Chapter Six | Stuck Station

Previous Chapter is: Chapter Five

Next Chapter is: Chapter Seven

Archive for the 'Chapter Six' category

6.01 - The creature

Jun 29 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Chapter Six

Daniel’s exact response, when he saw the creature lurking there instead of his former lover, sounded something like this: “Gaa.”

It’s the same sound that many intelligent species make when they forget to pay their taxes or realize they are holding a live Nova Grenade.

“Gaa!” the creature repeated, in Daniel’s voice.

Then it let out another shriek, causing its red flesh to ripple like the surface of a stormy lake.

The creature was six-feet tall, three-feet wide, and shaped like a dull bullet pointing toward the ceiling.

It had two tentacles, dotted with knobby protrusions. Both tentacles ended in what looked like a grayish claw. That explained the talons-on-the-asphalt-sound Daniel had heard earlier.

He wasn't sure they were claws though. The tentacles whipped in the air so quickly, Daniel only caught flashes of them as they moved.

The lower part of the creatures body had four vertical lines in it, as if someone had cut it with a large sword.

The creature’s rubbery body had no features, except a small eye above the left tendril. On the creature’s other side, there was a small slit.

A scar. Probably where the other eye used to be, Daniel thought. I’m guessing this isn’t its first hunt.

As the creature moved, Daniel saw that its base undulated like the slimy foot of an Old Earth snail.

An especially-fast snail, that jumped from the ceiling, to the floor, behind Daniel, in front of him.

Could Old Earth snails jump? he wondered, scared out of his wits.

This was another reason for him to want his augmem … so he could determine the adequate zoological comparison to make for the animal about to kill him.

One response so far

6.02 - The hunt

Jun 30 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Leaping back and forth, the creature kept its distance from Daniel, circling him.

And Daniel was terrified.

Not because the creature was alien.

Daniel had seen plenty of aliens.  He'd lived with them, worked with them, partied with them. His best friend Trak was an alien Mek.

No, Daniel was terrified because he was certain this particular alien would do horrible things to him if it got close enough.

Then the creature shrieked again.

For the first time since the accident at Cassandra, Daniel’s fear overwhelmed him. He couldn’t turn and run. He couldn’t move.

And he knew he had been wrong: Losing his augmem was nowhere near as scary as facing this creature.

In the brief moments when it came to stop between jumps, the creature's tentacles moved like eyeless snakes, weaving back and forth in the air.

Despite it's quick movements, it seemed to be taking its time.

When Tour Guide had flitted Daniel practically on the creature’s nonexistent lap, the creature must have lashed out in fear and surprise, Daniel realized.

But this time, the creature had been waiting for him; it had baited its trap with Jeska's voice.

Still circling, it looked in no hurry to rush the hunt.

Suddenly, the creature's right tentacle snapped out, hitting Daniel across the chest, tearing into the fabric of his robe,  spinning Daniel 90 degrees.

“Daniel!” the creature screamed in Jeska’s voice.

With its prey off-balance, the creature coiled its bulk and prepared to pounce.

There was a sound in the distance, as one of the taller t-shirt piles Daniel had bumped toppled with a soft crash.

The noise startled the creature, throwing off its planned leap.

Sailing through the air, it missed Daniel completely. Not by inches, but by yards.

One response so far

6.03 - Suspense!

Jul 01 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The creature barreled into a tower of coasters, knocking them everywhere.

Once it slid to a stop, it tried to turn toward Daniel, but the papery disks stuck to its tentacles. With its arms and its foot coated in coasters, the creature couldn’t get any traction.

Falling over and over, it furiously grabbed for Daniel. He was out of reach.

Watching the creature clumsily try to right itself diluted Daniel’s fear. It was pretty funny actually.

With his paralysis broken, he stepped away and considered the monster.

He could try to kill it while it writhed on the ground. But its arms thrashed back and forth so quickly it was obvious that a single step too close could be fatal.

Plus, Daniel thought. I have nothing to kill it with.

“Are you intelligent?” Daniel asked, though he was sure it wasn't.

“Are you intelligent?” the creature repeated in Daniel’s voice, and fell again.

“That answers that,” Daniel said.

“That answers that,” the creature repeated. Then it shrieked so loud Daniel thought his eardrums would burst.

Preparing to put some distance between himself and the creature and resume his search for Jeska, Daniel was surprised when he too slipped and fell.

Feeling a wet coldness on his hands, he saw he had stumbled into a small puddle of reddish liquid.

A liquid that, even in the wane light, Daniel could see was blood.

From his vantage point on the floor, he could see that red spatters led away from the puddle, winding past the creature and before disappearing behind a nearby stack.

3 responses so far

6.04 - Blood trail

Jul 04 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Ignoring the thrashing creature, Daniel followed the blood trail.

He felt grimly certain what he’d find.

And around a nearby stack, in the center of a thick pool of blood, lay Jeska.

A seven-inch gash marred her thigh. She wasn’t breathing.

“No!” he screamed.

“No!” he heard the creature scream behind him.

Daniel ordered his augmem to activate his medic proxy app, and then remembered the augmem wasn’t working.

His medicloud was only tailored for his personal biosig. Without the augmem's proxy app, the medicloud could not repair other lifeforms.

The best it could do was fix their appliances.

He moved to her side and felt a mild electrical shock as he touched her skin.

He ignored the odd sensation, chocking it up to terror, and checked for a pulse.

She had none. Her skin was cold as ice.

She was dead. And she was still so beautiful.

Daniel felt his heart turn to dust.

The creature must have killed her immediately after her last message.

“Daniel?” he heard the creature call behind him. In the voice of the woman he had loved.

Daniel stopped thinking.

He stood, his robe stained with the Jeska’s blood, and ran back to where the creature had fallen.

Daniel saw that it had finally freed itself and was now watching Daniel from a rusty pipe on the Afterthought's lower hull.

“Daniel?!” it screamed in that perfect, infuriating mimic.

“Stop it,” Daniel said.

It jumped down, landing ten feet in front of Daniel, and resumed circling him.

“Daniel!” it screamed, and Daniel was sure it was mocking everything Jeska meant to him.

“Stop it!”

The creature stopped circling and reared back to pounce.

Lowering his shoulder, Daniel charged.

One response so far

6.05 - Death

Jul 05 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The creature leaped at the same time.

Daniel and the monster collided, the impact knocking both of them to the floor.

“You took her from me!” Daniel screamed at the creature. “You took her from me!”

