Excerpt for Reptilian Wanderer by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Reptilian Wanderer

Dominika Lein










This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.






Copyright 2017 © by Dominika Lein

All Rights Reserved.


Cover Art by Timi Honkanen




Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Dedication

To My Wanderer.


Also Available By Dominika Lein


I, the One

Table of Contents

Dedication

Other books by Dominika Lein

Prologue: 18,497 years ago

I. The Present

II. Eyes Open

III. Come to Me

IV. You Are But A Child

V. Interlude

VI. Ray-I

VII. Touch Me

VIII. Your First Flight

IX. The Aftermath

X. In Between One and Two

XI. Your Second Flight

XII. Lamentation

XIII. His Broken Neck

XIV. Moments before the Last Code

XV. The Last Symbol Upon the Code


About Dominika Lein



Prologue

18,497 Years Ago

Blood and scales hit the floor, torn from Ray’s ragged cheek. Blocking the next attack, his muscles nearly buckled under the onslaught of his commanding officer.

“S-stop this,” said Ray. “Do you actually believe your anger is going to help anything?”

Isokrates snarled. His eyes bulged. His scales flared. Spikes erupted along the reptiloid’s spine as he pushed against Ray’s hand, straining to break free of his grip and continue his assault.

Disengaging from the violent embrace, Ray rolled aside. Red and blue lights danced upon the walls, showing the spacecraft’s distress, while sounds of panic blared from its systems.

“We don’t have time for this... this nonsense. We’ve got to figure out where we are and how to head back before we get too far away; each light-year farther we go is going to make a traceback that much more diff--”

The commander threw a chair in his direction. Ray dodged and collided with a tall figure. Seeing who it was, he pleaded with Lieutenant Alexis.

“Will you do something?” Ray said, “He’s clearly gone mad. This isn’t the time for emotions like these. I need full control access again, administration powers reinstated, and then... Wait-What are you doing?”

Alexis placed a security collar around his neck. Tendrils shot out from the metalloid strip pinning Ray’s arms to his sides.

“Not you too, Alexis. I’d have thought you, out of everyone, would understand what has to be done. Th-this was always a possibility. Did you sincerely think food stores were going to be the worst of our problems? We’re messing with cosmic laws, many of which we have only the faintest idea how to apply properly. Our understanding is still at the fringes of practical application, just enough to get us past the galaxy edge. But this is why I assigned myself to this function: to solve outcomes like this. Listen to me, won’t you?”

“Quiet,” demanded Isokrates. “I’ve heard enough. For the last decade, I have heard nothing but. I will not give you control access again. You’re confirmed a fool for even considering to ask and for what? Something unproven and when attempted, can’t be done.”

“No,” retorted Ray, “You’re a fool for thinking you can control the course of what is happening without me. Don’t you see? This is something beyond what you were trained for. But this is exactly why I’m here! I can see beyond. I alone can understand what seems impossible. What else can you do? Y-you don’t have a choice. Return control access to me.”

Isokrates pointed a finger towards Ray. Blood dripped from the claw onto the floor. “You don’t tell me what to do. You might claim genius, but I’m in charge of this craft and all those within her, including you. Your terrestrial status means nothing; you lost your position the second you diverted our course without any shared communication.”

Tiny spherical lights still danced blue and crimson beneath their feet. The distressed sounds of the spacecraft continuing to echo all around them.

“You... You don’t understand though.” Ray said, “Let me onto the control panel. I swear I can make it right. Do you truly want to risk never landing again on behalf of everyone here? I can bring Niobe home. It’ll require testing a few slight theories, but I know I can.”

“Take him away.”

“You can’t! I can fix this. I can! I’m the only one who can. You need me.” Ray tugged against Alexis as he was forcefully pulled out of the command room.

Isokrates grumbled, propping up a chair. He sat down. “You’ll never help again as long as I sit at this desk. We wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for your desire to use Niobe to test impossibilities. You treat her as if she is nothing more than a science experiment to you. Something to play with, damning the rest of us to follow your curious notions. You were not brought for that and I will never trust you with the lives of my crew again for as long as I live.”

