My Roommate Wants to Kill Me

Day 1 of Moon 5

Dear Diary,

Good job, you’re completely useless. Here I am, hiding inside my room, fearing for my life, and you can’t do anything about it. Not that I expect you to. That would’ve been strange. You’re just a digital file on my computer.

But just in case something happens to me, you are backed up on cyberspace, where I hope the law-keeping authority can use you as evidence against my murderer. There is only one possible suspect.

Stella Sandhill. Human female. My roommate.

She isn’t home right now but I’ll make this quick.

Ever since the first day, my roommate has been acting strange. At first, I thought it’s because she’s human. I’m very open-minded so I already expected there might be some misunderstanding between species.

But this goes beyond that. I’m almost certain my roommate probably wants to kill me.

That sentence doesn’t sound right. Never mind.

So I’ve started attending the Fourth University of Ishtri Prima. 4thU is a good school, and the Prima is in my home system. The diversity program cuts the tuition in half, so I took the chance.

By now we have been rooming together for three moons, and I’m half-convinced that she’s an assassin just waiting for the chance to strike. I didn’t know what in the world did I do to warrant this. Apparently, I’m her target.

I watch a lot of human entertainment, so I know how this goes. She’s under-covering as my roommate; she’s an insane serial killer. Or both.

But she’s also very bad at her job because I’m still alive.

I take plenty of precautions, but I’m not delusional. I could lock my door at night, test my food for poison, and only drink from sealed hydration packs. I make sure to stay on all the public paths while walking to class. Yet, a skilled assassin would be able to murder me without a problem.

My theory so far is that she’s waiting for me to cross a certain line. One wrong strep and she’d have the perfect excuse to kill me. The problem is, I have no idea where the line lies. I just have to be extra careful.

I misread the clock. I have to go to class. Be back soon.


Day 2 of Moon 5

Dropping the “dear diary” because that just sounds stupid. Don’t know why I kept doing it. My first human teacher taught me and it stuck.

To clarify, I have nothing against humans. Many of my friends back on the Green Moon were human. My siblings keep dating humans. I appreciate their culture. I know what humans are like, but my roommate might be an exception.


Day 7 of Moon 5

[Entry 1/3]

Just met with my mentor about the essay revision. Prof is a nice human. He’s polite, though he always wears linen stripe around his neck for no reason. I keep hearing things about him, though. Not good things. That he bought his teaching certificate, but I’m sure that’s just bored students gossiping.

4thU is a prestigious college. My parents almost couldn’t afford it. My family is well-to-do, but there’s only so much they can do when they have twenty children.

The human is munching on something loudly in the kitchen. I don’t want to go out there, but I left my bag out and the revision’s due in three days.

[Entry 2/3]

So I just went out, and the human is pouring some white liquid into a bowl. “What’s that?” I asked her.

“Almond milk,” she said.

“But almond doesn’t produce milk.”

Guess what she said? “It can if you make it to.”

Why did she have to word it like that? I was just gonna ignore what she said. She then said something even stranger.

“Your mentor is wanted in three galaxies.” Probably saw my face, she then added. “Not this one, though. Don’t worry.”

“How did you know?”

“Everyone knows.”

No, they don’t. “Even if it’s true,” I was trying not to anger her by pointing out she’s lying. “I’m sure it’s something minor. Like pirating movies off cyberspace.”

“If you say so.” She went back to eating. I couldn’t stand the noise so I left. It’s like a hive in your ears.

[Entry 3/3]

I was just about to go to sleep, and I heard my roommate went out. She’s always like this. Nocturnal when her species is not. I wonder where she goes every night.

It’s fine, you know. This way I can see her as little as possible.

She sleeps during the day, too. What kind of class is she taking?

It’s not fine because she can murder me in my sleep. She hasn’t done it yet.


Day 9 of Moon 5

I was surprised to run into her when I was back from class. She’s in the living room, putting a rack on the wall. It holds a peculiar, mechanical-looking thing.

“Is that a weapon?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“No.” The same kind of nonchalance.

“What is it, then?”

