Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 20

Two large, dark clouds buzzed over the trees. The sun shone on the bodies and the flashes of red looked like fire. Fire in the sky. They spread out and then balled up in wild flight patterns. It was oddly hypnotic. “What is that?”

“Durginae—Flame Wasps. But they don’t swarm like that.” Lakshou’s voice was slow, soft. “Wow, they look amazing.”

A crew member in a one-piece uniform cried out on the far side of the small valley we’d landed in, not far from the swarms. He took several running steps toward the water and then collapsed with a choked off wail. All four of his legs drummed into the ground, the vines writhing away, but then he went still.

Way too still.

The swarms rose up again and then started to swirl back and forth, but this time I didn’t watch. I tracked their movements out of the corner of my eye. “Lakshou! The wasps, do they sting people?”

“Not on purpose.” He rocked, his bare feet digging into the ground.

But that meant they could. And that man was dead. Could we make it back into the shuttles? The swarms were closer to the shuttles now, and I didn’t want to run toward them. Maybe…. Water! “Lakshou? Do they like water?”

“No…. they avoid it. They’re mostly found in the drier side of the plateaus in stone caves. That’s why they glow red like that.” He was swaying even more now, his whole body into the movement. I shoved him, making him stumble to his knees. It helped break the trance he was stuck in. “What was that for?”

“The flame wasps killed someone.” I pointed to the crew member, his body prone on the ground. “We need to get everyone into the water. Now!” I pointed to some crew members standing just like Lakshou had been. “I think the wasps are mesmerizing them. You have to make them stop watching. Don’t look at the patterns.”

I rushed toward a pair of crew members I’d never met before. They were both aliens, their three eyes on stalks above their heads, weaving with the same circular patterns as the wasps. I shook them both roughly, one hand on each of their thin shoulder’s. “Wake up!” I shouted.

Their eyes retracted immediately, and the one on the right hissed, thick fangs dropping between its lips. “The wasps are dangerous. Help us get people to get to the water where they’ll be safe.”

They blinked, and the one hissing stopped. This was taking too long. “Do you want to die?” I pointed at the man on the ground again. “Go!”

The buzz from the wasps faded as they flew even higher, but that had happened before, and then they came closer. Our eyes had been closed as we meditated, so I didn’t know if they’d been visible the first time we heard them.

 I could sense time running out.

Every crew member I broke out of their trance was one more to help get the others. A few took off running as soon as they came out of it, but at that point, it didn’t matter. We’d gotten everyone, I hoped. “Go to the water!”

As I ran myself, I desperately hoped that Lakshou’s information about the wasps was correct, especially since they were behaving in a way he didn’t expect. My strength would do no good against a giant cloud of tiny creatures, and clearly the protectant hadn’t helped the other human. The silver water appeared between the trees, getting closer.

“Go as deep as you can,” Lakshou shouted. I ran out of the woods and headed straight for him, the rounded stones of the rocks along the water’s edge bruising the bottoms of my feet. I splashed into the water, running in slow motion as it dragged at my knees and then up my thighs.

The water was warm, kind of like the baths I vaguely remembered having once upon a time. It was over my shoulders and my feet left the bottom. My head dipped under the water. Lakshou reached out and grabbed me, hauling me up next to his body.

“Thanks,” I sputtered.

“Thank you for breaking me out of it.” He used the same trick I did, watching the swarm out of the corner of his eyes. They were sinking in a slow spiral, heading for the shuttles and trees between us and them.

All around us crew members were helping each other. “I think we got everyone,” Lakshou said.

“Except the first guy they got. I thought you said this was a safe place.”

“It is! Those bugs live on the plateau, in dry caves. They hate rain, which it does a lot here, and won’t go near water.” Sure enough, there was a hard edge to the spiral, like a line they wouldn’t cross between the trees and the water. It made little sense, since they could fly over the water and never touch it, but I wasn’t about to be ungrateful for what was keeping us safe. “There’s no reason for them to be in this region.”

Lakshou began scanning the crowd of people in the water. His shoulders drooped. “Oh hell. That wasn’t a crew member who died. It was one of the people we rescued. The captain is going to be upset.”

“He wouldn’t be upset if one of his crew died?” Was that why had he been so angry when I stopped the shuttle from flattening Luca?

“Of course he would. But the crew signed up for their jobs, and that’s to keep the ship running and support the missions to rescue people being held captive by the Brox Consortium. He promised to keep you guys safe, all of you, and he’s going to think he failed.”

“There’s no way to keep people safe in this universe. If he thinks he can, then he was always going to fail.”

