Spiritum – Chapter Twenty-five

25.

The crew of the U.S.N Rimor didn’t see much of the vessel as they were brought aboard. Just one dark corridor after the next, each the same as the last. Llannaeia could barely see a thing, despite her eyes being open the whole time. It was only when they stood her up in what she guessed was to be her cell that she started to see clearly. It looked like no ship she’d ever been on. The walls and floor didn’t seem to be made out of metal. Llannaeia spent ages staring at them, trying to figure out why the material seemed so familiar. It finally hit her; It almost resembled flesh. The room was featureless. The only thing of note was the door. Even that was like nothing she’d ever seen before. It had an almost organic look to it, like an orange when you cut it in half. It reminded Llannaeia of something she’d expect to find inside an internal organ. In fact, everything had an organic look and feel to it, like she wasn’t inside a ship at all, but a living creature.

She couldn’t move a muscle. The gravity binders kept her arms fixed to her sides and her legs clamped together. All Llannaeia could do was stand there. The minutes and hours seemed to seep into one another. Her discomfort grew by the second. It didn’t take long for her muscles to start aching, and, with no way to relieve them, the pain would only get worse. It worked its way into her joints and then into the bones themselves, like a virus spreading through its host. How much longer would she be expected to stand like this? It was torture. Every inch of her ached and, on top of that, she really needed to piss.

The crew of the Rimor offered no resistance to the boarders who nevertheless took no chances when dealing with the aliens in their midst. Before the door had fully opened, Llannaeia and everyone else on the bridge were hit by some kind of energy that rendered them paralyzed. One moment she was standing and, the next, she was looking at the ceiling, her limps not responding to her attempts to move them. Only then did she manage to get a decent look at their capturers. They never spoke as they applied restraints to their prizes though Llannaeia was sure she heard the odd click and grunt. They were human-shaped though much taller and dressed head to foot in black, faces hidden. The paralysis left her unable to speak, or even breathe. As she worried that she was about to suffocate, one of the boarders knelt over Llannaeia and appeared to look her in the eye before forcing a tube down her throat and fitting some kind of breathing mask to her face. She had so many questions though something told her she wouldn’t get any answers, even if she were able to ask them.

An odd feeling came over Llannaeia after the binders were fitted. The weight of her body seemed to vanish, as if she’d been sucked out into the vacuum. The ceiling got a little closer. She realized she was floating. There was nothing to do but wait as she drifted through the ship with the others, the boarders strolling alongside them. They didn’t appear to be armed.

They would be kept in this state all the way to one of the three ships that intercepted them. The boarders said nothing nor provided any indication of what was to be done with them. The paralysis seemed to wear off once she was brought to her cell. Llannaeia was able to breathe of her own accord again though movement was impossible thanks to the binders. They stood her up in the middle of the cell before removing the mask and pulling the tube from her throat, which made her gag a little. She was then left with only her thoughts for company, as if things weren’t bad enough already.

Llannaeia spent much of the time contemplating their captors’ reasons for keeping them alive. The fact they were still breathing suggested they weren’t going to kill them, just yet at least although that didn’t mean their intentions weren’t sinister. Torture? Experiments? She wasn’t sure which was worse. In either case, Llannaeia took comfort in the fact she probably wouldn’t be alive for much longer. She’d grown tired of her measly little existence. She’d already killed everything good in her life. There was nothing left in this universe for her.

She was distracted from her self-loathing by the opening of the door. The flaps made a sickening fleshy sound that gave Llannaeia a shiver. In the gloominess of the corridor, she could just make out the outline of one of the creatures that took her and her comrades captive, shape embossed against the darkness. It seemed to stare at her before stepping into the room, the door making the same stomach-churning sound as it closed again.

It was only the second time she’d gotten a good look at a member of the reclusive species though Llannaeia couldn’t help but be disappointed. She’d wondered if the beings that took them from the Rimor were merely thralls meant for doing the heavy-lifting but now it was starting to seem that all the outlandish rumours of what the Aq Quhn Ran Asten looked like were false. There were all kinds of stories floating around from so-called “adventurers” who claimed to have had run-ins with them, some claiming them to be giant tentacled monsters, others describing them as tiny white fur balls or jelly-like blobs with no bones. The being before her was humanoid in shape, with a muscular torso, two strong-looking arms and even stronger-looking legs, a thick neck, and a big head. Everything else was obscured beneath a black one-piece suit that bore no markings or decorations or any other indicators of rank or vocation. The helmet didn’t even have eyeholes.

