Disclaimer: I do not own Subnautica. Unknown Worlds does.
Thanks to DevoutRelic for editing this!
This story is canon to In Charge.
When they first came, she was with her pod, searching for a place to lay her eggs.
She swam close to the surface, her paddle arms idly playing with the sand and plants of the reef as they swam slowly and lazily. She and her pod had come up from the depths to a mountain of stone, searching it for the right place. Tk-krt-xv swam ahead of her, talking with Dr-pkr-lr. She wasn't paying attention to them, though. She was reaching out with her mind, feeling around the many fish they swam past and looking through their eyes. The place had to be just right. It had to have just the right life to provide her eggs the harmonies they needed to hatch.
Finally, she peered into a distant biting-shark's mind. It saw a vast slope of sand in mildly deep waters, with purple bulbs, hundreds of crowns, fields of purple fungi, and so many more. Kr-ttr-vx, Ttr to her friends, reached out to the rest of her pod's minds. "There," she said, showing them what the biting-shark saw. "It is not far."
"I see it," Pkr said, pumping her tendrils to turn about in the water. "We should be there by nightfall."
Something deep in Ttr's core twisted and pinched. She winced, blinking both her left eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, clicking and warbling. "Could we... hurry? I think I am beginning to lay."
The other four of her pod looked at her, then nodded. "Indeed, let us hurry," Pkr replied, pumping her tendrils strongly to surge forward.
All five of them sped up, but they couldn't go too fast since they had to keep pace with her. Twangs of pain lanced through Ttr's lower body, flaring up and leaving a twisting, seething afterglow that spread up her body and down her tendrils. She pumped her gills languidly, hissing and roaring with each lance of pain. Of course, she hadn't expected it not to hurt. She was imparting her very essence into her young, of course giving so much of herself would hurt.
Before too much longer, they arrived in the place she had spotted, deep enough to allow her to swim without difficulty, but not so deep as to choke any light from the water. "Finally, thank goodness," she chirred, bringing her tendrils up and forward before lowering her body, sitting with her paddles embedded in the sand. The rest of her pod took up positions around her, using their thoughts to encourage the local fauna to ignore them.
No sooner had she gotten herself settled, her upper body slightly raised from the sand, that it was time. The actual laying itself was mostly painless, given how small the eggs were compared to her body, but all the same she was left weak and weary by the time all seven had been laid.
Kr-ttr-vx lifted her body off to the side, her head swimming with malaise, and lowered her head to the eggs. Seven, sandy eggs with a series of blue nodes along one line, nodes like on her tendrils. She warbled and hummed quietly, her head close enough to nearly nuzzle them. She drew back and, with a motion of her tendrils, began coating them in sand. Once only their tips were visible, she wrapped two of her tendrils around them, creating a circular barrier around them.
With that done, and the rest of her pod still impressing upon the local creatures the importance of her and her eggs, she cast her mind out. The curious, fearful minds of the lookers. The patient yet savage sand-lurkers in the distance. The playful, hoarding metal-biters in the kelp forests. She even cast her spirit up and out of the water, to the flying rays the sailed through the air, as fearless as they were tireless.
That was when she saw them.
At first, they were just streaks of white in the distant sky, far above the drifting clouds. Ttr tilted her head curiously, and pushed her mind harder into one of the flying rays. Go over there, she told it. Fly closer and see what is going on.
"Ttr?" Krt asked, nudging her in the side with a tendril. Startled, she pulled her thoughts from the ray and turned to him. "What bothers you, sister? Are the harmonies not appropriate?"
She shook her head, sending water out through her nostrils. "No, brother. It is... I do not know. There are strange clouds up above the surface. I was beseeching one of the rays to provide me a better look."
Krt blinked, and Pkr swam closer with her head tilted. "Strange clouds?" she asked.
Ttr nodded. "Indeed, look!"
With that said, she cast her mind back out to the flying ray she had been instructing. The streaks of white were closer now, lower now. They'd punched through some of the regular clouds and arrived at... hmm. She'd have to say it was the mountain island, the one surrounded by the angry white-red ones.
Once her flying ray grew closer, she gasped. What was - it didn't - how could - what infernal - she just didn't have anything to compare it with!
Black and green metal, like was sometimes hidden in the rocks, grew across the surface of the island at a breathtaking pace. There were three things; the metal structure growing on the island, and two things floating in the air. They flapped no wings, they moved not the slightest bit. It was as though their swim bladders were so relaxed so as to allow floating in the air, but what sort of swim bladder could relax that much?!