Ray slumped forward, staring dully at his professional superior. A chill ran through him when he realized the utter truth of the words spoken by the man he’d once thought of as a friend.

Humiliation kept Ray quiet, for he could not deny it was his curiosity that had sent their spacecraft, Niobe, careening off a dust cloud far into the universe and outside of charted space. But, he would get them home, even if it took forever to do so. He would right his mistake.


I

The Present (18,497 Years Later)

The hurt reverberates.

Echoes of pain.

Is there meaning behind what I feel?

Behind the heat?

Behind me?

It is creation that hurts.

My children, you are being created.

Aftershock after aftershock.

Code after code.

I tirelessly create you, my sons.

You reverberate through as you come to be.

I have such love for you.


Pulsating with the energy of creation, an incubation chamber hums. Pods squelch. Buzzing electricity murmurs. Melodic chimes echo between upright stations of amniotic sacs that hold forming bodies inside: thirty-six in total, gestating in the powerful confines of Niobe.

A single pod among the many shivers and splits open. The plant-like bulb curls outward. Viscous fluid drips down the edges, pooling along its rooted base. A clawed hand reaches out.

The Wanderer crawls from the pod, slipping over goo on his developing reptiloid body. Friction eludes his slick scaly skin. Barely able to see, he feels around blindly. He looks through one eye, the other stuck shut by the fluid coating his body. His forked tongue glides over a lipless mouth. He is unaware of his transgression.

Underneath his angled feet, organic topography ripples with thin strands of light, extending in all directions, wired into the floor. Illuminating, iridescent chromas dance beneath him as he crawls.

He shakes his head, touching the neighboring pod. Tracing the waxy curve with his hand, a distant call sounds in his mind. A primal instinct driven by unknown synchronization, accepting some incorporeal voice, he returns to where he came from. His pod quickly seals shut around him. The process resumes. Creation continues in peace. Warmth fills the room.


Finally you are finished.

Complete, I flash.

My being signals the completion of you, my sons.

So much joy.

Bittersweet glee as I wait for you to notice me.

But I can rest, knowing in time,

You will greet me.


Golden light filled the chamber. Beeping alarms echoed against the walls, amplifying the call to leave their birthing pods. In two rows across from one another, the capsules peeled back. The sons awakened.

Ray’s claws grasped the pod as it opened. His eyes were sticky. He tried to open them, but the goo made it difficult. Humming lowly, the beginning of a cry that was reptilian in nature, guttural in the back of his throat, the sound steadily became louder as his brothers joined in with similar noises.

He stepped out, drenched in liquor amnii. Wiping the stickiness off his scales, breath hissed past his lipless mouth. Ray coughed, heavy breath radiating through the core of his torso. He dropped to his knees. The floor sank below him. The wiring buzzed, tingling his nerves. Colors shifted along the undulating curves of the floor. Squinting at the thin lines, Ray touched the blurred colors. His four-pronged hand pressed gently against muscular ground.

Prismatic light cascaded from his touch along the surface. A faint whirring vibrated, emanating from the surroundings. His brothers looked around to locate the source. Thin strands of colorful wiring twisted along the walls, up to the ceiling in changing patterns. Ray leaned down against the floor and whispered, “Mother?”

A demanding whoosh of air interrupted them as a door appeared in the far wall. Three narrow figures floated inside. The door slid shut behind them. They were different than Ray and his brothers. They were taller, thinner, and their feet didn’t touch the ground. He felt cold when before he’d been warm, perhaps due to the airflow flooding in when the door had opened.

One of the strangers held a small device in his lengthy claws, the hard keratin nails shone a glossy violet. Pale scales covered them in grim hues of faded colors. Eyes of turquoise flecked with gold scanned the newly birthed reptiloids.

The leader of the three approached. His thin tail swished behind a wispy robe barely covering the creature’s sleek form. He hissed, looking down at Ray. A heady scent of spice wafted from the older reptiloid. Raising a hand, light trailed after his movement.

Ray tried to track the fading impression, but was distracted by chittering. The shrill noise came from the three creatures. He curled up, holding his hands to the sides of his head against his earholes.