"You took -" the creature managing to repeat, before Daniel smashed it above it's only eye.

Daniel swung his arms into its rippling flesh with no thought other than to cause pain.

The creature's left tentacle hit him in the chest. Daniel kept pressing forward, beating on it with both hands.

He hunched down, trying to get closer to the creature’s core, when he felt wind whistle over his head. The creature’s other tentacle had nearly sheared off his skull.

Daniel didn’t care. Ravenous with fury, he struck the creature again and again.

The creature reared back, both tentacles raised high in preparation for what had to be a killing strike.

Oblivious, Daniel kept hammering away at the monster.

The creature shrieked … and then Daniel felt his fists hit something solid beneath the creature’s slimy bulk.

There was a loud pop.

In obvious agony, the creature writhed, then slumped to the ground.

A blast of greenish ooze sprayed from the creature's lower half.

Much of the slime splattered Daniel’s robe, and the viscous substance smelled of putrescence and death.

As the creature fell, Daniel caught a glimpse underneath its bullet-shaped body.  He saw the reason for the vertical lines that ran down the creature’s lower half.

Its bottom section– its means of locomotion, which Daniel had assumed was one appendage – was made up of multiple tentacles pressed together.

They looked just like the tentacles that had been jabbing at him, only these seemed to have fused.

Daniel kicked the still form of the creature.

One response so far

6.06 - Conflict

Jul 06 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

It was dead. That didn't stop Daniel from kicking it.

During the fight, Daniel must have damaged something vital.

The creature's two tentacles had coiled over themselves as they fell. Green ooze continued to leak from somewhere beneath it. Its blood-red color had dulled to a pale pink.

Daniel felt no pity; instead he kicked it harder.

But it didn’t help: anger consumed him.

With no weapons to speak of, he looked at the slimy mass at his feet.

He saw the claw at the end of the one creature’s lifeless tentacles and decided something.

Wrapping his fingers around it, he pulled hard, trying to rip the claw from the arm.

The claw looked ... familiar. He couldn't place where he had seen it before.

He thought of Jeska, her body cold nearby. That made him pull harder.

He would use the claw to cut this, this abomination apart until –

“You killed it!” said a happy, stunned voice behind him. “It’s dead, it’s dead!”

Daniel started and saw Jeska limping in his direction.

He stood up quickly, body covered in the creature’s green ooze, and rushed to take her in his arms.

He felt her complete the embrace. He also felt her wince when he held her, and he tried to be as gentle as possible.

“You’re alive!” he said. “You’re alive, you’re alive!”

“Yes,” she said and laughed softly. “Legs a little sore. How did people deal with pain without clouds? ”

“How …?” as he said that he watched the gash on her leg slowly begin to heal itself, the telltale sign of a medicloud at work.

5 responses so far

6.07 - Reboot

Jul 07 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

She looked him over and gestured at her blood on his robe.

"You thought I was dead," she said.

"You were dead!"

“Close... but my medicloud knows what it's doing," she said proudly. "You saved me. You fixed my cloud."

"I didn't do anything," he said honestly.

"Your medicloud must’ve rebooted mine. Did you see any reactivation alert on your eyescreens?" she asked. "Or feel any sort of buzzing when you got close to my 'corpse'?”

That’s what that electrical shock had been, Daniel thought. He had thought it was just fear.

A reboot ... Daniel thought. That explained why her leg was healing so slowly. Her cloud was still warming up.

Relieved, he gripped her tighter. But not too tight.

“I love you,” Daniel said.

So much for the suave line you had planned, he thought, and said, “I love you so much.”

Jeska was taken aback. She knew he cared about her … but he’d never said the l-word before.

“And it’s nice to see you too, Daniel,” she joked, feeling guiltier than ever. “Now let’s shard off before something worse happens.”

She started limping toward the aft of the Afterthought, the site of its main airlock.

But she had trouble moving – Daniel was still holding her.

He didn’t want to let her go. He wouldn’t let her go.


Never let go, he thought.

“Daniel!” she yelled.

“Sorry. Caught up in the moment.”

“You smell like death.”

“And you look great.”

“You look pretty good too,” she said and she meant it. Even though he had green ooze dripping from his hair, he still had that sort of … dusty charm.

One response so far

6.08 - Again with the running

Jul 08 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

When he smiled at her, Jeska felt a shock of her own: she still cared for him.

Why can’t you play nice, Jeska? she thought. Tell him the truth.

Then she saw the pile of coasters behind him, the ones with the words “Containment Facility One Staff" printed on them, and her irritation fought back the conscience that’d been growing inside her.

NO! You are leaving! And that … is … FINAL!

She sent out a quick l-mail, signaling for the next part of the plan to begin

She gave Daniel her brightest smile, which, knowing what she was about to do to him, hurt more than bleeding out.

For Daniel, the smile seemed to resurrect his heart.

Everything’s finally ok, Daniel thought. Now we just have to find Trak and Rachel and …

Then the creature, which was supposed to be dead, let out another shriek.

Daniel and Jeska started running. They didn’t even look back.

She ran for a short while, but when Daniel saw that she winced every time her wounded leg hit the ground, he  scooped her up in his arms – despite her protests – and carried her toward the back of his ship.

He was scared, but he also knew how heroic he must look to Jeska. Looking heroic is important to human males.

“I thought you said it was dead!” he said, as he ran between the t-shirts piles.

“I thought it was dead!” she said, still in the cradle of his arms. “I don’t know anything about its biology. That green ooze must have been a decoy.”

Daniel would have been upset under normal circumstances, but as he felt her against his chest and smelled the perfume her skin was bioengineered to emit, he simply laughed.

No responses yet

6.09 - Lifts and ladders

Jul 11 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

“Next time, we make sure it’s dead,” Daniel said.

“I nominate you for the job,” Jeska said, with that smile.

Then her face was all business again. “Please keep running.”

“I’m trying,” he said.

Relieved that he hadn’t dropped Jeska, Daniel steadied himself after slipping on a stray coaster.

He realized he didn’t have any idea where they were going, and said “What’s your plan?”

“Don’t get eaten,” she said. “Wait … why don’t you have your ship grow us a lift?”

Daniel couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of that earlier.

He yelled, “Rachel, we need that lift!”

“Daniel … remember I told you that Rachel is in orientation?” she said. “Can’t your ship grow an entrance without a pilot?”

“The Afterthought is … an antique,” he said. “It needs an Aye to run the ship's clouds.”

