This is the finale of my 2017 short story...I do hope you enjoyed it.
Echo in the Grey - Part V
© David Allan Hamilton
When he awoke, Sarangan was surrounded by dark shadows. His visor had been removed and he was breathing freely. Thank God for the Echo. Somehow they made it faster than predicted. It was only when he tried to sit up that he noticed how cramped the space was. When he felt the curved sides of the place, he realized he must be inside the dome itself. Somehow, as he was blacking out, he’d found a way in.
He leaned back on his elbows, breathing deeply, recalling that his lab data indicated the pressure inside the dome was only 50 kPa, less than half the normal pressure on Earth. So why was it so easy to breathe? He peered into the darkness, trying to get a sense of his surroundings. That’s when he noticed the two lights blinking at him. When he scuttled over to get a better look, the lights scurried away and disappeared.
Those aren’t lights…
Sarangan scrambled back as far as he could. He felt around for his visor, so he could use the lights on it to see. But the visor was nowhere to be found.
Again, the light eyes. Different location. Staring at him.
Sarangan found his voice and croaked, “Who’s there?” But there was no response. The eyes blinked. Sarangan’s fear rose and his voice trembled. “I – I can see you there. I mean you no harm.”
Then he heard it in the still of the dome. The eyes fluttered, and the creature spoke slowly, mechanically, almost in a woman’s voice or that of a child. “You are… are the… the One John.”
“Yes,” he uttered, “I am John.” He heard the creature move around with a clacking sound.
“I am the… I am the One Keechik…Keechik.”
“Keechik,” Sarangan repeated.
“You…breathe good now?”
“Yes, thank you. You saved my life.” Sarangan strained his eyes trying to see through the dark, but all he could see was the ligh in Keechik’s eyes.
“I… Keechik fix air for you. One John be better?”
Sarangan began to relax. “Yes, much better.” He leaned back on his elbows again and began unbuckling his enviro-suit since he found the dome to be very hot. He knew other life existed in the galaxy. That was nothing new. The microbes on Mars, trench worms on Titan… but nothing like this creature, this “Keechik”. It must have vastly superior technology, being able to maintain this environment, to translate language and communicate. The TSA would love to take this thing apart.
Sarangan’s mind filled with a thousand questions. “Where do you come from? And how long have you been here?”
He tried again. “What is your origin, Keechik? Your home? How did you get here?”
A slow hiss exhaled in the dark. Sarangan fell silent and closed his eyes.
“One Keechik… not like talk… noise is talk. No talk. Keechik leave home. Long time. Long, long time. Watch the Blue, like you. Watch your kind, One John, spread across the Blue. Enjoy the quiet. Not want noise. The Grey perfect.”
Sarangan realized the creature must be an ancient life-form by human standards. If, indeed, he’d seen the rise of humans on Earth, he was at least a couple million— “How old are you, Keechik?”
“I am…long, long time. Since before creatures on the Blue. I am.”
Sarangan was silent. Inside the dome, there in the deep shadows of the Grey, the only sound he could hear was his own breathing and the movement of his tired body. Keechik hardly made any sound at all. There was the odd clicking noise that came, and the strange voice when he spoke, but other than that, the dome was completely quiet.
“Yes, One John?”
“Why did you save my life?”
The clicking noise began again.
“That question… not good… no… not clear. Yes. Not clear.”
Sarangan tried it a different way. “You brought me inside here?”
This time, the silence was complete. Finally, Keechik spoke. “One John… Keechik bring you inside because you are… close to not alive. One Keechik want alone… yes… want alone. The quiet… yes. But Keechik cannot let beings… suffer. Not when…not when One Keechik can… help. All beings… be like the Blue. All beings.” Then he added, “Keechik hurt One John. Feel…ugly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Keechik not want moonrock cover to go. One John move rock…move much dust. Uncover… my ship. Keechik sent large moon wave… very large. For to protect. But it break your moon home, One John. One Keechik break it so you have to leave. Feel ugly, yes. Feel… small.”
Then Keechik moved in the shadows and slowly, dim light replaced the dark. Sarangan finally saw the creature. It was no more than a metre tall, carried itself on two spindly legs and had two spindly arms and hands. Thin torso. Large head with saucered eyes. Keechik said, “See better in Black, yes... But One John see better… better in Light.”
“Yes, I do.” Sarangan stared across the dome at his brittle saviour.
“We both… we Two Be… we see good in Grey. Two Be, One John and One Keechik. We Two Be. We see in Grey. Yes?”
Sarangan felt a rush of warmth embrace him. This creature, this delicate alien calling itself Keechik, exuded a grace and generosity that could only be one thing. The one thing Sarangan had never felt before. He struggled to find the word for it, but words had abandoned him. So he felt it instead.
The familiar voice of the New Houston director broke the silence of the dome. “Moonlab 2 come in… John are you there?”
Keechik said, “One John home… talk and talk…I have heard talk. Much noise. They… worry.”
“They probably think I’m dead,” Sarangan said. “Can I talk with them from here?”
Keechik worked through various low-light blackened screens and said, “One John talk and talk to home now.”
“New Houston, I’m here, do you read?”
“Yes, John, we read! Thank God you’re alive. What’s happening up there?”
Sarangan was about to speak but stopped short. Keechik appeared to be hiding behind his consoles, a look of fear and anxiety on his face. “Stand by, New Houston.” Then turning his attention to the creature, he said, “Keechik, are you okay? Keechik good?”
Keechik looked over at Sarangan, his eyes wide. “One Keechik like…alone… Keechik and One John only…yes. Keechik and more, no…no. Keechik want alone. No tell, One John, no tell.”
Sarangan still felt the incredible warmth from the creature that saved his life. The least he could do was hide its presence for as long as possible. “New Houston, I found more oxygen here. I think I’ll be okay until the Echo arrives. I’ll be standing by until then.”
The incoming audio was somewhat garbled and Sarangan strained his ears to listen.
“John…okay, John, we copy.”
Sarangan noted the change in tone in the director’s voice.
“Listen, we’re sending up (garble) another ship, John. The Protector. It’ll leave tomorrow with a full complement of bio-scientists, engineers and (garble) alien security squad. I don’t want you to be alarmed, John, but when we linked up our (garble) with yours to see if we could help maintain your life supports, we also received all the data you collected on your last survey.”
Sarangan gulped. His throat was suddenly dry.
“You may not have (garble) chance to do the analysis on it yet, but we have and…well, there’s some (garble) artificial structure buried out there in the Grey. Looks (garble) could be an old building roof of some kind or perhaps a (garble). We don’t know. But listen – ”
Sarangan shook his. He looked over at Keechik who was staring at the floor.
“John, we’re registering a potential life environment (garble) within this structure. I don’t want you to (garble) alarmed, John, but we don’t know what we’re dealing with here so whatever you do, don’t go back out to the survey site. Stay (garble) the lab, wait for Echo to get you, and Protector will deal with whatever we find out there. Copy?”
Sarangan couldn’t answer. He kept looking over at Keechik.
“John, do you copy?”
“Do you copy, John?”
Keechik slowly looked up, his eyes wide with fright.
John Sarangan turned his head away.