“Kee, any change in her vitals?” Etos’ eyes were locked on Ada in her unconscious state. He was a hardened man, and emotion rarely came through, but it was always there.
“Heart rate is elevated. All other vitals are within normal limits,” Kee sounded off.
He sighed. “And the treatment?”
“The treatment is slowing the process, but I cannot guarantee a recovery at this time.”
Etos stood quiet for a few moments as he looked over his wife. She appeared completely normal, aside from the scar that slowly grew on her back. He needed to find a remedy, and fast.
“Any planets coming up on the scan?” he asked Kee as he left the room.
“There is an unknown moon orbiting the gas giant, Tirem. Atmosphere is breathable.”
“Signs of life?” He entered the cockpit and Phea looked up from her book.
“Any change?” Phea’s brow furrowed as he shook his head. Then, she returned to reading.
“The whole moon is lighting up with life forms. It is unlike any we have encountered,” Kee said.
The image of the world on the display was lit ablaze with heat signatures. “That can’t be right…it looks like the whole moon is alive. Run it again.”
“Secondary scans are showing the same results.”
What the hell?
He hesitated to say it, but he had a job to do and a wife that needed medical attention. “Set course.”
* * *
Blue orbited a few thousand miles above the atmosphere of the blue-grey moon. Out of the starboard window, Tirem loomed. Its bands of brown gas swirled and mixed as if the gods had dotted the atmosphere with food coloring.
“Kee, how long until the moon’s orbit brings us into the star’s light?” Etos waited impatiently in the pilot’s seat.
“Five minutes,” Kee answered. “Temperatures should reach minimum requirements in ten minutes.”
“Will I be going with you?” Phea asked from behind him.
“No, I don’t want to leave Ada alone. You’ll be in the communications center,” Etos looked over his shoulder at her. “I’ll let you know if I need you.”
Suddenly, a high-pitched ringing filled the ship. Phea dropped to her knees with hands over her ears. The sound brought a pain that pushed through Etos’ head like a needle.
“Kee, what is that?” Etos yelled through clenched teeth as he hunched in his seat.
“Scans show a wave of undetermined frequency. I am unable to detect the origin. Possible emission from Tirem.”
Etos straightened himself as the sound faded, and Phea stood, using the wall to keep her balance. Whatever that was, Etos did not want to experience it again. For the remainder of the wait, he focused on collecting his thoughts. The sound had left them scattered and broken into shards in his mind.
When the light from the local star peeked from around Tirem, he moved to the back of the ship with Phea and prepared for departure, while Kee lowered the ship to the surface of the moon. The descent was bumpy at first, but once they were grounded, an unnerving silence fell upon them. Etos’ military-trained mind forced the feeling to the back, and he suited up.
The door opened to a field with heavy fog that drowned out most of the morning light. The ground beneath was as black as coal but squished like dough under his feet. Long grass stretched out into the fog, and he pushed it aside as he moved forward.
“Phea, are you able to pinpoint the location of a life form?” he asked.
“There is a single life form forty meters northeast of your location,” she answered.
“Keep your eyes on me and be ready to take off if need be.” He continued through the field.
As he approached the location, the large silhouette of a humanoid appeared. With its size, he couldn’t help but think of the Cyclops he’d encountered on Moyna X. His heart pounded like a war drum at the sight, but he pushed forward. If he could take one down, maybe they could use part of it to heal Ada. He pulled his weapon and aimed it.
“Phea, I’m going to need you to be ready. Possible hostile lifeform,” he called to her but received no answer. “Phea?”
“Hostile?” A bright light shot through the fog from the silhouette and Ada stepped out, eyes glowing.
* * *
The second Etos left the ship, communications broke, and only static could be heard through the communication device. Phea sat around for a few minutes but decided that she needed to travel out to let him know.
“Kee, watch the ship,” she said as she put on the suit.
The world outside was dry and the ground cracked beneath her feet. In front of her was a vast empty plain covered in a cloud of dense brown dust. She moved forward with a hand blocking her eyes from the intense sunlight.