It’s not a gun. It’s in two parts. One is curvy with a thin string, the other was hanging perpendicularly and contained several similar sticks.

“A recurve bow,” she said. Sensing my blank stare, probably, she added. “I’m on the archery team.”

She left with the bow, putting it in a long bag. She wore all black.

Our school doesn’t have an archery team.


Day 10 of Moon 5

[Entry 1/2]

Called Ren’el and she didn’t appreciate being wakened up. Kept forgetting the relay puts her day behind. Like always, she didn’t give me any solid advice. It’s been that way since we were kids. She never took me seriously.

Just talk to the human, she said.

As if it’s that simple. My roommate literally owns a weapon and it’s hanging in our living room right now. She disappears from time to time, doing god knows what. She eats an exceptional amount of meat, of unknown origins.

Her leg wrappings had blood on them. Not a lot, but to me, they looked like a splatter. Do I sound too calm? I mean there is BLOOD on her clothes!

Ren’el was surprised to hear that I dug through my roommate’s clothes.

Are they piled up in a basket? She asked. That’s where humans put the clothes they wore.

Where would they put the clothes they don’t wear? Why own them if they don’t wear them? I was confused.

Don’t go through her clothes again. Ren’el suggested. The call ended there.

Seems like a bad connection but I can’t afford another call.

[Entry 2/2]

I got a message from Ren’el. She apologized for how the call ended as if it was her fault.

She also said this:

“Many humans don’t like it when you go through their stuff, especially when they aren’t watching you do it. Keep that in mind. She’d probably kill you if she finds out. “

Oh no.


Day 17 of Moon 5

My roommate bought knives. She said she wants to cook because the cafeteria only serves nutrition pastes and eating off-campus is expensive.

The knives don’t make me fear for my life. It’s that she bought lab-grown meat and cut it into quick and tiny pieces, all with scary efficiency.

My roommate is in the—what do you call it, mafia!

“I have my ways.” She was satisfied with herself.

Needless to say, I refused the food she offered even though they filled with a mouth-watering smell. I justified my decision by claiming to be herbivorous by choice—even though my species is omnivorous like humans.

“Sorry, didn’t know you’re vegan.”

Do I look stupid? She separated the food into two containers. The one for me was probably poisoned.


Day 10 of Moon 6

It’s been a while. School has been hectic. Prof was fired three days ago. He had been importing illegal “school supplies”. The news doesn’t shock me but some of my classmates were devastated. We will be getting a new mentor soon, maybe in a few days. We are having study groups until then.

My roommate kept giving me the “I told you so” face.

She started a job at the nearest station, serving earth food. I like earth food, so it was tempting to accept some when she brings leftovers home. I didn’t, of course.

Between her new job and cooking, she starts to act like a normal diurnal creature. I think we might be able to get along well. She still looks at me when she sharpens her knives, but I can ignore that for now.


Day 11 of Moon 6

Just when everything is looking up, I found the most damning evidence. It was unlike her to leave her door open, but I guess she left in a hurry. The knives were still here. The recurve bow was gone.

I decided to venture into her room. My roommate isn’t the neatest person, but her room is more organized than I expected. A lot of her stuff is in container boxes. On her desk are her main screen and a smaller one. The smaller one is glowing with text.

I was mindful of not leaving a trace, so I took a quick picture and escaped back to my room to read.

What I saw is horrifying.

“After you kill all of them, keep going down the ventilation and reach the research room. Some soldiers will be patrolling the lower level so get rid of them quickly. You will encounter two officers but they’ll be sleeping, kill them without rising an alarm.”

No doubt that’s some sort of instruction for infiltration and assassination.

I can also see half of the image at the bottom of the page, which shows a 3D rending of what I’m assuming, a military base. It looks like a space station? The style of the interior, however, is unlike anything I’ve seen.

I sneaked back into her room for a second look. Some wires are attached to the screens. There’s also a palm-sized controller made for human thumbs and fingers.

I don’t know what they mean. Nothing good.


Day 12 of Moon 6

I contacted Ren’el again. She suggested I should calm down. Talk to the human before calling security. I’d much rather talk to the law-keepers than having them studying my dead body.