From the crook of his arms, she looked at him incredulously.

“And there's no other way inside? Not even a ladder?”

“I’ve been meaning to grow a permanent entrance,” he said. “But I always had Rachel to handle that. Plus if there’s an emergency, there’s a …”

Looking at the ship's emergency lighting, Daniel realized what he was saying, “In an emergency, a special access lift drops down the front!”

She cocked an eyebrow at him.

“I didn’t think of it because I’ve never had to use it," he said.

Now Daniel knew where to run.

He spun 180 degrees with Jeska still in his arms and headed toward the front of the ship.

Then he heard a sound behind him.

3 responses so far

6.10 - Caught

Jul 12 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Daniel turned to see the creature scrabbling to the top of one of the tallest stacks  about 100 yards behind him.

With its one red eye, it watched him run. Green fluid still dripped from its lower tentacles.

The creature leaped down from its perch, out of view, and Daniel heard it shriek in the distance.

“I hate that sound!” Daniel said.

“It makes worse when it eats,” she said sadly.

A glance at her face told Daniel that Jeska's wounds were not only physical.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I tried to get here as soon as could.”

“I know,” she said. “Keep going.”

She peered at her leg and rubbed the spot where the gash used to be. The muscle underneath was still tender.

“Medicloud's almost at  full power,” she said. “You won’t have to carry me much longer.”

Daniel nodded, and kept running toward the lift, through the puddles of blood and green ooze that marked the site where Daniel had charged the creature.

“We’re getting close,” he said. “I think.”

The lift was difficult to see. It lay in the shadow a repellor, one of bluish halfglobes that jutted down from the bottom of the four corners of the Afterthought.

Daniel wished he had seen the lift earlier.

There was a crash. Jeska looked over Daniel’s shoulder and gasped.

Daniel didn’t have time to look. He felt something pliable and muscular wrapped around his waist.

As the tentacle lifted him into the air, he managed to lower Jeska gently to the ground.

The creature had him.

“Get to the lift!” Daniel said. “There are pistols just past the airlock entrance!”

She nodded and disappeared around a nearby stack.

2 responses so far

6.11 - Hanging

Jul 13 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

“I wonder how you eat,” Daniel sleepily said to the creature.

Almost as if it understood, the creature lifted up its lower half, revealing a trio of sharp black mandibles dripping green ooze.

“I didn’t really want to know,” he said, as it slowly drew him  closer to its mouth. “I was just making conversation.”

Daniel was three feet off the ground. Losing air, he struggled weakly. His efforts had no effect. The creature's arms were slimy but strong.

Daniel noted absently that the creature was taking its time.

Maybe it likes terrorizing its prey, he thought as the tentacle inched him closer to its the maw.

Then there was a soggy thunk.

Daniel looked down and saw Jeska kicking the creature with her now obviously repaired leg.

Aiming for the same fleshy area Daniel had injured  earlier, she nailed it with her second kick.

The creature shrieked in pain and let its captive go. Daniel landed in a puddle of slime.

More green ooze jetted up from the creatures underbelly. The creature wobbled, but this time it didn’t fall.

Daniel figured it was through playing dead.

The creature lashed out at Jeska with one of its tentacles, but Jeska nimbly dodged.

“Where are the guns?!” Daniel said, trying to get out of reach of the creature’s arms.

“I couldn’t get them,” she said, and ducked under another attack. “Your ship is biolocked.”

“How did I forget that?” Daniel said.

Then he remembered his missing augmem.

“Ugh, my mind’s rubbish,” he said, cursing himself for being so dependent on that device.

One response so far

6.12 - Biolock (Part 1)

Jul 14 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Stuck On: Biolock

If you have some time, go to any corner store in the year 2713.

It doesn’t have to be a traditional “corner store.”

It could be a corner virtual marketplace, a corner sales planetoid, or a corner nomadic crystalline sentient fog-growth enclave.

Whatever venue you choose, walk through the virtual/airless/throbbing entrance, past the row of personalized clouds, past the wall of well-guarded nome products, past the cages and jars of live pets from stars you’ve never heard of.

And in the back, you will find a very large, well-hidden section.

It’s always well-hidden because many species still frown upon the idea (even though most of them allow it).

The sign above the section may say “replication Technology Services”, but most likely it will simply read “Copy.”

This is where you go if you want duplicate yourself, and it’s as easy as cloned pie.

There are many different devices for the job, but they all do the same thing: they make another you.

Add in a little mind replication (a technology available three aisles over), and your cloned body will have your thoughts as well as your body.

It will be you in every way, except it will be about three minutes old.

A clone can be a valuable labor saving device, and a good friend if you're a nice person.

But there's a problem: the clone will think it created you.

So the question is ... when you get to checkout, how will you prove that you are the original?

7 responses so far

6.13 - Biolock (Part 2)

Jul 15 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Stuck On: Biolock (Part 2)

The ability to quickly clone yourself raises an important question:

When cloning, mind transference, simulated personalities, and shape-shifting creatures are the norm, how do you prove you’re you?

(The question gets even more complicated on worlds where identity theft is a respected profession, where Body Swapping Day is a planetary holiday, or where asexual reproduction yields hundreds of genetically identical offspring.)

Luckily, by 2713, the question has been definitively answered: The Biolock.

Biolock is the generic name for any number of technologies designed to perfectly distinguish between individuals.

It’s a combination lie detector, personality assessor, and biometric scanner that analyzes a being’s biosignature – the sum total of all that being’s identifiable mental and physical characteristics.

A biolock can tell the difference between

  • Person X and Person Y.
  • Person X and the Identical Twin of Person X.
  • Person X and a Clone of Person X.
  • Person X (alive) and Person X (dead).
  • Person X and a Mek Programmed with a Copy of Person X’s Brainwave Patterns.
  • Person X and a Creature that can Mimic Person X’s Appearance.
  • Person X and a Jar of Person X’s Spit.

So, with the biolock, the owner of the corner store doesn’t bat an antennae when you lease a clone, a Mek duplicate, and an Aye that does funny impressions of you.

He gives you a quick scan, and it tells him you're the original.

Anyway, the Afterthought’s main systems have a biolock – cobbled together from seven or eight popular models – that only recognizes Daniel Wei.

In other words, both of these Stuck Ons were a long way of saying, "Rachel-7 can’t open Daniel’s ship without him."

One response so far

6.14 - The waiting

Jul 20 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Jeska ran to Daniel, took his hand, and they headed for the lift.

