The Search for Pandora

by Graeme

Iswirl Viulve waited until his human companion joined him in the darkness of the access chute, and then released the hold he had maintained on the guard’s aura for more than twenty minutes.

“Thanks, mate. That ability of yours certainly made it easier to sneak onboard, even if it does take a long time for you to put someone into a daze,” Herk Collier whispered.

Iswirl ignored the insult, as Herk’s aura was the grey-streaked cyan that Iswirl had learnt indicated gratitude. “We all have our strengths and weaknesses.”

He had told the human soon after they met that using a nameless term when addressing a Qiadren was considered demeaning, as if the entity being addressed was not worthy of identification as a unique individual, but Herk Collier had quickly forgotten that advice.

Herk pulled out his tablet and called up the ship’s schematic, which he had obtained from the information merchant. “If that guy was right, this is the slave ship that the raiders brought everyone to. Pandora may no longer be here, but hopefully we’ll get a clue to wheresold her.”

Herk noticed that Iswirl was standing as stiff as a stick, making the Qiadren look like a column of blue-green frozen algae with large semi-luminous eyes at the top. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

“Herk Collier, you have an aural bond.”

“A what?” Herk glanced around, as if he expected to see something.

“It is weak, which is why I had not seen it before, but it is there. I postulate that the person to whom you are linked is on this ship, and that is why the link is now strong enough for me to sense.”

“What are you talking about?”

Iswirl tried to translate concepts intuitively obvious to a Qiadren into terms that a human might understand.

“Two, and occasionally more, entities who share a strong emotive relationship can develop a bond between their auras. This bond is visible to one such as I who can sense auras. The strength of the bond depends on an inverse ratio between the depth of the relationship and the distance between the entities. You have such a bond. I deduce that there is someone on board this ship with whom you have a strong emotional connection.”

“My sister? Do you think that’s who it is?”

Iswirl’s body rippled to show his puzzlement. “I do not know. The link is yours, not mine. But you have been directing us for some time now to find Pandora, so it certainly is possible, if not probable.”

Herk smiled. “That’s the greatest news I’ve had in the two years since my home was attacked.” He moved as if to embrace Iswirl, but changed to a stiff bow — an action that had a similar meaning to the Qiadren as to the human. “My deepest thanks to you, Iswirl Viulve. I am eternally grateful that you joined my quest when we first met six months ago.”

Iswirl bowed in reply. “Your quest for Pandora, your sister, was one that I had no choice but to join.” Straightening, he added, “I believe it is not advisable for us to remain so close to the entrance. We should retreat deeper into the ship before we try to ascertain the location of Pandora.”

The two crawled down the access shaft, Herk first, with Iswirl bringing up the rear. With the advantage of six strong limbs — three legs and three strength arms located radially around the middle of his body — the Qiadren was able to move more rapidly than the human. It was the reverse situation to when they were both upright, where the human had greater speed and endurance.

The chute ended in a steep slide into what appeared to be a garbage dump. Herk expressed disgust as he lifted his right hand from something gooey, whilst ignoring the slime he had accumulated during their trip along the chute. “We’ll have to clean up before we go any further. The way we are now, we’ll be noticed by anyone passing by.”

“As I am, to the best of my knowledge, the only Qiadren in this sector of the galaxy, I do not believe we can escape special notice by anyone who sees us,” Iswirl said. He used one of the three smaller manipulative arms at the top of his body to lift a piece of biological material to his olfactory organ, and then to his consumption orifice. It wasn’t pleasant, but it provided him with some essential nutrition.

“Eww… that’s disgusting!”

Iswirl was perplexed. “What’s disgusting?”

“You actually ate that… that… whatever it was.”

“It contained components necessary for my existence. What is disgusting about sustenance?”

“But it’s been… it was…” Herk shook his head. “Forget it. Let’s just find a way out of here.”

The two searched the room, and eventually Herk found an access hatch high on one wall. It was out of Iswirl’s reach, but the taller Herk boosted him up and then clambered out himself. The passageway they found themselves in was dimly lit, with discoloured walls and ceiling. Only the floor had a uniform appearance.

Herk sniffed. “The first thing we need to find is a cleaning unit of some kind. We’ll never be able to sneak around when anyone onboard can smell as at twenty paces.”

Iswirl accepted Herk’s statement. He had already determined that the human’s sight and hearing were both more acute than his own, and he therefore trusted Herk’s view on the olfactory ability of other humans. “What does the ship’s map indicate?”

