Animal Robotics (Short Story)

Hey guys! I’ve been working on an original story for submission to Artemis Rising by Escape Pod.

This is my first time ever writing Sci-fi, so it was definitely a bit of a challenge for me. I also tried to make it slightly creepy, and I threw in a Cthulhu mythos creature at the end.

I also left it pretty opened ended. Some of my fellow writers liked this, and some didn’t. I decided to leave it as is. The main character certainly isn’t informed on what is going on, and why should she be? (Heck, I don’t even know what’s going on).

I’m not sure if I will extend on this story or not.  Personally I feel as if this is the end of Jess’ story. I’m not sure if that’s because she goes mad, is removed from the planet, or is silenced. I really don’t know.

I may however, write more about this world later, perhaps in the POV of another character.

Anyway, onward to the story! Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think. I’m always looking for ways to improve on my writing, and I enjoy getting feedback.

Animal Robotics

Jess McKinsey gazed out the window as they loaded the last of the baggage onto the ship. She could just see her parents standing back in the viewing corral, waving vigorously. She tried not to snort at their ridiculous excitement.

I hope they don’t forget to feed Mendel, Jess thought wistfully as she pressed a button on her watch, opening up a hologram heads-up-display in her console. She keyed in a few words, bringing up one of the articles she had been reading at breakfast about the impact of space travel on fetal development in bird eggs.

She gazed at the article, trying to find her place, but found she couldn’t concentrate. Okay, so maybe I am a little excited. She grunted and peeked out her window again, seeing that her parents hadn’t lost any energy in the last time she’d looked. Her seat vibrated slightly as the engines rumbled, and Jess leaned back in her seat, preparing for takeoff.

“Not that I don’t have plenty of reasons to not be excited,” she grumbled to herself, thinking back to earlier that morning. She had been having a nice breakfast with Mendel, her cockatiel, reading up on the latest zoology articles, when the morning news had switched over to the Contest.

The Contest had been announced last month, when Xion, a planet capable of sustaining human life, had been discovered. Jess had vaguely remembered hearing about it, mostly from her friends and family. There was a drawing where a few lucky winners would be chosen to live and work on the new planet. Once your name was drawn, you weren’t allowed to back out. Something about needing people from all walks of life.

This is so pointless, she thought to herself, shutting her eyes and waiting for the injection that would knock her out for the rest of the trip. A zookeeper on Xion. What a joke! Inter-galactic travel was incredibly harsh. The trip often took days, sometimes weeks. Humans could only survive the trip sedated, and Jess had heard rumors of severe injuries even with the medication.

She felt a jab in her palm that came from the arm rest, and she flinched as the drug entered her system. I’m going to kill my parents if I ever get back from this alive… She recalled her confusion that morning at hearing her name called during the Contest program. Jess had never entered, being a zookeeper it would have been useless, but they had said her name again, and then her watch had beeped, indicating an incoming call.

“Hi honey!” her mom’s voice had been distinctly cheery.

“What did you do?”

Of course it hadn’t taken long to get the entire story out of them. They had signed her up for the Contest, thinking it a fantastic opportunity for their little girl. What they hadn’t realized was that it was so incredibly, utterly, pointless.

Jess slowly relaxed; the drug working its way through her system. She’d told her parents numerous times but they’d never quite understood why she’d been so against winning her ticket to Xion. They just couldn’t grasp why their daughter wouldn’t be overjoyed at such an amazing opportunity.

It was all plain and simple to her though. She smirked as her thoughts began to fade, the injection finally sending her to sleep.

What good is a zookeeper on a planet that doesn’t have any animals?

 ***

Jess groaned and blinked, waking slowly. Everything hurt, and she grimaced as a cheery voice played into the console. The voice made her headache worse, and she pressed her cool fingers against her throbbing temple. The last time she’d felt this bad she’d been a college freshman just discovering her low tolerance for alcohol.

“Hello and welcome to Xion. You may be feeling some minor pain, as is expected with inter-galactic space travel. Follow the lights to your compartment, where you will be inspected by a physician and be able to pick up your luggage. After that you will be guided to your new living-quarters.”