The creature approached until it was barely a foot away. It towered over Llannaeia, easily twice her size. The material covering its face then seemed to change state, rippling like the surface of a lake before peeling away to the reveal what lay beneath. The body may have looked human, but the face was anything but. It had dark brown skin that was all rough and bumpy, and three pairs of eyes, one large set near the centre and a smaller set on each side, all as orange as the sun. The main eyes seemed to have three pupils each. Beneath was a row of holes that might have been nostrils and at the bottom, barely above the chin, an ovular opening that seemed to be a mouth. It hung open, revealing rows of sharp teeth that stretched all the way to the back of the throat. It also appeared to have two tongues. Something about the way it looked at her made Llannaeia think of how a small child would look upon something it couldn’t understand, like it was trying to figure out what she was. She’d been frightened at first but, as the silence continued, the atmosphere became more awkward than intimidating.

“I’d appreciate it if we could get this over with as quickly as possible. I’m kinda bored here”.

Silent, the creature reached out and engulfed her head with its hand. Another strange feeling came over Llannaeia. Her head felt heavy, as if encased in concrete. She heard a low buzzing that seemed not to come from her ears but from within. The creature let go and stepped away again, the feeling having vanished along with the buzzing. Llannaeia only stared at the thing, very much confused.

“I am Hakalaravuna”. Llannaeia might have jumped out of her skin could she move. All she could manage was a slight shudder. Like the buzzing, the voice seemed to come from inside her.

“What the fuck was that”?

“What are you doing here”? the voice demanded. “Why do you come here”?

Llannaeia guessed she wouldn’t get an answer to her question. “We came to meet your leader”.

The alien loomed, forcing her to crane her neck to meet its eyes. “Why”?

“That’s between my leader and yours”. Her reply seemed to anger the creature. It let out a growl that Llannaeia heard with her own ears and sprayed her face with a wet substance from its gaping mouth. “Nice. Do you mind backing up a bit? This is getting pretty uncomfortable”.

The alien gave a snort and stepped away. It started circling her. Round and round it went, surveying her with its inhuman eyes. Llananeia felt its glare upon her even when she couldn’t see it. She didn’t like it when people looked at her. It made her feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, even if the eyes belonged to a creature that couldn’t possibly feel anything for her, let alone physical attraction.

“Where did you come from”? Llannaeia didn’t answer, having decided to say no more than she already had. She had no reason to trust this thing. It could be a pirate vessel she was aboard for all she knew. She wasn’t even sure if it was an actual Aq Quhn Ran Asten she was speaking to. The creature repeated its question but she stayed quiet. It stopped in front of her and put its face close to her own. “Your kind are forbidden from entering our space”, the voice hissed, its owner losing its patience. “Your presence here defiles the sacred grounds of Aq”.

“Then why not just kill us”?

Surprisingly, the creature hesitated. “The commander of this vessel ordered that you be brought aboard unharmed”. Llannaeia detected disappointment. “Were it my decision, you and your crew would be dead by now”. It stepped away again.

“Remind me to thank him later”. Llannaeia kept up her cheek. To her, it was better to die laughing than begging and crying like she was sure some of the others were doing right now. “So, how did you detect us”?

The creature sneered. “Your kind all think you are so clever, that you know everything”. Its mouth contorted into something resembling a smile. “But you are mistake. Your technology is primitive. We knew of your presence from the moment you entered our domain”.

That seemed right. They turned up far too quick to have merely stumbled upon them. “So what happens now? You gonna torture me? Or do you want us for some fucked up experiments”?

“If you will not tell me what I want to know then I will force it from you”.

“Force it all you want. It won’t get you anywhere”. Her interrogator could have threatened her with all the pain in the universe and it wouldn’t make a difference. She’d felt it all already.

The alien started circling again. “It makes no difference. One of you will tell us what we want to know”.

“Just take us to your leader. Then you’ll find out everything”.

Another sneer. “This is far more enjoyable. And your kind will never set foot on the Mother World. The Emperor would have our heads for bringing you anywhere near it. Such a thing would be the ultimate insult to our lords”.

