Been doing a lot of fiction writing lately so consequently not much blogging. But in place the following started out as a short story related to my books and then turned into a chapter from my second book which may or may not get chopped to bits but also may or may not be an entertaining read while I busily complete the novel editing process. Enjoy and tell me what you think.
Chapter Zero: Jetson
She was about to say it. I could feel it in her eyes from thousands of miles away, translated into digital images, then transported to my communication viewer in hyper HD. Or was it called UberHDe now.
To be fair, if she really was about to say what I thought she was, it had been a long time coming. Not because we were in the longest distance relationship ever. That was typical these days. Even from beyond the outmost layer of atmosphere such a thing could be managed. But it wasn’t just the distance from Earth to this space station. It was the vacuum between. There was an absence of the oxygen that sustains a living, breathing relationship.
“How are the kids?” I asked, because kids are like spare tanks, filling us up when our own are in the red.
“Spartacus is breezing through his tutorials,” she said. “He’s going to be able to get any guild job he wants. Serenity has a boyfriend. I don’t like him, but every time I mention it she decides she doesn’t like me. The typical story.”
It had been a laborious breath. Get it said. Move on. Tell your husband its over.
I waited. Just get it overwith.
Then there was a spark. A twinkle of the eyes, looking down shyly like she just thought of something that might keep us together forever. Okay, I was being a little melodramatic.
But in an instant all the drama was suctioned into oblivion. The power to my communication feed went dead. She had just been about to look up. Just the hint of movement from her crinkly blue eyes. Her lips parted. She had been making the orbit, that’s all. The orbit of love.
I waited for the signal to come back. I stretched my legs, allowing oxygen back into them. Then a dark thought hit me.
Instant messaging. Stupid, repulsive instant massaging was the alternative hypothesis to my marriage being on the verge of salvation. That dreamy downward gaze. That smile. Had she been texting some other guy during our conversation?
Sometimes it sucked being a scientist. Sometimes it was a big sucky vacuum of scientific damnation. I didn’t want to make all these astute observations and guesses, they just happened! I stared out the portal toward her. Toward the very general vicinity anyway. The right continent at least. Trying not to hypothesize.
I peered closer. Not because I was trying to impossibly find her in a distant blur, but because something was missing. Lights. There were no lights. Not anywhere. It was night on that continent but it was all just … black.
“Lines are doooooown,” came the jarring bellow of our resident bear.
At least he might as well have been a bear as hairy and as uncouth as he was. I guess that’s why we called him Bear, come to think of it.
He floated out of another com cell sporting an open bath robe and nothing else which prompted my renewed gaze out the window.
“No birthday suits if it isn’t your birthday,” I reminded.
This time I looked out the other side, away from Terra Firma. I motioned toward the Earth side though and said, “Looks like more than just com lines down. Check out the dark … ness.”
I slowed down that last word because while staring out into the black of space I was noticing something off. Something different. Like some stars were missing. It seemed to have gone dark on both sides.
I looked at Bear out of the corner of my eye. “What in the stratosphere are you doing in a com room in your bathrobe, by the way? Wait.” I held up my hand and shook my head. “Never mind.”
“Got a doctor to check something out for me,” he said. “Don’t worry. Turns out it’s not maleficent.”
“No, no. Definitely benig.”
“Benign? If you need to explain that to anyone else, could I do it for you? Never mind. Just let me be there when you do.”
“Whatever, Jetson,” he said while peering out the window. “That’s some kind of blackout. Looks like Armageddon to me, man.”
“This side is kind of weird too. Look. You notice anything? Like a shadow?”
He did, squinting and then shaking his head. “Where’s Stella?” Without waiting for me to answer he shouted “Stellaaaaaa!” loud enough to rattle the specimen cages and get the monkeys chattering.
A shout back down the corridor, “For the two hundred sixty-first time, this space station has a STATE-OF-THE-ART intercom system!”
“Then why aren’t you using it?” came the retort.
Stella had been working out in the gym section, as evidenced upon her arrival. Her short blond hair clung darkly to the sides of her head, beads of sweat fresh at her temples. Pink cheeks looking flush and lively while dark brown eyes centered deadly darts toward Bear.
