"The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive"-Robert Heinlein
The scissions in space erupted like explosions on a battlefield. From each new void an intricately designed mesh of hull shot like a bullet. In the opposite direction eruptions of colorful masses of a mostly white light came and went like flowers blooming and then wilting within a half second. In their place poured flocks of ships that flew at the incoming meshes as they appeared from their voids. Not a sound could live in the cold vacuum of that deepest of space, yet the ships continued on, bursts of red, green, and blue light popping from their weapons turrets as they attacked their enemy. The starships from the darkness and the starships from the light, and they fought a harsh battle.
Something seemed wrong. The stars about the ships swarmed, as though surrounded by billions of fireflies. Still the ships pushed relentlessly, firing their weapons and others brought down in explosions of crimson fire. The view of their galaxy began to swirl, spinning like a wheel. The fireflies became sharp points of light that rained upon the ships. Entire star systems swept by. Nebulae engulfed the determined ships and then spat them out. And suddenly the ships began to slow in their haste, their fire ceased, and a solemn, bitter taste grasped their tongues. Slowly, they began to fade into clouds of black puffs that stretched and streamed outward. It swallowed up stars and planets, masked the nebulae, halted all movement, and left no life living. Soon all became nothing. Nothing became everything.
Consciousness came from the small, cold room. Light took form in the darkness. It took such form that it burned at Isabelle's eyes before dimming to reality. A massive headache quickly faded. Suddenly she became aware of the table she lied on. Her back ached against its metal surface. So simple and Spartan it seemed, everything a dull silver and geometric. The square room beheld a sense of life, as though its countenance stemmed from its utter emptiness. She gasped lightly, moaning as she brought her hand to her head and slowly rose from the table. She appeared a zombie of sorts, an undead rising from its grave.
The dream slipped from her mind along with the curious antipathy that had accompanied it. A compound of fear, confusion, and curiosity produced within her. She quickly focused on the room about her, sliding off the table, and scanning it. She found no discernable exit. The walls had no markings, as gray and blank as the rest of the room. Moreover, there appeared no apparent light source. Isabelle knew not what most disturbed her, the absence of a door or the lack of the light's origin. In fact, she soon realized the most disturbing element seemed that she had no clue to her location or how she had gotten there. Or by whom she had gotten there in the first place.
She felt about the walls hoping to find something. Slowly she circled the room, moving her palms along the walls with no success. She reached the point at which she'd started and panic gripped her. She rounded the room once more, this time frantic. All the while she mumbled inaudible words and phrases of no particular importance. She trembled. All control seemed lost and at once she heard a dark form move behind her. She swept around to see it but saw nothing. She saw it again from the corner of her eye, the dark form around behind her, and again she turned to see it. It continued and each time she swung around faster to catch the dark form. Her increasing panic caused her to tremble more violently. She began to perspire profusely, and her legs became weak and fragile. Steadily she bent her knees and crouched to the ground. The dark form began to spin about her so fast it became no more than a wisp. Futility struck her like a chord. Her veins began to pulsate. Her moans became uncontrollable sobs of horror. Her skin tightened and constricted her body. She screamed. Words no longer existed within her. The walls started to spin. She collapsed to her knees, her hands grasping her head as if trying to keep it from exploding. She screamed louder. Her cries and tears poured from her. She shook her head and covered her face with her hands, not wanting to see the chaos any longer. She felt as though she swam in a tangible air of hot mist, and soon she fell completely to the floor.
Outside of the room, the eyes watched her. Their awe and excitement created such an aura of success about them. Their insatiable interest kept them focused upon Isabelle lying on the floor of the quiet, empty room crying. They wondered what she saw, pondered her emotions, and questioned her behavior. Such a curious creature she appeared to them, so full of pain and anguish. What past experiences had given her such mentality? Their zealous observations and experiments would continue.
Where an engulfing blackness resided a light came and washed it away, as a burst of lightning does the night. A cacophony of echoing footsteps entered the room with such unholy power that it sent evil back in recoil. In the hands of each person that had entered the large, dark, silver room, there spanned a territory so vast it held literally thousands of light-years. Behind their eyes, raged filth of swarming, eager carnage, a power with a bloodlust, starving for torn flesh.
Seven of them entered. Each of them easily stood nine feet tall, their glossy, jet black skin and two long, silver horns that protruded from the left and right sides of their foreheads the only discernable sign of their inhuman selves. What resided inside of them however, inhibited much more than their human masks. They sat down at a large, triangular table. The oldest one, the Governor-general whose horns went halfway down his back, sat at a dulled point of the table; the other six, his deputy governors, sat before him at a single edge of the table. Their solid crimson eyes stared into each other, their faces painfully expressionless.
