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Another Animal

by Heidi H. 2 months ago in science fiction / extraterrestrial
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Chapter One: When Ropes Have Eyes

Another Animal
Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. A scream still travels from inside a ship and over radio waves, though. Beigna’s scream split through my snoopy cap and rattled my ear drums. The charred panel I was dislodging snapped off at my startled force and slammed into my helmet visor before tumbling along the edge of the ship until it disappeared into space.

Immediately, I steadied myself with my thrusters and provided an update over the comms. I had to stay focused and work quickly. These heat panels were not going to replace themselves. We would burn through the hull before reaching our destination in their current state. Everything on this secretive mission seemed to slip sideways in three’s.

That scream was only number two.

Prying off the unusually large section of useless heat panels as quickly as possible, I braced myself for space debris to send me flying away from it all. I considered the possibility of the engines dying and falling out of orbit into an unknown planet. A bit of me questioned, what was I thinking 15 years ago? How was my stomach flipping with excitement instead of this dread only 3 months ago?

I had known the dangers. We all knew the dangers, but simulations were never quite like the real deal were they? Grunting only to myself, I removed the last three damaged panels and began replacing them. It wasn’t until I had one panel remaining that I noticed it. A glistening rope was looped around the entire ship. I squinted through my visor because it looked like it was moving. Was it growing new ropes?

My heart missed several beats because the answer was, yes, thin and spindly ropes were inching their way towards me. The oxygen level warning lit up. Since Noird’s incident, we were only taking what was absolutely necessary and this had taken longer than expected. I turned my comms back on. “Beigna, one more panel and I’m coming in.” Somehow, the silence in response was louder than the scream earlier. Hammering the last panel into place, I wondered briefly if those ropes are related to Beigna’s screaming. If they were even breathing to scream anymore. The silence suggested as much, but I still hoped for the best. Not only because Beigna was a smart, kind person who kept this stressful mission light hearted, but also because I didn’t want to be alone to finish this mission. We had already lost the other two crew members along with several tanks of oxygen.

I was almost to the airlock when I realized the outreaching ropes were shifting direction in an attempt to keep up with me. Stomach fluids were churning inside me and threatening to hurl themselves up my throat. Now was not the time for panicked puking. Deep breaths kept it all down and steadied my hands. I was able to release the airlock door, slip in and slam it shut behind me.

I made it in. I’m in. I am safe. I gulped in what was left of my suit's air, and the oxygen levels began flashing red in my visual display: CRITICAL LEVEL. REFILL IMMEDIATELY. I had to re-pressurize before removing my helmet to breathe from the ship’s airflow. My brain was feeling fuzzy. I needed to find the control panel to initiate the process. I staggered towards the right wall and slammed the large red button labeled ‘Re-entry.’ The ship’s AI companion, whom we’d nicknamed Stilta, informed me in the stilted old school tone, ‘Please close the airlock before re-entry process.’

I frowned and punched it again. Stilta only repeated the same. I squinted at the airlock door. I already closed it, I thought. My vision tunneled as I stumbled towards the door to confirm. I grabbed the handle to yank it and ensure a full seal. As my glove closed around the handle, I saw the rope from outside had wedged itself between and was keeping the airlock from sealing. It seized my arm and curled tight before maneuvering my arm to spin the handle. It opened the door, slid in, and guided me back to press the ‘Re-entry’ button again.

Only a portion of the rope had joined me in the airlock. It had fragmented itself like a sea anemone, suffering no injuries. It coiled around my helmet, shifting in colors with a bulbous shape traveling along the inside while it awkwardly removed the helmet. My hair stood on end. My mouth was dry. Humans have been traveling space and colonizing or mining planets for centuries now. No alien encounter had ever occurred. We accepted our loneliness; we were the only living creatures we’d run into out here. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Perhaps I was passed out. Maybe I had died and shifted to some other dimension the living can’t access. I was grasping for any explanation other than this being living reality when it settled on a muddy green color and the bulbous shape emerged to focus itself on me before taking in the rest of its surroundings.

