Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 11


Hissing was the last thing I wanted to hear. Did they have me in a medical bay like I thought? Or was I in some sort of zoo or specimen area? If these were unknown aliens and they were harvesting from the planet, maybe they thought I was a native and they’d taken me along with other creatures.

Like that giant, slithering death machine that could swallow me whole.

I did not like legless creatures.

Not at all.

Yes, it was biased of me. Yes, I was supposed to be a scientist—above all those silly fears a child has, able to reason and use logic. All creatures developed based on a range of biological diverse paths and that was just one of them. Not one I wanted to be part of.

Certainly not one I wanted to research from the inside out!

Most space facing species had developed beyond the xenophobic capture and kill all who are different mentality that planet bound species often maintained. So I hoped they were most likely from another planet. The scans that had been taken of Ardra had been clear of technology and civilization. Research could be trusted to do a thorough job most of the time…

And that word was creeping up far too often. Most, most, most. I hoped. If I could just wake up and move. Ask questions. Talk to these beings who’d taken me!

I could talk my way out of most things.

The urge to scream overwhelmed me, and a puff of air escaped my lips. Did I do that? Yes! I focused all my attention on my throat. Pushing hard, I shoved the air I was breathing out and a groan escaped me.

Sound. I was able to make sound.

My fingers twitched.

Movement. I moved. Oh happy day!

Unless they were bringing me around to feed me to that hissing thing. Some creatures only ate live prey. My heart thudded in my chest, but I tried to slow my breathing and not move or make another sound.

There was a reason security accompanied researchers, my mother’s voice reminded me tartly.

Not that it ever stopped my parents. I guessed, if I ever saw them again, I could use that excuse against the lecture they might feel necessary to give their genetic gift to the universe if only to abide by societal expectations. Then they’d then go back to their research, duty achieved.

My ability to feel had grown beyond my face, and the air circulating around the room tickled the hair on my arms and legs. A firm but yielding surface lay under me. The odors intensified.

“Open your eyes, human male.” The voice spoke close to my face, so close the puffs of air escaping with the words assaulted my nose and lips. Intense metal and salt filled my nostrils, and they twitched. A tickle was short warning before a violent sneeze erupted from deep inside my sinuses. I jacknifed up on the table and blinked my watery eyes in the aftermath.

“Auff, grrl.” The same alien who’d shot Bouncer had jolted upright, his face twisting in what I hoped was disgust and not rage. He’d been the one talking to me, and he just got a face full of human snot and spit.

“Sorry,” I tried to say. It came out garbled, more of a wheeze. The air was so dry my nose and throat felt like they were closing up and would bleed if I didn’t get some water soon. “Water,” I tried to say.

The aliens—there were two of them—stared at me. Then looked at each other. “Do I need vaccinations?” asked the one I sneezed on.

“Hey!” I wasn’t some nasty virus spreading contagion. My objection tore up my throat and I started coughing. Oh, that wasn’t going to convince them.

“You’re fine. I already inoculated him to suppress anything he might carry that would be harmful.”

The bigger guy—the one who’d had the gun—began gesturing at his face.

I wanted to object again, but I was too busy coughing and gasping for air. If only they would give me some water. The one talking seemed to be medical, and I had caught enough of a glimpse of my surroundings to calm my fears of being fed to one of Ardra’s native wildlife; I was definitely in a medical lab.

Maybe that thing on the wall. It looked like a sink. The smaller alien had opened a cupboard recessed into the wall of what could only be their ship and produced a cloth, handing it over. While they weren’t paying attention to me, I rolled onto my side. My body was sluggish, and I realized my mistake as soon as I tried to land on my feet at the side of the table.

The gravity in here was too high. My feet hit with a thud, my knees buckled, and I crumpled, destined for another hard fall.

“Gotcha.” A pair of thick arms wrapped around my torso and swung me up. Four Arms tucked my legs up with one arm under my knees. I pointed at the sink urgently. “I think he needs fluids.”

“Ahh, of course. This is a very wet planet.”

“I thought you said he didn’t come from here,” Four Arms said. He hadn’t put me down yet, and the longer he held me the less I minded. It was more comfortable than the table at least.

“Of course not. Humans don’t live this far out, but they are interested in this type of planet due to the similarities to their own preferred habitat.”

“Oh. That makes sense.” He peered down at me. “He does have rather soft skin.”

His was hard where I could feel it, smooth, almost shell-like. It didn’t have segments I could see, but maybe it was armor? They didn’t seem impressed with mine, even if it was state of the art.

