Orion’s Hunt (story 1)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by hullabaloo22

Octaria Orion, science prodigy and youngest member of a covert operation, must restore her memories before evil destroys the red planet.

I race to a metal cabinet imbedded in my starship’s curved titanium wall.

“Anytime now.” I yell upward, my nose bombarded by the stink of sanitizers as if someone exploded a bleach bomb over the chairs, tables, beds, kitchenette. You name it, she’s sanitized it; floor to ceiling. The entire room, capable of squeezing six strapping beasts and a lap dog, is so familiar to me — seven weeks familiar to be exact — that I never wanna see it again. Yet, here I am, the only one healthy enough to fetch meds.

Sure hope death on Mars happens less than death on Earth. Not so convinced at the moment.

I shield my eyes from the lights flickering above. “Thought ye fixed those.”

“It’s a small glitch.” Regana speaks through a clear vent. “Here.”

The cabinet widens from the middle and a micro-shelf levitates out. I snatch the aluminum medi-bag from the shelf. “Thanks.”

“Happy to help.” Regana chirps. “Anything else you require?”

Assurance that my three molecular biology mates and our professor, Mr. Nader will survive, for starters. Top that with an organic black-bean burger, doused with extra guacamole and sweet potato crisps like the ones served at that hipster café in Manhattan. Comfort food I can’t expect on this planet. Much less from a synth who doesn’t eat.

She floats down and materializes, her perfectly straight black hair framing her perfectly sculpted face. “I could ring a ride.”

“Nah. I’ll walk.”

She tails me down a sleek silver hall and into the equally silver anti-chamber. “Next time telepachat me.”

“Telepachat yerself.” I zip my stark white intergalactic suit. “Plus, I’d rather chat the old-fashioned way. In person.”

“Yes, I am aware of your aversion to technology.” She fastens the rear of my collar, the clips weaved so far into the fabric it inhibits me from doing this myself. “Should you decide differently, I can prepare your necessities in a blink of an eye.”

Blink of an eye? That’s an odd phrase for a synth. Her speech must be whacked. Must be that glitch. August’ll take a looksie at her later. If...

Don’t go there. I inhale deeply. Ducking under the opening hatch, I emerge into the freezing air grateful I’m wearing this insulated suit. Nice ‘n toasty for these spring temps. Five degrees Fahrenheit. Frigid enough I puff foggy ghosts into the newly terraformed atmosphere. Oxygenated? Yep. Breathable without a mask? Double yep. Hard to believe? It’s true. 2050’s the era for Martian travel.

Take for instance those glass spherical solar-pods. From all angles, hundreds of them zoosh in the skyway. Some vroom over me. Others hover past those six crimson plateaus, propped like a bucket around Verona’s cityscape. A crystalloid construction of towering pyramids, sparkling beneath the yolky sun and beneath what I’ve dubbed the UV ray catcher. Really an electromagnetic dome aka the E-dome. It encases this Tharsis region of Mars — the planet I’ve dreamt about every night for the past decade.

It’s a fact, dreams lie. Trouble is mine feel so realistic they’ve literally imprisoned my thoughts from the moment we landed here a day ago bombarded by that Martian dust storm. Look. Remnants of it still haze the air, muddying every inch of our starship’s bullet-shaped exterior. A bummer if you ask me; this nutzo wind. Screeching down that steaming mountainside in the distance, the wind funnels dust toward Verona — pretty much a touch of heaven on this hellish landscape, icked up by an atmospheric stench nastier than ten dozen rotten eggs blackened and forgotten in the coolux for months.

Blech! Mental note: get NASA to eliminate it and alter this mass to gravity ratio. This slothish speed sucks. Seriously, I’m used to sprinting ten miles a day on Earth. Here though, my legs feel heavier than two basketfuls of mangos. Slow with a capital S. Between a zig-zag of boulders I navigate this rugged path, inch by inch like a humongo slug sliding along red gravel while trickling ooze from its butt. Gross? Humor me. It makes me giggle. Out loud into this obnoxiously cold yuck-o air, I bend over laughing my ass off. Allowing myself this one mirthful moment before I paste on my everything’s okay smile when nothing is okay. It was never okay. I stumble on a rock and face plant on dry cracked soil.

“Gah.” Maybe I should’ve taken the ride. Yeah right, and risk a nosey synth asking too many questions? No thank you.

Let’s be honest. I can deal with a lot. With almost everything this jerk of a life’s punched me with. This disaster though, waiting for me at the jagged perimeter of one of those plateaus, it practically overflows my deal-o-meter. Especially once I spot August.

