“…and as you can see folks, the alien craft is continuing to maintain its current position over the Atlantic Ocean; though I am no expert in such things, I’d say that it seems to be operating on low power—the strange lines running along its surface, which were so brilliant in the void of space, now seem dull and lifeless. The Enigma Project has been attempting to make contact with our visitors since they arrived some two hours ago, but no word has been given on whether these attempts have borne fruit as yet. We now take you live to NASA headquarters in Washington, where our man in the field Terry Voight has managed to get a hold of Doctor Percival Hoffman, head of the Enigma Project—”
ring!” Jack declared, picking up the remote to change the channel. The ten-year old boy wouldn’t be caught dead watching something as dull and adult as the news under ordinary circumstances; all he really cared about here was the aliens. He had been so excited when he’d heard that real, live aliens were coming to Earth, and he could barely contain that excitement as he had waited for them to arrive over the past three days; it would be just like in his games and movies, with lots of action and explosions and everything!
Or so he’d thought at the time. Now Jack found himself incredibly disappointed—their spaceship was cool and all, but all it had done since they got here was just hover over the sea, somewhere so far away that he could only watch it through the TV. They hadn’t even blown up any cities, for crying out loud, or asked anyone to take them to his leader; when were they going to come out of their flying saucer and actually do
Suffice it to say, the boy was swiftly running out of patience; the ship was the only reason he bothered to watch the news right now, and he could care less about what some dull old guy had to say about it. Might as well go back to watching cartoons instead of this gigantic letdown…
“Jack, dinner will be ready in five minutes!” his mother called from the next room over. “Did you do your homework?”
“Yeah,” he lied, rolling his eyes. It was a Saturday; why would any kid do boring old school stuff when they could be watching cartoons or looking at what should have been awesome aliens?
He levelled the remote at the TV and began to change the channel, but before he could do so the news anchor spoke up. “Wait a minute, we have a breaking development,”
he said, his urgent tone making Jack sit up and pay attention. “The alien ship seems to be doing something…”
The view zoomed in on the spaceship, and though the picture was blurry from how high up in the sky it was, Jack could see immediately that the reporter was right; those geometric lines covering the ship were starting to glow with an eerie green light, a light that grew brighter and brighter with every passing second. A strange noise accompanied this lightshow, a throbbing hum that started off quiet and very low but which seemed to rise in volume and pitch as the patterns of green light grew ever more radiant.
Jack stared slack jawed at this display, a grin slowly spreading across his face as he took in the sights and sounds of this strange event. Finally, something cool was happening!
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is incredible!”
the reporter continued, shouting to be heard over the vessel’s building roar. “The craft appears to be powering up, and I don’t know if you can feel this at home, but that noise is almost deafening and I can feel my teeth vibrating in their gums; it is an incredibly unpleasant sensation! We can’t be sure what it’s doing, but—wait…yes, I see! Those four appendages, the ones that look like arms or limbs, they have started to glow as well! Strange lights are forming at their tips, and if you look closely you might be able to see arcs of green electricity crackling along their lengths…”
Flecks of static began to flicker across the screen as he spoke, and Jack frowned as the reporter’s words started to crackle and become indistinct. A faint buzz drew his attention to the living room’s lights, and he blinked in surprise as he saw that something was happening to them as well; the bulbs were starting to flicker on and off as though they were attached to a faulty circuit, and he could smell a faint tang of something that reminded him of burnt wires.
“What are you doing in there, young man?” his mother called from the kitchen. “Are you playing with the circuit breakers again?”
He didn’t answer, too enraptured by what was happening to formulate a response. On the screen, the tips of the spaceship’s arms continued to grow ever brighter, though the increasing amounts of static made it almost impossible to see them. Every electronic device and appliance in the household seemed to be going haywire in response to this, and though he had no way of knowing this his home was not the only one thus affected; as the alien vessel powered up, these disruptive effects spread to every corner of the globe and no one was spared from their grasp.
A great noise like a thunderclap rang out as the screen flared a brilliant white for half a second, and then Jack cried out in alarm as the television suddenly went dead and every single light in the house promptly went out.
And again, his household was not the only one affected; for five seconds, every single electrical or electronic device on the planet shut down without any warning whatsoever. Blackouts swept across major metropolitan areas, and many cities on the night side were plunged into absolute darkness; chaos and pandemonium erupted in the streets, where every lamp and traffic light had gone out, and high above the ground airline passengers shrieked with fear as the engines cut out and their planes slowly began to fall…
Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it ended.
