The room was deathly silent aside from the occasional shriek from somewhere deep within the structure. Kovalov glanced around anxiously, unsure of what to do. He knew he couldn’t just stand there and let the aliens throw him or anyone else into that dark room. His gaze settled back on the window. There was still lots of movement and it seemed more frantic now. Something was clearly alive in there.
The door to the small chamber opened. The bodies of the unconscious creatures were gone. Only their muzzles lay on the floor, covered in a thick, clear substance.
Kovalov was nudged forward, toward the door. He looked over his shoulder as he walked into the chamber, heart racing. What lay on the other side? Death, most likely. Or at least something extremely unpleasant. He was enveloped in complete darkness when the door closed behind, and a lump rose in his throat. Breathing hard, he walked backward, pressing his back up against the door. It wouldn’t open. Even if it did, he was afraid his alien captors would throw him back in.
The door in front of him slid open. Heat and humidity bathed over him. Faintly, he could see the walls in the massive, rounded chamber weren’t flat. They were covered in ribs and holes and seemed to be alive. Things writhed on them, but Kovalov couldn’t see what those things were.
He wasn’t sure if he should stay still or go into the hot room. He took a small, curious step forward. The closer he got to the entrance, the more he could hear a soft, droning hissing. The floor inside wasn’t flat. It was covered in the same twisting misshapen material that covered the walls. He expected it to be hard. Most of it was, but some was soft and crunched beneath his boots. There were pools of water, or what Kovalov hoped was water. It certainly didn’t smell like water. Everything had a strong, rotten smell.
It was hot, but Kovalov hunched in on himself, keeping his arms close to his body. Whatever this place was, he was afraid of touching anything. It was precisely why he was so afraid of the dark. He stepped back, wanting to go back in the dark little room, but found the door was closed. He was trapped in this strange and horrid-smelling place.
Swallowing hard, Kovalov struggled to get his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He froze when he saw something moving faster than anything else on the wall above him. The chamber seemed to go up forever. He wondered if he could climb up, but stayed still when the moving thing crept down the wall. A long, segmented tail that ended in a blade lashed out behind it. Kovalov could faintly see the creature’s head was long and ridged. He watched it, and remained perfectly still.
The creature didn’t leave the wall. It crawled in a serpentine path, and Kovalov wondered if it could even see him. He hadn’t seen any sign of eyes yet. Finally, it stopped, turning its long head both left and right before ceasing all movement completely.
Kovalov began feeling sick with dread. Something was truly wrong here. His body tensing, he looked over at the creature on the wall. It hadn’t moved at all, aside from slowly moving its head in a sweeping motion. His hands shook. There was a pounding sensation in his head and he involuntarily started breathing harder.
The creature turned to face him and he could see it had no eyes at all. It’s using something else to sense its surroundings. What, then? Sound? Heat? Struggling to pull himself together, Kovalov tried moving behind the creature, slowly and quietly.
The door to the windowed room opened, catching the creature’s attention. Another one of the prisoners, a pale-blue humanoid alien with large violet eyes, was pushed in. It shouted at the snow-white aliens in its own language. The creature on the wall hissed and crawled rapidly over to the alien, who swung its fists at it. The alien recoiled in pain after its fist struck the creature’s skull, while the only effect the punch had on the creature was to make it angry. In one swift movement, it grabbed the alien in its arms and dashed up the wall, disappearing into the darkness above.
Silence, aside from the soft hissing that surrounded Kovalov, filled the space again. He looked around in the darkness, unsure of how or why the creature ignored him but focused on the newer arrival. Perhaps it was because Kovalov had kept silent and didn’t fight?
A minute later, Lyashko was shoved into the chamber, cursing at the aliens who had pushed him in. Kovalov jogged over, holding up his hand. “Don’t talk too loudly,” he whispered.
“There are creatures in here. They are blind, but I think they hunt by sound. They left me alone, but they took the blue man almost as soon as he came in because he was yelling at them and trying to punch them.”
“What do you mean, ‘took’?”
Kovalov shrugged. “One of them grabbed him and carried him up the wall into a hole.”
Lyashko sighed. “Great. We are nothing more than food for the aliens’ pets.”
“We will get out of this somehow.”
“How? The aliens are blocking the entrance.”
“So we try to find another exit.”
“If you think you can get us out of here, lead the way.”
