[title goes here]
Hugh sat on the swingset, minding his own buisness. It wasn't his fault that Timmy's air unit burst and he was sent sprawling into deep space. His teachers just made it seem that way. Maybe it was also because he pulled on the cord connecting and facilitating the airflow until it blew apart... It still wasn't his problem. Timmy would come back eventually, Hugh was sure of it. Until then, he watched the saurian blue birds screaming and whirling in the ruby Martian sky. "Hugh! Wait up!" It was Hugh's supposed friend, Lyle, coming to ruin the peace and quiet as usual.
"Lyle, would you buzz off?" Hugh growled, pawing Lyle's knee with his foot.
"Owww... just tell me; what'd you do to Timmy? I just saw him fly over Rokantree Hill, and I was starting to wonder."
"Popped his..." Hugh's voice trailed off. He stopped speaking, leaning his head against the fish-bowl helmet that kept his oxygen accessible, and allowing his fluffy light-brown hair to fall to rest against the inside of it.
"Popped his what?" Lyle inquired, "C'mon, you can tell me? Surely you can tell me? C'mon Hugh!" he whined.
"His breathing tube." answered Hugh, sighing and sitting upright.
"Oooooh, you're in trouble!" cried Lyle, a mess of wide-open mouth and even wider eyes. Wide eyes that I'd like to stab him in, thought Hugh. He imagined the nice popping noise that would make.
"Kay fine. But I warned you, you do anything else to anybody..." Lyle continued. Hugh knew he was about to go on one of his usual self-righteous tirades.
"But you." he smirked. "Fuck off, Hugh. I don't even know why we're friends"
"Me neither." "Oh Hugh, you know I didn't mean that"
"I meant it. Why don't you go jump into an open poison-shaft?"
"You're mean, Hugh."
"No arguement there." There was a long pause, in which both boys refused to let their eyes meet. Hugh really didn't want anything of his and Lyle's to meet. Lyle's mother had made them get along, instilled the genes in both of them because Hugh's and Lyle's mothers were friends. It was a hard burden for him to carry, and it showed in the way he oft abused Lyle. Lyle was always outspoken, but passive in his own unique way. It was a paradox Hugh often tried, and failed, to sort out. Everyone else in Settlement 3000 knew that Lyle really deferred only to Hugh, and he wasn't nearly as wimpy and cowardly as Hugh treated him as.
"I'm going home." Lyle finally said. Hugh sighed, said okay. Lyle left, disappearing over the coppery hills to the shining bubble of the Settlement. Hugh thought the place looked much better than it was. It looked like a metropolis, a glittering city from the outside, but Hugh knew that only about fourty-nine people lived in it, and within those fourty-nine only about eight had any semblance of brain cells. Lyle was among those on Hugh's 'Eight List', but Hugh would never admit it. It would make Lyle happy, and Lyle can be hard to oppress when he's happy.
Hugh clomped clumsily over the Martian hills and between tiny ponds of ice. A few short centuries ago, no one used to believe there was life here. It was Hugh's father who had proved them wrong; fining the tiny creatures in the ice an then the even tinier creatures beneath the ice. Even now Hugh could see large shadows swimming, twisting, writhing beneath the surface. Frankly they scared him. Whenever he walked along this path, he felt like they would burst out of the ice and eat him alive. At the same time, he felt a morbid curiousity, a wish, a need to be among them and discern their shadowy figures for certain. But he didn't jump. He continued walking along the dusty path until he reached the cloistered door that would let him into the city. He knocked thrice and saw someone peering at him through a small rectangular window before a bubble shot out through a small hole in the door and entrapped him.
Inside the bubble, Hugh could see tiny bits of the inside, growing as the circular door retracted and he was borne inside. Hugh stood up calmly and removed his helmet, placing alongside the others on a shelf. Artificial gravity was strong here, and the helmets didn't touch-and-float like they did everywhere else. There wasn't much else in the room, just a few shallow windows with jumping red needles signifying oxygen levels, pressure, gravity constants, and a few other words and symbols Hugh couldn't quite decode. He was never the best student in school, although not the butt of the class either. The man who had let him in was sitting, leaning against a stainless-steel panel on the edge of a plastic table. His dark hair dropped over one of his eyes, and his wide, twisted smile failed to unnerve Hugh as it did nearly everyone else in Settlement 3000. Hugh smiled back, barked a quick hello.
"I heard you got in trouble today"
"I did. What's your point?"
"Nothing, it's exactly what I'd expect of my little brother," the smile gave way to a laugh, and he led his brother into the next chamber as the hydrolic door shoomed shut between them.
The room they entered next was larger than the acceptance capsule, but not by much. The taller man still had to bend to avoid smashing his head on the cieling, but Hugh could stand upright and move about easily. The room was round, like the first one, but it had seven entrances pointing off in different directions like the spokes of a wheel. It had no windows and no monitors, but there were a few signs on the walls pointing to places like the mess hall, living areas, and data labs. The pair followed the tunnels leading to the data labs, Hugh leading the way down the cramped corridor.
