This is a Little Red Riding Hood/The Erlking mashup in SPAAACE. Working on some writing prompts during my quarantine to get the writing flowing.
Arusha and the Dead Wolf by Arbor Winter Barrow
Once upon a time, in a place so far away we have yet to see it, in an age so far we have yet to reach it there lived a young girl by the name of Arusha. She lived on a small planet named Dimas on the outer edge of the Silvanys habitable zone.
“Your grandmother is feeling poorly, can you take these to her when you go to the station today?” Arusha’s mother handed over an old basket made out of reused ship wiring. In it was a bottle of caraway tonic and a handful of homemade red bean buns that her grandmother was fond of.
“I guess I can do that,” Arusha said with a smile. She hadn’t had a chance to visit her grandmother in awhile. Her grandmother Phyrra lived on the space station Oriane in orbit around the innermost planet of the Silvanys system.
“The solar winds are unusually turbulent today, go directly to your grandmother and don’t stop and explore the asteroid field.” Her mother said this in a tone that indicated that she knew her daughter would do exactly that.
“Yes, mother. I can be responsible,” Arusha said with a grin.
Arusha’s mother pursed her lips. “We’ll see about that.”
Arusha’s ship was named Old Man. He was an ancient, rickety old ship that used to haul medical supplies across the galaxy from the smallest planetary hamlets to the greatest galactic courts. Her grandmother had refurbished the old thing for her, painted it a bright crimson, and given it to her as a birthday gift on her birthday.
The AI was as warm and soothing as any medical AI should be and spoke lightly as she went through the preflight checklist.
“All systems are optimal,” Old Man said.
“Thank you, Old Man,” Arusha replied and set the coordinates for the Oriane Station.
“You are welcome, Captain.”
The proper route to Oriane from Dimas was to go over the rocky, perilous asteroid belt that divided the inner third of the solar system. Arusha preferred to go through the forest of rocks and ice, much to her mother’s dismay. It was dangerous to be sure, but Arusha had found an ironclad strength and agility in the confines of her crimson ship. However today she would resist the urge to go exploring and go over the belt like she was supposed to. It took less time to go over the belt but was relatively boring.
Everything was going as planned when a light began to flash on the viewfinder. The passive sensors had picked up an anomaly deep in the asteroid belt below her ship.
In the distance, deep in the Silvanys asteroid belt the anomaly was calling to her.
“Oh curiosity, my death will be by your hand!” Arusha said loudly. It was something her grandmother liked to say and something Arusha found herself indulging in frequently.
Wary, Arusha found a path through the colossal, icy megaliths of the belt, made sure her path was clear before turning off her active sensors and letting the Old Man drift through the jungle of rocks. Just as her target filled the viewscreen she turned her passive sensors on to see if she was close enough for it to pick up the anomaly. Something high energy was being caught by the sensor. Something that wasn’t ordinarily there. She had passed through this part of the belt multiple times without seeing anything there or having her sensors pick out anything unusual. But that meant little, asteroids collided all the time, bringing lost things to the surface, creating new obstacles. That’s why the asteroid belt was so dangerous.
On the surface of a small rocky asteroid, slowly rotating with its siblings around the sun, she saw a glint of sanguine light.
“Old Man, take us down to the surface,” Arusha said and programmed the coordinates she was seeing on her viewfinder.
“Scanning for a stable landing zone,” Old Man replied. The ship took over landing and set itself down on a spot that was not as obnoxiously rocky.
Arusha put on her EVA suit, the color of which matched her ship, and was another gift from her grandmother.
The glint of light was a small object wrapped in the refuse and cabling of an ancient wreckage. It appeared the wreckage had been picked over by a multitude of scavengers as there was little left of the original ship. It had probably been here as long as humans had been flying around the Silvanys system. How the thing reflecting light had been here for that long was not only suspicious, but also very intriguing.
She picked her way over the wreckage compacted into the surface of the asteroid until she found the source of the glinting light. Encased in tendrils of ancient cables and wires was a metallic red bow. The kind of bow that hunters of old and archery enthusiasts of now used.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw something briefly obscure the blanket of stars. At first she thought it was an asteroid just passing through the periphery, but when she saw it pass by again in the opposite direction she knew it was nothing natural out there.
“Old Man,” Arusha said into her helmet comm. “Perform an active sensor sweep. I see something out there.”
