Symbiosis

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Chapter 6 - Introductions

With a slightly unmanly screech, I pull the pistol out of my mouth and throw it to the ground in shock. For a moment, I just stand there in confusion. One second, I was aboard the Arcadia, the next, I was back home in my childhood neighborhood, reliving one of the worst days of my life. I hadn’t just remembered the day either, it was like I was really there. I could smell the smog of my home town; feel the bruises my bullies had given me. I run my hand along my face while staring at my discarded firearm. “What the fuck just hap—”

Before I can finish my sentence, I notice two things. First, I’m not wearing the hazmat suit’s helmet anymore, and second, I’m not alone. The blue light that had entranced me earlier is gone, leaving what had produced it clear for me to see.

The creature is about a foot shorter than me. Its skin appears smooth and glossy as it shimmers with strange and beautiful colors. The closest thing I can compare it to is a mix between a baby squid and a cuttlefish. Seven long tentacles curl and uncurl themselves in what looks like a nervous tick. It has two massive eyes, each with a striking black pupil in the shape of an hourglass amidst the swirling colors of its skin. Though no longer invisible, its body is still transparent. The difference is that now, instead of seeing through it, I can see inside it.

The inside of the creature is as strange and beautiful as the outside. Its largest organ is what I have to assume is its brain. Right behind its eyes are two large, ridged semi-spheres of what looks like black opal. They’re connected at the center by a smaller, smooth ball of the same material.

It also has jumbles of thin veins of a quartz like material connecting the brain and its eyes. The quartz veins are also connected to a cluster of what looks exactly like bismuth crystals below and behind the brain. It’s so eye-catching that it takes me an embarrassingly long time to notice that the... thing... isn’t touching the floor, but floating a foot off the ground. I honestly would have thought it was kind of cute, if it wasn’t almost as tall as my own 6’5” frame.

We stare across at each other for what feels like minutes. As we do, the creature’s skin slowly changes from a chaotic tangle of every color imaginable, to a profoundly calming blue. The tension in my muscles immediately eases, but I have a feeling that the creature across from me is as tense as ever. It’s probably my imagination, but there’s something about the way its eyes are locked onto mine, or the flinching of its tentacles whenever I twitch that gives the impression.

I surreptitiously glance at the hazmat suits helmet at my feet, then over to my plasma pistol, laying just out of reach. I fight back against the calm that the creature’s blue skin seems to induce and try to form a plan of action. When my eyes stay on the pistol, the creature’s skin begins to brighten and change colors. It goes from a pale blue to an angry red. I feel that same dull throb that preceded my walk down memory lane and have to shake my head and close my eyes to get rid of it. When I open them, the creature has moved closer and raised its tentacles towards me in a warding gesture. Its skin starts to flash and strobe with painful pin pricks of white light that disorient me as it floats forward.

With a start, I duck down and grab the helmet, pull it over my head and fasten it closed. Still on my knees, I tuck my head and roll towards the pistol. Grabbing it mid roll, I come up and aim the weapon at the creature in one fluid motion. The creature is gracefully floating towards me, as if it’s swimming through the air. I make a potentially horrible decision and pull the trigger.

At the same moment I decide to squeeze the trigger, I feel another throb in my head, this time sharp instead of dull. The sensation brings with it a compulsion, and I feel an overwhelming urge to point my weapon off to the side. To my shock and horror, I obey and my aim drifts off to the right.

But before the gun clears the creature, a sizzling bolt of plasma flies out from the barrel. In response, the creature raises one of its tentacles into its path. The bolt of superheated argon slams into the limb and bursts with a puff of charged particles. For a moment, time seems to freeze as the creature and me stand still for a split second.

The plasma did damage to the creature’s tentacle, but not in the way I’d expected. Instead of burnt flesh sloughing off, I see fine cracks in its smooth skin, like it’s made of glass. An instant later, the shimmering red of its skin vanishes and is replaced with a sickly yellow.

Time resumes and the creature begins to thrash and writhe in apparent agony. Another instant passes with me staring at the surprisingly childish scene like a deer caught in headlights.