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 10


It was the feet. Those broad soles and flat toes digging into the earth were made to move soundlessly. And the subtle green striping would probably help the creature to blend in amazingly with the foliage around us, if he wanted to.

Based on the way he stood, feet spread apart and four arms braced, two on the torso and two outward facing me, he wasn’t hiding at all. The planet did not have any structures or even ruins that indicated an advanced civilization or culture; nothing to show manufacturing or building.

No way to cover up making the textile industry responsible the smooth fabric covering the man’s torso and upper legs, hugging closely to thick muscles. Or the manufacturing for the metal wrapped around his arms or the very advanced weapon held in one of his hands pointed at me.

Or the ship we were trying unsuccessfully to hide from, for that matter.

Escape had failed us as well. No flight. No hiding. Fight? I snorted, then winced when the other two flinched. A stun wand against whatever that was in his hand? Unlikely, even if I was trained to fight, which I wasn’t. A stunner was a basic in self-defense against animals for a scientist for those rare cases in the field when a support team wasn’t around.

Well, rare when the idiot didn’t deliberately strand himself on a temperate planet that was supposed to be unoccupied by sentient beings and anything too dangerous.

“Hello,” I said. Oldie but goodie, maybe? A greeting, in a positive tone of voice, couldn’t go that bad.

Except it scared the crap out of Bouncer who—unsurprisingly—bounced against my body and then fell to the ground in the next instant as a white glow surrounded his form. His limbs splayed out and he was completely still.

“No!” I lunged for Bouncer, putting my hands on his sides. “Why did you do that?” I shouted. I scanned him frantically, looking for signs of life. The white light didn’t go away, and I couldn’t see any rise and fall of his big chest.

Tears pricked my eyes as anger surged through me. “He was just an innocent animal. He wasn’t trying to hurt you! He jumped, that’s all. I scared him.” It was my fault. All mine. I’d fed him, he’d followed me, and now he was laying lifeless in the dirt.

“He was lunging for you.”

“No he wasn’t! He was hiding under me because he was scared of you.” I knelt on the ground, one hand on Bouncer’s striped side. “He jumped and probably would have tried to find a better spot if I wasn’t so close to him. He’d been trying to warn me, to lead me away.”

“Cerops do not protect those outside of their packs.”

“I was a part of his pack! I fed him. He was mine! You had no right!” I lunged to my feet. “Killing animals because they are scared is wrong. That’s just… evil!” I thrust one arm toward him without considering the consequences.


Hisses and tapping punctuated the white fog. “The suit is typical of their material; it’s composition was no impediment. Ah, here it is.”

Cool air drifted over my face. I twitched and flared my nostrils. The air smelled of metal and salt, dry and cool. My hair flopped over my forehead and into my eyes.

“A hairy race. Strange, only two gripping limbs. He was very angry and loud.” There was a pause. “He is a he, right?”

“Well, let’s see.” The suit’s helmet had been retracted, and another few taps and the sound of the full release depressing broke the quiet. My body was limp, and I couldn’t move as the metal encasing me slid away. I could think, observe, but only hear and feel. My eyes were closed or blocked somehow by a white light.

“Our initial probe that caught his presence identified him as a Human male, yes.”

“This is far for their kind.”

“They have been coming closer, enough that research has been released to all clearing ships. Didn’t you update?”

“No, I was… busy.”

“Hmph.” That scoff sounded skeptical and derisive at the same time.

What was going on? Where was I? Who was talking about me and why couldn’t I see them? I desperately wanted to move.

“Oh, this is interesting. His brain waves are extremely active.”

“But he should be in stasis.”

“He was, but when you put him down, the increase in activity was immediate.”

“So he can hear us? See us?”

“I’m not exactly sure. Their medical data is hard to interpret. I don’t have the training for more than the basics.”

“He was angry and loud before. If he could yell at us, he probably would.”

“Oh, his body is definitely in stasis. His life signs are almost completely at what the update claims as their normal levels are. Even if he can hear us, stasis is keeping him calm.

Keeping him calm, did he mean keeping me calm? I wasn’t calm! I wasn’t anywhere close to calm. I was freaked out, scared, and yes, I was still mad. Nothing about what happened was okay.

I was not a first contact specialist. These were not primitive beings, and it sounded like they were pretty damn technologically advanced—enough to be spying on Allied space.

They were not an Allied race. I would have paid attention if I’d see a description like one of them before. Allied species came in all different shapes and sizes, but the humanoid races were actually few and far between.

I’d hoped to make some rare discovery of a new species on Ardra, but this was not what I wanted. And, if my hearing wasn’t fooling me, I’d somehow ended up in their medical lab—so the odds of becoming a rare specimen myself was growing. 