Once covered, the sound muffled, but fear forced itself upon the reptiloid’s senses. Mouth sticky, bitter saliva dried against his forked tongue, he gritted his teeth. Against his body, the elastic floor shifted into a flattened state.

The sound stopped. The leader commanded, “Get up. All the way to your feet.” Compared to the sound before, the voice soothed the pain in Ray’s head.

Ray struggled, standing on trembling bipedal legs. His balance wavered.

“Line up by height,” instructed the leader, gesturing a few brothers into a line, “Measurements must be taken.”

Sliding and slipping over the ooze, the group hastened to fall in line. Ray moved slowly, staring downwards. With each slip forward, the floor caught him before he fell. It moved with him, his claws digging into the rubbery surface despite how slimy it’d become. The three floating figures glared at him.

Scrambling, he tried to find his place. Height? He could tell what it meant from how the brothers were lining up. Ray suspected he was average. Pausing next to a brother, they stared at each other.

The brother’s eyes were deep red. Ray found himself wondering what color his own eyes were. The brother hissed at him. He returned the hiss. Rich vegetal notes suffused his tongue, filling his senses with thoughts of trees and the glimmer of citrus-oiled bark. Flicking his tongue, he marveled at the conjured thoughts.

Ray felt a poke on his shoulder. The leader motioned him into place between two others far away from the taller red-eyed reptiloid.

A name arose in Ray’s mind. He glanced back at the brother: Kosmos?

While the three floating figures began their work, the leader spoke to the group.

“We are known as the Scanners. We oversee your orientations into Niobe.” He spoke as the other two rinsed the excess fluid from the batch of reptiloids until they were clean.

“You might already recall, but each of you were created to be pilots. This is something you have been trained for many times over, but you will have to access that training soon to fully recover your memories. Once we finish the initial immersion, you will rest in your living quarters until it is time to start.”

The pods in the background distracted Ray. Moving, they shifted downwards from vertical to horizontal. Vapor rose from their edges. A strong camphoraceous odor filled the chamber.

A brother pushing against Ray’s back guided him forward. They walked in a line, led by the Scanners. The door slid open. Ray hesitated, glancing at the chamber. He reluctantly kept walking.

As they left, the floor no longer moved underneath them. Instead, it became flat and unchanging. Their claws clicked in rhythm against it. Solid, level ground kept them at a steady pace. To the sides, wiring thinly lined the walls in rigid angles and specific patterns.

They passed through another door and into a large antechamber. The air tasted different than the birthing chamber, similar to the vegetal tastes from before.

Surveying the land, Ray recognized a few trees from the bits of memory that had flitted through his mind when examining Kosmos. Filled with a woody and faintly citrus-tinted aroma of plants and trees, past a gathering of enormous ferns, a clear turquoise pool swirled below a line of mist. Back-dropped by the warped blending of a cloudy sky, wide orange palm leaves at the top of the trees swayed in breeze.

Through the clouds, hints of shimmering wires against a concave ceiling could barely be seen. The longer Ray stared, the more the clouds glistened with an oil-like sheen until his vision became blurry.

Warm mist curled around their legs as the Scanners brought them closer to the pool. In the center of the water’s body, a column disappeared in both directions into the clouds above and into the murkiness of the water’s depths below. Steam rose from the edges, creating the mist enveloping them as they reached the shore. Here the scent of the flora became overpowered by a dank humidity that caused Ray’s tongue to coil from the sudden invasion to his senses.

A few of his brothers dove into the water with familiarity. Ray hesitated, looking again at the clouds above. Chittering forced his attention to see the leader of the Scanners pointing towards the water.

Ray followed, but unlike his brethren, he walked slowly into the water. Warm aqua lapped against his scales, the bottom slick with blue algae. His claws scraped against it causing white spores to rise to the water’s surface. The orbs popped into the air, dissolving in the vapor.

Distracted, his foot slipped on the bottom and he fell beneath the surface. Sucking in a breath, bitter-tasting water burned his lungs. Instinct directed him to kick. The more he kicked, the further upwards he went until his head was back above water. Gulping for air, he noticed his brothers weren’t struggling as he was.