Herk brought up the map on his tablet. He smiled. “Good news. Not only is there a facility near here that we can use, but we’re on the same level as the cargo holds. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere else that they could be holding slaves, so we’re close to our objective!” He looked around. “That way,” he said, pointing to his left.

The cleaning unit included spare ship’s uniforms, so Herk stripped off, retrieved his various items of equipment, and then shoved his slime-coated clothes down a refuse chute. Herk was soon dressed as a low-ranked crewman.

“This unit must be here for the crew who have to clean the waste area,” Herk said as he engaged the dynamic fitting on the uniform to adjust it to his size. “There, that gives us more options while we search the ship.” He proceeded to fill the pockets with the equipment he had saved.

“True, but it doesn’t assist me. I will still attract attention as an obvious non-human.” Iswirl’s three equally spaced eyes, located just under the manipulative arms around the top of his body, allowed him to quickly scan the area, but he sensed no solution.

“Yeah, but there are other non-humans. That guard we slipped past, for example. All we have to do is make you look like you fit in, and most people will ignore you. Some won’t, but no plan is perfect.”

Herk rummaged through the uniforms and found a simple jacket. He tossed it to Iswirl, who caught it with one of his strength arms. “Put that on while I organise the rest of the disguise.”

Iswirl was puzzled, but he did as he was told. It took him a couple of attempts before he had two of his middle arms through the arms of the jacket, leaving his third hanging vertically down at the back, constrained by the cloth. He used the reflector to gauge the effect, and wasn’t impressed. Almost half his length still projected above the top of the clothing. “This is very confining. I will not be able to use my strength arms quickly, if needed.”

“I know, but subtlety is our best hope.” Herk pulled a large hover tray out of a storage unit and loaded it with various containers. “There. If you push that along with me in front of you, most people will assume that you belong and that you’re working under my direction. It should allow us to get closer to the slave holds.”

Herk opened the door to the passageway and cautiously looked out. “Okay, there’s no one around. Let’s go.”

While Iswirl manoeuvred the hover tray out of the cleaning unit, Herk checked the map on his tablet and then led them to the left. Iswirl tensed when a door ahead slid open, but the emerging robot did not react to their presence.

They passed through a corroded iris door that stuttered twice before it was fully open, and Herk turned to the right.

“Why are we going this way?” Iswirl asked.

Herk glanced around and saw three humans in the distance. “Keep your voice down. This is the way to the holds.”

Iswirl lowered his volume. “But your aural bond indicates the other direction.”

“It does what?”

Iswirl used one of his upper manipulative arms to point the other way. “That is where your aural bond indicates your bond mate is located.”

Herk peered in the direction Iswirl indicated, and then back towards the cargo holds where the ship’s crewmen were working. He took a deep breath. “Okay, we’ll go the other way, but you’ll need to direct us, which means you need to be in front of me. If anything threatens, dive to the side so I can shoot.”

“Understood.” Iswirl turned the hover tray around, took careful note of the direction of the bond, and then started forward. He used his rear eye to ensure that he stayed near his human companion.

They soon passed a chamber with an open door. Inside, two humans were engaged in an apparently ritualistic behaviour involving the movement of small items on a tray between them. One of the crewmen glanced at them and then returned his attention to his activity without saying anything.

Iswirl paused at the next intersection before turning to the right. The aural bond he was following was clearer than when he had first noticed it, though no stronger.

“Oh, shit,” Herk muttered as he peered at his tablet’s display.

Iswirl’s rear eye couldn’t make out what the map was showing. “Is there something wrong?”

“The only thing ahead in this direction is a room labelled ‛Harvesting’. I’ve got a bad feeling, Iswirl. I think we need to move faster.”

Herk’s aura turned an amber-streaked turquoise that Iswirl had learnt meant concern, but the aural bond showed flashes of crimson, indicating fear. Iswirl didn’t know whose fear it reflected, but he wasted no time investigating. Making a quick decision, he abandoned the hover tray and stripped off the jacket as he started to race down the passageway. Herk Collier’s silence told Iswirl that his companion agreed that speed was more important than subterfuge.

An iris opened up ahead on the right and two large humans, dressed in the same uniform as the initial guard, walked through. They were chuckling. “They’re all the same. They just don’t believe it can happen to them.”