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 9

 He was trotting along ahead of me, weaving through bushes I had to hack a path through, when his rigid stance caught my eye. “What is it, boy?” I spoke quietly to avoid spooking him or alerting whatever had caused his alarm.

A loud blast overhead sent me into a crouch at his side. He was belly down flat to the earth, his ears folded flat and head swinging wildly.

What was that? We’d walked most of the day. I’d observed several insects, but for all his ability to walk far quieter than I could, the prey animals must have some other way to sense his presence. They stayed safely hidden, though I did catch motion in the trees above us, I couldn’t quite glimpse the sources of the limbs swaying.

The sound that had just rocketed through the area was not made by anything living, however, and it sent a shiver down my spine. Harsh and discordant, the noise stopped almost as quickly as it started. The silence rang out in contrast, nothing moving in its aftermath, not even the wind.

It was as if the whole world held its breath.

A hard ripple shook the ground under me, and I fell onto my knees. I couldn’t see what had just landed, but I had spent enough time on ships to know the feeling of something docking—or in this case, landing.

The biggest difference? The silence, other than the blast of noise. The trees in this jungle were thick, but not that thick. I could see parts of the sky ahead of us and even more above us. Whatever just hit the ground hard enough to knock me out of a crouch was close.

I should be able to see it. Hear it.

But there was nothing.

If my bouncy friend wasn’t so scared, I’d be worried I was imagining things. He could easily turn on me in his fear, so I didn’t touch him, but his sides were shuddering in fast pants and his body trembled. His tension was palpable, and I followed his example to stay frozen in place. Scanning back and forth, just moving my head, I almost missed it.

A flash caught just in the edge of my peripheral vision was the first change, then the light of the suns bounced off metal that appeared out of thin air. Where once had been trees, bushes and glimpses of small, open spaces between more of the same, was now a ship.

And it was unlike any ship I’d seen before. It was polished black, shining bright in the reflected light, with yellow stripes. The colors were aggressive, the stripes slashed like clawed gouges ripped across the metal.

Too close. Whatever was about to come out of that ship, we were too close. Pushing my fingers into the dirt, I slunk backward. Bouncer looked at me with his farthest right eye. He whined, and I winced. “Shh.” I beckoned to him, like I had earlier with the food. Hopefully that would work.

I never stopped creeping backward. Did that thing have windows? Scanners? Hopefully, down on the ground, I’d look like another animal. It’d take longer, but I’d stay on my hands and knees until I could hope we were out of scanner range.

Bouncer looked at the ship then at me. He shuffled his feet. I curled my fingers at him, risking a whisper. “Come on.” I’d only thought the jungle was silent before; now it was like even the wind didn’t dare caress the leaves or rattle the bushes.

We might be the only things moving, but as long as we were moving away, I’d feel better than if we stayed in place. Animals would run away. Their brains wouldn’t tell them to do anything else. Danger, danger, run away!

Well my animal brain was fully in charge, and I was more than happy to run away. Ardra was supposed to be unpopulated; no sentient indigenous population, there were no claims on it, no research studies filed—I could state that with certainty, since I’d checked before filing my own slyly through a friend since my communication had been monitored—so no one but me should have landed here.

Unless this was a rescue party. I almost snorted at the thought. Sonez would have called it that officially. Unofficially it’d be a retrieval of a pain in his ass and a ship lockdown for disobeying orders.

Orders he couldn’t legally give me. I’m sure he’d have found a way around that. So were these soldiers? No, not with a ship like that, not a mission this small. Bounty hunters? I’d pissed Sonez off, but I couldn’t see him spending his own credits to chase me down. Could he have convinced my parents I needed a rescue?

Did they send someone after me?

That would be even more humiliating. I wouldn’t be taken back to the ship, oh no, I’d be taken straight to my parents to account for my actions.

I was not a child.

Okay, the irony was not lost on me. I was on my hands and knees, crawling backward away from something big and scary, hoping it wasn’t going to notice me. My lips twitched, and I might have laughed at myself for the crazy thoughts circling my brain like drunk creder twisters, but the actual fear was still too strong.

I’d only been here a day and a half. I wasn’t ready to leave. I had copious notes, but I’d seen a fraction of the planet’s natural beauty. I’d already made one animal friend—even if he latched onto me instead of the other way around—but I had hopes to find other animals as willing to let me study them.

Bouncer was nearly under me as we crawled backward, and I looked down to place my hands to avoid his claws landing on my suit and making noise. When I looked up, we were no longer alone. 

