Watership by Jenna Whittaker

Watership Kindle coverTo save their dying world, scientists and a race of benevolent aliens worked to create a safe haven in the centre of the planet, hollowing it out for future generations to live safely. Creatures were also created to watch over the people and alert them if their hollow world was about to collapse.

When the failsafe program activated, the creatures guided the people to a sentient, biological spaceship already programmed with the coordinates to take them to a new world.

Little do they realize that the aliens they assumed were helping them in the past have changed the course of the ship…

 

*Note: This book is distributed by Writers Exchange, we are not the publisher for this title.

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GENRE: Science Fiction     ASIN: B01AQW1S2U     Word count: 49, 307

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Chapter 1

 

Darkness surrounded Desu, oceans of darkness so thick she could feel it. She turned in a circle, and a faint light in the distance caught her attention; so small and weak, even her six white eyes, attuned to the underground, could barely pick it up.

It was impossible to know how far away it was, but she knew what it was. She drew back her lips and hissed with pleasure. The core.

Without any further hesitation, Desu dropped to all fours and set off at a lope, heading towards that faint, flickering light.

It didn’t take her long to reach her destination, despite the seeming distance, for Desu could run quicker than any man alive down in the caves, with her four long legs and unlikely knowledge of every cliff and crevice in the landscape.

The core of the watership crouched deep in the hollow earth, and this was where the light was coming from. It speared forth from the dark shadows in the valley around it, tapering to a point far above–as though a sword were thrusting from the ground itself.

The light poured from a centre point so bright, Desu cringed away from looking at it directly, her eyes letting in more light than she could handle.

She could sense the power emanating from the spear of light; merely an expulsion of excess energy from the core of the watership, partially buried in the silt of the depths of the valley. Paths wound their way down the steep slopes of the valley to the rope bridges that swayed slowly, the only connection between the ground and the core in its chasm. And the ship, buried beneath. Long has it slept.

Shards of mirrors, reflective stone polished and glistening, surrounded the column of light in a swarm of shimmering silver. The stones hung in mid-air, twisting and turning round the column, the vortex of light holding them in place despite gravity forces.

This was the core of the watership; the sentient soul of the ship that was even now burrowing its way to the surface; rising to break through the stone floor of the cavern.

Awake, Desu thought. It’s finally awake.

The mirrors wound in ever-tightening circles. Tendons of wire, a web that connected every sliver of stone to the next, pulled taut. Shrieks echoed throughout the valley, rebounding off the ruins that lay scattered at the foot of the column. The metal netting stretched as the ropy tendons wrapped around each other. Tighter and tighter, the web clutched the stones and the turning vortex of light itself, drawing the watership closer to the surface.

The core spoke to Desu; spoke to the horde that watched and guarded the inhabitants of the underground. It’s time, the words echoed round and round in her head. It’s time.

*

The light of the city, gleaming from a thousand windows, flickered in the half-light of the underground. The street lamps were shuttered, though dim orange glowed from under the latticed, wrought iron hoods.

But when the resounding footsteps of the march sounded on the damp cobblestones, lamps and candles were quickly blown into darkness by the occupants. They knew it signalled the nearing of the patrol–and all were to be asleep in their beds when eveningtime fell, heralded only by the patrols in this never-ending darkness.

A shadow wisped across one of the ground floor windows, silhouetted for a moment as it passed. A hand raised inside, as though in greeting. Fingers pressed against the pane, unarmoured white flesh radiating orange heat, a contrast to the monochrome world outside. The shadow—Desu–paused.

Inside dwelt life. Never to touch.

Desu reached out, despite the danger. If she were caught by either illusory world holding captive the humans inside or by her own patrol, marching ever nearer, they would kill her. None of the horde were to even look at the humans, only to protect them from a distance.

Stay, let me near.

Desu crouched before the window, neck craning to see inside. She lifted a claw and scraped it lightly over the pane of thick glass. You are life. I merely seek to know you. I won’t hurt you.