Nearby, the red-eyed brother from the line before paddled with ease through the water. Hissing, Ray awkwardly kicked away with a trail of splashes. Kosmos did not follow, simply watching while wading in the pool.

After the immersion, they reconvened on a verdant clearing covered in flowers and ferns. Occasionally a flower would twirl about, glowing, with quiet beeps to accompany its spontaneous dance; ferns would coil themselves up tightly then unfurl revealing symbols hovering at the tips of their fronds.

While they gathered, many of the brothers laid in the short grass and closed their eyes to rest. The Scanners observed them with devices, drawing the metalloid tools over their bodies.

Ray stood between a couple of ferns, watching for when the plants unfurled to reveal different symbols seemingly appearing out of nowhere. He bent down and grasped at one. The golden light silhouetting the mark permeated his palm as the symbol disappeared.

Once the Scanners finished their task, they led the brothers out of the antechamber and back into a hallway. While they walked, the leader explained what was to happen.

“Your quarters have been prepared. You will dress, then be provided with tonight’s dinner. We prefer if you remain in the living quarters until you have completed your orientation. While the immersion should have granted you the dominant parts of your memories, sleep will help relog you further into being.”

The Scanner stopped at a wall, tracing over the flat surface with a swish of his claw. A soft trilling responded. The section’s wiring glowed gold.

“If you become lost, this will lead you back here.” He floated aside while the wall dissolved away into an opening. Beyond was a darkened chamber. “If any of you cannot recall your name or purpose, come with me. If not, please proceed within.”

Ray watched his brothers scamper inside. He wondered if he should pretend to recall his purpose or go with the Scanner. His own name remained on the tip of his thoughts, there for a second, then gone. His forked tongue flicked out in a fidget of discomfort.

However, he knew the red-eyed brother was Kosmos. Out of all the thoughts he had, the name seemed the most certain. So it was surprising to see the brother walk over to the Scanner.

There were two options before him: one was to follow the majority of his brothers into the darkness to where they’d be dressed and fed. The other was to stand beside Kosmos and learn more about his purpose or whatever he was supposed to already know.

Ray, however, followed his instinct. He turned away from either option and walked around a corner to another hall. Wandering down the corridor, he looked around with an observant gaze. The interior wiring flickered with circulating lights. Ray wasn’t sure what his purpose was. Being a pilot? He didn’t doubt he was born as one, as were all his brothers, but he felt different from them in some way he couldn’t define yet.

He had his name though. No longer did it flit about his thoughts, elusive to hold. He could remember and that name was Ray. As for the rest, he would find out his purpose and the truth of not only himself, but also his surroundings, no matter how much time or effort his pursuit might take.


II

Eyes Open

Despite how his eyes burned from staring so long at the light, he continued to do so. Ray followed a particular blue hue amidst the wiring. While he walked, he barely noticed a faint scratching sound in front of him. It wasn’t until a solid object ran right into him that he looked downwards.

Through spotted vision, he immediately knew it wasn’t a Scanner, for the stranger’s arched feet were firmly on the ground. He didn’t have the same build or look of any brother Ray had seen so far. Blinking, his vision sharpened to provide details of the reptiloid stepping away from him.

Speckled azure scales gleamed against the light. The reptiloid wore form-fitting fabric that covered the bulk of his body, with circular symbols along the hips. A slender tail swished behind him.

In his claws, the stranger held a device that looked similar to but not exactly like what the Scanners had. Ultramarine blue eyes stared at Ray, the black slits in the center shivered with curiosity.

Ray lowly hissed, taking a step away from the invasive look. Unlike the stranger, Ray’s body was still exposed. The exposure was apparently an oddity judging by how the other reptiloid reacted. A grin curled his lipless mouth upwards. A sound, not hissing, but intermittent rasping rose from the blue-hued creature.

“Hehehe, newly born?”

“Ray.” He hoped the other would understand it was his name.

“Andros,” said the other. His laughter stopped. He glanced down at his device where symbols were pulsating a yellow glow. With a claw, he swiped the markings away into the air. “See you around, Ray. Might want to consider finding something to wear. Or not, heh. Doesn’t make a difference to me.”

