Cronenberg and Proxima Centauri

Discussion in 'ONE ON ONES IN CHARACTER' started by Ace of Angels, Aug 31, 2016.



    • She had once thought that the message coming from above would be a sign of hope. A sign that, even after centuries, that they had not been alone. Alone in this small Earth. Secretly, she had suspected it would happen, with how ginormous the universe really was. Though, perhaps ginormous was an understatement. However, their first sign of life had come quite closer than Natalie had thought. A signal from the star Proxima Centauri. She remembered the moment it came, sitting by the desk, still jittery from the caffeine flowing in her system, nearly asleep.

      There stood a large window with a telescope that detected radio signals from space and observed stars simultaneously. They called it the Meteor 7450, a name with a more tongue and cheek origin, the first item spotted being a meteor that crashed into the town. Of Meteor Falls. The irony from many years ago had still remained today. Natalie nearly fainted from excitement that day. Though, it seemed like her blood went cold as soon as she finally decoded what the message meant. Natalie was in denial with what the message meant.

      "Hide before they find you."

      At first, it was disbelief, but as news went around about the signal, it was like a human's worst fear had come true. The media began to ambush Natalie and her other coworkers frequently with questions of the next sign of life. However, until the day they came was the worst day of her life. The staff members had attempted communicating frantically with the star system, sending radio signal after signal. They even sent satellites and other space technologies to Proxima, but with no sign of life. Their actions had been too little too late and all they had to do was continue on living.

      Though, even that was becoming futile. Unknown malfunctions plagued their computers and any form of communication. Natalie had never expected aliens in the first place, but those malfunctions only increased in severity to the point that most of the work could not be completed other than the basic paperwork or labwork that didn't involve communicating with alien life.

      That fateful day of the invasion had sent the Meteor Falls Observatory to a lockdown. She was working overtime with some other select members when the invasion happened. All the doors, entrances and windows were completely bolted shut with the best of metals. It was nearly indestructible, to both aliens and humans. The only catch was that nobody could come in and it was too dangerous to go out. The observatory had food, water, showers and other basic facilities that would be able to keep them alive for a long time. Though, Natalie's regret had ironically been not working overtime to the point she couldn't say goodbye to her family one last time.

      Now, she fell asleep, many weeks after the invasion on an uncomfortable white couch. The cup of coffee she had previously been drinking was now on the table in front of her. Her light brown hair was disheveled as she clung onto the cushions. It had been too long and due to not having the time to do anything else anymore, fixing the computers seemed to be the only thing that Natalie bothered to do. No way she was actually socializing with other coworkers unless it was necessary. In fact, most of them had left to find family. Though, a part of her refused to leave her mission unsettled.

      Lifting her face, which had been pushing against the nearest cushion, she looked around. Seeing Charles, a fellow coworker, from her plain of vision, Natalie dug her face back into the pillow. "Good morning..." The woman spoke groggily. She was wearing a small, white tank top with sweatpants and sneakers. The point of looking professional had been lost until it was completely necessary, so seeing a lab worker dressed like Natalie was rather commonplace.



    • First Neptune, and now Proxima Centauri?

      Ezekiel was born ready for space. Calm under pressure, analytical as well as capable. More so, a space doctor. There were a lot of things that he admitted to not knowing. Space was one of them, the planets, the stars and just the beauty of it all. Not a lot of people were allowed on a spacecraft, so most of the time, he was the only doctor on board. Knowing things meant power, and damn, does this guy like knowing things.

      The message changed his life, even if he refused to admit it. Indirectly, directly, you name it. At first, he shrugged it off. Big deal. The aliens could just be radio signal trolls hungry for attention for all he cared. The ever so skeptical Ezekiel Hu, or Doctor Hu, he liked to call himself, didn't believe it. He even called bullshit on the message on the occasional Saturday night drunk. Though, more people started coming out with their stories of aliens and probing. Eventually, more research had been done, finding no sign of life. The signals stopped abruptly and something was clearly off.

      When asked to go to Proxima to investigate, he simply treated it like every other mission. Nothing to get worried about, just checking up on Greys. The only thing he was really scared for was if they would actually stick a cold, metal probe in his ass. That, and the regular things, such as the rocket crashing, running out of oxygen, and death. For an arrogant guy, he was quite fearful of the thought of mortality. Everyone dying someday sounded awfully depressing to him. Little did the crew know, that the Earth was going to be in the same state as Proxima sooner or later if they didn't act quickly.

      The ship was functional, but compact. It was meant for Ezekiel and the crew to simply fly in and out after a few weeks, even months, take some pictures, gather evidence in airtight bags and make sure none of them could kill you. Speaking of that, there were plasma guns that made no sound when you fired, but were just as deadly and didn't have the restrictions a bullet had. Those were only used in cases of monsters ever attacking. With a lack of signal, you could be really gambling your life. Bunkers were located just beside the main command center and there was an open window that linked the both together.

      Ezekiel was dressed in a wifebeater and basketball shorts. The rest of the crew seemed to have woke up before him, leaving him to be the only one. Ezekiel saw Sonia and another astronaut sit back and watch over the ship. Getting up, he grabbed a ration bar, chewing on it slowly. Deciding to be a little shit, his bedroom was right next to the window connecting them. He lifted his feet up against the window and tapped with his hand. "Mornin', captain." He called, nonchalantly. "Anything interesting?"



    • Atticus had been one of the witness accounts to an alien abduction.

      Well, it didn't really count as a witness if he was the only one that actually saw it happen. He was working part time in a comic book store. No one was there. Typical. Why did he even decide to work here? No one really read anymore, and the person owning the store was just doing it for a family tradition. So, as a result, Atticus had read every single issue on every single shelf or just studied by himself. It was lame, but what was even lamer was that an alien actually bothered to show up.

      The bright lights came first. In the middle of the night, the upstairs storage room looked abnormally bright. Getting up in his Spiderman boxer shorts to check it out, he was open to the sight of his lifetime. He didn't remember much. Atticus went unconscious from shock, later feeling a floating, yet numb feeling in his body. Blurred, grey faces passed by him one by one with different tools and probes. Beginning to hallucinate, he noticed that he wasn't able to speak or move. The passage of time was much slower in this ship as they flew away. Sooner or later, he felt nauseous with a metallic taste in his mouth.

      From there, it felt like that alien message released to the public was some sort of explanation to it all. That maybe the greys from Proxima had something to do with this. Maybe they would invade Earth and it would be too late. Atticus soon spoke out about his experience and joined several internet forums to speak of conspiracy theories. A support group had even started for the sake of victims of alien abductions.

      The group met every Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm in the basement of the YCMA. It was sketchy, but then again, so were alien abductions. He made many friends, though those friends would soon be picked off in an instant. When the silent blue warning showed up on the screen, he secretly knew that this was what happened. The invasion became a reality, though they weren't Greys. They were something much worse. Cronenberg body monstrocities that stood several feet tall moved at an eerily calculated pace of a hive mind. Small parasites attached to the head or neck of the beasts and ate human flesh. From what Atticus knew, banging them over the head with a shovel killed the parasites along with the creatures.

      Soon, the Coping with Probing group banded together to take down the threat and survive... but all that happened were each member getting picked off or eaten alive. Atticus knew it was not strength, but luck that still kept him alive. Whether or not he still even had that was a mystery. Even the strong died on an especially unlucky day. On the bright side, he formed a close bond with the members that did survive with him. Atticus had learned to sleep on the ground and have cycled night watches to stay safe, though, they tended to stay out of underground areas like the basement.

      Spotting a fellow member, a rather loud one near him, he opened his brown eyes. "...Hey." How charming. He was never a conversationalist, but I mean, he tried. Giving Phebe a rather bashful smile, he checked his solar watch. It was 5:30am. "Tired?" Atticus was wearing a hoodie with some comfortable jeans as he awkwardly retreated his hands back. "Buuuut yeah... uh... I-I'm glad you're not dead..."

     
    • Love Love x 1


    • First contact was supposed to have been a joyous occasion. It was supposed to have been awe-inspiring, the very thing that stopped men from going to war, a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel that was there to usher humanity into its next great era. When the machines and computers at the Meteor Falls Observatory in Kentucky began to beep and whirr with the first stirrings of a message, Charles had held his breath and tears, completely beside himself as intelligent life spoke from the cold depths of space. The message that Earth received, however, left the entire world nervous and skeptical for a year to come before true evil settled onto the planet.

      Be quiet before they hear you.

      There was nothing but death and destruction now, but it wasn't like Charles had a good view of anything. When the invasion happened, the lab had locked down—metal grates tightened themselves to windows, bolts kept the doors in place, he and his colleagues were walled in, safe from the scourge but utterly helpless.

      As a single man with no family, or pets, the lockdown wasn't much of an inconvenience. He spent most of his time at work anyway, sitting at his desk with his dark eyes glued to a monitor, or relaxed with his ear cradled in a set of expensive headphones; only the best for listening to the pops and clicks that echoed through space. His days and weeks in the facility hadn't changed much, either. The place was well stocked with food and water, there was soap and several showers for chemical burns that almost felt homey if a person didn't mind the water pressure. And Charles didn't.

      The only thing he truly missed was sunlight.

      That couldn't be helped, though, and Charles did his best to put his wants out of his mind as he wandered into one of the small break rooms. It was early, and a pot of coffee never failed to normalize even the most stressful of situations. The space was quiet as he entered, but glanced over when he saw a body on the couch. Natalie was a nice girl, pretty, smart and had they not been co-workers, she might have been someone he wanted to ask out for dinner. With the end of the world at the doorstep, however, Charles knew that it was nothing but a pipe dream now. In a way, it was funny—there were so many things that he would never get to experience.

      When Natalie picked her head up, Charles stopped dwelling and greeted her with a small smile. “Morning,” he replied to her groan, watching as her head dropped back into the pillow. He approached the table in front of the white couch and snagged her nearly-full coffee mug, pouring the cold contents into the sink before pouring her a fresh cup. The steam wafted up in a white plume, and like any caffeine-rich drink, it came with the promise that the day might not be so bad.

      Do you always sleep there?” he asked, one thick eyebrow raised before he set her cup back down on the table. It didn't look terribly comfortable, but at least she was dressed for it. Charles, on the other hand, kept his white button-down on, sans tie, with the sleeves bunched up. It was good to at least look a little professional and perhaps the alien overlords would spare him on the off chance they needed an accountant.

      Finally, Charles poured his own coffee and leaned back against the sink as it cooled in a black mug. It had once belonged to their boss, Owens, an uppity man who thought overtime was necessary, but never participated himself. Charles was pretty sure Owens was dead now—what did he need the mug for?



    • One year ago, that message from the sky had changed the entire world. At the time, Sonia Gilbert hadn't really believed it. She had been to space dozens of times through various programs, both on planet and driving across moons, and floating around for an extended stay in the expanded ISS, but nothing had prepared her for what was just beyond Proxima. Not only was there other intelligent life in the galaxy, but the unknown beings were empathic, frightened enough of something to send a warning. So when the ultimate question was asked, the government responded and Sonia volunteered for the mission into deep space if only to see with her own eyes that little green men were real.

