The Ballad of Omega Brown:
Omega and the Tellerian Shapeshifter
by Tom Vaine
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Omega drew his pulsesword from his back as the shapeshifter took another step. Things were not turning out the way he’d hoped. The creature began to pick up speed, and Omega fell back. Hoonra hadn’t been able to beat it in hand-to-hand combat, but Hoonra hadn’t been thinking. It wasn’t invincible, that much had been proved already. He just needed to make sure his next few moves really counted.
Omega ducked back again as the creature drew near, keeping well away from its claws. He set his headset to scan. It didn’t pick up a lot he could work with. Almost nothing about this creature matched any organism in his helmet’s databanks. Still, as he weaved and ducked, Omega did find a point of interest.
There was a cluster of nerves that seemed more than averagely important right in the middle of the creature’s abdomen. It looked like Hoonra’s jab had missed it by about an inch. There were no guarantees, but Omega bet that if he could give that point a good stab, this nightmare would be over.
Unfortunately, none of this did anything to answer Omega’s two more immediate issues. The shapeshifter swung once again, just past his face. Now seemed like a good time to try a new strategy.
As the creature swung for him once more, Omega sidestepped and moved in. He wasn’t in any kind of position to strike for the chest, but the creature’s thigh was unguarded. Omega drew his pulsesword across the thing’s leg. Its hide was tough. and the cut wasn’t too deep, but when the creature dropped to one knee Omega saw his chance. Turning away from the still swinging claws, Omega ran into the maze of rusted pillars.
* * *
This time, Omega awoke to find that his headache was gone entirely. He felt fine. Actually he felt better than fine. Omega stretched out where he lay, his limbs feeling loose and ready. He felt so refreshed, in fact, that it took him a few moments to register where he was.
The room he lay in was dark, save for a single light which bobbed somewhere in the shadows above his head. He couldn’t see any wires connecting to the ceiling. He couldn’t, as he strained, see the ceiling at all. The dimensions of the room escaped him, the floor beneath stretching out into a gloom his eyes felt too weak to penetrate.
He sat up, searching with his fingers for the surface he’d lain upon. He felt nothing beneath him and, as he groped down further, felt a jolt as he realized that he’d actually been standing the whole time.
“Where am I?” he asked, searching the ground behind him.
“Do you feel better?”
Omega jumped again, shouting a little, and spun back in the direction he’d been facing. The sphere of light had expanded, it seemed. A human girl stood before him now. He had no idea how he’d missed her the first time. She stood about half his height, her head covered in flowing blonde curls that reached down to a dark purple dress that swept over her shoulders, cascading down to the floor. She held herself perfectly still. Her bearing was regal but disquieting, owing to her mismatched eyes: one orb white, the other totally black.
“Who are you? Kid, you scared the hell out of me.”
“Do you feel better?” The girl spoke as if she hadn’t heard him.
Omega rubbed his head. “Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Then you can help us?”
“Help us? Who’s us? Kid, who are you?” Omega looked around the room. “I don’t even know where I am right now.”
The girl’s voice was louder this time, making his head snap back to her. “You have to help us,” she said, and it was then that he saw her mouth wasn’t moving. “You have to. You have to!” As she yelled — if it could be called that — she stomped her feet beneath the shapeless flow of her gown. “You have to! You have to! You—”
“No!” Omega yelled.
“No what?” Hoonra asked.
Omega looked around once more. The dim place he had been was now replaced by the makings of a makeshift healing centre. The room wasn’t big, holding only six cots, one of which was beneath him. The walls here were clearly visible, and obviously made from the junk strewn across the rest of the planet. Makeshift windows lined one wall of the center but the light that filtered in seemed dusty and dim. One end of the room was punctuated by a door of the old manual variety. He sat up and saw the other end of the room was something else entirely.
Omega thought at first it was some kind of metal egg. The only noteworthy thing against the back wall of the enclosure was the smooth white lines and sloping angles of some sort of giant incubator. The thing itself was running, plugged into various cables which disappeared into the wall, and Omega noted that it looked nothing like the rest of the cobbled-together equipment that filled the room.
Standing, testing his legs and balance, Omega approached. “What is that thing? It’s the only piece of machinery here with any electricity.”
“Indeed.” Hoonra was only a step behind. “Strange that they would keep a medical center yet limit any access to electricity. But if you think the object is odd, Omega, you should look inside.”