Jack blinked in surprised as the lights and television came back on; on the screen, the spaceship’s appendages had stopped glowing and the geometric patterns had grown dim once more. More to the point, it was now rising higher and higher into the air, and doing so at a rapid pace; in a matter of seconds it was barely visible save as a tiny black dot in the center of the screen, and the boy let out a disappointed sigh as he realized that the aliens were leaving.
“That was a bummer,” he muttered. “Hey, mom, how’s dinner coming?”
No answer came.
“Mom, did you hear me? I asked how dinner’s coming.”
Again, silence greeted his question.
That wasn’t normal; she usually answered him right away. Now that he thought about it, he realized that he had not answered her when she had asked him what he was doing a moment ago; normally she would have come in to check on him, but she hadn’t.
Starting to get a little worried now, Jack got to his feet and left the living room, heading towards the kitchen. The trip took only a few seconds, and when he got there he saw immediately that something was wrong; her pot of soup sat atop the stove, untended—something that she would never do, especially not when the burners were still on. More to the point, though, was a most incongruous sight; his mother’s clothes, shoes and apron lay on the floor in a heap, and all of them were blackened with soot; the thick tang of ozone filled the air, as though a bolt of lightning had struck the kitchen, and faint wisps of green smoke hung over his mother’s abandoned clothes like a shroud.
“…just in; we are getting unconfirmed reports that hundreds, if not thousands of people vanished from their homes and workplaces during the blackout. The missing individuals simply disappeared without explanation, leaving behind nothing but whatever clothes they were wearing at the time to show that they ever existed. Ladies and gentlemen, in light of what just happened and the fact that the alien vessel appears to have left our planet, this reporter deems it entirely possible that they may have been abducted.”
The first thing the young woman noticed as faint glimmerings of awareness slowly returned to her was that she felt wet; every single inch of her body felt as though she were immersed in water, her face and head in particular, but strangely the liquid was not cool. On the contrary, it felt warm to the touch, and though she could feel it flowing into her mouth and through her nostrils, she did not seem to be drowning; it was almost as if she were drinking liquid air, filling her lungs with precious oxygen and a gentle warmth that made her feel calm and at ease with the world.
She realized this was unusual for a number of reasons, but strangely the young woman found it difficult to care about these bizarre circumstances; though she might not have had any idea where she was or how she had gotten there, she nevertheless felt content, safe and secure in the warmth of this life-giving fluid. It was almost like being in her mother’s womb once more…
For some reason she could not shake the notion that this term meant something significant, that it applied to her more directly than in such a vague and objective sense. Was she not a mother? Did she not have a child of her own, who had grown within her in warmth much like this? She struggled to think of her child’s name, but the all-encompassing warmth of this place made it difficult to concentrate, and no matter how she tried the boy’s name would not come. Again, she found that this did not bother her anywhere near as much as she supposed it should have; her cares and worries felt so far away and insignificant in this place, the life-giving fluid and the pleasant sensations it brought the only thing of any importance.
But where was here?
she wondered, a faint sliver of curiosity working its way through the fog of idle contentment. Slowly, her eyelids flickered open, and luminescent red flooded her vision as the fluid rushed into her eyes. They stung with irritation for a moment, and she blinked once or twice in a vain effort to clear them out; realizing that this was pointless, she left her eyes open and allowed them to adjust.
Gradually she began to notice darker patches amidst the faintly-glowing amniotic fluid, patches which slowly resolved into abstract shapes, then complex ones, and the stirrings of mild surprise flitted through her mind as she realized what she was looking at.
Other people filled this womb, swaying gently back and forth like flotsam in the ocean currents, their hair billowing like fronds or tentacles. Every one of them seemed to be sleeping, their expressions masks of absolute calm, and idly she wondered if she was the only one to be awake; they were anchored to the floor and walls of this place, wrapped in flexible tubes of what might have been coral or plant matter that extended all the way up to the shoulders and concealed most of their bodies from view.
The sight reminded her of an episode of an old cartoon she had watched in her youth, where the kids had been swallowed by one of their classmates and gone on a tour of his digestive system; it was like the bit where they were in his small intestine, and the other people here were those…what were they called again? Vickies? Villies?