The hand pulled off the glass and she barely saw a figure backing away, back to the depths of their dwelling. Desu did not have time to retreat before it was back, even bolder. A face pressed against the window.

Hazy, as though seen through a mist, Desu could make out the shape as the human stared, eyes dark pits as they sought to see through the dirty glass surface.

Desu stared back, her six milky orbs straining to see features in the darkening half-light. Tendrils unfurled from under her jaw, reaching and stretching, their length dotted with sensors that told her far more information than her weak eyes. The tendrils, her koyi, brushed against the lightly marbled surface of the thick window glass.

At that touch, she learnt far more of the human inside, their family, their thoughts, and the fantasy construct they had created for themselves than she had ever intended. She saw their soul.

In that moment they were one, and the barriers of the glass and indeed, reality itself, faded to nothing. But truth had to return as it always did, and the connection snapped as the human broke the contact.

Then the life was gone, the human retreating once more into their world inside the house. Alone, Desu mourned. Once more alone. To live forever, yet not live at all. She snapped her jaws as the summoning came again. Twisting her head away from the home with an effort, Desu turned. The core had begun its call when she had been witness to it, and she had left quickly, before it grew stronger; too strong to resist.

She left the city outskirts in the distance behind her. The summoning beckoned, a continual ache in Desu’s chest, a pulling that would only cease once she had reached her destination. She needed to bid farewell to these creatures she longed to be, before the call claimed her and her free will.

The greatest burden among many I rejoice to bear, this is one–my life–I would give all to shed.

Desu glanced back again, the city now but a faintly glowing dot on the horizon. I serve in gratitude, yet one thing I wish to have in my grasp. True, pure life. Why is it withheld from me?

A bell gonged in the distance, and every light at the windows, faint as they were, shuddered and dimmed out of existence. Darkness settled over the caverns as the curfew bell sounded its final warning. The city disappeared in the murky distance. The patrols had all awakened, even now lurching from their alcoves within every wall of the city. Stone-like guardians of the humans, her own kind, yet different. The patrols unnerved every member of the horde like her–the ones that could hear the words the core spoke. The Aware.

Patrols of guardian Crawlers lacked something that the Aware did not. A mind, thoughts, of their own. They had a deadness in their eyes, a sense of finality in their steps. Empty shells, programmed to rise at curfew, and patrol the streets of the city until the morning bells rung.

This is not real. Just like everything else in the city, only twisted reflection of something that was once true.

Desu turned from the city, sweeping her gaze over the plains that stretched out before her. She watched as her brethren swarmed from the hollows, a horde of writhing blackness covering the plains. They surrounded her, ready to answer the call.

She knew some held back, not answering the call; when night-time sounded, the guardian Crawlers had reign over the city to enforce the curfew. They would patrol the streets for the whole night, hours upon hours of pacing the winding cobbled roads. They were afraid of the guardians and deaf to the core.

These creatures, Aware, yet not enough, hid in their caves. Primitive creatures, but she did not pity them. The core did not call them, and thus they knew nothing of the summoning and the pain it inflicted upon the Aware.

Desu paused before she dug her claws into the ground and bounded forward. The rest of the horde followed, a cloud of rippling darkness, eerie in its desperate silence. Clumps of dirt and guano were kicked up beneath her feet as she directed her attention now to the fulfilment of the call.

She darted to the centre of the caverns, a miasma of black flickering shapes following her. The summoning grew in intensity as they neared, and they too heeded the call as she did–her family of thousands. When the lamps were dimmed, the eyes of the living ceased to see; but the time of the blind reigned. The shadows saw nothing with their eyes, yet they knew all that occurred even in the fantasy machinations of the city-dwellers.

The horde of shadows tore through the rolling wilderness far beyond the eyes of the city, empty plains stretching in every direction as the enormous hollowed chamber arched above them. The light of the core glimmered in the distance. The vortex was summoning.