They sat in silence as though awaiting an inevitable fate that would order each of them to a harsh judgment so horrifying yet truly insufficient. They sat motionless, and had Time lived and breathed as any other creature, it would cower in the dark corners of that room, trembling and sweating with terror. They wore masks of flesh, masks of innocence, not to hide their true selves, but to restrict their power from unleashing against the universe; it held them like a welcomed intoxicating curse. As if their bodies encased an acid solution that had shaken and now pushed against the walls of its cage, eager to explode. They could feel the force sloshing within them, raging, and screaming to be released.
The silence would not break until eternity's past. A holographic projection no taller than twelve inches appeared suddenly at the center of the table. A being like them appeared, perfectly clear as though standing before them.
The projected being spoke with a quick dialect, intricate and without pauses. "So noble a council as you are, I thank you all for allowing me to speak with you. I am Narlar Islaso M'P'Tek, Shipmaster of the Ograk A'O' anor, class-two battleship for the Division B fleets. We have discovered an alien vessel travelling at sub-light speeds on a direct route to our city in our tertiary sectors, and have brought them here for research and experimentation.
"Sire, I would order their immediate termination after the observations. However, I find their vessel to be a fascinating enigma. From our scans and interior surveys, we have discovered no means of faster-than-light transportation. They do have a very advanced ion engine drive with the ability to reach light-speed, and their shields contain some form of anti-matter residue which we are unable to explain."
"Are you proposing that we allow them to live so that they may be willing to explain these mysteries?" the Governor-general at the head of the table asked with surprise.
The hologram hesitated. "Yes, in addition to one other thing. We discovered a chamber onboard their ship in which one of the aliens is linked to the ship's main computer. It's some form of interface technology I have yet to encounter. We desire to run experiments on this creature as well, however it seems disconnection from its vessel will bring death to it. And I believe it would be to our benefit to learn the principles behind these technologies."
"Is reverse-engineering not an option?" the Governor-general asked.
"It is," admitted the hologram. "However I believe it would be more simple to try asking them."
The Governor-general gave it thought for a moment. "Deputies," he looked toward the others in the room, "do any of you oppose this proposal?"
"I am afraid I must protest," spoke one, rather young and temperamental deputy governor. "The risk is too great. The Narlar has described them as on a direct course for our city. They may have orders to attack, and could be in collaboration with the sidvorik resistance."
"Shipmaster," the Governor-general said, turning his attention back to the hologram, "were you able to deduce such a possibility as that proposed here by Governor Arlural from their navigational records?"
"Unfortunately, we were unable to deduce anything from their onboard records," answered the hologram. "It would appear that all of the computer records are stored within the alien linked to their main computer like some living data bank."
The Governor-general's brows raised a moment, impressed. "They sound like quite an advanced race."
"As it is, Sire," the hologram said, "the crew is composed of three different alien races, and there were only six onboard, including the alien linked to their computer. As for their technological level, that is a matter of opinion. There are some areas in which they do appear quite far advanced, whilst in others they are rather primitive compared to our own."
A moment of silence as the Governor-general contemplated Narlar's proposal. To the dismay of Governor Arlural, the Governor-general found himself without foreseeable reason not to allow Narlar to do as he asked. "I am going to allow this. Permission granted, Shipmaster Narlar."
Narlar relaxed. "Thank you, Honorable Sire. Thank you," Narlar said, grateful. The hologram disappeared.
Everyone at the table stood save Governor Arlural, his eyes to the table in an arrogant manner. As the others left, the Governor-general remained standing next to his seat. He watched Governor Arlural with curious eyes. "These aliens pose a great threat to us, this I am sure of," Arlural said quietly, his eyes unmoving.
"There has been no apparent hostility," retorted the Governor-general. His eyes fell to the floor despondently. "I've grown weary of terminating random lives."
Arlural's eyes climbed up to the Governor-general's. " 'Weary'?" he reiterated in surprise. "You deny yourself our nature," he said harshly, standing from his seat. Slowly, his eyes moved from the Governor-general and fell in bemusement. "We all do," he said lightly. "We are no more than prisoners, and I grow 'weary' of doing nothing to escape these cells that entrap us!"
"There is nothing we can do until we find the most suitable race," the Governor-general spoke tersely.
"My flesh be torn, we do nothing but take these aliens and kill them slowly! No race we find will ever be as suitable as what we once were. All we do is research. We should be fighting these that already bind us."
The Governor-general took a step closer to the deputy governor, his eyes burning into him. "It is already concluded that it is futile to fight these. I will not ask another quarter million of our people to die trying."