The two things were gargantuan, too. They were as big as Ttr herself! Shaped like saucers, they simply hovered and waited as the metal structure on the islands grew and grew from seemingly nothing, taking on spiral patterns, forming a vast structure, while also growing downward into the water.
Then, at some unseen command, the disks moved. One of them hovered lower and settled onto the island's dry sand. The other shot into the water, kicking up a calamitous splash that had Ttr pulling herself from the ray's mind in shock.
She turned to her podmates. "You saw it too?" she asked, rubbing her arms together worriedly.
Krt nodded his head, and Nrv swam over to her, nodding his great head. "We did," he murmured. "What are they? Did the rocks come to be imbued with the spirit of life? Is that why they - "
All five of them jerked back in shock as a black blur sped past them, leaving a trail of searing hot bubbles in its wake. As quick as it'd came, it was gone.
Silence reigned for a moment. "I don't like this," Pkr said at last, leaning over to nuzzle Krt. "What is going on? What madness has overcome those rocks, and how are they capable of these things?"
Krt chuckled, tracing a line in the sand with an arm. "The electric ones would be all over this."
They all shared a laugh at that. Ah yes, the eels of the depths, the only others with the spirit of knowledge within them. They would certainly be beside themselves with questions.
It was then that Ttr extended her thoughts back above the water. She found another ray and directed it back to the mountain island, gazing intently through its eyes. What she saw shocked her. The disk had fully landed and extended a ramp from itself onto the sands, and from within it came...
"They're beings!" she shouted. "The maddened rocks have beings in them!"
"What?!" her pod asked, shocked. As one their minds crowded into hers, looking through her as she looked through the ray at the unprecedented events.
Sure enough, from the disk emerged a variety of bizarre creatures, like nothing she'd ever seen. They walked on four legs, like the various crawlers, but that was where all similarity ended. Their armored skin was in shades of purple and blue, and the front of their bodies lifted up into a torso. The torso held a trio of arms, with a central one between the left and right. The head, atop a long and flexible neck, was dome shaped and instead of a proper mouth they had a beak that resembled two large teeth grinding together, flanked by mandibles similar to Ttr's own.
Four of them emerged from the disk, then four more, then four more, hurrying into a hole within the metal structure that had overgrown. Some of them carried objects in their trio of fingered hands - fingered, but with no webbing between them! - that appeared like boxes of metal.
What are these creatures? she wondered. Ttr left the flying ray's mind and extended her spirit into one of the strange land-creatures' mind. This one stood out because it wore something on its back, a cape of purple material patterned with inscrutable symbols.
Her mind entered its and she saw through its pair of eyes. Its vision was sharp, sharper than anything she'd ever seen, sharp enough to make out the deformities on individual grains of sand. Ttr tried to rifle through its mind. Not for much, just for its language! But even pressing her will upon it was hard, like trying to swim through solid stone rather than water.
Still, with some effort she pulled its language into her mind, but no further. To do anything more to someone with the spirit of knowledge was sacrilege! With knowledge of its language and nothing else, she listened and watched through its spirit.
"Barlosh," it said in a clacking, grinding voice. "Are the samples secure?" The robed one she was watching through approached another one of its kind.
Before her very eyes, the smaller one waved its forearms and conjured light out of nothingness! It formed a shifting stream of purple symbols, hovering in the air in front of the strange creature, who looked at them and seemed to glean some form of knowledge from them. "Secure as can be, Executor. The enforcement platforms are being built on schedule, and our drones have found a place of high thermal energy. Permission to begin setting up a generator and run wires to our installations?"
"Granted," Executor said, walking forward and past Barlosh. "Scout out a location for the facility and cannibalize the ship for it." Executor looked at the other stranger. "Nobody leaves this planet until the Carar is destroyed, researcher. Make it so."
Barlosh dismissed the magic lights and crossed their arms around their neck. "It shall be done, Executor." Barlosh turned around and rushed into the rapidly expanding structure, tapping at the air around them haphazardly.
Ttr was confounded. Researcher? Generator? Enforcement platforms? Carar? Planet? She rifled through the many definitions of Executor and Barlosh's language, seeking understanding. Planet, the spherical world she and her people resided upon. Did that mean these strangers were from another floating orb? Curious.
Carar, though. Carar caught her attention. She didn't quite understand everything, words of bacteria and immunity and quarantine, but the gist of it was enough. It was a disease, one currently ending many of Executor's kind. Normally that would not be so strange. Diseases occurred, and death was merely the swimming path to the next cycle of play. But from the looks of it, the Carar was poised to destroy all their lives, leaving nothing to be reborn as.
