Tales from Space Short Story Contest - On Now!

Tales from Space Short Story Contest - On Now!

Forgotten in Space, Astronauts Find Dubious Friends

Our next alien artifact story is about a pair of early colonists that find themselves off course

Pre-GAGA Alliance 2025

First Mission to establish a colony on Chiron

By Virginia Carraway Stark

She was sleeping. She was always sleeping but the thudding was dull and insistent and woke her from her dreams. She rolled over and nudged her husband, “Eric, wake up, do you hear that?”

Eric woke up, his large, dark eyes groggy with the same sleep that held her. They had reduced O2 levels in their small ship a week ago now. That was when they had first realized that they were off course. NASA had been putting husband and wife teams together for the longer explorations ever since Natalie and Ed Osmond had made history as the first people to live on Mars for a year in 2018 after they were selected and sponsored by Elon Musk to prove humans could live on another planet without any help from earth. The breakthrough technology had come with 3D printers that could print up entire habitats for humans using the resources on the planet.

The husband and wife combos were potent and useful because the dynamic between them was already known and sexual tensions were a non-sequitor. Any married couple regardless of sex was eligible to apply to one of the public programs through NASA or through the majority of private programs. Lana and Eric were supposed to be the first couple to colonize Chiron, the moon of Pluto. The 3D printer had been sent almost a year earlier and it had successfully deployed and began to happily set about fulfilling the specifications for what amounted to a human terrarium: all it needed was the humans.

Eric rubbed the sleep from his eyes, they were crusty from the lack of fresh air and the days of sleep. They had both been taking anti-anxiety medication as well, a little xanax went a long ways when you realized that your supplies might not take you through your course correction. A week off target in space is a long ways.

“I hear, it, what is it?”

“I don’t know, I dreamed we were on houseboat and we were bumping up against a pier, doesn’t it sound like that?” Lana clutched Eric and curled up on his chest. He stroked her hair and then sat up abruptly and started getting dressed.

“I’m going see if I can get a look at it through one of the ports. If I can’t, I’m going to suit up and try to get a look at it, do you think you can wake up enough to monitor me?”

“I might have to freshen the air a bit in here.”

Eric glanced at the gauges. He peered closer at the O2 levels and tapped the gauge as though that might improve the amount the high tech sensors measured, “Might as well, I’m tired of sleeping away what time we have left.”

“We aren’t going to make it, are we?” Lana lie back on the bed. This was so pointless. She wished she had slept through the bumping noise. She wished she was back on that houseboat, Eric grilling up some salmon on the barbecue, a cooler in her hand and a beer in his. The kids had still been kids, not grown up kids off in university. She shook her head, she was confused, staying on earth wouldn’t give her back a month of summer vacation that was a decade gone.

“We might still make it, it won’t do us much good though if our brains are so starved for oxygen that we brain damage ourselves,”

“That could really happen?” Lana glanced to the left guiltily, her confusion becoming yet more ominous.

“It’s a danger alright. Flush the air while I suite up, that way we can both enjoy a breath of fresh air before I head out.”

Lana forced herself out of bed. The ship was hot and they were both sleeping in undershirts and underwear. Cooling the engines was another expense that they were cutting down on and on top of the tiredness they were also both sticky with sweat. She hit the refresh button on the console, monitoring the levels carefully to make sure that it didn’t recirculate a minute more than was necessary. Every oxygen molecule was necessary at this point. The cool, fresh air woke them both up and Lana felt her mind sharpen and her reflexes improve. Her interest in her environment perked up as well and she peered out of the windows to try to get a look at whatever was bumping into them. Eric was wearing half his suit and tearing into a space burger meal and fries. She felt some of the despair that had filled her evaporate along with the carbon dioxide that had built up in the cabin with them.

“You want some?” He asked with his mouth full.

Lana realized that she was absolutely starving. Her metabolism was kicking in again along with her will to live, “God yes.”

He tossed her one of the foil wrapped packages. She ripped open the seal and the smell of hot hamburger hit her instantly. She tried to eat at a slow speed but she didn’t try as hard as she knew she should. Food was another resource they had been saving, all the sleeping helped with their food and water levels and it was really air that was the main concern. They would just fall asleep and not wake up one of these times and their little capsule would drift out into the blackness. One more piece of space debris in the infinite void around them.

“We’re too far out for it to be space junk, aren’t we?” Lana asked.

“Well, it’s unlikely, sure, but I can’t think of what else it could be. We’ve put out a lot of space junk, maybe some of it floated this far out. Stranger things have happened.” He smiled and winked at her. Lana could tell that despite their situation, Eric was more interested in solving this new mystery than anything else. His eyes sparkled and she smiled back. He could still make her heart quicken with the mischief in his eyes after all these years.

