I was the first to turn.
It was extremely quiet on Enceladus, the tentatively friendly moon of Saturn whose colonization we were sent to oversee. The operation was already pretty far along. They had begun to build towns across the frozen valley. I could spot people from the station windows. Going about their business, living life, quietly.
After two months here on assignment, I was beginning to think I didn’t like it here. It felt like we were living under a microscope, but with no one at the eyepiece. Like we were on the edge of being forgotten. As much praise and ambition people had had for the project back on earth, I had come to expect…more.
It’s a strange thing, to leave your own planet. It’s not like leaving your province, your country. It’s even farther. A deep, cold, alien homesickness, that lodges in your bones and never quite leaves.
And as I force myself to concentrate on work, updating the station, monitoring the environment, managing communication between earth and the projects across the valley—I can’t get over the fact that I signed up to be here for two years.
The station was always chilly, but you get used to it after a while. The rooms were big and quiet and ominous. We all slept in the same room. The kitchen was massive as well, silent, dark, with the light from the skylight glinting blue off every chrome surface.
I hated to stay in the kitchen, the sleeping quarters too. But I was one to let my imagination run wild.
“¿A veces, te sientes como alguien está mirándonos?” I sometimes asked one of my colleagues, without thinking.
“¿…Qué quieres decir?”
That’s where it would end, usually. Me feeling like a paranoid freak, with the more rationalistic minds of the group beginning to think I was a paranormal fanatic.
I began to have nightmares, of dead people under blankets, rising with hollowed screams as I drew near. My colleagues, my friends. I began to see things, shadows racing across the walls, whispers of touch on the back of my neck, a gaze on the back of my head.
But there was never anything there.
A little fuzzy creature that called itself Pud got into the station, and stuck a little too close if it saw me. None of my colleagues could see it. Even when it stood right at their feet, looking up at them. I couldn’t get Pud to leave. It always found a way back in. Tried to cause trouble with the work. Always questioning what I was doing. Jeering at my colleagues.
They’d catch me telling it to get lost and let me work, to not sit so close, to get away from my food. I tried to reign it in when they were around. I tried to figure out where the little imp came from, but it never answered anything.
And how could it speak my language, anyway? That’s what I’d like to know.
I needed to get up the guts to stick up for myself to my colleagues. But…what if it really was just me? This frozen rock, the muffled, distant rumbling of its petulant geysers, hoping one wouldn’t form under the station. Perhaps it was beginning to get to me. Admittedly, I hadn’t been the most stable of people upon leaving earth.
I meant to put together something with empirical evidence, to show my colleagues something really was there. But I kept forgetting.
I was forgetting everything, actually. Simple things, like forgetting to wash my dishes after meals, even when the protocol was to line up and do it all at once. I kept finding things from my desk in my bed.
I dreamt my blanket wrapped me up and was trying to drag me off into the darkest corner of our quarters. Pud appeared and I punched it straight in the face. I woke up on the kitchen floor. The only sound the vague rumbling of Enceladus’ geysers outside.
I began to feel angry, all the time. Everything was cause for aggression. I am not an aggressive person. I don’t pick fights. I don’t bark, and I don’t bite.
But I did. Many times. Over stupid things. I got headaches. I lashed out at every opportunity.
The last straw was when I caught myself actually trying to physically bite someone.
I backed off, horrified. I turned and ran, looking for silence, for solitude. Sweating and shaking, I found myself in the kitchen.
I sank to the floor behind one of the counters. The only light came from a skylight in the middle of the ceiling, creating ghostly shadows, a frozen, blueish hue to everything.
I ducked forward, hands clutching my head. I wanted to kill them. I wanted to kill them all. But why? It didn’t make sense. They were my colleagues. We were a team.
Something stood over me, but when I looked up, I saw nothing. I fought to breathe.
This was supposed to be a quiet two years. Eerie and lonely too, perhaps. Sure, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but it was quiet. A chance to do honest work, to be some good in this universe.
But I wanted to tear it down. Ten years of collective effort, I wanted to see it wiped from existence. These people and their arrogant, stupid structures. Didn’t they once stop to think that maybe Enceladus belonged to someone else?
My breath caught at a sudden, sickening crack of my spine, in the shoulder region. More followed it, all the way down, painful, electrifying; curving and elongating and pushing up and out.
With a cry of pain, I fell to my side. My legs grew longer, my feet stretching far beyond the backs of my slippers, losing human form. The skin was darkening, hardening.
I curled up into a ball. I could hear footsteps, muffled voices. I panicked. They couldn’t see me like this. I pushed myself up, feverish, my vision blurring in and out. My arms were unsteady, clawed hands warping beneath me. My spine had become longer, stretching my body another half its length.
Something burst out of my sides, thin shafts jointing and planting on the floor. Four extra appendages. My blood dripped on the polished tiles—black, viscous liquid, like an insect. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.
Structures sprouted on my forehead. Two rows of two. When they opened and the confused visual information imposed itself upon my natural perception, I realized they were eyes.
The doors beyond the counters opened. Silence ensued. Listening.
