The Possibility of Peace
The Wendig Terribleminds Challenge this week was to mix two randomly-rolled sub-genres into one tale of 1,000 words and submit it by November 1st, 2013. My two sub-genres were: Space Opera and Psychological Horror, so I went and visited the universe of one of my novels in progress. Not sure how I went, but here’s what came out.
The world burned, the dimension subject to an unholy conflagration that sent plant life into riot and forced its creatures to take on heat-resistant forms that glided slick and smooth through shadows, or skittered in blatant adoration of the sweltering conditions. I was glad I’d brought the ice, gladder that my suit was already compensating. This was not the ideal place for a rendezvous.
Shadows floated at the corner of my eyes, mankind’s equivalent materialising from pathways leading into the clearing, their forms glistening as though slick with sweat. Perhaps, they were.
“You had something to say.” It’s not much of a greeting, but as the sight of them turns my stomach and makes me want to freeze the f***kers into oblivion, it’s the best I can do.
“We would like peace.”
Those words hit hard, a gut punch I didn’t see coming. My mind fills with images of the Eskerus massacre, the screams leaching through a rapidly closing inter-dimensional portal, blood-curdling terror pouring through pleas for mercy and requests for a swifter death. The speaker must sense my shock.
“Emotions have fuelled our technology from the start. No one thought to look for a better way—”
“And any who spoke against the practice became part of the fuel source,” another hastened to add.
I looked around, feeling the heat even through the suit.
“You never thought of going solar?”
‘Solar’ the word ripples through them. They shiver like grass before a breeze, raising their heads to dart nervous glances skyward, checking the trees for predators.
“Nor did we ever learn to split the atom,” the first adds. “Some of us want to try another way.”
“But fear is easier and cheaper to harvest,” says the second.
“They come,” warns a third.
“’Solar’ is a word that draws attention,” the first explains. “You must go.”
“We will contact you again,” he adds, when I hesitate.
I hear a distant roar, one that whistles imitating a high wind. The portal wobbles behind me and I jump backwards, hoping I don’t miss, not daring to take the time to turn. I land on my ass as the door snaps shut. Hot air swirls briefly above me, a remnant from my visit. I haven’t lost sight of the door the whole time. I’m pretty sure nothing else got through.
The air is powdered in gold, but sparkles as the computer takes care of the microscopic spies that followed me. I register the ice gun in my hands, note I’m holding my arms straight before me, supporting the weapon. The insides of my gloves are slick with sweat.
Green light bathes me; the suit sparkles as more nanites explode. Decontamination in process. I force my arms to relax, try to loosen my grip on the ice-gun, can’t stop the shakes. Whoever they were, I don’t think I’ll be meeting them again. I saw the shadows snake out to grab them as the door shut, saw the way long streamers of grass wound around their legs, saw shadows dropping from the canopy above. How had I escaped?
“Shannon!” The captain’s voice makes me jump.
“What did they want?”
“Peace.” It’s out before I can censor it.
“You believe them?”
“Think of the idealists in the oil wars,” I reply. “What’s not to believe?”
“But you have your doubts.”
“Only as to their chances of success.”
A sigh comes over the intercom.
“So, no peace.”
“No, sir. Not unless we help. It won’t be a short process.”
There’s a snort that could mean anything, then silence. The door signals I can leave, but the silence goes on too long. He should have been dismissing me, or telling me what he wanted done next.
“Are we boosting?”
God help us, if they’ve locked on. We’re not the only ones who can open portals. Transferring the ice pistol to my left hand, I slap the palm of my right flat against the deck. Nothing, where there should have been a subtle thrum. Too subtle to feel through the glove? Never before.
Shit! Something got aboard.
I dart through the door. No point looking before I leap. If they’re out there, they have me, anyway. I’ve run this scenario through my head every night for months—ever since Eskerus. I seal the door behind me, note the indicator beside it glows purple. Captain would not like this little trick, so I haven’t told him about it. The air ducts and life support to that space are sealed, too.
Crew quarters next? Yeah… but I don’t want to; I dread what I’ll find. I push down the chunky lump rising from my gut, threatening to block my throat. I’m pretty sure it’s too late, but I need to live with myself. There’s probably space in my head for more bad memories; not much left for the fear I’ve left someone behind.
Crew quarters. I swallow, wishing I’d thought to sign out a motion detector. Bit of an oversight—even for me. Nothing moves in the corridor. I glance at the ventilation duct, listen, hear nothing as I tell the door to open. The room beyond is empty. I think about stripping off the glove to the suit and seeing it that rumpled hollow in the sheets is still warm, think better of it. I seal the room behind me. Check the next. Empty. I seal it, too.
The mess hall is next. Galley staff should be there. Chronometer is saying it’s almost lunch. I remember something about roast lamb, draw an air sample from outside and realise I haven’t cracked my helmet since returning. Something’s cooking, but it doesn’t smell like lamb.
The lump is back in my throat, and I nearly lose it when I see what’s hanging out of the oven.
That pretty much tells me all I need to know. I leave the galley and I don’t bother sealing it behind me.
Life pods are next—if I can make them.