A long time ago, histocasts claimed, we were one race, living on one planet, and the sky above it was barely penetrable except to unmanned, clunky satcom units and the occasional shortjump to the totally non-T-formed moon. It sounded so lonely, so barbaric for most of my life, and I couldn’t imagine what it must have web like not to be able to hop on a transport to go to another world, let alone not knowing about all the creatures the universe housed. I always envied those who had been among the first to break away.
We’d long since made contact, so much contact, and some of the non-sapiens were pretty funky, but hey, that’s the beauty of the ‘verse, right? Little bit of room for everybody, and all kinds to fill it up.
Even so, we’d sort of hit the point by the time I signed up for some of the edgeworld and outbound exploratories, I figured it was mostly going to be sightseeing with notetaking. I never imagined that for the first time in several generations we were going to run across somebody – somebodies – new. Quietly hoped, maybe, but honestly: what are the odds at this stage? There was so much explored and so many contacts, what was really left? Sure, I felt like I’d missed the boat, but I had the chance to travel. That was cool enough.
Then we landed on what we thought was unformed planet with sapien-acceptable atmo to check out the mineable resources.
It was less than an earthday later that we were completely swarmed and separated. I didn’t see hide nor hair of anybody in what felt like half an earthweek and I was miserable, scared nutless and gutted by a stomach that felt ready to eat itself from the inside out.
The room I’d been dumped into that first day, if you could call it a room, was under the surface and surprisingly raw. Or maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising – after all, the surface had looked so organic and unoccupied, so why should the underground structures be any different?
The door, best as I can surmise it was, was inset from the surrounding rock but looked to be the same material, like a stone in front of a cave mouth. The whole room was cavelike, as if it had been hewn and carved from stone, with a ledge along one end on which I slept, and a deep pool set in the floor at the other. The whole of it was lit (such as it was) by a phosphorescing moss that clung in clumps to the ceiling, out of reach.
After a day and a half my thirst had overcome my reluctance to drink unknown water; oddly, my uncertainty had been a little assuaged when, kneeling by the edge that slanted down into the water, I saw more than a few tiny cephalopods in the depths. They shifted and writhed a little when I dipped my hand in. Several of them turned to aim dark eyes in my direction, while a few others launched themselves from the rockface to disappear deeper than the weak light could penetrate. Half-smiling, I waved at the creatures through the rippling water and drank a little more, until the cramping of my otherwise empty stomach around the fluid pushed me to go curl up on the ledge at the other end of the room.
I’d slept, and walked a bit unsteadily back over to the pool when I wakened. I couldn’t quite remember how many days they said we could go without eating, but I knew if I got dehydrated, I was screwed. Well, more screwed. This time when I knelt, one of the creatures was just under the surface of the water, featureless black eyes turned upward – and it fetched a tentacle from the rock to waggle slowly through the water.
The laugh I barked out was raspy, echoing hollowly off the walls, and I raised my own hand to wave again. Apparently satisfied, it lowered it’s tentacle and I watched it crawl arm over arm back down the slope to the deeper shadow where other similar forms waited, and there they moved sluggishly about in patterns I did not understand, ignoring me.
I drank, and stripped down to rinse myself off; even without much activity I was feeling pretty rank. I drank a little more.
There finally came a point where it ached all over too much to walk, and I simply slept by the side of the pool; sometimes I woke to find one of them watching me, sometimes a whole bunch of them just under the surface. Not a one of them looked any larger than my hand, but there were a lot of them, and whenever I actually looked at them they would all raise a tentacle to wave at me. I waved back.
Not long after waking and waving, the door finally rolled open, rock grinding on rock. The space beyond was incredibly brightly lit compared to the dim, diffuse light of my room, and I really couldn’t get a good fix on the shape ofthe creature in the doorway. It moved, and the Captain’s transcom unit clattered across the floor to land near me.
Reaching out unsteady hands, I clipped it to my collar and fit the tiny buds into my ears.
“You. Can leave,” came the translation of the sounds from the doorway, and I blinked slowly, with a short, nervous shake of my head.
“I… Can leave?” I grinned uncertainly, starting to push to my feet.
“You can leave. But. You must. Eat. First.”
“Okay,” I said, relieved at the prospect, finally, of a meal. I was unsteady, but I managed, brushing off my trousers. Then there came a strange sharp sound that the transcom couldn’t translate.
“You must. Eat. To leave.” The shape unfolded a stiff-looking, too long limb that had more joints than my mind wanted to comprehend, gesturing at the pool.
“They. Have the same. Option.”
The door ground closed with the same ponderous gravitas with which it had opened, leaving me blinking through the dim, staring down at the cephalopods. More of them had come creeping out of the depths as I had talked with our captor, and they were all staring just as blankly back at me.
One of them raised a tentacle. I waved back. The transcom beeped.
Hours later I cried out at the door until finally it opened, and with tentacles clinging to me everywhere they could find purchase, we burst forth with a roar into the light.
This piece of Nightmare Fuel was inspired by this picture by Danielle Tunstall:
See this and more of her work on Google Plus!
For more info on the Nightmare Fuel project, click here.