He pukes in tandem with three others folded over in front of me — Brutus, Cleo and Mr. Nader. They crouch like cats hacking up fur balls atop the plateau where above solar-pods voosh, their passengers spaced out and clueless to me bending behind my mates. I peel open the medi-bag while yellow bile sprays from August’s mouth, splashing me. Slimy. Soggy. Scary that my bestie’s exhibiting the first symptom. Vomit. It dribbles down my wrists until the silver moons marking my hands mirror infinity symbols. Forever. That’s odd, almost as puzzling as my unfazed gut. Unless my turn is coming and this Martian barf-a-thon is just the beginning of their end.

I swallow hard, offering each of them the anti-nausea disks I brought from our starship. August immediately regurgitates his. Pungent in my nose, his bile smells of moldy sauerkraut brined with rancid sausage, a putrid addition to the reeking atmosphere. Might explain their sudden illness. Or might not since they’ve puked for over forty hours with one small break giving us enough time to exit our ship before they all restarted and I had to rush back and retrieve meds. That makes what, almost two days? A length similar to other cases.

“Give.” August gestures to the last anti-nausea disk.

I plop it on his tongue, his lips a shade whiter than our suits now stained with his chowder chunks. “Yer gonna be fine. Promise.” I rest my hand atop his, nearly believing my own words. “It’s just a bit of barf.”

Besides, I’ve another theory defending my one shred of optimism. Mar’s atmosphere releases synthetic oxygen, right? It also might screw with the brain-body chemistry and trigger a type of altitude sickness. Makes sense to my scientific mind. With an IQ of 173, I enrolled in Columbia University at age fifteen and produced my first Aids vaccination last year. My molecular biology findings might’ve won me a Nobel Prize but I’ve got my work cut out with this virus. And Augusts’ intestines second that.

He sucks in gurgly phlegm fighting to breath like the rest of them. I rub their backs in the same way my adopted mom, Shelia, used to with her MRD patients. Martian Red Death, derived from the venomous saliva of Martian bears. This highly contagious, airborne pandemic’s already triggered more fatalities than the Bubonic Plague and it stands to kill more if we don’t start our mission. Soon? That’s pretty damn hopeless in light of everyone’s condition. Mainly August’s. He’s vomiting full force while the others are gradually reviving. While I shield his face from that stupid wind swooshing around us.

I cough out dusty air, my attention captured by that one creek trickling at the base of the mountain. A rarity in this desolate desert, almost as rare as that single tree nested on the mossy creek bank. Green and glistening, the leaves remind me of the ones I touched in my dreams. Branches, cool and rough graze my fingers. Grasses, sweet and thick, swipe my ankles. Hundreds of trees surround me and blanket that distant ruby range, the rutted river beds etched in the valley now empty of the water NASA claims rushed here trillions of years ago. See my dilemma? My dreams are utter falsies, replaying like a shitty virtual reality, the end primarily. Before I wake, I always somehow arrive on Earth, Shelia beside me asking me about these strange moons tattooed on my hands.

Where’d they come from? How’d I lose my childhood memories? Why was I on Mars in the first place? It’s as if my brain swallowed the answers. That’s what I need to figure out. Keep this a secret. ‘kay? No one knows the real reason I agreed to partake in this mission and they’d likely consider me insane if they did. Particularly Mr. Nader. He might fly me back to Earth or forbid me from ever uncovering my past.

Mr. Nader blabs, “Yer one lucky gal.”

“Lucky? How’s that?”

“Ye escaped these effects.” He arcs his brows, the sun shining off his bald head and hitting the angel pendant pined to my spandex collar. “Still haven’t determined why.”

“Call it a gut of steel.” I sweep a micro-fiber rag over August’s sweaty face. “Believe me, I’ve seen a lot worse than this.”

“Wow. Brains here thinks she’s some heroine.” Brutus rises to his knees, his pony-tail dusting his drenched neck. “Nothing heorish ‘bout braggin’ while we’s been hurlin’.”

“Wasn’t bragging.” I say.

“Sure ye weren’t, carrotpuff.” He slaps my shoulder. My suit flashes.

“Do it. Touch me again.” I ball my fists then relax them when August wheezes.

His blonde locks damp on his forehead, he mumbles, “Tell me I’m not dying.”

“Cray, cray. Ye ain’t dyin’. Yet.” Cleo presses her elbows into the soil beside August. “Hemorrhaging comes next.”

“Remind her.” Brutus tosses a glare my way. “Ye know it’s yer fault.”

“People. People.” Mr. Nader says. “None’s to blame.”

“Tell that to puke hole.” Brutus points at August. “Ye and yer girlfriend there. Workin’ night and day with those sickees. Ye infected us.”

“Didn’t infect ye.” August blurts between vomiting spells.

“Last warning, Brute.” I say, determined not to let my anger at Brutus flub up my judgement. “Leave him alone.”