Cold horror swept through her body. A force so destructive that it consumed all life entirely.
And did Executor say they'd brought samples?
She and her pod continued to watch the strangers from beyond the world. Ttr split her attention between them and her precious unhatched young.
Oh, her eggs. Her darling eggs. Pkr and Krt looked at her strangely as she cooed down at them, but they had no right to criticize her. They had been similarly enamored with their own eggs. But she supposed that was her fate, was it not? She may have been fifty-four cycles old, but she was still the youngest of her pod.
While her young prepared to play with the world, the world itself changed fast. The strangers spread to all over the globe, centering their activity around the volcanic crater where her pod rested at present. They erected their 'facility' deep underground, in the river where the Empty Ones nested their eggs. She watched as their people crawled over their structures. Most interesting were the seven 'researchers', Barlosh among them. At first, she and her pod had wondered how they'd go about destroying this 'Carar' that they feared so terribly.
Ttr wished she never learned how.
They abducted creatures and plants, entombing them in tiny shells of water. They deliberately gave their victims the Carar and watched as they died. Nothing escaped their notice. No creature big or small, from the smallest of grubs to the largest of biters. Their release to the next cycle of play was horrible! Painful and slow, erupting into emerald blisters as their bodies simply ceased to be capable of supporting their souls. It seemed every day that she and her pod gathered to sing a song of mourning.
Who were these strangers? These monsters who could not even hear their voices?
Once again, Ttr wrapped her tendrils closer around her eggs and cast out her mind. She sent it deep down, burrowing through stone until she arrived in the structure in the underground river. It clung close to the ceiling, suspended by thick cables. Force fields kept the water out, and let the strangers walk safely in the air within.
She found the researcher Barlosh and looked through his eyes. Currently he worked at a flat table, with a dead flying ray pinned to it. It looked horrible, covered in misshapen green lumps. He waved a strange tool over it, and symbols appeared on the device. Ttr half expected him to start reading it aloud, but the stranger from the stars was silent as he read the message.
Another of the strangers walked in behind him, chirping out a greeting. "Anything about the specimen?" she asked.
Barlosh shook his head. "Nothing useful. Symptoms in three days, death five days later."
The other stranger trotted over and clapped him on the back. "Your shift ended half a unit ago, I'll take over from here. Get some rest." She winked. "You have a message, too."
Barlosh perked up, and Ttr felt some emotions flash through his mind. She wasn't used enough to his thoughts to know what emotions they were, though. "Really? Well uh - thanks, Vandor." He handed the tool to her, clicked his beak, and bowed his head. "I'll see you tomorrow." With that, he left the room. Ttr continued to follow him, watching as he entered a small tool and used it to travel rapidly through the waters, out of the underground cavern and down the dark slopes, where her pod usually swam. The strangers had another structure down there, which they seemed to use for rest. It was large and shaped like a blocky pyramid, buried half underground.
The stranger she watched through entered, and took a few turns through the structure. Eventually he made one of the walls close behind him - such magic! - to seal himself alone in a room. The walls were dark and green with intricate spirals, as all their structures were. This one, however, was littered with all sorts of items she could not make heads or tendrils of.
His hands tapped against symbols of light, and the image of another one of his kind appeared before him. "Hey there, Barl!" the stranger chirped in a feminine tone. The background was a smooth, pitch black.
She felt Barlosh's beak click. He reached out and brushed a taloned hand against the light. "Hey, sis."
"Hope everything's going okay for you over on, uh, wherever you are. I don't know, it's all classified so nobody told me." What magic was this? To speak with someone so distant? "Everyone in the nest's really proud of you, Barl. We all miss you." She chirped quietly. "I miss you."
He laughed weakly. "I miss you too, Marla."
"Things are bad here. I don't know how much they're telling you out there - "
" - not much, we don't need to know," he interrupted.
" - but things are bad." Her purple eyes softened. "Stay safe, alright? Everyone hopes to see you home soon. I don't know if I'll be able to send another message, it was hard enough to get past all the red tape as it is. Goodbye, Barlosh." She leaned forward, the stranger's head taking up the entire light screen. "How do I turn this thing..." And then the message ended.
She withdrew her presence from Barlosh's spirit. Ttr tilted her head and warbled. A sister. A family. That was, after all, what these strangers were fighting for, was it not? Her heart hearkened back to the dead flying ray, pinned to the table after having been ravaged by the Carar. That was happening to the strangers, in more numbers and more places than she could imagine. Their friends and families. How could she be revolted at them killing a few dozen of the beings of her world? Could she truly disprove of their actions?
