Wolf in Sheep's Clothing by TaranMatharu

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The Earth is the perfect spaceship. All the oxygen you can breathe, food and water aplenty, not to mention heat from the Sun and human companionship.

All this becomes abundantly clear when you're all alone, millions of miles away from home and your spaceship is falling apart. Specifically, when you've just crashed your ship into the asteroid you've been mining for the past two months, and the windshield's screen is beginning to leak atmosphere faster than the systems can replenish it.

I was lying on my back, both legs probably broken and maybe a few ribs too, staring into the darkness of space in my cockpit and watching the cracks spread like a spiderweb. It was almost like they were mapping out the constellations in the stars. Not that I recognised any, this far from Earth.

I tried to ignore the low hiss of air escaping, though a vivid image of sand slipping through an hourglass came unbidden to mind. I pushed the thought away, and turned my musing to the chances of rescue once again.

Long range comms were down and my weekly check-in with HQ wasn't due until tomorrow. I'd be long dead before anyone noticed I hadn't been in touch. Even if I did manage to buy myself more time, I had missed a check-in two weeks ago and nobody even noticed. It might be months before they noticed something.

Another fissure fractured the glass, giving off a snap not unlike the sound of ice clinking in a whisky glass. I could do with a drink now, that was for sure. The last time I'd been in this much pain, I was giving birth to my first son. Of course, then I'd been in a pink haze of epidurals and pain killers. This was a lot more real.

I flung out my arm and grasped my tablet, my lifeline to the ship's computer. I ignored the flashing red icons that told me which systems were down and tapped through to photos. My son's smiling face, my husband's loving gaze. This was far better than watching my life trickle away. I just had to resist the temptation to see how much atmosphere I had left. Ignorance was bliss.

Suddenly, a notification flashed up, right across my son's face. I went to swipe it away in annoyance, then I saw it.

Can we be of assistance?

I stared at it, my jaw hanging open like a cartoon. I tap it open.

Are you in distress?

The message wasn't on a frequency I recognised. There was nothing out here, this was a static asteroid, no orbit. This quadrant wasn't even part of a solar system. The only reason I was out here at all was there was a thin vein of valuable minerals near the surface, which couldn't be found anywhere else.

Ship crashed. Screen cracked. Losing atmosphere.

I tapped away with one hand, cursing my clumsy fingers. It wasn't just oxygen I was losing, it was as cold as a crypt in the cockpit and my fingers had gone numb.

Scanning.

My tablet vibrated, and I saw flashes of various interfaces as someone runs through the ships systems, too fast for me to register. Schematics and inventory pages flickered like a TV with bad reception. It lingered for a while on my medical check, running through the injuries that the intelligent space suit I was wearing had detected. I realised suddenly that they shouldn't be able to access this kind of information without the proper permissions. Who were these guys? Military?

We are coming to get you. Screen compromised. Suggest deploying sun shield to maintain integrity. Comply?

The language was so formal. It was as if I was dealing with one of those prototype A.I.'s I had heard so much about. In fact, it wouldn't be too farfetched to think that the military were testing it out here, where no one could interfere. Then again, it might just be standard-operating-procedure-jargon.

Yes.

It was becoming an effort to type. Still, the idea was a good one. The sun shield was a thin tinted glass that slid over the cockpit's screen, to help protect our eyes from the glare of the sun when we flew towards one. Maybe it could seal some of the leaks. Then again, it might make the cracking worse, but what the hell.

Whoever it was must be locked out of actually sending the ship orders. I tapped my way through to the sun shield icon and then watched as it slid over the top. Fresh cracks snapped up under the pressure, but I felt something change in the room, and my ears popped. Despite this, the hiss continued, though it had been reduced to the low hiss of a viper, rather than a blown gasket.

We are coming to get you. Ecosystem improved, but remains compromised. Oxygen low. Critical levels in two minutes. Suggest using Space Walk Suit in compartment B1.

Damn. Why did they have to tell me how long I had left? I stabbed at the tablet. Did they think I hadn't thought of that myself?

Compartment is crushed from impact. Helmet broken. No go.

A short pause. Then:

We are coming to get you.

Great. Well I'll just sit here and enjoy the last two minutes of my life then. Might as well find out if I have a chance. I can't summon the strength to write much more, so I go with:

ETA?

Silence.

We are coming to get you.

That old chestnut again. Maybe they didn't want to dash my hopes. I flicked back to my pictures, and allow a tear to trickle down my face as I looked at my husband and child one last time. It freezes on my cheek. Not long now.

A bright light flashed, beaming from outside the cockpit. Is this the light at the end of the tunnel? It's dazzling, almost beautiful in its perfect whiteness. I felt hands grasp me, lifting me from the ground, sliding me onto something soft as a cloud.

My legs and chest were on fire. Do you still feel pain in heaven? I saw figures, shifting above me like angels, but the lights are too bright, almost blinding. I closed my eyes as I was lifted again, then moved onto something cold and smooth as metal.

"Thank you," I whispered to them.

I opened my eyes to see my saviours. Black goggled figures looked back, their faces obscured by the gray masks they wore.

No. Not goggles. Not masks. Inky, round eyes, wet and shiny like fish eggs. Long skinny fingers, skittered over me like spiders, poking and prodding. I saw blades held aloft, gleaming instruments of clinical precision. A needle was plunged into my neck, followed by the sudden inability to move my arms or legs. I could barely breathe, but I felt every touch, every twinge of pain. I was paralysed.

One leaned in, its skin as gray and pallid as a corpse's. The mouth is a toothless slit, but I understood its gurgled words, corrupted though they were by the alien tongue that formed them.

We got you.

The End

~~~

Taran was born in London in 1990 and found a passion for reading at a very early age. His love for stories developed into a desire to create his own during early adolescence, beginning his first book at 9 years old.

Taran began to write 'Summoner' in November 2013 at the age of 22, taking part in 'Nanowrimo 2013'. Thanks to Wattpad and updating daily, its popularity dramatically increased, reaching over 3 million reads in less than six months. After being featured by NBC News, Taran decided to launch his professional writing career and has never looked back. Feel free to check out his other books by searching TaranMatharu or clicking on the person this chapter is dedicated to. Thanks for reading!

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