I’m confronting the human tomorrow. Wish me luck, but first I have to go to the study group.


Day 13 of Moon 6

I was having difficulty focusing on studying last night. To my defense, it’s well justified. Te’kad at my group pointed it out, so we all gave up and went to get food.

A human—I don’t know his name, he’s the one with glass obstacles over his eyes—said there’s a cafe serving decent earth-inspired food.

Needless to say, my luck ensured it’s the same place my roommate works at.

Apparently, she is acquainted with my human classmate. They waved their limbs, and the next thing I knew, she waved at me and expecting me to wave back. I waved back. She said nothing and went to make black caffeine liquid for us.

After feasting, my classmates and I wandered the streets. One of the stores at the station carries 21st-century earth entertainment, according to my human classmate.

The shelves display many plastics with images of humans with guns.

“Humans enjoy this?” I asked him.

He was excitable and explained a lot, all while waving his limbs as he spoke. I’m paraphrasing here: basically, humans enjoy fake killing people.


Day 25 of Moon 6

As you can see, I’m strategically delaying the confrontation with my roommate.


Day 27 of Moon 6

My roommate brought home donuts. They are inside a sealed container. After my success with discovering coffee, I decided to give it a try.

Donuts are sweet and I ate most of them. My limbs were weak and my head heavy. I thought I was poisoned, but my roommate called it “sugar high”. I asked her a lot of questions, none of which I remember now.

Oh, she taught me how to pronounce her names. It sounds strange.


Day 3 of Moon 7

My roommate and I have reached a tentative peace. Keeping me alive outweighs the trouble of killing me.

I’m meeting my new mentor today. I’m considering changing my major to study humans. Or, as my roommate calls it, “anthropology”.

The dictionary didn’t tell me what is “anthropo”. Useless.


A/N: This one is hysterical and I had a lot of fun. Is it connected to CICADA? It is, even though the organization wasn’t name-dropped. In case it was unclear, the Roommate was looking at a video game walkthrough. The game is Wolfenstein: New Order. Comment your thoughts or questions!

Glass Marbles

“How long is it gonna take?” 5765 laid on the operation table, asking the doctor. “Would I be late for dinner?”

The doctor introduced herself as Calypso. The name sounded fake, but 5765 wasn’t in the position to complain about names. Doctor Calypso was kind to him and didn’t treat him like a child. So that’s good.

“Probably,” Doctor Calypso said. “It’s not that good anyway. Canned beef stew and potato again.”

“Okay.” It didn’t stop his mouth from watering. Any food was good food. A stew in the war zone would have been heavenly.

He tried staying still on the cold surface, but he couldn’t help himself. A lengthy disinfecting process had got rid of all the grimes. His skin was still tender. His fresh new jumpsuit made him fit right in with the sterile environment of this…facility.

He didn’t know where they were. Just underground. It’s large and full of people. They’ve been here for a few weeks. Waiting for something. It’s finally his turn to get treatment.

“Is it gonna hurt?”

“Only a little at first.” The doctor said.

5765 believed her. The doctor was younger than his mother as he last remembered her, and carried an entirely different vibe than anyone he used to know. The same vibe as the man in white, who guided his group inside the facility. The same as those who gave them fresh bedrolls, clean water, and food. They were nice.

“Ouch.” 5765 felt the sting on his arm.

“See? That’s it.” Doctor Calypso put away the empty syringe. “I won’t lie to you.”

5765 was feeling the effect. His eyelids felt heavy, and his limbs felt light. The table underneath him was moving. He used up all his energy to squint. He was inside some kind of pod, and the lid was closing on him. There was a brief panic, but he relaxed. It was the safest place he had ever been to.

Then he closed his eyes and began to dream.

*********

His family lived on the east side of Mt. Trash. Their house was a shipping container, rusted and forever smelled like something crawled in and died. It was probably accurate, since her parents never told him where Grandma and Granpa went. One day they were living with them, the next they were not.

