Inspiration comes from strange places and leads to strange things!
I’m still not used to the air here…
When I signed the homesteading contract, I had agreed that I would make do without modern convenience. No ships. No computers. No matter replicators. Just simple tools and the sweat of my brow. I’m scheduled for biannual visits from the colonization specialists, but I’m on my own the rest of the time. It’s all some grand experiment to see if we can survive a galaxy-wide apocalypse in the age of colonization without the aide of technology or some such nonsense.
I caught something in the river this morning. Not the usual. Not the pseudo-fish that I usually catch. Weird, alien things that they are, they still keep me fed. No, this was something entirely different. My line pulled like I had an alligator on the end, but when I finally reeled it in, I landed a creature no larger than a minnow. It was unlike the other creatures I had hauled from the water. I was confused at its size when I held it.
A tiny, pearl-white body. Translucent and the shape of an actual fish from back home, but lacking any noticeable features. It was warm to the touch. Almost too warm to handle. I held it up to the sun to see if it had any semblance of a skeleton or organs. Nothing. But a curious thing did occur. As the light filtered through its pearlescent form, it was split in a manner similar to a prism. I had never encountered anything like this in the two years that I had been here.
I gently removed the hook and placed it in the little, portable live well I had constructed. River animals here tended to die and putrefy in short order, but did not seem to need fresh oxygen to survive. I had caught nothing else, so it had the whole of it to itself. I made the trek back to my cabin and placed it in the rain barrel. It was the only place I could think of for the time being. As I had been working on filling my larder for the coming months, I returned to the river and fished for the rest of the day.
When the sun had slipped below the horizon, I returned home to properly prepare the day’s catch for storage. Cursing myself for not returning sooner, I fumbled in the dark for tinder and built a fire. The air was already starting to get colder and the fire was welcome warmth. Forgetting about the creature in the rain barrel, I stepped back outside and prepared my haul for drying. My eyes felt heavy as I placed the last one on the rack.
The fire had fully warmed the inside of my small cabin. I stirred the embers and laid down to sleep. The instant I placed my head on the pillow, I was out. The dreams that followed were frightening. I found myself on other worlds. Worlds far more alien than even this one. My mind seemed as if it were flitting around the entire universe. Never staying in one place for more than a few moments. I was tumbling across reality without any control.
When the sun woke me in the morning, I shrugged it off as simple dreams. I went about my work preparing food for storage, gathering wood, and ensuring my cabin was in good repair. I checked my little “fish” every now and then and brought it what I thought it might eat. Smaller water creatures. Plant matter. It never seemed to want any of it, but it also seemed to be doing fine without.
Every night was the same. The dreams came. I took a hellish ride across the universe and back. I began to fear sleep, but one night something began to change. The movement between locations began to slow and I was able to recover from every jump. I felt myself gaining some control and took time to explore some of these locations. Each morning, I would wake as usual and document the experience. I began to suspect it had something to do with my new pet.
My work continued unabated and the little creature seemed perfectly content to live in my rain barrel. The water had remained surprisingly clean. One morning, I sat a stool next to the barrel and watched it as I ate breakfast. It seemed to swim aimlessly in the water. Moving in lazy arcs through the water. I wondered if it was truly healthy in its new home. As the rays of the morning sun passed over the barrel, the curious prism effect returned. A rainbow shimmer played across the bottom of the barrel. I wrote down everything I could observe about the animal knowing that the colonization specialists would want the information.
As the days grew shorter, I found myself sleeping more than usual. The dreams were still present, but I had now gained even more control. I was able to stay in one place for as long as I could focus and I could jump away at will. I soon realized that these were not dreams, but my consciousness was being projected to other worlds. I developed my concentration over several weeks and was soon able to find my home world. I placed myself outside my old house and observed. My heart ached to see my family again, but I had taken this assignment for them.
The company that had sponsored these colony ventures had given my little family a fortune when I signed the contract. I was actually surprised to see that they had stayed in our home. My wife and our two boys had aged much. I had lost nearly ten years in travel to this planet and had been here for some two already. I tried to communicate with them, but they did not seem to be able to see or hear me. I watched them for a few nights, but realized it was best to leave them alone. They had their own lives to live and I was only torturing myself. Even if I were to go home today, it would be at least another ten years before I saw them again. I continued my travels to new worlds, documenting everything I found.
I was awakened one morning by a deafening rumble. I wrapped myself in blankets and shambled outside. The colonization specialists had come early. I did not expect them for a few more weeks still. Their shuttle landed about 50 yards from my front door. A door on the side of the sleek craft slid open and a representative stepped off. He was tall and thin and wearing a clean, neatly fitted black suit. He held a tablet in his left hand, close to his chest. The sun glinted off his freshly shaven head. He was flanked by two more representatives. A man and woman. Both shorter and heavier than he was and both with shaved heads. They wore suits similar to the tall man. The three of them surveyed the area a moment before walking toward me.
When they reached me, the tall man extended his hand and smiled at me. I slipped my hand out of the blankets wrapped around me and shook it. His hand was cold and dry, but his grip was firm.
“Congratulations!” he said. His voice was deep. Much deeper than I had expected. Something about the way he said that word seemed quite insincere. He held out the tablet in front of him and tapped into the screen. The other two with him began to look around my property.
“I wasn’t expecting you for awhile yet,” I told him.
“And we weren’t going to come early, but we were alerted that our attention was needed. The satellite in orbit around this planet detected heavy tachyon emissions over the last months. You seem to have found something we would have an interest in.” He smiled and I felt myself shiver.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “That little fish?”
“That’s exactly it.” He was looking toward the rain barrel. The others were standing near it, looking at the creature inside. The woman took a small capsule from her jacket and dipped it into the water. When she brought it up, the creature was inside. She held it up for the tall man to see. He nodded his head and turned to walk back toward the shuttle. I felt panic flash across my body. The blankets fell to the ground and I rushed toward the pair. I was steps away when searing pain jolted down my spine. I fell to the ground, paralyzed. The tall man walked back toward me. He stood over me and smiled.
“You have helped mankind progress more than you will ever know, but you still have a contract to fulfill. The terms dictate that you are here until death.” He smiled again and the three boarded the shuttle and left.
I was cut off from the universe again. They would be back to find more of those creatures. I had to find one first.