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A horrible gasping filled the air, as abused and battered lungs struggled to operate at full capacity.
Kade realized that the sound was coming from him.
Adrenaline was surging through his body, and for a few moments he had no idea where he was or why he felt like he’d been hit by an asteroid.
Something shoved him onto his back and he looked up into dim, greenish lighting as the ugliest face he’d ever seen loomed over him.
He’d never seen a Greggan up close before, nor from this angle. Or in person, ever, until they had kidnapped him from his home.
It had two sets of small, beady eyes, a wide maw filled with needle-like teeth, and ugly, bumpy skin. There was no appreciable neck, its space suit going just under its lower jaw.
“He is alive, Captain, like I said! We did not kill him.”
The barking of the Greggan above him spattered him with a fine mist of liquid that smelled like a rancid pond. He coughed, covering his face and rolling onto his side. As he tried to curl into a fetal ball, more hands grabbed him, pulling him to his feet.
The Greggan who had just sprayed him with spittle stepped forward. “You see, Captain? He is alive!”
The being the Greggan addressed was another of his kind, sitting on a large, raised chair. It was covered in crude metal hooks, grafted poorly over its surface, from which hung dozens of objects that glittered and clinked into each other.
Trophies, he thought immediately. The tokens of victory a pirate would see value in even beyond their practical use or trade value.
The Greggan seated upon the chair was over two meters tall, bigger and even more bulky than the others. It regarded them with cold, pitiless eyes.
“Kill it,” it grunted.
White-hot terror flooded Kade’s mind, his body tensing, but the grip of the two Greggans holding him was far too powerful even for adrenaline to break.
The Greggan ahead of him let out a cry just before a gun fired, blasting greenish ichor across the room. It fell, twitching and making a strangely cat-like meowling before several more shots silenced it.
Two drones began to drag the corpse away, and Kade waited for his death to be next.
“Bring him closer,” the big Captain said.
Kade was dragged closer to the being. The smell of rancid water increased.
The Captain was far more disturbing up close. Even without knowledge of Greggan biology, he could tell that it was scarred and unhealthy, a monstrosity of a creature.
Strips of skin had been gouged from the sides of its face, still dangling like paper. Dark ichor had congealed in the wounds, glittering in the scant light.
The two sets of eyes on the Captain fixated on him. The pupils were small, the greenish glow in the room making the paler parts of its eyes look the same sickly green.
The Captain’s lower teeth protruded, in some places even piercing through its upper lip, and between them dripped rivulets of a paler fluid.
Kade could not formulate words, wondering if his own death was nigh.
“You are a writer,” the Captain grunted, the translation of its language cruder than the last one, like it spoke a rare dialect.
“A . . . a writer?” Kade asked.
“Answer or be thrown to the Dark!” one of the guards holding him snapped, shaking him bodily.
“Y-yes! I’m a writer!” he managed.
Why the hell did that matter? He was not a good writer, he just wrote short stories that he posted on the colonynet, none of them were great art, he’d never even tried to do that-
“You will do,” the Captain gargled, making a gesture with its flipper-like appendage.
Kade felt the guards holding his arms let go, and he dropped like a rock, just barely catching himself before he smacked face-first into the deck.
Kade had no idea what was going on. How would he do? Did the man want some shitty fan-fiction? He wasn’t sure what else he could offer.
Looking up, he saw that the room around them was large and circular. The Command Center of a ship, he slowly realized.
A great amount of activity was taking place ahead of them, dozens of other Greggans hurrying around consoles, croaking and grunting to each other excitedly.
He heard the Captain bellow again, looking up to see that his throat had distended like a frog’s, producing a loud rumbling croak. It made him shiver, but he had no idea the significance.
No one seemed to be paying any attention to him at this point, and he slowly brought himself up to a sitting position, pulling his knees up to his chest. A Greggan passed by him, and he leaned away, but it did not even look at him.
Dark, had it just been a day since he’d skipped out on work to head to The Landing Strip for a drink? He should have at least been writing, and he told himself he would when he was there, but he’d really just gone there to ogle the dancers.
Then the sirens warning of the pirate raid, and he’d run to the nearest shelter.
The wrong shelter. When the pirates had broken in, they’d herded them all out with drones. A few who tried to make some kind of stand were shot out of hand. Or even those who just talked too much.
The pirates wanted obedience. That was it.
After they’d brought them aboard the cargo shuttle, it had felt like hours before they’d lifted off, being brought into this ship. The acceleration of liftoff had knocked a lot of them out, even killed one old woman.
He only vaguely recalled being dragged into a crowded cargo room with the others. Mostly government officials, but then he’d passed out . . .
And then he’d woken up here, with the Captain.
The Greggans began to croak together towards the Captain, a strange chorus, their own throat sacks expanding. The Captain stood, his backward-curved legs hefting his bulk up slowly, and he raised his arms.
“Open shutters,” he bellowed.
Kade did not understand the significance until the first crack appeared between the two great metal plates.
From the moment he saw the light that seeped through, he knew that he was seeing zerospace.
Fear made him look away, hiding his head. Curiosity prompted him to look back.
He’d always heard that people went mad looking into zerospace. Scientists said that there was nothing to see. Stories told said that there were demons, monsters, spirits, the future or the past, or something even more confusing than all of those visible in it.
He’d seen the low-quality vids that purported to be the view.
But as he gazed for the first time into zerospace, he knew that none of the stories had been right.
His jaw opened, staring in rapt attention at the sight out beyond the windows.
He could not describe how it looked, or how it made him feel. Words, for once in his life, felt impotent, their descriptive ability useless. It was not like anything he had ever seen; the colors impossibly vivid, in tones he had never seen, shapes he had never thought could exist that seemed to fold and move and reform without moving, existing in planes and dimensions beyond the ones he had known his entire life.
No, they were not shapes, just . . .
Transcendence, he thought, as he felt stinging tears begin to flow down his face.
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