The Alien Feast

Photo credit: frhuynh. Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Photo credit: frhuynh.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Ship Designation: L.P.E.V. Columbus, Commission year: 4101. Vessel found: 4127.

Lumen, Inc. Ship Record File # 4126-2387519

Crew at time of last transmission: 6.

1 recording of crew salvaged from wreckage.

Record time: 6 minutes.

Crew manifest:
1. Captain Miranda Zemekis.
2. Engineer Bassem Badwi.
3. Crew Member Nadia Yagi
4. First Officer Connor Talmadge.
5. Crew Member Willem Eldermund
6. Senior Crew Member/Medic Bonnie Gutu

Recording transcript as follows.

“It’s all my fault. I take full responsibility for the loss of this ship, along with her crew. The cap’n’s dead, first officer too. They wiped the logs and other ship’s records before they died. They were covering their asses to the last. No clue where the engineer is. Whatever’s out there must have gotten him and the others. I’m the only one left, but hopefully not for long. This record is being left just in case, so people can know something dangerous is here with us.

“We were on a deep exploration mission to the Praesepe Cluster, sent to map and bring back cartographic analysis of the planetary systems. I don’t remember which star it was now – the cap’n made sure of that – but I do remember that we were getting organic molecule signatures from a moon orbiting an outer gas giant. Other deep exploration missions have gotten these before without finding anything more than maybe some methane. Still, we see organics and the captain changes course for a closer look.

“Everything went normal at first. Our cartography and radar satellites got sent out to map the atmosphere and geographic features, followed by survey satellites to go and find out where the organic compounds were coming from. I got surprised when I found the moon was covered in liquid water that was about as warm as equatorial water on Earth. Soon after, I found that the ocean bottom was hot from tidal friction that the gas giant caused. But, since there was something organic down there, and there was liquid water, the cap’n ordered Nadia to hop down in a shuttle.

“I just want to say that I did protest sending Nadia so quickly. The survey satellites couldn’t pinpoint the organic material or even what it was. For all we knew, that moon was swimming with alien life. So Nadia goes off, taking her craft down to about a kilometer above the water’s surface. She sends back telemetry, and suddenly she says she wants to take a closer look. I tell the cap’n it’s a bad idea, but the first officer thinks nothing could go wrong with just getting a water sample.

“That was a bad idea. The winds on the surface kicked up to about a hundred klicks an hour on average. I’m pretty sure Nadia was intentionally not mentioning that. She always bragged about how good a pilot she was. But no, the cap’n and first officer want to brag about finding life somewhere in the galaxy, so it’s suddenly an acceptable risk. Nadia takes the craft down, fighting wave surges and wind gusts the whole way.

“About twenty meters or so off the surface, she extends a pod out to collect a sample. Pod goes in, and then all hell breaks loose. Nadia’s screaming about losing control of the craft, and the cap’n’s screaming for her to get out of there. A few seconds later, Nadia’s got the shuttle on a full burn out of the atmosphere right for us. I ask for her to do a flyby past the bridge window for an inspection, but the first officer says no. Just head to the airlock, and he’ll do an inspection.

“Talmadge hauls ass off the bridge, headed right into something he has no idea about. A minute later, he’s got on the communications back to the bridge, telling us about this thing that attached itself to the shuttle. The thing was black and rubbery, with muscled tentacles gripped firmly around the circumference of the shuttle. It was cold as ice, frozen in the vacuum between the moon and the ship. As Talmadge goes through the inspection, the thing just falls off the ship and breaks apart into icy chunks. The only thing Talmadge could identify was a single, foggy eye, which he swore turned and focused on him.”

[Unidentifiable sounds enter recording. Speaker’s breathing becomes labored and panicked.]

“I have to be quick. It knows what I’m doing. Cap’n thinks she’s going to get all kinds of bonuses for this, and she starts telling the crew the same. ‘Get the thing bagged up and analyzed,’ she tells Bonnie. I want the shuttle and that thing thrown out the airlock. Nobody listens to me.