The eye was solid black with a glowing maroon pinpoint that shifted across its entire surface. The pinpoint returned where I could see it. It was now a lighter hue of red. I couldn’t help but feel horrified and fascinated all at once. I needed to find Beigna. I needed to know if it was me stuck alone with this…thing. I couldn’t fully admit it was a living creature even though it had clearly removed my helmet so I could breathe. No peace was gifted by its desire to keep me alive. I stood to remove the rest of the bulky suit, and it rose up with me. The thickness of its body grew slightly as it left behind the helmet, especially towards the base where it steadied itself.

Once the door was open and I was in the corridor, it shot out a thread of itself towards my ankles with a quickness I couldn’t comprehend and wrapped tightly around them. I was yanked onto my back before I finished blinking. There was plenty of oxygen to breathe now, but it had all been knocked out of me. The pinpoint, now white, swirled around and barely glanced back at me as it swiftly traveled toward the bridge. It moved much quicker in the ship than it had outside, and seemed to know exactly where to go despite the tunnels and turns required from the airlock. It took no care to be gentle and allowed my head to bang up the ladder steps or swing wide into the walls around the corners. Before passing out, my brain skipped 35 years back to a limp BotFriend clattering against the walls of my childhood home in a similar manner. It had replaced the toy's antennae framed face with Beigna’s features, but I still heard the robotic child’s voice repeating, “It’s play time! Let’s play a game!”

***

I blinked several times for my Visuals to focus correctly. I usually would rub my eyes a bit when they get blurry, but my arms were tightly confined in a see through gel-like substance. If I wasn’t so terrified and confused, I may have been more disgusted by its moist stench. I could see the ropes were many now; each with bulbous eyes roving around the bridge. They were not particularly interested in me, but their curiosity for the ship was apparent. Occasionally, one would figure out a control and all of them would shift through several shades of purple.

Beigna was nowhere within my line of sight. Turning was not an option, but my back seemed up against a corner. I took a sharp breathe. Hope and panic swelled. If Beigna wasn’t here, maybe they were out there in the corridors plotting my escape. If Beigna wasn’t here, were they killed and eaten? Am I another meal waiting in the fridge for them?

Every single beaded eye had swung my direction when my heart rate increased. I couldn’t hear a thing, but the way the pinpoints connected and swirled I was sure they were chattering. A small shock wave made its way through the substance they had confined me in, and the pinpoints immediately centered on one pinpoint. I hadn’t missed it before, but this pinpoint’s rope base was thicker like a sapling tree trunk. A couple moments passed between them before the pinpoints rolled back to stare at me, and the ropes of the thicker trunk began to unravel a bit in the center. A sharp object extended out to slice through the gel. It fell away from me leaving behind a residue as it jiggled to the floor. It wasn’t the gel keeping me contained. My arms and legs were still not my own. Definitely a fridge, I almost giggled. Ropes with eyes are going to eat me.

My mind sobered when one of the eyes approached, closely inspecting one of the bumps on my head. It whirled towards one of the others and turned completely red with a neon yellow pinpoint running around the whole circumference. There was still no sound, but I was picking up tension, anger, and there was definitely an increase in heat. I couldn’t help but continue anthropomorphizing and feeling vindicated that this creature was standing up for my injuries even if it supported my continued containment.

The inability to move was seeping hope into my brain that I was having a strange sleep paralysis dream until I glanced beyond the ogling pinpointed eyeballs and saw a flash of auburn curls through the bridge portal window. Beigna! I felt so relieved until they reappeared, their mouth exaggerating the words ‘I'm sorry’ over and over again. I didn’t understand until the gas Beigna had released singed my skin and seared my eyes.

science fictionextraterrestrial

About the author

Heidi H.

A recently renewed book worm once flipping through the pages of every book she could nab. Reading again was the rain after years of draught. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories; quick jump portals to yet another mind.

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