Jess stood slowly, her legs wobbly and unsteady. Someone must have anticipated that though, for there were rails down the hallway, running the same direction as the lights. Jess held on and walked slowly down the hall. The lights were a dim red, and she found her headache was beginning to recede. The residue from her sleep that fogged her brain was slowly leaving as well, and she found herself feeling more alert. A door loomed up in front of Jess in the darkened hall, and she hesitated. Still, the lights had led her in this direction, so she pushed against it experimentally. It swung open, revealing a medical room. There was a man waiting inside the room, dressed in a white lab coat. He grinned at her, an expression so large it showed off his teeth, and gestured excitedly for her to enter the room. Jess frowned and shuffled forward, taking her seat on the only chair in the room.

“Well now, how are you feeling?” the doctor asked, eyeing a bio-scanner and making a few notes on the touch screen. His expression had dimmed a bit, but he still bounced a little as he walked, as if full of restless energy.

“Ugh.” Jess grunted, giving the happy doctor another look. He grinned at her, teeth flashing, before patting her back in sympathy.

“The trip is always rough the first time around. Let me just take a few of your vitals and you’ll be good to go.” she waited as the doctor measured her pulse, took her blood pressure and recorded her height and weight. He had her do a few exercises too, things like lifting weights and running on a treadmill. Finally, after half an hour or so of the exam, he declared he was done, sending Jess off to the station. There she picked up her luggage, a battered, rough looking bag, and followed the trail of lights off the ship and on to the planet’s surface.

Jess paused as she stepped out into open air. It was all she could do to hold back a gasp. The news broadcasts had said the planet was huge, larger even than Earth, but she still hadn’t expected to notice much of a difference on the surface.

The planet was dusty and red, a dry wasteland of a place, with deep canyons. She couldn’t see many trees, but the few she could make out were very large and far off in the distance. The planet had been scanned, or so the news had said, and while the air was roughly the same makeup as Earth’s, and there was fresh drinking water and large trees, the scanner had found no evidence of animal life.

Jess hefted her pack on to her shoulder, walking forward into the crowd. There had been only twenty names drawn for the contest, and they had wanted people from all walks of life. She looked at the crowd, picking out the rich people, and the homeless. Some people even looked to be from the lower middle class like herself. There didn’t appear to be any scientists in the group, not as far as she could tell. Perhaps they are here already? Or they came up in a separate group? Jess hung near the back of the crowd, not really feeling like joining in as people discussed various careers or backgrounds.

Why am I here? She thought again, uncertain as to how her parents could have been so dumb as to enter her name. She wondered how the animals were doing at the zoo she had left behind. Would they remember to give the wreathed hornbill his meds? What about Jax the maned wolf, who was due for another dewormer? Would anyone remember to give Teddy the tegu his egg treat while she was gone, or to top Alice the gopher tortoise’s salad with orange or red fruits and veggies?

Jess heaved a heavy sigh, resigning herself to her fate, and fiddled with her watch as they waited. Honestly she wasn’t sure what they were all waiting for. Probably some silly orientation like thing. Scuffing one of her sneakers against the ground she tried hard not to fidget.

I hope Mendel won’t be too lonely with me gone. At least I replaced his mirror before I left. That should entertain him for a while. And mom spoils him with millet seeds…

“Attention, attention every one!” a voice called from the front. There was a stage area just off to the left that Jess hadn’t noticed before. She caught sight of a young woman standing up there, and looked on curiously. This girl seemed more of the nerdy, scientist type than one who would do PR or public speeches. Like the doctor before, this woman looked overly happy. Jess frowned, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck prick with unease. “I know you are all excited to be here on Xion,” yeah, right, Jess thought dryly, “and we won’t delay you much longer. Those of you without the new tech-watches will be given one. For those of you who already have them, information will be downloaded directly.” Jess watched as a man made his way through the crowd, handing out sleek watches for those who had been too poor to afford them on Earth. She glanced down at hers and pushed a button. Data lit up in front of her on the HUD as the girl continued talking.

“Your watches will include directions to your living quarters, as well as a schedule. You will be given the chance to settle in your rooms before dinner. Your watch will direct you to the dining hall, and then back to your rooms. In the morning you will report to your various jobs at 0800. We tried to select jobs based on your background on Earth. If you have any problems, just hit the emergency dial button on your watch and someone will be with you to discuss reassignment.

“Remember to have fun here on Xion. This is the chance of a lifetime, as I’m sure many of you know. If you have any problems or questions, don’t hesitate to ask.” The woman paused for a brief moment, and Jess looked up, feeling uneasy again. “We only have one rule here on Xion, and violation of that rule will result in a strict and harsh punishment. You must never, under any circumstances, leave the boundary of the compound.”