      The ship they were on was small but extremely functional, built to support itself and minimal crew through a stasis period, of which they had just emerged from a few days prior. They were closing in on the planet of origin and tensions were high—rather, they should have been high. The ten of them were about to lay eyes on something no other humans had ever seen, walk on alien terrain and meet the being behind the fearful message. It was a momentous occasion, one that Sonia couldn't stop considering until a tap on the window startled her.

      Heart now beating out of her chest, Sonia breathed a sigh when she laid eyes on Ezekiel and began to calm down. She shook her head when he greeted her through the shatter-proof glass, his voice slightly muffled due to the thickness. Even though she had only been awake for a few days, the ship was already beginning to feel cramped and some of the crew made that fact all the more obvious. She hadn't gotten to hand-pick them, not the way she wanted and that lack of control left a bad taste in her mouth. Her hands had been tied, though, by more powerful, more insistent people who thought they knew better. Sonia would have liked to see them put their lives on the line for the sake of humanity.

      We're steadily approaching Proxima-B,” she relayed, and waved Ezekiel around to take a look. Outside the span of the bridge was a world of blackness, dotted with stars in the distance that made the frigidness of space a little less scary. Sonia appreciated the isolation of it all, the way that one wrong move could doom an entire crew. She liked to think that the need to survive kept her on her game, but there was a power hungry part of her being that simply enjoyed holding all of the cards.

      Looking to her fellow astronaut when he came around, a medical doctor whom Sonia deemed useful enough, she nodded toward the view. “We'll be there within the hour,” and he was having a snack, “shouldn't you be preparing?”


    • Meteor Falls had always been a weird place. Built on the site of one of those incidents from the early sixties, the type where G-Men rolled in with the National Guard and took things away on large trucks in the middle of the night, the town was a hotbed of activity. It was a campy place, too—looking to cash in on the many UFO sightings that various so and so's had claimed to have witnessed over the last hundred years. Every shop on main street had something to do with aliens or space ships, or in more broad terms, the galaxy that surrounded their humble planet. Phebe Heim had never been the type to buy into the hype, but she was happy to collect her paycheck from the Flying Saucer Cafe.

      At least, she hadn't been the type until that observatory got that message, and then a strange, white light had sucked her up into the sky one night after work. Their faces had been grey with large, cavernous, black eyes and small mouths. Phebe remembered the coldness of a metal table at her back and the strange noises the aliens made as they inspected her. She was still missing pieces from that day, her sense of time and space rattled and scrambled further with each abduction that followed. That was when she started taking Meteor Falls more seriously and when she started looking for others.

      Hope came in the form of a neon green flyer that was stapled to a telephone pole. In black, block letters it read:
      Coping With Probing
      A support group for those special residents of Meteor Falls
      Meets Tuesday and Thursday @ 7PM in YMCA basement


      It was simple enough, and a nice group of people. They all told similar stories, shared the same fears and some even shared in a few jokes during meetings. It helped for a while, made Phebe feel a little more safe until the group began to experience something a little more worrying. There hadn't been any new abductions for at least a month, no new clues about their visitors and for some, it was a blessing but most agreed that it was strange. Every night, Phebe looked to the sky and wondered when the Greys had lost interest in their planet, and if they had, why they had decided to abandon those whose lives they had so unkindly disrupted.

      The invasion was the real answer, of course, a large space ship that brought squid-like monsters down to Earth. They were monsters, cruel and controlled by the creatures they carried around on their heads. The support group banded together that night, protecting one another from things none of them had ever seen before. It was a valiant effort, but some were lost and slowly, the population of Meteor Falls began to dwindle. Some packed up what they could and moved away in the night, others killed themselves in their own houses—Phebe didn't see the point, though. One way or another, they were just waiting for the end.

      That's what I'm fucking saying, Phil,” she said one morning, hands flailing about as a tired-looking man shook his head at her. “If they're still out there, why aren't they back to save us?” Phebe was always loud and usually kind of annoying, it was a fact that she had known about herself for years, but hadn't tried to change. If people didn't like her, that was their problem, but at the end of the world, she wasn't going to try and start pleasing others.

      You got a big imagination,” Phil spat on the ground and wandered away. His shift was over, others would be waking up soon and they would start the anxious day a new.

      It was the same every day. “I'm right!” she called after him, though she didn't make an effort to get up from her place by the wall. Huffing, Phebe drew a ratty blanket closer around her body and leaned with her chin on top of her knees. She had been awake for too long and it was starting to catch up with her. Slowly, her eyes slipped closed and she began to drift off.

      A wink or two of sleep was all she got when a voice prompted her to open her eyes once more. Atticus was a nice guy, a little shy and reserved, but she had once watched him beat one of the squids to death with a shovel—or maybe he just knocked its controller off—either way, she liked what she saw. “Beat,” she answered with a nod and smiled as he stumbled over his words.

      Yeah, I'm glad I'm not dead too,” she laughed, pausing for a moment before speaking again, “and you too. I thought you'd be one of the first to go, actually.” It never hurt to be honest, “I can think of worse people to be stuck with.” Scooting over, Phebe offered a section of her blanket and an ear for listening.
     
    • Love Love x 1


    • Normally Natalie hated looking informal in front of coworkers. It was the reason why she stayed home after every work party and denied invitations to most social events. Still looking as miserable as ever, she flipped herself over, her face staring at the sterile looking ceiling. Her brown eyes switched from the walls to Charles, unmoving as he approached the table. Charles was alright... but she didn't do relationships. They only got in the way of things. Odd how that thought was still the same after the invasion.

      It still took a toll on her that her family would never come back, torn apart by strange creatures everywhere. She smiled politely at bringing her coffee. The woman was never picky, preferring her coffee black nowadays. "Thank you." Natalie shyly expressed her gratitude, watching him leaning towards the sink. His clothing made her feel inferior compared to her sweatpants. The distinct smell of strong coffee flooded her nose. Sitting up on the couch, she took a slow, savoury sip. Sighing contentedly, she already felt better. "That's the stuff." Natalie praised before clearing the early morning raspiness out of her throat.

      Leaning back casually on the back of the couch, she shrugged. "Sometimes I fall asleep before I can get myself a refill." Snorting dryly, Natalie felt it didn't hurt to answer the question seriously. "Either that, or in the middle of work, hands over the desk and all. Funny enough, today's been the best sleep I've had so far." After a few more sips of the actual nectar of the gods, she felt ready to work as much as she could. Crossing her legs, she wrapped her body against a cushion. Until...

      "That's Owens' mug, isn't it?" The woman raised a brow with an accusing tone, loosening her comforting grip on the cushion. Even if he could be dead, it didn't seem right. Almost everyone on the job had their own mugs. Natalie had clearly kept her goodie-two-shoes side since high school, feeling that it was wrong to simply drink out of the boss' coffee mug. Even if the reason he didn't do overtime ended with him most likely losing his life. "Did you happen to lose your own?" She asked. Natalie got up and rested against one of the doors to the bathroom to freshen up later.




    • Ezekiel smirked and even let out subtle snickers as he waved from the glass as she shook her head. An hour away. Sighing, he wasn't sure yet what that meant to him. Taking a leisurely pace, an hour would be enough time. It wasn't like they had to rush or anything. They were only supposed to be there for a couple of months and supplies lasted around four years. The doctor was surprised. "Really? This quickly? Look at how time flies."

      Instead of focusing on the thought of Proxima-B, he lost his focus around the speeding of multiple stars fly by him. The worst part of flying on a rocket ship to a distant planet was that it was similar enough to a long plane ride. With road trips, you had sights to see and things to look at as they sped past you. With planes it was sky and clouds, but with more people Ezekiel couldn't stand. That, and being a relatively tall guy, that meant a lot of bumping into things if he wasn't careful. At least in a rocket ship you could lie down and walk around in your underwear. Pressing the button to let him into the central command, he casually threw the wrapper away in a trash chute.

      "I've prepared just as much as you." Ezekiel shrugged. He was completely lying, but all of his medical supplies were with him at all times whenever he left his ship. He was lucky that he lived in a time where his space suit was easy to put on and take off than it had been a hundred years ago. That, and space technology had progressed rather quickly in the past hundreds of years. "Really, I think we'll be fine. Don't need to get your knockers in a twist." Sitting down on the next available seat to her, Ezekiel stretched his arms and legs out.

      "Isn't it boring? Staring at the same blackness all the time?" He asked, watching the stars fly by. Laughing at the urgency of preparation, he remained relaxed. "I feel like a little kid on a road trip." He shook his head playfully. "Are we there yet? When are the aliens gonna probe our asshooooles?" Ezekiel imitated a small child and pouted. Screwing with the serious ones of the trip really brought a smile to his own arrogant face. Grabbing his suit, he put the rest of it on but left the helmet off.




    • Atticus laughed at Phebe's stubbornness. She was a girl with her heart in the right place, and one of those girls in high school that Atticus would have a crush on. A crush that always ended badly because he was a nerdy loser. "Oh, but we can still be friends!" was the most heard phrase throughout his awkward teenage years, that still carried onto university. Still, there was no doubt that they had become close after surviving together and quite literally risking their lives for each other. It's ironic how the tables turned now.

      Atticus' shovel had laid a couple of feet beside him with weird squid blood. The nerdy little loser had turned into a Cronenberg killer. He wondered if the same course of events would have happened with Phebe if the Cronenbergs didn't decide to fuck their planet. He fiddled with his dark hair, having been a while since cutting his hair. His hands then traveled to his jawline. Stubble. An awkward half smile was given to the woman as he scooted a little closer to his friend, crawling under a part of her blanket.

      "Ouch." He laughed. "I think I can too. I... I think God's telling me that I can't die a virgin loser. That's j-just too depressing, isn't it?" Atticus' voice got quieter as he told yet another self-deprecating joke. "M-Maybe I should just be a virgin a-and get rid of the loser." He shrugged from his hoodie pocket. Realizing that he hadn't been making eye contact with her for an odd amount of time, he laughed, ruffling his hands through his hair. Atticus leaned his head on her shoulder. "Uhhh... yeah. T-That's true. I wouldn't want to be stuck... in the comic shop a-anyways..."

      Attempting conversation once again, he bit his lip. "A-Anything interesting y-you want to do today? I know... I'm not the best company, but... maybe you want to go to a Walmart a-and spin around in those cart things? O-Or just look for food?" He rambled on, "Your choice... I don't really mind."


     
    • Love Love x 1


    • At one time, before the invasion, Charles had shared Natalie's views about work. He was the type to stay for overtime and not realize the time until a co-worker greeted him the next morning. There was just something so fascinating about unraveling the secrets of the universe, but that same passion was gone now, stolen from him the minute that the facility locked down and doomed him to a slow death. Most days, he didn't know why he still bothered to work and lately, his day had been split up into coffee runs and counting down the minutes until he could get a nap. Natalie's drive was admirable, but Charles no longer wanted to compete.