"Those people died because…"
"Those people died…because you and your science advisors told them they would be accounted as heroes and saviors among our people," the Governor-general said, his anger raging within him. "And the rest of us watched as they gave all their might in trying and fell dead as a result. We walked over the twisted flesh, dead, together! You saw what they had done. You saw they had died because of you! That day death was not our invited guest but our enemy! Our own people slaughtered! And had I any intelligence then, I might have knocked you dead with them. So be glad for your next breath, because were I not reluctant to take another life, you would not have it."
Silence, and the Governor-general left Governor Arlural there in it. A trembling horror within Arlural, and at once he bellowed an inhuman roar that scarred eternity and caused Time to faint in terror.
She lost all breath as though someone had punched her in the stomach. The first breath came, and she found herself again without air to breathe. She gasped, her throat went dry, and her eyes burned with a sudden explosion of white light.
Isabelle felt her mind ripping and tearing; she could feel her brain splitting down the middle, and the force rising up from her stomach and shooting through her head as if someone had shot her. The light cleared, and she thought for a moment that she saw a huge, monstrous beast about to slice through her flesh. As it passed she felt as if the blood in her chest literally started to boil, her body about to implode, and her rib cage separate and split open. She could imagine her insides flying out in a fountain of thick, chunky blood. Her hands flew to her face and a scream came up from her throat as she dug her nails into her temples, sweat pouring from all over her face, and tears gushing from her eyes. The blackness came again and stomped her; she could feel her skull crushing into itself, crumbling to dust, and again she screamed. Her voice faded to a sob as she brought her fingers out of her temples. Blood streamed from where she'd dug her nails into her head.
Three of the black-skinned beings ran over to the bed she lied on. They quickly moved about her with instruments designed to numb the side effects of crossing interdimensional realities. Metal braces attached to the bed restrained her. A being in dark blue robes held her head down by her forehead, wiping the tears and sweat from her face, and treating the scratches she'd applied to herself.
After she settled and her breathing calmed, he began to explain as easily as he could. "You need to relax," he told her. "You are in an infirmary, you've been unconscious for two days. You are all right. We are not going to hurt you."
Trembling and breathing rapidly, Isabelle began to settle. She took in a deep breath and focused on her surroundings. She vaguely remembered waking in the same room before. She could not account for what had happened after the first time she woke, and the thought soon faded. She swallowed hard as her eyes met the alien who had spoke to her. "Who are you?" she demanded with a shaky voice. "Why am I here?"
The one holding her looked at one of the aliens next to him. "Get the restraints off of her," he ordered, then looked back at Isabelle as the others went about removing the restraints. "I am Ralto Telsek M'N' Eath, and I am the Chief of the Medical Department at this colony. One of our ships discovered your vessel entering our territory and brought you here. They had no idea of the effect the quantum shift would have on you. Each one of your crew has fallen unconscious. You are the first to wake."
Isabelle slowly rose from the bed, eyeing the aliens around her skeptically. She had put her hand to her head quickly, though, for a massive headache swelled within her. The Chief had noticed her wincing and motioned for one of the aliens next to him to get something. He handed it to the Chief, whom gently took hold of Isabelle's arm. "Here," he said softly, "this will help to diminish the discomfort. It's a neuroelectrical suppresser." The metal device attached to her bare arm. "I realize this all seems somewhat reprehensible," he continued disarmingly, "but I assure you you're fine."
Her face contorted as she looked at the odd device. To her surprise, the headache began to weaken. She suddenly became aware of her attire. A thick, black, rubber top connected to a soft, thin, scaly dress that stopped at her ankles had replaced her typical gray coat she had worn over her black tank top and layered pants. Her feet were bare. The thin part of the black dress glistened in the light as if it had glitter on it.
Isabelle dropped her legs over the side of the bed and slipped off. The Chief said something to the other two aliens and they left when he finished; he moved away afterward to allow her room to stand. Nonplussed, she lumbered a bit about the room. She faced the alien again, and her eyes slowly climbed into his. She bridled as his ominous eyes bore into her. "How do you know my language?" she asked.
"I don't," he answered. "I implanted a translator into the telepathic cortex of each of your brains. It will translate all languages you hear from now on." He watched her rub at the back of her head and could sense her feeling of indignation. "There is no pain involved, and I assure you it is quite permanent," he said. "I apologize if it seems a bit invasive, but I am sure you will be glad you have it in the future. It eliminates unnecessary misunderstanding."
Her unease turned to worry, but she tried to move on. "Where are my clothes?" she asked, fearful of the answer.
"I had to remove them to run DNA and neural scans," he answered simply.
She sighed lightly and swallowed in remorse. "Where am I?"
