channel to his suit, readying the built-in weapons now that his suit didn’t need to give him oxygen.
Jones leaned in. The pod unfolded like a flower and he jumped back.
“I think these are our hosts,” he said.
The creatures in the pod had ebony skin and yellow eyes, their flesh cracked and lined with brown like tiger stripes. Their eyes were bulbous and close together. Emern saw Eysa studying them, she was the only one who didn’t look surprised.
“Why preserve these?” Jones said. “And if they’re dead, who rescued us? Have you looked for any other rooms?”
“No. By the time I woke, this window has opened and I saw Emern getting picked up. The mist is so thick like the oceans back home,” Eysa said.
The three looked at her. There were no oceans on X35.
“Right,” Emern said, laying a hand on his sister’s shoulder.
Jones suddenly gasped. “Are all your suit’s full power too?” They checked and they were.
Emern went to the still open viewport and poked the clear, viscous membrane. He rubbed his fingers, feeling the strange substance clinging to them.
“I don’t think the how matters, Jones. We have a chance now. Exo-sleep,” Emern said.
“Not enough food to last the trip,” Kay said.
Emern smiled. “If the suit doesn’t have to keep us warm or give oxygen, it could last long enough. We just need to find sealed containers, maybe there’s a storage bay. Let’s go.” Without waiting, Emern took off down the corridor, boots squelching on the fleshy floor.
Walking beside Kay, Eysa activated her med readouts. Her body’s chemistry was altering.
Her skin cool and damp like a reptiles. Eysa made the suit retract from her hands and saw veins raised out and hard. She thought she could see her blood sliding along like cold jelly. She could see the heat outlines of the ship’s sleeping hosts pulsating softly. Jones was wrong, they weren’t dead. Dreaming of the devouring darkness and saviour. Just waiting. Waiting for her.
“All our research is gone,” Kay said, breaking the silence. Jones put his arm around her.
Eysa stopped herself from laughing. Research? What did that matter now? The readouts in her helmet began listing her biological changes. Her respiratory system could now absorb oxygen from water. A memory of the Fireside Explorer, sleek and silver among the stars made her frown. Another readout flashed, interrupting her. Eysa’s pigment was darkening. Remembering her father she thought his eyes so small and his skin so pale, not like hers. Not any more.
Eysa halted. Mist began running up her body, her exo-suit falling off like light robes. Shutting her eyes she threw back her head, feeling her blood suffusing with properties and nutrients alien to her. She held out her arm, mesmerized by the glittering she saw, her pigment a dark shade like a banana ripening. Her eyes felt hot and she knew they were golden.
Emern yelped. “Eysa!” He reached an arm out towards his who had disappeared into a column of thick mist.
“No, don’t touch her,” Jones said, grabbing Emern. “We don’t know what’s happening.”
“We won’t be devoured.” Eysa’s voice issued from the mist, tenor and inhuman.
Emern took a step back.
The mist fell away and Eysa Ryan smiled. Her eyes enormous and blinking, skin black like obsidian. She was a cross between the creatures in the walls and the woman they’d known. Her frog-like face glowing, wet with moisture she spoke softly.
“I”m going to save us,” she said, walking through the mist which began solidifying under her feet, forming a staircase upwards.
Kay and Jones were gripping Emern by the arms. He strained against them, heart banging.
“Eysa!” He screamed. “What have you done to her, you bastards?” Kay looked at Jones, her face white. He grabbed Emern.
“We can still get out of here. You said our suits could get us home if we found a capsule.” Shaking his friend’s arm, Jone’s face darkened and he backhanded Emern across the face. “Emern look at me goddamn it.”
Emern staggered, broke free of Jones’s grip, eyes bloodshot and wide. He spate blood and primed the physical enhancers on his exo-suit. He could punch a hole through the ship. A beep. His suit finished calculating the probability of the storage bay. Emern beamed the map co-ordinates.
“It’s half a kilometre to the bay,” he said, not taking his eyes off the mist stairway where Eysa had gone.
“You aren”t coming,” Jones said.
“I can’t leave her.”
Jones looked at Kay. The older woman balled her fists and looked down at her belly, uncertainty on her face. The years bound all of them. The Fireside Explorer had been more than vessel, it had been a home.
Above them translucent pink light was shining down. They began climbing the mist stairway.
The steps forming under Eysa’s feet were grey and hard like cement. Around her the dark red walls began lighting up at her presence, sensing one of their kind. She thought of the pink skins below her, listening to their shouts echo up to her. They were like far off lights glimmering in the distance, unreadable and familiar.
The ship hummed. Eysa understood that it was alive. Latching onto her desperate, final moments like a homing beacon the ship reacted as it was designed to do; it was a saviour. But it was still a ship, and ships need pilots. She needed help, it was given, now she can repay it. Why can’t the other’s see?
The staircase ended, the mist pooling, hardening, and forming into a large circular platform. Command deck. The Fireside Explorer had one. We aren’t that different. Holding her hands out Eysa looked at her skin finding it ordinary.
Emern, Jones and Kay reached the top of the strange staircase in minutes. Their suits enlarging their lung capacity, changing the difficult climb into a smooth walk.
