i am still locked in the gaze of the stars and the nothing of the dark. there are no constellations for me to recognize, and i begin to make my own, assign each a meaning from my new personal astrology. i will a group of stars to form the shape of the ship i am in, and search intently within them in hopes of finding myself reflected in the ship i have become.

no moments pass. i am staring outward. i hear something that i haven't heard in what feels like a lifetime. it's a voice, and it belongs to a woman.

"are you okay?"

i feel a breeze on my cheek, something foreign pushing against my legs, back, and head. my body is mine again. i blink, and my eyes hurt from it. i am laying on ground. the porthole of my ship, my eye, is gone, and i am bare and confronting a night sky. more breeze.

"are you okay?"

a hand on my shoulder. warm through my suit. i don't know, i say in my head, but my mouth can't manage the words.

"you have to get up. help is coming. we'll be fine."

her voice is muddied. my focus dissolves from it and i'm now very aware of swaying plant life nearby, moving with the same breeze that keeps breathing warmly on my cheek. we are in a clearing of some sort, but everything is too dark to make out detail. i am laying on a thick blanket of what feels like moss. it creeps out beneath me into the dark to meet a line of vegetation that i cannot see.

"where is the ship?" i ask, quietly, slowly.

"we had to make an emergency landing," she says, her voice becoming more clear, soft and calming. she sounds young. "the auto pilot forced us to land. it gave us instructions to get a few hundred meters away from the ship. we carried you here, and the others like you."

"like me?"

"catatonic. you wouldn't move. your eyes were open, but you wouldn't stop staring at the sky. you still are."

i am. i bring my gaze down again, and it's too dark to see her face. i am laying down, she is kneeling beside me, her hand still on my shoulder.

"there is a settlement nearby. we were routed here by the auto pilot. they know we've landed, and they're on their way to pick us up."

i hear footsteps, softened by the lush moss that cradles my back. they come closer. i hear some voices, and i try to sit up. although it's too dark to see much, i feel like i'm blacking out from rising too quickly. the voices shimmer from my ears, then come back together.

"put this on him," says a male voice, deep, not familiar in any sort of tone i've ever heard. "you'll have to wear one too," it adds.

his dark hands pass something to her silhouette, now standing above me. i gather that he's from the settlement, and he's arrived with some sort of vehicle. she seems hesitant, her shadow gesturing questions. he calms her, and she becomes silent, and stands still for a few moments. he leaves to address the other passengers that are strewn about, awaiting instruction.

she walks to me and kneels down. the wind rushes heavily through the leaves, making me think that they are big. of course i've seen plants before, but i've never felt this many, just beyond my sight in this darkness. moments pass slowly, because i have so much to take in. i look to her face and can only make out vague details - a kind mouth, long hair, not much else.

"we have to wear these," she says, matter of factly.

"what?"

she takes my hand and turns it over to face palm-up. i briefly enjoy the touch of her fingers, before she places something wetly organic and dense into my hand. it feels about the weight of a good throwing rock. but it's wet. and it's moving.

it's large enough to span the width of my palm. i feel very uncomfortable. it feels like it's trying to push its way into my palm, under my skin. it's looking for something. i freeze and she watches calmly. she holds up her right hand to me and with the other, flicks on a finger light. it looks like a slug is attached to the top of her hand, burrowed in to the fresh IV holes that the ship used to feed us nutrients. it's stretched from the top of her hand to just past her wrist, but has flattened itself down considerably, so that it appears to be more of a dark and slimy mound of skin.

"what is it?" is all i can manage to ask. it pokes greedily into my palm, an over zealous tongue.

"the settler told me that it is a 'transitional organism', and that we'd need them to survive the first few days here."

"where are we?"

"i don't know."

i used to inject a lot of things into my body. i never really liked the act of injection, but the habit grew me an ability for tolerance, so i draw on that, and decide to trust her.

"what do i do?"

she tells me, and i comply. i pluck the slug from my palm and turn my hand over. i place it on the back of my hand, and it quickly finds the IV holes, tiny as they are. i watch my hand held up in front of my chest. i mentally detach it from my body for the moment. habit. the organism pokes through my skin, wriggling with effort, pushing with its other end against the top of my wrist for leverage. it does not hurt, but i do not feel comfortable.

warmth absorbs into my hand, wet, quickly up my arm and into my shoulder, surrounding my neck, then into my face. i feel like i'm sweating, but i'm not sure that i am. i watch the slug begin to flatten out on my hand, dark and foreign. i ask the woman to turn off the light, and she does.

"hello," i hear.

"hello," i say to the woman. she looks at me oddly for a moment, and then recognition relaxes her face.

"yes, mine's talking to me too," she says, placing a gentle finger on top of her hand where the slug is.


part three



words: hool     illustrations: jeeff