      Hm?” he hummed in response to her accusing tone, the conversation suddenly changing. Slowly, Charles glanced at the mug in his hand and then back to her—why she thought Owens still needed it was beyond him, but he didn't feel bad about taking it. “I did, actually,” he confessed, “mine broke when the lockdown alarm went off. I was standing right here.” He chuckled, recalling the memory as it if had just happened. “You and I were working together, I asked if you wanted coffee because I was going to get some and then, suddenly,” he took a sip from Owen's mug, “chaos. I've been using his ever since things calmed down.”

      In a way, he couldn't blame her for being angry and Charles supposed that his nonchalance sent the reality of her hope crashing back down to Earth. “There's no one out there, Natalie,” he said, quieter and maybe even a little ashamed to break the news, “and if Owens is, I doubt he's coming back to this place for a mug.” Not that the man could even get in, Charles thought to add, but held his tongue instead. He had always been an unrelenting realist, which was a quality that always seemed to rub sensitive dreamers the wrong way, but he never saw the sense in lying. The world had been invaded—a consequence for the curious arrogance of man—and now there was nothing left to do but wait for the end.

      Taking another sip from the mug in his hand, Charles reached for a packet of sugar. “Have you made any progress with your work?” he asked, hoping she wouldn't storm out of the room, or flip him the bird and then storm out of the room. The rest of their lives was a long time to go without talking, and although Charles thought they were royally screwed, fighting was only going to make things more miserable.

      At least we could have some closure if you found their home planet.”



    • When it came to preparedness, Sonia doubted that anyone did it quite like her—but especially not Ezekiel. In her opinion, he was much too relaxed to be part of the team and there were times during training and even in the last few days where she wondered if he even cared about what they were so close to experiencing. It really was the opportunity of a lifetime, and the doctor looked to be more interested in his ration bar and making jokes than he was in unlocking the secrets to the universe. For all any of them knew, the alien planet could have been a stepping stone into other worlds, toward new planes of existence and new ideas about what it meant to be human.

      Sexism aside, Sonia breathed a sigh when Ezekiel took a seat beside her. “You mean after so many missions?” she asked, feeling like she was taking some kind of bait. Her eyes focused on the stars once more, the white light passing by like glowbugs in the night. “Not really,” she decided, “it all sort of looks the same, but I like that. If I saw something new, it would probably be wrong, and then we might never make it back.” Bumps in the road were hardly ideal when it came to space missions, and Sonia was thankful that all she ever saw on her way to anywhere were masses of stars and chunks of rocks.

      Where they might have been able to have a mature conversation, however, Ezekiel quickly ruined it. Sonia closed her eyes for a moment, jaw clenched as she fought the urge to throw him off the bridge. “You believe in all that?” she asked instead, choosing to humor the doctor before the real work began. A team couldn't be stable without understanding, and understanding didn't come where there was disagreement. This certainly wasn't Sonia's first time being in charge, but she wasn't going to let Ezekiel be a blight on her flawless record, not on the most important flight of her career.

      I don't think they've probed anyone,” she said with a skeptical shake of her head. “Notice that it's never smart people telling those stories,” laughing, she kicked back slightly and glanced to the man beside her, “it's always some drunk, or a homeless guy, or some kid that went out for a wild night and woke up in a field without pants.” The stories of abduction had only increased since the message broke through to Earth, but Sonia thought it had more to do with people being lonely and wanting to be part of something larger than themselves, rather than aliens beaming citizens up to their ships.


    • Truth be told, Phebe had been drawn to Atticus since attending her first meeting. The ages of the ground tended to vary, but most had at least a decade on her and it was hard to relate to mothers, fathers and grandparents telling stories of being taken from their house that they'd lived in and owned for the last however many years. Phebe couldn't relate to them, but she did share a common bond with the boy who worked in the comic shop—maybe they were both a little aimless, a little rough around the edges and she couldn't help it, she liked the nervous way he spoke—it was sweet. He hadn't seemed like much at first, but she was very glad to be stuck with him at the end of the world.

      Listening as Atticus spoke, Phebe remained quiet as he turned himself into a punchline. It was something that she had gotten very used to over the last several months, but still not something she understood. There weren't many people around anymore, no human to truly fear and his anxiety always felt misplaced. “Well, I don't know if I can help you with that first bit, but,” she grinned and straightened up to tie her long hair back, “people could always eat and I know that Walmart still has cans.” They weren't the most desirable cans out there, of course, but who could really be picky anymore?

      Come on,” her smile remained as she stood from the ground and helped Atticus up. With her other hand, she threw the blanket over her shoulder before walking deeper into the basement hideout. Some people were still sleeping, and Gladis, an older woman, looked a little cold on the cot she currently occupied. Phebe laid the blanket over the woman, a bit protective because she reminded her of her grandmother, and silently moved on with Atticus. “Ten useless Earth dollars says we find at least one canned chicken when we get there,” she joked when they reached a makeshift weapons rack.

      Despite being a Kentucky native, Phebe couldn't shoot for shit and preferred a weapon that she could swing around. There were several there; a hockey stick, someone's 9-iron, another shovel, but she preferred a baseball bat with nails driven through it. Without thinking about how weird it was that this was the new normal, Phebe grabbed the bat and lead the way toward the exit. The stairs had been partially barricaded since the invasion, and there was a system for checking in and out, but the process was safe enough.

      Two out,” she told Phil, who apparently wasn't ready for sleep yet. He waved them off, scribbling the time into a water-logged notebook.

      Outside, the air was oddly fresh and as the sun began to rise over the ruined, debris-strewn landscape, Phebe was struck by how beautiful the world could still be. “To, Walmart!” she proclaimed a moment later, taking Atticus' hand while holding the bat with the other.
     
    • Love Love x 1


    • Natalie frowned, a part of her voice falling. It wasn't just Charles being inconsiderate and simply taking Owens' mug. The thought of her boss never needing the mug still lingered in her mind. Even though Natalie was working almost everyday to try getting the computers to even turn on, here Charles was, taking a sip of coffee. Owens would never allow this kind of behaviour to continue. However, as accusatory Natalie felt, she knew it was an exercise in futility to get angry with her coworker. That was one thing they had in common, the fact that they both thought fighting was useless. Perhaps it was, and perhaps Natalie was just afraid to be alone. Afraid that there was no way for her to reach out and feel the sun someday. That thought scared her, and working without anyone nearby frightened her even more. Getting angry with potentially the last person she would see before she died was not the way Natalie wanted to go. Far from it.

      Additionally, Natalie began to stop herself. It was almost comedic, how that day of the alarm compared to almost every other day. Coffee in the morning soon became one of the only things that later remind them of the life that once was. Yet, none of them even came to realize that fact until today. Maybe they did come to that fact earlier, but now that Natalie had asked Charles of the boss' mug, it was apparent. "Yeah, chaos." The brunette nodded along, silently, taking a few absentminded sips. Did things really calm down? Natalie asked herself, feeling a tad hopeless now that he had spoken so casually. How were things back... out there?

      Shaking the thoughts out of her head, she knew. Charles knew as well. It was just ridiculous, everything was just ridiculous. Natalie never fancied herself an optimist, funny how the subconscious parts of you are revealed once something drastic happened. She just appreciated the fact that he didn't pretend everything would be okay. Luckily for him, flipping the bird at him and leaving was the last thing she intended to do. With brown eyes, she considered adding her own sugar to her coffee, but decided against it. Stirring her white mug with a spare spoon, she didn't mind it so bitter. The mug suited her in many ways, simple as well as bright white from the fact she scrubbed her mug down every time she had a coffee.

      The woman shook her head. "No, I haven't. I think they're faulty now or something." Leaning against the closest counter, she touched her hair with her fingertips the way someone did while frustrated. "I can only seem to do simple lab work, but anything to do with communication seems to be malfunctioning. Lab work is practically useless now with nothing to study. I checked the computers a million times and had then someone else check them a million times and nothing seems to be wrong with the hardware." Natalie explained, confused and through her frustration. "It's almost as if once they came everything stopped working." A scary realization indeed. Especially with the thought of the aliens staying for a long time. For their time here, nothing would work and they would soon be trapped.

      "All I've heard from the planet were that some astronauts investigating it. I don't know if we'll ever be able to find them again, or if we're ever able to get out." Natalie's voice subtly faltered, gently exuding some of her pent up despair. "I mean, what's the point, right?" Realizing the woman had made herself sound slightly unprofessional, she bit her lip, biting back. Balling her fists, she sighed in order to compose herself as she drank the remainder of the caffeine. Forgetting to even groom herself or scrub her mug until it shone, the brunette still had duties to take care of.

      "Would you like to check the computers for the millionth and first time?" Natalie dryly asked. Getting herself back into the groove of working would need to take some time to get used to. "If you don't, I might just have to." She shrugged, setting her mug down and walking towards the hall.




    • In many ways, Ezekiel resembled a child, or at the least, a rambunctious teenager. This was one of those ways. The doctor could not take many things seriously, and conversations were one of them. Expect many a disappointment trying to get him to stop cracking a joke every so often. Regardless, Ezekiel still considered himself a rather good listener. He wasn't clueless to little ticks in people, taking in Sonia's compliance to humour him, which was really the best thing you could do for a guy like him. Laughing at the thought of the doctor ever believing that aliens would do such a thing, he shook his head. "Nah, I don't."

      Ezekiel was always a bit of a skeptical guy, taking things as they came. Unless a Grey came up to him and provided video proof of their experiments, Ezekiel didn't believe a word they said about abductions. It all seemed a bit strange how they always happened in areas no one frequented. It seemed even stranger to him that Meteor Falls was built on the foundation of a meteor landing, causing many alien based novelty stores to pop up just about everywhere. If you asked him, the whole alien thing could just be stupid hype. However, calling things stupid hype didn't get you jobs like flying to a planet with alien life.

      Despite her stern demeanour, Ezekiel agreed with almost everything the pilot said. Following her lead, he sat back. "I think anything involving probes could very well be a man taking advantage of a someone on an acid trip." He let the image sink in between the both of them and sighed, rather content with his own skepticism. It could be completely possible that was the case, but if someone had genuinely thought a probe had gone through their skin or that they were being operated on, then something deeper must be wrong with them. Some of the accounts were rather vivid and consistent to the other, possibly to keep up the running gag.

      "Though, I think it is pretty cool we'd be the first people to see it ourselves. See if we'd be wrong the whole time." Grunting lightly, he lazily dragged himself off the chair before giving Sonia another grin. "Though, you don't quite seem like the type of person to like being wrong." Shaking his head playfully, he grabbed his suit off a rack nearby the command center. Casually putting the suit over in less than a minute, he raised a brow. "Does this space suit make me look fat by any chance?"