Their hive-mind told each other of the visions Desu had seen, of the occasional touch of a human when they ventured too close to the bounds of their fantasy world, almost seeing their reality.

The shadows ran. Dirt and wilting grass were flung into the air as their clawed feet pounded along the ground. Spiralling towers reared out of the valley ahead, half-buried paving stones beneath the dirt the only signs of a civilisation long past.

Metal spires, twisted and crumbling, thrust from the horizon. Another glow radiated from this centre, a glow of a different kind than before–this had the dead, hollow green gleam of a place that none of the living could approach. Flickers of green flashed across their faces as the horde of Crawlers neared. Spotlights, archaic and yet still functional, swept the ruins.

This was the centre. This was where their watership had once slept but now was awoken. As they entered the crumbling remains, they darted past buildings both new and old, built by the hands of humans long dead and patched with newer constructions by the Crawlers themselves.

The core awaited.

A glowing green-white column of shifting light and mirrors loomed up before them.

At the shadows’ nearing, the core’s colours morphed. It awoke from its half-slumber; radiant golden, flecked with blood red and blackened streaks. The core shone upon its Crawlers, and the horde took a step back. Their triple-faces, with six milky eyes, gazed blindly at the one they were created to serve. As the core focused its attention on them, the Crawlers shuddered and lowered their heads as one.

Light beamed forth, and the horde knew. Within moments, the others surrounding Desu had dispersed into the night.

Desu ran back, the words of the watership clear in in her mind. Five drumbeats calling her to purpose.

The collection is to begin.

*

The bells rang their hollow melody. The sound reverberated throughout the caverns in waves, causing dust to sift slowly to the floor far below, and flocks of bats to swarm, screeching; their slumber, huddled together in the stalactites, disturbed.

Those bells meant nothing to the city dwellers–they did not even hear them. They rang for others, the Crawlers, and the commune dwellers; simple folk who eked out their living in the dry dirt, guano, and stone of the underground. Banished from the villas of the city, kept out by stone walls too high and slick to scale. Desu pitied the commune-dwellers as she listened to the bells sing their lonely song, perched high up on the cliff-face overlooking the nearest, largest commune. All lives deserve to be treated equally, she thought.

Where the commune-dwellers gained in freedom from the fantasy world the city dwellers lived in–those who refused to acknowledge the caves and instead curling up in their stone homes, lined with soft rugs and pictures on the walls–the communes lost in protection. For the Crawlers did not venture from the city walls, and when they did, it was the mad ones. The borers, long lost from sanity’s edge. They had no patrols, no Crawlers of good mind to watch over them.

In their opinion, it was a risk worth taking. They don’t know what they’re giving up, Desu shook her head slowly. Those not within the city cannot be taken in the Collection. So it has been programmed into the core, and into our selves.

When they heard the bells ring from the tower of rock in the centre of their commune, the people gathered. In the centre of the ramshackle huddle of tents, there was a bonfire; often lying cold and dry, lit only in times like these. The flames licked up the precious wood, a material so rarely found in any sort of quantities in this barren wasteland. The people formed a circle around the fire, letting the rare warmth soothe them as they waited for the monarchs to climb the steps down from their tower.

What are they doing? Desu wondered, watching with interest.

She could see their faces, drawn and wearied in the dim light. The air buzzed with whispers as they waited; quickly shushed when the monarchs were sighted approaching. Cloaked figures paced into the group, and the people backed away to create a space for them to pass through. These people were their leaders; their great mystics. It was them who had told the people to leave the city, for a time of danger was coming. It had been one generation past that the warnings had been spoken, but still the commune dwellers held faith.

Foolish humans and their denial of reality, Desu mourned. The city dweller did the same, only with the fantasies inside their walls. It was truly no different.

Their robes, stained brown on the hems, still glimmered orange in the darkness. The leader of the monarchs stopped, drawing back his hood.