“Bonnie takes the corpse down to medical, where she begins an autopsy. She ends up discovering the creature is like a cephalopod, with an unknown number of tentacled appendages. After further inspection, she found a sphincter the creature must have used as a mouth. Since the creature was dead, the muscle closing the sphincter had relaxed, revealing a bulbous tongue with many different barbs on it. On that tongue were pieces of the shuttle’s hull.

“The whole process took several hours. In the meantime, I begged the cap’n to release the shuttle. She refused, saying it was an unnecessary precaution. Since I couldn’t bring her to see reason, I went down to the bay to talk to Nadia. She was supposed to be fixing the shuttle. What I found when I arrived was much different. Nadia had not told anyone that she successfully retrieved a sample of the water from that infernal moon. The container was right there in the bay, its lid opened, and the most foul-smelling water sloshed around it. I called out for the pilot, but she was nowhere to be found.”

[More sounds enter recording. Speaker screaming. A loud crash.]

“Please! No! It’s coming nearer! You have to believe me! I didn’t know what it was! None of us could have known! The second Nadia came back it was too late for us all!

“The dead creature wasn’t the only thing that came back! When people didn’t report back, we all grew suspicious. The cap’n tried to secure the residential quarters, but it had already found Nadia! The thing had used her to sabotage the engines! We had no choice but to split up and try to take back control!”

[More noises enter recording, most likely the sounds of metal bulkheads being ripped apart.]

“As soon as we exited, it picked us off one by one. I heard the screams of the cap’n as she struggled to fight off the beast, and then all I heard was this unnatural sucking sound, followed minutes later by sloshing. Nearing the end of my wits, I went back to the shuttle, and there I beheld a sight which I wish no one would ever see! The first officer and Nadia were there, holding the captain’s head in the viscous alien water. She flailed about, but then her captors let her go.

“I moved to a better vantage, and from there I saw what they’d done. Nadia and Talmadge had brined the captain in the alien water. On the backs of their heads were attached two of the black, rubbery creatures, their alien bodies glistening in the light. But when my former crewmates opened their mouths, only the grievous proboscises of the creatures came forth. After they had finished with their eating, they discarded the remnants of the cap’n’s body on a pile of others, a horrific monument to a terrifying feast.

“But that wasn’t enough! The tongues of my three former crew members had been completely devoured by the creatures, replaced with their own proboscis. Each drank deep from the liquid, and then they turned and left.

“My course was clear! I fled to the bridge, where I disengaged the ship’s safety protocols! I plotted a course into the nearest asteroid! My only hope is that they do not get to me before the ship strikes the asteroid! You don’t know what they do! If you find this-”

[Screeching and wet sucking noises can be heard, followed by more sounds of destruction.]


[End of Recording.]

Hayley’s Recurring Nightmare

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

“Mother, I do not want to go back to sleep.” Hayley yawned noisily, unable to suppress it any longer.

“It’s just a nightmare,” said her mother, caressing her daughter’s hair. “You’re just not used to living in a new house, is all. Now get some sleep. Your father and I are just down the hall.” Giving her daughter one last kiss on the forehead, Hayley’s mother got up and turned off the light from the overhead chandelier.

Hayley thought she heard the wiring fizzle out. Obviously the wrought iron circle dangling above her head was old – even older than her parents, she reckoned – and so was everything else in this house. The walls and floors creaked, the wind howled through the rafters, and despite its size it felt so…empty. Even before she tried to sleep the first night, something about the place made her skin crawl.

Despite the eerie feeling, her body needed sleep. She’d awoken every time she started dreaming. Although she tried to hide it from her parents, they noticed her unhealthy pallor and droopy eyes. When they asked her if she was well, she was too fatigued to do anything but tell the truth.