    • Atticus turned a bright red as she mentioned the... first part. Putting his hood over his curly hair, there was nothing more that Atticus wanted to do than just crawl into his own little hole and die. If dying of embarrassment was an actual cause of death, Atticus would've died many years ago. "N-No. No, no. I didn't mean it like that, I just..." Toying with his hair in between his hood, he sighed. Hopefully the trip to Walmart was able to distract him from this moment. Lovely how even when aliens turned the human race into a group of small ants scrambling for survival, his high school moments would always come back to haunt him. As if it couldn't get any worse. The man sighed, resigned. There was no way he could win this conversation, not with his social skills.

      "Yeah, eat. I... had completely forgot about that part." Atticus nervously laughed. Yeah, when that other thing happened. Grabbing her hand from his hoodie, he stood up. Standing around aimlessly as the others were sleeping, the man gave a small wave to Gladis. Due to the average age of a member in the support group, Atticus was always rough around the edges when it came to elders. They had demanded such a respect for their number of years on Earth, and that made Atticus rather flustered. He never realized that they were people, just like the two of them. Gladis was alright, and she definitely deserved the blanket more than they did. Phebe putting the blanket around the woman made his heart warm. Kindness, in smaller doses was something you don't see often. Being with Phebe reminded him of hope, that there was fun to be had in a world nearly destroyed.

      "N-No one would ever think of going to a place like Walmart." The brown eyed man made a vomiting gesture. Grabbing a familiar dirtied shovel, he added, "I guess that's the beauty of it." Atticus was an awkward city boy at heart. It was odd, how he also had a distaste for crowds and loud noises. However, being in a city in a time like this would be much worse. A little town like Meteor Falls in the middle of nowhere was a better area, if he said so himself. He didn't know what came over him that day, grabbing the shovel seemed like the most rational decision. All that mattered was that no one was harmed.

      The structure of the building was impressive as well as how quickly the group had adapted themselves to disaster. Barricaded stairways and a check in system, it amazed him to know that he was a part of this. Giving Phil a small smile in greeting, he followed her out. Atticus peeked out of the door after Phebe made her way out. The sunrise. How such a common sight was beautiful in times of crisis. Nearly spacing out, he then remembered to take her hand. "Y-Yeah. To Walmart!" Looking at the pieces of garbage and debris, he slouched through the entire journey.

      "We're here... there's even a cart f-for all our transport needs." He gestured to a spare shopping cart reflecting the sun right outside the department store. Surprisingly, there were even a few remnants of a car collision. Tensely grabbing the cart, he wheeled it into the entrance of the store. As usual, what did he expect? Walmart was a large place, but it happened to be only somewhat ransacked. Half of the food was gone, but much still remained. Clothes on sale were on the floor on top of other things. The first sight that overwhelmed him were all the flyers that laid around the floor of the messy department store. It was a surreal sight and yet another reminder of how this was their reality now. Atticus picked up a flyer, shaking the dirt from the footprint that had trampled the paper over.

      "Hey." He smiled, getting an idea. "Let's go shopping. T-The potato chips are all a dollar off. So are the Chunky Bits. I thiiiink they're edible, i-if I'm not mistaken." Atticus gestured to the rusted cart. The prices on the pictures seemed stupid to him now. Money didn't matter, they were only useless Earth dollars, as Phebe called it. Handing the flyer to the blonde, he asked, "See anything you like?"


     


    • For whatever reason, probably one that Charles would never fully understand, the tenseness in the air between them seemed to dissipate. He wondered if Natalie had finally accepted that they were trapped in the lab, that these walls and each other would be the last things they ever saw before finally meeting the end. It was a bleak thought, but something that Charles had accepted almost as soon as those metal plates had closed over the exits—most people didn't even know where they were, no one was coming for them, no one cared. In the back of his mind, Charles supposed that there was one silver lining left; being locked away took them off the menu for the aliens.

      It came as no surprise that Natalie had hit a wall with the computers. His own station had been down since the invasion as well, which was the most frightening part about being stuck in the lab. As someone who was once constantly glued to his cell phone, always having to check an app, or respond to a text, the sudden lack of communication felt like being sent back to the stone age. Grimly, Charles gave a sympathetic nod and took another drink from his stolen mug. He didn't want to draw attention to Natalie's emotions, sure that she wanted to remain professional just for the sake of maintaining the dynamic that had always existed between them. They were co-workers, just barely friends, and while his shoulder was there to be cried on, she didn't seem like the type.

      I'll check them,” he agreed and poured the rest of his coffee into the sink. Later, he would come back and wash the dishes just for something to do, but currently, he had a real purpose. Looking to Natalie as they left the break room, Charles found that he was more interested in the astronauts. He knew about the mission as well, and part of him was envious of their blissful ignorance. In a way, they were trapped too, but they had gotten out just before things went to hell.

      The main computer bank was down a long hall where most of the lights had been automatically shut off to conserve power. It was a little creepy, perhaps too silent for his liking, but Charles didn't think much of it as he got the door for Natalie and they stepped inside. “What do you think they'll find out there?” he asked, feeling around for a light switch, “the astronauts, I mean.” Overhead, a single row of fluorescent lights hummed to life and suddenly, it was just another day at the office.



    • They were very different people, that much was clear. From a young age, Sonia had a sternness about her that seemed to intimidate others, and as the years went by and she continued to rise in rank through government and science programs, that harshness only became more evident. It was rare that she cracked an actual joke not rooted in sarcasm, or had time for anything foolish, but Ezekiel sort of demanded relaxation just by existing. Their conversation now, about alien probes and possibly made up abductions probably would have sounded ridiculous back on Earth, but times had changed. If Proxima-B held all of the answers, then Sonia had a million questions.

      Closing her eyes, Sonia half-smiled at the dark joke and tried not to focus on what people might have gotten up to at a rave. “I think I'd do drugs too if I had to live in Meteor Falls,” she admitted. The town was something of a joke around the office, just a bunch of rednecks who got distracted by a shiny object in the sky—they very well could have been seeing airplanes. However, now that a message had pinged back on their satellites, there was a part of Sonia that had to wonder how much truth made up those wild stories. Maybe they had been probed, maybe they weren't just drunk and stupid.

      Whatever doubts Sonia had were stopped dead in their tracks as Ezekiel got up from his seat. “You're right about that,” she nodded and slouched for a moment before getting up as well, “which is why I try and keep it to a minimum.” Being wrong was never a good look for anyone, but it was a personal offense in Sonia's mind. She had spent years discounting those abduction stories and if it turned out that the aliens on Proxima-B had visited before, and performed experiments, she was sure that her colleagues would never let her live it down.

      Shaking her head, Sonia grabbed her own suit from the command center and slid it on over her clothes. The plastic-like material swished as it moved against itself, and Sonia looked up from straightening the legs as Ezekiel thought to bother her with more nonsense. “A bit hippy,” she retorted and stood up straight to pull her arms through. “Why?” she asked as she did up the zipper, “planning to impress an alien when we get there?”


    • Before the invasion, Phebe hadn't ever seen a Walmart parking lot so empty. No matter the time of the day, there were always cars there, jammed into spaces and honking when someone wouldn't get out of the way. Now, it was completely desolate, just a big ugly building sitting on top of a layer of asphalt—if human triumph was a superstore, Phebe thought the Earth deserved to be invaded. She kept that thought to herself, though, grinning instead when Atticus found a cart. It was funny that they still made attempted to be civilized, rather than just smash through the previously automatic doors with their makeshift weapons and ransack the place.

      Inside, the store was just as empty and bleak as the parking lot. Some of the food had been picked over, and the fresh produce had started to rot, collecting fruit flies and other winged pests in the process. Phebe covered her nose and mouth with her sleeve as they walked by, and only stopped to look at the sale paper that Atticus found. She laughed, “wow, I can only think of like, ten other things I'd rather eat than Chunky Bits.” As much as people bitched about processed food, it seemed to be the only thing that held up now that the aliens had taken over and quietly, Phebe was glad that she had never jumped on that pretentious train.

      Although they were mostly in the dark, the aisles and layout of the store were familiar as they pushed the cart further away from the (formerly) fresh section, Phebe began to breathe a little easier. “Do you like pickle chips?” she asked, snagging a bag of dill-flavored potato chips from a nearby shelf. Opening the bag, Phebe popped one into her mouth and offered the bag to Atticus before sticking it in the front of the cart. Shopping was leisurely, and it almost felt sweetly domestic if it hadn't been for the bat and shovel they were carrying.

      Okay, so, if we hadn't been invaded and weren't looking at certain death,” she began as they turned down another aisle. This one was full of baking essentials, like flour and sugar, spices, things that Phebe thought the other Copers could use, “what would you be doing right now?” It may not have sounded like a legitimate question, but Phebe was curious about Atticus' life before the Greys. She set her bat aside and loaded a few bags of flour and two dozen packets of yeast into the cart. “Like, would you be at work, or at home? Would you be asleep?”

      She was chatty, and Phebe believed that it was part of her charm. Hopping onto the end of the cart, she flashed Atticus a smile, “I'd probably be getting off work. Merv always had me work graveyard on the weekends. Isn't that sweet?”
     
    • Love Love x 1

    • Natalie stopped, smiling slightly. It felt normal this time around. Just to be polite, the young woman waited for him so they would be able to walk together. While Charles had thought about the astronauts, she had thought about her family. There was a large chance that they had all died with the rest of the humans, but a part of her wished that she hadn't taken that overtime shift. How silly was working now in a world like this. Natalie had a both parents, a brother and even a small nephew whom she spent hours over coddling and spoiling ever since her brother Nathaniel went through a bitter divorce. They had not chosen a name for the kid, but Natalie had always felt that naming him Isaac felt appropriate. A family of scientists, they were.

      Not that it mattered now. Natalie had a sporadic moment of melancholy that only became worse with the near end of the world. She bit her lip as she continued to blankly walk into the main bank. The relative darkness in the hall provided for some quiet introspection, like Charles, the creepiness factor hadn't even crossed her mind. Her shoes made a clunky noise until the two of them reached the entrance. Nodding her polite thanks as she walked through the door, shielding her eyes as the lights shone over the room. Back to work. Beckoning him to sit on one of the chairs, she took the seat next to him.

      "I don't know. Maybe they're done with that planet already. Maybe they won't find anything." Natalie suggested. Instead of meeting his eyes, she stared blankly at the black screen. "Isn't it sad? That when their mission is over, they'll come back to... this." Her raspy voice expressed a slight tinge of pity. Sure, there was no way to know for certain what the world outside looked like now. Natalie liked to argue that the lack of knowledge was the worst part. "Not that we would know. Here's to hoping they find something."

      The doe eyed woman shook her head. "Sorry." This was extremely unprofessional, not to mention, the subject had the ability to bring down the morale of what was left of the facility. Natalie was supposed to be the good girl, the woman who believed that everything would be okay. Crossing her arms, she waited for Charles to go with the regular procedure. There were times when the screen would light up, showing only static. This occurred randomly, with no set pattern. It was quite a thing to come across in the middle of the night. "Start 'er up." Natalie said, joylessly.