“Night comes, darkness rises,” he intoned.

“Fell wings guide us. We give thanks.” The other figures chanted the ritual words in unison; the night tradition of greeting the night, keeping the community safe from the denizens of the dark, brought peace to the minds of their people. So it had been for years. Rituals had brought them comfort.

“We are free, we fight for our selves,” the group replied.

With a final repeat of the words, the monarchs turned. Eyes watched their ascent back up the winding trail to their watchtower in the distance. Finally the gathering broke and the people scattered as each headed for their homes, perched round the walls of the crater. It was a short ritual, yet one they performed every night before the people slept. It kept them safe.

Desu didn’t always watch their rituals, but tonight, the night before the Collection, she’d felt the urge to. She couldn’t forget these people.

*

Light-birds whirred and chattered, flickering their glowing wings as they dove and wound round the stalactites. The tiny insects chittered, a swarm of ceaseless noise. And yet it was the noise Rilla listened to every sleep, letting it lull her into oblivion. She could not sleep without the glow and sounds of the light-birds.

And yet others complained of the noise. Just that afternoon–Rilla gritted her teeth at the thought–some had been killing the beautiful insects.

Those thoughts would not lead her to sleep. Rilla crouched with a sigh, looking back at the encampment behind her. Soon she would go to her tent, like the others, and end another day. But not yet. She slid to the ground, dangling her legs off the precipice, feeling the cold, dry, stone under her.

It was all real, here. She loved that about this community. So close to the alien nature of her underground world. She had heard tales of the above-ground, she knew that was where they had come from. Others talked of it with longing, eyes glazed over as they spoke of their ‘home’.

One they had never seen. Rilla had grown up here, spent nigh twenty years underground. She had never seen the surface, but she did not wish to. Underground was her home; the light-birds, the stony caverns. Even the regular rituals, each the same, just like the one that had just finished. They were her comfort.

Rilla started as a sound echoed across the basin. Stones clattered down the escarpment just a mile to her left. Sounds carried well in the caves, but she could not know how far the sound had come from, not accurately. She gasped; Kira! Her child was gathering stones–she found them pretty, Rilla thought with a smile–nearby. An eight year old would not know how take care of herself on her own, nor could she escape the speed of a borer swarm. Where there was one, there would be many.

She stared, eyes narrowed at the spot, but she could not pierce the gloom from that distance. Even now the light-birds had sensed her discomfiture, and were swooping further into the depths, their light fading.

Suddenly a figure reared out from the blackness of the cliff, outlined against the murky ever-light of the caves, before quickly darting back down into darkness.

 

Gripping the lantern in a trembling hand, Rilla approached the cliffside where she had seen the figure. A group followed her, the elder ones of the community. Rilla recalled, tinged with shame, of her panicked dash into the elder’s campsite. Stepping before their fire, she had spoken as she had never dared before; looks of derision and soft laughs were shared around the campfire as she had blurted out her story. Finally convincing a few to come with her, Rilla had led them to this place, mumblings of doubt whispered behind her as she walked.

The commune dwellers listened to Rilla’s warning and followed her to see this creature; maybe an overgrown borer, maybe a Crawler–either way, if it was venturing that close to the commune, it was something to investigate.

But the figure had truly been there. Not a goat, as was kept by the community in herds and quite often escaped the fenced areas. The figure had had horns, but stood tall on two legs, of this she was sure. Not a normal cave creature, not one she had ever seen before.

As they approached the cliffside, a pattering of stones slid down the slope, landing in a jumble at their feet. Scraping, something hard against stone, the rhythmic gusting of breaths from a creature far larger than any they knew.

Rilla froze in fear, her fingers clamped a death-grip round the handle of the lantern. Soft shuffling behind her told her the elders were not suffering from the same affliction; and indeed as she twisted her neck around, empty space met her gaze. Her elders had fled. She was alone.