Still in pain, the creature staggered after them, slowly gaining speed.

Daniel and Jeska sprinted, their mediclouds converting the chemical byproducts of exercise back into fuel that their bodies could use.

They made it to the lift in seconds, and could hear the creature getting closer.

“Start it up,” she said.

“Already on it,” he said, sending a quick link-mail -- one of the few non-augmem apps still available to him -- to the ship’s default system.

Scanning user biosignature, read the message on Daniel’s eyescreen. Please wait.

“Why isn’t opening?” she said, listening for the creature.

“It takes a while.”

“Tell it to hurry,” she said, the fear evident in her voice.

“Can’t go any faster.”

“Any star bus could do this in seconds.”

“Like I said, the ship's old," he said.

They could hear the click of the creature's claws on the floor as it circled them in the darkness.

“Why doesn’t it just finish us off?” he whispered.

“It toys with its prey,” she said.

“It didn't toy with me when that Aye practically dropped me on top of it,” he said, feeling the scratches on the back of his robe.

“But were you hurt?” Jeska asked.

“No …” he said slowly.

And, now that Daniel thought about it, the creature could have easily slit his throat neck or torn off one his arms.

It’s been toying with us? Daniel thought.

“I've been attacked many times. But it let me live,” Jeska said. "Because I'm the only one here."

“Then what does it eat?” Daniel asked.

“I used to have ... crewmates,” Rachel-7 said.

5 responses so far

6.15 - Speechless

Jul 25 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

She used to have crewmates.

Daniel rolled that sad fact around in his head.

Again he was speechless.

Mercifully his eyescreens broke the silence. They beeped and read Input initial voice authorization.

“Afterthought recognize Daniel Wei,” Daniel said.

“Afterthought recognizes Daniel Wei,” said the toneless voice of the ship’s default systems. It seemed so … artificial without Rachel-7’s arrogance and sarcasm.

“Repeat code phrase,” it said.

“Jeska,” he said.

“What?” she said, staying crouched behind him.

“No, that’s the code phrase.” Daniel said. “Jeska.”


“Yes/What?” Daniel/Jeska said at the same time.

“You said, ‘Jeska,'" she said.

“No, I didn’t,” Daniel said. “You did … in my voice.”

They looked at each other and fear flicked across both their faces.

A drop of green slime fell on Daniel shoulder.

They glanced up.

The creature was dangling above them, its tentacles inches from their necks.

“Jeska,” it said in Daniel’s voice.

“Again? It tricked me again?!” Daniel said, more angry than scared.

Daniel and Jeska dove out of the way as it stabbed its arms down at them.

The tentacles made a thunderous clap as they hit the ground where Daniel and Jeska had been standing.

Daniel and Jeska moved to the other side of the lift, hoping to put the tall metal scaffolding between them and the creature.

But the lift was no obstacle to their pursuer.

Rather than going around, it simply pushed its malleable form through the open spaces in the skeletal elevator and extruded itself onto the other side.

It hung above Daniel and Jeska.

Then it dropped to the ground, ten feet away from them.

5 responses so far

6.16 - Shielded

Jul 26 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

With their backs pressed against the open lift entrance, it looked like Daniel and Jeska were leaning on nothing.

In reality, the ship's shield lay between them and the lift plate – the wide rusty platform that could take them to safety.

With the blood red creature undulating closer, Daniel felt now would be a good time to be brave. Or at least look brave.

“Ok, Jeska get behind me.”

“No,” she said.

“Then let me get behind you.”

“Lowering shield,” said the ship’s voice, “Lowering shield. Lowering shield.”

Unlike more modern ships, the Afterthought’s shield generator had to warm up before raising or lowering its defenses.   It also had to say "Lowering shield" no less than 17 times; it was a particularly strict, irritating safety feature.

Until then, Daniel and Jeska could only wait.

The creature was six feet away now and still trailing green slime. Five feet away.

“We're out of time,” Jeska said.

“We're out of time,” said the creature.

Daniel could swear it looked almost pleased with itself.

Daniel and Jeska had three minutes until they could access the lift.

That was too long. Especially since they were so close they could smell the creature's dank odor.

“Any chance that thing’s going to keep toying with us?” Daniel said quickly.

As if in response, the creature lashed out its left tentacle, raking a long furrow into Daniel’s arm before he could react.

Daniel screamed in pain – and, in his pain – he realized he and Jeska were about to die.

But maybe only one of us has to … Daniel thought, as his medicloud quickly repaired his damaged arm.

No responses yet

6.17 - Dead end

Jul 27 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

“You wait for the lift,” he said to Jeska. “I’ll distract it.”

"What? How?" Jeska asked.

“Like this,” he said, and stepped from Jeska’s side.

Cupping his hands around his mouth, he shouted, “Hey! You’re … you're ugly!"

The creature stopped, apparently confused.

"Daniel,” Jeska said, “I appreciate the effort but…"

“Just get ready to use the lift,” Daniel said, not taking his eyes off the creature. “Remember the pistols.”

Still shouting poorly-thought-out insults like “You are also stupid" Daniel began to run.

It's interest piqued  the creature stopped moving toward Jeska and followed Daniel.

Daniel ran quickly, tripped, and ran some more.

Then he made the mistake of looking behind him. The creature’s talon kept stabbing downward, missing him by a human-hairs length again and again.

Daniel made a zig-zag pattern through the stacks, knocking over as many piles as he could to try and slow the creature down.

The creature simply leaped over most of them, but it was losing ground.

Daniel was 100 feet from his ship when he ran into a dead end.

Daniel found himself inside a curved alcove of t-shirts stacks.

He pressed against them, but the clothing was tightly packed and piled so high that his efforts had little effect other than to make an impression of himself in the fabric.

Furious at his own stupidity, Daniel kicked a four-foot high pile of coasters next to the blue fabric wall.

They scattered at his feet.

Daniel heard the click of talons on granite, and turned just in time to the see the creature rushing toward him.

3 responses so far

6.18 - Retaliation

Jul 28 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The creature stabbed both tentacles downward.

Daniel had just enough time to step back a few inches, pressing further into the fabric wall.

He felt a violent rush of wind as the tentacles narrowly missed his face and smashed into the ground with a thud.

Lifting its arms upward, the creature suddenly shuddered.

It began to violently shake its tentacles.

Daniel saw he had a brief reprieve: the creature was trying to remove two coasters that had stuck to its arms when it tried to crush Daniel's skull a second earlier.