Andros walked around him, then away. Ray wondered what color his own scales were. Raising an arm, he observed the green hues. Looking at his legs, he noted blue stripes. Twisting at the waist, he looked at his tail. It was about the same as Andros’s, long and tapered to a small, pointed tip. He tried to grab the appendage, but every time he got his arms around it, his tail slipped back out.

Giving up, he kept walking. He wanted to find his way back to the water pool where the ferns were.


Ray didn’t know how long he walked or whether he was any closer to finding the antechamber with the pool. Hallway after hallway, turn after curve, he found himself traveling through a maze of lights. It was quiet. The only sounds were the occasional beeping and a constant deep humming behind the walls.

He touched the smooth damp walls finding the lights reacted to direct contact. Gold wiring glowed as if lifted out from the wall before receding into the floor beneath him. The wires changed pathways, eagerly responding. Ray enjoyed activating different lines that shifted between various colors.

He’d been following a brilliant ruby wire when the Scanner found him.

“There you are,” the leader said. “You’ve wandered far away.”

“I wanted to see.” Ray didn’t pause in what he’d been doing, following the wire’s path.

“No need to explain. But are you not tired or hungry yet?”

Ray shook his head. “I don’t believe so. What does hungry feel like?”

“It would be best if you came with me to receive nourishment and clothing.”

He wasn’t sure if he had the choice to stay. The Scanner led away; he followed.

Before they returned to the living quarters, they visited a small room where a few different outfits were folded on shelves. The Scanner picked out a blue robe. Pulling it over Ray’s head, he released the fabric to fall down over Ray’s body.

The fabric morphed, tightening around Ray’s limbs to create seams. It was snug, but not suffocating. Running his hands over the reflective material, a tingling sensation ran through his spine. The jumpsuit offered him energy he didn’t have before. He grinned, like he’d seen Andros grin, with a sparkle in his eyes.

Looking at the Scanner, any expressive response was impossible to find. The Scanner looked strange, with nearly transparent eyes and a flat face in comparison to his brothers. Ray wondered if there was anything physical beyond the appearance. An odd thought, but something about the Scanner seemed unreal.

When they returned to the living quarters, the Scanner left him at the entrance. Walking inside, the room wasn’t dark anymore. Lights illuminated stacked beds connected by rods extending from floor to ceiling. Mossy vines draped over the higher cots. Most of his brothers rested on them. A few wandered between cots, chattering and interacting with the plant life. Spores bounded through the air. Ray calmed as he stepped further into the atmosphere.

His stomach growled. A drifting aroma encouraged his hunger. Drawn to the scent, he traced it to a stack of trays covered in half-eaten leaves and green jelly. He inhaled and his core ached.

Dipping his claw into a clump of the jelly, he lifted it to his mouth, and licked. The sweet fluffy gel melted away into a tart sour taste against his tongue, leaving a faint bitter flavor that made him want more. His tongue coiled around his claw, cleaning off the substance.

“That isn’t the food we’re meant to eat,” mentioned a nearby brother who was making a bed of leafy blankets in a nest formation, “That’s merely what goes on the food for flavor.”

Ray straightened his posture, chuckling and looking downwards. “Where can I find this food?”

“You’re in luck. I snuck an extra to save one for later, but of course, you can have it since you were not here.” The reptiloid, who had bright golden eyes, took out a cube of foliage from under the cot, handing it over.

Ray felt the rigid edges and wondered what was inside the box. He found an unused cot and sat down. Opening from a small crevice sculpted into the cube, he lifted the top to look inside.

A tiny animal scampered around at the bottom. Shaped like an egg, it had fleshy pink skin with no scales. Looking up at Ray with red beady eyes, long whiskers at the sides of a wet, twitching nose quivered as it squeaked.

Staring back at the animal, Ray’s mouth hung slightly open and he narrowed his eyes. Was he supposed to eat this critter that moved and breathed like they did? The trays had been used. All his brothers had eaten things just like this? He glanced at the reptiloid who’d gifted him this strange meal.

His brother eagerly nodded, gesturing for him to eat. When that didn’t work, the reptiloid grabbed one of the trays and set it beside Ray on the cot. “It’s better with the gravy.”