She was helping him with the seal on his helmet when they heard a delicate tapping noise on the door to the air lock. The couple froze in mutual surprise. The sound came again, four taps, a distinct sound of someone knocking at their door. Lana tried the port windows and the outside cameras again and this time in one of the cameras near the air lock she thought she could see the edge of something, it looked like it might have been a suction cup attached to the side of their ship.

Eric stepped into the air lock.

Lana ran the few steps to him before the door could seal, “Eric, I don’t think it’s junk, I think it’s something… something operational. It might be attached to the ship.”

Her concerned green eyes met his brown eyes that were lit up with the adventure, “Then I guess I better see what they want.”

The cameras hadn’t been working very well since they had gone past Jupiter. Lana was pretty sure that they had hit some radiation or taken a solar flare hit because since then the image was spotty and fuzzy. The same thing had probably been responsible for the miscalculation that had sent the off course and for the completely dead communication channel to earth. The equipment was all supposed to be shielded, but this mission was cursed.

Eric hit the ‘magnitize’ button that was a thumb’s flick away inside his glove and his boots adhered to the outside hull of the ship. Their vessel seemed so small on the inside but that was mostly because it was packed to the gills with things that they would require to start the colony up. The interior space of the ship was mostly filled with what were essentially metal closets that attempted to put some order on the various implements, food stuffs, hydroponics equipment and everything else that the best think tanks in the world could come up with for what might be necessary for a couple to put down the groundwork for a colony on Chiron.

Outside, standing magnetized to the pod that he and his wife had trusted their lives to, Eric looked at the blackness around him and wondered what insanity had led him and his wife to agree to this adventure. Not agree to it, plead for it, beg for it, compete for it. They would have done anything to be given this chance to be sent out adrift in space and now that they were here, now that they were lost…

Far off Eric saw the dim, cold light of Sol. He was still brighter than any other star but he was a star now, not a sun, not a source of life. He wondered if they could calculate how much they had drifted and correct in time to make it to Chiron after all. He thought the answer to that was ‘highly unlikely’. He stretched his arms, enjoying having the space to stretch his sockets out properly and stared at the distant light of Sol. At least for the moment he had all the oxygen he could ask for.

Guiltily he started searching for the source of the bumping noise that had woken them from their death slumber. Those moments of air might make all the difference between life and death if they could somehow correct their course. You’re just delaying the inevitable, you’re too far off course. Even if Earth sent a rescue mission, even if Mars sent a rescue mission the second we lost contact they wouldn’t catch up in time to save us. We might as well enjoy the oxygen and have a good time and then let it run out all at once.

The need to live was too strong, maybe, just maybe, they would find a way. Where there is life there is hope.He muttered into his helmet.

It took him awhile to locate the object that was the source of the thumping noise. Part of it was the size of the ship, but he almost overlooked it several times because it was an oily black color that merged easily with the vacuum of space.

The object was about three feet tall and narrow enough for Eric to put his arms around it but it took some prying to get it off the ship. It was no longer hitting against the side of the ship and had adhered to the metal. It was colored a little like an oil slick and it was the slightest bit soft although not malleable. After he pulled it off the ship he inspected the area where it had stuck onto the ship and saw tiny pit marks.

The thing was an awkward size and although it wasn’t very heavy, it was rounded on the top where it narrowed and then flared outward at the bottom into rivulets. There wasn’t anywhere sound to grab on to it and he knew that if the thing left his fingers there would be no way to get it back. Eric kept a tight grip on it, as tight as he could with his gloves and made his way back to the airlock.

Bringing it back into the ship it was larger than it had seemed on the hull and Eric and Lana looked at it warily.

“What is it?” She asked.

“I don’t know. It was attached to the ship, I had to pry it off.”

“Do you think it’s alive?” Lana asked, she was biting her fingernails, a habit she managed to largely avoid.

Eric was still unsuiting and he hadn’t had a chance to look at it on firm ground so he just shrugged. Lana examined it and found as Eric had that while it was firm, there was some softness to it that made it seem like high quality plastic, almost malleable but not quite. The blackness of it was absolute except for the rainbow oil slick colors that moved hypnogogically across it’s surface. Lana looked at it this way and that, trying to see if the colors were really moving or if it was just a trick of the light. She waited until Eric had his suit off to turn off the light, the colors could be seen even with the light off and there was no mistaking the movement of the oily colors. It reminded Lana of a lava lamp.

She picked it up to get an idea of its weight and found to her alarm that it adhered to her skin quickly. She tried to drop it and the black material folded over her hand, enveloping them. She called out, “Eric! You better come here!”

He had been putting away his suit but he came sprinting as quickly as he could in the confined space, “Shit!”

“Hell yes, shit!” Lana screamed. “Help me!”

