Four-ten seven spores. No. Four-ten eight. Four-ten eight.
I must stop counting them. They will not multiply. They will not increase.
Four-ten eight spores. The last four-ten eight in the galaxy. Maybe the last that will ever be. If I don’t find them stable land…a saline pool…the proper nutrients…
This ship is not space-worthy. It should no longer fly. But still it splits the black. Still it carries me and these last spores off to…nowhere perhaps? Where is safe? Where might I…
An alarm whines. Two switches flicker – blue to white to blue. This is one of the Ring God ships. Stolen. I haven’t the slightest idea what any of these sounds and sights mean. Bita would have known. Bita planned it all. And of course Bita died in the escape. Of course.
We die so easy. I had never recognized just what a silly, frail species we were until the Ring Gods arrived. I have moments – hateful, passing moments – when I think they’re right for what they’ve done. How could any thinking thing be as weak as us?
The ship shudders. Instinctively, I reach out to shield the spore pods. But there is nothing for the longest time. Just silence, and stillness. After ages, a voice squawks through an intercom I cannot locate. It’s gibberish. Nothing I’ve ever heard before. It speaks and waits. I speak back.
“I don’t understand,” I say.
It speaks. I speak back. And again, and again. Finally there’s a whir and a ping and a voice comes through – it sounds highly filtered, as if coming from some great distance, but the language is my own.
“Do you understand me now?”
“Yes! Yes, I do!”
“Open the door, please.”
Open the door? I remember the button Bita pushed as we dove abroad. A red button, near the entrance. I push it and things happen. Air hisses. Gears grinds. A door opens.
There are things standing there that I do not recognize.
“Perpetual translator,” says one of the things. “Comes in handy way out in strange waters. Who are you?”
I tell them. I tell them where I’ve come from. I tell them about the Ring Gods. I tell them about the spores. I ask them to take me to their planet. The spores cannot be sowed in space. Time is running out. The rest of us are dead. All dead. All dead and time is running out.
They change as they listen. Take different postures. Pull back from me and my stolen ship. They stop looking at me. They only look at one another.
“The Korean Federalist Alliance does not intervene in the conflicts of unaffiliated planets,” says one of them. “That is…our policy. We will gladly fuel your ship and offer whatever maintenance you may require, but after that we must ask you to continue on.”
“They’ll die,” I say. “I’ll die. You have a planet? Why can’t I go there? There are only four-ten eight spores and myself. That is all. You will not notice us.”
“It cannot be done,” says another. “You must leave before this cycle closes.”
“There are stasis waves in your ship,” says another. “Those will buy you more time. I’ll show you.”
They show me. They will not say any more about their planet and why I cannot go there. Others with weapons linger nearby, watching, waiting. The weapons are familiar. Similar to those used by the Ring Gods.
I go. I don’t know where I’m going. And time becomes a void. A blankness.
I awake and the ship has stopped. The wall thrums. The door opens without my command. More strangers. Something different. Something new. Where have I gone?
“hgk ygkh hjkyu hh oyhkuh test language code test language code do you understand do you under…”
“Yes,” I say, frightened, hovering over the spores.
“What are you?”
I tell them. I tell them what I am. I tell them where I come from. I don’t tell them anything else.
“And those?” They point at the spores.
“Members of my species,” I say.
One comes forward, snatching a pod out of the tray. My flesh turns foamy white in rage and anxiety. One of them strikes me in the ninth joint and I collapse to the ground.
“This is an alien?” says the one holding the spore pod. Another grabs the pod and tosses it to the floor, before raising an appendage and grinding the pod into dust and glass.
They turn back to me. “Your ship crossed into Rus Territory. And this ship…where did you get it?”
“I stole it from the ones who killed my people,” I say, hopeless, full of despair. They choke and sputter and shake their heads.
“Ah,” they say. “Ah.”
“I’m looking for a home…”
“No,” they say. “No.”
They tell me to leave Rus territory. They do not tell me where that is, or what that means. They only deign to fix the door they’ve broken and drop my ship back into the black of space.
Four-ten seven. And me. I turn on the stasis waves. I sleep.
When I awake, they are standing over me. They talk. They ask me to speak. Language is learned.
I do not know these ones either.
“Why are you in this ship?” says one.
“I stole it from the ones who have exterminated my people,” I say. Hopeless. Hopeless.
They look at one another. Shake heads. Speak softly.
“Do you know where you are?” says one.
I do not.
“American space,” says one. “Do you know America?”
I do not.
“This is our flag – our emblem,” says one, pointing at a patch on his shoulder. It’s a familiar emblem. I see it nearly every time I open my eyes.
“Our ship,” says one.
“You aren’t…you aren’t the Ring Gods.”
“I bet we don’t look much alike anymore, do we?” says one. “Given the call number on this ship, we’re talking about an expedition force from…what? Eight hundred years ago? A thousand?”
“At least,” says one.
“A lot changes,” says one.
“How long have you been out here – all alone?”
The Ring Gods. Here. In the ship. Ancestors. But still…
“Will you kill me?” I ask.
They shake their heads. “No. No. We would never…”
“That was different, there. Wherever you came from…”
“Expansion of the strong.”
“I need stable land,” I say. “A pool of saline. Certain common bacteria…”
“What for?” says one.
“To live,” I say. “To sow what remains of my people.”
The heads are still shaking. As if they never stopped.
“That’s not for us to decide…”
“We have processes for these things…”
“It’s possible, of course, but only if you do things the right way…”
“It will take time, certainly…”
“I do not have time,” I say. “We are nearly extinct.”
Then, “We will gladly give you fuel.”
“And food, perhaps, if we have what you need in adequate supply.”
And when they have given me what they have to give, I close the door. The ship drops into space. The spores are dull. Gray. Dust brown.
I cannot bring myself to activate the stasis waves just yet. Perhaps later.