The New World

 

SUGGESTED FORMER READING: Admissions Policy, Vol.1, Story 2.

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 03-12-04-01

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify playlist at end.)

 

Prelude.

 

A truck swishes past in the direction of the Fal-Tapria, it’s going too fast.

 

Where am I?

 

The cartoons aren’t on the telescreen when I get home from school.

 

What happened?

 

At quarter past five there’s no sign of my parents.

 

The University. The gravity had gone.

 

On the news the Fal-Tapria is lopsided parts of it are cracking and then it falls. I don’t understand. My parents are still not home – I make myself a sandwich.

 

There was a lecture theatre and then…

 

It’s dark and the news is still on. I don’t think to turn on the light. A man comes in and tells me a story. About some bad people who did a terrible thing.

 

…there was the shade. The thing with the smoke and the…

 

I sleep that night in a bed that isn’t mine. In a house down the street. A woman I don’t know keeps coming in checking if I am okay – she smiles but also looks sad. Everyone that day looks sad.

 

it opened the airlock. Am I dead?

 

Act 1.

 

For a minute I think I have a hangover. My head hurts and I can’t remember what has happened. Have I been put to bed? Where did I go – probably the outer hub, always terribly dangerous parties there. But I am not lay on anything, I can’t feel my back resting on anything at all – perhaps I am not in my cabin. But where? I can’t open my eyes – they’re too heavy. I can only see the dark and mysterious colours that light forms on a closed eyelid. I can move my arms though; they are heavy too but soon surrender into the air. I think… although I can’t quite believe it… I think I’m in water. The water is thick and custardy – perhaps it is custard? Eventually my fingertips reach an edge.

The thoughts begin to spill through suddenly like the water through a broken damn. My name is Fenn, a student at the University of Pure Sight. Wait. The former university. It blew up. I saw it. The shade released the airlock and I saw the vast space-station start to explode. I was with the Professor and Ter. We understood the monster, it only wanted to come and learn but it had killed everyone. Including it seemed – me. Then where am I now?

My eyes flip open suddenly. I am in liquid but it doesn’t sting or fill my eyes I can just about see into it. About a foot in front of me is a swirling fleshy surface. Greens and black form and reform into organic maps. I have been reincarnated – have I? Seems unlikely – I was always a woman of science but maybe I was… the word tastes bitter even as a thought… wrong. But I feel fully-grown. Ugh! What am I then? Some terrible creature from the badlands. No Fenn mustn’t be prejudice – what if I’m some terrible undesignated species from the Sector 6. That’s better. Oh god though what if I’m a lizard monster or a gas whale or something I don’t know! I look down as best I can. I can see my hands and flex out the claws. From round my back my tail snakes round. Thanks goodness as – far as I can see I’m still a Fal-Tap.

I keep my claws out and draw them down the fleshy surface. It comes away like wet tissue paper. I start scraping wildly at it disturbing the liquid into bubble streams all around. Layer after layer comes off until light starts to appear. Proper light though and not just the coloured darkness. With one last pierce like the popping of a balloon the wall breaks and the light floods my vision.

I splutter and take in lungfuls of air at syncopated intervals. The water drips off me and the warm air takes control. I can finally see where I am.

It is a bright day and a warm one too and I’m on a planet that’s for sure. There’s dusty rock everywhere and a sun in the sky. Here and there are dark stains where the water from the pod has exploded out. It’s quiet. I shake out my fur to dry myself and look around. On the horizon is a constant stream of black smoke, its like the rubbish planets you here of where the capitol sector sends its waste. Desolate planets left to cook by constant rubbish tip infernos. I appear to be on a hill, only a slight one though and on one side there is a forest, if you could call it that, of dead twig like trees. Am I here alone? Surely there is someone else? I will head to the fire, unless it’s a volcano it had mean some form of civilisation surely. I set off.

Shit. I feel something grab my ankle. Shit shit shit. Fuck. I look down. It has, something has grabbed my ankle and is pulling. I can’t quite see because of the mud. It could be a root. I’m stuck fast. Fuck.