“Alright then,” said the girl, and Jess frowned at the girl’s beaming expression. “Congratulations on your win, and welcome to Xion!” The large doors in front of the group swung open in a slow but steady arch. After a brief moment, the crowd began moving forward. Jess followed them, pulling up the directions on her watch, and wondering what her job would be here on this planet.

She found her room easily enough, and settled in, happy to find that everything from the temperature to the lights was voice-controlled. She hadn’t been able to afford something like this back on Earth, but her parents had surprised her with the micro-computer for her birthday. It was a luxury she had come to enjoy.

Dinner was well enough. Jess discovered she could have food ordered to her room, instead of heading to the dining hall, so she spent her evening sitting in bed, reading over some of the newest studies in the zoology field. Everything was about animals and space now, there wasn’t much left about animals on earth that science hadn’t already answered.

Her thoughts turning once again to home, Jess finally allowed herself to drift off to sleep.

 ***

Jess awoke at 0700. After a quick shower and breakfast she found herself heading to her job early. She wasn’t sure what the day would bring, but she was curious as to what her job assignment could possibly be.

Her directions led her to a small shuttle that flew her further into the development, away from her room on the outskirts. Jess looked out the window in awe. It was only a month ago that Xion had been discovered, but there had been rapid progress on developing the land, and the building of a small city. Already most of the ground as far as she could see was covered in buildings. Jess assumed that most of the buildings were for scientific research; running constant tests on the trees, soil and water. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of housing yet, just a few small bunkers like her own that she was able to spot from the air.

The small shuttle came to rest beside a large warehouse building. Jess stepped out carefully, and headed for the door. She couldn’t be sure what she was supposed to be doing here, but it must be some sort of manual labor. As long as they don’t stick me with chemists, she thought to herself. I’m not sure how much my biology background will help with soil samples.

She reached out to open a door, and a small chirp came from inside. Jess hesitated, and then pulled the door open; coming face to face with the most curious looking robot she had ever seen. She stumbled back, and blinked, her mind trying to make sense of what she was seeing.

It was made to look like some sort of animal; that Jess could tell instantly. It’s was about the size of a gray wolf, though it looked more like it was part hawk and part cat. Its metallic head was bird shaped, with a sharp beak like a raptor would have. It had two moveable ears on the top of its head, long and pointed like a wolf or maybe a fox. The robot’s forelegs were bird-like; its toes ending in sharp talons, and his hind quarters were feline, complete with paws and tail. The robot’s most impressive feature sprouted from its back in the form of large bird-like wings.

The robot, as far as she could tell, was modeled after a gryphon. Jess watched as the metal creature trilled again. It stepped forward and nuzzled its beak into her hand. She took a step back, eyeing the robot warily. It came towards her again, placing its head just under her hand. She scratched its head awkwardly for a moment, and the robot gryphon trilled happily, its tail wagging like a dog’s would. Jess let a small smile creep out, as she scratched the gryphon’s head again, before pushing past the robot and into the building. The gryphon followed closely behind her.

She paused, as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light of the building. She blinked a few times, and inhaled sharply at the sight before her.

There were other robots in the building, all of which appeared to be based off of Earth animals, with the exception of the gryphon. There were large horses, birds, squirrels, cats, dogs and more. Jess felt her jaw drop in shock as she looked around.

“So, what do you think?”

Jess looked up to see a young girl about her age, standing just off to the side and smiling. She gaped at the girl, unable to get words out of her mouth.

“Not quite the same as real animals, but these guys are a lot smarter, and they can do tasks you couldn’t ask of a typical animal.” Jess closed her mouth and nodded. She flinched as something cold bumped against her hand again. She glanced down to see the gryphon robot looking up at her with the most realistic puppy-dog eyes she’d ever seen.

“Looks like Roc likes you,” the girl said to her with a giggle, before offering her hand. “I’m Sandy.” Jess reached out and shook the other girl’s hand. Sandy’s hand was cool, but her grip was strong.

“I’m Jess. “

“Nice to meet you.” Sandy said with a grin. “I can show you around a bit if you want, or you can explore some on your own. I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”

“Yes,” Jess said, nodding. “Why robot animals?” she asked, gesturing to the gryphon at her side.

