The planet loomed large in the ship’s flight window. Sand storms swirled fractal tattoos across the surface as angry orange flames lined the edge of the flight window.
An alarm blared as silver glyphs pulsed in the peripheral of her visor. The AI’s emergency systems kicked in and a panicked monologue rang in Phoeb’s ears.
Stabilising systems are shot. Life support is one third of full power and stable, that’s the only saving grace in a case of Carthenian caca. The specimen is secure… for now.
Phoeb turned to look at the enclosure as the Declorian warrior lashed the energy field with a barbed arm. The screech of bone along the invisible surface set Phoeb’s teeth to gnashing.
Suddenly all turned to chaos. A kaleidoscope of light filaments licked at her face as the field blasted apart and the Declorian tumbled past grappling at Phoeb’s neck.
Swirling sand enveloped the flight window and faded into grey with a loud crack.
All went black.
Phoeb stumbled through the desert heat. Grit lined her mouth and the acid of puke clung to her tongue. Sand flowed in rivulets across rocks as ragged crimson clouds tore at the purple sky. Time faded from thought as she fought the desert wind, each gasp of air raw in her throat. She gulped breath through a strip of material she’d torn from her tunic and fashioned into a face scarf.
Her memories were tattered like the clouds.
Large green Declorian eyes swam in her vision, then a feeling of impact, flying, blackness, heat and a thirst beyond words that had awakened her to reality. The ship was nowhere to be seen upon waking and she’d wandered ever since trying to find the impact site.
This way home, this way home, she started to count herself to sanity through the burning thirst, each footfall echoing the mantra in her mind. Tiny sand lizards danced around her feet, chasing the shade created by her shadow.
She entered a canyon, slipping down a scree slope of sharp slate. Something called her this way, a feeling that jumped in her throat like the memory of spring water. The mantra echoed louder in her mind now.
This way home.
The winding shape of the canyon birthed a memory of hope as it meandered off into the distance like pictures of an ancient earth river. A cool wind blew down the course of the canyon kissing her face with gentle relief.
Memory burst through Phoeb like a flood breaking the riverbank.
Tears spun ribbons down hot cheeks as she held her young clone self in her arms, clucking nonsense noises to try and comfort them both as she walked through the institutes’ doors. Suddenly she stared up at her own face, a large pale moon, smiling eyes bringing comfort. Rough arms tore her away from the warmth, that moon fading as the corridor rushed away and cold descended.
This way home.
A harsh voice boomed in Phoeb’s head as she fell to her knees in the memory’s wake.
The Declorian warrior stood before her, long arms upraised in an attack stance. Her head ached.
Reports had filtered through from high command that the Declorian had psychic capabilities, but the extent of their psionic will hadn’t been recorded. Phoeb engaged her neural implants for the first time since awakening and was reassured to feel a familiar tick in the back of her skull. At least her biotechnics were still operational.
The Declorian’s eyes narrowed as she found her feet. This monster stood fully seven feet tall. Phoeb assessed its strange stance on those backward bipedal legs. Fangs dripped from an elongated dog-like snout and its arms were ridged with barbed spikes. Long fingers tested the air, bony claw-like protrusions beckoning to Phoeb in parody of the martial stance she’d taken.
Her only advantage was her speed and low center of gravity… she hoped. Few people had survived combat with one of the secretive elite warriors of the Dectrian Asymylate.
The Declorian bellowed in her mind, rattling the shield she’d raised with her neural implant.
It sprang, maw snapping at Phoeb as she rolled straight through its legs kicking sideways and connecting with a satisfying crack. The monster spun away on the other leg as its ridged arms slashed the air centimeters from her chin, the force of that attack causing a backdraft that sucked the air from her lungs.
She extended her roll, curling into a springing summersault to land twenty feet from the Declorian. The creature just stood on one leg and stared, rotating the joint where her kick had landed. A loud click sounded through the canyon, and it stomped the ground with the leg.
Phoeb cursed under her breath “good as new eh?”
This was no good, it was faster than her, stronger than her and she could feel it constantly chipping away at her mental barrier. It probably hadn’t expected her to go on the offensive. What else could she use against it?
A ray of hope broke through mental storm clouds as she studied The Declorian. It wore a survival harness scavenged from the ship. Perhaps the device, designed for humans, could provide an attack point.
The creature burst forwards furiously stomping as dust clouds trailed in the wake of that titanic advance. Those wicked arms slashing impossibly fast at alternating angles. Phoeb reacted on pure instinct, leaping up and using the canyon wall as a springboard to extend her vault, hoping to confuse the creature by attacking from above. The Declorian snatched her out of the air with one arm, the second folding at the elbow to pierce her delicately through the shoulder with its longest barb. Blood arched across the parched earth.
There is no way home.
Its voice echoed loudly in her mind as she screamed, shattering her mental shields. The Declorian slowly drew her toward its maw, eyes glittering as it drank in her terror. She kicked out at its neck desperately, her foot connecting with the survival harness’ water reservoir.
Drops of H2O misted a rainbow in the air, moisture clinging to the Declorian’s leathery black skin. Its grip faltered as the arms halted their advance. Its sharp acrid breath faded as Phoeb slipped from the barb howling in pain before the earth jabbed up at her, knocking the air from her lungs.
She crawled toward the ship, half buried in the scree of the canyon floor. Mist clouded her vision, as the tiny face of her child clone smiled at her…
This way home
ghosts of memory whispered on the wind.
It was hopeless. There was no way to repair the ship. No way to fuel the ship and no way home. Finally, she reached the craft and saw the visor screen lying on the floor. She tried it on in the vain hope that the AI would respond. A tinny voice rose up through a sea of static.
System status: hull damage moderate, stabilising systems bad, engines depleted.
Planetary analysis complete. Prognosis: raw materials present for ship repair, viable bio matter detected, fuel source present.
Phoeb turned to look at the bubbling torso of the Declorian glinting ebon in the desert sun.
© Rowan Joyce, all rights reserved.