With the idea of staying as far from the crazy old woman as possible, I stepped over Pallas still lying where she fell. I had no plan. Just that I wasn’t going to be tranked.
Marti followed me. I scooted toward where Jack lay near his workstation.
But Marti stopped by the airlock doors. “You don’t get tranked, you impossible little twitch. I don’t have enough of the juice. The data-waver will get you or it won’t, what do I care?”
She typed into the code-input-pad and as the doors slid aside, she tranked herself. When she was unconscious too, I hid under Jack’s desk.
A very weird sound, not like the hissing previously, came from the airlock. Huzz uzz uz ssssz..
The upside-down boot swayed through the opening at the height of Marti’s head if she’d been standing. Its thready white feelers cringed like a snail’s eyes-on-stalks when they met with Marti’s unconscious body.
It went four times round the room touching everyone and searching all the spaces in between. Marti let it know there should’ve been five unconscious people?
The wraithy tentacles drew up until they were like bunches of looped lavender-white shoelaces.
I gasped, silently I hoped, when a bunch of thick octopus-like arms uncoiled from the boot’s opening. With it came an expanding cloud of greenish, miasmal tinges and a half rotten old-boot smell. I sniffed with wide nostrils, not sure that I wouldn’t be sick. Probably seeing the air accompanying the octopus arms made the smell seem worse.
But the octopus arms themselves? I realised I’d seen them coiled up in the boot when I was still in the hold. Their warty skin pouched and flexed as the boneless appendages, four of them, straightened as far as they were going to. Not all that far because they twisted and twined together as the boot approached Pallas.
Oh no! The boot descended until it hovered about an arm’s length above Pallas’s head. The octopus arm tips, about the shape and size of my fingertips, explored Pallas’s face. Would she wake?
She did not and the boot dropped in a fell move so that its arms coiled over Pallas’s face, enveloping it totally. Was it killing her? Couldn’t be eating her. One difference from real octopus arms, I couldn’t see any suckers.
The arms loosened and the boot rose with its little wings going as fast as hummingbird wings. The boot flew to Owen next. Must be doing people in order of size? Biggest to smallest meant Marti would be last.
I studied Pallas. She still breathed with a steady pattern of her chest rising and falling. A healthier rhythm it seemed to me than the stupor that the trank caused. She must’ve been feeling better even while unconscious, because she had a friendly smile!
What will I do when I’m totally alone with nine hundred and ninety nine people tranked and or put to sleep by the boot? Even if I could trick the boot back into the airlock and discover how to contact Moon Base, will Moon Base even listen to me? Will Earth even want to know me, considering no one ever came back from a Life Lottery flight barring Joddy and Lem? And I bet that they tightened the rules so that that can’t happen again.
The boot rose higher after it finished with Owen. I snapped my gaze to him. He breathed well too and smiled. The boot hovered as if it couldn’t make up its mind. Does it even have a mind?
The boot went to Marti when I thought Jack would’ve been next. Maybe I can save Jack. Pull him with me under the desk. What if the boot came under the desk and discovered me? Anyway it’s a no go. Jack is too big. And also the boot already knows him.
I scooted past Jack to Owen. Hissed, “Owen, Owen, wake up!” Might as well be shaking a sack of sand. He isn’t at home. Help! The boot has finished with Marti and is swaying toward Jack. I will be alone though everyone was already asleep barring me. I assumed that the trank would wear off and they’d all wake for us to continue with our trip if you could call it that. Be better if Marti didn’t wake.
What if Earth-side won’t come to pick us up from the silo? Pallas and Owen surely will be able to contact Moon Base for the EMBers to rescue us if Earth Base doesn’t, because we’re in a Silo and meant not to come back. I chew the side of my hand. Can’t make up my mind. Time is running out.
I do need to be with the others. I clambered over Owen and lie down in the space between him and Pallas, Jack at my feet. Marti is over by the airlock doors. Closed my eyes. I do not want to see.
Yes I do. I do want to see. Open wide. Here it comes. Its swaying octopus arms find me. I hold myself very stiff but can’t stop my tremble.
The octopus arms drag their single fingertips over me but I barely feel them. Then the boot is above my chin. Just one of the arms reaches forward with its finger-like end. I see it’s more like an elephant’s trunk tip than a finger. I can still think but at the same time I’m shuddering like a buggy about to fall from the wall.
The octopus-arm’s elephant’s trunk tip strokes me. How ridiculous are all those words coming one after another? But it does. The octopus-arm strokes me along my cheek. Like it’s saying something comforting in a totally alien language. I don’t know what, but I feel calmer. I stop gulping air. I close my mouth and try to breathe normally. Concentrate on that.
