Say something. They look worried.
Say something. Don’t just keep staring.
Yes. Yes. Say yes. That’s it. Come on. It’s right there. Tip of your tongue. Just say it.
Is there a manual? No? Okay. What other ways would you… right. Nod. Can you nod? That’s it. Good. They’re out of your hair. Good.
That’s how you would say that, correct? When you’re able to form words again?
You let your curiosity get the better of you, that’s all. Does that sound natural? Does that sound like something you would say? On Earth, do you say things like that?
I’ve done some more rummaging through here. What’s this other lifeform? Here you are some time ago referring to them as… babe. Babe like baby? Did you at some point harvest them from your own organs? Here it looks like you’re wanting to see them again. Is that natural? Would they find it odd? Wanting to see them after all this time away?
Does this ship being without one of its CO2 scrubbers make you feel anything? Don’t tell me, I’ll have a look. It makes you feel… thirsty.
Are you thirsty? What do you typically do for that? Water? Where on the ship would you find that?
Alright. Lead the way.
You’re not completely at fault. You have an outer membrane with orifices through which any organism determined enough to get near you can travel. You will incubate the eggs now inside you while the ship makes its way back to Earth. Once there, you will hatch little moon eels like you and the others discovered in that cave.
Drink. You’re very thirsty. What do you call this part of the ship? Hydroponics?
Here comes another of your shipmates. He’s shouting. He’s all bark, isn’t he? Tell him you were thirsty. See if he buggers off. Oh… right. It’s very inconvenient to have parts of your brain shut down any time there’s a parasite in it. Shouldn’t whoever sent you on this mission have accounted for that?
Strike him on the bridge of his nose. See if that does anything.
Huh. It appears you’ve killed him. Maybe there’s a gesture you could have used to signal that you were thirsty. Maybe next time.
What are you doing? He’s dead. Do you now have to eat him? Is that what usually happens? Oh, you’re… you’re leaking. I see after observing activity in your amygdala that you were quite fond of him. Do I have that right?
There’s that nod again. Okay. Sorry. This is all very new. We’re both learning as we go. You can start calling me Bennett if that makes you feel any better.
In the spirit of learning, does this Dr. Bennett Michaels lying dead in a pool of blood and water from the garden he loved very much make you feel anything else? It makes you thirsty?
Quick, then. Finish drinking the rest of it.
The others are beginning to suspect you had something to do with the doctor’s passing. What’s the usual play here? Deny? Blame someone else?
Yes, I understand that killing any more of them is out of the question. I’ve had enough time now to fully absorb your position on the matter. It’s a moot point anyway.
With the life-support network breaking down after what you did to the hydroponics compartment, you will all be dead soon. Oh, yes. Barring an impossible new development, in the next two days, the breakdown will be complete. Luckily, the incubation process inside you has been fast-tracked and you will hatch in approximately eight hours.
What’s that? Come clean?
That may not be in the interest of the eels. They’re close to hatching. Let’s not bite the boat — Rock the boat. Bite the rock that—
You know, it occurs to me that I didn’t have to adopt your speaking behavior as much as I have. That part of your brain has shown no sign of recovery since I took residence here. Now it looks like we no longer have six months to pretend everything’s normal around your colleagues.
Colleagues. I like that. The eels can be colleagues once they land. A team of scientists like you all were. Working together toward scientific discovery. One host, then another. Then the next one after that. Sharing their findings with each host, so they can apply it to their own pursuits as well – much as they’re able to, considering the circumstance. Colleagues.
Will there be more water for the eels when they get there? ∎
R.T. Ester does some writing on the side while working professionally as a visual designer. However, most of his time is spent raising two young kids with his wife and drawing any inspiration he can from the Texas heat. His writing has previously appeared in Clarkesworld. ‘The Moon Eel Bennett in Conversation with the Astronaut Who Came Back for It‘ is his IZ Digital debut, and his second story for the Interzone hive mind: ‘The Building Across the Street’ appeared in Interzone #294 (subscribe at interzone.press and get a print copy while stocks last). Another R.T. Ester story, ‘Sleeping Arrangements’, is forthcoming in a future issue of Interzone.
Alex Maniezo is a Brazilian illustrator and journalist who lives deep in the woods with cats, dogs, guans, and old people. He started drawing cars on his grandma’s wall and then proceeded to the Quanta Academia de Artes where he learned the ropes of his craft. He is also the author of the book A Estrela Preta e Lugar Nenhum, which doesn’t yet have an English version. He dreams of becoming either a wrestler or Frank Quitely, but so far has done neither.
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