Suddenly I’m on the floor, toppled over by a huge force, presumably from the root or hand or whatever the hell it was. Great – just come back to life and now I’m going to be eaten by some monster. But I’m wrong. Emerging out of the ground clawing an tearing at it, is Ter, my friend. Xyr blue skin is tinged red until he spots me and it fades into softer green.

‘Fenn, what is going on?’ xe says and wildly shakes off the same fluid still half-clinging to me.

‘Ter I’m so glad its you,’ I say and embrace xyr. ‘I don’t know. All I can remember is the lecture hall and then…’

‘Yes we were in space, unprotected. How are we here?’

There is another rustle from nearby. Professor Zanflip the Walran emerges from the ground dripping like us.

‘Fascinating,’ he says seemingly unperturbed. ‘That you gang? You been in the womb too? Did it feel like that for you? I feel like I’ve just been birthed but was conscious. Disgusting really but an experience nonetheless. Goodness – wait weren’t we?’

‘Yes Professor we were just saying that,’ I say. The Professor gets up on his flippers and sniffs the air.

‘Then how can we have…?’ He begins to say but is cut short. From behind comes a cold, steel-hard voice.

‘It was me. I saved you.’

 

Act 2

To my surprise and from what I can gather it begins to cry. It is certainly the creature from the university. It shut off the lights and then the gravity and then the place began to crash. I’m not sure if it is crying or screaming actually. It looks like a painting of a demon. It is vaguely humanoid (or fal-taprian I should say, bloody galactic education conditioning), but it as if it is formed by black smoke. Its face is like a skull, the eyes hollow and sunken but with a tight muscular mouth. But it is certainly upset. Next to me is a dry, sharp looking stick, I drag it from the ground and hold it up like a sword. I feel ridiculous but it’s the best I can do. I feel the Professor move a step forward a wave his flipper to say lower your weapon.

‘It is you isn’t it?’ he says. ‘From the university. What is your name?’

He’s amazing the Professor. He says this so calmly. I can tell it isn’t from fear either, he is simply concerned.

‘My name?’

‘Yes, yes. What is your name?’

‘I don’t know.’

The Professor gives me a warning nod of his eyebrow to stay back.

‘Was it the crash? Can you remember anything?’

‘I can remember everything. It’s just I’ve never had a name. My species we move in packs, or clans. We do not need names.’

‘Ah now we’re getting somewhere!’ The Professor smiles at me and winks. I respect the Prof’s kindness but I can feel hot rage boiling inside me.

‘Professor if you wouldn’t mind that’s the thing that crashed the university. The greatest seat of learning in the galaxy. I don’t think we should be talking to it.’ I can feel my claws slide out from my paws.

‘I am not an it. I am a he,’ it says towards me. Its voice is deeper now and raspier.

‘Calm down, calm down. That will not get us anywhere.’

‘And why? Because they wouldn’t let you in!’ I ignore the professor. ‘There must be thousands of people across the galaxy who haven’t got in – and you decide to crash it – how many people are dead…’ the sentence chokes me. It’s like I’ve suddenly been plunged into icy water.

‘It wasn’t my ability. It’s not that I didn’t get the grades. It was because they were scared, scared of me – scared of what they didn’t know…’ there is a shaky tone to its voice again, as if it has remembered it is upset.

‘I’m not bloody surprised. They probably saw it coming. What are upset for? Regret is it. I should think so too.’

I turn away for a moment and look out to the horizon. There’s the smoke again, over the hill, forming in a big funnel up into the atmosphere. Apart from that there is nothing, the rocky landscape stretching out forever. It looks like there aren’t even any animals here or even plants. No wonder the empire left it unregistered. Move on. Nothing to see here at all. I turn and see the shade on the other side of the dusty crater where we woke up. The Professor and Ter are standing awkwardly in the middle.

‘Fenn, Fenn.’ Ter says and looks at me with xyr round, blue face.

‘I’m sorry Ter, we should never be here. What are we going to do now?’ I say and feel hot stinging tears prick my eyes.

‘It’s not regret. The shade, the thing, he’s not feeling regret.’

‘Then what is it feeling?’ I shout. ‘Pride? Happiness? What else could any sentient being be feeling after this but regret?’ Why the hell did you save us – what so you can gloat? Is that it?’

Ter turns a deep shade of crimson and I immediately feel terrible.