A vapid smile slowly spread across her face as she remembered the term one of the kids had used. Cactus-things…human cactus-things…
She might have laughed at the silliness of that thought, but her eyelids had grown heavy all of a sudden; she tried to fight their closing, but close they did, and just like that she felt consciousness slipping away…
An unknown span of time later, the young woman snapped awake with a sudden jolt.
The womb-chamber was gone, that much was immediately clear; her skin faintly prickled from the absence of that all-encompassing liquid, and she trembled briefly as shivers wracked her body. Once again she found herself unsure of where she was, what her name was or what had happened to her, and this time a proper sense of alarm and anxiety accompanied that troubling realization. She opened her eyes, but saw nothing; blackness surrounded her, pressing in from all sides, and as she hesitantly lifted up a hand to feel her surroundings she realized she was in a very small room of some sort—there was barely any room to stretch out.
What’s going on?
She wondered, a cold sweat breaking out in response to a burgeoning sense of claustrophobia. Have I been buried alive?
A shockingly loud hiss filled her ears then, causing her to flinch; it almost sounded like gas being vented from something. Then she winced as a ribbon of brilliant white light suddenly flared into existence before her, and the young woman was forced to shield her eyes as it expanded until it seemed to dominate her entire field of vision. The hissing stopped then, and after a moment she cautiously spread her fingers to get a glimpse at the source of that illumination; strangely, however, she found that something translucent seemed to be blocking her eyes.
Frowning, she lowered her hand and quickly squinted to protect her eyes from the harsh radiance. Fortunately, she quickly saw that such a precaution wasn’t necessary; the light had dimmed to tolerable levels, allowing her to take in her surroundings. She seemed to have been lying within an odd tube of some sort, a claustrophobically small cylinder whose insides were completely black, and the ‘ribbon’ she had seen just now must have been its front section splitting open like a pair of doors. Gingerly taking hold of the tube’s edges, she hoisted herself out and had a look around.
Her current location was very strange, to say the least: she stood at the base of a large, egg-shaped chamber, whose smooth walls were an almost eye-searing shade of white. Thin, branching tubes which looked eerily like veins ran along them in complex shapes and patterns, pulsing faintly with soft streamers of blue, green and purple light which flowed from the roof of the chamber some forty feet above into a ring of tubes similar to the one in which she had just awoken. There were twelve of these capsules in all, including her own, and from the outside she could see that they were translucent, allowing her to glimpse what lay inside of them like a very murky two-way mirror.
Curious, she began to approach the closest pod to get a better look at what it contained; but before she had gotten within two feet of the tube, its surface suddenly became opaque and highly reflective—and as she found herself staring into the eyes of her reflection, she let out a surprised gasp.
The twenty-nine year old single mother was clad in a sleek, single-piece outfit made of a material she did not recognize; its legs stopped just above her ankles, leaving her feet completely bare, while the sleeves went no farther than halfway down her biceps. The suit’s fabric was predominantly a dark shade of blue, which made for a striking contrast with her lightly-tanned skin tone, and though it was not exactly form-fitting the garment nevertheless felt lighter than air against her flesh, almost as if it wasn’t there at all. Tiny lines resembling roots and arteries wound their way across its surface, forming intricate traceries of white and cyan that seemed to pulse in tune to the beating of her heart, and a most peculiar symbol lay over her abdomen—a brown circle containing a thick, yellow-green arrow that pointed downwards, both of which were outlined in a red the colour of dried blood.
It was an unpleasant-looking symbol, especially given its location, and the young woman did not like it one bit; it brought to mind some rather unpleasant connotations about whoever (or whatever, rather; this place clearly had not been built with human aesthetics in mind) had put her in this outfit, connotations which made her shudder in revulsion. She began bringing a hand to her abdomen to see if she couldn’t wipe it off, but then she caught sight of her hands and stopped, staring at them in shock.
Those were not the hands she had been born with.
From just before the wrist her skin became glossy and green, almost as if her own hands had been lopped off and the hands of a completely different creature were then grafted onto the stumps, and where five fingers should have been there were only four. Translucent membranes that extended to halfway between her first and second knuckles linked her digits, and as she flipped these alien appendages over in mounting disbelief she saw that a black line ran along the underside of each finger, like some sort of seam.
“What in god’s name?” she breathed.
Scarcely had those four words left her mouth when the chamber came alive with a series of loud hisses; all around her, plumes of white vapour began to spew from the other containers, and even now some of these pods were beginning to crack open. It seemed as though the other occupants of this room were beginning to wake up…