“Kee, do you have a lock on Etos?” Phea said into the communicator.
“I’m picking up his signal thirty-five meters east of your location.”
As she pushed through the dust, sand pelted her face and she wiped it away. Through squinted eyes she searched for Etos but saw no sign of him. No footprints, no sound, but there was a strange sensation that she was not alone.
“Etos?” She called out, but only the winds howl replied. “Kee, I’m at the location. No sign of Etos.”
The headset remained eerily quiet.
“Kee?” She tried once more.
A whisper came through the set. The voice had a scratchy tremble. “There is no Kee.”
The last vowel held out and grew higher in pitch until the noise forced her to throw the headset to the ground.
“Phea, we’ve been waiting for you,” a familiar voice said from behind.
She turned to see the Schloran elders surrounding a stone table and her heart plummeted.
* * *
“Ada…what are you doing out here? Why aren’t you on the ship?” Etos lowered his weapon, but Ada did not answer. She circled him with eyes locked. Not a blink. She had to be sleepwalking again. She was lucky the atmosphere was breathable.
He reached a hand out to her. “Ada, come on. Let’s go back to the ship.”
Ada opened her mouth as if to answer, but a low grumble was all that came out. His pulse kicked into overdrive as her skin darkened and took on the texture of the scar. Bones cracked and popped as she grew in size. With shaky hands, he raised his weapon once more and prayed he wouldn’t have to pull the trigger.
* * *
Phea turned to run, but the ground clung to her like quicksand, and the more she struggled, the stronger it held.
“It is time to fulfill the prophecy,” one of the elders said as he stepped to her.
“No!” She kicked as the elders pulled her out of the sand and dragged her to the table. Two others grabbed her feet and she flailed her body in an attempt to get free, but she couldn’t. Nothing was working. Not even her ability. No matter how much she attempted to focus her fear, her power remained dormant.
They placed her on the stone table and tied her hands and feet. One of the elders came forward with a blade and ripped her headband off. “You will bring greatness back to our people.”
“I want to live!” she screamed.
He lifted the blade high above his head and they all began to chant. Violently, she shook, but the bonds held. She was helpless.
“Please, don’t do this!” Tears filled her eyes.
The elders ignored her as they continued the chant.
* * *
Etos ran through the fog towards the ship. He couldn’t bring himself to fire at Ada. Even if she was a monster. Behind him, the heavy steps of his wife pounded and created ripples in the soft ground which caused him to lose his balance. His determination was all that kept him upright.
“Phea! Kee! Answer me damn it!” His desperation couldn’t stay inside of him.
Closer and closer the thunder behind him grew. Where was the damn ship? He should have found it by now. As he ran, he scanned the area, but there was nothing. Then, he heard the thrusters above him. Blue zoomed past him and he fell over as the ground formed a wave beneath his feet.
He flipped himself over in time to see the ship smash into the ground and explode behind the charging cyclops. There was no other choice but to shoot his wife. Time slowed as he brought the weapon around. He was about to kill his wife and the thought of what this had all come to brought tears to his eyes.
Once his finger touched the trigger, the weapon came to life and round after round burst through the air. Still, she charged with a guttural howl.
Suddenly, the whole scene morphed into the cockpit of the ship and he jumped up in a panic. It wasn’t until he saw Ada that his heavy breaths slowed.
Ada wrapped her arms around him. “Etos.”
“What the hell was that?” Etos asked her.
“Kee said it was coming from the species on the moon. Eratia. They feed on brainwaves.” Ada pulled back from the hug. “You’re lucky I wasn’t affected.”
“Why not?” Phea blinked hard and shook her head.
“I don’t know. I woke up feeling back to normal and found you two here, passed out. Kee said there was a strong emission from the moon, so I pulled Blue out of orbit.”
“I’m so glad to see you’re okay.” Etos pulled her back and squeezed.
“What happened to…” Ada’s words were broken by coughs that grew stronger and stronger. Then, she fell out of his arms and to the floor.
M. Sydnor Jr.
copyright © M. Sydnor Jr.