... no. Their cause was noble. If only she could help them.
Time passed. She could sense the life and souls of her eggs growing. There was still quite a ways to go before they'd be ready to play with the world around them, but all things considered it was going well. Well, mostly. One of them...
Ttr had recently withdrawn her attention from the strangers. Their terminology was still so often beyond her, but apparently today the researchers had gathered to discuss a skeleton they'd found, one that indicated a path to curing the Carar that was butchering their kind. It made her heart soar, and sing the song of victory, much to the confusion of her pod. The strangers had a plan. They could stop the pain. Though she did wonder what they planned to do.
Kr-ttr-vx did not have to wonder long.
She was alone on the day they came, singing quiet songs to her eggs as she sucked in water through her mouth to filter it for vitality. Then out of the distance they came in a trio of green and black ships. Ttr cooed quietly; to what did she owe this visit? She reached her mind into the ships and listened to the strangers' chatter.
She gasped in surprise. The skeleton they had found was one of her kind, an unfortunate soul who had moved on to the next body of the grand game of life. The strangers had spent time constructing something massive deep below the land, and needed one of her kind to study, to see how they might resist the Carar.
And they had come for her? She was - Ttr did not know how to feel. Their task was so important, so vital, and she should be honored to be chosen for a part of it. But her eggs, her children -
No. She could not be selfish. Ttr had to aid these strangers in whatever way she could. She saw them press buttons on the insides of their ships, and a trio of objects wedged themselves between her armor plates.
"Oh!" she warbled, raising her arms. Already something cold was spreading through her shell, across her insides and numbing her thoughts. "You could've... just... asked," she murmured. Ttr collapsed, but she managed to control her fall to avoid crushing her children. She laid on the sand, her eyes growing irresistibly heavy.
The darkness of silent song engulfed her.
And, just like that, Ttr stared to wakefulness again. She was still collapsed with her head on the ground, and with a groan she lifted it and looked around.
She was not where she'd been last time.
The ground was bumpy and uneven, with plants of all kinds sprouting from beds. But all around her and above her were walls made of the aliens' black-green metal, forming a colossal rectangular prison. Ahead of her was a ramp that led to one of their glowing green gates, much too small for her to fit in. Ttr lifted off into the water; the area was large enough for her to swim laps, but not much more. Behind where she'd woken up was a small structure in the wall, which led to a closed-off section of air and another gate. Vents along the ceiling pumped water in and out.
Ttr turned around and headed back to where she'd woken up, near the first gate. As she swam over it, she saw something sticking out at the base of the ramp. Something square, with a glowing panel and seven somethings embedded into it.
She gasped and sat near them. Her eggs! Oh her darling eggs, they'd brought them with her, oh she could still look over them and protect them. Ttr wrapped two of her tendrils around the machinery holding them and lowered her head to nuzzle their cases. "It's okay," she whispered to them. "It's okay, I'm here. Mommy's here."
Something flashed in front of her, prompting Ttr to look up. It was the strangers, wearing strange devices over their necks that sustained a bubble of air around their heads. "It's awake!" one shouted, hiding behind the other. "I thought you said it'd be out for another half cycle!"
"It should've been! It must've been more resistant to the tranquilizers than I thought," she stammered, beak clicking and clacking furiously.
They were scared. It was obvious; their arms were drawn into their torsos, their mandibles tight against their faces, and their souls radiated with the sour yellow of terror. Ttr brought a paddle to her chest. "Peace, small ones," she said into their minds. But like always they showed no signs of hearing, so she simply lowered her arm back to the ground and looked away. Perhaps if they thought she wasn't focusing on them, they would be less afraid.
After all, she had so many questions. Where did they bring her? What did they require of her?
"Alright, let's just plant the specimens and get out of here," the male stranger said. If she remembered right, his name was Marlie. They were so panicked, but why? They had the means and methods to place her gently to sleep, did they not?
Regardless, once they thought she was not focused on them they swam around and placed tiny seeds into the sand all around the chambers in addition to releasing smaller fish. They meandered through the area, waving strange machines over some of the black cables that vanished into cave systems and, eventually, left through the back.
Then, Ttr reached out with her mind, trying to get a sense of where she was. There was a dead zone of no minds beyond that of the strangers around her, but beyond that she found others. Specifically, the spitting ones, magma rays, and a pair of nesting Mighty Ones. All around her was a lake of molten rock, the water around it boiling and white with rage. The structure of the strangers stood out sharply as it rested on a platform of basalt, a monolith of black and green that stood proud against the Mighty Ones with a trio of smaller cubes outside, sprouting from the magma.