Eric ran back to the closet and grabbed his gloves and took a few extra seconds to put them on and tug at the object. The material had been gently warm against her skin despite having been in the cold of space recently but now it started to heat up and the more Eric tugged at it the more it heated up until it became unbearable.

“Stop! Stop! It’s burning me!”

Eric dropped his gloved hands away from the object and the heat eased. After he stopped pulling the temperature decreased until it was tepid once more.

“What did you do?” Eric asked.

“I didn’t do anything! I was looking at it and it ate my hands!”

“Does it hurt?”

“No, not now,” Lana said a tad grudgingly. The feeling of it wasn’t that unpleasant but the appearance of the black enveloping her hands was terrifying.

“What happens if you try to pry it off with your feet?” He asked.

Lana tried but at the slightest increase of heat she stopped in alarm. The two of them tried to gently wiggle it off of her and she found that while she could reposition her hands that getting them free of the blobby mass was impossible.

They both waited anxiously to see if anything else would happen but as the fresh oxygen exhausted itself the couple became tired and decided that blob or no blob they would have to get some sleep. Eric was secretly hoping that if Lana fell asleep whatever had reacted with her biological matter might fall way. Lana was hoping she wouldn’t wake up enveloped in the blobby mass.

It didn’t take Eric long to fall asleep, between his increased physical activity and the increase and then decrease in oxygen he was exhausted. Lana took a bit longer. It was hard to find a comfortable place to sleep and the fear of what was on her kept jarring her awake.

She fell asleep after awhile, lulled by the low levels of air and Eric’s snoring. As soon as her conscious mind fell into a sleep state she saw a face appear in front of her eyes. It was grey and wrinkled and had enormous black eyes that jutted out of the side of its head. Her first response was repulsion and fear.

It barely had a mouth but the small orifice crinkled in what could only be called a smile and its eyes followed in a crinkle as well. She tentatively smiled back.

Hello, Human, you are far from home.

“We are- we got lost,”

The alien cocked his head and made a cooing clicking sound that Lana took to mean he was concerned for her.

Where were you trying to go?

“Chiron, it’s…”

One of Pluto’s moons. He finished for her. He was still smiling. Lana thought that she was probably being xenophobic but his smile was nearly as unnerving as his tendency to speak directly into her head rather than to use his tiny mouth.

Why were you going there? So far from home? And who is we?

“My husband and I-”

Ah, I see, you were starting a colony like the ones you humans have started on the moon and Mars. Did you know there is a floating one one Venus now?

“No, we haven’t heard anything from earth for years now.”

I see… so perhaps my appearance to you is more of a surprise for you than I imagined His marginal smile broadened nearly imperceptibly.

“Yes, what do you mean by that?”

We have formed an alliance with your planet of Earth. Perhaps we could be of assistance to you and your husband in your time of trial.

“You could? Are you close?” Lana asked, her heart leaping.

Your solar system is all close to us, we have superior technology from your own. He attempted another smile at her. Not that you aren’t doing very well on your own, but an entente at this time may be beneficial for you. Since we are already allies it would only be us doing a small favor for someone who is already a friend.

“Please! Yes, send help!” Lana couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Fear not, I will see to it myself. You have pulled one of our beacons on board your ship, it will be easy for us to find you.

With that the vision of the face was gone. Lana had a dozen questions, the biggest one being how long ‘soon’ would be. Could the stranger have any idea how dire their straits were? She realized retroactively that the being hadn’t introduced himself and that she didn’t know anything about him or the alliance he spoke of.

She woke up several hours later and her hands were no longer encased in the black substance. Her hands looked white and pale as though she had been out in the cold and her blood vessels had constricted. They were very cold and she felt like she had run a marathon.

“Eric, wake up, I think I talked to someone,” She said, shaking him awake. He hissed at the chill of her hands and grunted. “I mean it, I think we’re going to be saved.”

He grudgingly woke up, “Talked to who?”

“An alien, one of those gray ones they have in movies all the time. He said that what we had found was a beacon and that while we had been gone they had formed an alliance with earth and that they would send us help.”

Eric thought this over, something about it didn’t ring true to him. He inspected Lana’s hands and they discussed every aspect of her encounter and decided that it was likely not a dream or wishful thinking. Lana was blissfully happy and spent her awake time staring out the small windows and waiting for help. Eric was concerned by the lack of details Lana had received and considered putting his own hands onto the beacon to get more information but feared it at the same time. He decided to wait another day and if help didn’t come he would see if the beacon latched onto him and if he could find out a bit more information about their supposed rescuers.

When another day passed Eric waited until Lana had fallen asleep and then grabbed the beacon with both hands. He felt a prickling sensation as his palms adhered to the blob and then the liquid black covered his hands the way Lana’s had been covered. He tried to reach out with his mind to the mind that Lana had spoken to but came up with nothing.