Apparently the creature's last experience with coasters had not been pleasant, and it was desperate to remove them.

It whipped its tentacles back and forth. But the dry paper circles stuck like adhesive to the the creature’s slimy skin.

And that’s when Daniel came up with the completely unoriginal second step of his now-maybe-not-so-suicidal plan.

He had seen coasters trip up the creature before. Maybe they would a second time.

Daniel quickly a grabbed a fistful of the discs at his feet, and hurled them at the creature.

The coasters flew through the air and splattered against the creature’s torso, landing in a buckshot-like pattern.

The creature straightened, aiming its lone eye off away from its tentacles and onto Daniel, and shrieked.

It reached for him, but Daniel simply stepped aside and dropped more coasters on the extended tentacle.

Daniel didn’t care about accuracy, he cared about quantity. He  showered his enemy with the discs.

In his hurry, some coasters fell out of his hands and dropped to the floor. One fell into the pocket of his robe.

One response so far

6.19 - Attack

Jul 29 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The moment the coaster slipped into Daniel's pocket, the Tour Guide spoke up.

"Thank you for taking one of our complimentary coasters," said the voice. “Everyone who volunteers at Containment Facility One gets a free t-shirt and a free coaster. Special-Edition Commemorative T-shirts will be awarded out at the end of your term of service."

Daniel paused, confused.

Then he resumed chucking the coasters at the creature, which was frantically trying to scrape the papery barnacles from one clawed tentacle with its other clawed tentacle.

It seemed outraged that Daniel’s coaster assault was working, but, in its anger, it had to be careful not to cut its own tentacles.

Daniel reached for another shovel full of coasters and showered them down on the creature. As he did, another disc fell into his pocket.

The Tour Guides cheerful voice spoke up again.

"You have taken more than one coaster. Your species must drink a lot of liquid! Enjoy your complimentary coasters."

Daniel ignored the voice this time and kept up the attack.

Some of the coasters missed. A few hit the creature’s skin at odd angles, bounced off and skidded to a stop on the ground.

Most, however, stuck.

And with every hit, the creature grew more perplexed and angry.

After a minute, Daniel didn’t even have to hurry to avoid the creature’s attacks. He could just casually lean to the side.

After two minutes, Daniel’s coaster ammunition ran out, but by then, the creature was so entangled, it had stopped attacking him altogether.

It looked like a bullet-shaped mound of coasters.

And now Daniel was free to casually walk up to the creature, look at it thoughtfully, and poke it in the eye.

3 responses so far

6.20 - Up

Aug 01 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The creature flinched and fell to the ground.

It couldn’t get back up. It lay there writhing, shrieking mournfully, grasping for traction.

“The shield’s down!” Jeska yelled in the distance.

The creature continued to shriek as Daniel left it behind.

It would get back up, and when it did, he hoped to be long gone or, at least, better armed.

He had considered trying to kill it, but — given what happened last time — he figured he’d have better luck with a pistol.

He rushed through that vast room, a cavernous warehouse packed with a limitless supply of the same two worthless items.

Relief flooded him when he reached the Afterthought, the lone ship in the visitor's bay, and saw Jeska standing on the lift plate.

Her face made him smile, and he stepped onto the plate next to her.

“Up,” he said quickly.

The ship’s system got the message and began raising the lift plate.

“Thank the Gods,” she said as the plate moved toward the Afterthought belly.

"Shields," Daniel said. And the shield generator began the slow process of re-initializing the energy barrier.

Daniel and Jeska stood side by side, quiet for a moment.

"Is it dead?" she asked.


"Kep," she cursed.

"It won't be back for a while, though," he said, hoping his words were true. "When it does, the shield should keep it out."

"Maybe," she said.

"No, the shield is one of the few good things on this ship," he lied. "It'd keep out a sigma cannon from Alitma himself."

She laughed. She always saw right through him, and he knew it.

4 responses so far

6.21 - Ascent

Aug 02 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

"Like you'd ever meet Alitma," she said, laughing.

She doesn't know what I've done since she left me, Daniel thought sadly.  Maybe she didn't care enough to find out. 

Jeska's laughter ended in a wince of pain.

Medicloud must have missed something, Jeska thought.

“You hurt?” Daniel asked, his self-pity replaced with concern.

"I’m fine," she said, in a voice that told him she was not. “Doesn’t matter. You sure this …  ship can fly?

“Yes. It’s sturdier than it looks,” he said, and then jumped back in terror as a rusty pipe fell from the Afterthought's hull and clanged against the lift exterior.

“Don’t worry about that,” he said, doing a poor job hiding his embarrassment.

“Anyway, I need to check you out..." he said running his eyes down her body.

"Daniel ... " she said blushing slightly.

"I mean, your vitals," he said. "Check out your vitals. We need to have the ship's systems check you out."

He hadn't been leering at her. He had been examining her for injuries.

“Oh,” she said, feeling stupid.

Daniel wondered if the ship's medicloud diagnostic system could examine Jeska without Rachel there to manage the machinery.

He thought about it longer and felt relieved Rachel wasn’t there.

He remembered what happened when Rachel had given Jeska a routine medical examination on his last ship, the Bon Voyage.

After performing the preliminary scan, Rachel had anesthetized Jeska, shaved her bald and tattooed “Spoiled Human” across her forehead.

Having had years to think about it, Daniel admitted it was pretty funny in retrospect.

Then he remembered it had been pretty funny then, too.

But he never told Jeska that.

Stuck On: Pranks

Social morays change, especially in a time when the architecture around you, and, indeed, your very body can be transformed quickly by nanotechnology.

In early human culture, a tattoo and a unwanted head-shaving would be a shameful, heinous act, ruining the reputation of both people involved.

But by the 2700s – when tattoos aren’t permanent and you can regrow hair in seconds – it was an insult and a mild inconvenience at most.

Rachel-7's prank was the equivalent of marking someone's arm with a dot of non-permanent ink.

For a further discussion of human pranks in the 28th-century please read Professor Edii Fnewfnaw's seminal work: Terran Humor: Why Whoopie Cushions are Still Funny. 

14 responses so far

6.22 - Embrace

Aug 03 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

“After that, we can hunt that thing down, catch it, cook it and eat it," he said, half-joking.

“I don’t ever want to see it again,” she said. “I just want to leave.”

“I understand,” Daniel said, regretting his attempt at levity. “It’s just that …  we can’t go yet. Gotta find Rachel and Trak.”

