Henry Mahuta fastened his belt, attached his sidearm and left the compartment he’d decided to call the head.
original function was an enigma to him. Its chief value to Mahuta now
was a shallow basin into which he squatted and shat when the need arose.
Age had stolen from him the ability to predict his bowel movements, so
the old Marine did plenty of squatting and waiting, just to be sure.
could no longer do the calisthenics that kept him hale and sane at the
start of his long voyage. Instead he practiced yoga and tai chi, long
poses that shook his limbs and made his swirling tā moko tattoos stand
out from his blotched, leathery skin. On bad days, he settled for walks
through the ship.
Today was a bad day.
moved from the head to the refectory, where he ate some of the algal
paste that kept him alive for the voyage. Then he walked to his bunk, or
what passed for it, then back to the head. Mahuta repeated the circuit
ten times. On the tenth lap, he leaned against the ship’s weird, knurled
bulkheads for support, eyes straining in the blue, benthic light that
came out of tracks along the floor. The bulkheads rasped at a uniform
that had gone frayed and colorless with the passage of time.
counted to six hundred, waiting for his breathing to steady and his
legs to stop shaking. He gave himself another hundred. He had no real
obligations, not any more. He could keep sleeping and squatting and
eating algae until he dropped dead. But he had to give it one more try.
He had to talk to the alien.
bridge showed no evidence of the furious boarding action that had taken
place there. Mahuta had cleaned the consoles, dragged the corpses away
to rot in other compartments. The bulkheads healed the bullet craters in
the first month, and even the destroyed consoles had come back online
by the end of the first year.. Mahuta imagined some inner reservoir
of... nano-machines, or maybe stem cells, some thick, healing slurry
piped into the ship’s controls beneath their touch-activated surfaces.
stepped over one console onto a raised platform. The consoles were
barely half a foot from the ground so the belly-crawling aliens could
reach them. Mahuta shared the platform with a dark shape, a great humped
carapace with radial openings for six extremities. It crested at the
level of Mahuta’s shoulders.
The old man thumped the carapace with his foot.
“Get up,” he said.
“Hnnnh,” came a muffled answer.
“It’s time,” Mahuta said.
are a sadist,+ the alien projected. Mahuta could “converse” silently
with the alien, letting it skim his surface thoughts. He preferred to
“You have a point,” Mahuta said. His voice sounded hoarse and raspy to his own ears. “We shot your legs and cut them off.”
+Not so many of you now,+ it said.
you and me, kid,” Mahuta sighed. He felt a mental contraction from the
alien. Mahuta associated it with confusion. It had learned English over
the long and brutal years, but it struggled with idiomatic speech.
“It’s almost time,” Mahuta said, at length.
+There is enough fuel left to slow your approach.+
“Mhm,” Mahuta said.
+You don’t have to do this.+
“I disagree,” Mahuta said.
+Our ship travels near the speed of light. The impact will obliterate us.+
“And it will crack your world in two,” Mahuta said, toneless.
+Turn back from your course,+ the alien begged.
Mahuta said, “is gone. Mount Ruapehu is gone. You scooped them into
your mining ships.” He circled around the alien, reaching out one hand
to support himself on its carapace. “Your ships cracked open the poles
and drank the methane deposits underneath. You drained our
petrochemicals, your ships ate entire cities.”
Mahuta straightened. His voice and heartbeat never rose.
“Go to hell,” he said.
+We were only following-+
“You finish that thought and I’ll shoot you,” Mahuta said.
cannot pass judgement on our entire race for the actions of only a
few!+ Mahuta could feel the creature’s agitation like the ghost of an
adrenaline surge, a cool shot into his brain and spine.
“Watch me,” Mahuta said.
+We stopped. We turned away when we realized our mistake. You saw that!+
fled when we managed to board your ships,” Mahuta said. “You could not
have missed Earth’s radio transmissions. You knew there was sentient
life there. Maybe we weren’t elevated enough. Maybe your... kind were
that desperate for resources. ‘Fuck you, got mine.’” Mahuta smiled,
baring his teeth into the murky blue light.
“Well fuck you, you’re going to get yours.”
+Does your own life mean nothing to you?+ The alien’s thoughts had a plaintive edge to them.
been traveling at a relativistic speed for a very long time, friend,”
Mahuta said. “Everyone I care about is dust. Or scooped into the bellies
of your ships as fuel. Death will be a release. The death of your world
will be vindication.”
alien had one last trick to play. Mahuta had crippled its limbs, sawed
them off with mining tools and cauterized the stumps with searing metal.
It was only a head and a body in a shell, unable to move, totally
dependent on Mahuta for food. Once a month, the old man roused the alien
from torpor and fed it a bowl of algal gruel.
alien’s head emerged, beaked and terrapene, from the hole Mahuta had
come to think of as its “front.” Mahuta had assumed, through their long,
apocalyptic voyage, that the alien worked roughly like a turtle, its
spine and vitals fused to its shell. A turtle could not make its head
and limbs issue from different holes.
The alien was not a turtle.
neck was bunched, corded muscle the thickness of Mahuta’s waist. The
alien’s head shot from a hole near Mahuta’s leg. Its mouth clamped down,
slicing meat, shearing bone. The old soldier screamed, pitching over to
land on his side and breaking his hip. Mahuta fumbled for his sidearm
and fired into one of the alien’s limb-holes. Several shots spanged from
the oblique angles of its carapace. Several more punched through.
Mahuta felt himself going into shock - a small mercy, as the fall had also broken his hip. His breath came in ragged gasps.
“See?” Mahuta said, lips peeled into a rictus. “Got some spite in you... after all. You’re... practically human.”
your Earth is long gone.+ The creatures thought-pulses became stilted,
like several radio clips edited into a composite sentence, or the uneven
pitch of an automated voice mail system.
+Maybe my home has already starved to death. Maybe we are the last ones.+
Mahuta listened. The room seemed to lurch under him. He’d lost feeling in his legs and the tips of his fingers.
there are none left but you and I, then we can define the universe on
our terms.+ Its thought-voice trailed now, wavering and submerged. +The
universe is... ours to make in our own image. What will we make?+
The alien spoke for a few more seconds, its thought-voice degrading into incoherent noise. Then it was silent.
bled from his mortal wound, insensible from the waist down. His gun had
dropped from numb fingers. One of his gnarled old hands rested near a
touch-screen control panel, crawling with telemetry, charting the
refinery-ship’s course to an extinction-event collision.
His hand twitched.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Mediocre Wayne challenged me with "Against the threat of alien invasion, mankind's greatest weapon is terror." and I challenged Brad MacDonald with "An elaborate plan to either get an errant child to fly straight, or to scar the poor wiggler for life."