But then, the reactor chamber fills with thunderclaps of shock waves that roll off the creature in waves. I move my pistol back to aim at the creature’s center mass, but before I can fire again, I’m struck in the chest by an invisible force and sent reeling. The strange pressure feels like a compressed gust of wind, and even though it only grazes me, it drives the air from my lungs and lays me out on my back.

From the floor, I hear another boom of displaced air as a powerful shock wave slams into one of the support struts for the reactor. I watch in terror as it groans ominously and breaks from where it was bolted down. As it falls, it strikes the reactor and leaves a large gouge in its outer shell.

Through my panicked haze, I notice my suit’s Geiger counter rising rapidly. In seconds, the amount of radiation filling the reactor chamber doubles. The creature doesn’t seem to notice or care about the rise in radiation and continues its flailing without pause.

I decide I can’t deal with this situation with the tools I have. I need to get out of the reactor room and I need to get out now. I’m not sure how long I was standing near the reactor with no helmet, but it would’ve only needed to be a few minutes to give me radiation sickness. Beyond that, with the reactor’s shell broken, my hazmat suit is the only thing between me and being bathed in deadly gamma rays.

Not to mention the rampaging monster thrashing around like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Which is an incredibly eerie sight. The creature itself makes no noise as it apparently has no vocal cords, but it would clearly be screaming in pain if it could. I roll onto my side and rise to my feet.

I start to sprint towards the exit, but forget that my foot is still broken. The surprise more than the lance of pain makes me yelp and stumble back to my hands and knees, and thank God I did. As soon as I fall over, another boom of force rushes by, right over my head. Had I not fallen; I would be splattered against the wall right now.

With renewed urgency, I rise to my feet again and run evasively, constantly checking over my shoulder to look out for any other surprises. Keeping an eye on the creature, I notice that each gout of force is preceded by a lash of one of its tentacles in that direction. The observation allows me to predict the attacks and make it to the open door without further injury. I dive and roll the last two feet out of the reactor chamber, then roll to the side to put myself in line with the doors control panel. I reach up and slam the button to close the door. They oblige with a hum and converge to seal the creature in.

I take a moment to catch my breath. There are so many questions that I need answers to. Like what the hell was that thing? How did it get on the ship? And what the hell did it do to me? My mental list is cut off when my Geiger counter ticks back to life. The radiation level is rising, even outside the radiation insulating material of the chamber walls and door. Not exactly unexpected after the reactor’s shell was broken open. I can only hope that the creature has stopped its frenzy and does no more damage to it, or it will kill us both. With any luck, the extra radiation that’s seeping out will be dispersed before it reaches the upper decks. Otherwise, I’m going to be spending a lot of time in this suit.

I pop up to my feet and start hopping towards the service elevator I came down in, constantly checking behind me. Once I’m relatively safe in the elevator, I take a moment to consider my options. Whatever that thing is, it’s hostile. That means I’m going to need to find a way to kill it first and ask questions later.

I stop the elevator before I reach the top floor where the CIC is and make a visit to the medical bay. I search through drawers and cabinets until I find packs of anti-rad pills. I gather up all of what I can hold in my arms, then resume my ascent.

I make one more stop by the weapons locker I took my plasma pistol from and remove a high caliber laser rifle and a bundle of charge packs. With great effort, I lug my new supplies to my cabin where I drop everything and barricade the door. I crouch at the back of the room with my laser rifle leveled at the door and monitor the Geiger counter for 30 minutes with no change. I decide that I’m safe for the time being, if the radiation was going to reach this far up, then it would’ve done so by now. I can only assume the same of the creature.

There’s more I should do, other preparations I should make to deal with the unwelcome visitor in the lower decks, but I can barely keep my eyes open anymore. I stay awake long enough to swallow a fistful of anti-rad pills. I don’t know how much exposure I got, but better safe than sorry I figure. That’s the last thought I manage to muster before I fall onto my bed and am wrapped into the embrace of sleep.

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