The next room opened into a lab straight off a movie set: creatures floating eerily in vials, computer screens, chemicals, a large zero-gravity chamber, and it's own oxygen generator. There were also three larger ones near the three corners of Settlement 3000, but the lab with its burning fires consumed more oxygen than any other chamber.
"How's the work going?" Hugh asked.
"It's going alright... we've got the hyper-oxygenated blood almost working. On it's own, that is, we just need to get someone who can accept it without their antibodies destroying it." replied Dyson, ducking under a vent and resuming his place among the other scientists who were busy scratching away at their papers and carefully performing controlled experiments.
"I think I'm going to go back to our dorm. I'm kinda tired."
Dyson looked concerned, but allowed him to leave. Usually Hugh assisted Dyson in the lab, but he just didn't feel like it that day. Walking briskly through the corridors, the quiet seemed oppressive, like a weight on his shoulders he couldn't shake or pass off to someone else. Every one of his footsteps echoed through the open hallway and off all the doors of the empty, locked rooms. He started to shiver, as the the temperature in the living halls was allowed to fall one degree for each person absent from them. Now it was about fifty-five.
Hugh hurried the rest of the way to his and Dyson's shared dorm and flopped on the bed. He stared up at the cieling, briefly wondering where Timmy was at that moment. Probably eaten by aliens, for all he knew. Hah, aliens. The scientists had been searching for them for years, but the most sentient thing they'd ever found was a few blocks of ice with some prehistoric bacteria in it, long since dead. The only option for reseach they'd had after that was to go into low-oxygen survival technology, and that wasn't proving real successful either, despite his brother's best efforts to guide the team to a solution. Hugh stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes. "I don't know why we even came here..." was his last thought before he fell asleep.
Hugh awoke to a high-pitched and uneven humming coming from down the hall. He yawned, scratched his head, and went to open the door. When he did, he was almost blown over by the noise blasting down the hallways like a shockwave. He steeled his legs to keep his footing, and looked down the hall, and was shocked to see the metal of the hall bending and crumplin under a force unlike any he'd seen before. The screams and smell of twisting and burning steel was almost unbearable, but Hugh realized the danger to himself (not yet the danger to his fellows, that would come later), and ran all-out in the opposite direction. He soon reached the end of the hall, and hurried by the chaos he could feel pulling closer by the second, wrenched open the door and found himself outside, on the blood-red surface of the fourth planet. Only then did he realize his mistake, but then it was too late, much of the oxygen had already escaped from Settlement 3000 and he held his breath for his last thirty seconds before falling onto the ground, releasing a single puff of red dust.
White light was shining in Hugh's eyes. "Death come at last" he thought, a morbid smile playing across his face. But then something came in the way. A big, dark shadow, a head holding off the light. The longer he looked, though, the clearer he could see the features of it's face a moustache of some sort, four small beady eyes, and a burst of hair sticking straight up like a rooster's comb. "God?" he thought, motioning confusion with a tip of his head.
The entity responded with a sound that was a mix of a vicious hissing and a dial-up modem. Hugh sat up on the table immediately, trying to swerve to side to avoid the strange creature and falling off the table onto a few more of them, who writhed and hissed louder under his body weight. He jumped up while they remained on the floor, their limbs bent and squished under his impact. He felt a stab of guilt, but was more intent on preserving himself.
Unfortunately, there were no doors or windows to escape out of. He stood looking uncomfortably around at the rest of them, who had become silent. One of them stepped forward, with a small computer-chip in one of his twig-like appendages. Hugh stepped back, and back again, but he was surrounded and eventually was forced to accept it. The thing stuck it into the back of his neck, where Hugh was never made aware he had a slot for such a chip.
One of them spoke, not in the alien language, but in English, "Who were you?"
"You mean, who am I? I am Hugh Alderburg, a citizen of the Mars colony Settlement 3000." Hugh replied, relieved that the strange creatures no longer seemed like they planned to disect him.
"No, I mean who were you?" Hugh was confused, and brought a hand up to use in explaining himself, but paused mid-gesture. His fingers were blue, and webbed. He gave them a quick flourish and was alarmed with the way they flowed, and the continual wet feeling they gave him, like putting his hands under a fountain.
"You've been redirected," answered a different, larger organism. This individual had a sense of calm authority, but despite that, Hugh was still wary. Who were these strange people? "Reincarnated, as I used to say."
"I'm sorry to say this, but you... stopped living for a bit."
"You mean I'm dead," Hugh said. He looked at his new body, the protruding ribs and flippery feet. He almost laughed when he realized both big toes pointed to the right. Two left feet. Blinking all four of his eyes, he took in a slow breath, rippling the floppy tentacles that covered his top lip. He suddenly remembered Dyson, Timmy, and Lyle... all dead. Apparently he was dead too. "I can't believe it." he finally sighed.
"It's not very easy to believe," the large one said with a sentimental look in his eyes. "We all go through the same thing."
"You mean, we all turn into aliens when we die? That just sounds like something out of a cheap science fiction story."