The boot hovers right over my face now. The four arm tips all stroke me so softly and so consistently that often I lose my place attending. The very fine hair on my face is hardly displaced so while I hardly feel their touch, I feel very good inside. Warm. Calm. Peaceful.
So much to look at. The arm tip stroking my forehead presses down my eyelids about every third stroke. I understand distantly that the boot wants me to close my eyes. I can’t stop staring into the well at the centre of the arms.
Each of the arms has a tree-structure of flat pink coral growing against their inside and lead my stare further in to the surface of the well—I don’t know how it works—which is a long way above me ... their fractal branching lead my stare back to their beginnings at the wellhead, where each coral organism sprouts forth from a short trunk.
The surface of the well is pastel green and divided into a field of four equal quarters by an intersecting slit where the ends of the slits feed into the base of each short coral trunk branching out and out though the canopy-edges don’t touch those of the other arms. They stay separate.
All the stroking blends together and the view is getting pretty fuzzy. I might as well close my eyes.
The boot outwitted me because I don’t feel the exactness of what happens next. If I had I would’ve been distraught probably. It sucked me up through the well?
I wake standing upright on a transparent floor. Above me are four walls that draw together to an apex. I am inside a pyramid. Below me are four more walls drawing together to an apex. That pyramid is inverted and cleaved to the one I’m in. There’s a name for such a shape. Perhaps I’ll remember it. The boot holds my hand with one of its boneless soft arms and will show me around, it thinks at me.
It raises its front end, the bit with its eyes, to show where I should look. Overhead, on a couple of adjacent sides of the upper pyramid, is a meadow of green and brown mosses mixed with golden and lavender coloured lichens. Various creatures just as strange as the boot graze and harvest and nibble the delicacies they find among the vegetation.
They remind me of a troop of baboons I once saw in a documentary. Then I see a doll-like manikin among them that drags a huge arm and hand. How uncomfortable that must be. All the creatures, I realise while scooting my gaze from one to the other, are much stranger than baboons. They wave at the boot and chatter amongst themselves and I don’t recognise any of the sounds they make.
Through the floor I see a captain’s chair capsized so it is upside down, and though I might be making that up, it is at least twice as big as the human-sized captain’s chair on Silo 23. We approach a circle in the floor. Reminds me of a porthole though it’s big enough to step through which evidently we do. One of the boot’s other arms, other than the one holding onto me, strokes my attention away from asking how.
The boot shows off the chair. Everything you could possible need to drive this alien spaceship hangs off its back or is inset in the armrests and it seems to be covered with the same mouldy kind of material that the boot is made of. Beside it, there’s another of the step-through portholes.
Travelling through at least three places—with wonders unremembered there are so many—we arrive in a quadrant where two inward sloping walls are inset with a gallery of sleeping slots for each of the creatures on the ship. They remind me of bunks. Well, not the shape of regular bunks. The boot shows me its sleeping slot, a tight fit that is shaped like an upside-down boot, where it goes to recharge.
Right there on the wall beside it, its sister has her slot, my boot tells me. This sister now climbs out to meet me. They are identical except for their colour. Is the boot itself female too? I ask.
All the creatures are female apart from himself
Himself? I want to ask.
Do you like my sister’s colours, my boot asks.
I think I must have frowned a little at their by now obvious strategy. Something is wearing off in me, I fear.
Both the boots together smoothe my brow. The boot’s sister’s toad-skin is lavender. Its warts are red. Not sure if I like it as much as the green-tinted arms. The outer covering, what I would call the leather, is moss dark.
The sister-boot takes my other hand.
Humans don’t understand how we work, she says.
The boot that brought me says, I wave patterns from a star outward and all the arcs therefrom. My sister waves patterns inward. She will wave you humans back to your first ship. Each of us can work only one direction.
My thoughts stutter over what I don’t know. Our first ship? What’s the second one when it is at home? The waving. Refers to the data-waving? From a star outward? That must mean then that because we are still in the Solar System, and the boot from Silo 23 referenced Sol, our sun, that she data-waved us from Silo 23 to the Second Chance.
Neither of the boots has a mouth to speak with. They look at me and I think their thought. Both the boots think smile-thoughts at me.
You know so much more already than the patterns that came with you.
The boot sisters herd me toward the porthole in this quadrant.
I go because the arms that aren’t holding me twine and coil. The creatures’ warts pulse. Though I’d really really like to find out how the quadrant thing works. I was in five or six different spaces, and in my primitive mind two pyramid shapes stuck together at their bases have four quadrants?
The boot sisters stroke my hands, one each. It’s time to join your friends and wake up.