His family scavenged for a living. Mt. Trash was truly resourceful. On a good day, all of them could fall asleep not hungry. On a really good day, they could even find something to sell. Dad would dig out the cyber implants from the dumped corpses they found, and took them to the market. He would come back with fresh food, usually bread. And Mom would yell at him because three implants would certainly worth more than three loaves. He gambled the rest away.

5765 had a handful of siblings. This oldest brother got scammed by the prostitute he “fell in love” with. He was saving money for two tickets out of the system, and ended up broke and stabbed, left to die in the gutters.

But no one would hate the prostitutes because of that. Because his sister did that for a living. She swore to 5765 that she’d never fall in love, and made him swear he’d do the same. 5765 never understood what love was.

“Can you eat it?” He asked his sister.

“No. It eats you.”

Scary.

That was what roughly happened before the war came. For the first time, they were glad to live in Mt. Trash, because the firefights didn’t reach here. Until the bombs started falling. They scurried toward the next settlement, with only the clothes on their backs.

In Clifftown, Dad was conscripted by the rebel army, and that was the last 5765 saw of him.

Back to the shelter under the bridge. A few dozen refugee families were camping there. Sometimes they fought over clean water and food. But when the shells started dropping, they huddled for warmth.

His last surviving brother was one year older than himself. He taught 5765 how to steal. When the soldiers left town, the stores would reopen. That’s how they could get anything they wanted.

In theory, anyway. 5765 got caught on his second try. His first target was the food stand, where he got his dinner. The amazing feeling of being full had made him dizzy. Made him bold enough to forget that he was far from a seasoned thief. His strike on a former toy booth—now military surplus store—went awfully wrong.

It all happened so fast. 5765 was standing among the shelves, pretending to browse. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He was a young man, just old enough to fit in with the surplus crowd.

There weren’t a lot of costumers, so his brother offered to distract the owner. He pointed at some laser gun on the wall, and the owner turned his back to retrieve it.

5765 knew it was his opportunity to act. He grabbed a fist full of pellets and stuffed them down his pockets. These kinds of things were the real currency, these days. He grabbed one hand after another, until his jacket was weighted down.

Some spilled out and pounced on the floor. They made sharp, clicking noises as they rolled.

The owner turned his head and caught him red-handed.

“Robbery!” He was yelling. Everyone in the market turned their heads. None of them helped either side. They ducked and screamed when the guns came out.

The next thing 5765 knew, he was running. In his panicking state, he had put a handful of pellets in his mouth and swallowed them.

What was that for? He didn’t know. They felt like pebbles stuck in his chest. All he knew was that he was choking. He coughed violently, still scrambling to run.

His brother was behind him, scrambling between the various stands.

“Faster!” He yelled.

5765 was running with biological tears rolling from his face.

Before he knew it, his brother was shot. He was shot twice in the back as they were running. 5765 thought he was dead. He hoped it was quick. Because in the blinding panic, he left his brother behind.

5765 went back to the camp under the bridge. His family’s empty tent was still there. He crawled under the plastic sheet, curled up and began to cry.

While sobbing, his waist muscle tightens and he felt the pain. Looking down, he found blood. He was grazed. And he was bleeding. A dark red stain was spreading on his tattered clothes.

His pockets were empty. The treasure that costed him all he had left, were scattered on the way back.

He was certain that was how he’s gonna die. Alone, last of his family, inside a dirty hellhole. The same kind of place where he was born. As his consciousness slipped in and out of focus, he heard voices. Was it God’s angels? They were outside his tent. Then, someone tore off the plastic sheet, and light flooded in.

“Here’s another one!” Someone yelled.

He strained his eyes to look. A group of strangers was standing over him. Some kind of military men. He panicked. Tried to run. Forgot he couldn’t. And he laid there in pain. The night was made bright by all the flashlights they carried. Under the light. He saw that the man in front of him was wearing white. Not the black armors or camouflage like the soldiers.

Someone picked him up and put him on a stretcher. A few hands carried him away. To where? He fell unconscious.

Briefly, he woke up again. This time, he was inside a moving. The hulls vibrated. It was an aircraft. He had never been so high in the sky, and it scared him shitless. He closed his eyes and hoped for the best.

