<Why did you bring her with you?>
I stirred from unconsciousness, my mind hazily wondering where I was. I couldn’t recall at the moment, but I had the vague recollection of getting up and getting dressed. Red and black plaid coat… why did I pick that?
<It was an accident. She was carrying what we needed, and you didn’t want us there any longer than we had to be, so I had to do a wide scoop. We’d still be working at it if I hadn’t.>
Cold. My other jackets weren’t as warm, and the weather channel had called for a cold wave. That made sense. Where had I been going? I needed more bread. Sandwiches were easier to make than cooking a massive meal for just me. Store?
<Okay. That is reasonable. That is very reasonable. What is not reasonable is you keeping her, outfitting her with meaning modulators, and letting her wake up.>
Class. Ethics class with Professor Woodward, which I was going to be late for. I’d been hurrying while trying not to slip on the ice. The hill between the philosophy building and my apartment had already been the scene of several nasty falls. My buddy Josh had one just the other day, but the athletic grace I’d always admired in him saved him from serious injury.
<I’m not LETTING her do anything. She’s doing what she wants.>
What happened after that?
<Yet another reason she shouldn’t be here.>
I finally started paying attention to what was being said, because I’d run into a wall with my memory. I was walking down the hill, and then… nothing. I was here, wherever that might be, and these two very monotone voices were discussing… me? While the words were monotone, I was picking up on the… Anger? Annoyance? Fear? That the first speaker felt; also, hiding behind the words was a vibrating hum that echoed in my skull and made my teeth ache. The first speaker’s voice seemed to accompany the highest pitched hum.
“Stop it. I don’t like the dentist,” I mumbled. I was too tired to wake up right now, and my head ached. I wondered if I had any aspirin left in my bag. I wondered where my bag went, but I was too tired to care.
The humming stopped, but returned quickly. No words this time though. Just upset humming, steadily rising. Light too. Lots of light.
“Mum, stop it. I don’t want to go to school… Five more minutes…”
<Why did you wake her up?>
“Why, oh why, did I invite that Pooh bear?” I mumbled. The monotone voice never changed, but the feeling behind it was an exact match to Rabbit in the cartoon.
It was less a question and more an outraged statement.
<You’re scared?! How dare you be scared of this monster YOU brought on board! I just wanted the rock mind she carries in her detached pouch, but no, you wanted to bring the entire monster along! I hate you!>
The more the voices spoke, the more I got the impression that they weren’t speaking English. The humming matched the tones too perfectly, and things, images, were flashing on the edge of my mind whenever they spoke. When the voice said scared, an image of something shark-like rising from the dark depths of an ocean appeared in my mind, only to flash away when I understood that it meant fear.
<I don’t know what all the things she’s talking about are, but I keep seeing teeth. Nothing nice has teeth.>
<I think it has bones too.>
Another flash of fear. Accompanied by a flash of light I could see even with my eyes closed. I cracked one eye open just a fraction, and saw the speakers for the first time, though not well. My surroundings looked black, and only a very vague reddish glow in the walls provided any illumination. The speakers were easier to pick out, because they were… glowing.
<She sees us.>
The first thing I noticed about them other than the glow was that they were encased in a thin layer of water that moved when they did, and they were moving a lot. They seemed to be at least three meters long, with one meter of that taken up by a bulbous oval… head? The other two meters were devoted a long flat tail that waved through the air as if swimming. At the join were a massive number of waving tentacles, also giving the impression that the creature was swimming. Oh, and the entire thing was hovering about two meters off the ground.
<She’s afraid… of us?>
The… things… speaking about me were right that I was scared of them. I had no idea what they were other than terrifying, though by what they were saying, they were scared of ME. I tried to focus on something else. Every word they spoke was accompanied by fluctuating glow intensity and color. On the bright flashes, I managed to see the room around me. Black with veins of red in a room that was strangely sinuous and smooth. Darker farther away from the creatures.