Lakshou stared at me sadly. “That’s so cynical.”

“But true.”


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 19

Who to tell about the conversation I overheard troubled me. What were they talking about? I really had no idea. Nothing specific had been said. I wanted to tell Captain, but we were leaving and he was busy. The only time I ever saw him was when he came to me and the occasional passing in the corridor when we were both near our quarters.
I didn’t even know where he was at when he was captaining the ship.
Maybe Lakshou would know. Or I could use the vid to message him. That was a good idea. I stopped and looked around. There was an open door to some sort of a storage area not far from the hold. There wasn’t much room in there, but I just wanted a quiet place to record my message to Captain.
The handheld device I’d tucked in the pocket of my pants worked just fine to set up a vid recording. I relayed what exactly I heard, glad I could remember it word for word. I racked my brain, but I wasn’t able to remember the human’s name, though. Captain probably knew it anyway, or he could ask Lakshou.
A rumble sent a vibration through the metal floor of the ship, and I gasped. Time to go. I tucked my vid back into my pocket and rushed to the hold. Red lights were flashing, and there were only a few beings moving around.
Lakshou stood in the hatch of one shuttle about halfway down the row of tethered vehicles. “Kohen, hurry up!” As soon as I passed him, a crew member closed the hatch. “Take a seat there.” He pointed to an empty spot at the end of one row with another seat beside it. It helped that he took the seat next to a wiry alien in a pale suit that covered most of its dark skin.
The lack of windows on the shuttle meant riding blind onto the planet Lakshou had mentioned. I wished we could see it; it had been so long since I’d been on some form of earth. Would I be able to handle it? An entire sky overhead was really different from cells, ships, and space stations.
We landed with a soft thump, the shuttle’s landing pads extending and locking into place with a quiet whirr I could hear through the hull. “Stay in your seat for a moment,” Lakshou said when I put my hand on my restraints. “The crew needs to run a few scans before they allow us off.”
Just then the hatch unsealed, and the first unfiltered air I could remember smelling moved through the shuttle. A breeze caressed the skin of my cheek in a motion completely unfamiliar. Air was cycled through the vents in space-going vessels, but it wasn’t the same.
And the smell.
Green things. Heat. Salt. A bitter, unfamiliar tang as well as a sweet hint of something flowery twined together. I closed my eyes and breathed deep, my hands clenched together. I was practically vibrating in my seat when Lakshou finally tapped me on the thigh.
“We can go out, but before you leave the shuttle, make sure you apply the protectant. You’ll need it since your skin has adapted to being in space away from UV rays. There are also some insects on this planet that find humans a tasty snack, and you definitely don’t want them to try and get their dinner out of you. It’ll keep them away.”
There was a crew member handing out cloths by the hatch. “What do I do with this?” I asked.
“Just wipe it across any exposed skin.”
“That’s it?”
Lakshou nodded. “That’s it.”
“You don’t need one?” I started with my face, and then got my ears and the back of my neck. My hands were last. The cloth disintegrated as I rub it through my fingers.
“Nope. I’m not on the menu, and my skin is mostly covered. Plus I get planetside quite often.” Lakshou turned. “Watch your step, the ground is very soft.”
He wasn’t joking. My feet sank in a few inches. I squinted. There was a body of water just beyond the second shuttle beside ours. The sun was bouncing off it like a mirror. There was so much all around us, the sight, the sounds, the smells. My breath came faster. “Is the ground… moving?”
“Yes, to get away from the shuttle. The vegetation is sensitive.”
“And we harvest it?” I was appalled.
“Not sentient. Sensitive.”
“Oh.” This was amazing. I took a few steps on my tiptoes, not sure if it was okay to actually to move around on the ground, no matter what Lakshou said. If it moved away, it must be because it hurt.
“Over here.” Lakshou was standing on bare ground, and I sighed in relief when I joined him.
“Should we be helping?”
“You’re doing enough work just acclimating to being outside. The crew has done this before.” Lakshou smiled at me. “Feel the sun on your skin, soak in the fresh air. You’re doing great.”
A high-pitched hum filled the air, swelling and then fading. “What’s that?”
Lakshou frowned. “Not sure. It doesn’t sound too close. If it’s something to worry about, the crew will let us know. How about a quick meditation?” He bent over and removed the coverings on his feet. “Join me.”
“You want me to stick my bare feet on the ground?” I wrinkled up my nose.
“It’ll be good for you. Commune with nature.” Lakshou simply stared at me, waiting.
Sighing, I did what he asked. He knew best, right? “Communing with nature, got it.”
We stood there breathing in concert. I focused on my other senses by closing my eyes. The hum that had faded swelled again, even louder this time.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 18

This week's update is inspired by the prompt: Two can keep a secret if one of them's dead. 