"A space colony called Mak Lu'ak. We are the svylada." Another alien walked back into the room. "My assistant here," the Chief said, "will lead you to your temporary chambers. I believe the Shipmaster of the vessel that brought you here has some questions for you. He will see you there. You will be informed immediately when anymore of your crew awaken."
The crew, Isabelle thought. He claimed they were still unconscious but she worried still. "I want to see them," she demanded.
He looked to his assistant. "See her to them."
"What about Amelia?" she said suddenly. "She's the one connected to our ship. If she's disconnected…"
He shook his head. "I am sorry. I have no knowledge of the condition of your colleague. They would not let me examine her."
Her eyes fell solemnly to the ground. A profound dread took hold of her, and slowly she followed the Chief's assistant out of the room. Her jaw trembled. If anything happened to Amelia, it would mean the loss of their ship's records…and their friend.
The space colony spanned over twenty-three million miles in distance. Just one of an array of similar colonies strewn sparsely about a territory of over three thousand light-years, these gargantuan constructions dwarfed almost any other known construction in the galaxy. Composed of dozens of enormous, cone-shaped plates and connected by long, cylindrical tunnels, the stations had sustained the svylada race for close to four centuries when they came upon the Velocity Star and her crew. Four centuries and the only enemy that had ever threatened them still lived, plunging other races about the universe into confusion and surprise. For no other race had ever dared threaten the Svylada, eventually everyone accepts reality.
These harbors for the svylada sheltered them in comfortable leisure. The population had small, simple jobs that only took up measly pieces of their time. Most of the station ran its self. However the one thing that most svylada spent large amounts of their time doing involved their fleets and military. Over three-quarters of the population somehow involved themselves in their military, either as soldiers or scientists. Their hobbies involved training and research, a virtual race of soldiers, an army of billions; no one questioned how their race could crush every enemy it made. But this drive within them, this urge to mobilize and fight, existed not as simple svylada nature, but as a catalyst for something they harbored within themselves. This energy that drove them to conquer and murder stemmed from an animal root deep in their unimagined hearts. The svylada, Mother Nature's horrifying experiment, throttled the life from the universe, and whence one race had finally got the better of them and imprisoned their wrath, it eventually destroyed them as other warring races flocked to fight with them just to see that they could defeat the race that had overpowered the mighty svylada. However these harbors of leisure remained the cells that imprisoned the svylada. With all that leisure time to train and build their army, no time lingered for them to put it to use.
Still, they trained and they grew, awaiting that day they all knew would come, when they would escape from their prisons and once again rule the galaxy.
Svylada like deputy governor Arlural believed the Velocity Star and her crew would threaten these stations they called home. Already he had announced the news brought to his attention by Shipmaster Narlar Islaso M'P'Tek, and he sought to gain support for his petition to have the Velocity Star and her crew destroyed-following his own peoples' interrogations, of course. The Governor-general, taking well notice of Arlural's growing power, took to making announcements of his own, stating that the alien ship and its occupants posed no threat and that they would deal with them accordingly. Despite Governor Arlural's usually strong and furious arguments, this time the most disturbing and supportive trait to his argument had nothing to do with his character, but with the point of the matter its self. No race that had ever gone to war with the svylada had won or survived the war except for one, and that one had only contained them rather than destroyed them. The sidvorik merely poked at the svylada every now and then, when they dared to cross an impossible threshold. Such knowledge gave the svylada a national feeling of superiority, a sense of unparalleled safety. The fact that a deputy governor as esteemed as Arlural felt the Velocity Star and her crew a threat to them suggested very good reason, reason that spread fear to the svylada society. None could explain how something as small and insignificant as a single alien ship could pose a threat to such a grand and powerful empire, but the sense remained. Not even Governor Arlural knew how to explain it.
The other svylada who opposed Arlural's petition sought to keep the Velocity Star in tact for reasons of research and study, with the possibility of discovering new technologies to incorporate into their own vessels. The svylada most prominently in charge of examining these technologies worked in the Fleet Engineering Corps. The Chief of the division of FEC stationed at Mak Lu'ak went by the name Atense, the shortened version of a much longer name first bore by the svylada ancient God of Logic. Interestingly enough, Atense had lived up to his name. Known for his intensely focused and enlightened nature, he knew more about any vessel ever constructed in their fleet than the person who designed it. He even had claim for a few designs of his own, including the design currently in use for their most powerful dreadnought. However his weapons and starship designs stood not as the only reason for which anyone who knew him liked him. Atense beheld a personality trait usually quite uncommon among the svylada: compassion. Compassion, an alien thing to the svylada, and those that knew Atense found this curious and previously unheard-of trait a fascinating, if not strange, enigma.