“Uh, guys. Guys!” Cleo thumbs her electro-rod hooked in her utility belt when seven boomerang-shaped drones exit the Verona skyway. They buzz in our direction.

“We got company.” I retrieve my e-rod and flick on its flaming blade, thankful Mr. Nader included weaponry wielding in our training for hunting Martian bears. Who knows? We may need it to fend off drones too.

“Not to panic.” Mr. Nader says. I reposition my e-rod in my belt. “‘Tis only security. See?” A drone shines its laser into Mr. Nader’s retina.

“Polonius Nader.” A synth voice, similar to Regana’s, echoes out. “Egyptian Microbiologist, Columbia University professor and twelfth founder of the Red Colony. Welcome back to Verona.”

“No welcomes.” Mr. Nader wipes his mouth with his micro-fiber rag. “Send medics.”

“Yes, sir.” The drone whizzes toward the crystal pyramids, leaving the six others swarming around us. One points at Cleo.

She deflects it with her palm. “Get away. I’ve got more important things to do.” She brushes the barf from her chin, then jiggles her neural lace imprinted in her temple. “Told my mom I’d telepechat her. Work already.” She rolls her violet eyes, really genetically enhanced optic nerves I’ve decided I want implanted.

They’re all the rage and way more lit than my dull green irises. As if vanity matters when August’s still choking. He hunches in another barfing fit, his flesh going grayer than the drones. One swivels right and aims at Brutus.

“Brutus Skylander. Columbia University neurophysics student and British immigrant. Age seventeen. Welcome to Verona.”

“What a joke.” Brutus snorts. “Cleo’s got the right idea ignoring them.” He glances at her as she paces toward that slanted cliff. A five-hundred-foot fall is what I read. Ends at the base of the city. One step more and she’ll drop like a pot of hot-cricket-pasta.

“Mom.... Yep... August is still sick... Miss you...Love you too....”

Her words fade into my ears where a sliver of sadness slices into my veins. Where all I have left are tears for Shelia, the mother figure I would give anything to have alive again. Maybe sell the stem cell invigorator I invented. Or work extra shifts after classes at the Lower Manhattan Hospital. Or brave that volcanic mountain and determine what is on the other side. Or at least what that albino thing is moseying around that lone tree. I squint. It’s vanished, replaced by one of those drones twirling around my head, its red laser in my retina.

“Octaria Orion. Columbia microbiology student and New York resident. Age —” It’s synth voice ceases. The moons on my hands glow, my eyes widening at the sight. At the drones whirling above and repeating in a wolffish tone, “Octaria. Octaria. Octaria...” as if someone hacked their microchips.

“Great.” Mr. Nader gapes at my hands. “It’s happening too fast.”

“What’s happening,” I say.

“Those glowed.” Brutus touches my moons.

I pull away. “Get yer germy paws off me.”

Cleo nears us jutting her chin at Brutus. “Squash it, bloke.”

“Or what?”

“I kick ye to Venus.”

“Like to see ye try.” Brutus shoves Cleo. She tumbles.

I snatch Brutus by his biceps. Swear it’s involuntary, me lifting all three-hundred pounds of him as if he’s lighter than a leaf. He screams. I mean to put him down. I throw him instead. He slams the ground. It caves beneath him.

WTF! He groans, holding his head while I examine my hands, my moons glowing brighter.

“Octaria. Octaria. Octaria…” The drones continue their wolfish tone.

“Ye shouldn’t have done that here.” Mr. Nader stares at me, his Adam’s apple bobbing, his silence weirding me out and his statement too.

Hello! I just manhandled big-ass Brutus with my bare hands and Mr. Nader stands there, uttering nothing other than, ye shouldn’t have done that here.

“What’s going on?”

“Help!” August slumps to his side.

Oh my God! I lurch for him, hardly noticing Mr. Nader and Cleo joining me with Brutus scrunching his lips my way. Probably pissed bout things I can’t begin to analyze when August’s declining by the moment. Atop this rocky plateau, nothing else matters. Not that solar-pod soaring in our direction. Not those drones still chanting my name. Not the wind swooshing over the mountainside and shaking that tree where a smidge of white peeps from behind a branch and draws my focus for a split second. Enough time that once I turn around August’s face blanks. His whole body convulses. His eyes jitter. Saliva foams out his mouth.

No. No. No! Don’t leave us. I caress one of his hands, unable to breath or think or speak. My arteries in knots, despite how many patients I’ve cared for. It’s my fear, the question if I’ll ever again see the guy I almost gave everything to. I wanna bawl as he continues to seizure. As the solar-pod lands beside us, I nearly miss Mr. Nader asking me to allow the approaching medics space.

He places a finger to his lips. “Quiet.”

Bout? Right, my involuntary action that put Brutus in that cratered hole. Whatever caused my action, Brutus has completely recovered. His personality though remains as craptastic as ever.

