“It’s alien weather.”
Lyra looked over at her cousin Aldous with his ponderous great blue eyes and his narrow face and tried not to laugh. Aldous was not joking. Aldous never joked when he was talking about aliens. They were sitting out on the front porch, watching the sky while inside the house her parents were having an argument about money, or maybe laundry. Lyra didn’t know. Twenty years of life had taught her that it was best not to pay too much attention when ma and pa got into it.
“Alien weather, huh?”
“They like it when it’s quiet and still like this,” he said. “They can see us better.”
Two years younger than Lyra, Aldous had been diagnosed with all sorts of things of the kind that made what he said somewhat dubious at the best of times. He saw things other people didn’t see, and heard things other people didn’t hear. Some thought he was odd, but Lyra had always found him to be sweet and sensitive.
“Don’t worry,” she said, reaching out to pat him on the shoulder of his threadbare shirt. “I’ll deal with any aliens that come our way.”
He gave her a crooked smile. “You’re not afraid of anything, are you?”
“Nope, and you don’t have to be either,” Lyra said encouragingly. “Nothing’s going to happen here.” She stretched and yawned. “I’m going to bed, Aldous,” she said. “I’ve got to get up early in the morning.”
“Off to the city,” he said. “For your big adventure.”
“The biggest,” Lyra agreed. “Night, Aldous.”
Lyra went inside and marched up the stairs. Ma and pa were still at it. There was a repetitive clanging as ma did the dishes angrily. Lyra shut the door to her room, the room she’d slept in since birth. It had been a nursery once, then painted pink in her early princess phase before being blacked out in the goth period and now bore signs of all those periods in bits and pieces. Most prominently displayed were the many awards she’d earned as a national level gymnast. A scholarship for the same was about to send her to college. As the door closed completely, the sounds of domestic discord were muffled a bit, but not entirely. It didn’t matter; she was used to the bickering and it made no difference to her slumber.
It was one of the last nights she would ever sleep in her childhood bedroom. The promise of a new world was in the air. Though the glory days were most likely over, she was looking forward to starting the next phase of her life including pledging a sorority, worrying about her grades, maybe meeting a man she liked—in short, experiencing college like a normal person. She was so excited she could barely sleep. It was no wonder then that she woke up easily when she heard a sound like none she’d ever heard before.
A great humming voooommm made everything seem to vibrate, trophies dancing on their shelves, medals swinging in their cases. For a second she thought that the house was being vacuumed into a giant Dyson, but when she opened her eyes, nothing was moving besides a billowing shadow at the foot of her bed.
Lyra sat up and stared. She did not know if she was truly awake, but she was wearing the same baggy t-shirt she had been wearing when she went to bed and she sure felt awake. The cloud at the end of the bed was swirling, moving, turning into something.
In a matter of seconds, the cloud became a person that was not a person. That was to say, whatever it was, it was vaguely humanoid in shape, but failed to conform to many of her expectations.
There were protrusions rising from its shoulders and the crest of its thick, broad skull, which would have been concerning enough if it were not for the fact that its arms ended at the elbow and turned into three tentacles instead of hands, black and curling and uncurling in constant motion. The creature’s face was somewhat shrouded in the shadows, but it seemed to have fringes where its mouth should be and what she could make out of its eyes were dark amber almonds leering under a thick ridge of bone. If she’d had the chance to describe it to a police sketch artist, she would have said it was like a cross between a person and an octopus and a triceratops.
Faced with such a frightening apparition, Lyra opened her mouth in a scream. To her horror, nothing came out. Try as she might, she could not make any sound louder than the skittering of a mouse.
“Quiet!” The creature spoke in a voice so deep it made her skull vibrate. “You have been chosen.”
Chosen or not, Lyra was not prepared to go quietly into whatever strange night this creature had planned for her. She pushed back her covers and tried to run, some small part of her hoping that this was a dream and that the act of moving would wake her. It did not.
The creature’s tentacle arms extended across the space and wrapped around her. Each of the tentacles seemed to be as strong as the average human arm as well as being capable of operating independently. This meant the creature had six arms with which to effectively restrain her. It did so by winding its tentacles around each of her arms and pulling her across the floor.