“Yeah, they never do. They…” The second human’s voice faded as he noticed Iswirl and Herk. “What the f–”

Herk fired his blaster pistol, terminating the guard’s life. The other guard didn’t hesitate, but he made the mistake of aiming for the top of Iswirl’s body, where the large eyes were located. The shot destroyed two of Iswirl’s visual sensors and much of the surrounding flesh, but the fact that the Qiadren didn’t have a centralised brain, but had their higher functions distributed along the length of their spinal cord, meant that Iswirl was merely slowed, not stopped.

Relying on his aural senses, which were more natural to him than vision, Iswirl closed the distance to the guard while Herk’s weapon recharged. As the guard’s weapon was lowered to aim at Iswirl’s more vulnerable middle section, Iswirl sent out an aural shockwave. The effect was only momentary, but it provided enough time for Herk to fire another shot from his energy weapon.

Sensing that there was no further immediate danger, Iswirl gave in to his body’s trauma sensations and collapsed to the deck.

“Iswirl!” Herk raced towards the Qiadren and dropped to his knees. “You can’t die on me, please, not now. There has to be something… what do I do?”

Iswirl’s vocal abilities had been damaged, but he forced out the required sounds, while pushing with his aura to reduce the crimson flashes that Herk’s aura was exhibiting. “No… danger… go… Pandora.”

“I can’t leave you to die!” Herk fumbled through his pockets until he found his mini-med kit. “I don’t know if this will help, but…”

Iswirl reacted instinctively. Using two of his strength arms, he pushed Herk away. He couldn’t take the risk of human medication having a negative impact on his metabolism, especially when his body was going to commence a long regeneration process. The Qiadren knew he could recover from the initial trauma within a few hours, though it would take months before his visual sensors were completely restored.

“Sister!” Iswirl forced out. Sensing the growing amber/mahogany tinge to Herk’s aura that indicated resolute stubbornness — Iswirl had encountered it too often to mistake what it meant — Iswirl shut down his self-body sensors and pulled himself upright. He needed to show the human that he was not fatally wounded, even though doing so would slow his recovery.

“Shit! I don’t believe it!” Herk shook his head. “If you’re sure you’re okay…”

Iswirl pushed him towards where the guards had emerged. Relying mainly on his aural sensors, he could tell that Herk’s aural bond partner was very near… and very frightened.

Turning around so his one remaining eye was facing the iris, Iswirl watched while Herk tried to activate the door.

Nothing happened.

“Locked! But the guards came out, so…” Herk dove to the body of the nearest guard and quickly found a security card. He passed it in front of the activator, and the iris opened.

Herk rushed in. Iswirl, knowing that there was only one inhabitant of the room, grabbed one of the bodies and dragged it out of the hallway. The sound of Herk’s weapon firing had him spinning around to find out what was happening.

Iswirl saw Herk standing at the foot of a long, low bench with a naked human strapped to it. Iswirl noted that the bound human bore a reasonable resemblance to Herk when he was naked. The bench was surrounded by mechanical and electrical devices, and a cool breeze indicated the presence of poorly maintained refrigeration equipment nearby. The remains of a robotic appendage lay on the floor beside the bench, though other movement in the room indicated that much of the machinery was still active.

Seeing nothing threatening, Iswirl returned to the hallway and brought in the other body. There was nothing he could do about the stains on the decking, but moving the bodies from the hallway reduced the likelihood that he and Herk would attract unwanted attention.

After closing the door, Iswirl turned to find that Herk had, apparently, not moved. Iswirl extended his senses as he approached and saw that the aura of the other human was low, and ebbing fast.

Knowing that he had to act quickly, and knowing the long-term consequences that he would suffer, Iswirl didn’t try to explain. He wrapped two of his strength arms around Herk, imprisoning him.

“What the…?”

Iswirl placed his third strength arm on the midriff of the other human and started to extrude strands from Herk’s aura, enhancing the strands with his own and feeding them into the other human.

Herk struggled, almost pulling himself from Iswirl’s grip, but the aural drain disconcerted and weakened him. Iswirl concentrated on pushing their combined auras into the unconscious human. He was breaking one of his people’s most basic laws, but he knew how much Herk wanted to rescue his sister. Iswirl ignored the dangers associated with the process and continued the aural transfer.

They would all live, or all die.

Herk stopped struggling when the body on the bench jerked. Iswirl sensed that the naked human’s aura was approaching the self-sustaining point, and gave one last surge of his own aura, realising that Herk would be needed to complete the rescue.