Despite this feeling of compassion, Atense still managed to engage himself in typical svylada behavior. He had made enormous contributions to the military with his weapons and starship designs in addition to his keen engineering skills he'd applied during battle, saving the vessel he served aboard on more than a few occasions. For with this compassion and logic he also held a sense of loyalty to his people, a sense of pure self-devotion that he could not break had he even wanted to.
And, as all svylada, he reveled in knowing that he served as the blood of his people, that he played a role in the most powerful and advanced empire in the known galaxies.
The evening that Isabelle had awoken, Atense had just arrived at the large artificial ocean at the center of each colony plate. He had gotten his first look inside the Velocity Star just hours before and couldn't wait to begin working with its crew in understanding its technologies. Until then, he had chosen to take a swim and replenish his energy. He had gone to the center of the personnel plate that he lived on, followed by his executive engineer, a close friend of his named Nelik S'L'Ven.
"I detest the idea of working with these aliens," Nelik said as he followed Atense through the corridor on their way to the nutriment center. Nelik grimaced at the thought of working with the crew of Velocity Star. He would have supported Governor Arlural's petition to have the ship and the aliens destroyed had he not worked for the Engineering Corps. Nelik hated aliens; he hated anything outside of their people. He had no tolerance for anything he considered less than perfect.
Atense arched a brow toward Nelik's statement, his eyes remaining on the path before them. "Attempt to consider it an experience," he said optimistically, "something you may learn from." Atense thought briefly on the fact that he often had to speak optimistically with Nelik. For Nelik had a tendency to focus on despair. Despite the rather large amount of time Nelik had spent among Atense, he remained as pessimistic as when they first met.
They rounded a corner in the corridor and entered an elevator. "I loathe aliens," Nelik said, as if Atense could not already tell. He tossed a hand recklessly into the air. "I don't see that we need them at all," he continued, dipping his hands into the pockets of his robes as Atense already had. "With enough time, we could figure out their technology. We have the greatest scientific minds working for our fleet. Reverse-engineering their technology would be a simple matter."
"The council seems to feel the time it would take to reverse-engineer the aliens' technology would multiply by at least a factor of ten unless we simply ask the aliens themselves," Atense countered respectfully. "It is more logical to ask before termination rather than terminate without asking."
"It is safer to terminate without asking," retorted Nelik.
"They pose us no threat," Atense said simply and firmly.
"That is not how Governor Arlural feels."
The elevator stopped following Nelik's remark about Governor Arlural, and they proceeded off and into a new corridor. Atense frowned. Having never particularly liked Governor Arlural, Atense found his petition to have the Velocity Star and her crew destroyed an ignorant and paranoid act, as he felt about most of Governor Arlural's petitions and acts. To Atense, Arlural seemed no more than a vicious person seeking no more from others than subjugation to his own rule. Disappointing to Atense, he found that many of his people behaved similarly. "Governor Arlural is being paranoid," Atense said, the softness in his voice gone. "It is a disease that grows evermore infectious each time he displays it. If anyone would review his previous acts, they would discover they were all false in the end. So many people fail to realize these things because they blind themselves with lies and propaganda."
"I believe he seeks to help our people," Nelik said in a pugnacious manner. "Rather than waste our time researching alien vessels, we should be searching for a race that may free us from these prisons."
Atense's frustration began to show. He glared sharply at Nelik. "And terminating these aliens and destroying their ship is suppose to accomplish this?" he retorted tersely. When Nelik didn't answer, Atense continued, "With knowledge comes ability. The more ability we have the better position we are in to accomplish what we attempt. Solving the mysteries behind the technology of these aliens furthers our knowledge. You can get no where in the universe without knowledge."
They reached an end to the corridor where they stepped through large doors that slid into the walls as they opened. They walked into an immense dome, a large pool of water at the center of it. Many slept and relaxed about the perimeter of the pool. Others conversed among each other or reviewed personal computers. The rest appeared diving in or climbing out of the artificial ocean. The sight brought a smile to Atense's face, for he'd yearned for a regenerating swim more than half the day. "As soon as I finish here, I intend to return immediately to my chambers. Therefore, I shall meet with you tomorrow aboard the alien ship to…" A sudden high-pitched whaling cut off Atense.