Lyra lashed out, kicking for all she was worth. Several of the shots caught the creature in its midsection and seemed to cause it pain—enough for it to dump her face down on her bed. Lyra tried to climb out the window above her bed, but the moment she moved the creature latched on again, catching her by the ankles with the tentacles of one arm. The other was raised into the air, long thick tentacles curling and uncurling in preparation for its next action, which was to come down across her bottom and lower thighs in three hard lashing strokes. Still Lyra could not scream, but that did not stop a bright burning pain from searing into her skin.
“You will obey,” it said in a voice that sounded like thunder inside her head. “Or you will be punished.”
It pulled her close again, not bothering to change its grip. Lyra ended up dangling upside down, not unlike a freshly caught fish as the same cloud that had heralded the creature’s arrival enveloped her thickly, erasing her nice homey room from existence.
The next thing she was aware of was that she was contained in some small area. The haze persisted, making it impossible for her to see anything. She was like an animal with a bag over its head, though it was a much more advanced kind of bag, one that did not require physical form to blind her to the world.
“Calm down.” A deep masculine voice interrupted her terror. There was someone else in what had to be a cell with her. A man.
“Help!” Lyra reached out into the haze. “Help me!”
“Easy,” he said. “Breathe.”
“How am I supposed to breathe? Where am I?”
“You’re in the cargo hold of a Vonyak trading ship.”
“Vonyak? Where are they from? Russia?”
She knew they weren’t from Russia, but her mind could not fathom that she really wasn’t earthbound anymore.
“The Vonyak are an alien species,” he said. “And you and I are a very, very long way from home.”
“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh…”
“What’s your name?” He interrupted her cursing with a question.
“Lyra,” she said. “My name’s Lyra.”
“Okay, Lyra. Try to stay calm.”
“Calm!? Calm! I’m not on Earth anymore, am I?”
Lyra let out a shriek, which turned to a wail of panic that did not stop until the man found her. He touched her lightly on the shoulder and she began flailing, not out of fear of him, but because it was the only reaction her terrified body knew how to take. She cursed and swore and threw punches and kicks into the nothingness until her companion came close and wrapped his arms around her tightly, blocking her with his body.
“Calm down,” he said. “Panic will not help you. Panic is the enemy.”
Lyra couldn’t move, but fear was still pumping through her body with every heartbeat. She still couldn’t see the man, the haze prevented her from seeing much of anything at all, but she could feel him, tall and powerful.
“I want you to listen to me,” he said, speaking with his lips against her ear. “They’re going to take you and they’re going to do things that alter your perception of reality. You’re going to forget a lot. Just don’t ever let yourself forget what it means to be free.”
“I want to go home,” Lyra sobbed, her tears wetting his chest. He was wearing some kind of rough fabric shirt and he smelled like masculine musk.
“Good,” he said. “If you remember that, you just might.” His tone was gruff and she could feel by the way he felt against her body that he was not a man naturally given to tenderness, but he was comforting her nonetheless.
“Who are you? I can’t see a thing.”
“That’s one of their tricks,” he said. “Use your other senses. I’m just another prisoner like you, but I’m not going to stay a prisoner, and you don’t have to either. Keep your wits about you. Look for opportunities. If you see one, take it.”
“I… I don’t know how…” She felt her throat closing up with tears. “Can you help me?” Her tone was plaintive, helpless as she clung to the stranger in the darkness and hoped with all her heart that he might be able to do something to help her.
There was a pause, a little cough. It sounded to Lyra as if he was trying to maintain his composure. “Right now I’m about as locked down as I’ve ever been,” he said. “But I’ll promise you one thing, girl. I’ll look for you, and one day I’ll find you.”
“You mean that?”
“I do,” he said. “If I’m anything, I’m a man of my word. So you can stop panicking, because everything is going to be okay.”
Lyra had no reason to believe him. She didn’t know him and she couldn’t see him, but something in his voice, and in her heart, told her that he was right. It was going to be okay.
“Stay strong,” he said. “And remember. As much as you can, you need to remember.”
“Who you are. Where you came from. And where you want to be. This is just a bump in the road. Don’t give into it. Don’t let them take an inch of who you are, okay?”
She still could not see him, but she nodded as if he might be able to see her. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll try.”
“Humans!” A harsh, alien voice interrupted their conversation. “Female human. Come here.”
Lyra clung to the man and hid her head in his chest, hoping she was not the female human they wanted. Tentacles wrapped around her arms and legs and she was pulled away from him. The haze was deepening. She was losing consciousness again. She heard just seven more words from him before blacking out completely.
“Be strong, Lyra. And remember to remember.”