A slow breath of warm air gusted at her head. She turned back around. Three giant glowing orbs hung in black space. Staring avidly at her.

*

Desu was drawn to the woman. She had been watching from a distance as the commune had completed their ritual, and to her surprise, one of them had not immediately retreated into their tent, like the rest had done. This one had instead climbed up the embankment, so close, almost close enough to touch. She’s sat there and watched the light-birds, not speaking, not even knowing Desu was there.

When Desu had slipped, her foot causing a small avalanche in the scree in her distraction, the woman had bolted, bringing back her people with her. This was not what Desu had wanted. She wanted to talk to the woman alone; not with the others there with her. She could not bring all of them.

It had taken weeks of observation of this young woman, this mother, before Desu knew that this was the one she was to save. There was one, she’d been told, one with a child who was to be taken to the watership, to the core, before the Collection.

None of the commune dwellers would be taken but this one, so Desu had to know she was the right woman. When the others had left–run, when they saw Desu–she approached, her heart beating a rapid pace.

*

Rilla glanced about her, panicking. It was deadly to stay out once the city’s curfew bells had rung. Even so far from the walls of the city, the Crawlers could come. Shadows were approaching. And the others of her commune, so disbelieving, had not hesitated to abandon her and her daughter at the first sight of the beast.

A shape flickered at the edge of her vision, a stone skittered down the slope to her left and she whirled to face it, one arm pushing her child behind her. Rilla searched the darkness, slowly backing away in the direction of her home behind her. There was no reason to call out for help; once the doors were closed, none would open them and bring down death upon their family also. Any foolish enough to be out after dark had called it upon their own heads.

Rustling echoed across the canyon, the clattering of stones underfoot. Her heart skipped a beat and Rilla felt herself begin to panic. She’d been slowly backing them to their home on the outskirts of the crater bowl, not moving her eyes from the shadows while trying to keep her daughter quiet.

The shadow approached swiftly, a dark formless shape almost gliding over the ground. Rilla fell to the ground in her scramble to escape, clutching Kira to her chest.

When the shadow had materialised before Rilla she had been so terrified she could not utter a sound, not even to scream. But the monster had not attacked; it was standing before her, watching her. It made no move towards them, and she found herself beginning to calm down. If it had been going to hurt them, it would have done so already–all had heard the cries of those caught outside by the shadows; death was mercifully quick.

And so she finally gathered up the courage to speak. “What do you want?” despite her bravado, her voice shook. She gripped her child tighter against her chest, arms shaking. She wasn’t so little anymore, and Rilla didn’t carry her often, but she would not let her child go. Not with this creature here.

The creature just watched.

Suddenly Kira jumped out of her arms and walked over to the shadow.

“No!” Rilla shrieked, scrambling to rise and grab her child. But the shadow did not move.

Kira walked up to it and stared into its six milky-white eyes. She reached out gently, with one finger, touched the creature’s face.

And then Rilla heard the thoughts in her mind. At the same time, her child stumbled backwards and fell down, but did not make a sound, her eyes glued on the monster.

It spoke to her of collecting, of death and terror in the night that was to come. Of thousands of shadows like it swarming up from their hiding places underground, taking captives. Yet those collected would be saved, the monster explained. Those left behind–the townspeople, those of the communes, and some of the city–would all die.

*

“Everyone is going to die?” her voice raised, and Desu quickly motioned for her to quieten. The woman paid her no heed, so Desu put her claws on the woman’s shoulder and spoke quickly, her sibilant hiss barely decipherable. “No,” she explained, “It can only be you. I can hide you, and your child. You’ll come with me. With us. You’ll be safe.”

“But…my friends…everyone…”

“I can’t save everyone.” Desu said softly, and mourned it as she did so. It was true. She couldn’t, and it was a fact that was tearing her apart. But if she could even save just these two, perhaps it could allow her some small reprieve from her guilt. And, she thought to herself, perhaps I can find time to save more, once the others are distracted with the Collection. I’ll try, she vowed silently.

