‘Tis Charity to Show
The first thing Rand saw when she opened her eyes was the light.
The amber light of Tijus; soothing like the embers of a dying fire that flickers coyly in the dry, gray ashes.
Only there was nothing soothing about the light this time.
The translucent amber was replaced by a stark, jaundice yellow that hung thick in the air. This light didn’t ebb, glow and diffuse like rays coming from a rising or setting sun, but bobbed and congealed like crude coating an ocean after a disastrous oil spill.
Rand’s body was leaden, and her brain was thick with grogginess. She lied there on her stomach, helpless, like a beached whale. She shut her eyes, not wanting to look at the creeping yellow mass surrounding her now. But it was no use. She could feel it prickle and slither on her skin, her epidermal hairs pulling up as the oily, wriggling sensation coursed damp iciness down her pores. She wanted it to stop.
God, make it stop!
She wanted to shake that feeling off of her and she wanted to get up. The heaviness of her body, and her nose and mouth being so close to the floor, made her feel like she was suffocating, especially with the dust particles whisking beneath her, stinging the corner of her eye and singeing her nostrils.
She had to get up.
She had to try.
Rand opened her eyes and brought her hands to either side of her, shoulder level. She counted to ten, and took a long, deep, shuttering breath, fighting the impulse to cough against the dust particles that entered her throat. She pushed herself up, but her arms felt hollow, insubstantial, and she fell to the floor like a newborn chick, frail and wet out of its shell. The wind was knocked out of her when her stomach hit the ground, making her gasp violently.
Rand let herself lie there, so she could build her reserve, until she felt ready to go for another try.
When she felt ready, Rand drew her lips together with determination, counted to twenty, and made another attempt, she arms shaking just like before, and giving way beneath her again.
Rand’s body was racking in angry sobs, her tears running from the bridge of her nose, clouding her eyes, and puddling under her cheek and mouth.
“I refuse to stay down here like a useless jerk,” she said to herself.
She bit her lower lip and breathed rapidly through her nostrils, in and out, in and out, forty times. When she reached forty breaths, she pushed herself up, working past the tingling numbness, the shakiness, until she was high enough off the ground to sit her buttocks onto her heels.
The sensation of sitting on numb, folded legs was too much, so Rand leaned to the side and brought both hands there, hoisting her back so she could bring both legs out from under her in one heave. When she propped her butt on the floor, Rand sighed and laughed in sheer relief as she wiped the tears from her eyes. She didn’t bother to move from where she was; she just sat there and allowed the blood to course her body, to revive her circulation. Then, while she was waiting to get her strength back, Rand looked around the room.
Scotty, Begay, Rose, Riley, and Spock were sprawled, unconscious, on the floor, scattered about like birds dead from and airborne plague. They were pale, thin, their skin was almost transparent, their veins unnaturally visible from where she sat. Rand looked at her own hands and could see the tracks of blue, and how the white of her skin was washed in the sickly yellow of the light. She was shaken, and knew that time was running out for them, that whatever it was that was feeding off of them was quickening its pace now. Rand watched the light ooze between her fingers, and then she knew.
It was the light—it had to be!
It had to be some sort of entity, some kind of autonomous life force, and not mere sunrays coming from windows.
Especially since there were no windows anywhere in the meeting room.
Rand frantically looked around the room, to see if any of the others were coming to. She spotted Riley sprawled out on the floor, right next to Spock, and crawled to him. When she reached him, she knelt over his body to look at the damage to his face, and damaged it was. Rand winced as she sat there, looking at what Spock’s rage had done. Riley’s nose was like a pat of butter that had been smeared flat by a table knife, and a dark red gelatinous substance was caking from under his nose and spilling over his mouth, chin, and to the bottom halves of his cheeks. His purple-stained lips ballooned out in distorted, fattened grooves like the bottom of a beefsteak tomato.
“Goddamn it, Spock…”
Rand spotted bloody white pieces piled like dominoes in Riley’s mouth, and knew immediately that they were his teeth. With what little strength she had, she turned Riley over to his side, facing her, so that his mouth was close to the floor. She gingerly, delicately, reached down with her fingers into his mouth and pulled out whatever loose teeth she was able to fish out and place on the floor. She did what she could to try to keep his mouth open, since he clearly would not be able to breath through his nose, but she knew that Riley needed immediate medical attention that she wasn’t able to give. She would have to try to rouse Dr. Begay.