"Can't argue with you there, but that's the predicament we're in," the large one paused, ruffled his tentacled lips. "Anyway, I should take you to see the rest of the ship. I think you would be interested"
Hugh shrugged. He wasn't too interested, but following the large creature seemed the only option. They passed lots of the same species, but none so large as him. Hugh wondered if the larger one was the captain. They passed into an open room with a huge window looking out into space, as well as controls and a few chairs, in which a few of the creatures were sitting, monitoring the screens inches in front of their faces. "And there's the captain's chair, where I usually sit"
That's one question answered thought Hugh."Excuse me, Captain?" he asked timidly.
"If I died... how did I get all the way out here?" The Captain took no extra time answering. "I don't know if you noticed this, but when we were in the room where you came to being, there are a few Fertilization Sphere that we store. They're big, orange, round... I'm not sure how to describe them. You've never seen a Horsentrope mother laying her eggs, have you?"
"Nope." replied Hugh. He'd never heard of such a thing.
"Well," the Captain continued, "Her eggs look a lot like the FT's we keep in the Tranference room, but much smaller. Our FS's are big enough to keep an entire Schadenoid, like you," he said, in a hint, hint, this is your new species kind of way. "Anyway, the FS's are a kind of open receptor that pick up souls travelling through space-time, and build them a new body within themselves. When they are finished building the body, we remove the new being from the fluid and place it on the table, where you awoke. Do you understand this?"
"Okay, so I flew through some kind of soul-ether, then landed in a big egg and hatched in a completely different body"
"You've got it." The Captain smiled, and said hello to a passing schadenoid with sprouts of bright blonde hair and glowing blue skin. Hugh felt a strange attraction to her, but pushed her to the very back of his mind. He had more important issues to deal with, like finding out what his new life would be like.
"But if I have a whole new brain, then how come I remember everything that happened in my past life?"
"I can't tell you that exactly, it's usually different for each species. Some species retain some of their memory, some remember all of it, and some lose all of it. I don't believe it's all brain structure and chemistry... in some species, there seems to be something more at work than logic and biology. I'm glad you've kept your memory, though, we've got too much work to do to be distracted with raising someone like they were a Zodling right now." The Captain picked up the pace, with Hugh racing over the smooth white flooring to keep up. He stumbled a few times, but luckily the Captain didn't seem to notice. Soon the two reached a small chamber, where Hugh could see what he assumed were missiles resting on spring-like mechanisms formed of a lovely deep sapphire metal.
The Captain walked over to a screen next to one of them and hit a few buttons, and something like a sonar appeared on the screen. The Captain swore and typed orders onto the screen and one of the missiles rose up, slid into a chamber conjoined to the outside wall of the ship, and fired with a deafening roar. Hugh was beginning to get used to loud noises.
Then another one, and then a missile hit their ship, rocking the floor and making the Captain stumble around a bit before regaining his balance. Once he'd done that, though, he was off yelling, commanding the crew to erect a defence barrier and accelerate away from the source of the fire.
"Grab onto something, we're going to go fast right here." the Captain shouted, and Hugh gladly obeyed. A wrenching force seemed to slam everything back from the direction of acceleration, and Hugh was happy he'd secured both arms around the nearest pole. The Captain was doing the same, and it seemed a sort of comeraderie was developing between them, at least that's how it felt to Hugh. Maybe it was only because the Captain was the first being he'd seen since he had come out of the FS unit. They felt another missile hit the ship. These guys were relentless.
"Pirates," the Captain growled, "Space Pirates." They soon felt the ship come to a stop, and Hugh assumed the Schadenoids had surrendered. The door to their tiny control room squelched open, and three men entered.
Hugh was surprised to see that these guys, unlike himself, were vaguely humanoid. Despite the long, pointed teeth exuding out of their mouths and the limp black hair that looked almost sentient itself, they looked a lot like his former self.
"You are the Captain, yes?" said the first in a high-pitched, affected tone. Hugh almost laughed at how tightly his delicately ornamented clothes fit to his body, but held back for fear of angering their captors unnecessarily. Also, he really didn't know what his laugh would sound like now.
"I am," the Captain replied, "Who are you? And why do you wish to possess our ship?"
"We are the Norcon Biergut. We require your ship for transportation purposes." he stared down his long, straight nose at Hugh and the Captain. "Just for that? Don't you have your own ship"
"Yes, but this... this fits our needs better," he said, as his thin lips twisted into a worm-like smile. The Captain eyed him warily.
"Much larger," one added.
"More compromising," chirped the third.
"Well, I suppose you've outgunned us," admitted the Captain. Hugh looked at him as if to say do something, but the Captain just shrugged. The space pirates had them led away and locked in to one of their old sleeping chambers. There was a clambering in the hall, but it didn't sound like any real fighting. The Captain stood by the door, listening, while Hugh checked the room over. "What are you looking for?"
"Bugs," said Hugh.
"Yes. Do you know if it's safe to talk in here?" Hugh felt out the room with his flippertips, behind the single bedcushion, under the bed, around the thing he'd assumed was the toilet.
The Captain bent forward and whispered, "Not until you get the one behind the third brick up from the bed on the right." Hugh watched in amazement as the Captain removed the brick from the wall, took the bug from the brick, and smashed it. "Now we can talk."