End Game: Chapter One

Alyssa

I stared at the cage surrounding me. Solid panels encased rolled steel bars. Strips of dim lights glowed along the edges of the solid panels, illuminating little, but deepening every shadow.

I could feel the cage move through the air. My stomach flopped and clenched as the cage lowered and raised, like a roller coaster. I pressed my back against the bars and sank to the floor. My eyes darted everywhere, searching for anything hidden in the shadowed corners.

Emily always enjoyed those things more than I did. The aliens are probably recording the look on my face right now, too. The roller-coaster snapshot from hell.

I drew in deep, slow breaths, just like I did in dance class. I may have grown out of the I-Want-to-be-a-Dancer phase by the third lesson, but I never forgot my breathing exercises.

Time to think, Aly. What do I know? Abducted by aliens. Beam of light…

A flash of Emily’s truck rolling, nose first, into a ditch flashed through my memory. The whole rig had gone dead before that beam of light sucked us up. A flash of Emily, telling me to put on Texas swagger, followed the first memory, as it had over and over again my entire trip in that cage.

Yes, yes, then translator implantation, and cages, and that Charlotte woman…but what she said makes no sense…intergalactic survival reality show? Shouldn’t aliens with this kind of tech have better things to do than torture other species?

I felt so alone. Trapped in this cage, I felt cut off from the world. I had always had so much space before. Were I having a bad day, I could walk through massive, ancient oaks and along the streams fed by small springs bubbling up from the aquifer.

I could visit with the animals around the ranch. I could reach out and feel them with my hands. I could feel the cool breeze on my face and I savored the memory. I held onto it, filling my mind with the sights, tastes, and sounds of home.

I tried to forget that, at that moment, when I reached out, I could feel only cold, hard steel outside of my sweetest memories.

How am I going to get out of this? Emily would know what to do. She always knows what to do. When Mom and Dad died, Emily knew what to do, even so long ago. When Grampa passed, Emily kept us going. I have to get out of here and find Emily.

I searched the shadows again. While I had yet to see anything more than my imagination resolve from the shadows, this was space. Hollywood had made it clear that anything could happen in space.

And, when I do get out of here, my brute of a partner awaits me. Who will he be? Will he even be humanoid? What if he’s one of those giant snails I saw at the intergalactic slave auction? What if he looks like a giant snot bubble? Emily probably already has a plan to kick asses all the way out of here.

I giggled despite myself, then sighed.

Why worry about it? My partner is who he is. I am who I am. We are where we are, and complaining about it will change exactly nothing. We will have to make it work, whatever that looks like for us.

For reasons I could not pinpoint, I left lighter and more hopeful.

We must be getting close. This…feels like…the end of interminable waiting…

The cage shuddered to a stop, then dropped to the ground. I quickly suspected the ground must have been uneven, because my entire cage tilted against one side. I slid down to the bottom corner, slamming my shoulder into the bars.

Pain streaked up my arm. I hissed and inspected it. Finding no blood, I appreciated the red patch beginning to form where my body had smashed into the steel. I cradled the sore arm with one hand and looked around.

The cage whirred and clicked. The solid side panels tried to fall away, but most of them got stuck around my tilted prison. The doors on the ends of the cage opened. The one trapped below my feet stuck with only a three-inch gap. The door at the top of the cage remained far out of my reach.

Great. Now I get to choose between trying to climb out on a bad arm or trying to crawl under unstable metal panels after kicking this thing loose. If I don’t break my foot in the process of kicking solid metal. Delightful.

“Hello?”

My voice rang off the mess which had been my cage, echoing within their metallic confines. Sweat stuck my shirt to my chest.

Humidity so thick, I could cut it with a knife. Speaking of knives…

I patted my pockets, identifying their familiar contents by touch. In the pockets of my jeans, I located my pocket knife, whetstone, cell phone, and a ring of keys which had seemed so vital before my abduction.

A lighter, a spare twenty-dollar bill, and a hair tie remained tucked in my bra and grandpa’s Cross pen remained clipped to the small notebook in my shirt pocket.

I rotated my shoulder, trying to start working through the soreness in my arm and tried again to get my partner’s assistance.

“Hello? Are you up there? A woman named Charlotte said I should be partnered with a br— very strong individual. Well, I’m hoping you’re out there, because I’m going to need help out of this cage, considering the way it landed…”

I heard a susurrus hiss through the leaves near the upper part of the cage. I shaded my eyes, trying to get a clear view, but no head popped over the side.

“Hello? Please tell me you’re not a large predator…”

A long, thick vine unfurled over the side of the cage, the end landing within reach. I grabbed it, wrapping it under my rear end and climbed out, feeding the vine between white-knuckled fists.

At the top of the cage, panting from the sustained effort, and struggling against the pain in my arm, I threw out a hand, desperate for help. A massive hand, metallic-skinned, like dark silver with gunmetal shadows, grabbed mine and lifted me easily out of the cage.

An intense burst of white-hot energy seared me where we touched. My lungs seized in my chest. A flood of images, information, memories, and the barest wisps of thoughts flooded into me.

I jerked my hand out of his grasp. The raging tumult of energy disappeared as if it had never been. Contact broken, I sucked in jagged breaths.

What the fuck was that?

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