Ttr reached her mind out further, climbing up through the waters. She found the thermal plant they had designed, with a trio of researchers inside analyzing the stone they'd hollowed out to build their energy source.
Ah, she thought. I am beneath the island my pod's resting at.
Ttr continued to extend her thoughts through the sea until she emerged from beneath the ground. A moment later she located her pod, and a lance of something bitter and cold stabbed into her heart. They were around her chosen nest, chirping and warbling miserably. Krt traced his paddle in the sand. Pkr swam in miserable circles. Nrv sat on a distant dune with his head bowed.
She didn't tell them. How could she have been so selfish?
Wasting not another moment, she projected her mind into Pkr's thoughts. "My deepest, sincerest apologies," she said. "I did not tell you."
Pkr leaped into the water. "Ttr!" she said aloud, grabbing the rest of the pod's attention. "Where are you? What happened? Your voice is faint!"
Was it? Ttr was rather far. "The strangers needed me," she explained. "They think our kind may yet harbor the key to their salvation. They constructed a home for me, down where the Mighty Ones live, and brought my eggs with me. I am fine. The eggs are fine." Except for one egg; she was more and more certain it was a dead egg.
Pkr translated for the others; from so far, Ttr could only reach to one of them. It was Nvt who burst out in outrage. "They stole you away?!" he demanded.
Kr-ttr-vx took a moment to compose her thoughts. "There is no point in rebelling against the currents. Isn't that what you taught me, Nvt? It is done. I am safe here." She took a deep breath of water. "I am fed here."
"... but what are they going to do to you? All the others they capture died of the curse they brought," Krt protested.
She sighed. "We'll just have to see."
For a few days, they did nothing but make her comfortable. They brought in fish from all around the world, and the plants to supplement them, all through a system of the strange green gates across the planet. The researchers continued their work in the facility, experimenting on the poor souls they had abducted. But as for Ttr, they did nothing but make her comfortable, going to lengths she and her pod regarded as outlandish to make her prison as healthy as possible.
But it was for naught.
Her mind's voice grew softer. Her strength diminished until even moving her tendrils was a battle. Her mighty heart strained and ached, and it felt like every day the metal walls grew closer and closer, threatening to crush her as she looked upon the same land over and over and over. The researchers wrote of it. Barlosh was terrified she would keel over, and she tried to speak to them. She did! But they could never hear.
Ttr and her pod, of course, knew what the problem was. She did not belong in such a trapped, meager space. She needed to be out in the open waters, so much above and below her she could see neither surface nor sea floor. But Ttr herself knew she needed to be here. Billions of thinking people depending on her. But her traitorous body was determined to betray her soul.
At the moment, she reached out with her thoughts to their research facility. A poor electric one, taken from his consort and fries, was trapped in the walls. For all the strength he possessed, he could not break free. What was worse, he had been there a while, and the disease colored his armored shell in hideous green.
He rested on a stone outcrop, thinking to her. Electric one thoughts were strange, a language of sight as opposed to sound, but she could understand them.
"Your family is doing well," she whispered to him, all that she could manage even from so relatively close. "Herzara fought off her first green-blaster," she said, relaying visions to him. "Inductaron and Ohmara are courting. Coulara sends her love and wishes, her nuzzles and zaps."
The pitiable creature, known to his kind as Reguaron, scraped his tail fin across the stone. "Thank you, O Great One," he crackled weakly. Slowly but surely his prongs lit up another pattern, stuttering and stopping as he began to cry. "I - I don't want to be here. I want to go home. But how? They could capture you, goddess. How can I go home? Please tell me the way, I want to go home..."
"I know, my child," she cooed. "I know. It hurts you, it hurts them, and it hurts me. But it'd hurt them so much more." She'd taken to watching Barlosh in particular, as he poured over pictures of his people. Towers of metal, flocks of his kind. She projected the pictures to the suffering electric one. "This is what they are fighting to save," she rumbled. "These people all suffer as you do. Friends, family, lovers. Our brief play in these bodies is meager in contrast."
"It hurts," he whimpered. "Everything's spinning, I'm so tired - "
"Shh," she insisted. "Shh. It will be alright. This will not be the end, but a new beginning." She so wished she could bring this electric one close to her, nuzzle him and pet him with her tendrils. But alas. "Come, small one. Sing with me." Back in her body, Ttr relaxed her paddles until they were limp and her body hunched over. She closed her eyes and began to hum, both aloud and to the electric one. Her tone was deep and low, mournful and demure.
