The creature, entity, whatever it was in that strange space that felt both real and unreal, recoiled from Feng’s defenses. Knocked back, it smacked into an orb that had glowed a rather sallow and ugly yellow color, shattering it. It reared up, but the rest of us fell in around Feng, doing our best to help her defend Sara in this strange un-reality.
I didn’t know where I was or what was happening, but I still knew that Sara needed our help. That drive, instinct deeper than any thought, commanded me to do all that I could to keep her safe.
For a moment, the tentacle swelled up. It grew and grew, and even though nothing existed in that void besides ourselves, the broken and fading orbs around us, and this attacker, I felt it grow. It became larger and larger, bigger than any monster on Earth. If this were Earth, surely it would be outside the atmosphere of the planet. It was as if the moon itself, some celestial god, had descended down to crush us beneath his heel.
We couldn’t defend against anything of that size. With just a single twitch, it would annihilate us.
But it didn’t attack.
For a second, it held itself still, as if showing us just how small and puny we were beside it. And then, before we could do anything, throw ourselves at it in one last, suicidal attempt to keep Sara safe-
For another couple of seconds, we were once again alone in the void. I felt the others turn their attention towards me, curious and questioning about what we should do next. I wished that I had an answer for them.
Before I could reveal my ignorance, however, I felt something heavy, pressing down against me. It was like I was faced with a closed garage door, and if I strained my muscles, I could just barely lift it up. Confused, I turned my attention inward, pushed…
…and light, brighter than any light I’d seen before, came burning into my brain.
For a moment, I seriously thought that I’d died. Weren’t people always talking about the bright light at the end of the tunnel? I let go of that garage door I’d been forcing up, however, and the light clicked off.
Make an effort to lift it up. Light came in. Drop it. Light turned off. With each lift of those heavy doors, it felt a little easier, and the brilliance didn’t quite burn my eyes so badly. Finally, with one last heave, I threw it open, and this time held it there.
The light resolved itself into images. Squares, rectangles, cold pressed against my face. Lying there on the ground, reality finally restabilized around my battered mind.
The garage door I’d been lifting had been my eyelids, I realized. It had taken all of that effort to just force open my eyes.
Now, however, control of my body returned to me. Taking a deep breath, I felt my limbs once again come under my control, laboriously lifted myself up from the floor where I’d fallen. I staggered up to my feet, hunched over as I tried to push out the lingering weakness in my limbs, and looked around.
The rest of my team lay scattered around me. For one heart-stopping moment, I feared that they might be dead, but then I saw their chests rising and falling. Still, wanting to be sure, I moved slowly around the room, checking on each of them.
The scientists, however, hadn’t fared so well. They’d also fallen where they had stood, but a glance at their twisted expressions and glazed-over eyes told me that they weren’t going to be waking up any time soon.
“What the bloody hell was that?” Jaspers groaned, rolling himself up into a sitting position and clutching at his head. “It’s like someone just swung a bloody cosh at the back of my head. It’s like waking up after a damn dozen-pub bender.”
“Talk softer,” Corinne growled, also pulling herself up. “Or I’ll find something to throw in your direction.”
Deciding that if my team members were squabbling with each other, they probably weren’t in serious pain or trouble, I turned my attention over to Sara. She had also sat up, and her expression looked confused.
“Are you okay?” I asked softly, forcing my aching legs to crouch beside her.
She nodded, reaching up to rub at her face. “He was here, for a second,” she said softly, looking up with her innocent eyes, right into my face. “My dad. I felt him. I knew it was him.”
I started to open my mouth, to tell Sara that it couldn’t have been her father… but then again, I’d felt strange things, too, hadn’t I? I didn’t know how to explain all of the events of the last… had it been a few minutes? Hours? Maybe even longer?
It all felt almost like a dream. Maybe a nightmare. But all of the details were still crystal clear in my head, not fading like most dreams did after I returned to the waking world.
A minute later, the doors to the control room burst open. We all grabbed clumsily for our weapons as a small figure rushed in.
“Hold it, hold!” I called out a minute later, lowering my hand from where it had flown to my sidearm. “It’s Feng!”
Indeed, I was right. Feng came to a stop, her face contorted into a wince of effort, not even seeming to notice how her sudden arrival had scared the rest of us. “Alive?” she gasped out, looking around at the rest of us.
I breathed out a sigh of relief. “Yeah, we’re all alive in here.” My eyes lingered briefly on the dead scientists. “Well, the team’s alive. Can’t say so much for our hosts.”
“What? Oh, hell.” Jaspers looked around at the white-coated bodies on the periphery of the room. “What the hell happened to them?”
It was an important question, but the bodies weren’t going anywhere. I had another question to ask first. “We all… passed out, I think,” I said, looking around at the rest of my team. “And I had a strange sort of… experience. Something tried to attack me, mentally.”
It only took a glance at the others’ faces to confirm that they’d had the same experience. “So it wasn’t a dream,” Henry whispered. “Sacre bleu, I thought it might have just been me.”
“And this wasn’t some sort of gas attack, messing with our heads?” Corinne tried. “We all saw the same thing?”
Sergei looked over at Feng. “You were very sparkly,” he said, grinning. Feng, to my amazement, looked down at her feet, almost as if she was self-conscious and embarrassed by the compliment!
“But there was more that happened,” I said after a minute. “That thing that attacked us. What was it?”
The answer came, not from us, but from Sara. “That was my dad,” she said softly, not looking up as the rest of us turned to stare at her. “It felt like him.”
The rest of us exchanged glances. “Honey, are you sure?” Corinne finally asked, moving over to kneel next to Sara, placing one hand lightly on the girl’s shoulder. “The… person who attacked us, you thought that it was your father?”
“It was my dad,” Sara rebutted fiercely, defiantly. “He didn’t hurt us. He wanted to talk to me.”
I remembered the tentacle reaching first for Sara, only turning violent when the rest of us interceded on her behalf. It had reared up, about to destroy us all, so powerful – but then, it had stopped. Could that have been because she was there, because it didn’t want to hurt her?
But there’d been the other orbs. I looked around the room, and suddenly, horrified, I realized just what those shattered crystals had represented.
To be continued…