“¿Renata?” One of my colleagues called. Sergio. “Renata, ¿estás aquí?”
Slow footsteps. I held still, my chest heaving, head and heart pounding.
He crept around the corner. As soon as our gazes met, he backed up in horror.
I acted on the first impulse: Attack.
When I came to my senses, I found myself beating against a prison door with all six arms, screeching at the top of my lungs. I stopped, abruptly, and backed up, surprised and mortified.
I could still taste blood in my mouth. Red, coppery. Not my own. There was a gash in my grasshopper-like leg. It hurt like heck.
I sat down against the wall, trying to catch my breath, taking in the sight of myself.
My skin was almost black, plated along the top like some kind of lightweight bio-armor. My uniform was ripped and too short in many places. It was bloody.
I’d never been covered in blood before.
Had I killed someone? Oh god…
I stood up, creeping to the door. I felt like I was on stilts, with silly putty for a spine. Everything hurt. I tapped on the cell door, tentative.
“¿Aló?” I called. My voice had changed. My jaw felt torpid, trying to talk through rows of jagged teeth. “¿A—alguién está? ¿Qué pasó? No…no puedo acodarme después de…” After transforming. How long had my blackout been?
And why had I regained sentience now? Lost and found it just like that? If it was that easily forgotten, I could forget it again.
I was better off caged.
But for some reason, everything in me screamed to be set free. This cell was suffocating. It wasn’t safe, it was strangling me. I had to get out. They couldn’t keep me here. I had to empty this station. They all had to die or surrender—
I jerked myself away from the door, so sharply I collided against the back wall. That beat back some of the animalistic thoughts clawing through my head. For a moment, the spiraling, seething voice silenced.
I was shaking.
I felt the anger, as well as the derision. From deep inside me. Mingled with my fear and confusion and shame. Something else. Whatever had taken control of my body…it hated me.
It hated all of us.
This is the price for trespassing, it said. This world is not yours. It will never be yours.
“¿Qué es usted?” I demanded. To myself in the lonely cell. To the monster inside my head.
We are the indigenous.
“¿Renata?” A voice from outside the door made me jump. Delfina. “Franco dice que dijiste algo sofisticado. ¿Tú estás…tú?”
“¿Todos están bien?” I said, anxious. My voice shook. “¿Por qué estoy cubierta de sangre? ¿Maté a alguién?”
There was silence for a moment. “No.”
I brought a hand up to my mouth. “Gracias a Dios…”
“Pero empezaste algo,” she said, solemnly. “Algo aún más feo.”
“¿Qué quieres decir…?”
A screeching sound burst into the air from the cell next to mine. Scratching and banging against the door.
A weight dropped into my chest. “O no…” I straightened up. “¿A causa de la mordedura?”
“Eso pensamos,” Delfina said. “Funciona rápidamente. Pregunta es, ¿quién te mordió a ti?”
“Nadie,” I said. I tried to think back. No strange wounds had manifested. Just a lot of other strange things. “Pienso que me seguía un rato…De algún modo, me entró. No sé cómo…”
Delfina hesitated. “¿Este…Pud cosa?”
I took a steadying breath. “No sé. Es posible que tenía algo que ver…”
Maybe the night I punched it incited something. But that was in a dream…It had to have been…
“Tenemos que irnos,” I said, urgent. “Recoger todos de esta luna. Las creaturas aquí…Ellas son las que hacen esto.”
“No sé.” The thing in my head was sitting back and watching through my eyes and ears. If I did what it wanted, I hoped maybe it would leave us alone.
“¿Cómo hacen esto?” I muttered.
None of your business.
“Estamos dispuestos a trabajar con ustedes. Queremos colaborar.”
Now you’re negotiating, because we’ve made you a crazed monster. You will never be human again, you know.
I swallowed. “No creo eso,” I whispered.
“¡ALÉJATE DE NUESTRA LUNA!” The screech exploded out of me, compulsive. “¡O MUERA! ¡VAMOS A MATAR TODOS USTEDES!”
I clutched my head in my hands, bracing the other arms against the floor.
“No sabíamos—” I said through clenched teeth. “Por favor, no sabíamos. Tienen nuestra atención total, ahora le suplico, nos permitan colaborar con sus exigencias.”
The creature quieted then. I sat back, trying to catch my breath. I looked at Delfina, apologetic, wishing more than anything I could set this right.
10 years of collaborative effort. The pressure of colonization pushing back against an isolated incident on a tiny science station. As it stood, the indigenous had claimed me and Sergio. They wanted immediate evacuation, but we all knew they wouldn’t get it, not without an epidemic.
And as I sat on the cold floor of my cell, in temporary possession of my mind and altered body, I knew the indigenous intended to give us one.
A/N: Been sitting on this one-off for a long time. I get really weird stories from dreams–more the environment and a few strange impressions, and then it spirals off into the sunset from there. Originally, like most of my scribblings, this was all in English, but I thought I’d experiment with language a bit for kicks, see how it changed its flavor, so to speak. I kind of like it.
For the translation: Enceladus’ Indigenous dialogue (english)