Iswirl then passed out due to aural depletion.

* * *

When Iswirl recovered consciousness he was surprised, and worried, that there was no pain from the upper-body trauma he had received. That implied that he had been unconscious for a considerable period of time — longer than he should have been left unconscious by aural depletion.

He could sense two aurally bonded humans nearby, one of which was Herk. There was a whispered conversation going on, but Iswirl could not hear any details.

He relaxed the protective flap on his remaining eye and saw that he was lying on what appeared to be the bench where the naked human had been. The equipment around him hummed with a quiet energy. Gingerly testing, he discovered that some limited and crude surgery had been done on his traumatised area, and his vocal equipment was not as impaired as it had been previously.

Iswirl lifted himself up and swung his body around so that he could bring his visual sensors to bear on the closely coupled humans.

As the humans separated and clambered to their feet, Iswirl viewed the stranger. No longer naked, the human was wearing what appeared to be the uniform of one of the guards. That restricted Iswirl’s ability to compare with Herk, but he could see the similar coloured eyes and the same type of facial hair around the mouth.

“Okay, Herk, it’s up. Now, can we get out of here? This place is giving me the creeps, and we don’t know when someone is going to come in and find us,” the new human said.

Herk grinned. “Relax, mate. It’s okay. I’ve locked the door and disabled the security monitors. We’ve got time before anyone realises there’s something wrong.”

Iswirl took a step forward, testing his balance. He was relieved to discover that whatever had been done to him while he was unconscious had not affected his gross motor movements.

“Pandora, I am pleased to meet you. I am Iswirl Viulve,” Iswirl said, bending his body forward in a crude bow, constrained as he was by his injuries.

Herk’s aura flashed a momentary dark brown. “Sorry, Iswirl, but this isn’t my sister. This is Brett Planter, from our village. Brett, if it wasn’t for Iswirl, I wouldn’t have gotten to you in time. You have him to thank as much as me, possibly more. I don’t know what he did, but he brought you back from the dead.”

“Not dead, but close. His aura was not completely gone.” Iswirl crossed his two forward facing strength arms and lowered his remaining manipulator arm to rest on the intersection. “Herk Collier, I humbly and deeply apologise for taking your aura by force. You have the right of judgement over me, until such a time as I return to my own people for punishment.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Herk exchanged glances with Brett.

“Draining the aura of another entity without explicit permission is one of the most heinous crimes my people can perform. I have committed that crime. As the entity violated, you have first call of judgement on me. I submit to you.” Iswirl bowed as deeply as he could and waited.

“Iswirl, mate, stand up.” Herk waited until Iswirl was upright, and then placed an arm around Brett’s shoulders. “If it wasn’t for you, Brett would have been harvested and his organs made ready for sale to the highest bidders. You took my aura to help save him, and if I had known you needed permission, I would have granted it freely. I trust you, and there is nothing you can do to me that I do not permit. There was no crime.”

Iswirl knew it wasn’t that simple, but sensed that arguing would only distress his friend. Instead, he turned to the other human. “Brett Planter, as you are the bond mate of Herk Collier, I give you welcome and ask how I may serve.”

Brett’s eyelids blinked rapidly. “Bond mate? Herk, what have you told it… er… him, or her?”

“There’s nothing to worry about. I haven’t told him anything. Iswirl has told me he’s actually sexless, but he’s happy being called ‛he’. As for how he knows, Iswirl can sense what he calls auras around living things. Some sort of energy field around us, I think. Anyway, when we came onboard, he told me that he could sense a bond between my aura and someone else on this ship. We thought it was my sister, but when we followed it, we found you.” Herk ran a hand through his hair. “I guess we were closer back home than I realised.”

Iswirl didn’t correct Herk’s statement about being sexless. While technically true, it wasn’t complete. The Qiadren were sexless until they formed an aural bond with another, at which point their sexual organs developed and they were able to share genetic codes with each other to form new members of their race.

“Back home?” Brett shoved Herk, causing him to fall to the deck. “You left me as soon the rumours started, remember? If we were so fucking close, why did you run out on me! I have to thank you, and it, for saving me, but I don’t have to like you, and I certainly don’t have to go back to being your fuck buddy!”

Brett stormed to the door and unlocked it. “You said we’d leave as soon as the auto-doc had fixed up the alien and it had recovered. That appears to have happened, so let’s go.” Brett exited the room, leaving the iris portal open.