      As they waited for the millionth and first time, she turned her chair slightly. "What do you miss the most? Before it all went down to this?"



    • Ezekiel smirked to himself. As a guy that liked to take things as they came, being wrong was definitely something that was bound to come to him at some point. With being wrong, he wasn't afraid nor did he find such an experience to be embarrassing. If anything, the man would be glad if he realized he was wrong. That meant more right answers in the future. However, if there was one thing he preferred to perfect, it was his medical prowess. One wrong move or a minor slip-up bruised Ezekiel's ego when it came to medicine. Whether that was the only thing he had in common with Sonia was uncertain.

      Wiggling his tall body around the suit, the bulkiness of it all took some time to get used to. Rolling his shoulders back, it was funny to watch his athletic coworkers trained for almost any situation in silly looking spacesuits. If anything, the crew deserved much better. Technology had gone a long way, yet the only thing that bothered to keep existing was how old school the suits looked. Carrying his helmet in his left arm, he leaned against the wall as she zipped up.

      "Hippy? I wasn't expecting that answer. I was going for the tall, dark and handsome look. I figured the helmet would bring out my eyes." Ezekiel stood up from the wall and winked, his face uncomfortably close to hers. Withdrawing as quickly as he came close, he laughed. With his back to her, his medical equipment was only several meters away from his own suit. The ship was surprisingly more cramped than the astronauts had originally thought. It was the type of building you could take a shower in but within a few meters, you were able to hear the listless chatter of the kitchen.

      Grabbing the large florescent backpack, he shook his head. "Nope. I'd like to think I dress nice for myself. Only then, will my confidence attract some female aliens. Or male, you never know. Perhaps they produce asexually?" Ezekiel teased. The last thing he wanted to think about were Greys getting it on. Especially not when they were approaching Proxima-B. A journey to be documented in history, and the doctor's first thought was alien sex? That couldn't possibly fly. Shaking his head boyishly, he put his helmet on. "Ah, forget it. We'll have plenty of time to figure that out."

      With a series of clicks, the pushes of buttons and pulling of levers, the magnificent door that lead them to all of the answers lay before them. He bowed, opening the large door.
      "Ladies first."



    • 'Shopping' with Phebe was something that Atticus was enjoying thus far. It made him feel like he was with his own group of friends, screwing around in the stores. Walking past the produce section, he felt a tinge of sadness at the sight of wasted food and fruit flies. The lights were still on in the high ceiling, adding onto the empty feeling. Each aisle was organized as he seemed to buzz by them. His shovel had rested in the child section of his cart, pushing it as Phebe added each item. Atticus looked on at the full shelf of Chunky Bits. Not a single box of the stuff had been taken. He laughed slightly at the sight. They were living in a rather apocalyptic world at the moment, but no one ever stepped as low as to grab a box of Chunky Bits.

      "I'll eat just about anything now." He responded. Food was a nice thing to come by nowadays, not just a daily routine. Even then, he wasn't too picky. Atticus was just like every other guy his age, eating shitty food and procrastinating every chance he got. Atticus could probably eat insects for dinner if it came down to it. Just for old times sake, he grabbed a chip. The nostalgia of munching on some while playing games online came back to him. The man figured that the other members would enjoy the nice dose of sodium.

      Following her down another aisle, he felt weight onto his cart. Baking? What would the Copers need this for? The thought of bread and even cake did sound good. Besides, he wasn't one to question many people's motivations. "I don't know." His sleep schedule for the most part was quite uneven. While there were times he liked to wake up early in the morning, there were also times he wouldn't wake up until the afternoon. Comic book shops have flexible work hours, and hell, he was even allowed to sleep there sometimes. "I liked to just wake up early and walk around. Th-the sky is the most beautiful this time of day. S-So probably that." He shrugged.

      Smiling shyly as she hopped onto the cart, Atticus pushed on. "Graveyard?" He knew that Phebe worked at the Flying Saucer Cafe. No one in their right mind could possibly dine at the Cafe in the middle of the night, right? "If the world wasn't ending, I'd have asked to visit. I-I'm really curious. I... guess I haven't been to the more alien parts o-of town." Atticus responded, turning to the next aisle. The canned foods area. Walmart could get pretty creative with its cans.

      Various soups, meats and anything in between was located here. Anything in a can was to be stored in one of the plentiful shelves that the department store had to offer. It was still half ransacked. The chicken soups and beef stews of the shelves were taken, leaving the rather... unconventional cans to be left either strewn around the floor or on the shelves, stuck in corners. The brunette picked up a random can off of the floor. "C-Canned octopus?" He wondered. "I guess we have q-quite the selection here..." Atticus muttered sarcastically, putting his hands into his pockets.


     
    #7 Ace of Angels, Sep 13, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016


    • Speculating was all they really had anymore. In the early days of lockdown, they bet on survivors, who was still alive, who had gotten eaten or blown up, or...whatever. As the days wore past, however, they slipped back into more trivial things, like if the world hadn't ended, who would have won the Superbowl, what celebrities would have gotten divorced, what characters would have died on their favorite television shows. Once the initial shock and fear had worn off, many realized the same thing that Charles had—no matter how boring, life would always go on. For whatever reason, maybe innocence or something else, Natalie seemed to be the last to come to the same conclusion. Charles couldn't understand why she was still upset, still so raw over everything they were now locked away from.

      No, it's fine,” he assured with a shake of his head. Although it was clear that they had different outlooks on life, Charles didn't mind listening to Natalie. If she wanted to talk and give some meaning to their never-ending work day, he wasn't going to stop her. The sad truth was that there wasn't much else to talk about anymore and the alternative was boring—just silence, sitting in silence with co-workers who had become friends by default. Humans were social creatures, but Charles didn't think the government cared about that sort of thing when they built the lab.

      Getting back to reality, Charles went through the routine of starting the main computer. He knew that some days were luckier than others, that the screen sometimes flickered to life with a brief show of static and one guy, Darrell, had even claimed to scroll through an options menu before everything went dark again. It was sort of funny to Charles that so many scientists were left in one place, yet none of them had figured out how to fix the computers. Natalie didn't seem to have a lot of faith in his latest attempt, however.

      The sun,” he answered her question as he attempted to bypass the power-saving mode that the entire facility was now operating on. “I hate these florescent lights, they give off the worst shadows and make everyone look old.” Being trapped also tended to wear on the complexion. “I miss little things, though—like the wood floors at my apartment, or the bell on the door at the coffee place down the road. It's weird that this place is home now.” Maybe she didn't consider the lab home, maybe she was still holding out hope that they could get out one day, Charles didn't know but like everyone else trapped inside, sometimes he just talked to fill the silence.

      A bit of static flashed across the screen before it went dark again, and Charles breathed a sigh. He looked over his shoulder at Natalie and smiled at how comfortable she had made herself. “What about you?” he asked, keeping his eyes on her for a long moment before turning to begin the start-up process over again, “what do you miss the most?”



    • Judging by the jokes, it was going to be a long day. At the very least, Sonia couldn't say that she wasn't excited to get on with the mission. Despite the fact that she rarely expressed anything but a stern conviction, stepping onto an alien world and seeking out intelligent life was thrilling and she could only hope that the aliens could answer the question that humanity had been asking for the last year since contact. There were big ideas in her mind as she finished dressing, images of a triumphant return to Earth, an old-fashioned ticker tape parade and perhaps a chance to colonize Proxima-B. Meeting the aliens had the potential to change everything again, and for once, Sonia was nothing but optimistic.

      Overhead, the ship's auto-pilot began to landing procedure and Sonia turned, helmet in hand, to catch a glimpse of the alien world. It looked Earth-like, blue with some kind of ocean, white with a distinct cloud pattern but large splotches of purple were curious. The colors faded and changed as the ship lowered itself to the surface and the rest of the crew came out for a look as well. One of the men had tears in his eyes, another woman had her hand clasped over her mouth, and the silence that filled the cabin was calm, awe-inspired rather than awkward for a change. Sonia continued to watch as the rocky surface came into view and finally, with a hard jolt, they had landed; the first humans to make contact with another world.

      It was Ezekiel that broke the silence when the large door was opened and the small landing party lined up to take their first steps into the future. “How kind,” Sonia said, forcing the adrenaline-filled shake from her voice as she stepped out of the ship. The ground was solid beneath her feet, unlike the loose, dusty surface of the moon, or the hard, rock-like consistency of Mars. She took a look around, seeing large plants with smooth trunks and few leaves at the top in the distance, and dark purple foliage just a few yards ahead. In her hand, a machine beeped with their destination in mind, a wise guess about where the original message had come from.

      Well,” she said, glancing back to the four-man crew who had now stepped out of the ship, “are we ready?” The door had already closed behind them, sealed up tight and manned by those left behind. She felt sorry for them, upset that they would never know the feeling of terror and beauty that being on another inhabited planet held.



    • Smiling, Phebe appreciated the simplicity of Atticus' answer. The sky really was the most beautiful in the morning, when the pinks and oranges of a firey sunrise began to break through the darkness and chase away the pale blue. It was one of the only perks to the graveyard shift, being able to watch the sun come up as she drove back home and if it was the last thing she ever saw, Phebe didn't think she would complain when she made it to the afterlife. Looking up at Atticus, there was a part of her that wanted to tell him all of that, to say that things were bad but there was still beauty to be seen if they were willing to look—it felt silly, though and Atticus had already moved on.

      You never hung out down there?” she asked, jerking her thumb in a vague direction toward the cafe. “We should check it out—maybe if we go at night, the Greys will come again. I mean, that's where they first got me.” Phebe just wanted to be proved wrong—she wanted to see their first alien visitors again, to know they were out there and maybe ask why they had decided to abandon Earth when the Squids invaded. “If they don't come, though, I can still show you the cafe. I'm sure it hasn't been burned down or anything,” she added, chuckling as they turned down a new aisle.

      The shelves had been picked over, but less than the rest of the store. What remained was less than desirable and Phebe frowned as she discovered something called canned whole chicken. The idea of it made her a little nauseous, and Phebe pushed several of the cans to the back of the shelves as she and Atticus rolled on. They were quickly stopping again, though when a can on the floor proved to be the slightest bit interesting. “Oh, what?” Phebe asked, hopping off the back of the cart to come around to Atticus' side. “That's gross—who ever demanded canned octopus?” It reminded her of those horrible jell-o salads from the 1950's, lettuce and tomato suspended in lime gelatine, sometimes mixed with mayonnaise or cottage cheese just to irritate the gag reflex a little more.

      Taking the can, Phebe turned it over in her hand a few times to look at the label. The salt content alone looked lethal for anyone with a bad heart, but they couldn't come across something so weird without opening it up. “I dare you to take a bite,” she grinned and wagged her eyebrows at him. “Y'know, like you're really sticking it to those aliens out there, maybe you're eating their cousin.” She laughed at her own joke and grabbed a can opener, still in its package, that was hanging on a display nearby.