“Well, as you know, Earth animals can’t survive the trip. It’s too rough on them. I don’t know why the shot works on us, but not them. It’s not my area of expertise. Anyway, we started developing robotic animals for work mainly. We needed robots that could haul loads, or get into small tight places. Of course we could have made them look like anything, really, but there was something comforting about giving them an animal appearance.” She gestured to the gryphon. “Roc was the first companion robot to be designed. He sort of became our mascot, and after him we created several dogs and cats simply to provide company to us humans.”

“Why a gryphon?” Jess asked with a frown.

“No real reason honestly, other than our lead designer at the time was a bit of a fantasy nut. She was going to make a dragon too, but got reassigned before she could complete it. Roc was kind of a bust anyway. The programs he has for companionship weren’t fully developed and he bugs out on occasion.

“Bugs out?” Jess asked warily, scooting a few inches away from the gryphon, which chirped and followed her movement.

“Yeah. Mostly he doesn’t seem to like people. He’s always been a bit of an odd card. Though it seems he’s warmed up to you well enough.”

“So…he doesn’t become aggressive or anything?” Jess asked, watching the gryphon from the corner of her eye. “I’ve worked with dangerous animals before, but usually with protection.”

“No,” said Sandy, shaking her head, “nothing like that. At least, not yet anyway. There are people he just doesn’t like, but he’s never turned on any of us. With the way he is sticking by you, I doubt you have anything to worry about.” Jess nodded, still feeling slightly uncomfortable over the gryphon that was attaching himself quite firmly to her side.

“Come on,” said Sandy,” I’ll show you around.” Jess nodded mutely and trailed after the girl. She was introduced to Ryan and Ben, two of Sandy’s assistants here on the planet. They all seemed very pleased to have her working here, and she shuffled her feet against the tiled floor in discomfort.

“Everyone seems really happy here.” Jess mentioned to Sandy, as they toured the little office space in the back of the warehouse.

“Yeah. You’ll get used to it once you settle in. Xion is such a wonderful place to live.”

“What about the out-of-bounds area?” She watched Sandy’s face closely, but the girl’s expression never faltered.

“We don’t know what’s out there yet. It could be dangerous.”

“But the scans didn’t show any life forms.” Jess insisted,

“It’s best to just leave it alone Jess. Your job is here.” Sandy had given her a tight smile, and refused to say any more on the subject, so she let it drop.

Once she had met everyone, Jess had been put to work. She hauled loads of parts, and learned how to clean and care for the robots. She enjoyed the work, recalling all the heavy lifting she’d had to do back on Earth as a zookeeper. There were many days where she’d hefted sixty pound boxes of salt for their reef aquarium, or moved seventy pound bales of hay for the hoofstock.

Sure most everything was automated now-a-days, and if the zoo wasn’t a non-profit they could have probably afforded some of those fancy machines. But Jess had enjoyed the hands-on work the zoo provided. She liked cleaning up after her animals, and feeding them herself, even if it meant she got home sweaty and covered in drain goop or animal poo.

It wasn’t like Mendel ever cared. She couldn’t help but grin as she thought of her little gray cockatiel at home. Jess lifted a heavy canine robot on to a table with ease, and plugged it up to a battery.

If anyone back home had ever said I’d be feeding a robot with a battery, I’d have thought they were nuts. She just barely stifled a giggle as she moved to another table and unplugged one robot from the battery before plugging in another robot. The charge would last them about a week, before they’d need to be hooked up again.

Once she had finished that, Sandy had begun teaching her about the basic parts and make-up, since Jess would need to learn repairs. The little gryphon robot, Roc, stayed by her side, never far away.

She had been annoyed by the behavior at first. He keeps reminding me of what I left behind, she thought, her mind drifting to little Mendel, all alone in her house. Still, I can’t deny how useful Roc is. She stretched, reaching for a screwdriver that had rolled away when she’d placed it on the ground beside her. With a trill the little gryphon scooped it up and placed it in her hand, feline tail wagging in a manner that was more dog than cat. She gave him an awkward scratch on his metal head before returning to the injured bird robot before her.

Before long the day was done, and Jess had taken a long stretch to work out her sore muscles. She gave her cheerful coworkers a tired grin, before helping to close shop. She paused at the door, as Roc followed her outside, and looked up at her with those darn soulful puppy eyes.

“Just take him back with you.” said Sandy, following Jess out the main door. “He was meant to be a companion animal after all.”

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Jess asked warily. Sandy had just grinned wider in response.

“Of course! See you at 0800 tomorrow!” with that she turned and left. Jess shut and locked the door to the compound, heading back the way she had come. Her watch directed her to the pod bay she’d used on her way in, and it didn’t take long to get herself on a shuttle heading back to her bunker.