“Sensors are not picking anything up, Captain.” Returned the voice of the Old Man.
Arusha knew she wasn’t going crazy, but how could the sensors not pick up something so massive out there. Whatever the object out there, it was darker than the space between the stars and none of the light of the Silvanys glinted off it.
“Boost the sensors to maximum and try again,” Arusha said loudly. She grabbed the bow and yanked at it. It broke free of the confines. The explosion of momentum sent debris blossoming around her. Arusha darted back towards her ship and used the zero g to leap over bits of wreckage and rocky outcrops. She nearly flew into her ship and closed the gangway behind her.
“Oh, little ship, where do you go in such a hurry?” The voice crackled over the comm. The dark, oblique shape began to fill the viewfinder. As it approached she began to see the features of the ship approaching. As if the dark were a cascading veil it passed through the shadow of an asteroid and emerged into the light of the Silvanys sunlight.The ship approaching was shaped like a canine skull with sharp teeth.
Arusha didn’t respond to the voice on the comm.
“Old Man, where is that transmission coming from?”
“The ship is receiving no transmissions.”
“How? Then what am I hearing?”
“The ship is receiving no transmissions,” Old Man repeated.
“Who are you?” Arusha asked as she began plotting the exit from the asteroid belt.
“Atheer of the Dead Wolf. You found something down there, did you not? I seek it, I need it, I wish to possess it.”
The maw of the skull began to open as if to consume her tiny ship.Bone white, it grinned, inviting something other than friendliness but the darkness in the maw, it was the darkness from which light could not escape.
“Dance with me, little child. Sing with me among the glades of the nebula. Drink of my treasures and my bounty so that it may be yours,” the comm crackled as the voice continued. The ship, shaped like a canine skull, was drawing nearer as if to consume her small ship.
“I can’t. My grandmother is ill. I must take these ingredients to my grandmother so she can be well,” Arusha lied.
“A medicine? Oh, sweet child of the summer and light, come with me and I shall ease your suffering and that of your grandmother.”
“I’m afraid I cannot, sir. I must go to my grandmother.”
The comm hissed and Arusha wasn’t sure if it was feedback or the great creature vocalizing his displeasure. The comm went silent. Arusha watched out the viewfinder as the gnarled ship ceased its pursuit and fell away. It couldn’t have been that easy, could it?
Arusha breathed in, not realized she held it, and looked down at the bow, emblazoned with golden runes from some long forgotten language. It was a beautiful thing, and as she ran a fingertip across the lettering she could feel the visceral hum of power within.
“Old Man, do you recognize the symbols on this bow?”
Arusha held the bow up to the internal sensor apparatus.
“The symbols appear to be some form of Artemisian, however I cannot find a coherent translation for the forms on this object.”
– – – – – –
Atheer and the Dead Wolf, slipped through the asteroid belt like a shadow in the night. The ship had no active weapons, but instead took what was forgotten, what was left behind, and when other people were involved lured them into the maw of his ship.
His ship was large and ungainly. It approached the slowly rotating space station and opened the maw.
He had copied the transponder signature of the little red ship and broadcasted that to the station. The protective forceshield around the station fell to allow the ship inside. “Starship Old Man, you have been cleared to land on platform nine.” The person behind the voice was bored and uncaring. Where those that lived with apathy lived that was where Atheer grew strongest. The Dead Wolf was much larger than the station Oriane and its entire maw would encapsulate the unfortunate station. Lying in wait, with a mirage to obscure his true nature, Atheer would acquire his prize one way or another.
– – – – –
Arusha watched out the viewfinder as they escaped the gravitational pull of the asteroids and flew towards the station Oriane. It wasn’t much further but just enough time for Arusha to study the ancient bow. She’d never used a bow before but the appearance of the object was as good an excuse as any to start to learn.
But first she would have to get to the Oriane which was only thirty minutes away. The Oriane orbited closer to the sun than her planet Dimas, so as they approached the bright light of the star obscured the station from being seen on the viewfinder. On the sensors the station appeared as a nondescript artificial satellite blip on an otherwise ordinary solar system map.
As the Old Man approached the Oriane, Arusha noticed something strange. It appeared to be three times as large as it was supposed to be. It was the same color, the same basic shapes, but the edges were strange and wavered like heat waves rising on a paved road.
“Starship Old Man, you have been cleared to land on platform nine.” The voice of the platform controller said over the comm. He didn’t sound normal. Was there a new platform controller?