An alarm had sounded. At the same time, all lights all over the colony went out. Everywhere, all became aware of total darkness. The blackness had brought about an empty silence. In that dark a ferocious countenance coalesced and molded. A unification of consciousness and bloodlust came about. In the nutriment center Atense and Nelik stood in, the only sound came from the splashing of water as people climbed from the pool. The splashes soon fading, they became replaced by steady drippings of water, echoing about the dome like the beating heart of Isabelle Price who stood in utter confusion among the unconscious body of Arturan in the infirmary. The ear-piercing alarm and encompassing blackness paralyzed Isabelle. Her jaw left open to the dry air, she stood, her hands holding Arturan's. She heard no sound from the svylada who had taken her to him. A sharp pinch at her neck, and a new blackness engulfed her.
Isabelle awoke feeling very tired and groggy, as though she hadn't slept at all. Her eyelids opened reluctant and heavy. The soft murmuring of a crowd eased into her ears. She found herself sitting in a blue, velvet chair in an apparent lounge full of svylada. Disturbed and disoriented, she took hold of the armrests of the chair that dwarfed her and pulled herself up. She brushed a piece of her hair before her face behind her ear and noticed suddenly she trembled. Weakness gripped her and she faltered, her energy gone, stomach empty, and lightheaded.
She jumped when the svylada who had escorted her from the infirmary appeared suddenly from the crowd. When he said her name she remembered him, the memory seemingly placed into her head as though not her own. She appeared dismal and bemused, her eyes falling to the ground as she stood. She opened her mouth to speak but instead winced and brought her hand to her head as darkness blurred her vision and she felt dizzy. The feeling only momentary, she squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them, the darkness gone. She sighed heavily as her hand fell from her face and she looked hesitantly into the svylada's red eyes. "What happened?" she asked lightly.
The inconspicuous svylada blinked, smiling. "You fainted," he said, "in the infirmary. The Doctor examined you and stated that you would be all right. I brought you here."
Her eyebrows furrowed. Though she could not remember what had happened, she eyed him skeptically. Nonetheless, she moved on. "Where are we?" she asked, looking around at the crowd.
"The arrival station on a civilian plate," he answered. "I have cleared us for entrance. If you will follow me, I will lead you to your accommodations."
She nodded absently, rubbing at her eyes and yawning. Following the svylada through the crowd, she felt like a child. Most svylada stood nearly nine feet tall with broad shoulders and large, muscular bodies. Their oily black skin and long, silver horns increased their already intimidating appearance. Their immense shadows loomed over and drown her. She focused intently at the dark blue robes of the svylada who escorted her, trying desperately to avoid contact with the other svylada. However, she sensed their eyes and looked up to see most of them glaring contemptuously at her. Their crimson eyes digging into her, she grimaced and slowed her pace, feeling as though she had to ask their permission before walking as fast as they did. Her escort failed to notice, for the fact that his back faced her the whole time and she felt as if he didn't care at all what happened to her. She sped up to keep pace with him, attempting to ignore the eyes that probed her. She remembered the times she had gone to visit the dari homeworld, when she'd walked among the short, skinny beings they were, she the giant. The vilixxi about the size of your average human, she still had never liked them, if only for the fact that they had virtually enslaved the earth and separated her from her family forever. The vilixxi looked upon her with contempt as well but in a natural way that they became use to; somehow that seemed more comfortable to Isabelle than the blood red gaze of these enormous creatures.
As her mind grazed thought of her family, she quickly discarded all thought and focused again on the surrounding svylada. She frowned at their glares, this time annoyed rather than afraid. Her focus roamed aimlessly a moment before her grumbling stomach caught her attention. She caressed her stomach, thinking about how good a plate of spaghetti and a glass of milk seemed right then. She caught her escort's attention by grabbing his arm. "You got any food around here?" she asked as he stopped and turned to face her.
The svylada drew in a deep breath. "Food," he said slowly. "Indeed. In your chambers you will find a synthesizer. You may search its data base for any delicacy you wish to try," he exclaimed as he began walking again.
Isabelle squeezed by another svylada to walk alongside her escort. She took long strides to keep beside him. "Don't you have any cafeterias or restaurants, or something?"
The svylada's jaw tightened, annoyed with her. "We do not eat," he said flatly.
Isabelle's eyebrows furrowed curiously toward him. "What do you do?" she asked.
"We swim in artificial oceans and absorb the nutrients through our skin," he answered.
She arched her brows a moment in response, and then turned her attention back to their path. They reached an end to a corridor they entered just before Isabelle caught his attention. They stepped through a door that led into a single, long hallway perpendicular to the corridor they just walked through. Along the wall before them appeared several elevators that could be seen down both ends of the hall. She could see svylada stepping in and out of them along the hall. She curiously followed her escort onto one of them. As soon as the elevator started, she ran into the svylada, having not expected it to move sideways rather than up or down. The svylada paid her no attention; he hadn't even budged when the elevator started or when she knocked into him as a result. She quickly righted herself and held onto the wall behind her as the force of the elevator moving tried to push her over. Reviewing everything that had happened since she awoke in the arrival station, Isabelle could hardly wait to get to her chambers so that she could think in peace. Then she thought about it how much better her own chambers aboard Velocity Star seemed, which suddenly brought a new question to mind.