Rand scooted over to the doctor, who was, thankfully, showing signs of movement.
“Mathias. Mathias,” she called softly, shaking him gently by his shoulders.
Begay’s eyelids fluttered as he turned his head to the side and cursed under his breath.
“Welcome back,” said Rand dryly.
“I am so done with this fucking mission,” Begay said wearily.
He brought his arm over his eyes and sighed, exhausted and disgusted, but then lifted his elbow up from his eyes and stared at it for a minute. By the expression on his face, Rand guessed that he was trying to put two and two together on something. Putting his arm down, he looked up at the ceiling, and then all around him.
“What is all this? It’s like some kind of phantasm!”
“Yeah, I know. It’s all over. I think it may have something to do with all the strange things that have been happening to the crew. That’s why we need to act fast. Riley’s pretty banged up and needs attention. Are you able to get up?”
Dr. Begay nodded weakly.
“Yeah, just help me up. I’ll be all right.”
“It may be slow going, but let’s do this!”
Rand, by now, had regained most of her strength. She stood up slowly, and extended her arms to Begay. He reached out with his arms and grabbed her hands as firmly as he could.
She helped hoist him up, working their way from a sitting position, until Dr. Begay was able to stand wobbly on his feet. Swaying a bit, he placed his hands on his temples and rubbed them.
“Can you make it?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry. I’m good. Where’s Riley?”
They stepped over to Riley, who was still mercifully unconscious. Begay’s eyes swept over the young lieutenant’s face and let out a whistle.
“God! I don’t know why I’m so surprised, given Mr. Spock’s strength. I’ll do what I can, but if I’m to rebuild his face I’ll need the resources we have on The Enterprise! Watch Riley while I go to the medical room. I can, at least, prop his face up, or something.”
Begay turned and left the room, looking up at the coagulating light as he walked out into the hall, his steps picking up pace.
Rand knelt down, positioning herself next to Riley. She watched his stomach rise and fall, and hoped that he was unaware enough not to feel any discomfort.
The yellow light was all around her, Riley, and the others, and she found herself getting a bit jumpy, especially when tiny, pattering sensations started to build steadily over her exposed skin, like a filmy drizzle.
Rand brushed her hands violently over the back of her neck, cheeks and palms. She shot a glance at the door where Begay had left, and could see that the light in the hall was getting even yellower, almost fluorescent, and it was rushing down the corridor like a river.
The sound came from the same direction where the light was headed.
Rand knew that it couldn’t be Mathias making that noise, because opening and closing cabinets and draws, and manipulating medical equipment, didn’t sound like that. It sounded more like a body being slammed against a door, or a wall.
Maybe it was Mathias. Maybe he was in trouble.
Rand looked at Riley one more time, before getting up and heading to the door. The light in the hall had a current to it she could feel, a kind of brushing that replaced the unbearable pattering from moments before.
Though she called his name, Rand didn’t make the turn to where the medical lab was, but kept on to where this moving light was guiding her.
The door at the very end of the hall was surrounded by swirling thick globs of angry, sharp patterns shaded jaundiced yellow, covered in tiny white specks resembling swarming gnats. These rays widened and retracted around the door like a venus flytrap, causing the door to scrape against it’s own frame in staccato jolts and twists.
When Rand stood directly in front of the door, she hesitated. She knew that whatever was responsible for the strange happenings that plagued the crew was behind that door, and if this mission was going to wrap up, she would have to get past her trepidation and see what was outside.
Rand took a couple of steps forward, turned the knob, pulled the door open, and stepped outside.
The desert landscape was consumed in this heaving, whirlpool of deformed light. It bubbled upward, sputtering and oozing out of a humungous canyon carved out of the dune wasteland. Monstrous, jagged incisors piled up in rows that reached deep into this grainy pit, jerking and gasping in thunderous, savage throws. Rand stood by the door, too paralyzed by fear to move or scream as the creature revealed itself.
A humid wave carrying a foul stench hit her with a force that rocked her on her heels, making her stumble, though she didn’t fall. The moist air seeped into her nostrils and throat, nearly choking her. Rand couldn’t quite make out what the odor was; rotting meat, vinegar, feces, ammonia, gangrene, all she knew was that, whatever it was, made her think of decline, a turning, a passing from one form into another.
The smell made her think of death.
Rand frantically pressed her hand against her nose and mouth and fought the urge to vomit.
And then, she saw it.
She saw where the smell was coming from.