‘I saved you because you understood. My body it can morph and fly. That’s how I entered the university through its systems and that’s how I brought you back down here.’

‘This is your home? This is where you’re from isn’t it?’ The professor says.

‘We call it Xcvervx. The Stone-Sphere. We live off the gas here in the earth and survive as the only species here.’

The shade separates and explodes into long tendrils of black smoke. The streams disappear into the earth and then shoot back out again and form back into a body.

‘Do you think I’m impressed?’ I say sounding like a little girl but meaning it.

‘I mean I am,’ The Professor says innocently.

‘I’ve had enough I really have. If you want to hang out with this terrorist unregistered than you can do.’

I clamber up the hill towards the funnel of black smoke. Eventually my hands reach the crest and I pull myself upwards. Before me is the source of the smoke. As if I could not have realised before. There in the valley below is the wreckage of the University of Pure Sight. A vast expanse of tunnels and huge hangers cracked and pulled open by the force of impact. I can glimpse piles of flesh within. In the middle there, the engine pulsates giving off waves of amber energy. It makes me sick to my stomach. There is a sound of air beside and I look to see the skull face of the shade.

‘I don’t feel regret. They deserved it. The galaxy deserves it. Your empire deserves it.’

‘Then why are you so sad?’ I say flatly.

‘It seems my people have gone. They have abandoned the planet. I am alone.’

‘Good. That’s all you deserve. Now leave us alone too.’

The shade disappears and I am left with the quiet throb of the dying space station.

 

Interlude

…I hear the word sanctions but I don’t know what it means.

 

There are no days anymore.

 

My teacher was a Walran but she is not my teacher anymore.

 

My tongue is the rocks of the land, it has become the same.

 

In the children’s home we are separated from those who are not Fal-Tap. Greddy throws rocks at them over the fence.

 

My eyes open and close at random. They are not mine anymore.

 

The playground beyond the fence is empty today and we are told it is ours again. Greddy starts throwing the rocks at us instead.

 

That thing saved us for nothing. He shouldn’t have save us at all.

 

I overhear the teachers in the corridor. ‘He’s got exactly what he wanted’, ‘We’ll never leave the planet again.’

 

This is it then, delayed but it is here at last. It was an epilogue on the story not a new chapter after all.

 

It was not their time. It was that someone else decided for them. I punch Greddy in the face and drag my claws through his skin.

 

I feel a trickle of liquid into my mouth. Water, water of life.

 

Act 3

The Walrans and the Sonva, the races of the Professor and Ter respectively are notably hardier than your basic intelligent humanoid shapes. Humans of course, Fal-Taps, the Creatise and Glooshas historically had short-form evolutions. They gained intelligence very quickly, relatively speaking, and haven’t really evolved since. But the races that were long-form, like tended to never stop going. They spent longer in various phases of their history, planet-bound, basic space etc. but their bodies adapted more cleanly and more strongly because they took their time.

In a desolate rock planet, with an energy seeping wreck of a space station my frail evolution soon started to wither until Ter and the Professor managed to find some water tanks spilling out over the earth. Their hardy skin blocked the radiation and finally they had found a tank closed and uncontaminated that brought me back from the cusp of another death.

‘It was creepy down there. The bodies looked like they were shifting. It’s the wreckage I’m sure but…’

They had found impact supply pods for such an emergency. Full of old-fashioned space food, all tubes and pastes. Ter squeezed some unappetizing grey matter into xyr mouth.

‘Did you feel anything?’ I say, perhaps tactlessly, I’m still not sure of the standard manners protocol around asking.

‘Nothing, there is no one there.’

‘This place would be fascinating to study, alas…’ the Professor said.

‘Alas what?’ I say.

‘Alas there’s no university, no equipment, not even pen and paper to write on.’

We sit for a moment in the soft light of the setting sun. We are sat in a circle, a three sided one at least. It feels like we are the very last people in the universe. We are on the last planet watching the last star die. Throughout my life, I’ve always looked up at the sky and felt it was bristling with life. I could always feel the spaceships fizzing through the sky off to central space to join the throng of the Capitol. But here on this planet, with the only civilisation it has ever known smoking and burning in the distance, it feels as if it all that life could be across the void – in another universe itself. What did I do to be so lost?