“Something weird out the window, Stel. Check it out,” Bear said with his signature brutish nonchalance.
She paused. A long sigh as she looked too closely at Bear. “Something weird in here too. I’ll gladly look out the window if you promise to have your robe tied when I turn back.”
“Don’t worry …” he started.
“It’s not malignant,” I finished.
“Says you,” she muttered, then went as squinty-eyed as the rest of us, staring out the space side view port.
“There some kind of weird gaseous eclipse?” I asked.
Obviously she would be the one to know about such things. She was the astronomer. I was just the resident zoologist. But when she gave me a look usually reserved for Bear level idiocy, I shrugged.
“Okay, okay, just checking. What then, all wise astronomer?”
She tried cleaning the glass. “You two playing another practical joke on me or just fogging up the windows with your hot air? Probably just a weird shadow from some of the outer panels.”
“A pan shad phenom?” Bear asked.
“Why do you always have to shorten words?” I asked. “I barely understand you as it is.”
“Bearly understand,” he repeated. “Funny.”
“He doesn’t know how to pronounce long words so he shortens them to manageable syllables,” Stella suggested.
The shadow idea sounded vaguely plausible, but I already knew that wasn’t going to be the final answer. It was just the typical filler ideas people give as they’re trying to figure out an actual explanation. There were always postulations on the highway to understanding. Most of them are downright stupid. We can get very creative in light of new information that doesn’t compute with our presuppositions. Just like me putting a fairytale ending to my wife’s little smirk. When it comes down to it, we are very good at making evidence support our comfort zone.
But whatever we were seeing out our viewports was far from that zone. More like the Twilight Zone.
“Get Houston on the line,” Stella said, playing bored like this was about to be perfectly explainable in about two seconds.”
“And why not?”
“Our side or theirs?”
“Theirs. Check out window number two.” I pointed to Earth side.
She turned and pushed off from the wall, floating to the opposite portal. “What the …”
“I don’t know,” Bear shrugged. “Something definitely seems a little malignificent around here, and it ain’t me.”
“Just stick to malig,” Stella said.
But he was right … Sort of. Things had gotten weird. The position of stars was supposed to be reliable, yet some of them were definitely missing. Stella had to admit it was more than just shadows from our space station. And the blackout on the earth’s surface was more than an elaborate ruse by my wife to get out of talking to me. No, something was up. It would be unfair to have expected me to realize what it all meant. Until it was too late, of course.
In the meantime speculations rained down from our opaque and befuddled minds like an unending meteor shower. We were caught in a strata of ignorance. We were sandwiched between a darkened Earth and a splotchy star field.
We fought the urge to add worry and fear to our guesses, because that would be unscientific. That was for pseudo-scientists involved in government grants. We were guild-sponsored, which really wasn’t that much different, come to think of it. But this wasn’t a funded study. This was serious. So we fought the urge to stuff flapping bats of worry into our belfry. Crazy was easy up here under even the best of circumstances. But we were professionals. So we hadn’t completely lost it by the day the dark splotches turned into definite aberrations. They were dark globes, and they were getting larger every day, by which I mean they were getting closer.
Day by day you could find our faces planted against the portal windows, looking to see how many more stars had been blotted out by the giant alien satellites.
But it wasn’t until after a creature from one of them materialized inside our space station that we finally gave up the hope of any of this making sense.
I remember when one of the black orbs was right outside, heading straight for us, and we three occupants had resigned ourselves to immanent, fiery death. In fact we were somewhat looking forward to it considering the alternative of slowly running out of oxygen and food. No contact from Earth meant no supply runs or return transportation.
But then it stopped and a bright fireball shot out like a bullet. But instead of exploding against our hull it materialized inside and it wasn’t an extraterrestrial rock or bullet but a life form, glowing purple, its head scanning the space lab as we scanned back. I’m not sure I can describe it, but it had the look of something humanoid while the feel of something very not humanoid. Beneath that violet glow there might have been something resembling a couple of thick long legs, a sturdy torso, and four long arms. Or else two arms and two folded wings. It’s head was oblong and smooth almost like it was a helmet or shell. But then it spoke and a part of that presumed helmet split into a wide mouth lined with rows of pointy teeth.