"When can I see our ship?" she asked.
The svylada faced her with a more annoyed glare than before. "I am a medical assistant, not a security officer."
Isabelle eyed him, eyebrows furrowed and her tongue about ready to utter some unpleasant comments. Isabelle rarely grew an attitude with anyone, but the crew of Velocity Star, especially Jonathan, knew disrespect as one of the few things that brought it out of her. She held in her anger, though, considering the situation bad enough already. She frowned, questions racing through her head one after another, she resolved to have them answered if she had to personally read it from their minds.
She smiled when the elevator stopped. The door before them opened up and a new door opened soon after. The svylada stepped through, Isabelle following. They walked directly into a dark, cold room in the shape of an equilateral triangle. Isabelle saw no other doors. In the corner directly before them a computer protruded from the walls with a desk set up under it. A couch sat at one end of the room, a glass table before it and a chair at its side. On the third end of the room a large, triangular bed appeared, tucked neatly into the corner. The black and silver walls did little to illuminate the room; a single strip of light embedded in each wall lit the room. A synthesizer not unlike the one in the cafeterias aboard Velocity Star appeared integrated into the wall between the bed and the computer. One arm of the desk under the computer ran along the wall below the synthesizer-obviously the controls. The room seemed cozy enough to Isabelle; the floor's thick carpet made her feel as though she walked on air, and despite its Spartan style, she found that she quite liked it. However, she felt as though the feeling of liking the room seemed put into her head like the memory of her svylada escort.
"This shall be your chambers," the svylada said, letting out a long breath as though in relief. He lingered toward a control panel on the wall next to the door. "This is your chamber's control panel. You may use it to contact the Chambers Office in case you need anything, and it may also be used to regulate the room's temperature. These keys," he pointed to three keys in the shape of a triangle, "control your lights. The synthesizer is there, bed right there, everything you require. The computer has been downloaded with translations of texts from your ship's computers and the translation matrix activated so that you may read it. Any questions, simply contact the Chambers Office." He smiled, and Isabelle had no doubt because he knew he could leave. "Shipmaster Narlar Islaso M'P'Tek should arrive shortly after I contact him as soon as I leave. He has some questions for you. I shall leave you now."
As the doors closed behind him, Isabelle let out a long exhale of relief herself, rolling her eyes, and putting her arms to her hips. Gloomily, she took a more focused look at the room around her. Her eyes reached the synthesizer and she lumbered toward the computer to sit down at the desk. She noticed each key with its own screen above it, displaying in English the key's name. She scanned over the controls a little before turning in the chair and sliding toward the control panel below the synthesizer. She tapped a computer screen above it where it read "Menu". A list appeared on the screen of several different subjects. She searched through them a good ten minutes, growing more frustrated with each passing moment that she found nothing leading to any type of food. She growled in anger and punched the computer screen with her fist. She gave up and rose from the chair, lumbering toward the couch where she lied down on her stomach, her right arm and leg hanging carelessly over the side.
She had longed for that quiet solitude she then reveled in. Sighing heavily, she allowed her tired eyes to close and rest. To her great misfortune however, the door suddenly opened and a svylada stepped in. Isabelle immediately snapped to attention and stood up, her jaw tightening and her eyes watching intently the svylada who had stepped in. She presumed him to be the Shipmaster her escort had spoken of. Shorter than her escort and smiling disarmingly, he wore shiny black robes that blended with his skin. On the robes along his arms there appeared inscriptions and a faint insignia that Isabelle found hard to make out from her position. She held her chin high and strong as she looked over at the svylada, awaiting him to announce himself.
Softly, and surprisingly eloquent to Isabelle, the svylada spoke. "I am Narlar Islaso M'P'Tek, Shipmaster of the svylada craft Ograk A'O' anor. Mine is the ship that brought you here." His broad smile and eager eyes made him appear excited to meet Isabelle. Indeed, excitement poured from his eyes, glad to finally meet this alien whose technology boggled him. Narlar had always enjoyed something new and refreshing to occupy his time, something that could fascinate him and teach him something he didn't already know. Originally, he had worked as a science officer aboard military vessels. His logistical and strategic abilities had brought him up in the ranks, surprising his shipmasters every time he showed them something they hadn't realized. Shipmaster Narlar believed in knowing profoundly something before deciding what to do with it, especially during battle.