Xion rotated slowly, at least compared to earth. The local star, Rendarion, was still high in the sky, and not likely to set anytime soon, even though it would be 5pm Earth time. Jess stroked the little gryphon’s head as the pod landed near the outskirts of the city, near her bunker.

As they stepped off the pod and down onto the landing pad, Roc gave out a little trill and scampered off in the opposite direction.

“Wait!” Jess yelled, darting after the robot. He ran around a corner and disappeared. She followed after Roc, but dropped to her knees as she rounded the corner and didn’t see the gryphon anywhere.

Great. My first day and I’ve already screwed up. She could only imagine what they’d say in the morning. Perhaps they’d reassign her to another area. Her throat closed at the thought, and she fought back tears. It had been weird at first, sure, but she’d taken a liking to her new job.

A man walked up, and Jess blinked at him through wet eyes. He was dressed like the military back on Earth, and she wondered if he was some sort of guard. He smiled down at her.

“Hello Sir,” she said carefully, feeling the unease she had felt earlier creep back into her mind. “Have you seen a robot gryphon about anywhere? I’m afraid he’s run off on me.” The man shook his head, his eyes vacant. Jess frowned as he moved on; the curve of his mouth remained frozen in place.

It’s like there was no one home…. her head lifted as a faint trilling sound reached her ears. Roc! She darted forward, and turned around another building, following the gryphon’s call through the outskirts of the city.

She caught sight of a metal tail just ahead and picked up speed, finally catching up to the little gryphon. The buildings were far behind them, nothing but rock, dirt and a few sparse trees ahead. Roc trilled again and trotted forward. Jess hesitated, before following behind.

“We’re not supposed to be out here.” she muttered as she stumbled over the ground after Roc. Still, she couldn’t help the grin that broke out on her face as she recalled all the times she’d been hiking or rock-climbing back on Earth.

As she climbed up over a particularly large boulder onto a ledge overlooking a small canyon, Jess couldn’t help the breathless laugh that escaped her.

“Maybe this place isn’t so bad at all.” She said, giving Roc another pet as he romped back towards her, tail swishing in his excitement. If it weren’t for everyone being so creepily happy….

Jess thought back and frowned. Ever since she’d gotten off the transport ship, everyone had been so happy, and gleeful. If she didn’t know any better she’d think they were all hiding something. Even when talking about this forbidden zone, their expressions never faltered. And the guard…he was so flat, emotionless. She shuddered at the memory. His eyes were dead.

Roc’s head jerked up suddenly, almost smashing into her chin. She froze as the gryphon backed up rapidly, hissing and sputtering as his tail thrashed violently in the air. Jess looked into Roc’s eyes and felt the hair on the back of her neck rise.

“Roc?” she asked, hating herself for the waver that betrayed her fear. Is this what they meant by bugging out? Could he really turn on me? Jess thought back to the animals she’d worked with. Most had been pretty calm, but there was no telling when one might have a bad day and attack a keeper. Was this the same thing?

Jess flinched and covered her ears as a loud screech erupted from the gryphon and it leapt forward, talons extended in her direction. She ducked, covering her head, and waited for impact.

After a moment, she looked up, blinking and dazed. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest. What just happened? She looked around, but couldn’t see Roc anywhere.

There was another screech, and she whirled, realizing at once that it hadn’t been her that had agitated the gryphon, but something else. Scrambling forward she slid down the boulder, heading across the rough ground towards the robot’s call. She dashed around a ledge, and caught sight of something Roc had cornered against a rock wall.

Jess froze, adrenaline burning through her veins. She felt dizzy, sick with fear. The creature looked almost like a human, only it was very, very wrong.

The creature was crouched over in front of Roc, its long grotesque muzzle bared to show off sharp teeth. Jess shuddered in fear, trying to understand how something could look so human and so dog-like at the same time. The creature looked in her direction, and she saw glowing red eyes set above the canine muzzle. Its skin was greenish and smooth, totally hairless. Jess forced herself to look away, to look anywhere but the creature’s face. Her gaze landed on the creature’s hands, where it clutched something pink and fleshy in its claws.

Jess turned and tried to run. She didn’t know where to go; only that she had to get away. Her heart beat hard in her chest, and for a moment she didn’t think her legs would work right. She wasn’t sure she could run fast enough to get away. Somehow though, she was up and running, heading anywhere but near that thing. Jess scrambled back towards the city, but she slipped. Her foot caught on something and she fell hard.