After awhile he let himself fall asleep and hoped that if it only worked when they were sleeping that he would be able to remember all of his questions and get some answers. He saw the same face that Lana had described and felt a shiver go up his spine and his balls shrivelled at the cold, dead eyes that regarded him.

“Hi, my name is Eric Diaz, I think you talked to my wife, Lana. We have your beacon?” He asked, his voice was high and nervous.

Yes, we have sent you assistance. You’re welcome.

“Um, thank you. Thank you very much,” Eric’s throat was dry but he stuck to his questions as best he could. “Do you know how long the help will be? We don’t have a lot of oxygen and we need it to, um, well to live.”

The look the being gave him could best be described in human terms as, ‘he cocked an eyebrow’, Yes, we know. Help will be there within a day or two. The beacon you found is a very old one or I could tell you to the second how long the rescue will be. We are scouring the area for you and your wife as we speak.

“That’s great! Lana said you had formed an alliance with earth but we know nothing about you, what are you called? Where are you from?”

We are called the Maitre and we are from many places.

Eric started to ask another question but the Maitre interrupted him, I’m sure you have many questions, we will be happy to answer them when we have you safely to your new home on Chiron and as we travel there, in the meantime, rest and save your remaining air. You may still need it.

Eric could have sworn that he caught a slightly smug edge to the Maitre’s last comment but the face disappeared and he woke up to see the black retreating from his hands. His normally brown hands were as white as Lana’s had been and cold as ice. He watched as the color very slowly returned to them and rubbed them under his armpits to warm them. The black glob was slightly warmer than room temperature, he couldn’t understand why his hands were so cold.

He didn’t wake Lana up but crawled back into bed with her and set the oxygen as low as he safely could. The promise of rescue was enough to make him glad for the rationing they had already done and even more prepared to go without while they waited for rescue. They could sleep for the next few days, he only hoped that the Maitre was right in his guess for how long it would take to rescue them. It was hard to trust anything that emenated from those black eyes.

They didn’t know how long they slept but they woke up to the sound of the air lock opening and looked out the portholes to see a much larger ship than their own close beside their own. It was charcoal gray and a smooth and slick as a race car.

They were both groggy from lack of oxygen and the entrance of the Maitre was all the more dramatic. They were only four feet tall and crumpled and wrinkled even more in person than they had been through communication. They wore rich robes and several of them had grand looking hats in matching red with gold tassels in material that looked like silk. The garb looked almost Asian in origin.

Lana and Eric scrambled to straighten their hair and clothes in front of their impeccable saviors. They both recognized the Maitre that they had spoken to when he removed his hat. He wore the largest hat and had the most elaborate of gowns of them all.

As we have promised, we have come to take you to Chiron.

“Thank you,” Said Lana. “Can, you give us a few minutes to get dressed?”

No need for formalities, we have docked with your vessel. Please, join us on our ship, you will be more comfortable there and we can discuss your mission to Chiron once you have made yourselves more comfortable.

Eric and Lana followed the Maitre through the airlock and onto the ship.

The oxygen levels were much higher than they had grown accustomed to and the ship was warm and humid. The couple was shown to a chamber one of the Maitre’s with fewer tassels and something more like a skullcap than a hat showed them how to operate the shower and order food. All the technology adhered to their hands until it had completed its function although it didn’t cover their entire hands much to both of their hands.

Everything was dark grey or black and unwelcoming. Their bed was shaped a bit like a seashell and the blanket on it was bright red, the only color in the sea of monochrome.

It was clear that the Maitre were in fact much more advanced than they were. Lana and Eric washed themselves and changed into the clothes that had been brought over from their own ship. While they had washed all of their personal items had been transferred into their room. When they walked to the sliding doors the doors didn’t move.

“Do you think we’re locked in?” Lana asked nervously.

“I’m sure we just don’t understand how to open them,” Eric said, lying to them both. He felt like their hosts didn’t want them wandering around their ship but what their reasons were for imprisoning them were as mysterious as the reflecting black of their eyes.

The two explored the room while the Maitre watched them through cameras that kept every angle.

Do you think they’ve been in communication with earth? One of them asked.

No, they have no inkling of what has happened there. If they sent these two they will send more colonists.

They will learn of what has transpired on earth if more come.

It will be too late by then. Chiron Colony will be ours and these two will play their part, they have no choice.

The Maitre nodded wisely to each other and resumed their various tasks. In a few hours they would see the moon of Pluto and the colony that had been started there for two humans. A control group of sorts they could be used to perfect their methods. Certain factions had slipped through their fingers on earth, they would not allow the situation to continue and these two unwitting humans may disclose the missing keys that more wary humans had hidden from the Maitre as soon as they had realized their nature. These two had no leverage and were alone and grateful. Chiron would be the key to Earth’s last defenses against the invasion.

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