“Answer me.” Brutus scrutinizes the length of me. “How’d ye do that, carrotpuff?”

Honestly. “Grow a conscious.” August is clinging on by a speck of red soil and Brutus can’t show one shred of nice.

“No questions.” Mr. Nader shushes Brutus.

“Phff.” Brutus spins toward August.

“Fight it, Auggie.” I cling to his fingers. Blood, spraying from his ears, splatters my suit. “Use everything ye got. For me. For us.”

I skim a kiss down his damp cheek then scoot aside for the medics taking my place. They insert a nano-bot into one of his nostrils. A common treatment on Earth used to attack the MRD virus from the inside. From my experience this method often fails.

Please be different this time! My skin chills, so cold I wonder if I’ll warp into an ice chunk while he fades away. Slowly. Harshly. Freakishly real to the point that cries stick in my throat.

“Switch ‘em off.” One of the medics points at the drones.

“Octaria. Octaria. Octaria…”

Mr. Nader snaps his fingers. They all stop chanting except for that one in the middle. Hovering above me, it yawns apart. A gun pushes out.

Frik! I snatch my e-rod. Cleo, Brutus and Mr. Nader copy. Blades flaming, I heave myself to the right and slice the drone in two. It disintegrates. Cinders blow over the city where more drones emerge.

They fire. We swing. Bullets ricochet off our blades and detonate drones while dozens more buzz in our direction. One spits out an iridescent cage. Nabbing Cleo, it deactivates her e-rod, boxes her in and elevates her as she screams and rattles the invisible bars.

“Release her.” I yell to three more advancing drones.

They encage Mr. Nader and Brutus, leaving me alone to somehow free my friends and fight these drones while the medics sit calmly with August withering in their arms as if this is normal. Talk ‘bout messed up. It’s like some sorta mind trick stunning everyone else. Even the riders in those passing solar pods remain clueless to this attack so unbelievable, I nearly overlook an incoming cage.

I spring to all fours. My moons practically bursting from my hands, they beam off an albino animal above. Mirroring a pterodactyl, it eeeks through the sky.

With each of its flaps, the plateau shudders beneath me, shimmying the medics and my sweet August. I stagger toward him, the plateau rumbling. It destabilizes me, tossing me to and fro, my e-rod flung from my grip.

I roll down a slope. Closer and closer, the cliff comes. I shriek. Frantically digging my nails in soil, the ground flings me like a frisbee. Can’t stop! I plummet off the edge, belly-first, eyes closed. Air squeezed from my lungs. Sand in my nose. My stomach shooting to my skull, I fall. Forever. Or it seems forever. Until I’m not falling anymore.

I’m being lifted by something. Maybe someone. I peek up to magnificent wings. White. Feathered, spanning the width of five eagles, this bird-being with a pterodactyl’s beak, a vulture’s talons and a human’s eyes, clutches me tightly. Too tightly.

I struggle to release myself, pounding my fists into muscled legs and arching my spine against a toned chest. Nothing budges. It’s as if I’ve lost the strength I pummeled into Brutus. And even if I had the strength where would I go? Back. That’s where. My friends and August require help. Help? I can’t offer help with my strength and my e-rod gone and this bird-being fisting me in its death trap.

Course, there is one option. Regana. If only I could pull my arm a smidge farther, I could telepechat her. I elbow a dense layer of feathers and extend my hand. Almost to my ear. One inch more. I stretch my fingers as far as they’ll go. The side of my pinky presses my temple while my mind drifts off.

Regana glides toward me. “Hello, dearie.”

Dearie? She never calls me that. Whatevs. Glitch or not. I’ll take any assistance she can provide. “Fly my starship to the other side of the mountain. Find me.”

My finger slides off my temple, my body slackening against the bird-being.

Soaring upward, his wide beak aimed at the E-dome, we ascend higher past the pyramids. Past the skyway. Past the tree. Past the base of the mountain and close to the blazing sun; a diamond blinding me and radiating my exposed parts as I flail in the talons of a shape-shifting synth? A brain-sucking alien? You form a theory. Cause I’m uncertain of ‘bout every dang thing ‘cept that for some reason this bird-being caught me.

Heck I’m alive. Though who knows for how long or what he’s planning. Maybe feasting on my bones near that skyscraping waterfall. So tall I can hardly fathom it. A crystal clear cascade, covered in rainbow hues, chutes from a mammoth cave. Carved in the mountain, it plunges into a lake with the bluest water I’ve ever seen. Flowing for miles and forested by thousands of trees and the tiniest blue flowers scattered amongst fields of grass, the lake abruptly evaporates into complete wasteland. Desert. Identical to the other side of the mountain, yet barren, uninhabited. Full of bones. Human bones.