“Of course,” she said, and looked momentarily sad.     

Is she remembering crewmates? Daniel thought.  Family? Friends? Another lover maybe?

Jealousy crossed Daniel’s mind, but the emotion disappeared when she stepped closer.

“Daniel, I have no words. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” she said, wrapping her arms around him.

She looked down and then into his eyes.

And she kissed him.

Even the piercing shrieks of a rather irritating, incapacitated monster in the  distance couldn’t ruin that for Daniel.

4 responses so far

6.23 - A kiss

Aug 08 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The old lift-plate rose slowly, taking five minutes to make the 30-foot trip to the Afterthought’s interior.

Jeska and Daniel barely noticed and didn’t break the embrace the whole way up.

Then the sound of the airlock hatch creaking open brought Jeska back to reality.

She managed to pull away gracefully, surprised by the intensity of her feelings for Daniel.

She took a deep breath, tried to forget the exhilarating rush, and looked around instead.

When the airlock hissed shut below her and the walls lit up, she saw the lift-plate had come to stop in the ship’s maintenance bay, a cluttered chamber of half-rebuilt Meks, engines and appliances – a surprisingly high number of toasters, Jeska noted.

Some of them were even on the walls and the ceiling.

As for Daniel, even after the lift had come to a stop, he felt he was rising higher and higher into the air.

In a daze he said, “That was …”

Nothing came to mind. He just grinned.

Examining her new surroundings, Jeska felt a surge of pleasure that made her feel truly alive for the first time in five years.   

She rubbed her hand down the wall, and a thin line of sludge stuck to her fingers.

“It’s disgusting,” she said.

“I didn’t know I’d have visitors,” he said lamely. 

“I love it."

For Jeska, anything was better than Stuck Station. Even this spectacularly filthy junker.

“Me too,” he agreed quickly, still flying high from her kiss.

No responses yet

6.24 - Mantle

Aug 09 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

“So after we get you scanned, you can tell me how to find my crew. Then we leave.”

She ignored him.

“How was I supposed to find a gun in this mess?” she asked.

“They’re right by the door to the central hub,” he said, pointing at the two worn pistols on the wall behind her.  

After picking up the ancient weapons and examining them, he said, “I was probably better off using coasters."

He brushed off the caked dust, and then held the pair of pistols out, posing dramatically for the woman behind him.

He smiled as he felt her arms wrap around his waist.

“Can’t resist a gunslinger?” he said, using an archaic term that had come to mean “valiant warrior” instead of “guy who shoots people over the slightest provocation and also smells a lot like a horse.”

He felt Jeska tense against his back. Something weighed heavily on her.

Then he heard her mumble something under her breath.

Daniel didn't catch everything she said, but he picked up the words “serve,” “visitor,” "facility,"  and “mantle” ...  not necessarily in that order.

When she finished speaking, a soft chime came from all around them.

The chime didn't bother him — the Afterthought made random noises all the time  — but her quiet words did.

“What’s a mantle?” he said.

“What?” she said.

“You said something about a mantle?”

He'd heard the term before, but without his augmem he couldn't place it.

“Mantle?” she said, looking nervous and examining the dusty floor.

No responses yet

6.25 - Control

Aug 10 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

She’s hiding something, Daniel thought. Maybe her injury. ...  Why would she think I'd care about that?

“That’s it. Let’s get you scanned,” he said.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“I don’t think you are.”

In a flash, Jeska slapped one of the guns from Daniel’s left hand, sending the weapon flying to the floor.

Before he could react, she reached for the pistol in his right hand, took hold of its barrel, spun the pistol 180 degrees and held it to his head.

He could feel the cold metal resting on his temple.

“Ok, you’re fine, you’re fine!” he said.  

He waited for a hint of a smile to show on her face to let him know she was joking. Her steely gaze didn’t change.

“Unlock the ship,” she said softly.

“It’s already unlocked,” he said, confused.

Jeska look flustered, then said, “I mean, give me control of the ship.”


“Do it. I don’t have much time.”

“If it's about that creature, I'm telling you the shields will be up in time.”

“I’m not talking about him!” she said, with both hands gripping the weapon’s handle.

Him? he thought.

“Give me your ship!”

She’s lost it, he thought. Help her out. Just talk to her.

“Jeska, I came all this way to find you,” he said.

“Stop it,” she said.

“I almost died getting here. Quite a few times.”

“Shut up!” she said, her ice glare crumbling.

“Whatever happened we can talk about it,” he said

“I …” She looked sad and lost.

“We’ll kill that creature, we’ll find Trak …”

He didn’t mention Rachel; Jeska didn’t like Rachel.

Jeska tilted the gun downward.

When he saw that his words had reached her, Daniel sighed in relief.

No responses yet

6.26 - Fire

Aug 15 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

“We can even get burgers before we go," Daniel said. "The food's pretty good here at  'Containment Facility One.'"

He said the name playfully, but at the mention of Stuck Station, Jeska’s eyes narrowed.

Didn't think that last one through, Daniel thought.

For Jeska, the name brought back vivid memories of the last five years, and she felt any doubts about her plan evaporate.

This is the only way out, Jeska thought, fingering the trigger.

“Give me the ship now, or I will fire,” she said. Her cold tone matched the icy glare she was giving Daniel.

She won’t fire. She won’t fire. She won’t fire, he told himself.

“Please don't fire,” he said, still trying to calm her. “That sludge on your fingers? Lubricant. Highly flammable. The whole room’s coated in it. Use that pistol, and we both burn.”

Before he could finish, she pointed the gun at the ceiling and fired a beam of white hot energy into the metal three feet above Daniel's head.

The bulkhead sizzled, turned bright red, and sagged downward five inches. The room’s temperature instantly increased 20 degrees.

So the pistols do work, Daniel thought, stepping back from a shower of sparks drifting down of the ceiling.

He felt the hot flecks of metal burn his neck. Some of the sparks landed on a trashed Mek arm – a limb Trak had discarded after a recent upgrade – igniting the lubricant.

Flames bloomed outward, spreading quickly, and the sickly sweet smell of burning chemicals filled the room.

The maintenance bay was only 50 feet by 50 feet, and it wouldn’t be long before the entire chamber was aflame.

4 responses so far

6.27 - Drive

Aug 22 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The Afterthought didn't have a fire suppression system.

