I tasted blood.
Coughing on smoke, it took every ounce of energy I had left to roll over onto my stomach. My mouth was full of warm coppery fluid.
I spat into the dirt, gulping air thickened with smoke. My throat burned.
Henry! My mind screamed. I craned my neck around and caught a glimpse of a blackened circle where civilians nursed burns at the blast’s circumference.
Something charred and smoking lay at its center. As I closed my eyes, a sickening weight clenched in my solar plexus, like the weightlessness associated with falling. No.
The shadow loomed over me.
“Forgive Henry,” I pleaded, “he didn’t know what he was doing.”
“I can’t,” I gasped. Goosebumps rose on my skin from the chill of its shadow. Why did it demand so much of me?
I must be assured that your health is stable.
You are hope, Max. The future is in you.
An icy hand gripped my shoulder. It was firm and strong. This time, I didn’t resist. The monster pulled me to a sitting position.
My vision blurred in and out of focus as the monster brushed a hand, delicate as a rose petal on the wind, across my face. Its hand loosened.
The monster’s shoulders slumped a little, forward. Its head hung lower.
You are strong, Max. The angels have chosen well.
A cold numbness took over me, pure fatigue, a need for pause, shock settling in.
Do you understand that I am dying?
The monster put a hand on my torso, between my belly and my chest, in the hollow of my ribs. There was a visible lump there, pulsating with a steady beat.
The throb of the life in my torso reverbrated in my ears, pounding through my blood. If I was hope, if I was the future to these beings, did that mean . . .
All that I was, you will be.
Understanding hit me like a tidal wave, soaking me through. It made sense, everything made sense, and peace washed over me.
The monster’s future was in me.
My head felt fuzzy, like I was forgetting something. By now exhaustion had shot my vision to fog and vague shapes. My memory . . .
The monster’s hand slipped from my shoulder.
Only a little while and I will be with you.
Somewhere, far away, urgency called me. It irritated me; I tried to shake it off. I grew angry as it disturbed me.
Released screams slammed against my eardrums. Faces washed through my head, lives that were missing—lives that had some meaning connected to mine.
You do not understand—you cannot go back.
The landscape was a backdrop of grey and brown. Blinding light emptied the horizon of color.
A light being touched my lips. I recoiled in pain—it scorched my lips.
Who, then, will go for us?
I struggled against the vision and the blinding pain. Something wasn’t right.
I staggered to my feet, lips burning with a cold fire, stomach churning. The monster’s heir squirmed in my gut. I stumbled from the monster who was kneeling in the dirt.
A face fuzzed into view right in front of mine. It was an elderly woman. She held a squalling child in one arm.
“My grandchildren will die.” Her voice shook as she spoke. “The crew from the Venture can’t save us with the monster here. We will die. As long as the monster lives, we will die.”
The image of a silver space vessel wavered in my eyes. It was sharply, solidly beautiful. I couldn’t explain it away.
My vision cleared. Delayed, as if I’d gotten up too fast. Cold strength filled my body and I nodded, with crystal clear focus.
I’m sorry, I projected, I’m so, so sorry. I can’t do it.
I gripped the lump under my skin, in an instinct to rip it out. This thing wasn’t me. It didn’t belong in me. I wasn’t the monster’s heir. It had invaded me.
Watching the monster warily, I walked towards it. It still crouched in the dirt, weakening every second it transferred its strength into the creature inside me.
Its head lifted weakly, mask meeting my face. In the middle a Fibonacci spiral traced its way to the edges. My hand reached out automatically and traced the spiral from the inside out.
The monster clawed at my arm. There was no force behind it. It gave an odd squealing noise, like a dry rusty hinge.
Its mask fell away.
I stared into the lined dark eyes of a woman my age. Her eyes were yellow and stained with blood. Behind the eyes was a deep pain, quieted by purpose.
“I am dying. You—are stalling the cycle. Of life.” Her eyes drifted to my torso.
I touched the bulge under my skin. The grandmother’s voice echoed in my mind. Henry’s eagerness. My ship. My sister.
Head swimming, I stumbled away from the woman, watching as her expression changed from pleading to confusion to shock and to despair. I shook my head, swallowing hard—it hurt; my throat was parched.
I stood right in the blast zone. I bent over and closed my fingers around a jagged length of shrapnel thirty centimeters long. I turned it in my hands. Its blackened surface absorbed the meager sunlight.
“Stop. You—cannot—do it.” The monster said the words with difficulty. She didn’t move. She couldn’t anymore. The creature beneath my skin kicked me, hard.
My vision had reduced to mere blurry shapes, now. I forgot what I was doing for a second. Then I looked down to my hands, slick with blood. The shrapnel kept slipping in my wet hands.
I kept my focus on the faces of those I loved. On the numbers of people who had to be saved. As long as the monster lives, all these people will die.
I hardly noticed anything at first, just the movement, the pressure, and then the pain.
It burned, gradually increasing in intensity, until it shook my body from head to toe and all I saw was blackness and stars. Swirling galaxies, full of life, every one of them bursting with life. Life. Life. Life.
Shooting pain concentrated in my cold fingers. I opened my eyes, the vision of the universe still playing in my head. It blinked away.
Brown Gamma XA-113 hit me in the face with salty dry air and endless plains, dusty and hazy. My gaze drifted down to my hand, cut to the bone, clutching a piece of shrapnel embedded in the lump on my torso.
I must have done it, then. I closed my eyes and felt the movements of the creature dying down. I returned to the vision of the universe, and saw the constellations. So harsh, so beautiful, so uninhabitatble. It was a place I didn’t belong to. I belonged elsewhere.
Eons passed, and the monster’s presence left me alone. It was gone. Everything was gone: the fear, the apprehension, the anxiety. Somewhere in the background noise, a voice said, Our guardian has failed. The cycle is incomplete. Who is left to carry on the sequence?
Warmth spread through my cold limbs. Somewhere, beyond the universe, there was something greater opening its arms to me. To all of me.
Not I. I have chosen not to carry out the sequence. As for the cycle?
I will leave that to the master of the sequence.
Lieutenant Elrin Max steels herself for the silence.
She has seen hard things in her days. Graphic, gruesome bloody deaths dramatized in shock training. Brutal stories of reality lectured at her. Failed missions, losing crew members, and having to take responsibility for all of it.
But nothing, nothing at all can prepare her for this: listening to her sister’s heartbeat draw to an end. And not trying to stop it.
Horror assaults her. She can’t breathe. Her eyes blur with unshed tears.
A finger tapping a screen interrupts the silence screaming at her.
“Esther Max, Ensign, July 10th, 9:25 AM, local time, USS Venture . . .“
Elrin stifles a scream. She can’t listen to this any longer. Not even the peaceful look on her sister’s face can console her at all.
She turns and flees the room.
Fibonacci Monster: Finale coming soon.