Shooting Hoonra a quizzical look from over his shoulder, Omega stepped forward. The viewer was foggy and Omega could feel the heat rising from the glass when he leaned over. The condensation made it difficult to discern the form swaddled in muslin fabric beneath.
Omega leaned closer still, staring into the sepia-lit chamber. He could make very little of what he saw until he finally noticed the eyes. Totally familiar. One black, the other white. Omega recoiled in shock, then peered in again.
The eyes were still staring out, motionless now and vacant, unlike when he’d first seen them. With the eyes to orient himself, he could make out the nose now and even the drooling crease of the mouth beneath. Above the eyes, a cranium ballooned outwards, covered in thick dark veins and a few scant wisps of blond hair.
The head was massive, more than twice the size of the feeble body wrapped up beneath it. Sensors surrounded the skull, blinking periodically, and a variety of tubes and wires were tucked into the muslin at the opposite end.
“Hey kid,” Omega whispered.
“You know it?”
“Her. And no, I don’t. Not really anyways.” He turned to look at Hoonra, putting some distance between the incubator and himself as he did so. “Just now, when I was on that bed, I had a dream. A little girl with eyes just like those spoke to me. Told me that the people here needed help. It’s funny, but normally I can hardly remember my dreams.
“The Dreamer’s visions are always clear, always memorable,” said a voice from the door. The pair turned to see a blue-skinned humanoid dressed in the same brown and grey robes Omega remembered from the wreck of his ship. “And she meant what she said. We do need your help.”
“Who’s we?” Omega found he was becoming tired of asking that.
“We are the Disciples, the Sleepers of the One Dream.” The blue-skinned man bowed as he spoke, jingling the bits of metal pierced through the fins on his head.
“That’s interesting but, unless you want me to refer to you as a whole gathering, you’re going to have to give me something specific.”
The man looked back up with the beginnings of a scowl. “I am called Ennis. I am the Keeper; our lady speaks to the congregation through me. The Dreamer has healed you, and now it’s time for you to pay your debts.”
Omega crossed his arms. “I don’t remember asking for your help.”
Hoonra leaned over Omega’s shoulder. “It was a reasonable point, Omega. They have helped you. We have an honour debt here.”
“Am I not paying you to be a little more supportive than that?” Omega whispered back.
Ennis shrugged. “Your friend has the right of it. More to the point, you never told us that you preferred death. An attitude, I believe, you still hold?” Omega could feel Hoonra tense beside him.
“Threatening your guests,” she said, “is not usually a good way to gain their trust. ”
“No indeed. That is why the Dreamer wishes to make you an offer.”
Omega and Hoonra traded glances. The Karakian relaxed and Omega resumed the lead. “What did you have in mind?”
“Your ship has lost much of its integrity, yet many of the more” — Ennis searched for the right words — “volatile elements remain intact.”
“Ennis, again, you’re need to be more specific here.”
Hoonra leaned back in. “I think he means the fuel, Omega.”
“Did we not just address this? Stop making his job easier. I’ll talk; you be the muscle.”
“Your companion is correct, however,” Ennis interrupted. “And, as you say, in specificity I mean your warp core. We have been here a long time, Omega Brown. Generations. Our ship crashed on Telleria much as yours did. As many have. Our progenitors survived because tjeu were simply lucky enough and well enough supplied. We can build a ship. There are parts aplenty. We’ve even managed to generate limited amounts of electricity. What we can’t do is create new fuel, much less a way to break the barrier to warp space.”
“So, we let you use our frame and our fuel, you repair the ship, and then what, we all leave here together?”
“Yes. For transportation away from this planet and system, you can consider your life debt paid.”
“And how do we win back the ship?” Hoonra interjected.
“Hoonra, I swear, I’m going to leave you here if...” He stopped when he noticed the intensity in the Karakian’s eyes.
“Ennis, does Hoonra know something I don’t?”
“Perhaps your bodyguard should be made into a negotiator.” The blue humanoid did little to hide his contempt. “She pays more attention than you do. Certainly, she’s better at bargaining.”
“And why would I have to win back my own ship?’
“What ship? By the time we’re done with it, the machine will be mostly comprised of our parts. We are clever. We can still build quite a bit, even if we have lost our forefathers’ expertise. What we need is a pilot, and you are the only one around.”
Omega could feel his face getting red, but Ennis continued before he could speak.
“We would be happy to give it back to you, of course, but that will require a price.”
“There is another task.” Ennis turned and opened the door at the end of the room. “It will be easier if I show you.” He motioned for Omega to follow as he left.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Tom Vaine