In her dreams, she heard the branches of the tall, gnarled oak outside rattle her bedroom window. Like the knobby fingers of her grandfather, they rattled the glass like they were skipping across it. If she didn’t know any better, the branches seemed to try to get her attention. She didn’t think too much of it at first, at least until she looked outside and saw it was in all actuality too far away to touch the house. But in her dreams, somehow it had approached nearer to tell her all was not well.

All of a sudden, Hayley had noticed the house had stopped making any noises. Everything became covered in a blanket of darkness, the kind of shadows that seemed to drink in light and never have its fill. She couldn’t see her hands in front of her face, and there was no way she could sense which way she ought to go to safety. Had she fallen asleep?

Was she back in her nightmare realm?

Somewhere far away the wind rustled through the branches of the oak tree. This time, they did not rap upon the glass. No, they sounded constrained, as if some other unseen hand had held them at bay. Something else was here with her tonight, something even more terrible and maddening that she couldn’t even fathom. Oh, how could she have ever been afraid of the tree? This kind of terror stuck in her throat and stifled any cry she could make. Whatever it was that was out there, why did it wait?

As if answering her call, a lone howl pierced the windy cacophony outside. A great snarl uttered forth from a beast that could not be said to be of this Earth, and Hayley could do nothing but freeze in abject terror. Her eyes fixed upon her window, for outside a fiery purple light cut through the darkness and illuminated her room. In a few bounds, the beast had arrived at the window, laying a massive paw upon the glass. It looked like a dog with the most peculiar eyes, and smoke seemed to come forth from its nostrils.

Summoning all of her courage, Hayley closed her eyes and screamed as loud as she could. Moments later, when she opened them, her mother was at her side with the light on. “Hush child,” she said wearily. “I am here now. Whatever is the matter with you?”

“I cannot sleep,” Hayley protested. “It’s terrible!”

Her mother soothed her daughter, tossing aside the covers and picking her up in her arms. “You can sleep with your father and I tonight,” she said. Taking Hayley away, her mother flipped off the light switch with her elbow and carried her daughter down the hall to the master bedroom.

Upon the panes of the bedroom window, with the full moon providing complete illumination, was a single massive paw print.

What Makes a book #dystopian ?

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

It seems like a simple enough question to ask before writing any sort of dystopian fiction. Certainly I asked it before starting my current novel. What I discovered is that it only kicks off the process, starting an enjoyable journey that is nearing its close (at least for now).

According to the dictionary, a dystopia is just a society characterized by misery. That clinical definition seems to suffice for some current works of dystopian fiction out there. Indeed, it’s treated a lot of the time as just an opposite of a utopian society – a place where the ideal is perverted or nonexistent. In these places, the society exists merely as an obstacle to a protagonist (like in “Red Rising” or “The Hunger Games”). That’s completely fine if your story is more focused on character plots than on anything else.

The great thing about dystopias is that you can have more if you want to.
Dystopias can range from the completely fantastic oppressive social controls (like “1984”) to some disturbingly realistic future scenarios (like “Brave New World”). Both of the books I mention delve deeper into the consequences of having such a society, revealing a horrific narrative that social wrongs can often grow exponentially as they are created. They ask bigger questions than just one character surviving in the midst of an imperfect world.

Another great thing about dystopian fiction is that it will provide great reasons for why it exists. These things don’t come out of a vacuum; they grow organically from something else. Sometimes that journey is a story in and of itself, compelling and worth paying attention to.

These are the goals I set out for myself in writing my current project.
Whether I’m successful or not will be for people who read it to decide. I can say that the journey of writing this book has been worth the effort. Pushing myself to explore plot and character elements outside my comfort zone is something I’ve always wanted to do. While it hasn’t always been a positive experience, I can say I’ve learned a lot about myself.

