When the Stars Were Wrong Wendy Nikel
The creature hid in the universe’s shadows, and if we’d known that the Andromeda XI would cross its path, we’d have avoided that quadrant entirely. Or maybe not. Maybe we did know.
I don’t recall.
The log doesn’t indicate any intention of approaching the cosmic being, though the man called Tyrol suspects the records aren’t entirely accurate. Our other crew member (Vivian, the patch on her suit says) has only rocked and spoken frantic gibberish since the creature enveloped us in its long, curling appendages, fracturing our fragile memories.
Tyrol pores over our records, his stubbly chin jutting out in concentration, madly circling words and phrases he doesn’t think he’s written. I stand beside him, staring blankly out the window at the being’s giant, darting eye. Or at least I assume that’s what it is. It’s an orb of concentric circles that jerks about, mirroring my movements. Each circle grows incrementally, hypnotically smaller—a Fibonacci sequence tethered to an eyestalk.
“It says we were investigating an asteroid giving off a strange frequency . . . why can’t I remember?” Tyrol’s pen hovers over the letters, hesitant. He glances at my patch. “Nadia, do you recall how long we’ve been out here? How far we are from—”
From what? That’s the real question, for though some sense of logic or instinct tells us we’d been on a journey to somewhere (or from somewhere) neither of us can remember where. Does it even matter, now that our ship is ensnared in some massive being’s clutches and our computers are dim and unresponsive?
I don’t answer. It’s hopeless.
The ship shudders, and instinctively, I reach out to steady myself. A flash of something on my wrist catches my eye, awakens something in me. A memory? A clue? I ease my bulky sleeve back to expose the tattoo.
Something heavy hits the ship. My heart slams into my rib cage. Prisoner? Of what? And why? What exactly have I forgotten?
“I’ll search the storage compartments,” I tell Tyrol, and at his look of surprise, I quickly add, “for clues.” I’m not ready yet to tell him what I found: not sure what he’d do or if I should trust him. Or if he should trust me.
The longer I search, the stronger my unease and the more persistent the creature’s battering upon the hull. There’s no escape pod, but that’s not all that’s missing. The compartments are fake—Medical Supplies and Food, Lab Equipment and Tools—nothing but squares of plastic fused to the ship’s walls. If it even is a ship.
The monster’s eye stalk follows me, floating from window to window, circling the orb of our prison. I can’t shake the sense that it’s angry. That it doesn’t want me to discover these things. It doesn’t want me to remember.
As we stare each another down, its strangely globed eye reflects the red letters of the ship’s name from the hull, backward in the reflection but still decipherable: Andromeda XI.
The name strikes a chord. Though I still don’t know how we got here, I remember the origin of the name, the myth that goes with it. I rush to the window, and there, beyond the eyestalk, is a tether holding us to the asteroid. Trapping us here like the mythological princess awaiting Cetus’s wrath. A sacrifice to an angry god.
Ignoring Tyrol’s protests, I pry off the control console’s cover, but it’s empty, bare of wires or circuits. I begin to piece things together. My breath comes fast. Sweat tickles my neck. Apprehension crumbles into panic.
The hull of the ship—no, prison—groans with the sound of bending metal. The creature knows that I know. I can feel it worming through my mind, trying to rework the lies and lull me into complacency, again, but I resist, muttering, “Andromeda.”
I may not know who sent us here (an enemy? a government? a vengeful alien race?). I may not know if we deserve this. I may not be able to save us from our fate, but I won’t sit by and do nothing. The creature’s exterior is tough enough to withstand the vacuum of space, but maybe . . . maybe, I can ensure it dies with us, that no more prisoners—no more Andromedas—are sent here again.
“Nadia!” Tyrol reaches out over the sound of Vivian’s screams, over the snapping of aluminum bits as I yank panels from the wall, searching for the oxygen tanks and electrical wiring that provide us our limited air and light. The end is coming by tooth or claw or stomach acid, and as I find what I’m searching for, the creature keens and pushes us inside, enveloping us in utter darkness as the walls crumple around me.
My mind splinters. Plots, strategies, plans die half-realized, lost between broken synapses, disappearing like the stars. I grasp at my fragmented ideas, fumbling for meaning. Andromeda. It’s the small things that I can cling to.
The ink on Tyrol’s wrist, matching my own.
The pink, fleshy throat tissue, contracting outside the cracking glass of a window.
The valve on the oxygen tank, open and leaking.
The wires connecting, igniting a spark.
And my final thought as the universe bursts wide open: the ship’s name on my patch.
Andromeda, taking her revenge.
Originally published in Ride the Star Wind anthology from Broken Eye Books (Sept 2017). Reprinted here by permission of the author.
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