Isabelle's chin lowered slightly, assuaged by Narlar's pleasant voice. She nodded slowly, her eyes narrowing at him as she had actually looked forward to meeting him. She had more than a few questions she needed answered. A smile creased her face. "Isabelle Price," she introduced, "and I got some questions I think you had better answer." Narlar watched her, curiously interested, as she took a few steps closer to him. "First, and most important, why in the hell did you bring us here and what have you done to us?" she demanded harshly.
Narlar smiled, having expected this kind of reaction and pleased to see his expectations proven. On his way to her chambers he considered what answers he would give her and decided he'd give her the honest answers, seeing no problem in doing so. "You entered our territory. Only two reasons can explain why. The first reason is that you had intention to attack us. The second reason being that you were unknown aliens who were not aware of our existence. It seems the latter has been discovered true. Yourself and your crew were apparently knocked unconscious by the quantum shift our ship dispersed. I was not aware of the effect it would have on you and your crew."
"You ignored our hails!" Isabelle argued. "You gave us no warnings, sent no transmissions, nothing. All you had to do was answer our hail, tell us this was your territory, and you'd have never heard from us again."
"Your hails were irrelevant," Narlar said calmly. "We had to assess your identities for ourselves."
"Our 'identities' are none of your business!"
"Entering our territory makes your identities our business," Narlar countered, still as calm as when he'd first entered, having always controlled his angers incredibly well. "I apologize if you find our ways offensive, but I am afraid that you have no other choice. In our territory, you fall under our jurisdiction."
Isabelle's eyes stared into him with a steely look, seeming as though she would incinerate him with her mere gaze. She took a step closer to him, staring up into his face. "That is bull shit," she said quietly. "Scanning our bodies is bull shit; putting…things into our heads is bull shit!" She paused, watching Narlar's smile incredulously. Her voice lowered again, she said slowly, "I demand to see my ship, my friend linked to my ship, and as soon as the rest of our crew wakes, I expect you to allow us to leave immediately and without objection."
"I am sorry, but we cannot allow that," he stated simply.
Isabelle's eyes narrowed at him again. "You can and will," she said. "Our ship falls under no one's jurisdiction, and when the rest of my crew wakes, we're going to leave whether you like it or not?"
Narlar's smile faded, his impression of her falling. "What will you do if we do not allow you to leave?" He paused to let her speak but received only silence and furrowed brows. "You are standing deep within our colony, and I believe you may find it difficult to escape alive. The only choice for you, Isabelle Price, and your crew is to either be kept here as our guests to assist us in researching your vessel, or you may be prisoners, and we will tear your ship apart trying to figure it out."
Isabelle's mouth shut and her jaw tightened. Her eyes fell from Narlar and wandered the floor below. A terrible aching swelled within her chest and stomach as she found herself at a loss for a way out of their predicament. He had her, and he had her good. Her heart sunk when she admitted there seemed no apparent way out. She gulped and looked slowly back up at Narlar. Her voice low and gruff, she said, "And if we help you to research our vessel, then can we leave?"
Narlar stared straight into her eyes a few seconds before smiling suddenly. The moment between her words and his seemed parted by eternal voids to Isabelle. Narlar slowly turned his back to her and stepped toward the door, pressing a button on the side to signal an elevator to the door. "An engineering technician shall arrive for you later," he said, glancing behind at her and stepping into the elevator as it opened. "He will lead you to your ship where you may begin helping them with their research." He paused, gazing into her with probing eyes, as though waiting for her to do something. Isabelle found his next words odd. "I do hope I see you again, Isabelle Price."
The doors closed, and Isabelle stood there furious. She screamed angrily and turned and kicked the glass table before the couch, shattering the glass onto the floor around the four steel columns that had held it up. She frowned at the sight and turned from it sighing. Her stomach growled at her and she felt as though it seemed as angry as she did. She closed her eyes grimly and put her hand to her face. She sniffled, fighting back the curious tears she felt come upon her. She knew not whether they came because of the situation or something else altogether. She could feel something happening to her, something she did not think had to do with the svylada. Her head began to throb as her headache slowly came back. She stepped over the glass and collapsed onto the couch again. Still rubbing at her head, she looked to her arm at the device the Doctor had put on her. She rolled her eyes at it, annoyed that it suddenly didn't work. She sighed again and finally took her hand from her head after rubbing her moist eyes dry of the tears she fought. She sniffled again, glancing carelessly about the room. A sudden jolt surged through her chest and she recoiled. Immediately her breath sped up and she felt as though someone choked her. Her chest pushed forward as the jolt hit her again and she rubbed desperately at her neck, gasping for air but finding none. Her vision began to blur, her body turned warm, and soon the darkness once again ate her alive.