Jess flung out her hands, but it was too late. Her knee smashed hard into a rock. She bit her lip as tears came to her eyes, and tried to breathe through the pain. After a moment, she rolled; trying to stand, but her knee gave out before she could even get to her feet. This is it! She thought frantically, I’m done for. Grasping around for leverage her hand pulled hard at a smooth rock, and it gave way, clattering to the ground beside her.

Jess froze and gazed at the white rock for a moment, blinking hard. White? All the rocks are red, like the clay back home….

It was then that she noticed three large black holes in the white rock. No, not a rock. A skull. A human skull.

She shivered and backed away, dragging her bad leg after her. How were there human remains on the ground? Her hand clattered as she moved, and Jess flinched, turning to look behind. A ribcage. A human ribcage. She shuddered and hugged herself, as she took in the carnage all around her. Tooth marks covered the bones, bones that had long since been bleached white by the sun.

There weren’t any animals on this planet. They had said there were NO ANIMALS.

Which left only…the alien.

Jess turned back, forgetting her knee and surging forward to see where Roc was. Both the creature and the robot gryphon were gone. She trembled, tears building in her eyes. Where had they gone?

A trill sounded from behind her, and she jumped, a shrill cry escaping her throat before she could clap a hand over her mouth.

Roc stood behind her, head cocked, tail wagging slowly. Ever so carefully, Jess reached out a hand, and the gryphon darted forward happily, shoving its head under her palm. She giggled slightly, as Roc resumed acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Jess tried again to stand, and found her knee would bare her weight with Roc’s help. Luckily he didn’t run off again, and they worked their way back to the city. She kept a watchful eye, her muscles tense with fear and ready to run, but no matter how often she jumped, the alien creature did not reappear.

Jess didn’t stop moving until they reached the bunker and she’d locked the door behind them. Slowly she slid to the ground, her fingers gripping the wrist of Roc’s wing until her knuckles were bone white.

She didn’t sleep that night. In the morning, with Roc’s help, she’d headed back in to work. She didn’t care that she’d broken the law, that it was forbidden, someone had to know about the creature that she’d seen.

As soon as she saw Sandy, Jess has pulled her aside and told her the whole story. She waited, holding her breath. They’re going to yell at me, she thought, or send me back to Earth. But they have to know, they need to know what’s out there.

She felt her throat close as Sandy just smiled at her. “Sounds like you’ve been having some pretty whacky dreams, huh?”

“N-no,” Jess stuttered, confusion and fear rising to choke her. “It really happened.” Sandy just shook her head, still smiling and walked away.

No. They can’t just not listen; they can’t think I’m lying. They have to believe me! Jess inhaled sharply and ran over to Ryan and Ben. Quickly, hysterically she told them her story, but they responded the same way as Sandy.

Shaking Jess left the warehouse at a run, not caring that her knee was throbbing and swollen. Roc tailed her, trilling as he ran. Jess didn’t stop running until she hit another warehouse full of people. Inside she babbled her story, trying to get it all out and quickly. Maybe these new people would see the danger they were all in, thank her for her warning.

Instead they’d given her a bottle of alcohol. They said it would help take care of the nightmares. She wanted to throw the bottle at their heads, but she’d played along, acting as if it was just an elaborate joke.

Their fake smiles followed her as she’d walked to the shuttle station to get a ride back to her bunker. They haunted her, those empty expressions of joy and that creature with the glowing red eyes.

Jess looked over beside her to see a family, presumably also waiting for a shuttle. It had surprised her at first; Jess hadn’t know there were any children on Xion.

The little girl was playing with a ball of clay, humming as she pressed into it with her fingers. Jess leaned forward to see what the girl was making. A dog perhaps, maybe a kitten or a flower.

No.

There, in the clay, was the image of the creature she’d seen with Roc. The horrible dog-like human creature with those terrible red eyes.

No one would listen, no one other than Roc. But there was no denying it. They weren’t alone on this planet.

Not at all.

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About lvadams

I grew up in Central Florida for most of my life. I was one of those strange kids who liked to catch lizards and snakes, and brought everything home from stray kittens to baby chickens and ducks. I started writing around the age of 11 and never really stopped. I now have a Bachelor's of Science degree from Auburn University and hope to get a job working with animals. Until then I keep on writing. :)
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