      It was a bit of a struggle with the cardboard still around part of the blade, but the can was soon open and Phebe tossed the jagged lid somewhere on the floor to rust long after they were gone. “How brave are you?” she asked, tilting the can down to show Atticus the soupy and questionable contents. It didn't smell awful, no worse than warm tuna, but Phebe had to guess that the texture was horrifying.
     

    • The lights flickered in response to the computer’s use. For a split second, it felt as if the light brought out the premature stress wrinkles in her complexion or the dark circles surrounding her own light brown eyes. Waiting patiently for Charles’ attempt, her eyes blinked quickly at the brightness of the static. A group of scientists, yet no one figured out the cause of the computers’ sudden faultiness. It was strange. While she wasn’t present to Darrell’s claim of searching through the options menu, Natalie doubted him. There was no way anyone could even get it to turn on, let alone access the options menu. Then again, Darrell had always been that one piece of shit you never looked forward to seeing at work.

      She let out an absentminded sigh, twiddling a pencil around her fingers. Not that it mattered. Ironically enough, Natalie and Charles saw him every single hour of the day. However, if there was one thing Natalie could thank the lockdown for, it was that the man never attempted his sleazy pickup lines again. The scientist deduced it was due to the shock of the incident.

      The only time Natalie stopped to face him was once Charles had asked her a question and turned away. Natalie didn’t notice how old everyone looked, only how worn out they seemed. “Hm.” She exhaled, attempting to form an answer. “I guess it’s something we never realized we would miss.” The brunette smiled at the thought of coming home to a wooden floor with the sun shining through her window, her cat Creamsicle waiting by the door.

      “I miss my family. I wish I had taken that day off so I could have said goodbye. I miss my cat and my nephew...” Natalie slumped against the table. “I miss going to the bookstore and picking something up for myself. I like simple things, too.” Not that she ever decided on one novel to take home with her. There were classics laced around an old shelf, though, nothing contemporary.



    • Ezekiel watched, his body still gesturing to the door as the ship began to slow. He stood still as the rest of the crew looked to observe the new world. For the first time during the flight, his obnoxious behaviour appeared to have silenced itself in exchange with awe and raw curiosity. Was this how Christopher Columbus felt about reaching America for the first time? Perhaps, that feeling of awe came second to the prospect of gold and slaves. Only Ezekiel could be thinking this as revolutionary technology finally bridged the gap between aliens and humans for the first time.

      His attention turned back to Sonia, a brief smirk crossed his features. Of course, in a moment like this, she succeeded in keeping up her composed and seemingly emotionless demeanour. “Anything for you.” Following suit, he imagined the solid, almost black surface feeling cold. “Is that even a question?” He retorted, saluting her casually. This was followed with several silent nods, overtaken by the thought of potential wonders Proxima-B had in store.

      Inside his helmet were eyes that darted around the planet, taking in many pieces of information at once. The flora and fauna of the planet was similar, yet different. There was what looked like water forming a dark blue ocean and overgrown forests. The planet was devoid of smaller creatures such as insects roaming about. Proxima-B looked like a scene straight out of a science fiction movie. Proxima-B, or Proxima was tidally locked, meaning one side was left in barren, perpetual darkness. The sun was dim enough to be admired in full view, as were the violet cotton candy skies.

      He wasn’t sure if it was his vision through the helmet or simply hallucinations, the colours of the skies and the ocean changed every few minutes. Ezekiel paid this no mind. “Huh. I don’t see any alien babes here. In fact, I don’t see anyone here.” He calmly remarked. Each step felt… ‘normal’. It was nothing like the moon in Earth, which you could bounce over large craters if you desperately wanted to.

      Suddenly, Ezekiel’s eyes wandered to strange markings on another tree a dozen feet away from their landing site. Without permission, he walked closer towards the runes. Carved with an unfamiliar instrument, he narrowed his eyes to observe the scene in front of him. “Psh, what is this, alienese?” Ezekiel looked to Sonia, expecting an answer to yet another question of his.

    • Atticus shook his head in response. Before the first Coping meeting, he stuck to the small suburbs and the quaint hipster district of Meteor Falls, with mom-and-pop joints and coffee shops. The Flying Saucer Cafe was close by, but he didn’t really mess with the alien-themed novelties the town had to offer. Though, going with Phebe his first time didn’t seem so bad. “Y-Yeah. We could v-visit after our trip.” He nodded.

      “I don’t know who would burn it down. D-Do they have built-in flamethrowers or something?” Atticus laughed at his own lame joke. What he was ignoring was the fact that raiders were always going and burning things down after sufficiently looting a building. Who knows, it could be a depressed nihilist out to cause some trouble for the fun of it.

      Passing by canned raisin bread and 'Quick ‘N Tasty Ham Candwiches', he silently added them to the cart for shits and giggles. Atticus flinched as he heard Phebe opening the strange can. Knowing her, that only meant either she was going to have a taste, or he was. Perhaps even both. The man laughed as she joked. “T-They’re eating us, so they must mind much.”

      As the lid was tossed to the floor, Atticus looked away from the cart and at the can. Just from the sights of it, he wanted to throw up. “N-Not that brave. You k-know that, already.” He laughed, refusing the disgusting can. “I’m allergic to gross.” There was no actual allergy, but Atticus hated seafood with a passion.

      “I know my friend Phebe is quite brave. H-How about she demonstrates how brave she is?” Atticus challenged her, leaning over the shopping cart with a grin.

     


    • In retrospect, there were plenty of things that Charles would have done differently had he known the apocalypse was just over the horizon. Unlike Natalie, he found no nostalgia in dwelling, and thinking of the people that he'd left behind, the friends that had died instead of him, was just depressing. In many ways, being forcibly sequestered in the lab prevented him (and the others) from having to deal with what was out there. The truth behind the walls that kept them safe would never be an easy thing to reckon and he had to imagine that if they ever saw the outside again, Natalie's regrets might just take a sickly turn toward guilt. He didn't want that for her; she didn't deserve it.

      You could always shop the supply closet,” he joked as the computer rebooted. Offering her a smile over his shoulder, Charles hoped that she didn't snap at him again, “do you need a new pocket protector?” He raised a dark eyebrow, “or a fresh box of red markers for your whiteboard?”

      The lights flickered once again as the system chugged back to life. Charles didn't think that he was going to get any further than the rest of his colleagues, but he did have a few tricks up his sleeve and with nowhere to go and nothing to do, there was no harm in trying. Taking one of the ergonomic chairs by the back, Charles spun it around and took a seat as his fingers clickity-clacked across the keyboard. “On the off chance that I get past the options menu—which is still just Darrell's speculation at this point—do you have some kind of plan?”

      They had all talked about it before, their combined wish to bypass the system lockdown and venture out of the lab and back into the world. While some were more enthusiastic than others, Charles didn't truly know where Natalie stood on the subject. She didn't sound all that stir-crazy, but hope ignited all kinds of big ideas. He was a little nervous as he punched in another line of code. The numbers and letters were invisible on the black screen, and the only indication that the machine was still up and running was the power button, ringed green and glowing whenever the flickering lights waned.

      A final press of the enter key brought the screen to life and in front of them, the no-longer-alleged options menu sat patiently waiting for a command. “Well,” breathed a shocked laugh, “I guess he wasn't lying.”



    • Man's next giant leap was severely undercut by Ezekiel's latest attempt at humor, and Sonia found herself frowning within the shiny confines of her helmet. Despite the fact that Proxima-B lacked any alien babes, the doctor's observations weren't without merit. Before their mission had left from Earth, many outposts had tried to make second contact with the planet, but their messages went without answer, seemingly ignored or lost to the vacuum of space. They pressed on in the dark, departing from home, blind and slightly unprepared for the future. “No,” she agreed, looking around at the stillness of the planet, “I don't see anyone either.”

      From the corner of her eye, she watched as Ezekiel wandered off and some of the crew began to tentatively do the same. She couldn't blame them for being curious, for wanting to see everything that Proxima-B had to offer, and she trusted that they wouldn't get themselves hurt. Sonia didn't share their superficial curiosity, however, and had little interest in sticking her hands into the purple soil, or poking an instrument into the water. Part of her didn't even bother to test the gravity until Ezekiel pointed out a line of runes.

      Each step felt normal as she made her way over to him. There was no extra bounce to her steps, nothing heavy or crushing—it was strange how Earth-like the planet felt. “They obviously have their own language,” Sonia said, her gloved fingers moving over the deep gouges in the rough bark, “which is to be expected, of course.” Non-intelligent beings wouldn't have been able to reach out if they couldn't even communicate amongst themselves. “Take a picture of it,” she said, looking back to Ezekiel, “for the log.”

      There was a large dip in the landscape beyond the cartoonish trees. The crater-like hole was surrounded by stones, oddly shaped and crumbling and Sonia took a few steps closer, wanting to observe without getting ahead of herself. The device she carried, a kind of GPS based on where the original signal had come from, let off a steady beep, indicating that she was leading the team in the right direction. “Over here, everyone!” she called over to the rest of the team, but took a moment to look at the doctor by the tree. “You're not going to get distracted and lost, are you?” she asked, hoping to ease her own worries by poking a little fun at him.

      If they were on course, where was civilization?



    • Hearing that Atticus wasn't interested in a taste was hardly surprising, but it was disappointing. After living through abduction and invasion, there was a part of Phebe that was convinced of the Coper's invincibility—a questionable can of process seafood shouldn't have threatened all of the survival they had done together. She wasn't about to ruin a perfectly good morning with complaints, however, and Phebe liked Atticus and his company way too much to ever unload one of her seize the fucking day speeches on him. Others hadn't had it so lucky, and had she been shopping with anyone else, she would have been a little more persistent.

      Is that a dare?” she grinned, laughing as she looked from Atticus to the open can. If she hadn't planned on trying it herself, she wouldn't have bothered to take it off the shelf. The smell wafted up to the both of them, though, momentarily eroding her bravery as she imagined low-tide at the pier and washed up, rotting fish bones. “Lucky for you, I don't have much shame—you just have to swear you won't think about this when we make out some day.”

      The smile faded from her face, wrinkling into a skeptical grimace as she reached into the can with surprisingly dainty fingers. The sauce—if it could even be called that—was thick like oil, congealed in places and liquid in others, and Phebe almost gagged when she encountered the first tentacle. Most of the meat was chopped up into smaller bits, probably meant to be mixed into a soup, or maybe a bowl or rice, but the larger pieces stuck out from the muck. “Okay, I might think about this when we make out,” she joked, stalling for just another moment before finally taking a bite.

      It was squishy yet grainy, firm but slimy, bitter but cloying and all around gross. Rather than spit on the floor, however, Phebe swallowed the miniscule bite before making an agonized noise, an exaggerated wretch with nothing behind it, just a joke to further impress how disgusting canned octopus was. “We cannot feed that shit to the Copers!” she exclaimed before tossing the can somewhere into the distance. The tin thunked against the floor, surely leaving a mess to be cleaned up by no one now that humans were on the way out.