Then, he wasn’t bleeding any more. He was in a shower. He was getting fresh clothes. He was waiting in line for food. Food! He had a metal tray in his hands, like the other people in line with him. The cook dropped a spoonful of something onto his tray. He didn’t know what it was, but it smelled heavenly.

“People, gather around!” A few of those men in white armors came back. One of them looked like the leader, stepped forward.

“By now, you probably heard a lot of rumors about what this place is. Arber Conservatory will be your temporary home. A refuge until we make the arrangement for your new lives. Rest assured that you are safe here. The war is behind you. We have staff in place to take care of your needs. For your safety, please do not venture beyond your designated area.”

“Why did you give us these numbers?” Someone among the crowd asked. “What are they for? Why can’t we use your names?”

“Your number is assigned to you by chronological order. The first one who arrived here was “number 1”, the second was “2”, and so on. It’s easier for our agents to identify you, since some are having trouble pronouncing your names.”

“Please be patient until the transportation is arranged. We will notify you when it’s your turn. If you have any questions, any working agents around you can answer them. If they can’t, direct your questions toward the Caseworker’s office.” The agents scanned the room. “That’s all for now.”

**********

Doctor Calypso processed her patients in groups of eighteen. She used to have twenty regeneration machines but two were down, and there were no technicians around to fix them.

The organization had deemed this dimension “lost”. Even after decades of trying to fix things, trying to make things right. Thousands of agents died to fix this dimension. At first, they were adjusting the timeline so the war wouldn’t happen. When that failed, they were trying to bring back peace. Calypso knew of a colleague who went as far as infiltrating the governments, but none of that worked. In the end, she supposed, fate was fate. What’s lost was lost.

In recent months, C.I.C.A.D.A. had been pulling their resources off the planet. Personnel evacuating through spacecraft or portals.

This underground cave they were in, was the last C.I.C.A.D.A. facility in this dimension.

Arber Conservatory was originally designed to house endangered local plants and seeds. It was far from designed to act as a refugee center, but it’s the only safe place large enough.

It had been months, and they were still stranded on this god-forsaken world, waiting for their turn to evacuate. Only one portal was working. It opened once a week and had to recharge. They could send about five hundred people through, before risking overheating the gate.

Calypso told herself it didn’t matter where she’s doing her job, here or the other side of the portal. These patients needed attention. But the med bay here is basic and severely understaffed.

It could have been a lot worse, though. They could’ve been dead, caught up in the war that’s tearing the planet apart.

Also, she badly needed a cigarette. She had two options. Ascending miles to the chaotic surface, or crawling into the outgoing air duct. Neither was worth the trouble.

She compromised by having a cup of powdered coffee. A green light popped up on the control panel. The procedure was complete. She leaned back in her wore chair, waiting for the machines to power down.

Calypso glanced at the screen, which was producing a detailed report about her patients. One of them caught her eyes. The boy, 5765. Barely a teenager and already suffered multiple old wounds. Hairline fractures and old burn scars.

He was a survivor. She briefly wondered what he could achieve in a peaceful world.

There was something in his stomach, the imaging showed. The automatic operation had removed them from his body, and deposited the small spheres for the doctor to examine.

They were shiny, glass marbles.

*********

“You may also choose to join C.I.C.A.D.A. Our organization specializes in the protection of humankind across timelines, dimensions, and beyond. The benefits of joining our organization are as listed: guaranteed housing, a competitive salary, and a purpose in the service of mankind.”w life. Away from the war and all the ugly things they stand for.

The light was too bright as he stepped through. The other side didn’t look too different. The same kind of room, but with clean white walls.

“Refugee number 5765, you may now choose a name.” A slightly mechanical voice began. The room had many screens, and he was standing in front of one. “If you choose to become a civilian, on the screen in front of you is a list of socially acceptable names, ranked from the most common to least.”

“There’re other options?” He asked, hesitant. It seemed silly speaking into a machine.