Kovalov never liked being in charge, but after taking a deep breath, he gestured for Lyashko to follow him. The two walked quietly deeper into the chamber. There were hundreds of holes in the walls, all large enough for a person to walk through. Despite the relative silence, Kovalov had the feeling they weren’t alone.
The creature from earlier reappeared from a hole high up toward the ceiling. It crawled downward, head first. Kovalov and Lyashko ducked into a wide passageway, hiding in the crevices of the wall. The creature dropped to the floor, standing on its hind legs. Kovalov was amazed at how tall it was. Everything about it was long and thin. Its chest was covered in a ribcage-like structure. Each hand possessed six bony fingers, tipped with silvery claws. On its back were four tube-like structures. A thick, clear substance dripped from its mouth, which was full of long, sharp teeth the same color of its claws.
Kovalov held his breath when the creature turned its head slightly. From the corner of his eye, he could see Lyashko doing the same. Neither of them moved. The only thing moving now was the creature’s tail. Kovalov’s body tensed when the creature’s head turned again. Please do not come this way, he begged in his mind.
Almost as if it had heard his plea, the creature leapt back up onto the wall, disappearing from their sight.
“What the hell was that?” Lyashko whispered.
“I have been asking myself that since I first saw it,” Kovalov replied.
“Well, it would be better not to find out what it’s capable of. We need to find a way out of here.” Lyashko thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers. “Perhaps we should start trying to climb the walls outside the tunnel here. We are underground, correct? There has got to be some way to get the surface.”
“I am starting to wonder if the door we were sent through is the only way in or out. Unless there is another entrance like it somewhere else. This is a large facility. Regardless, it means wandering around this… place.”
“Given how the stuff on the walls looks almost exactly like the skin of the creatures here, I think this is their… nest? Or hive?”
“That would make sense. But why would our abductors keep something like this?”
“Study, perhaps. Either they captured some of the creatures and let them build a nest in this space or they built the facility around an existing nest.”
“There are probably hundreds of creatures in here, then.”
“Hundreds. Maybe thousands. It makes no difference. We are getting out of here and going home.”
“Ilya, we do not even know where in the universe we are. How are we even going to find our way home?”
“One step at a time, Pasha. One step at a time. Focus on getting out of this… nest first.”
With no real sense of direction within the nest, it took Kovalov and Lyashko a while to pinpoint where the exact opposite side of the nest would be. They hypothesized that another entrance would most likely be on the other side, although they really had no idea. The fact that it wouldn’t be a straight line was going to make it hard. The other difficulty was not making any loud sounds.
The tunnel they ventured down gradually opened up to a massive space lit by lamps at the very top. Kovalov could see windows just below the ceiling. The walls were covered with more creatures like the one who tried to pin him to the crevice in one of the early tunnel. Most of the creatures had ridged skulls, but there were some with smooth ones. The smooth-skulled creatures also seemed somewhat smaller. There were some who didn’t have back tubes, and some were slightly larger and or smaller than the average, but that seemed to be the extant of variation among the creatures.
They were all lying perfectly still in their spots curled up in the resin on the walls. Kovalov’s gaze shifted down and he saw long bands of resin stretching downward to a single creature in the center of the chamber. The bands were holding up a hideous, yellowish, long, shapeless mass extending from the enormous creature. The creature itself looked vastly different to the rest. Its head was adorned with a large crest, and its back had with six spikes rather than four tubes. There were two arms resting on its legs, and two smaller, bony arms near the center of its chest. A very long, bladed tail rested on top of the mass below the creature.
“If this is a nest,” Lyashko whispered, “that makes this thing the queen.”
Kovalov looked at the floor around the queen. Large, green, egg-like structures surrounded her. Some were open, but most of them were closed. On the walls of the chamber, Kovalov was horrified to see there were multiple species of aliens stuck to them, bound in the same substance he had been. There were aliens of the same race as their abductors. The blue aliens they had been transported with, and even the little sable-like beings.
On closer examination, Kovalov could see some of their heads were obscured by a flesh-colored creature with long, spindly legs. In each case, the creature’s long tail was wrapped around its victim’s neck, but the rise and fall of their chests suggested the creature wasn’t suffocating them.
Some of the bodies stuck to the wall were most certainly dead. The holes in their chests made that a definite. There were others whose bodies were partially eaten. Even some of the empty eggs looked like they had been torn and chewed apart.