He is gonna eat me! Chills sweep the nape of my neck.

Regana! Save me from this savage bird-being and those two ferocious tigers? No. They don’t have stripes. Cheetahs? No. They don’t have spots either. They’ve got the horns of a rhino and the body of a grizzly.

Martian bears. They roam at the foot of the lake far beneath a glossy oval. Shimmering and glowing above the waterfall like my moons, the oval casts darkness across the lake as if something more ominous lurks inside; possibly worse than this bird-being and these Martian bears.

Bucking their gruff snouts, they sniff long swigs of air once the bird-being plunks me atop cold lush grass. I squeeze myself in the fetal position, flabbergasted when they speak.

“What a treat.” One prowls close enough its moldy meat breath hits my face.

I tremble.

“Delicious.” The other swishes its lionish tail over my head, my flesh slick with sweat. “Ye brought us a snack.”

“Give it a rest, Puck.” The bird-being swats a wing atop the Martian bears. “Ye too, Moth.”

“That’d be whole lot a nope.” Moth stomps the ground.

“Nope yerself. Find a snack elsewhere.” The bird-being sticks out his chest. “This one be special.”

Like human burger special? Bet they’re ready to squirt me with their fav toppings. A wedge of avocado. Maybe a sprinkle of onions.

“Fine speck o’ yum.” Puck licks her chops, her beady eyes trailing me head to toe. “Go on, Oberon. Be a fool. More human for me.”

“Who said anything ‘bout a human?” Oberon’s feathers rustle as a sudden wind blasts sand at me.

I sneeze. Moth clacks his jaw. Puck growls, her fangs dripping with thick saliva possibly the same venomous stuff that initiated the MRD pandemic. All I have to do is collect a dollop, lug it to the lab and generate an anti-dote. Easy? Not exactly. I’m smarter than them though. Won’t let these beastly bears chomp me into their rumbling stomachs. My friends need me. August needs me. Humanity needs me just as much.

“Gimme two things.” I quiver to my feet, pasting on my everything’s okay smile. “Return me to the city with that bear saliva and I’ll do whatever ye want.”

“Is that so?” Oberon laughs, his hearty chuckle louder than the thundering waterfall. “Ye always were the brave one, even as a little girl.”

“Little girl?” I square my arms to my torso. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Yeah. What’s that supposed to mean?” Moth mimics me with a high-pitched squeak. “This little girl is one tasty snack.”

Oberon barks, “You’re testin’ my patience.”

Tell that to Regana! She should be here by now. Stranger than strange same as this bizzaro bird-being. He must be bonkers mentioning me as a little girl. Unless he isn’t and he holds the pieces to my childhood.

“Explain yerself.”

“Since ye asked kindly.” He dips a talon into the water. Ripples blip across the lake, exposing a shadow. Long and wriggling, a scaly spine spears the surface. In the middle of the lake, a shrill click-clap comes from a serpent swimming closer and closer.

I step back and bump into Puck.

She snarls, her saliva dripping in my hair and sliding to my eyebrows. I gulp down a dry wad of phlegm.

Oberon sighs. “They really did a number on ye. Didn’t they?” He continues to swirl the water. “Wish I could spin this planet into the past. Show ye all the awful things no one wants to remember.”

“I wanna remember.” My voice falters, the emotion on his birdish features so fierce it coils sorrow though my thumping heart, fueling my desperate longing to lay on his talons. To weep with him. To understand why his pointed beak bears a human nose quality. His eyes, a shade greener than the grass, mirror… No it can’t be him. Just can’t. My pulse patters swifter than water lapping over my boots. My shoulders pulled stiffly together, I stand on my toes as far as my almost six feet will permit. I skate a hand down his feathered cheek. He tips his head to my palm. My moons, glowing brightly once more, conjure the memories of me — a young girl perhaps age six or seven. Red pigtails loosened. Blue dress ripped. I crumple in a ball atop this exact shore, wailing for hours. “All’s I know is I’ve had the same dream every night for the past decade.”

“Let’s be grateful for that,” Oberon says.

“Grateful for what?” Puck snorts. “That both ye’ve lost yer brains.”

“Speaking of brains.” Moth pokes one of his horns through my suit, pricking my arm.

Oberon snaps. “Keep yer horns to yerself!”

“Come one, Oberon.” Moth whines, as blood, seeping from my arm, drizzles to my wrist. “One taste. I’m so hungry.”

“So what! I’m no food.” I pivot and grab Moth by the horns. Hoisting him above my head, I sling him through the air. He whams the side of a tree.

“Yes! Knew ye had it in ye.” Oberon wraps his wing around my shoulder. My gut screams to trust him. My mind says forget it. I shrug away.