“You may also choose to join C.I.C.A.D.A. Our organization specializes in the protection of the humankind across timelines, dimensions, and beyond. The benefits of joining our organization are as listed: guaranteed housing, a competitive salary, and a purpose in the service of mankind.”

“It’s like the people who saved me, right?” He asked.

“[Direction Unclear].” The machine said. “Please repeat your inquiry.”

“…Never mind,” he said. “Go on.”

“As an agent of C.I.C.A.D.A., you may choose any codename you like. As long as it is one word and does not conflict with those in our database. Type in your potential name to see if it’s available.”

“You have chosen to become an agent of C.I.C.A.D.A. Please exit to the room on the right for information regarding your future identity, housing, and training program.”

After he made his choice, a woman in a black suit greeted him at the door.

“Welcome to Earth.” She shook his hand. “This one is safe. You are safe. You are home.”

And, for the first time in his life, he felt like he could finally breathe.

Divine Intervention

“The portal is ready, Kyan—wait, why aren’t you in your costume?”

Startled by the sudden opening of her office door, Kyan turned to face her colleague, Beryl. His presence was always anxiety-inducing, since it either meant more work or bad news.

Or both. She was just about to take a sip of coffee from her “world’s best boss” mug when he barged in. It would be a shame if she dropped the precious cup.

“What portal?” She asked, dumbfound. “There’s no scheduled portal opening today, I don’t think. Also, what costume?”

“Well, check your calendar again. The Moongate project just got an update,” Beryl tapped his hologram wearable, looking agitated. “Never mind, the launch window is in just under an hour. We have to get you ready. I’ll brief you along the way.“

Kyan sighed, putting down the coffee and got up. It was then she reconsidered her life. The mug was a mere souvenir from a trip back to the 21st century. She was no one’s boss. She was just another lowly employee at C.I.C.A.D.A. Level 3 in the dimension-spanning organization’s hierarchy. Anyone could order her around.

“What is this update about?” She asked. They walked down the labyrinth of white corridors. Judging by the scenery, she knew they were heading toward the launch hall. “Start from the beginning.”

“Fine. You know the trip we planned for the Eyaithen Ceremony? When their entire planet gather to pray to the goddess Yaeshene? What’s worse, the sun of their system just had an unpredicted flare event. Which means they are holding the ceremony *now*. We aren’t ready, but someone must go.”

Well, fuck. “Do we not have a Traveler on call?”

“No, we do not. Kyan, I cannot stress enough how important this job is. They are going to ask for the Yaeshene’s blessing on their new spacecraft launch. Our analysts calculated a 62% chance of them discovering Milky Way on their next expedition. That was two months ago.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Kyan said. “I’m supposed to have my afternoon off.”

“The percentage is now eighty-seven. We need to put it under twenty. 10% or under would be even better. Take a look at this,” Beryl pushed a tablet into her hands. “A report from Lark.”

A shaky footage of a devastated hellscape. Kyan faintly recognizes the architecture style to be of Earth. A middle-aged man showed his ash-covered face in the frame, as he turned the camera toward his tattered self.

“Level 6 Traveler, codenamed Lark, reporting a Class A event from the year 2487…” He coughed. Blood seeped from between his fingers as he covered his mouth. His augmented left eye was hanging out of its socket. The footage was glitching badly. “To any agent seeing this, take a look at Point Sigma-Beta-Echo-Four, to Echo-Seven. Something went wrong…there. Requesting…intervention.”

“Let me guess,” Kyan gave Beryl back the tablet before the footage cut off. “That’s the timeline where we didn’t stop the Eyaithens from waging war on Earth. Not good. Everything goes to shit. The stakes are high. You can’t find a good Traveler, so you find me.”

“You aren’t taking this serious enough.” Beryl made an angry gesture, as if he wanted to smash the tablet on the wall. “Do you think I wanted to come to you? The Traveler we are training for this mission is sick. Something she caught on her last trip. I don’t have a choice.” He stopped abruptly. “We are here.”

Gate Hangar 9. Kyan sighed. She was really doing this.

“Tell me, at least there’s someone to go rescue Lark.”