“What kind of animal is this?” Kovalov whispered to himself.
There was a cracking sound nearby. He looked up to see a white alien writhing and groaning, begging and shouting. Then something erupted from his chest. A screeching worm, covered in black blood and shreds of organs and muscles, wriggled its way out of the alien’s chest and slithered down its now lifeless body.
The queen’s head emerged from her crest. Her teeth looked as though they were made of glass. She turned her head to face the screaming newborn creature and hissed softly at it. It screeched back as it slithered past her, climbing up a wall to nestle between two other creatures.
“They are parasites,” Lyashko said. “That must be what those spidery things are doing. Putting the worms inside these poor people.”
The queen looked down at Kovalov and Lyashko. Her massive jaws parted in a hiss, and suddenly the walls came to life. Hundreds of creatures began stirring, turning toward the two cosmonauts.
“We better go.” Lyashko grabbed Kovalov’s arm, pulling him back down the tunnel. The queen was screeching behind them, and they could hear the rest of the nest attempting to chase after them. “Keep going!” Lyashko hollered, pushing Kovalov ahead.
The screeching and angered hissing grew louder. Kovalov had no clue where he was going. Neither of them did. All that mattered was getting away from these things.
One of his boots caught in a chunk of resin. Kovalov tumbled to the ground, struggling to get back up. A creature was on top of him in seconds, looming over him. Kovalov’s breath quickened. The creature gripped his arms tightly. Its jaws parted to reveal a second smaller mouth inside. Kovalov squirmed under the creature’s claws. When I thought I was going to die today, I did not think it would be this way!
The butt of a rifle swatted the side of the creature’s head hard. It fell off of Kovalov, reeling before hissing at whatever had just struck it. Kovalov was stunned to see it was the alien who had been giving him looks of sympathy when they were taken from their spacecraft. He grabbed Kovalov by the back of his suit, pulling him away from the clutches of the creatures.
The one that had pinned down Kovalov swiped its claws at the bigger alien. The alien responded by shooting it in the head. A white bolt over energy gouged a charred hole through the creature’s skull, and it fell without making another sound.
The alien backed away, gesturing for Kovalov and Lyashko to do the same. As they came to the entrance they had been thrown in over an hour earlier, the alien ripped a piece of resin from the wall, revealing a control panel. He pressed three buttons, opening the first door, and shoved Kovalov and Lyashko in before running in himself, slamming his fist on a button. The door closed before the creatures could try to force it open.
“That was too close,” Lyashko said. “Much too close.”
Kovalov looked up at the alien, wanting to thank him. “We have to learn to communicate somehow.”
The second door opened. The three stepped out into the chamber with the big window. Kovalov could now see that the creatures were crawling all over the glass in a frustrated fashion, ramming their heads against it. The glass wouldn’t budge.
Gesturing for them to follow him, the alien led them out of the room. Relief crashed over Kovalov like a tidal wave. They wouldn’t have to deal with those monsters anymore. His relief quickly faded when he realized their next challenge was getting home.
Their new friend motioned for them to stay quiet and find cover. He crouched behind a desk with a series of electronics on it. A pair of aliens walked by, talking among themselves.
“I take it he broke the rules by rescuing us,” Lyashko whispered.
Kovalov nodded. “We should do what he says.”
“I do not know if we should be trusting him right away.”
“I feel like we can. What other choice do we have?”
Lyashko gave a quiet sigh. “Alright. If trusting us gets us home, I will do it.”
The alien turned to face them, gesturing for them to stand up and follow him again. They walked through more winding corridors, in an area Kovalov couldn’t remember seeing when they first arrived. Eventually, they came to a large, dimly-lit room that gave Kovalov the impression that it had academic purposes. There were rows of bookshelves and alien devices with no discernable purposes.
After checking to make sure they were alone, the alien led them a series of devices that resembled helmets sitting on a table. He put one on and gestured for Kovalov and Lyashko to do the same.
“This is entirely safe?” Lyashko asked.
“I would imagine so.” Kovalov picked up one of the helmets. It was dark-gray and somewhat ribbed in appearance. It sealed tight to his head when he put it on, and the inside was completely dark until the goggle-like contraption in front of his eyes lit up. Images began to appear on it, each one staying for a few seconds before being replaced. Earth, their space capsule, and all the alien creatures they had seen. Then the screen went solid white for a moment, almost blinding him, before it switched to black. White shapes began appearing in the middle of the blackness; first a circle, then a square, triangle, sphere, cube, pyramid, and others. When the shapes were finished, the blackness was replaced with other colors, which filled the screen and like the pictures each remained for a moment before going to the next. Then more complex symbols appeared. He couldn’t read them and didn’t even recognize the language, but they looked like a mix of words and individual letters in some alien alphabet.