The teeth of the pit rose up in unison and started to quake, the debris from the desert rising up like a swelling tide, items that were swallowed up and consumed from the planet’s landscape throughout the years. Rocks, clumped sand, trees and scrubs broken in bits, small semi-decomposed reptilian life forms, and human skeletons were pushed up to the surface.
Rand looked closer, horrified but transfixed to the ghastly spectacle that was playing before her eyes. On these human skeletons were shreds of fabric, much of the colors faded almost completely. But, there was one skeleton with the remains of what looked like the breast of a pullover. The glint from the left corner was the silver insignia of the Federation.
A tear fell silently from Rand’s eye, and her body trembled uncontrollably. She opened her mouth to scream, but the only sound that came out was something weak and stunted. Rand backed away slowly, feeling her way behind to the open door.
Rand’s mind reeled with the knowledge that, now, she had her answer, her answer as to the fate of Dr. Adrienne Ellis’ expedition party.
Right there in front of her.
And that thing was working on her landing party. The mad behavior, the wasting away of the bodies. They were prey being primed for the predator, primed for consumption. To be swallowed up and disappeared into this remote, barren, lonely place.
Rand slammed the door behind her, and propped her body up against it. She felt the door rattle vehemently on her back, and knew that she wouldn’t be able to contain that massive thing, that thing that was hunting them now.
Rand bounded down the corridor, the light swarming all around her, getting even harsher, sharper. She thought she could feel her heart pounding in her throat, beads of sweat pouring down her forehead, nearly blinding her as the salty drops slid into her eyes. When she reached the meeting room, Dr. Begay was kneeling over Riley’s head, gently sweeping a suctioning device over the facial damage in order to clean and sterilize.
“Mathias! I sure hope you’re working as fast as you can, ‘cause we’ve got to get him ready and rouse the others!! Now!!”
“Janice, what’s wrong?! It sounded like some kind of sand storm!” said Begay, looking up briefly from his work.
One really had to admire such concentration and dedication, even in a situation of such impending doom.
“I sure as hell wish that’s all it was!!”
“This crazy light’s turning so bright it’s actually making it hard for me to work, almost like being under one of those searchlights!”
The light was strobing like an arrhythmic heart beat. Globs collided against each other while turning to a fluorescent, piercing glare that engulfed the whole area.
Then, the light and the rattling noise from the door stopped.
Rand took a deep, ragged breath and wiped her eyes.
“What was that light, Janice?” asked Begay.
He looked at her with wariness, as if not wanting to hear her answer, but knowing that he had to.
“That light is the reason why the Ellis expedition disappeared,” she said with grim certainty.
“I was afraid of that. May I ask how?”
“While you were gathering your supplies, I followed the light that was going down the hall to the door that led outside. When I opened the door…I found the source of the light.”
Rand shook her head. “I can’t really describe it. It looked like a large crater of incisor teeth! It didn’t have a body, unless you count the desert floor as its body! The light was coming from there…well, it seemed to be bubbling out like lava…it was almost like the light would guide you to those jaws of death…”
“Oh, my God…”
“Remember when we were talking about the behavior of the crew with Mr. Spock? These distractions seem to be things in our past that we never really resolved! They hold us, they bind us, and then lure us with the light!”
Rand took a beat before continuing. “I think that thing feeds on us before the actual kill,” she said quietly. “We’re weak, pale, yet we always have our regular meals.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “I didn’t bargain to die like this, did you?”
Begay snorted. “Everything you say adds up. All these obsessions, like Riley’s obstacle courses to try to get back at a gym teacher who screwed his GPA, my memories, Scotty’s childhood stuttering, Rose’s bottomless pit of a stomach…”
He stopped himself in midsentence and chuckled mirthlessly. “Bottomless pit, I can’t believe I just said that.”
Rand smiled sadly at the unintended pun. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. How’s Riley doing?”
“He needs surgery, that’s for sure! I was prepping him in the hope that we’d be able to get back to the ship!”
Dr. Begay looked at Rand with steely determination just then. “I really don’t care what it takes. We have to get back to the Enterprise!”
Rand brightened up a bit. “Hey, this is me, remember? I’ve already been converted! I’ll try to get the others up while you continue your work on Riley! I know I’ve said this many times, but let’s do this!”
Rand gave Begay a forced smile and the thumbs up sign, and hoped to God that it wouldn’t take too long to resuscitate the rest of the crew.