“Of course. He’s a valuable agent.”

In the changing pod, Kyan changed into the gray protective armored suit. She held the helmet under her arm when she stepped out. The space opened up.

In front of her was the heart of Project Moongate. The site was styled like a hangar, with tall ceilings and maintenance crew walking on levitated platforms. The most eye-catching subject was the circular gate in the middle. Four pairs of metallic arches held it steady, taking up most of the space. The actual gate wasn’t that big. It could only let in the smallest spaceship. The Moongate was humming even in pre-activation mode. The steel platform vibrated beneath Kyan’s feet.

“Is this necessary?” Kyan eyed the four-person costume crew as they crowded her. They were dressing her up in Eyaithen fashion, attaching ready-made white cloth stripes to her suit. The material felt like silk.

Beside them were crates of artifacts, collected by other Travelers on their previous journeys.

“We don’t have time for makeup,” one of the costume crew members said. “A mask should do.” They discussed among themselves, and decided to take her helmet. The crew was working in terrible efficiency. They put it through the handheld 3D printer and sprayed it gold.

When Kyan got it back, the helmet had two branching horns attached to it. It was also shaped like a goat’s face, with a complicated engraved pattern on the sides.

Kyan turned to look at the holo screen she saw them referring. It was the Holy Text of the Eyaithen people. She could barely recognize the language, let along speak it. Guess that’s why the crew attached a voice filter to the built-in translation device in her helmet.

She wasn’t close to an expert in the Eyaithen. As a Traveler, her specialty was in time travel, not planet-hopping. She did remember one report about this alien species. They were devoted believers, even though C.I.C.A.D.A. has not found out if their goddess actually existed.

“Your mission is to impersonate the Eyaithen goddess, Yaeshene.” Beryl approached Kyan just as the crew was putting on the finishing touches.

“Are you serious?” Kyan glanced at the complicated costume. Dozens of fabric stripes dragged on for a few meters behind her, acting like tails. “Alright, I kind of saw that coming. What am I going to say? Should I say anything at all?”

“A few words would be fine. Yaeshene is not a chatty god.” A beat. “Don’t say anything stupid.”

“I’m a professional,” Kyan said.

“Sure. There will be twenty drones surrounding you in a crescent formation. Sixteen of them are hologram effect projectors, making quite a light show. Four have speakers attached, so don’t be surprised when your volume is booming.”

“Got it. Anything else?”

They were walking slowly toward the bridge. Crew members helped carry her tails.

All around them, the engines were powering on. The noise echoed in the Hangar 9. They have to shout to be heard.

Beryl side-stepped to avoid stepping on the tails. “Double-check your jet thrusters,” he reminded.

“Already did,” Kyan was putting the mask on. It was a heavyweight on her head. “Wouldn’t be a convincing goddess if I fell from the sky, would it?”

The translator inside her helmet was projecting her words into a different language. A slow and rusty sound.

The Moongate powered on. The boom made Kyan glad for the helmet to dampen the noise.

Kyan stared into the gate. It was swirls of white light and nothing else. She took a deep breath, waved back at her colleagues and gave a thumb-up.

The Traveler took a step into the portal. The drones followed after her.

*********

King Alqovoh stood at the top of the tower. Below him, his royal subjects knelt. The air smelled like a hundred or so flesh burning, or some kind of herb.

The bells chimed in the wind.

“Lit the pyre,” he spoke. His servant cut the string. The embroidered signal flag rolled out. Under the tower, ten soldiers dressed in silver armors held the torches to the pyre.

The King moved his gaze toward the horizon. A crimson cloud was forming, casting shadows over the land of sand. Not an ideal weather for the launch, but the craft’s departure should not stray from the schedule.

Lightning flashed across the sky, making his subjects cower. Still, the King stood tall.

“The ceremony must continue,” he spoke, even as his servants trembled.

That was until the booming thunder rolled over the hills. He felt the presence before he looked up. The sky opened up. A circular ring of light. Energy crackled like a storm. The sharp wind shook even the firmest joints of the tower. He looked up and saw the celestial being descending in the glow of golden light.