      Jesus! Moving onto a new aisle,” she continued to complain, wrinkling her nose again, “maybe there's some bleach to wash my mouth out.”
     


    • Staring blankly at nothing in particular, it wasn’t that she was spacing out… Charles’ words simply got her to think. “Hm.” Natalie responded blandly. “That sounds like an interesting adventure. I don’t need much. Just something to keep up my boredom.” She supposed that if the books in the supply closet were the only books she was exposed to for the rest of their life… would they not be old classics by then? What a depressing thought; that someday, an instruction manual could be considered an artifact.

      The woman watched with tired eyes, his fingers moving across the keyboard was blurred with her caffeine-fueled vision. Confusion ran first, followed by a slight apprehension at the mention of Darrell. Her mind wanted to sarcastically remark at his flaws in character, though she couldn’t disprove his testimony, Natalie never participated in the next step. “Tell me again why we’d believe Darrell’s speculation.” She wryly scoffed, giving him an apologetic half smile. She didn’t have a plan. They could only see what would happen next.

      Some blurred motion continued to occur, but Natalie started focusing on the screen instead of his typing. For a scientist, her knowledge on code was practically on a pre-requisite level. Natalie felt that technology seemed to dislike her, code confused her and it would be a matter of time before she someday broke the computers. If the Cronenberg squid creatures didn’t glitch out the computer, Natalie could. However, even with her ineptitude, she could tell the broken static wasn’t as apparent and the screen before her lit up.

      She shook her head in disbelief. “Incredible.” There was a lack of sarcasm in her voice. It was incredible. Incredible that for the first time, Darrell wasn’t being a liar. Incredible that there was hope for the team. Incredible that even an options menu could open up new possibilities. However, Natalie was a present kind of woman. “I don’t believe this. Try accessing the main menu or the controls.” She suggested.

      “Maybe we’ll be able to find a way to… to go to the outside or see what’s going on, at the least.” The brunette hesitantly continued. Natalie remembered that the research building had cameras, hopefully they could be accessed. Whether she wanted to know frightened her. It looked awfully mundane for the opportunities it brought; the options menu sterile white, the same sterile white hospital walls had. “You think we can access the cameras?”



    • Ezekiel gave Sonia an amicable thumbs up before getting out the camera. Unlike a regular camera, it came in a shiny silver tube tied around his neck. The lenses were iridescent, meant for taking pictures in any kind of lighting and in the highest level of resolution there was. Similar to a small telescope, he looked into the general directions of the runes, pressing a small button on the side. The alienese would soon be remembered.

      He stared on curiously before following Sonia shortly afterwards. The stone crater felt too significant towards the landscape to be naturally occurring. It felt like something abrupt struck the area. Ezekiel wasn’t a geographer of the sort, though he expected to find dead alien babes under the dark, stone wreckage, there was nothing. He looked over to his fellow team, but his eyes rested on the leader. The general consensus from most of the members were to walk around the mysterious crater.

      “Me? Lost?” Ezekiel shrugged. “In an alien planet? Why, of course not!” He wasn’t as sure as he sounded it out loudly, as he caught up to Sonia. A light jog in a bulky spacesuit still felt tiring. “The only losing I’ll do is losing myself in your eyes.” He remarked before laughing heartily and obnoxiously. A few silent seconds of admiring and taking candid shots of Proxima B, the doctor kept his eye out for fellow aliens. Or alien life. Though… nothing. There was nothing to be found but nature. It was eerily quiet, the way only their own footsteps could be heard and everything was left undisturbed.

      In order to keep his mind from thinking of what everyone else had running through their minds, Ezekiel desperately attempted to break the silence. This came in forms of dancing lightly, humming to himself or whistling. “You know… I’ve had to go through some ecology classes. Though I’ve never really listened much to them, isn’t life supposed to, you know, work, if there’s food chains and shit?”

      “Like, where’s the alien caterpillar eating the leaves off the alien tree before getting eaten by the alien bird? Or the alien plankton in the alien ocean getting eaten by the alien fish? Because I’m getting nothing.



    • “I… uh…” Atticus turned the opposite red as Phebe did green as she ended up digesting that pile of octopus remains. The poor guy couldn’t look her in the eye as she took a bite, covering his nose with a sleeve of his hoodie to block out the stench. Oils from the can looked thick enough that they made an unpleasant squishing sound when spilled. It looked underwhelming, yet overwhelming at the same time. Atticus expected live tentacles to crawl out, but it was still a sensory overload. He was sure there were stomachs in there. Did octopi have intestines? He knew from biology class that---

      Wait. Phebe said the M word. Makeout. Atticus was the type of guy to overthink nearly everything he was approached with. On top of his social anxiety, it was hard for him to react to bold personalities like Phebe. There was no doubt in his mind he would think on that later. Making out. Just what did she imply? He stressfully thought. What was a guy like him to respond to her? Not that he didn’t want to make out with Phebe, she was very attractive and nice to him… but he hadn’t kissed anyone for a long time…

      Oh no… she’s already thinking about it. What do I do? I must look like such an awkward loser right now. Atticus wanted to take some of the octopus and eat some so he could poison himself. “Yeah! Y-Yeah! No, we definitely can’t.” Atticus focused back onto the conversation, adjusting his curly hair after spacing out in his own world. He even shook his head to make an attempt at seeming convincing.

      “Y-Yeah! Let’s move.” He responded, a bit too enthusiastically. “Um… let’s get some real food. I’ve put some chicken and beef stew in there, nothing too d-dramatic.” Almost tripping over another can of octopus, Atticus pushed the cart forward. “I-If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll find some bottled water. M-Maybe we can go to the F-Flying Saucer to get some coffee.” Yup, after this incident, he’ll make sure to never look her in the eye. Ever. Again.

     



    • Incredible; that certainly was one way to describe it. Charles was trapped in the same kind of amazement, shocked and awe-struck that Darrell, of all people, had been telling the truth. Since the lockdown had taken over their lives, it was easy to believe that he would never see past the white walls of the facility ever again, but with the computer turned on, there was new hope. Generally, Charles was the last person to see a glass as half full but Natalie's big ideas about menus, cameras and even going outside had his head spinning. Could it be true? Could he maybe feel the sunshine on his skin again? Could he breathe non-recirculated air? Was there life outside of the new normal?

      I'll try,” Charles nodded, though made no promises. He wasn't familiar with the more technical aspects of the facility—that was more Owens' job, the man whose mug Charles had taken without much of a second thought. He did his best to put that thought of his mind as he entered a few more lines of code and was able to access an options menu. The room felt heavier, more silent save for the whirring of the computer's fan. He squinted against the near-blinding, white light and scrolled through the menu options. The camera access was at the very bottom, just sitting there as if clues to the outside had been right in front of them this entire time.

      Rather than an entire array of all the camera feeds, they came in slowly, one at a time and bogged down with lag. The picture quality wasn't much better, grainy, black and white images that only became totally clear when everything was still. “Top secret research site, and this is what the government springs for?” Charles snorted, disappointed, but not surprised as he moved onto the next feed. It wasn't an angle that Charles immediately recognized, though the chain-link fence in the distant background and the trees beyond that suggested it was the back of the facility. “Can you see anything?”

      With another tap of his finger, the feed changed again. This time, to a side angle, closer to the building. Although it was still a bit dark, Charles swore that he saw movement in the corner of the video. “What's that?” he asked, tapping the screen. If it was another person, maybe they could get help. The figure moved again, but its shape in the grain gave little information. Charles scrolled to the next feed, this time to a camera that pointed past the fence, the figure was closer—taller, almost hulking and covered in...something. “Is that,” he trailed off, apprehension clear in his voice.



    • For once, Ezekiel's jokes helped to lighten her mood. Although Sonia was never the type to place humor before anything, least of all work, she couldn't help but notice a certain intensity in the air. The risks that Earth had taken to get the crew out to Proxima-B, the time and energy every had exerted, the lives that were put on hold, it all hinged on making tangible contact. If that couldn't happen, for whatever reason, the expedition was sure to look like a failure, and as a perfectionist, Sonia couldn't have such a mark on her long, impressive career. If she had to, she would keep the team out there all day to search for intelligent life.

      Dressed in their bulky suits, the team began to make its way toward the crater. Each had a different job to do, but when Ezekiel spoke again, this time making a point, it seemed to resonated with the group. Sonia stilled, listening for any kind of life—maybe a bird in a tree, a rustling from somewhere, a city—but there was only silence. She turned back to the doctor and opened her mouth to answer, but the biologist spoke first. “It's cause for concern, yes,” the greying man nodded and continued to haul his equipment further up to the crater.

      Their signal is still coming in strong,” Sonia assured doctor Pierce, and held up the tracking device for him and the others to see.

      Then we have that going for us,” he breathed a sigh, which crackled over the comms.

      The large crater loomed ahead, and from their vantage point, it didn't seem natural. A natural object of such size surely would have decimated the planet, she knew that much. “Maybe it was a lake,” she suggested, watching as Pierce knelt down to take a sample. Although she wasn't planning on leaving him, she did lead the charge ahead. The tracking device continued to beep, steady and on course as they walked deeper into the unknown planet. They were within a few hundred yards, when up ahead, something else inside of the crater came into view. “Is that...a ship?” Sonia asked, shocked as the disc-shaped structure came into view. It was half embedded in the purple soil, on its side and looking as though it had crash landed.

      There were many things that Sonia was prepared for, but rushing into some alien ship wasn't one of them. She looked over her shoulder, seeing that most of the team was caught up and cautiously, they continued forward. As they approached the wreckage, more and more downed ships came into view. The destruction was vast, looking widespread and deep in her gut, she knew why they hadn't responded. No one could send a message if they were dead.



    • With that foul taste still in her mouth, Phebe wiped her tongue on her sleeve with a frown as they left the aisle. She very well could have lived the rest of her life without ever knowing what canned octopus tasted like, but just in case anyone was ever stupidly curious, she was now the reigning authority. Doing stupid things to try and impress someone was nothing new to Phebe, but seeing Atticus' reaction made her wonder if she had changed her image for the worse. Just because the world was ending didn't mean that another person couldn't be picky, and as much as Phebe liked to pretend otherwise, Atticus was a lone bright spot of life at the survivor camp.

      Running a hand back through her hair, Phebe scratched at the back of her ear, and tried not to look Atticus in the eye. “They'd probably prefer that over octopus, at least,” she nodded. They weren't the only ones who went out and did the shopping, but they were some of the youngest in the group, and it felt natural to champion the more difficult tasks. It was nice to be out anyway, and that's what Phebe told herself—better to feel the sun on her face for another day than waiting for death in some cramped basement.

      When Atticus mentioned the cafe, Phebe found it in herself to smile. “There's a bunch of coffee in the back,” she said, “instant and some cheap beans. I know we're running low back at camp.” It was a chance to take Atticus somewhere new, though and if he still wanted to be around her after her adventure into seafood, she wasn't going to turn him down. “We can go after we get this stuff back.” She patted her hand over the cans of stew and other supplies and continued on down the next aisle. Most of the snack foods had been picked over, but there were still bottles of energy drink lying around.