Daniel had thought it a needless expense. Flames wouldn't hurt Trak or Rachel-7. And ever since the Cassandra incident, Daniel hadn't cared much about his own personal safety.

Now, with the smoke stinging his eyes and fire lapping at his robe, Daniel regretted his thriftiness.

“Jeska …” he said.

“Give me the ship,” Jeska said.

“Why?” Daniel said, eyeing the other pistol at his feet. It was only a few inches away. If he could grab it in time, he might be able to hold her off and keep her from doing something else she'd regret.

Without answering his question, Jeska fired at the weapon on the ground. She held down the trigger until the Daniel’s glimmer of a plan vanished in a glowing puddle.

Fine. If she wants to drive, she can drive, Daniel decided. Just give her what she wants and talk it out later. 

“Afterthought, recognize new captain,” Daniel said. He coughed after inhaling another lungful of smoke.

The ship’s biolock scanned Daniel and acknowledged him as the current captain.

“Afterthought preparing to recognize new captain,” said the default system voice. “State code phrase.”

“Jeska,” he said.

“Code phrase accepted,” said the system. “State new captain’s title and/or designation.”

“Jeska,” he said again.

“Jeska,” the system said, “please state acceptance of Afterthought ownership.”

“I accept,” she said.

The ship’s biolock scanned Jeska, replacing its record of Daniel’s biosig with Jeska's.

She looked at Daniel and said nothing. As the flames grew taller, Jeska appeared unconcerned about the danger.

“New captain recognized,” said the ship's system. “State your orders, Captain Jeska.”

5 responses so far

6.28 - Down

Aug 23 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

“So, where are we going?” Daniel said nervously, watching the flames creep closer to the maintenance bay’s largest pile of flammable scrap.

“Afterthought, open the airlock,” she said.

“What?” he said.

The door hissed open. Through the holes in the lift scaffolding below, Daniel could see the towers and columns. It looked like a miniature cityscape.

“Step onto the platform,” she said.

And then, at long last, Daniel let himself understand. Jeska was going to leave him behind. Again.

“Are you serious?” he said, still trying to laugh it off.

“Get on the platform, or I will kill you,” she said, her dark form outlined in flames.

“You can’t – ”

“Do it now,” she said.

“I came here for you,” he said, his eyes pleading. “Doesn’t that–" he stopped to let out a harsh, dry cough, and then continued, “That means something, right?”

Through the smoke, Daniel thought he saw a tear running down her perfect face.

“Get on the platform!” she shouted.

“What did they do to you here?” he whispered.

“Now!” she said, gesturing with the pistol.

He stared at her.

Then he stepped onto the lift plate. Immediately it began to sink.

“You don’t have to do this,” he said. “You don’t have to do this!”

He caught one last glimpse of Jeska's face before the airlock slid shut. The only warmth in her eyes was the reflection of the flickering flames.

Daniel watched the airlock close above him and tried to somehow will it open again.

Nothing happened.

With gravity on its side, the lift plate sped quickly toward the ground.

One response so far

6.29 - Lonely elevator

Aug 24 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

When the lift plate touched down, Daniel didn’t move. He just stared at the airlock high above him.

As the Afterthought's engines hummed to life, Daniel felt nothing. Or rather, he had so much sadness it felt like he felt nothing.

The scaffolding shuddered around him as the ship pushed forward.

Jeska wasn’t wasting time. She hadn't even retracted the lift.

He could hear the metal creak and tear as the Afterthought broke away, leaving the defunct elevator sitting alone in the dark Visitor’s Bay – a broken lift for a broken man.

As he watched, the Afterthought rotated 180 degrees in the air; the front of the ship now hovered 5 feet in front of him and 30 feet above him.

Then it descended, its heavy bulk easily crushing the piles of paper and cloth beneath it.

And Daniel found himself staring into the ship's bridge.

Jeska stared back.

Why are you doing this? he thought.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

She said two words, and the ship’s speakers amplified her voice so Daniel could hear her clearly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She was crying openly now.

She looked away, and the ship began to rise.

Then the Visitor’s Bay lit up, revealing a gargantuan chamber of polished white and blue. His reddish brown ship stood out against the room's ceiling like a stain.

And Daniel hated himself at that moment.

Because, even as Jeska prepared to drop him like so much garbage, he couldn't make himself hate her.

Hope she put out that fire, he thought reluctantly.

No responses yet

6.30 - Distance

Aug 29 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The Afterthought did another about-face and sped directly toward a wall that was five miles  distant, hundreds of feet tall and incomprehensibly wide.

It was the only wall Daniel could see.

In every other direction — except for a few places where the towers and columns blocked the view – an endless white and blue plain stretched out beyond the limits of his vision.

Even with the brilliant light now emanating from the ceiling, the visitor’s bay was simply too big to take in all at once.

Suddenly the wall let out a loud whirring sound, a noise that Daniel was certain would have been deafening up close. A black vertical line formed down the wall's center.

The whirring continued, and the line in the wall began to shine, emitting beams of dazzling blue and green light.

The line thickened as the Afterthought approached, and Daniel realized the wall was opening, splitting into two panels that were each as long as a small city.

Ignoring his own misery, he stepped off the lift plate to get a better look.

The opening widened and the light grew unbearably bright.  But Daniel didn’t turn away; he was determined to see what happened next.

His eyes started to water and burn. Then he felt the familiar tingle of his medicloud augmenting his vision.

With newly filtered retinas, Daniel watch the glare recede.

He could now make out the receding shape of the Afterthought in the blinding light — a lumpy teardrop silhouetted against a swirling maelstrom of pulsating energy.

If he squinted, he could also just make out a large sign near the wall’s opening – a white rectangle hovering above the tallest tower of T-shirts.

The sign – in that familiar calligraphic script he had seen when he first arrived on the station– read, “Please excuse our swirling maelstrom of pulsating energy. We’re currently undergoing renovations.”

One response so far

6.31 - Action hero

Sep 03 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

Daniel briefly thought about chasing after his hijacked ship in desperate, dangerous and, above all, romantic gesture that he hoped would change Jeska's mind.

If he caught up, he could scramble to the top of a tall t-shirt towers – they were more stable than the coaster columns, he noted – and get close enough to make a jump to the ship's lower hull.

Assuming he used one of the welded-on appliances as a handhold, he could then search for a way inside, retake his ship and convince her to stay.

Failing that, he could beat his fists against the hull, screaming Jeska's name in way that would somehow win her back.

The one problem with that plan, Daniel thought, are the many, many problems with that plan.