“Let me.” Puck fixes her focus on my moons, her jaw widening. “Octaria? But they took ye.”

“Who took me?”

A whirring hum reverberates above.

Moth shivers, lumbering to his paws. “They’re gonna tear out our gizzards.”

Oberon scrapes his talons across the ground. “Prepare yerself. Feeding time awaits.”

“Feeding time?” I throw a glimpse to the sky where my star-ship zooms. Engines vrooming, it descends, churning up water and spraying mostly on Puck.

She burrows her snout in the sand. “Bugery boo! What shall we do?”

“Relax.” I pat Puck on her furry hind. She arches into my hand as if she’s itching for me to scratch her. “It’s just my synth.”

Regana appears, from the opening hatch, her body jittering. Odd to the max. It’s that ridiculous glitch. I’ll fix it soon as I board. I amble across a patch of grass leading toward my ship.

“Wait,” Oberon says.

I peer over my shoulder.

“Trust not that trickster.” He aims a talon at Regana. “She shall surely deceive ye.”

Regana? A deceptive trickster? The synth who’s been with me since I turned seven? 

“Oh dearie.” She grins, her mouth crooked on one side. “Synth’s don’t deceive.”

I inch nearer searching her perfectly sculpted face. Other than her jittering body she looks the same. Harmless as ever. Bet she’s even sanitized the ship enough for me to transport this bear saliva stuck in my hair. Sure it means abandoning Oberon, Moth and Puck. But I’m the only one able to complete the mission.

I resume walking.

“Want proof?” Oberon asks. “Drink the water.”

“No.” Puck yells. “Don’t risk it.”

“Life’s ‘bout risk. Sometimes the best blossoms bloom from the cruelest adversities.” Oberon motions me to the short choppy waves. The shade of sapphires, they shine under the sun, slowly swooshing in time with that slithering serpent.

Octaria. Octaria. Octaria. The serpent seems to hiss my name, my mind a nut splintered into a thousand shards of rambling thoughts so tangled I can hardly decipher them. Much less the whispers wafting through the dusty breeze.

“Drink. Drink. Drink.” The swaying trees bellow.

“Be wise, Octaria. These animals are dangerous.” Regana motions at Puck and Moth now flanking my sides with Oberon at my back. “If you won’t listen to me. Perhaps someone else can convince you.”

Someone else? Who?

My throat squeezes shut at the sight of Shelia. She advances behind Regana, my flesh so balmy I think it must be over hundred degrees regardless that it’s scarcely above freezing. Impossible. I sat beside Shelia when she died in the hospital three years ago. How the hell is she alive?

“She’s not who ye think she is,” Oberon says.

“Hurry, my daughter.” Shelia reaches a hand my way, her words sending a sharp shaft of pain through my chest. “We’ll chat.”

Nothing more I’d rather do. Talk with her over tea. Hug her as I did in yesteryears before the tides of change swept her out of my life. Out of existence only for fate to boomerang her into my path again. My second chance, plated up for me on my silver starship where she stands stationary as if she’s a doll. As if her smile is sewn over her flawless complexion void of those tiny crows-feet that usually crest her eyes.

“Someone let me in on whatever secret you’re hiding.” I flip my focus from Oberon to Shelia to Regana.

“Drink. Drink. Drink.” The trees bellow louder, the wind fanning those noxious rotten egg stenches into my nostrils.

I cough, scrutinizing the ones around me, hesitant to believe any of them.

“Octaria.” The snake hisses once more. “Drink and ye shall see.”

“Fine.” The snake wins. I bend toward the lake, cupping a wave.

“Stop!” Regana lunges in my direction. She grabs my wrist.

Puck pounces atop her as I wrestle in Regana’s grip, throwing empty punches with my other hand while Shelia stares from the ship like some stone statue.

“Hands off her.” Oberon fists Regana’s neck with his talons. She flounders, freeing her hold on me but directing her fury toward Puck. She kicks her in the gut. Puck hurtles at the hazy oval. Slamming a boulder just below the mouth of cave, she splashes to the base of the falls where I scan.

Toeing forward, I spot her furry backside motionless, floating down stream. “Puck!”

“Synth bitch!” Moth bites Regana’s arm while Oberon strangles her.

She gags.

“Drink. Drink. Drink.” The trees howl through the blustery gale.

Regana pries Oberon’s talons off. Taping her neural lace, she gasps. “Do this and you will never be the same.”

Too late. Water wets my throat. My tongue sissing from my lips, I twirl upward as waves funnel around me and my spine expands. Excruciating. Ten million knives in chest, they spear through my broadening rib cage. My shoulders distend, poking outward as heat gushes like a canon from my engorged gut to my enlarged lungs.

I shriek. Fire. Redder than blood, it blasts from my mouth, scalding my reflection — a butt-ugly dragon visible in the lake, below hundreds of drones.