‘Then we start again. We make the equipment. Well I mean first we could make you know more pressing things like beds and a roof and a kettle but we could aim for it Professor what do you think?’

‘What’s the point,’ I say and mean it too. Ter is my friend but that idealism was fine for the university but now it just feels pathetic. I won’t say it though. ‘I mean people will be coming won’t they? A whole university falls out of the sky surely people will come and investigate? We wait.’

‘The nights are pretty cold and the impact pod won’t last forever. You’re still angry Ms. Fenn I don’t have to be a sonva to see that. But think of the Empire. It is bureaucracy at its best they won’t step in here unless they can be sure it is stamped, crossed and double checked. Anyway in unmarked space, they will think some outlying race has attacked. I wouldn’t be surprised if they leave it be. Pop up a false news comm. and forget it. We can’t rely on them.’

‘You’re right,’ I say. ‘The what do we do?’

‘Get you a spacesuit.’

 

*            *            *

 

I see the two little dots grow limbs and detail and eventually become people. They’ve done it I can see. Draped over the Professor’s shoulder is the limp spacesuit ready to be filled and Ter is holding the helmet tight in xyr arms, like a squirrel with a nut. I’m impatient because I want to get going. They are moving so slowly. The professor in typical Walran fashion waddles along stiffly. Oh shit – I realise. I’m a dick. He’s old. He must be what? 150? In standard years that’s about 80. He’s just gone into a broken down spaceship, possibly the most unstable place in the galaxy just to help me out. Right, I’m going to help. I am, I need to.

The plan is to salvage. It’s a concept we’re not used to on the central planets. Everything is always made new there and waste shipped off planet. They say in the old days they had to find waste deposits on world – must have been hell all that piling up. But here, in this barren world – the salvage is our salvation. We decided to start with one building. Four walls that’s all – and a roof. We fill it with everything we can. The impact pods should have held the cargo at least. The crash was sudden, but the buffers on those are on all the time. We decided as one to put all thoughts of the future on hold apart from this. This was my idea. If we think of the rest of our lives we will despair I know it. We start with one building.

‘Land ho!’ shouts the Professor with his flipper raised.

‘We’re on land,’ I laugh and run down the hill.

‘Ah yes. Well Spacesuit ho! Here we are Fenn,’ He passes me the spacesuit and I pull it on over my increasingly dirt clothes.

‘Someone’s a little more cheerful?’ he says.

‘Yes I noticed that,’ Ter says and turns a deep shade of blue.

‘Well you know, just thought I’d best get on with it. I’m still mad don’t get me wrong but the Shade seems to have cleared off and this isn’t our fault is it? We need to keep on.’

‘Just one building,’ The Professor taps his head.

‘Just one building,’ I smile back. ‘How was it in there?’

‘Weird,’ Ter says. ‘There were dark lumps of bodies in corners. And scorch marks on the roof. Some rooms were upside down and corridors on their end like towers. How can we make our home from that?’

Xyr skin folds in crimson red and then fiery orange. It is the sonva colour of upset that’s for sure but its more than upset. The colours are so complex and changing I think it is – impossibility, despair even.

‘Ter we start with just one building. Remember that. We’ll just start with the one.’

 

* * *

 

The corridor is dark apart from the squares of light marking the floor, the sun through former windows. We have four walls, dragged through the dirt like tank tracks in a war. There’s been no sign of the shade. If that thing ever came back I’m not sure what I’d do. But he’s gone and he’s never coming back.

‘Ter stay near me,’ I whisper.

‘Are we close?’

‘Yes not far off.’

We pass into a square of light and my face fur bristles with the sudden illumination through the screen. I’ve begin to live with a dirtiness I’ve never experienced. Each strand is coarse and wiry – parts of it on my legs have started to fall out although that might be just the radiation. The thought of a shower everyday now seems like an impossible luxury – one I will never have again. I step back into the shadows. The roof is just ahead. The Professor remembered the panelling used in office buildings. The cutthroat, sensitive world of academia seemed to be so brutal that the offices would change all the time in size and grandeur. When the new university was built they decided a more practical measure was needed so retractable glass panels were built that could be stretched and changed according to where the wind blew. To us though it would be glass to remind us to return to the sky once more.