The woman nodded.

The shadows approached again, and her thoughts stopped. The creature who spoke now growled low in its chest, but when it could not scare off the shadows, the ones that killed, Rilla felt fear clutch her heart again. With desperation burning in her eyes, she pushed Kira ahead of her. If the monster was true to its word, Kira would be safe. Perhaps by her staying behind her daughter might have time to escape. The shadows demanded a sacrifice, and even if it meant trusting this creature, she’d do it. To give her daughter the chance.

The monster saw and understood, and in one swift movement, swept Kira up into its arms and bolted.

Rilla’s screams echoed around the canyon as Desu ran into the darkness, Kira held close to her chest. She didn’t stop running.

*

It had been the closest she’d gotten to the humans. Her first time even nearing one was at the calling in the city, where the humans were far from accessible, and even then it had not been without risks, without glass separating them from touching. She’d never ventured out into the wilderness before–instead, staying close to the city–but when the core called her, she’d had to travel much further than ever before. It had girded her with courage, and watching the commune-dwellers perform their nightly rituals had fascinated her in a way it had not any other time.

The woman had been terrified when Desu had approached her. When she saw that, saw her fear, she regretted it. With a soft hiss, slowly forming into words, she had calmed her. She spoke to her, and as she spoke, the thought came to mind–this woman and her baby were going to die. Those who would be collected would be a select number from the cities only. Not from the communes.

Curiousity had overcome her; every night she watched the gathering of the town’s folk after the curfew had rung in the city, when she could escape the eyes of her comrades. She knew she was acting against the will of the watership, but it had only said never to speak to the people. She could watch…after all, the Crawlers watched the city-dwellers at all times. What made the townspeople so different?

Her heart was moved and she decided to warn Rilla. To tell her that the collection is coming, what it is, what it means for Rilla and her child. Especially when the little one, so innocent, had approached her. She had the child, now–though she did not know what to do with her. The mother had told her to save the girl, even as borers neared. The woman would not live. But this child…if Desu had any say in the matter, this child would never come to harm.

The collection in the morrow was weighing heavily on her mind, and Desu couldn’t help but want to warn them, with every fibre of her being. But her programming fought against it. Only the approved humans are to be collected, for only they can pass on the best genetic features. Intellectualy, she knew it. But she did not feel it in her heart. It was not right, to doom them simply because the scientists of yesteryear had deemed them inferior. It was such inferiority that had caused them to think for themselves, to free themselves from the confines of the city. In my opinion, Desu thought with a grimace as she ran in the darkness, they are far superior.

*

With no warning, a clawed fist shot out, grabbing her, reaching entirely around her waist. Clamping down firmly. Rilla bit back a shriek; the creature had her immobilised, yet no claws punctured her. It was almost gentle. She stared up into its otherworldly eyes, imagined compassion there. With a shake of her head she dismissed that notion, gripping tightly onto its hard scaled hand as it lifted her from the ground. The alien, glassy eyes held no emotion as it dragged her across the rocky surface. It whipped her onto its shoulder in seemingly effortless motion, breath knocked from her lungs at the swift movement. “Please,” Rilla gasped, lungs aching, “What do you want with me?”

An eye gleamed as it cocked its head at her. Horns hovered before her gaze, spiralling out from its wedge-shaped head, spines running along its back. Breath hissed from flared nostrils, as it regarded her. It was similar to the one that spoke, but its eyes did not hold any knowledge, any thought; and its appearance was far more monstrous.

“You can understand me, can’t you,” she realised with dull horror. “And you’re not going to let me go.”

With a soft growl, the creature turned from her, facing its comrades crouching in the darkness beyond. Others were slung over their shoulders also, people, like her. She could not recognise their faces in the gloom, but she knew that like her, they were doomed. When the mad ones came, as they did at irregular times, and took their prey…the taken were never seen again. Their screams would echo throughout the caverns that night.