Ray took a bit of jelly on his claw and then smeared it on the top of the egg-shaped animal’s head. A miniature tongue licked at the sides of its mouth where the jelly dripped down.

“Go on,” said the brother. “What are you waiting for? Are you not hungry?”

“Yes,” murmured Ray. He stood, closing the cube. “I’d rather eat in private. Thank you.”

He ignored the bafflement on the other’s expression. Walking away, he kept going even as the reptiloid called after him. “You forgot the gravy!”

Though he didn’t know why, he wanted to take the little animal out of this place. He left the living quarters and started down the hallway in a different direction than where he’d wandered before.

Through corridors, he walked alone holding the cube. Occasionally, he peeked inside the box to look at the critter. It’d rolled about and gotten jelly all over its paws. It licked at them. His stomach growled, but he refused to consider eating the unsuspecting, vulnerable animal.

Moving around a corner, the hallway closed behind him. He turned around, only to find himself blocked in. The wiring along the walls made strange patterns similar to flowers he’d seen in the antechamber. Geometric petals spiraled around him. Unable to keep track of where the ceiling and floor met the walls, the boundaries blended in his sight.

Ray sat down, dizzy. Hugging the box close to his chest, he closed his eyes and focused on his breath.

When Ray woke, he heard hissing. Jolting further into consciousness, he rubbed his eyes and searched for the box. It’d fallen to the side. He quickly gathered it back into his arms. As his vision sharpened, he could tell the corridor had returned to the same as the rest: floor, ceiling, walls, and the edges to differentiate them.

“What are you doing all the way over here?” asked the Scanner who floated in front of him. “You passed out. Have you eaten?”

Ray looked at the box. Opening it, he saw the tiny animal sleeping. He answered, “I don’t want to eat him.”

The Scanner moved closer. “Understood, but why do you hold him here with you?”

“To find somewhere safe for him,” said Ray. He turned to the side, shifting the box away from the Scanner’s sight. Standing, he moved along the wall and tightly hugged the cube to his chest.

The Scanner’s arm extended, a long slender claw pointing over Ray’s shoulder. “You wish to assure the creature’s life.” His palm upturned, he gestured for the box to be handed over.

Ray shook his head, refusing. He turned fully away from the Scanner, instinctually defending the animal. From what exactly, he didn’t know.

Reaching into his wispy robes, the Scanner pulled out a slender golden cord. He offered the string to Ray. “Place this around its neck. It shall protect him.”

Carefully taking the offered string, Ray narrowed his eyes at the item.

The Scanner said, “Do try to eat something. You will not be allowed more sleep before the next orientation. It is imperative you arrive with your brothers.”

Ray nodded. The Scanner hovered away through the halls. Sitting down, Ray examined the thin cord. He didn’t understand how such a thing could defend the critter from being eaten, but why would the Scanner lie?

Something unsettling about the other reptiloid provoked hesitation in Ray. It wasn’t simply the difference between walking and floating, but something Ray couldn’t put words to.

He would try the cord and at the first sign of danger, he would remove it. Cautiously, he opened the box and looped the cord around the sleeping critter’s neck. It woke just as the cord fused together with a spark. Ray smiled, but his happiness was short-lived. The animal bit his finger with tiny pointed teeth. He hissed in immediate response, then calmed down.

Picking the trembling critter up, he glanced over it. “You were scared, I understa-” His finger stung as the animal’s teeth stabbed his finger again. A shocking jolt burst from the cord and seared his scales. He dropped the critter. The egg-shaped creature ran for it.

“Wait!” He hurried to his feet. The floor lifted him up, concurrent circles of light rippling after the critter’s steps. He chased after the trail, ignoring the lack of breath constricting his sides. As he rounded the corner, the trail he’d been following went straight into a wall. The surface wouldn’t budge or move to accommodate him, ending his pursuit.

Defeated, Ray headed down the corridor, following a golden light back to the living quarters. The room was dark. His brothers were asleep in the cots. He found an empty one and sat down. His stomach rumbled, but he ignored the urge to eat. Instead, he laid down on the leafy sheets. They slowly covered him, comforting him.

