Creepy Crystals in Space.
“Slow it down!” Reg’s voice yelled in my ear. “Slow it down or you’re going to blow us all into atoms.”
No one on the team bothered to answer, and no one slowed. We’d done this three hundred and sixteen times. Reg had been on board for three of them.
“Watch it, Jenk,” Howie said in a calm voice.
Where Reg sat on the bridge of the ship, watching through helmet cams, Howie floated at the back end of the crystal. I had noticed the drift before Howie said anything, checked my distances. Sure enough, my side of the huge, pulsing, black crystal had drifted a little too close to the others.
“Got it.” I adjusted the output of my suit’s thrusters up what the old-Earthers called a hair.
“Good,” Howie said. “Now rotate.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of recycled air. My mind, which had been failing to parse the edges and facets of the crystal, relaxed. My eye stopped twitching.
“Second set, check the distances,” Howie said.
Lire’s turn to guide the crystal for five minutes. Then we would switch again.
The song of the crystal body started to sound in my ears. Like a collection of instruments being played by children, the music set my teeth on edge. But I could handle it for five minutes.
I imagined the crystals around us—red, yellow, purple and colors that the human eye couldn’t fully process. They each had their own uses. They each had their own way to kill.
“I said slow it down!” Reg yelled again. “You’re too close to that yellow crystal.”
Someone should remind him that he was in a big room, where his voice didn’t have to rattle around in a helmet every time he screamed. Still, it at least interrupted the music for a few seconds.
I knew how close we were to the yellow. I’d charted the course myself, which is why I was holding the widest section of the black with my back to the yellow.
“Ease up,” Howie said. “Just a click.”
Which meant everyone with their eyes open would dial their thrusters back a hair.
“Snuggle in, Jenk.”
I was already as close to the crystal as I could get, but hugged the inside of my suit that was against the black monstrosity tighter. The dissonant song in my head swelled, and my brain began to throb.
The original plan was to have me with my eyes open when we passed the yellow, but a mishap at the beginning of the extraction had messed up the timing. Now all I could do was close my eyes and pray to the stars that I’d done the calculations correctly.
After two hundred and thirty one successful extraction calculations, I trusted my numbers more than I did my eyes.
“We’re too close,” Lire said.
“We’re fine,” Howie said.
The tension in his voice told me all I needed to know. We were in the bottleneck right before we reached the outside of the crystal body. Another two or three minutes and we would be free. Not time to breathe a sigh of relief, but close. Then I would be able to open my eyes and get this song—this call—out of my head.
“Just a little nudge,” someone muttered.
“No!” Howie yelled for the first time.
“We’re too close!” Lire said.
My heartbeat spiked so fast that the medical alarm in my suit sounded. “Don’t change the course,” I said over the crescendo in my mind.
“Drug her,” Howie said.
“Jenk, you’re up.”
It was too soon, but I did as he said. Even though I knew the yellow was mere inches from my back, I gasped when I saw its reflection in the black surface before my eyes.
People. Humans. They pressed against the inside of the yellow crystal, pounding on the surface, trying to get my attention. They danced. They sang. They tried to seduce me to join them.
I swore under my breath, but turned my attention to the numbers. Lire had put us a fraction of a degree off course. I knew this route as if I’d walked it a thousand times. I quickly adjusted with my thrusters, and we righted.
“Are we clear?” Howie asked me.
“Yeah, you’re clear.”
“Close your eyes.”
I did, but I knew it was too late. I’d seen them. They’d invited me in. Every atom of my body wanted to join them. I yearned to be in that crystal with them. The hair-raising music resolved into my favorite band. Each thump of the base drum hooked another part of my conscience to the yellow monster. I took a breath and spoke. “I’m compromised.”
Howie swore. “Freeze Jenk’s suit.”
There was no way for me to tell that they’d taken over my suit from the ship, considering I’d locked it into place, but I knew. I knew and I didn’t care.
People often speculated about what it felt like to be taken by a yellow. Everyone inside looked like they were having fun, so we all thought it would feel good to go.
It didn’t. Instead it felt as if someone were peeling my skin off inch by inch to get to my soul. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t move. When my conscience came free I sighed in relief. At least the pain was gone.
Then I was there, with the revelers. I stood without my suit. The music of my favorite band filled the air, and a beautiful woman and an attractive man offered to dance with me.
I said yes to both. We danced. They offered me as much pleasure as I wanted. I forgot what I had been and only remembered this place.
“Hey.” The man tapped me on the shoulder and pointed. “We’ve got incoming.”
“Cool,” I said. “The more the merrier.”