To name a few, the ship was moving much too fast, the towers would collapse before he could climb high enough, and he probably couldn’t make the jump to the lower hull.

Even if he could leap that far, what would it matter? The biolock wouldn’t let him in. And Jeska wouldn’t release the biolock.

And she wouldn't be able to hear him beating on the hull.

Because the ship's airtight. It travels in space. Remember, genius? he thought. You're not the hero of an action virtual. Let her go. Let it all go.

He sat down on the ground.

What’s the point of anything now? he thought, his downcast face lit by the alternating flashes of green and blue in the distance.

One response so far

6.32 - This chapter never ends. I mean, Anomaly

Sep 03 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

As the massive door opened wider still, Daniel saw that the room behind the wall mirrored the visitor's bay in every respect, except that it was completely empty.

Oh, and except for the blinding gash of pure white energy floating in the air in the center of the chamber.

So, yes, if you ignored that, the other visitor's bay was completely empty.

The gash of light was wreathed in dozens of flowing streams of green and blue mist, which flowed helically around it. Each strand of colored fog moved faster than any natural or artificial cloud Daniel had ever seen.

The object floated perpendicular to the floor, and as he watched, the fissure of light twirled in upon itself, like a string wound tightly at both ends.

It then collapsed into a single point and vanished. The other visitor's bay went dark.

With a flash of even brighter light, the gash reappeared. It looked the same, but it now floated parallel with the floor.

The anomaly vanished and returned  several times every 30 seconds, randomly changing from horizontal to vertical to diagonal.

The object made no sound.

And even in the depths of his despair, Daniel felt a sort of reverence for the beautiful, silent hypnotic cipher in front of him.

However—it should be noted—he did not have enough reverence to hold in his gas.

No responses yet

6.33 - Collision

Sep 06 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The Afterthought was a few hundreds of yards from the energy anomaly and closing fast.

She's going to fly my ship straight into it, Daniel thought.  

He didn't know what the maelstrom was, but he did know Jeska wasn't the kill-herself-type. He guessed the energy anomaly was a some sort of portal out of the facility.

... But if it's an exit, why didn't she use it years ago? 

Confused and worried, Daniel watched the ship move near the collision point.

His eyescreens made an irritating beep.

He ignored it. He could guess who it was.

His eyescreens beeped again.

Daniel sighed and looked reluctantly at the “from” section of the message alert screen displayed at the bottom left of his line of sight.

He had been right: Jeska wanted to talk.

Summoning what was left of the shards of the tatters of the wreckage that was his dignity, Daniel declined the message.

Then Jeska, whose biografted mail system was much more advanced than Daniel's own, forced her way onto his eyescreens.

“You always were my favorite,” Jeska said from the tiny screen.

Daniel couldn't keep himself from looking at her.

Her eyes were red, her face was dirty, and her hair was burned. And the fact that those imperfections somehow made her look even better made Daniel feel even worse.

Unable to express his pain eloquently, Daniel said simply, “You suck.”

“I know,” she said sadly, without hesitating. “And, again… I’m sorry.”

Her image disappeared when the bow of the Afterthought hit the energy anomaly.

Unsure of what would happen next, Daniel braced himself and watched the impact.

No responses yet

6.34 - Ceiling

Oct 17 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

With a flash of white light, the Afterthought was gone.

No concussive blast, no slow dematerialization, no blazing pyrotechnics — if it had been a special effect in a virtual, Daniel would have called it “anticlimactic” or, more likely, “weak.”

As a real-life event, Daniel called it … nothing.

Daniel had no words. His soul hurt.

When Jeska left him five years ago, he thought he had reached the limit of human misery.

He was wrong.

At least I got to see her before she left.

That thought did not make Daniel feel better.

She didn’t even say goodbye, he thought sadly.

He took a swig of his flask and shoved it back into his robe.

Anger and sorrow battled inside him for a moment, until a greater force took over: denial.  

"She'll be back," he said aloud. "No use moping."

He wanted to mope desperately. But denial felt better than grief or rage.

"Everything's going to be fine," he said, even though it wasn't. He pushed his real feelings down and examined his surroundings.

From his sitting position in front of the elevator, he saw the massive door closing in the distance.

Slowly the swirling anomaly vanished behind the door's sliding panels. Then the panels met and resealed; it looked like the wall had never opened.

Suddenly the ceiling above him began to lower.

Daniel wasn't surprised: he'd seen entire docking bays change shape to fit incoming vessels or oddly-shaped cargo.

Now that the lone ship in the visitor's bay was gone, Daniel supposed, the ceiling was probably dropping to its default height.

However, as it dropped closer, Daniel hoped its default height wouldn't crush him flat.

… but, with Jeska gone, part of him hoped it would. 

One response so far

6.35 - You again

Oct 18 2011 Published by under Chapter Six

The never-ending expanse of white fell toward him.

Daniel held his breath.

And the ceiling stopped ten feet above his head.

As he let out a sigh of relief, Daniel noted that the shift in the room's internal architecture hadn't knocked over any towers or columns.

Daniel looked at the top of nearby t-shirt pile and saw why.

The ceiling had molded around the upper part of the tower perfectly — also about 10 feet above him — leaving only an inch of space around the fabric.

Only clouds could make such fine alterations. So, Daniel realized, the Visitor's Bay was just like the changeable docking bays back home.

"If you'd like to continue you're tour of Containment Facility One, please say, "Yes,'" said the irritatingly cheerful voice of the Tour Guide.

Daniel thought of telling it to be quiet  ... but then he saw his reflection in the pearlescent ceiling.  The sight of his bedraggled, solitary form caused cracks to form in his hastily constructed "Everything's going to be fine" rationalization.

A lonely duster surrounded by junk, Daniel thought. The way it's always been ...

Though, he had to admit, the giant monster sneaking up behind him was new.

Oh gods, Daniel thought and spun around.

The creature stood a foot away, pulsing like some surgically-removed internal organ that hadn't had the decency to die. A few coasters still stuck to its flesh.

Daniel hated the creature. Partly because of its stench, partly because it had tried to kill him, but mostly because the thing's very existence reminded Daniel that "No, everything was not going to be fine."

In a flash, the creature jumped to the ceiling, where it stuck with a loud thok! sound.

Its tentacles dangled toward Daniel.

“I hope Jeska didn’t forget her commemorative t-shirt,” the creature said. “Those are valuable collector's items.”

2 responses so far