“There is a very old saying in human culture,” Lakshou said. “One step forward and two steps back.”

Aparoe tilted their head. “I haven’t heard that one.” They finished pulling out the supplements from their bag and putting the vials of powder on the small table in my quarters. “It is apt, though. Mentally and physically.”

I’d been avoiding leaving my room for more than my shifts, and nothing tasted right. It was all too sweet, too spicy, too… textured. I scurried away from people. Priella had gone back to more of her old self, not too chatty, so that was okay. Work was a sanctuary because her and Luca seemed to understand my need to quiet and found me out of the way projects and places to keep me busy. Everyone in the department smiled and went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if they should. Doubts still bugged me, and even Lakshou’s meditation couldn’t banish my worries.

“Use the supplements,” Aparoe ordered me. They raised one thin eyebrow. “Or I’ll have to take you in to medical to do a more complete work up. I’d rather avoid that.”

“All right.” I wrapped my arms around my knees and scooted up closer to the head of the bed. They’d ambushed me on my rest day, early enough I wasn’t even up for the day.

Aparoe had already done a quick scan, so they left. Lakshou smacked his hands down on the bottom of the bed. “All right, up. There’s something you’re going to want to see.”


“We’re stopping at an uninhabited resource planet in this sector. The captain approved all the species we rescued having some time off the ship if they can handle the atmosphere. I’m going along in case anyone needs help acclimating to outside, so you won’t be alone.”

“Outside?” My heart started to pound, and my mouth was dry. I swallowed repeatedly. I desperately wanted to go, but it had been so long since I was outside of the sterile environment of space. Could I step outside the ship and onto solid earth again?

“You were held for a very long time. It’s okay to be scared.” Lakshou stood at the end of the bed, waiting patiently. “You don’t have to get off the shuttle if it’s too much for you, but even some time in a natural atmosphere would be good for you.”

I hesitated. “What’s it like?”  

“The planet?”

I nodded.

“Warm, humid. Lots of water, lots of raw nature. As a waypoint in the travel lanes, it’s protected from any race wanting to colonize or terraform it. We’ll exchange our fluid reservoirs and replace our stores. The planet’s vegetation is mineral-rich. It’s perfect for the raw building blocks the dispensers need. There are very few predators on the planet, and most of the wildlife are large and slow-moving, no threat to us or the shuttles.”

“How long will we be there.”

“Half a shift, maybe. Captain Querry never likes to stay long when we’ve been on a rescue mission. He takes his duty seriously.”

I could tell that about Captain. Who he was—the leader of the ship—was who he was at his core. It was the focus of his being. I’d trusted him almost from the first second he came into my cell. He had a firm strength but he didn’t scare me. His touch was too gentle for that. I fought down a blush, trying not to remember the dreams I’d had about him.

Touch was something I’d pushed away for so long, but there were things I remembered from my youth—pleasures found in silence and secret at night in my narrow pallet—that were coming back to me. The slide of my clothing could awaken the member between my legs.

It embarrassed me. I hadn’t gotten up the courage to do anything about it, the conditioning too strong to break. In my dreams though….

“If you want to come, you need to get dressed. Wear the uniform you have on the ship. You will need the grip shoes with the firm bottom to protect your feet, not the soft soles.”

“I’ll come.”

Lakshou left so I could get ready after I agreed to meet him in the shuttle bay. Everyone was so busy with the landing that there was no one to escort me. Apparently they weren’t worried about that.  The entire ship would enter atmosphere, but the shuttles would travel away from the ship to gather more elusive materials. My steps were muffled in the corridor, but louder than I was used to, so I slowed down so I wasn’t making so much noise.

“If you can’t do it….”

“I never said that.” The hissed reply was vicious, angry, desperate even.

“Two can keep a secret if one of them’s dead. Just remember that, if you get the urge to speak out of turn.”

I stiffened. That didn’t sound good. Whoever was fighting was between me and the shuttle bay. I couldn’t go back. I chewed on my lip, then took a few hard steps.

Someone walked away quickly, their footsteps rumbling like a run. I turned the corner, looking straight ahead.


I jumped, like I hadn’t noticed the man standing against the wall and nodded.

It was the human, the one who’d been so nasty to Lakshou that first day while we ate. He opened his mouth, but I looked away and kept walking. Maybe he’d think I was ignoring him. Or just rude. I wish I could have seen who he was talking to though. It sounded like something bad. 