In his prison, Reguaron swayed his lower body slowly. His kind did not possess the capability to make sound, but he still thought the song back to her. She felt his heart relax, the crushing dread lift. By the time she stopped he was resting in the near-unconscious way his kind did.
By the time she sang to her eggs as well, he had passed from the world. She and her pod sang the song of mourning yet again.
Time passed. The researchers finished what they were doing with Reguaron's body and came to her. They came not naked, but entombed in metal shells, with two arms that could presumably fire a wide variety of things. All seven of the researchers arrived, one in each shell, through the pocket at the top of her prison.
Ah, were they here to procure her aid? Finally. Kr-ttr-vx was so tired of watching people die.
Like when they had captured her, tiny darts shot out and traced through the water fast enough to leave pockets of air behind. Ttr held still and let the needles find their marks between her plates; they did not know she carried the spirit of knowledge. They were not here to look for bearers of knowledge.
When their poison paralyzed her and forced her to topple, away from her eggs, that was something she was firmly reminded of.
Ttr could move nothing but her eyes, which didn't afford her much vision. But their poison did not freeze her already diminished telepathy. She hopped from mind to mind in their metal shells, looking over their tools.
If she could've she'd have gulped. There were the harmless 'scanners' and 'spectroscopes' they could use to see into things from afar, but there were other things. Metal tubes that she'd seen open up into bending needles. Circles that could constrict or relax. Hooks and sickles. All manner of extremely invasive things. This couldn't be right. They needed her alive, did they not? Why else would they -
"THEY DARE?!" Pkr's voice thundered into her mind. "That's it! Ttr hold on, we're coming - "
"No," she thought weakly back at her. "Don't. I've made my choice. Please respect it." With two eyes she watched one of the strangers' ships draw closer, hooks mounted onto the outside. Barlosh was piloting it. Her stomach tensed and flipped. She knew this would not end her. Ttr would be reborn, perhaps as an angry white-red, or a glittering diamond, or one of the electric ones.
It dug under one of the plates along her back and lifted. Lightning hot pain streaked out from it and she screamed mentally, helpless to thrash and struggle and unable to escape. This was - it couldn't - how could - nothing had ever hurt so
no no no
get away I take it back
please stop it stop tearing it off no no
don't poke at the
stop stop stop please stop I didn't think
they were poking it in her mouth take it out take it out
what are they pulling out of her no no no it's orange
put it back in
Darkness flooded in to replace the red.
She laid in the corner of her prison, huddled as close into a ball as she could get. Her pod was quiet. Her arms were close to her chest and her tendrils had wrapped themselves up. Her one dead and six living eggs, strapped into the incubator, sat forgotten. Everything, inside and out, still ached with a persistent flame that flared and throbbed.
"What do you mean it was only a paralytic?!" the Executor shouted in the distant residence of the strangers.
Before him, Barlosh cowered with bent forelegs. "I-It was a simple mistake, sir," he whimpered. "We'd transferred the anesthetic to ray entrap - "
"I don't care! It's not your cloaca on the line! Things are already bad enough back home, how do you think the purple movements will take it if they hear we're torturing the wildlife on top of everything?!" Researcher Barlosh said nothing, instead keeping his gaze on the patterned floor. The Executor tossed a blue tablet at him with a scoff. "Get back to the containment facility and analyze the enzyme. Find a way to get a stable version. Now get out of my sight."
"Yes sir sorry sir thank you sir," Barlosh stammered, grabbing the azure device and scuttling away as fast as his four legs could carry him.
Ttr withdrew her mind back to herself, then whined and curled tighter around herself with a soft, pained cry. Part of her, so selfishly, wished it had been another of her pod that had been taken.
Barlosh arrived eventually, swimming from the back room with a bubble of air over his head. He also wore clothes of tarnished black metal. He glanced to where she sat, and Ttr returned his glance. She blinked her right eyes and looked away, scalpels and pumps already flashing in her mind.
He moved towards her, walking slowly and carefully along the rocky ground. No, no what was he doing? She didn't want him here. Couldn't he tell by the way she was curled up she did not want company?
"Greetings, Emperor," he said, stopping when he was close to her. Barlosh craned his head back to look at her head. Despite Ttr being hunched over, he had to crane it all the way back.
And that name. Emperor. The name they had for her kind. A certain type of ruler in their systems of governance that had gone out of style a while back. She hated that name.
"I wish to convey my sincerest apologies for what happened recently." He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. "It was my fault, really. The darts were supposed to be full of anesthetics and tranquilizers, but..."
Yes. 'But'. It was little comfort that they did not intend to torture her.