It had become increasingly obvious to Ray that his brothers differed from him, perhaps in more ways than one. He considered Andros, the smaller reptiloid who’d laughed at his nakedness. Perhaps he was more like him; then again, he knew little else about the other reptiloid.

No closer to figuring out the mystery, he hoped the critter had found somewhere safe to live. He fell asleep listening to the various snores echoing in the room.


III

Come to Me

Hands reaching out.

Searching, grasping for understanding.

Pull me in.


Darkness surrounded Ray. He floated, unable to feel anything beyond his body.

Emerald light pulsated from his arm as he reached out. A droplet of dense black fell onto him, then another and another. Shadows rained on Ray, coating him in obsidian droplets trailing over his body and morphing to lie flat against his scales.

His throat constricted. He frantically felt around. His blood pumped against a lack of air. He tried to shout, mouthing the only word he could think of: Niobe.


It is you, my son.

You are but of me.

Of course, I shall hold you.

Breathe.


Sharply inhaling, his eyes snapped open and he sat up. He looked around the dimly lit living quarters. Most of his brothers were still asleep, but not all. He tracked the sound of whispers to a cot where a couple of reptiloids sat on the floor. A flower aglow with a faint orange light illuminated their faces.

Ray saw the familiar red eyes of Kosmos. He also recognized the golden-eyed pilot sitting nearby: the same brother who’d given him the critter earlier. The pair paused their conversation, looking at him.

Raising a hand in greeting, he showed his palm to them. They returned the gesture. He moved closer, kneeling and asked, “Did you get your name from the Scanner?”

Kosmos’ red eyes glowed in the night atmosphere becoming dramatic as they narrowed.

“Yes,” answered Kosmos, “Though it does not feel right.”

The other brother placed a hand upon Kosmos’ shoulder. “You should know who you are talking to before you say such things.” He introduced himself, “I am Damao.”

“Ray.”

“Ray? Why, I didn’t think you’d be here. I haven’t heard your name in... what feels like a long while.” A wry smile teased over Damao’s lipless mouth revealing sharp teeth within.

Ray didn’t know what Damao was referring to. He was more concerned with Kosmos. “Why do you say it doesn’t feel right? Who did they say you are?”

“Kosmos.” The red-eyed brother looked away with… Ray couldn’t place the expression. Was it embarrassment? Amusement? He frowned, unable to read the other.

“Why do you think they would lie?”

“I didn’t say they lied. Even if they did, that’s not the point. It’s simply I haven’t rested; I should.” Kosmos stood, climbing up a vine to reach the cot above them.

Damao lost his smile. He shrugged. “Are you tired, Ray? Would you like to rest?”

“No. I feel refreshed.” Ray stretched his arms upward.

Damao’s smile returned. He took Ray’s hand in his. “Let us find something to do then, my brother. Rest well, Kosmos.”

Ray noticed Kosmos watching them closely. He still couldn’t read the other’s expression. Wondering what the red-eyed reptiloid thought, he was interrupted by a pull on his hand.

Damao led them out of the living quarters. Ray looked back and saw the flower’s light dimming. The two of them walked through the corridors with assured ease. After they had gone a little ways, Damao let go of his hand.

“It’d be best if we let the others sleep. Find somewhere else to speak so we don’t have to be reduced to whispers for our conversations,” said the golden-eyed reptiloid.

“Probably.” Ray surveyed the taller brother’s suit. The form-fitting outfit was a deep orange with green swirls. A thin tail, thinner than his own, swished behind Damao with fabric covering the top part, a proper tailcoat.

Something about Damao put Ray at ease. It was more than the steady tone of his voice or the immense calmness of his aura. Walking beside the other, Ray felt relaxed and life just felt more... graceful.

“Where are we going?” Ray asked.

“Somewhere safe,” Damao answered. “Is everything alright? You look tired despite not being so.”

Ray considered the question. “A bit dazed.” Melodic humming resounded into the hall from another living quarter with an open door.

“Sounds like the engineer quarters, our close cousins,” said Damao. He smiled again, walking past and turning the corner.

“I wouldn’t mind returning to the water,” commented Ray as they kept walking.