“Orinane, have you done upgrades? Your port windows are larger.”
There was a distinct pause over the receiver and the voice that returned sounded even more familiar. “We have done a great deal of upgrades since the last time you were here.”
“But yesterday I was here, your size and shape has changed so much.”
“We had quick builders here to retrofit just this morning.”
The voice was soothing, and for some reason began to sound like Arusha’s grandmother.
The Old Man started it’s landing procedures and Arusha shuddered. It must have been a trick of the light. Platform nine was directly in the sunlight, so the strange feeling that she had just fallen into shadow made Arusha pause.
Something was not right. The ship docked on the platform and the forcefield bubble encapsulated the tiny ship.
Arusha donned her crimson spacesuit, helmet and breather in place, grabbed the basket of red bean buns and as an afterthought, grabbed the red bow and shoved it into the basket as far as it would go.
She stepped out onto the platform and looked up at the spread of stars above the platform. They flickered oddly. Even though the platform bubble was filling with air Arusha kept her suit and breather on. She didn’t trust this, whatever it was that she was entering, even though she had been here many times before.
All it took was one step into the station thoroughfare for Arusha to realize she had walked into something dangerous. She started to turn around to head back to Old Man but the airlock sealed behind her and she couldn’t get it to open.
She pressed her back to the airlock and stared down into the hall.
The further into the hall she looked the deeper the darkness permeated everything. The darkness was not just shadow, or mist, it appeared to be alive. Reaching through every crevasse of the floors and walls, seeping between the cracks and grasping with tiny tendrils at Arusha’s heels.
It was then that she saw the bodies.
Everyone was dead. The dark miasma had killed everything in the station.
Arusha clutched the basket to her chest and then ran into the darkness in the general direction of her grandmother’s rooms. The halls were a confusing maze, making less sense with every turn. She should have been at her grandmother’s rooms by now.
The darkness reached out to her. The only weapon she had was the bow even though she had no arrows. With the end of the bow in hand she swiped at the shadows and upon contact they shriveled and seared as if burned by the sun. The shadows were literally obliterated by the energy of the bow.
The object had some kind of power.
“Arusha, Arusha…” a tired, old voice called out to her from the darkness. Arusha’s exterior sensors heard it and filtered it into her helmet comm. Arusha approached the voice and there laid out on the ground was her grandmother. The darkness was consuming her.
“Grandmother!” Arusha fell to her knees in front of her grandmother.
Her grandmother could not speak and faded from life right there in front of her.
“Give it to me, little one, and you shall not suffer as your grandmother did.” A sinister voice crackled over the helmet comm.
“Who are you?”
“You know me child. I am Atheer. You have taken what I claim.”
Arusha held the bow up, unsure where Atheer was looking down on her from.
“Claim? How can you claim this?” Arusha ran through the station swiping at the darkness that reached for her.
She ran until she found herself at an embankment of escape pods. Atheer appeared in front of her and reached out for her.
“Give it to me.” He was tall, seemingly taller even than the ceiling itself, creating a euclidean illusion of a towering monolith. He had no visible face, but instead wore a canine skull. The empty sockets were pools of darkness that seemed to lure her in. “Dance with me, little child. Sing with me among the glades of the nebula. Drink of my treasures and my bounty so that it may be yours,”
“If you want to have it then take it!” She yelled, ignoring the honey he dripped in her ears.
Atheer the Dead Wolf snarled.
“You can’t take it can you!” Arusha yelled into the darkness. “You can’t take it unless I offer it to you!”
She ran towards him and used the bow like a spear plunging it into the center of Atheer’s chest and dove through the ring of fire that erupted around it. She fell into the nearest escape pod and hit the eject button.
The pod erupted from the bowels of the Dead Wolf. A bright red and orange flare exploded from the front of the Dead Wolf sending debris in all directions.
The escape pod drifted through the debris and Arusha gripped the bow tightly like it was the only thing keeping her tied to the universe.
The light of the sun flashed through the small escape pod window as the pod rotated in circles. Arusha tapped the helmet comm to connect to Old Man.
“Old Man, are you receiving?”
“Lock onto my signal. It’s time to go home.”
Once upon a time, in a place so far away we have yet to see it, in an age so far we have yet to reach it, there lived a young woman by the name of Arusha. Arusha now held an object of power.