His subjects knelt once more. Each of them must have been shivering worse than he was.

“The Gate of Thantonia,” he heard himself muttering in awe. “Just like the Holy Text… ‘a ring of pale fire burns…’ The Goddess has not abandoned Eyaithen, after all.”

“Do not abandon your homeworld.” The Goddess spoke. Her voice was calm, gentle even. The voice echoed through the sand plain. “Those who reach for the stars will not receive my blessings.”

“But—” That was not what the King had expected. He could not bear to look straight at her radiance, as he spoke in rebellion.

“Forgive my bluntness, but we have to search for a new homeland. This world is…We are running out of resources, and our kins—”

One of the Goddess’s lightning orbs struck the ground, causing flames to flare up. The divine act installed fresh fear in his people.

The King tried to keep calm under pressure. According to the Holy Text, the Goddess Yaeshene was not a merciless one. The spell she cast was merely a warning. The explosion did not injure his subjects, even though they were dangerously close.

Indeed, the Goddess seemed to lean down, closer toward him. He risked a glance up.

“I entrusted this land to you. Use it wisely.”

As if it was all in a dream. Yaeshene disappeared into a blinding ray of light. The pyre was out, leaving only ashes and smoke. The King searched the sky, but not a single trace remained.

The ceremonial ground was holding a collective breath. King Alqovoh was in deep thought, then he broke the dead silence.

“Burn it.” He pointed at the craft. “Burn it for the Goddess.”

*********

The Moongate spat Kyan out and powered down. The Traveler fell onto the bridge platform, less ceremoniously than she expected. She stood up, as the machinery whirled. Platforms folded to box her in. The decontamination process began.

“Woah, now that’s a nasty headache.” Kyan’s head felt like it was about to split open, but the pain only lasted for a few seconds.

When she stepped out of the pod, the crew helped her get out of the costume.

She exited the decontamination pod. The project manager and his inner circle was there, waiting. Kyan froze. What did she do to warrant this?

The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied with her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.

“Welcome back, Kyan.” Beryl was among them, also the only one who looked glad she was fine. “The project manager wants you to explain this.”

The tablet he was holding was showing a page from an Eyaithen book. A history book, as far as she could tell. It showed a sketch of something that looked…faintly, like a broken drone.

Oh fuck.

“Only nineteen out of twenty drones came back through the portal.” A crew hurried over and reported. That wasn’t helping.

“A drone flew too close and I accidentally knocked it down. It fell and crashed.” Kyan explained, as professionally as she could manage. “I didn’t know where was my arms with that stupid helmet on.”

“What!” Beryl was scandalized. “That goes against everything a Traveler stands for. You should never leave anything unnecessary behind, ever. Is this affecting the timeline?” He turned toward the analysts.

“Not much. The likelihood of the Eyaithen leaving their planet within the next five centuries is 6%,” the analyst said. “To be honest, their spacefaring technology is shaky at best, at least at this point in time. The likelihood of them discovering the drone’s real use is close to zero.”

“See, I would consider that as a success,” Kyan said. Even as she said it, she realized how much of an excuse it was. However, she was exhausted and sweaty because the suit didn’t have proper ventilation. She just wanted a shower and sleep on her day off. She was going to get a day off after all this, right?

Beryl nodded. “We achieved the goal, no matter how.” For once, he was agreeing with her.

The meeting concluded with the project manager satisfied at her answers. Kyan still had paperwork to do but that was as expected. She was at the coffee machine when her wearable beeped. It was Beryl.

“Wanna grab a drink after work?”

“Sure, why not. It’s been a long day, after all.”

*********

In a distant world where the sandstorm washed against the scorched land, fragments of celestial origin sat on a golden pedestal behind the throne. The relic was metallic in color and smooth to touch. The Shards of Divinity, it was called.

According to C.I.C.A.D.A. analysts, the cost of sending an agent to retrieve the broken drone outweighed the risk of humanity’s exposure. So, they left it like that.

It would remain there, for the entirety of the reign of King Alqovoh the Entrusted, and long after.