‘What was that?’ xe says behind. Xyr right, there was a crash beyond the wall.

‘Nothing. There’s things breaking off everywhere. It’ll just be that.’

Ter takes my hand.

‘Let’s get the roof and get out of here.’

‘We’re fine. Yeah just up ahead.

Ter will be able to feel it that I’m scared. The Professor heard it too, the wreckage is full of noises that shouldn’t be there. Scratching. Moaning. Slamming of doors. We’ve not seen any survivors because there aren’t any. There can’t be any. Up ahead is the door to the cargo. Inside we have dragged day by day the food parcels, breaking through until we reach the glass panels. I heave open the door to the hold and go inside. The place is still full of things we don’t need. Mainly huge crates of books. Most people used their comm. units of course but the solid articles could also be requested. They are like tombstones now crowding in the dark.

‘It’s there at the back. We need three reams of it should be enough.’

‘And a glow-cube if there is one. The Professor said they should still be perpetuating.’

‘Ah yes. Will be nice to have some hot, well hotter at least food,’ I say and smile. Ter keeps on staring into the dark.

We walk through the cargo graveyard and I pick up a few glow-cubes that are scattered between bookshelves knocked over like a line of dominos.

‘They’re here, the roof is here,’ Ter shouts from beyond.

‘I’m coming!’ In my spacesuit everything feels heavy. It makes my breath like a broken vent. Wearing a spacesuit on a planet is like returning to the dark ages. Everything in history has been just a project to make things easier. The little things. Forget the politics the quests for meaning, it’s all just so we can breathe easier and go to sleep in a comfortable bed, I’m sure of it.

‘Fenn, come quick. Please, I’ve found the roof panels.’

‘I’m coming, I’m coming’

‘Fenn there’s something else here. Come quick.’

‘Shit what?’

I leap onto the bookcases and they start rolling from under me. I run along the top and feel each one drop from under me. Ter is just over the next set of crates. From above comes a deafening creak. The roof is going. I can see the cracks forming like the crust on a loaf. Shit. I leap over and see Ter cowering beneath the glass folded glass panels. I look around – there’s no one about I can see. On the panel of my helmet I see a line of dust form. I leap downwards, I know what’s coming. Above me the ceiling falls through bringing a vent or a corridor hurtling though. I slide through under the criss-cross forest of shelves.

‘Ter – I’m coming – what is it? What’s there?’

‘I don’t know. I can’t see it but I can feel it. It’s close.

‘What can you feel?’ I shout. Above the crates lurch under the new weight of the collapsed ceiling. I can just see a hole through if I crawl through the shelves.

‘I don’t know. Its like it doesn’t know. Its confused I think but angry. Like a child but its remembering that it isn’t. I don’t know.’

‘Don’t worry – I’m coming.’

I grab a rogue bar above and swing through kicking a mesh panel out the way. Behind me the collapsed ceiling rumbles and breaks through another floor.

‘Shit the floors gone behind.’

‘Take an extra glass panel – we can throw it across.’

I reach Ter and embrace xyr tight. I grab a few reams of the flexible glass and strap them to my back keeping one spare.

‘Is it still here?’

‘No I don’t think so. It might have been beneath the floor. I imagine the collapse…’

‘We’ll worry about it later – we need to get out first.’

The quiet cargo hold is now as mass of fire and fizzing jets of steam. Its like the crash has happened all over again. Through holes in walls I can see other parts crashing and cracking. Former lectures theatres turned to dust by engines above them. Living quarters smashing into kitchens. Everywhere heat and metal and fire.

‘Come on!’ I take xyr hand and head to the ceiling crater.

Below is what looks a map of the lower decks with a dirty streak obscuring the middle. It is a part of the top engine that has fallen through; the cargo shield must have finally given way. It’s like an open metal toothed jaw ready to swallow us up. This is last moments for the university – its final dying breath. I throw the glass panels out and it snaps into a long, clear bridge.

‘You’re not scared,’ Ter says matter of factly.

‘What of course I am!’

‘Well you are but you’re excited. I can feel it remember. Scared and excited. And you know what I think I am too.’