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 17

I was wrong about the paperwork. And meetings. And frowns from both Aparoe and Captain for doing something so dangerous. “What if you couldn’t stop it?” Captain asked. We were sitting in his new office, a tiny room near the control center of the ship.

I shrugged. “I did. It didn’t fall or anything; it was still hovering. I just had to slow it down so it would stop moving.”

“An entire shuttle. By yourself. With just your hands.” He was angry, I could tell. “What part of that was taking it easy?”

“I didn’t want it to hurt Luca.” He’d been nice to me. Introduced me to the wonder of working with my hands. I loved it in a way I hadn’t thought I would. I’d thought it would just be about helping out in some way, but I loved figuring out problems and how to fix them. I’d stopped the shuttle, but I’d also sort of crumpled the expensive ship’s exoskeleton in the process.

Which meant we had more work to do. “Can I go?”

“No, not today. Aparoe said you had some mild muscle strain in your shoulders and back. You need to rest.” Captain stood up. “Come on. I’ll escort you back to your quarters.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but he raised an eyebrow and waited. I slowly closed my mouth and then stood. We didn’t talk as we headed toward the lift, and the whoosh as it slid down toward the officer quarter’s level was loud. I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my hands under them. I hated feeling like I’d disappointed Captain, but what was I supposed to do.

When we stopped at my door, I put my palm on the scanner to unlock the door. I went to go inside, but Captain put one hand on my shoulder and stopped me.

“Officially, I do want to offer my thanks for the way you protected one of my crew. It’s been noted and will be recognized when we return to our base station.”

My mouth dropped open. “Officially?” Then what was all that in his office when he was so upset with what I did. “But I damaged the shuttle.”

“And saved lives at great risk to your own.” Captain’s lips pursed. “Just try not to get into a position where you have to do that again.”

“O-okay.” I didn’t understand, at all. And I was tired after the way my day had gotten longer and longer after the incident. “Thank you.” It didn’t sound quite like a question, but it wasn’t far off. I didn’t know what to say.

“Rest tonight. You can take tomorrow off if you need to as well.”

I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.”

“Wait until tomorrow. Rest well,” Captain said formally. He turned and marched away, his back rigid and his long legs eating up the corridor until he turned the corner and was gone.

Most. Confusing. Day. Ever.

The next day wasn’t much better. I went to breakfast with Priella. She was pretty happy with me. I hadn’t realized that she and Luca were a pair, but she was offering to get me extra food and couldn’t stop beaming at me. It was such a turnaround from her previous attitude, which was a little standoffish, that I almost preferred that she hadn’t changed.

Not to mention everyone else we saw who stopped to stare at me. People literally stopped right in the middle of the corridors. It was awkward. Why were they so surprised? All I did was stop a shuttle from moving. They rescued victims from the Brox people; that was a much bigger deal. They stopped torture.

I just stopped a minor splat from happening.

As my shift went on, more and more people came up to me to say something about what I’d done. I almost regretted it. By the time we were halfway through the shift—where I was allowed to do nothing more than hand over parts and tools again—I was at my limit. I went from talking to no one for years to talking to what felt like hundreds.

Maybe it was just a few dozen, but that was more than enough.

“I’m going back to my quarters,” I told Luca. I had my hands tucked into my sleeves to hide their shaking.

“All right. Tomorrow is our usual rest day, so we don’t have a shift.”

Good. I could hide out all day in my room. “Okay.” My escort was a quiet alien who towered over me but walked so quietly that I couldn’t even hear her following me. It was humorous, in an awkward way, when she had to bend over to stand in the lift. I couldn’t stop my smile.

She left me with a complicated gesture and bow. Her face was just below my chest level when she stopped, and that was when I noticed she had no mouth that I could see. No wonder why she hadn’t asked me any questions.

My sonic shower was as unsatisfying as ever, but the warm cokala was perfect. I sat back on the bed with my drink and cued up the vid I’d started watching the day before.

Lakshou had recommended them. They were boring, he said, but a good way to learn about the species that made up the universe. I’d maybe watched a hundred of the docu entries, and I’d seen things I never imagined.

Talking plants. Alien planets powered by goo that hardened into crystal shards of immeasurable power. Beings that could morph their bodies into any shape, depending on their need—the vid of one thinning out their body to paper-thin thickness and floating away across a large body of water was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.
I’d had dreams of flying, not in a shuttle or a ship, but just my body shooting through the air. It was the most freedom I could imagine having. 


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