After the letters came moving images. Rain falling on a strange, dark planet, a brilliant sun moving rapidly across a blue sky so quickly it was as if time had been sped up, strange trees tossing in a violent gale, water flowing peacefully through a quiet stream, and a massive green ocean, seen from high above. Finally, they ended, and Kovalov felt a gentle tugging on the helmet. He removed it to see the alien pulling on Lyashko’s helmet as well, and when his friend had taken it off, the alien tapped his own chest. “Aran.”
It was obviously his name, and Kovalov pointed to himself. “Pasha.”
He gestured to Lyashko. “Illya.”
Aran repeated the names slowly, as if unused to forming sounds of that type. Kovalov held up the helmet. “What was this for?”
“Images,” Aran said laboriously. “Aran see images. Pasha see. Aran see, Pasha see.”
Lyashko eyed Aran, saying to Kovalov, “I am not sure what he means.”
“I think I understand,” Kovalov said, looking at the helmets. “Those images he showed us were things that he has seen. These things showed us what he was thinking of.”
“Words,” Aran added, and then touched his temple, repeating, “Aran see images, Pasha…” he tapped his head again and then brought his finger down to his lips. “Words.”
“You mean…” Lyashko hesitated, clearly trying to figure out how to communicate the idea as plainly as possible. “What you see makes us think of words, and you can learn from that?”
“Illya, you are right,” Kovalov realized. “He is using the images to cause us to think of the words we associate with the objects and then these helmets must have some way of telling him how to understand and pronounce them. But we need more. Let me do it.”
He picked up the helmet again and motioned as if he was about to put it on again, saying to Aran, “Pasha see. Words.”
“You sound absurd,” Lyashko observed dryly, but Kovalov and Aran were already donning the helmets. Kovalov began to imagine images of his own, concentrating on keeping each one as simple as possible and bringing the words each image made him think of into focus, trying to keep everything clear so Aran could understand what each word meant. He tried to think of everything he could as a visual example for as many words as possible, hoping to provide Aran with as much information as possible. Abstract words that couldn’t be associated with a physical object were much more difficult, but he did the best he could. He tried to imagine home, but it was hard to keep simple.
Home was a little farming community southeast of Leningrad. A quiet place, full of the warmth of family, but also a place of fear and tension and painful memories. It wasn’t uncommon for his family to not have enough food. He had often found remnants of the Great Patriotic War in the woods just outside the village. It was a mixture of German and Soviet equipment ranging from bullet casings to whole tank wrecks, their rusting hulks long-since forgotten. Sometimes he was certain he heard the cries of spirits, and there was a time when he was young and had found the skeleton of a German soldier. He never went into the woods again after that, despite his father’s reassurance that the soldier was dead and couldn’t hurt him.
He had always had a close relationship with his father, and in this place, he was terrified of never seeing him again. All of that was far too abstract to express, so he remained focused on the simpler things. Earth itself, the colors of the Russian landscape, and the shape of his home. He did his best to convey to Aran that they wanted to go home.
Abruptly, Aran pulled up Kovalov’s device before grabbing both cosmonauts and pulling them under one of the tables. He made a motion for both of them to be silent and clamped his hands over their mouths. The sound of boots on the floor was now the only sound. Two aliens, holding rifles, had entered the room. One of them picked up a book lying on the table and said something to his companion, and they walked into another part of the room, still talking.
Why is taking us out of the creatures’ nest a bad thing? Kovalov thought. It was clear they had to remain hidden, but why? Why had it been so important that they were going to be used as incubators for the creatures? Why was them escaping such a horrible crime for Aran to commit, and why did he feel the need to do it?
When the other two aliens had left, Aran let go, peering out from under the table to see that they were truly gone before gesturing for Kovalov and Lyashko to come out. “We should leave instead of messing around with the headsets,” Lyashko hissed. “He obviously did something wrong by pulling us out of that nest. We can ‘talk’ more when we find a way off this planet.”
Chapter 1……………………………………………………………………..Chapter 3 Coming Soon