      Bending at the waist, Phebe picked up one of the bottles. “Do you think people would like the red flavor, or the blue flavor better?” she asked, assuming they were both a little bit gross. She straightened up and tucked a stray strand of hair back into place before tossing both bottles into the cart and then a dozen more. “If they hate them both, they can mix it and make purple.”
     

    • Natalie’s chair was barely millimeters next to the monitor, watching even the slightest move. Despite the government standard technology, she was agonizingly patient. With the black and white, Natalie envisioned colour. Through the blurriness, Natalie could feel everything focusing. Watching each camera feed come to life, she rested her chin in her hands.

      Was this her chance at escape?

      At the slightest noise of him and his cynical remark, the brunette hastily hushed him. The back of the facility came up in the feed first. Chain link fences and dying trees. “I think I know where we are.” She whispered, knowing no one would bother interrupting. Still, nothing. A tap of his finger revealed the side angle of the facility. The chain link fence connected to both sides of the frame. However, there were no trees, only dirtied pavement as something blurry moved. “I don’t know, keep going.” Natalie absentmindedly ordered.

      Past the fence, something could be clearly seen. The invaders weren’t the first thought in her mind, yet she stood still, waiting for the camera to focus in a clearer light. Though, there was one small flaw with the cameras. They emitted a small red flash of light to focus on more of the details. While this wasn’t a big issue, it just so happened that the creature was overly sensitive to artificial light.

      The creature was large, almost slimy with whatever it was, either blood or some form of protective mucous, Natalie wasn’t sure from the black and white. Perhaps both. They looked like mutant squids, with strange wing apparatuses. Its eyes were glassy, as it let out a cry. Not that they could hear. Around the inhuman creature were trash and various trails of destruction.

      Hulking over to the glass screen, its face overwhelmed the frame. Natalie let out a deafening scream of fear as she reeled back from the monitor, realizing only now how close she was to the computer. It became that feeling of an empty fear, with nothing there except your heart pounding and a blank stare.

      Immediately after the alien cried out, it crashed its own skull against the camera. Sharp teeth and a reptilian tongue consumed the camera, smashing it one by one, causing large waves of static to be heard. Seconds after, the monitor flashed a bright red error message, the static only getting louder to rub the whole incident in their faces. A few deep breaths escaped her out of shock. “Turn it off. I can’t look at it anymore.” A deeply disturbed Natalie buried her arms in her face.



    • Ezekiel let out a confused frown, though, the doctor trusted their expertise. So… a signal but no animals? Got it. He tended to frown whenever he was anything but happy. Confused, focused, angry, they were all frowns. Plants… but no animals. An ocean with no bacteria… There was life. No doubt about it. If they couldn’t find anything, they would need to dig underground.

      Following the Captain, he continued on with their investigations. Another frown as Pierce took multiple samples of a large crater. Were they closer to civilization? Ezekiel’s first thought was to run up to the ships. In which he did, with his mouth fully open. This wasn’t something you got to see everyday. “No…” He suspiciously remarked. “There must be more to this.” Ezekiel muttered to no one in particular. Each ship was overwhelmingly large, the foreign metal unbending to the impact.

      Blue dust formed around what looked like windows. Ezekiel touched the dust with gloved hands before brushing it off to the side. “Are they from here, by any chance?” No jokes came from the doctor. The whole situation was nothing to joke about, not with their lack of information nor knowledge of what happened to life.

      Looking through the glass, he was shocked to find that no one could be seen, not even a corpse. General disorganization did occur from what he could see, but nothing. Not a single thing. Taking multiple photos of his findings, he sighed. About to explore the inner region of the crashes for a city of some kind, his brown eyes traveled to another similar inscription.

      “Those are the same types of runes, aren’t they?”



    • Ohhhh, the sweet taste of coffee. Coffee was anything but sweet. It could be bitter and disgusting, yet eventually you got used to it. Getting used to coffee was the worst part. Addictive and making monsters even just a day without it. Still, Atticus was a victim, having to cope with not just aliens, but the withdrawal that came afterwards from caffeine. Instant coffee felt like a blessing, not just to him, but to other Coper members. Atticus did notice over time that they had been crankier than before.

      “Y-Yeah. I would say so.” was all that came from his neverending train of thought. What an idiot. He would need to remember to tell himself once they got back to bang his head against a wall like the actual idiot he was. The silence filled the room as soon as Phebe began to fill the cart with their ‘groceries’. If it was any consolation, they didn’t need to pay anything to get all of this food they needed.

      He turned his awkward gaze to the bottles of brightly (and artificially) coloured energy drinks. Atticus wasn’t sure if it was the sugar or the caffiene that gave them their name. Either way, they were both gross. “I-I used to be a blue guy.” He answered, looking down to the ground. Did Phebe really need to know that Atticus used to down bottles of that stuff before going on video game marathons by himself? Probably not.

      “I-I still wouldn’t recommend them. T-There’s b-been a conspiracy around them for ages. Th-the amount of sugar c-could cause diabetes. I would d-drink them in an emergency, though.” Atticus put his hands into his pocket and made his way out of the aisle with a full cart of food. He looked up to the cieling.

      “H-Hey, Phebe? D-Do people ever just disappear? What does it mean when someone disappears?” Odd questions like this popped up almost 25 hours a day for Atticus that demanded to be answered at even weirder moments of thought. “If every cell in our body replaces t-themselves every 7 years, are we still ourselves? O-Or… do we disappear?”

     


    • The tension in the room continued to mount and grow with each passing second. Charles kept his eyes on the monitor, watching as the lens attempted to focus on the figure in the background. Although he and the others who were trapped in the facility knew that something had happened, that Earth was changed forever, none of them had ever laid eyes on the invaders. There were rumors, of course, people who claimed to witnessed a form from a crack in one of the vents, or heard something from behind the metal grates over the windows. Charles never believed a word of it, part of him preferring to stay ignorant to the horror that was the new world. It was easier to go on like that; easier to cope.

      Everything was still until the creature noticed the camera’s red indicator light. Charles held his breath as it advanced, slimy and hulking, its squid-like face looking angry as it finally came into the light. A proper picture of the beast was almost too much to handle. The idea that they weren’t alone in the universe had been exciting at one point in time, it made him hopeful, but when the squid creature let out a scream, Charles realized his new place in the universe. Humans were no longer at the top. When Natalie screamed and the creature bashed its thick skull against the camera, cutting off the feed and producing nearly enough static to drown out her feeble whimpers.

      Sitting there, Charles felt frozen, powerless and more than a little overwhelmed. He took a deep breath, trying to get his racing pulse under control as Natalie begged him to switch off the monitors from the corner. The sound of rushing sand filled his ears, and a familiar softness at the back of his eye said that he was dangerously close to passing out. He took another deep breath, and then one more as static returned to the forefront of his consciousness. The monitors were still on, flickering with the same error message. Charles poked his finger into the power button, cutting off the sound and light in one fell swoop. When they collected themselves, they would deal with it—but not now.

      “Are you okay?” he asked, finally rising on surprisingly sturdy legs. It was a stupid question, and Charles knew it, but it was the first thing that came out of his mouth. With caution and care, he approached Natalie and set a hand on her shoulder in hopes of comforting her. “You know it can’t get us in here.” That was the only good thing about the facility, at least, the government spared no expense when it came to keeping them from becoming squid food.



    • The entire situation was strange. Months before the crew had left Earth, other top scientists has tried to re-establish contact with Proxima-B multiple times. The same amount of failure had never sat right with Sonia. Now that she was on the planet, walking on the soil and seeing nothing but plants and rocks, the feeling in the pit of her stomach only grew. In front of them sat a crashed ship, huge and partially mangled and covered in an undisturbed layer of blue dust. At heart, Sonia was something of a pessimist who functioned under the guise of brutal realism, and she couldn’t help but think that she and the crew were the only living things on the planet anymore. The signal hadn’t been wrong, they were just too late.

      For once, she prayed to whatever was out there that she was wrong. This mission couldn’t be for nothing.

      “I’m not sure,” Sonia replied, noticing the distinct lack of humor in Ezekiel’s voice. It was yet another omen and the seriousness of the situation couldn’t be ignored. She hung back with the rest of the crew as the doctor bravely approached one of the windows and looked inside. She held her breath, her suit beeping in response to keep her alive. After a few pictures, the doctor pointed to the runes on the side of the ship and Sonia stepped forward. They were clearly the same ones that had been carved into the tree, but she was at a loss for reading them. They had a linguist, and Sonia waved the woman over.

      The device in her hand continued to beep, and Sonia looked down at the screen. They were directly on top of where the signal had broadcast from, but that didn’t make any sense. “Is it coming from inside the ship?” she wondered aloud and showed the screen to Ezekiel. The soil below her feet felt more solid, and Sonia paused, running her foot over where she stood. There was something hard beneath, and as the dirt was wiped away, part of a large, metal plate was revealed. The markings, much like the ones on the ship and tree, were eerily similar.

      What happened here?”



    • Some of the bottles were sticky, likely due to careless looting during the first wave of invasion, but Phebe didn’t let it bother her. She brushed her hands off of on her jeans and looked back to Atticus, smiling as he mentioned the blue flavor. “Yeah?” she asked, chuckling as she tried, once again, to rid her fingers of old sugar. Sports drinks were never her go-to for anything, mostly because she bought into the theory that they were diabetes in a bottle and added sugar only served to make er more obnoxious. People were already rubbed the wrong way by her personality—she didn’t need to give the Copers more incentive to sacrifice her to the alien overlords.

      Soon enough, the cart was full and Phebe was satisfied with their trip. It was best not to overload the shopping baskets, just in case fleeing was necessary, and hard work didn’t go to waste. She grabbed her bat once again and leaned it against her shoulder as they began to leave the store. “Disappear to where?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Atticus’ question. Despite being abducted multiple times, Phebe wasn’t the type to pose big questions to the universe. Things happened for a reason—even the invasion served a purpose. Without it, she may never have spent any alone time with Atticus, and that would have been a damn shame.

      “Of course we’re still ourselves,” she answered a moment later, not even stopping to consider. “Your brain is still your brain, right?” Phebe asked, “it’s still in your skull with your new cells.” While people changed all the time, whether it be from circumstance or just the flow of time, there were some aspects of a person that remained the same. Over the last several months, she had watched Atticus stand up for himself, be brave and confront terrors that had consumed so many others. Yet, there were still shades of who he had been as a Coper. He was kind, sensitive, sweet and Phebe didn’t think any amount of hardship could erase that.

      Rather than say any of that, though, open up and maybe go for it, snagging a pack of gum from a display by the exit was easier. It was grape flavored, too sweet for its own good, but it got rid of the canned squid taste. “You want some?” she asked, offering the pack as she blew a purple bubble. The candy popped on her lips and Phebe was quick to pull it away and back into her mouth.