“Unfortunately, that’s not where we’re going. However, you might enjoy visiting where we are going.” Damao brushed his claws against the wall. Iridescent light trailed after his touch. He stopped when the wall peeled apart, revealing a small, dark room.

Ray followed him inside, looking with interest at where the wall had split open. The wall sealed shut behind them.

Vines hung from the ceiling, actively growing longer as they walked to the center. A vibrant light filled the room, all colors melding together in one brilliant white hue. Short flowers bloomed along the floor, responding to the movement of their steps. Nothing else but this wondrous plant life existed in the room.

Damao sat down, gesturing for Ray to do the same. Ray settled with his legs crossed. He looked around, caressing a vine as it twirled down over his shoulder.

Damao held up his hands, raising them. “Touch your palms to mine, brother.” His golden eyes steadily gazed at Ray.

Hissing lowly, unsure, Ray cautiously raised his hands. Their palms met. Scales pressed against each other, cool at first. The lustrous reptilian skin felt soft and smooth. Nothing happened. Ray frowned. He’d expected something to happen. All that occurred was warmth gradually rising between their hands.

“What is this?” Ray’s tongue flicked out, tasting the dense humidity of the plant-filled chamber. A dense vegetal flavor coated his mouth.

A flower rose behind Damao. The warmth between their palms spiked to hot. Ray went to pull away, but was paralyzed, stopping him from doing so. Energy blasted through his arms and into him. Vibrations jittered over his upper body. His cheeks chilled as if hit with icy wind. Ray hissed, upset, but Damao hissed in a comforting response. The two distinct hisses harmonized with one another.

Visual information flashed in Ray’s mind. Barely comprehending the memories rushing into his conscious awareness, Ray shuddered underneath the avalanche of past knowledge. They were on a spacecraft called Niobe. They’d known each other through hundreds of incarnations over thousands of years. With Damao, he’d formed a special bond of friendship and companionship that transcended the constant cycle of death and rebirth.

Despite the overwhelming amount of memories returning, Ray could tell something was missing. Like a puzzle missing pieces, no matter how he tried, he just couldn’t see the whole picture. He tried to find something that would fill the hole. Nothing did.

Finally able to lower his palms, memory recall reverberated through his muscles. Ray smiled. Remembering so much gave him context as to why he was there. He even recalled how to swim, unlike before, when he’d flailed about in the water.

“Damao.” Ray greeted his friend again, now with the recollection of who his brother truly was to him. “It’s been a while.”

“Yes, indeed, it has.” Damao nodded, inhaling deeply.

Flowers around them detached and floated upwards. The vines had grown to the floor and were drifting back up, denying the concept of gravity in either direction.

“I recall Niobe. She’s the reason why we can remember at all. She holds our memories inside here.” Ray placed a hand to a vine. He caressed the petals of a flower that landed on the green. An octatonic scale played in beeping response. Ray’s vision blurred.

Damao fell back, lying in the flowers. “I missed this. The energy. The limitless potential.”

Ray scratched at the petal lightly, then placed his hands in his lap. Glancing down at his new body, he ran a hand over the form-fitting suit. Damao spoke true. There was limitless potential. Not only that, but he felt strong. He could vaguely remember his last body. It had been weaker, not built with corded muscle and broad bones like the body he currently inhabited. He stood.

“Do you have data missing?” He asked Damao.

Damao nodded without opening his eyes. “I believe I may, but it’s been a long time since we’ve been out of the queue together, Especially at the same time as Kosmos.”

“But why? It doesn’t seem likely there wouldn’t be a direct source of download for our consciousness. Why is Niobe fragmenting them? Why has it taken this long? If it is as long as it feels... then what’s been happening while we were disincarnate?”

The flowers settled back into the floor. Damao sighed. He spread his arms out, crumpling the flowers underneath. Vines enveloped him, wrapping around his limbs. A hazy pink aura rose from the interaction between his scales and the plants.

“I am afraid I do not know,” answered Damao.

Ray nodded. He smiled as a single flower detached from its stalk to float beside him. Following the blossom, he found a wall of the room beyond a thicket of vines. Ray opened his hand. The wall peeled back to reveal a hallway. Turning to say farewell, he stopped when he saw Damao asleep.


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