I smile at my gentle friend and we run out of the fiery jaws of the university and back into the wasteland.

 

Interlude.

The teacher in the school is angry with me.

 

The stars are so bright.

 

And suddenly I am angry with her. It comes from nowhere like a sudden volcano.

 

How can they say this is an outlying planet? We are at the centre of everything.

 

I draw my claws and she steps back. Her tails stiffens. ‘You sit down now Fenn, NOW!’

 

I wonder where the shade is now. Does he feel regret now? Does he still wallow?

 

I drag them along the table instead. She says clearly ‘You’ll never amount to anything with an attitude like that.’

 

The blankets we have made are coarse but comforting.

 

Everyday I work harder. I have nothing else to do. No family. Barely any friends. Just the work – the refreshing work to get me through.

 

Here on the stone-sphere I can be queen of this new world. My eyelids are heavy…

 

I remember it so clearly. There on my comm. unit. ‘Welcome to the University of Pure Sight…’

 

Act 4

It is the evening after we erected the roof. The Professor has proved his genius time and again. Deftly cutting shapes and panels into things we needed that hadn’t even crossed my mind. Like a chimney for an inside fire. We sit on dusty chairs in the sandy dirt that makes the floor of our simple shack round the crackling warmth. Since the collapse in the store room the mood has been sombre. Everything we have is now here and it won’t last forever. Boxes line the walls and are stacked up high with salvaged materials. The past few days all we have talked about has been practicalities. Now the basics were in place and our lives are suddenly stretching out in front of us. At least I don’t have to wear the spacesuit here.

‘I wonder where the shade has got to?’ Ter says.

‘I don’t care,’ I say back. I don’t mean to snarl at xyr but I do.

‘He said that his people were gone. He was on his own now.’

‘Good. He’s got what he deserved.’

‘I don’t know Fenn, if we look at it from his perspective…,’ Says the Professor like a typical academic.

‘From his perspective? He is a terrorist. He didn’t get what he wanted so he throws his dummies out of the pram.’ I can feel my voice rising and choking with emotion. ‘We survived. But only on his whim! Think of all the people down there who have died. You’re friends, colleagues. All dead. His perspective means nothing.’

I suddenly start to cry in huge heaving gulps. The Professor waddles over to me.

‘What is it? Fenn, tell me what is it?’

I run away, out of the scraggy door covered with an old tarpaulin and out into the chilly night. My tail is stiff and alert. The memories flood through and suddenly they are all around me like a dream. A dream that has no end and no beginning. It is constant and forever. The night is silent apart from the soft shifting of sands on the horizon. In the sky burns a bright purple moon colouring the night like a painting.

‘Fenn, you’re hurting. This is not about the shade is it?’

It is Ter, who has coloured light gentle pink, making him look almost like a human. Behind xyr is the Professor, his old face lined with hurt.

‘I’m so sorry Professor, I didn’t mean…’ I throw my arms around the old Walran and squeeze hard.

‘Not too tight my dear I am a 150,’ He smiles and then frowns again. ‘This is not about the shade is it?’

We return to the fire and sit on the chairs.

‘I… When I was a youngling… I… Professor do you remember the attack on the Fal-Tapria?’

‘How could I forget? The single greatest political event I the last 10 standards. It took the Empire years to even get the Fal-Tap Royal House to let non-indigenous shuttles through their airspace.’

Ter looked on gravely. Everyone knew of the attack. A hover-truck full of explosives had somehow sped through from the upper atmosphere and launched into the palace of my race’s home planet. Thousands died. It was pinned on an undesignated species from sector 6. If the case for the Empire’s expansion hadn’t been cemented already – it was now.

‘My parents were there when the truck hit the palace. They worked in the kitchens right above where it hit. If the impact didn’t get them the explosion certainly would’ve done. I dream about it every night. I didn’t understand it for years. But now I do…’

‘I’m so sorry Fenn, often us academics can forget that are people at the centre of these events not just politics,’ the Professor says and lays a warm flipper on my shoulder. ‘If the Shade comes back there will be no mercy! No forgiveness! I will fashion a defence system – something to keep him away.’

I notice, as the Professor speaks that Ter is turning shades of green and red. I’m not sure what it means. Suddenly xe bursts out.