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 8

  “Bouncy?” I tossed him another tidbit from the bag, flicking it with the fork so he could jump and catch the bite. It’d become a game for him, but I was trying to see how high he could jump. Those powerful hindquarters definitely gave him some spring. “Springy?”

He caught the next bite that I really hadn’t expected him to. “Wonderful!” I praised him, clapping. He skittered back, not liking the sound. “Aww,” I said. “Did I scare you?”

That brought back another memory. I’d had many different staff to take care of me. My parents liked to hire academics too, and once I’d had a Truquell nurse who’d been an Earth history major. She’d read me children’s fiction that featured animals, since I had such a fascination. A baby pig and a bear, best friends? Illogical.

But there was a character… and friendly, striped feline that bounced. A lot. “What was his name?” It’d been a long time ago. I dug around in the bag, scooping up the last of the meaty mush. “Last bite, buddy.” No, that was what the bear called the other one. Little buddy. Or maybe that was the two bears basket story.

“It’ll come to me.” I carefully stowed the food garbage. No sense attracting any other animals. I’d already made the mistake of influencing this one. He could help me learn more about the animals of Ardra, but he’d no longer be typical of his species. Adapting to me would change his behavior.

Well, his physiology would still be reliable data. I took a quick measurement with my pad of the tree I’d used to record his jumps so I could mark the height later. Now it was time to get moving. Chirps followed me as I moved around my makeshift camp.

“Sorry, buddy, but that’s all for now. You’ll have to find something on the go.” Great. Big chest, long legs… bottomless pit.

He might be younger than I’d estimated or just half-starved because he was a poor bug hunter. Maybe his mother had kicked him out early or he’d lost his family. No one to teach him. I couldn’t be a… I kept a wary gaze on him as I clicked my pack into place. “Er…” It definitely had an er. Well, a whatever he was. He’d either leave me and go find some of his own kind in the wild, leave and survive, leave and die, or stick around with me and get domesticated—to a degree.

Wild animals were always a little wild, and I respected that. Especially since he had the claws and teeth to back up his cranky desires. Without my suit, he could’ve taken chunks out of me and decided I’d be just as good as a meal instead of providing it.


An hour into our trek, and I’d learned he was definitely a predator. He made less noise than I did, unless he was trying to get my attention. For all his color, he could lose himself in the underbrush and stalk soundlessly.

The first time he popped out and made me shout, I’d startled a whole flock of something that buzzed away to my right just over head high. They were small, furry, with buzzing wings that moved rapidly. The flock moved so tightly packed I couldn’t tell what an individual looked like, and the leap and grab “Jumper?” made lead to a crunch, gulp, and pleased but bloody head wiggle as he looked at me like I could do it again.

But he didn’t respond to the name. I sighed. There was so much to see. Ardra had extreme climates, but I knew there would be less to find in the arid cliffs and sands elsewhere, so I wanted to focus my study here for the most part. Would I be able to study anything with a voracious carnivore on my heels?

“Well, I didn’t even see the blue buzzers until you scared me, so I guess we’re even.” They’d hidden inside some hanging flowers with deep spathes of vivid orange curled into cones that held blue spadix that were very similar in color and shape. “Hmm, camouflage or were they harvesting?” I made sure my pad was recording as I used the camera attached to my helmet to catch my observations.

Anything I’d missed, I could go back and review the footage for. Even better, the camera was top of the line, so it recorded in different wavelengths. The mic I wore also scanned different frequencies. I tried to rely on my senses to guide me, but I didn’t limit myself, not when technology could gift me with so much more information.

Sometimes I could sense the life teeming around me as I walked. I caught glimpses, like the legless slitherer, and my new bouncer, and even a screaming pair of green and brown speckled creature that had an ovoid body with a pointed bottom and three legs coming out of different angles to grip the tree branches with long, jointed toes.

They talked like an old married couple, one bickering until the other screeched above the first, setting that one back off until it was a cycle of annoyance I’d witnessed twice with growing amusement. Or maybe they were old aunties screaming at each other of the antics of some youth.

Antics of youth. That thought sobered me. Sure, I could continue to focus on… “Leaper?” No, not quite right either. I could continue to focus on him, but the truth was everything that had happened since I landed had proved to be more difficult than I expected.

Or I wasn’t as up to the challenge. I thinned my lips, clenching my jaw.

No. I refused to allow that to creep into my thinking. I’d make discoveries. I’d prove myself. I could do this. Stars only new what I’d do with my new friend when I returned to a ship, but I’d think of something. 

Want more flash?

J Alan Veerkamp

Julie Lynn Hayes