More specifically, I wanted to write a dystopian work that questioned modern social trends of pitting groups against each other in public. I think I’ve managed that at least. As for the dystopia itself, I hope that people who read about it will find it hauntingly familiar. Hopefully they’ll be able to identify with the beneficiaries and the downtrodden in the book, and hopefully they’ll enjoy the process of reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

To #Prologue, or Not to Prologue

A while back I was doing some research and I stumbled across a debate I didn’t even know existed: whether or not to start a book with a prologue. For some writers out there, a prologue is almost a de facto way of writing; at one point I considered myself one of them. Surprisingly, I discovered that there’s an entire group of people out there who not only dislike using prologues, they advocate against using them. On top of that, my greatest fears were realized when I read about readers who would skip them entirely.

The drawbacks of writing them.
Besides readers that skip over them, prologues often are misused by too many writers. They become these odd creatures that just happen to be at the start of a book but don’t really have anything to do with the rest of the work at all. Fiction is the only honest lie people can tell; a prologue that doesn’t connect with what follows in some way diminishes that honesty.

Another problem I’ve seen is the prologue info dump. Sometimes they’re just packed with dense strings of adjectives and adverbs, with perhaps a few nouns and verbs thrown in as grammar demands. Mostly, they’re these dry accounts of facts about characters and setting that don’t do anything but lull the reader to sleep. This doesn’t mean the world that you’ve created is boring; it does mean that a prologue can kill interest in the potential story that follows.

Finally, there’s the prologue that could just be the first chapter. This was the crutch that I used. Basically, whatever I started a manuscript with became a prologue. Yes, it would almost directly precede all the other action in the plot, be followed logically by the first chapter, and introduce characters in a coherent manner. All of that makes it a decent “Chapter 1.” To write “Prologue” at the top would risk readers skipping over important information for no good reason.

The info dump and disconnected prologue are prologues that don’t lead back to the book closely enough, while the secret first chapter goes too close. This highlights how difficult they can be to do right. Ideally, a prologue can be skipped without diminishing the rest of the book, but skipping them would rob a reader of a more enjoyable experience.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can still write a prologue if you want to.
They exist for a reason. Clive Cussler, for example, uses them to describe the treasure or important plot object that will feature prominently in the rest of the novel (which is awesome, because otherwise they might be a MacGuffin). Michael Crichton and George R.R. Martin also use them to introduce a critical plot element without a direct line to the rest of the plot itself (but eventually becomes apparent).

With the exception of the prologues to the books of A Song of Ice and Fire, a good prologue can be skipped without ruining the rest of the book. They all pick something very, very specific, and then they focus on that one thing only. That one thing needs to be a very important part of the book. Writing a prologue about the protagonist’s teddy bear is generally a waste of time. However, it’s a good prologue subject if the teddy bear is secretly the one killing people in your horror novel.

Don't let it get its arms around you. Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Don’t let it get its arms around you.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

One last thing: prologues might be necessary in fantasy.
While children’s fantasy might not need them, more adult fantasy seems to require a good prologue. They operate a little differently in that they’re a soft introduction to the fantasy world. In this regard, they’re more forgiving than prologues for a thriller, horror piece, or even a science fiction novel. You could probably get away with writing a secret first chapter and be okay. Despite this, not making it an info dump or a disconnected prologue is still very important.

Bottom line is that you don’t have to include a prologue if you don’t want to. In some ways, you might not want to write one until after you’ve written your book. That way, you’ll know what’s definitely important without having to change anything. When in doubt, just start with a first chapter, and you’ll be fine.

Dusting Off the Shelves

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

In the middle of finishing off my science fiction novel, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with this blog. So here I am, dusting off the shelves and figuring out what I’m going to put up there.

Originally, I intended to post information about the books I write, but that’s only a small part of what I want to accomplish. Anyone can go to a website to find information about an upcoming novel, so I wanted to do something else as my fancy strikes me. Creation begets creation, so I also want to use this blog as a helpful tool for my writing (and anyone else’s, if they’re interested).

My main interests are in horror, science fiction, fantasy, some humor, and the occasional thriller. That said, I think whatever I put here ought to be within those categories.