‘The shade didn’t mean it. Not really. I’m sorry about your parents Fenn but the shade is young like you and me. It was rash and made a mistake. When we woke up I felt it – I felt it all. He must have been putting it on later. I was confused.’

‘I don’t care what you felt Ter,’ I say hotly. ‘ I agree with the professor, tomorrow we’ll start some defences.’

The night rustles in the background and we head to bed in silence.

 

* * *

 

I wake with a start. Its Ter shaking me awake.

‘Fenn,’ xe says. ‘Fenn, I can feel it again – the same thing from the university –it’s here.’

‘What? What are you talking about?’ I say blearily.

I sit up and see the Professor hastily putting on a dressing gown. Where in the galaxy did he get that? Never mind.

‘Professor,’ I say. ‘Is there any chance anything could have survived the crash?’

‘I mean we did for starters.’

‘No but anything inside?’

‘The impact pods wouldn’t have helped – they’d have crushed the people around them – the storage units are too big. I’m not sure. All sorts went on at the university. If there were even slight survivors – people on the brink of death perhaps they could have been affected. This is all theoretical of course.’

‘What do you mean affected?’

‘Well the place, while damaged, was still full of medibots, nanomedics, radiation of all sorts. I’m not sure. Perhaps something did survive – something that didn’t pick up on the scans.’

‘Shit,’ I say and run outside – it’s all darkness, the purple moon has left the sky.

‘Quick, turn on the lights outside Professor.’

He waddles over and heaves down a heavy switch on the floor. Immediately illuminated are figures on the horizon. They are deep black and grey as if charred and burnt. They are stumbling forward like zombies.

‘You were right. Something survived,’ I shout. ‘Ter what are they feeling?’

I can see Ter is holding xyr head in pain. ‘I can’t…So many voices, so many feelings. I’m not used to it.’

The creatures stumble and crawl. Some are without legs or arms. Cracks in their bodies glow with different colours. Some ooze dark liquids over their dry bodies.

‘Ter what is it?’

‘They are… ahhhhh….hungry.’

‘Can we help them?’ The Professor says.

‘No – they’re hungry for – us.’

They’re getting closer and closer. They’re in the crater now. We’ve have no defences. Barely a building even. These are the people of the university. Or what’s left of them. There are hundreds of them coming over the hill. Clawing and reaching towards us. They must have sensed us when we got the supplies. I wonder what they will do to us?

‘They’re on every side,’ Ter shouts.

‘Professor inside!’

‘I can’t think Fenn, I’m not a solider – I’m an academic. I don’t know.’

‘It’s okay – we’ve had more time than we should have anyway. Time to go I think. Join the fellow students,’ I say and cling to my friends in the dark shack. The hands are breaking through the walls and a figure stumbles through the door. Suddenly, just as I resign myself to my delayed death there it is again. The first time, it was the cause and now it is the solution. The air is filled with black smoke. The creature through the door is propelled back by it. It howls a nightmare scream. The grabbing charred hands shoot backwards through their holes. I run to the door. There is a swirling, shooting line of black smoke like a wall round our shack.

‘Its him – it’s the shade!’ Ter shouts.

I can see the creatures scramble and crawl over the edges of the crater. They are retreating. The shade forms again in front of me.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I really am.’

‘You saved us again,’ I whisper. ‘Thank you.’

‘He’s telling the truth,’ Ter says. ‘He feels regret.’

‘I do,’ he says. ‘I know this world, I can help you. Help you start again.

I look to the Professor and then to Ter. Their faces are dark in the shack but even without being a Sonva I can tell what they are feeling.

I brush my hands over the fur on my ears.

‘You answer to me. Fenn.’ I say, pointing. ‘Do you understand?’

In its skull face, it is hard to tell, but I think I detect a hint of a smile. Four of us then, four unlikely friends starting our new world.

 

Epilogue.

My parents, a grey-furred strong Dad and a gentle amber mother. They smile down at me and point at the starships whizzing through the sky from the flat window. ‘You’ll be there one day my love,’ they say and squeeze me tight. ‘You can be anything you want to be. A Captain, an adventurer, a queen of your own world…’

 

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