“This is not the Terra,” a high pitched voice purred like a monstrous kitten.
We three, of course, did not think to respond for some time. Our jaws had become unhinged, it seemed, and we tried desperately to keep from soiling our space pants.
Finally I shook my head, slowly, comically, answering his query. “Not Earth, no.”
“Space … station,” Bear added helpfully.
Then the thing spat, its saliva sizzling and popping on the floor at its feet. The creature’s glow had cooled a little and the feet could be made out as something not unlike cloven hooves.
“Where is terra water?” It whined like a sputtering small engine. “Point it at me.”
“You … You mean point you toward it?” Bear asked.
It’s head cocked, silently thinking. “Yes.”
Bear tentatively stretched out a hand and pointed out the Earth side portal. He turned to follow his own finger.
“Good,” it said.
Then the thing screeched and we winced, backing away. But it wasn’t anger. It was a scratchy cackle … Almost like a laugh. We joined in with hesitant chuckles. Then it stopped the sound abruptly.
“Your own water supply here is now contaminated. I am leaving now.” It pointed at Bear. “You will lead the way to Terra water.”
And before Bear could get out more than “Say wha–” the creature had lunged toward Bear, grasped him in an ironic bear hug, and vanished with him through the manifold in a phosphorescent explosion of purple mist.
I slammed myself against the portal, staring out after them as they streaked toward Earth’s atmosphere, Bear’s finger, I assume, leading the way.
Stella was beside me. “Maybe it didn’t know we can’t breath out there.”
“Maybe it produced some protective shielding.”
And just like that we were back to endless hypotheses.
Until the next one came in, that is. Creature, not hypothesis.
This one was bigger, brighter, and, we were soon to find out, generally more well mannered. It’s glow was of a bluer hue. I guess that’s called an aura? Only this was like a hyper aura.
“I believe another came through this way. Did he terrorize in any way?”
This voice was deeper, less grating, and able to carry its own harmony like it had two voice boxes.
I shook my head to his question, then Stella hit me.
“Oh. Terrorize. Yes. It abducted our frie … colleague,” I said.
Its head, which looked more like an ice shard, nodded once and then said “Its name is Wormwood.”
That was, evidently, supposed to explain things.
A moment passed of awkward silence.
“I will retrieve your friend and stop Wormwood in his goal, for the time is not yet come.”
The creature began to dematerialize, slipping down beneath the hull. When only its head remained it spoke again.
“Perhaps you would like to come with me, seeing as the water has been poisoned here.”
“There is a safe way for humans to travel with you?” Stella asked.
“Safe. No. The speed of descent is great.” It seemed to think about this. “But there will be others that come and they will not be so careful as to the condition of this precariously oxygenated facility as they fall to the Earth. That would be less safe.”
“We’ll come,” I said.
The head nodded and then two arms stretched up from beneath the floor.
“Hold my hands, each of you.”
I briefly hesitated. But only briefly. Only until another meteoric creatures wooshed by the bulkhead, shaking the paneling and nearly puncturing that precarious oxygen situation we had here.
Stella and I both rushed forward and gripped the ethereal hands. Instantly we were yanked downward, watching the layers of lab rush by while we, as vaporous masses I didn’t even want to begin to hypothesize, slid easily passed.
Then there was a time of brain shaking, gum flapping, screaming descent, the three of us cutting into Earth’s atmosphere like a hot knife through butter.
It felt like the fall would last forever. But when I started spying the definition of things, recognizable things like buildings, roads, trees, and vehicles, I knew the end was near. Just what kind of end was the question.
There had been a glimpse of something not right. Not that any of this was right. But I could have sworn the blurring of the city we passed was only half blur and half annihilation. As in crumbled skyscrapers and ruined roads indicative of something rather cataclysmic in nature.
And that, I believe, was around the time I finally passed out.