They pelt me with bullets. I roar and take to the sky. Zooshing in all directions, I whomp my tail against those dastardly drones. Others I punch, smashing them into crackling cinders that collide with dozens of solar-pods zipping toward me. Packed with passengers, their noses pushed against the glass, their faces tight with terror when Regana springs from the waterfall.

Her synth form mutates into a giganto-bot with an owl skull. Vulture wings. Arachnid legs. An amalgam spider-monster as enormous as the mountain. She jumps and whips one of her hairy legs up shattering numerous solar-pods. People scream, plunging from the pods into her waiting jaws. She mashes them up then spits their bones atop the human skeletons piled in the wasteland graveyard.

“Get her.” Moth hollers from the shore.

While Oberon soars to the remaining drones, my star-ship mysteriously tails him, shooting. Frikin’ fake Shelia must be at the wheel.

I spew fire, detonating my ship and bombing drones as orangish flames spread over the smoldering mountain toward its belching peak where smoke erupts. Rock hurtles over the range and aims for Verona, crushing the crystal city and setting the pyramids ablaze.

August! I jet around the volcano, unable to save the people propelling through the air and dropping into Regana’s massive beak.

She chews them alive.

“No!” My salty tears drizzling to my snout, my rage blisters up my spine for my friends and for August who this wicked witch slaughtered. I leap toward her.

“Not so fast, dearie!” She seizes my ankle with one of her legs and yanks me toward the volcano.

I swing sideways. Ducking under hurling boulders, I flap hard heading to the sky as I drag her up the mountainside. She pulls me down. I accelerate, flying with all my strength until her legs hit the peak. She screeches. Lava igniting her, I strike her with fireball after fireball, melting her spidery flesh off her robotic skeleton.

She crumples into a heap. Atop the mountain I rip her head off and stomp on her roasting carcass while the molten magma fades her life force and renders a mist. Purple and dense, the mist bursts across the sky, covering the entire lake. The entire forest. The entire mountain closes around Regana. She vanishes into a cloud of billowing smoke as my dragon-body shrinks smaller and smaller.

I float to the shore yards from Oberon. His bird being slumped in new grass growing beneath him. His feathers flicker when light beams. More luminous than the sun, it shines from him when the ground shudders as if an earthquake is beginning. I shield my arms over my head scarcely noticing Oberon rising above me. In a rainbow of vivid hues, he gleams so brightly I cover my eyes. For long moments, I’m huddled in a ball quivering on the shaking earth until finally I lift my lids to a dazzling gown materializing over me and white tunic clothing him. He descends beside me, his blonde braids spilled over his bronzed shoulders. His temples marked with moons identical to mine. His squared jaw. His angular face.

It’s him! I jump to my feet. “August!”

“No. Name’s Oberon. August was my clone.”


“They all be clones in Verona. Ye should know that.”

How would I? None of the researchers texts I read mentioned clones. Unless I was tricked. Maybe someone’s kept it a secret from me the entire time. Regana probably.

“What I’d like to know most is who I am.”

“I don’t understand. The water should’ve restored yer memories.” Oberon nears me, a pained expression creasing his face wells tears in my eyes. “Those vicious beasts of old may have banished ye to Earth and enslaved ye for eons. But they will not rob ye from me. Or from us!”

He kneels before me as thousands of trees dance in our sight. Transforming into men and women who stride from the forest where saplings sprout in the exact spots they stood. Donned in white robes, those humanish beings advance in our direction with Puck and Moth at their tail. Climbing from the clear water in the form of Cleo and Brutus. The serpent swims after. Whirling out of the lake, he emerges as Mr. Nader.

He joins the others, with Puck and Moth on either side of him.

They all congregate around me, chanting in unison, “Hail! Octaria! Queen of the Nephillim!”

I’m speechless. Completely baffled and awed by these men and women encircling me and calling me their Nephillim queen. What’s a Nephillim? How am I their queen?

“I am Othello, yer faithful servant.” Mr. Nader touches my feet, his silvery brows arched. “Yer father would be so proud of ye, Octaria. Cracking the curse that evil synth lordess, Regana cast upon us. She cloned us and spewed that horrid plague upon humanity knowing full well that our healing waters would cure them. How dare the dark ones who burned our kingdom. Who created Regana and plotted for our own Queen to annihilate us. We shall spite them and send our water to the humans.” He points at the lake, exhaling shakily. His words churning in my brain, invoke a deep sadness for myself and for all those who bow before me. “We are forever indebted to yer bravery, my queen. Thank ye!”

The masses cheer. “Thank ye!”