Iswirl was puzzled, as Herk’s aura flickered through many dark colours. The human’s face was moist and he was making no effort to regain his footing and follow his bond mate. Iswirl moved over and extended two strength arms. “What is wrong, Herk Collier?”

“He… he doesn’t want me. I didn’t realise how much he meant to me until I saw him here, dying, and now he doesn’t want me!”

Iswirl extended his senses. He then placed a strength arm lightly on the human’s head. “Herk Collier, my friend, it takes two entities with a very close emotional attachment to create an aural bond, but it only takes one of those entities to break it. Your bond is still there.”

“Do you mean that…” Herk leapt to his feet. “Come on. Brett was telling me that most of the women, including Pandora, were transferred to another ship, and he knows that ship’s name. We need to leave now and try to track it down.”

Iswirl followed Herk out the door, and then stopped as Herk halted abruptly. Brett was facing three guards, all of which had weapons drawn, though none were pointed directly at the human.

At their appearance, the guards shifted their gaze past Brett and aimed their weapons at Iswirl and Herk.

“Oh, shit,” Herk whispered.

Then everything went black.

* * *


Adam waited a couple of seconds, hoping that the power would come back on, and then pushed the keyboard away in disgust.

His right fist slammed onto the desk and then, reluctantly, he stood up. A glance out the window revealed that the only illumination in the street was moonlight. Adam stomped his way towards the living room. There, he found his mother switching on a torch.

“It looks like the whole street’s been blacked out,” Mrs Lindon said.

“Really? What makes you think that?”

She frowned. “There’s no need to be narky with me. I didn’t cause the power failure. Anyway, it’ll do you good to get out of your bedroom for a while.”

“You don’t understand. I was right in the middle of something important!”

Mrs. Lindon rolled her eyes. “It’s only a computer game.”

“Galactic Searcher is not just a computer game. It’s… it’s…” Adam raised his hands in frustration.

“It’s what?”

Adam turned and headed to his room. “You wouldn’t understand,” he called over his shoulder as he left.

Once back in his sanctum, he closed the door and threw himself on his bed. Putting his hands behind his head, he stared at the shifting shadows on the ceiling.

His parents didn’t understand. He had tried to tell them, but they had told him it was nothing serious, and he would just have to learn to live with it. “Life isn’t always fair,” they’d told him, and then wondered why he spent most of his time playing Galactic Searcher. They couldn’t understand why he had spent so much time designing and uploading a new alien race so he could play something unique. They couldn’t see why Iswirl Viulve and the Qiadren race were so important to him.

They didn’t understand that he needed to play the online game. It wasn’t a question of wanting to play; it was a question of survival.

When he played Iswirl Viulve, no one called him a “skinny, undersized, four-eyed faggot.”

When he played Iswirl Viulve, people didn’t spit on him or turn away as if he wasn’t there.

When he became Iswirl Viulve, he never had his lunch thrown to the ground and stood on by bullies, and was then made to eat it while the watchers jeered and sneered.

When he became Iswirl Viulve he became someone who did things. Someone who, while flawed, still managed to succeed.

Adam’s parents didn’t understand that Iswirl Viulve gave him a chance to retreat to a better world. Not a safe world, but one where the challenges weren’t too much for him to handle. Where he wasn’t driven to the edge of despair.

They didn’t understand how their sixteen-year-old son needed to be Iswirl Viulve to keep his humanity.

Still staring at the ceiling, Adam whispered his private mantra, the anagram of his alien alter ego’s name.

“I will survive.”

Authors Note:

The Qiadren race design by Adam was based on the idea of a tri-symmetric intelligent semi-aquatic race related to an eel with limbs, with capabilities similar to some fish species. The large eyes with poor vision and hearing in a non-aquatic environment is a consequence of this design, but this is offset by the ability to sense the electrical field of a living organism, similar in nature to that existing for some aquatic species. It wasn’t extended to include abilities like that of an electric eel, but some ability to manipulate that field was included. The regeneration abilities described are similar to that of many fish, including goldfish. The changing of sex in fish is well documented. The distributed brain function is Adam’s own idea.

Copyright Notice — Copyright © June 2010 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author’s expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

I would like to thank C James, and also everyone from The Mail Crew for the advice they have given me on this story.

I would also like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.

This story first appeared in the Gay Authors 2010 Summer Anthology.