Emern saw Eysa stepping towards the clear membrane that held the vacuum of space back. The weapons on his suit were still full charge. A drop of sweat ran down his face.
A circle suddenly materialized on the membrane. It was light blue and showed clusters of stars.
“I am going to guide us,” Eysa said. Waving her arm like an illusionist a scene began forming. A darkness rushing, eating, consuming the creature’s world, what happened to it? Would it follow them? He couldn’t take that risk, millions could die, and for what?
“I promised father I would look out for you,” Emern said. He opened private channels to Kay and Jones.
“Commander Ryan is sick. I’m in charge as second officer. Is my authority recognized?” Jones and Kay sent back affirmatives. Breathing hard, Emern flicked his wrist, disarming energy weapons and activating tranq darts.
“Target. Eysa Ryan. One hundred and forty-two pounds. No heart conditions or allergies. Prepare salvo.” His suit thrumming in response he held out his arm, hoping her physical change hadn’t affected her biochemistry yet.
“I can’t let you do this,” He said. And shot.
Eysa cried out, crumpling, the mist sheathing her body vanished.
Jones rushed to her kneeling down. “Vitals are ok. Suit detects foreign agent, but it’s retreating. Look.” He said, holding up her head and Emern saw the black skin starting to fade to pin. “She must have to be conscious for the ship to affect her.”
“We need to get out. Now,” Kay said.
Emern nodded. “Aft. There is a power source and pods of some kind. We can supercharge our suits, rig the escape pods, set a course for home.” Grabbing Eysa’s feet. Jones’s lifted her by her armpits. “Move,” Emern said. “Down and south.”
Red, ugly light pulsated overhead. The deck of the ship became unsteady, shaking beneath their feet. With Eysa’s collapse the mist had cleared and he could see the floor. It was ribbed and sticky. The walls were curving, bowing out at the middle and thin at the top like a tube, as if they were running down an intestine.
“Go, go,” Emern said. The three began running back down the mist stairway, each hoping it wouldn’t disintegrate under their feet.
They made it to the bottom.
“Oh, shit,” Kay said.
Lights began illuminating the walls and Emern saw eerie black elongated creatures with dead golden eyes staring out at them.
One of creatures blinked. The eyes opened.
“Fuck,” Jones said. A walnut shaped head turning towards him its mouth opened, a forest of black teeth shining. It screamed and burst from the wall, sending chunks of flesh coloured debris spraying.
“Run!” Emern screamed. His suit aiding his strength he pulled Eysa from Jones’s grasp, hauling her over his shoulder, legs pumping.
The creature landed on two feet shaped like a frog’s. Huddling, shivering, it bleated weakly. The mist came pouring down, surrounding the creature, buoying it up, wrapping and encasing it like armour. The mist hardened into a contoured, moulded bone-like exo-skeleton. Wicked looking claws hanging from it’s large hands it opened its mouth, hissing at them.
Jones lifted his arm. Energy gathering in a miniature storm around his fist, crackling like a tempest. He fired.
The blast took the creature in the chest, sending it spinning through the air to land in a heap. Its smoking flesh stunk like sulphur.
Eysa suddenly cried out. Emern checked her monitor. She was supposed to be out cold.
Another creature emerged from the wall, wet and dripping with sticky fluid. The mist started to gather. Jones shot again, blowing this one’s head apart, yellow gore splattering the walls.
Eysa’s body began to seizure, rejecting the anaesthetic.
“Eysa!” Emern said, setting her down, he administered an agent to wake her up. Blinking, she sat up and immediately looked at the bits of the creatures cooling on the red floor.
“What have you done,” she whispered, Emern saw gold beginning to fill her eyes like water pouring into a cup.
“Eysa. We can escape, there’s pods aft, I think our suits can interface and set a course for home. Eysa, are you listening?”
Eysa rose. Mist leaking out of the floor gathered around her feet and legs, encasing her once more. Fluid and hypnotic.
“I’m going preserve the race,” she said.
“Preserve?” Kay said.
“Yes.” Eysa put an ebony hand on her stomach and looking at it with a smile. Kay’s eyes widened.
“Fight it, Eysa,” Emern said, clasping her arm.
“You are going to retro the pods and go home, but I am staying. I”m going to find a new world for them,” Eysa said.
“Please,” Emern said. “I can”t lose you.”
Eysa said nothing. She let go, walking away, her dark form shrouded in mist. They followed. The ship silent, the walls undulating and dark. Eysa paused, holding out her hand, the wall moved, opening like an eye, revealing a dark room.
“Here,” Eysa said.
The pods were log shaped, pink membranes with blue, purple and red vein looking lines crisscrossing the outside.
Kay and Jones began calibrating their suits. Emern stood in front of his.
“I can’t leave you, Ice” he said, using his childhood nickname for her. He got into his pod, wanting to reach out and yank her in.
“I’m exploring like we dreamed of,” Eysa said, resting a black hand on the fleshy pod. She stared down at Emern’s ruddy, tear streaked face.
“Say I died among the stars.”