Othello bows lower as the mountains bud to life. Trees, bearing leaves, sway in a gentle breeze while streams rush toward the lake and collect beneath the thundering falls. Such a glorious sight, the vivid vegetation surrounding us. The tiniest butterflies flitter over those blue flowers mimicking the flutters I feel when I focus on Oberon.

“My beautiful lady. Bred of angel and man. Ye are my betrothed.” He skims his eyes over me as if counting the freckles doting my skin. “I beg ye. Remember me.”

He rises, clasping my hand. His long gaze, melding with mine, unravels the depths of my mind til I see us racing up the mountain; see us crouching in the mammoth cave. We smile Laugh. Flirt. An innocent game. A stolen kiss.

“My love.” I skate a hand across the slopes of his face, his breath sweeping into mine.

“How I’ve missed ye.” His lips meet mine, his mouth strong, his tongue sweeter than spring. Warm and calm, I sink into his soft embrace, swooned by the whispers of butterflies and the tick of our hearts thrumming as one.

“Hail! Hail! Hail!” The other Nephilim continue cheer. “Queen Octaria!”

I lift my head to the sun as it sets below the horizon. Rays, gold and glinting through the E-dome, throw our alabaster silhouettes across the lake while two moons ascend and clouds gather, graying that glossy oval above the waterfall.

A voice follows, booming from the oval. “Thy deeds shall be punished, Octaria daughter of Gadreel.”

Gadreel? Who’s Gadreel?

Oberon shakes his mighty fist at the moonlit sky where hundreds of starships virr into view. “Ready yerselves, my kinsmen. War brews.”

Black as the night. Death. It carries no mercy. No matter what planet a vibrant tree exists on, death shall fight to uproot it. We shall fight harder.

“Death shall not defeat us.” I hold Oberon’s hand high, shouting. “Together we shall reclaim what was once ours!”



Submitted: April 22, 2018

© Copyright 2023 Joy Shaw. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


Sean Terrence Best

I want to be there with you, Joy, on your distant alien world to experience the psychic revelations of another time and place. Thank you so very much for vividly transporting me with your emotionally evocative characters and subliminally enlightening plot. You are a legendary storyteller of the first magnitude.

Mon, April 23rd, 2018 4:53pm


Thank you, Sean!!

Mon, April 23rd, 2018 10:00am


Oh, Joy this put me in mind of some kind of Shakespeare/ Martian sci-fi tale. Maybe it was the names you chose but I think more the relationship between the characters. Some great descriptive passages -- never have a read about vomiting in such detail.
One thing, you have a word missing -- I tried to mark it with icomments but it kept selecting too large an area. It's the paragraph that starts 'Regana. She springs from the waterfall....' You'll see it.
Anyway, an excellent story.

Mon, April 23rd, 2018 9:25pm


Thank you, Hully! Yes, you got the right vibe. I meant it to have a Sci-if Shakespearean feel with a splash of Monty Python. Thanks for the review!

Mon, April 23rd, 2018 3:35pm

Sue Harris

Wow, I'm almost breathless after reading this action packed, fast paced story. I read it through quickly yesterday, and then again tonight.This is spectacular... your imagination is off the scale, the characters, the setting, the twists, all delivered in your dynamic style. This is yet another shining example of your extraordinary writing talent. I've said it before, you are special!

Wed, April 25th, 2018 9:33pm


Thank you, Sue!

Wed, April 25th, 2018 2:41pm


This is a delightfully fun story, and I’m impressed at how much world-building you did in such a short tale. Some of your descriptions made me laugh out loud- the room capable of holding “six strapping beasts and a lapdog,” “Martian barf-a-thon,” “warp into an ice chunk,” and “butt-ugly dragon” were just a few of my favorites. The scene descriptions were good, too- nice and vivid without bogging down the action. The ending was my favorite part. It has just the right balance of tying up ends while still maintaining the exciting, empowering tone.
There were a couple moments where the more teenager-y diction made me pause (I haven’t called anyone “bestie” since I was in third grade, and I don’t know anyone who would say purple eyes are “way more lit” than green ones). But those are definitely subject to regional variations, and I didn’t even notice them until I went back and read the story a second time.
So, yeah. Not sure how in-depth of a critique you wanted (sorry for being so wordy lol) but that was my two cents as part of the “younger crowd.” :)

Thu, May 3rd, 2018 3:16am


Thank you, Kathryn! I really appreciate your review here. Very thorough.

Wed, May 2nd, 2018 9:45pm

Keke Serene

Wow! Excellent world building and a fantastic voice for our character here. Excellent job with your action as well. I'm interested to see where this goes next! There seemed to be a LOT of deception going around, with clones and all else! Well written!

Thu, September 13th, 2018 2:21pm


Thank you! Appreciate your kind comments. Hope you enjoy the next story too!

Thu, September 13th, 2018 7:46am

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