<Is that what we look like to her? Why are we so clear?>
As soon as it said that, something clicked. Every image coming from them looked blurry, like the world in the morning before I put my contacts in. They couldn’t see me like I could see them, with my red and black coat in a red and black room. Advantage: me. I started shifting around, preparing to flip over and crawl into the darkness if I had to.
<Maybe they see differently? Why does that matter?>
<Idiot! They’re predators!>
The image for idiot showed one of the creatures in front of me trying to make friends with a shark-thing, and being eaten. Predator just flashed another image of the shark creature. I couldn’t get more specific than that, because of the image blur. The colors stood out very well, but the shapes did not. They probably wouldn’t be able to spot my shape moving in the dark.
<Predator. You brought a vision-tracking predator with us. We’re dead.>
The thing wasn’t yelling anymore. Now it just sounded panicked out of its mind. I decided it was now or never.
I rolled over and got up, moving away from the things behind me. I was into the darker area and slowing down to try and see my way through before an angry flash behind me told me they had noticed.
<She’s gone. She’s gone. WHERE DID SHE GO?!>
I was hunched down and moving until it spoke. When it spoke, the anger and fear hit me like a hammer, and the humming climbed higher and higher. I clutched at my ears and glanced behind me. The bright light blinded me instantly, and I fell over to curl up and whimper in pain.
<Can you hear that?>
<Barely, but I can feel the pain. Our words… hurt her?>
Disbelief. Relief. A shark swimming away from a floundering baby of their kind.
“Stop screaming,” I begged, still only murmuring as I lay curled up on the floor, eyes shut hard and ears covered. “It hurts.”
A wet squishy thing touched my shoulder, and I opened my eyes and turned to get a better look at the things that had apparently abducted me. I couldn’t see any mouths on either of them, or eyes. When not speaking, their color was a deep red that made it very hard to see any distinguishing features.
“Don’t eat me,” I said, hands still over my ears.
The head of one of them started vibrating, and the red color brightened up and became whiter. At the same time, the voice of the one getting yelled at for abducting me spoke gently in my head.
<We won’t eat you. We can’t. No mouths, see?>
And as I watched, the creature twirled slowly above me, showing me no mouth whatsoever, but four little three-eye clusters equally spaced all around the head.
“I’m envious,” I said, lowering my hands slowly from my ears and sitting up a little. “Wish I had eyes in the back or my head.”
Both of them backed away from me, and the one who spoke before did again.
<I don’t understand. Is the meaning modulator working?>
The other snaked out a tentacle and smacked the one who spoke.
<They’re words we don’t have a concept for. Now let’s get her back to where she came from, and forget we ever saw… her.>
“So deep purple is contempt?” I asked, rubbing my eyes. In the dark lighting, the flashes of light were screwing with them.
They both went very still as the floor vibrated for a moment, and then started moving in a way that seemed to convey panic; darting up and down, never staying still.
“Why are you two so upset?” I sat up fully and glared at them. “You stole me from off the street when I had so much stuff to do, and now you get upset that I’m figuring out your color code?”
<That’s not it.> The one I’d started to think of as the kind one went an even darker color than normal, sadness and “Oh crap” carrying in its voice.
“What, then?” I demanded, standing and speaking louder. They both undulated backward from me, and the mean one spoke.
<We can’t take you back. The carrier has begun navigating, and can’t stop. We can’t go back.>
“Ever?” I choked out the word, barely audible, as I fell to my knees. I’d hated my life on occasion, and wished to get away, but not like this. The panicked creatures were nothing like a handsome prince or princess swooping in to take me to a life of luxury.
<We’re going to find out.> Grim determination radiated from the mean one like the deep red light that lit it up menacingly. <We’re going to talk to the carrier, and you’re going to go.>
That would have made me feel better if the image flashing through my mind wasn’t that of one of the creatures being shoved out of a group into the dark water, where all the sharks waited with jaws opened wide.