"In any case!" A compartment on his armor opened and something drifted out. Ttr pressed into the walls; it was a bubble with a soupy grey film and something even soupier and duller inside. "I brought you something. I know you eat planktons, so..." He shoved the bubble towards her with his hands. "Enjoy." Ttr stared down at him ponderously. The stranger shook his head. "Enjoy, he said as if it understood him."
With that, Barlosh left the way he'd came with only the plankton bubble to tell of his visit. Carefully, Ttr unwound one of her tendrils and reached out to the orb. It was puny compared to her, as were most things. The smallest node on her tendrils was twice the size of the food he'd brought. Nevertheless, she carefully brought it over to her mouth and sucked it in, feeling it descend into her and vitalize her being.
Slowly and weakly, Kr-ttr-vx began to uncoil. Right. It had been a simple mistake. Nothing to get worked up over.
They took her eggs.
Only two, though. The one whose inhabitant had already left their body behind, and another whose inhabitant was fully grown but awaiting to be brought to a holy site with just the right harmonies.
The first, they placed in a room holding egg samples from all the creatures of land and sea. It was no great loss, and Ttr was happy to let them take it if it aided them. But it was her living child, still asleep and waiting that made her gut churn and made Pkr swear vengeance.
Kr-ttr-vx had listened to the strangers, particularly Barlosh, as they spoke about the samples they'd taken from her.
They called it Enzyme Forty-two. An off-orange fluid made in her stomach that could end the Carar and even repair the damage it inflicted to its victims. It seemed miraculous her and her people produced such a thing. But there was a problem; Ttr was weak. Impaired. The enzyme she - and apparently all adults - of her kind - produced was not enough. It only repaired some damage. It only briefly weakened the Carar.
It was not enough to cure a single person, let alone the billions suffering among the stars.
They believed that a child of her kind could produce a strong enough enzyme. So that was why, keening and warbling, Ttr watched through Barlosh's eyes as his fellow researchers brought her egg's hard shell onto the middle of a table. From the ceiling, emerald rays of light descended and blasted through the shell, followed by a spray of something unutterably and unnaturally cold.
The fragments of the shell fell away. Her child, her poor darling child, was already lifeless. At least now their mercy worked.
They worked and worked. Barlosh, ever mindful of her, was kind enough to modify the egg incubator to hide the unused sixth and seventh slots. But it was apparent that it was not enough to tear her children out of their shells and harvest their enzymes. They needed a natural birth.
What cruel irony. There were no other fries of her kind in the world, and if these strangers had simply left her eggs where they were, they would have hatched and they'd have learned what they so badly wanted to know.
"You need the sacks, the fronds and stalks, fungi, and the purple bulbs," she told them, over and over. "Or at least harmonies similar to theirs. Then bring it to me and I will do the rest!"
But they could not hear. All they could do was trial and error. But surely that would work, no? Eventually, it would work.
They were sad days. She'd already mapped the entirety of her prison, and barely had the strength to swim laps. Her pod, distant, mourned her child with her, but his sacrifice would not be for nothing. The strangers were on the right path. But the death toll weighed on her mind as it climbed higher and higher. She had to be able to do more! There had to be some way to make them hear! Tell them what her eggs needed, or to place them back where they had been!
Ttr reached out, straining to project her mind. She had not seen Barlosh in a while, and that worried her. The researcher had made a habit of dropping by her prison, sitting on a metal ledge while she sat and listened as he spilled his heart, unaware she was listening. But he wasn't coming by, and that made her heart wither. The strangers did not visit often, anymore; they'd gotten what they needed from her and only kept her imprisoned because what if they discovered something for which they needed her again?
All Ttr had left to entertain herself with was guiding the eye-fish through the strangers' pipes into her prison. That grew old quickly, too.
Her mind drifted outside her prison, to where the animals of the deep heat swam about, roaring and eating. Her pod was quiet, these days. She feared they had given up on her. Was her insistence on staying here to aid the strangers fanatical? Perhaps it was, and perhaps she could not see that. But no matter how she looked at it, she couldn't justify the idea that they were wrong to abduct her; there was so much at stake. It was selfish to deny them her help, wasn't it?
Not that it mattered. She was here, and could not leave even if she wished it.
"Damn it!" she heard behind her. Startled, Ttr from where she loomed over her eggs and spun to see who it was.
"Barlosh," Ttr said audibly, knowing to him it'd sound like clicks and clatters. With weak and trembling arms she swam over to the back room, towering above the swimming alien.