Without any further pause, the creatures straightened as one and began loping over the rocks.

Claws slipping and sliding on the scree, the pack made a great deal of noise, not seeming to care as the sounds echoed back and forth across the caverns.

*

There was something out there, in the darkness. Kira clung to the monster’s shoulder, her arms tiring; it seemed like it had been hours since the creature had snatched her up and taken her, and her mother’s screams still echoed in her mind. Struggling to fight back tears, Kira raised her head to look around her, from being buried in the creature’s shoulder, as they slowed.

It had only been darkness that stretched in every direction for as far as she could see, but now there was something. A pale greenish yellow light that pulsed from a hollow in the distance, casting eerie shadows in the ruins that surrounded them. Structures of stone and some shiny metallic material jutted out of the ground around them, and Kira stared in confusion and fascination. Never had she been so far from home–she had never left the commune at all. She could not have imagined anything like this.

The creature carrying her crested the horizon and she could see where the light came from. It was in a hollow; a huge crater below them. The vista that spread out before them, as the creature paused on the precipice, caused her to stare. It was magnificent.

The ground they stood on dropped down fifty feet, a sharp cliff that then gently sloped to the centre of the round canyon, a hole so wide she could barely see the other side in the darkness. A massive machine crouched in the middle of the canyon floor, a black tangled mass of wires and shiny metallic plates, flashing lights, and a giant column of golden-green light that twisted up out of the machine and speared into the distance above.

It was this column that had lit their way through the ruins and to this place, and even as she watched, it turned and writhed. It seemed alive.

Kira didn’t have any more time to inspect the machine in the distance as, with a leap, the creature jumped off the cliff before them. She shrieked and clung to her scaled shoulder as they dropped through empty space, her heart in her throat, but they landed so gently she barely noticed. The creature ran and bounded down the sloping canyon wall, all the while heading towards that monstrous dark machine in the centre. She had hoped that was not their destination, but it appeared to be.

As they neared, Kira could see more detail of this machine. “What is it?” she whispered, and to her surprise, the creature answered.

“The watership,” it breathed reverently. “This will rescue us and take us to safety.”

She didn’t even know they needed rescuing; only that this creature was taking her from the dark ones that had attacked her mother, and if she said this place was safety, she would trust her.

Kira watched as she extended a claw to the obsidian wall of this watership, and at her touch, the seeming stone surface flowed and melted, revealing a blue-ish membrane with soft light emanating from inside. “Hold your breath,” she warned, and they stepped into the wall.

Darkness enveloped her, a thick blackness that seeped into the skin. She opened her mouth to draw a breath, forgetting the creature’s advice of a second past, and the morass felt like it was suffocating her. Her lungs burned. Just as she thought she could not hold her breath any longer, they were through the wall and inside the ship. Kira coughed, panting; her eyes teared up and she tried to see where they were through the blurriness, curiousity overcoming her physical discomfort.

A tunnel stretched before them and behind them, made of the same blue membrane material that they’d stepped through. It was dimly lit, with the gentle luminescence that seemed to come from inside the walls themselves, but Kira could see far into the distance on either side.

The creature carried her to a small room off one of the tunnels, and placed her down on a slab that attached to the wall. A bed, she supposed, for it had a blanket on it.

“Now, I’m going to have to leave you here for a short while,” the creature crouched down and looked her in the eyes, “And you need to stay here. It’s okay, it’s safe.”

“Why do you need to go?” Kira fought back tears. She was being left alone again?

“There’s something I need to do, but it’s very very important that you stay hidden. Please,” she gently placed her claws on Kira’s shoulders, “Please don’t leave this room. I promise I will be back.”

Kira nodded silently, and seemingly satisfied with that response, the creature left, shutting the door behind her. She was glad for the light; she could not have stood it alone in the darkness. She wondered how long the creature would be.