Llannaeia couldn’t help but laugh. Religion was the refuge of morons as far as she was concerned. It amused her that such an “advanced” species could put such stock in fairy tales. “Your lords don’t give a shit who sets foot on your homeworld”.

The creature made a low growl. “You presume to know the will of our lords”.

“I don’t need to know their will. I know they don’t exist”.

Her interrogator shot across the cell with a roar so loud it might have burst her eardrums. It was quick for its size. In the blink of an eye, it was standing over her with a massive hand wrapped around her throat. Llannaeia felt her feet leave the floor and then was staring into a pair of orange eyes an inch from her own. “You dare to refute the faith of my kind”?! A crazed scream echoed through her skull. “You primitives could not possibly understand that which gave us life and entrusted us with their mantel! I should kill you now for this insult”!

Llannaeia felt the grip tighten, but was still defiant. “Go ahead”.

The creature snarled, launching more spit onto her face. “You savages. So primitive and ignorant and yet so arrogant. You poison and pollute all that you touch. Your kind defiles this universe and claims it as your own but there is so much you do not understand and can never understand. You are but insects scurrying around in the dirt and we are the gods that look down upon you, just as our lords made us. We were chosen, not you”!

Llannaeia couldn’t even struggle; the binds held her body rigid. She could only hang there in the unbreakable grip, listening to the deranged voice screaming at her from within. It blocked out everything, every thought and feeling. Her vision started to blur. “Your gods are false, human. Mine await me, but there is nothing waiting for you”.

The grotesque face started to fade and Llannaeia felt her body relax. She knew nothing was waiting for her though the thought didn’t frighten her. At least she’d have the peace she’d dreamt of for so long. Many nights had been spent staring at the ceiling, wondering how the end would feel and what lay afterward, the thoughts of which never failed to provide comfort. No thoughts or feelings, no memories or attachments, just never-ending peace and quiet. She’d never understood why people feared death.

Her final thought was of Iona. The only thing she regretted was that she would never see her again, and never get to apologize for everything she’d said and done. It then dawned on Llannaeia; she wouldn’t even know she was dead. She’d just disappear, a distant memory to a sister who would spend the rest of her days believing she hated her. Tears escaped her eyes as the last vestiges of consciousness slipped away.

The next Llannaeia knew she was lying on her side. The grip at her throat had vanished. The voice was nowhere to be heard. She drew in as much air as she could, and her vision started to clear. The creature, Hakal… whatever, was still there but no longer paying attention to her. From where she lay, she could only see its feet, along with a second pair, another of the creatures having entered the cell. They were talking, or arguing it seemed, though Llannaeia couldn’t understand any of what they were saying. They spoke with their own voices, their language an incomprehensible mess of clicks, grunts, and roars.

She could do nothing but rest her head on the soft but firm floor and listen to the aliens continue their heated exchange. She soon realized how close she’d come to the end. It had probably been at the very last moment that she was rescued. Llannaeia wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or disappointed. She didn’t know what to feel, relieved she wasn’t dead or angry that she’d been robbed of her chance at peace? She’d thought she wanted to die but, when the moment finally came, she didn’t know what she wanted.

The aliens argued for some time, only occasionally glancing over at her motionless on the floor. The other one, her saviour it seemed, was dressed exactly the same as the one that tried to kill her, face hidden as it screeched at its colleague. It, too, wore no symbols or ranks or marks. Llannaeia wondered how they told each other apart. After much roaring and howling, the pair went quiet. The one with its face exposed returned to her and knelt.

“You are lucky this time, infidel”, the voice snarled. “But I will get what I want from you and then you will be punished for your blasphemy”. It returned to its full height and made its way to the door.

“Looking forward to it”, Llannaeia replied, still struggling to fill her lungs. “Nice name by the way”.

The creature ignored her and left with its colleague, the door making the awful sound once more. Llannaeia was left alone again, unable to move an inch. She had no idea what happened but, judging from the other one’s intervention, they were indeed wanted alive. That meant even more waiting. It was like the universe was toying with her now, waving the thing she wanted more than anything else in front of her face only to snatch it away at the last second. That was just typical. Llannaeia sighed. She found her predicament more annoying than anything else. The boredom was maddening, and, with nothing to distract her, the aches and pains soon returned. Whatever they had planned for her, be it torture, or experiments, or death, she wished they would just get on with it. There was one thing she could be grateful for; she no longer needed to piss.

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