Editor’s Note: You may start with Episode 1 by clicking here.
When Armand Dubois founded Moonbeam, LLC, he never imagined that, one day, he might be standing, minus his pressure suit, on the surface of Dolnatri 4.
He’d never heard of that world, let alone the sentient arachnids who lived there, in perfect harmony with its lush, nearly pristine ecosystem.
And yet, there he was, with M429 looking on and Gleanant’s chirpy voice ringing through his tormented thoughts.
“There!” said Gleanant. “I hope you don’t mind. Bringing your pressure suit would’ve complicated my calculations. I assumed you’d rather keep all your internal organs in tact.”
“Good call,” said Armand. “Just a little … embarrassing.”
“Flaming galaxies,” said Gleanant. “What is it about you humanoids and self-loathing?”
“Take a closer look, Boss-Lady,” said M429. “The question pretty much answers itself.”
Armand stifled the snappy comeback that popped into his mind. There was, after all, no point in trying to insult an android. Instead he looked up the glowing red sphere that hovered overhead.
“Where’s that rejuvenation pond you promised me?” he asked.
“Ten kilometers due east,” said Gleanant. “Step lively and we should make it there by mid-afternoon.”
“You brought me … what? … fifteen parsecs, so I could walk for hours … like this?” said Armand.
“Goodness, what a whiney little sack of bio-matter you are,” said Gleanant. “I suppose you want a ground car?”
“Yes,” said Armand. “And some clothes. Feels like we’re heading into fall on this planet.”
“Fine,” said Gleanant, whose petulance made Armand wonder at the civilization that would build such a device.
Regardless, minutes later, Gleanant had extruded enough raw materials from the planet’s crust to build a solar-powered flat-bed truck and a blue-grey jumpsuit modeled after an image hovering in Armand’s mind. Soon he was dressed and sitting in the truck’s cabin. His tired eyes gazed up at the rear view mirror to see M429 crawling into the truck’s bed behind him.
“Move out,” said Gleanant. The truck jolted forward. Armand sat back and took in the planet’s unspoiled scenery. A trickle of hope seeped into his mind.
“Beautiful,” he whispered. With any luck, he told himself, he’d soon be restored to his proper age, so he could get on with his life. Ten kilometers later, a large pond came into view, set back into a stand of evergreens.
“Last stop,” said Gleanant. “Now, you’ll have to disrobe again before you enter the pond. I do hope that won’t be too traumatic for you.”
Armand ignored her, rushed out of the truck and peeled off the jumpsuit. As he edged toward the pond, he was surprised to see M429 climb out of the truck and follow him.
“Hey Boss, you sure this is a good idea?” it asked. “I was just thinking….”
“If you’d been thinking,” snapped Armand, “you would’ve talked me out of opening Gleanant’s casing.”
The glowing orb above him grew paler and dipped a bit closer to the ground.
“Now that hurts,” said Gleanant.
“You’re both nuts.” said Armand. “I’m going in.”
Over M429’s repeated protests, the aging human limped over to the pond’s edge and submerged himself in its sky-blue waters. Hours later, he re-emerged, reinvigorated.
“Wow, I feel great!” he shouted. “But how did I ever hold my breath that long?”
M429’s doleful reply caught him off guard.
“Boss,” it said, “I think you should check out your reflection in the pond.”
Just then, a contingent of twelve Dolnatrids crept out of the surrounding forest. Though distinctly arachnid in general terms, Evolution had granted them the power of speech. Gleanant translated their reedy language and piped it into Armand’s mind.
“Welcome, Brother,” they said in unison. “You have been reborn. Let us teach you the ways of your people.”
“My … my people?” asked Armand. He spun around and took M429’s advice. There, reflected in the pond, was his new arachnoid body.
“What have you done to me?” he shouted at Gleanant.
“Rejuvenation,” said the alien AI. “Come on, that’s what you asked for. We both heard you. You’re now a thirty-five-cycle -old Dolnatri. Their average lifespan is five hundred cycles. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.”
“You didn’t hear me say I wanted to change species, did you?”
“Well, no,” said Gleanant. “OK, minor glitch. But don’t worry, the folks at the Rulzarian Genome Center in the Aleelean Sector should be able to fix you up.”
“I dunno, Boss,” said spidery M429. “Maybe you should quit while you’re ahead. You look pretty good to me.”
Armand wanted to shake his head, but his new anatomy made that impossible.
“Just take me there,” he said. “But this time….”
Before he could complete his thought, the former human was once again whisked across the cosmos by a powerful, if somewhat erratic alien force.
(To be continued: read the next episode here)
Design by Steven S. Drachman, from a photograph from vicariousalex/pixabay
Mark Laporta is the acclaimed author of the Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek series and the new novel, Probability Shadow, which was published in October by Chickadee Prince Books, available now in paperback or ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or at a bookstore near you. He is also the author of the innovative science fiction noir serial, Insective, which you can read for free in Audere Magazine.
Discover a universe of alien intrigue and adventure at http://tinyurl.com/ml-sci-fi