He barely even reacted to her imposing shadow. He laid on the metal ledge with his hind legs tucked under and his forelegs dangling off the side. She was no good at reading his kind's facial expressions, the open beak and drooping mandibles could. have meant anything. But she could sense the foulness in his heart, the bleakness in his soul. Something terrible must've happened. Not to the researchers, not to his mission. A death in the family, perhaps.
Her heart fell as she pieced it together. Oh, this poor thing, keening miserably at the entrance to her prison.
"Damn it," he repeated incessantly. "Damn it damn it no no no it's not why, why even no no no-o-o-o..."
Ttr chirped lowly, tilting her head. That was enough to startle the tiny stranger onto his legs. He looked up at her and took a panicked step back. "Wait, wait wait wait Emperor, I was just - " She raised one of her tentacles and reached for him. He shrieked and backed off, but he was much too slow to escape even with her so ill. Ttr gently wrapped it around him and pulled the thrashing person in, up to her head, and nuzzled him with a gentle purr. That was enough to make him go still.
Barlosh looked up into her eyes. She looked back down into his. "There you go," she crooned. "There you go. It will all be alright. Everything will work out fine."
He could not understand her words, but he still pulled himself in to embrace one of her mandibles. Then the sobbing began.
Then... everyone vanished. Barlosh stopped coming by. The researchers stopped looking for ways to hatch her eggs. The Executor was nowhere to be found. It was as though they simply dropped from existence. Had they somehow succeeded in their task without her eggs? Did they leave her and her children imprisoned by accident? On purpose? Oh she dearly hoped not.
There was no easy way for her to tell the passage of time. There was no rising and falling light within her prison, and projecting her mind to the surface left her gills pumping furiously for enough water.
The days flowed together. Ttr swam slowly around, playing with the eye-fish around her, while sometimes hiccuping up what she now knew to be 'Enzyme Forty-Two'. The monotony of it all squeezed her soul like a vice, itching up and down her head and spine. Oh heavens above, she was going to go insane if nobody visited her.
While forcing herself to swim tired arcs around her cell, Ttr thought she heard something. She came to a stop near the walls with one paddle propped up on the rocks. Tilting her head, she listened.
The noise came again. It was a voice, faint and tired. Another one of her kind! Was it her pod? Had they forgiven her? "Hello?" she responded hopefully, desperately even. "Hello, who is it? Is anyone there?!"
"Ttr," the voice came again, strained and weak. It was Pkr. She hadn't heard from her podmate in a moon and then some! "I'm so sorry..." An image flashed into her mind; Dr-pkr-lr laying on the smooth ocean floor, far away from the nesting grounds, with her eyes barely open and her entire body limp. Ttr gasped. What had happened to her?! "I'm so hungry, the waters are dead and carry no food. The creatures are dying, green and sick with what the strangers brought. I'm sorry."
"What?!" she replied desperately. "No, no that cannot be! They would gain nothing from releasing it, why would they - "
"They were attacked by a Mighty One seeking its eggs," Pkr retorted, sending her an image; the rotting body of a Mighty One with a crushed skull. The ruined disease research facility in the caverns. "They're dead. Everything is dying. There's no food anywhere, and it all hurts so much. I'm so sorry; we should've saved you."
The water seemed to freeze around her. Her mouth hung open and her swim bladder flipped as though she were sinking far too fast. "Pkr - no, you can't! It's not your fault!" She bowed her head. "I am the one who allowed myself to be captured to begin with." At the very least she could have hidden her eggs! They would have hatched, the strangers would have seen, and none of this would have happened! But no. She hadn't thought to do that. She hadn't thought to do anything except keep trying to reach into their minds over and over, despite them never showing the slightest hint of hearing her! But did she try to change things? Did she ever attempt anything else?
No. No no no. It was all her fault, all her fault.
"Ttr... be good, won't you?" her friend and podmate croaked. "I'm so scared... what will I be coming back to? Please, tell me..." And then silence.
Kr-ttr-vx roared, lifting her arms and slamming the tips down hard enough to smash the stone. She bowed her head and hiccuped out a terrible, keening noise as her paddles folded and she fell forward to slam her face on a metal wall.
All her fault. All her fault. The world would die and be lifeless forever and it was her fault. The countless billions, trillions of Barlosh's kind among the stars would suffer and perish. Her eggs would never get to play in the world outside. She sobbed and coughed, repeating it like a mantra.
"All my fault, all my fault," she cried.
When she finally sobbed enough, she opened a massive eye to behold a single eye-fish, staring back with one of its yellow eyes. She sobbed again, and reached her feeble mind into its own.
Mourning every second, Kr-ttr-vx got to work.
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