By Rachel Hylan

Jemma’s heart was pounding. What had possessed her to climb on that spaceship with Eion in the first place was beyond her. Actually, it wasn’t really beyond her per se. It may, or may not, have something to do with his charismatic nature and deep blue eyes…

“We’ll get him back,” Natalia whispered from behind Jemma, a plasma blaster in her hand. Natalia’s girlfriend, Imani, followed closely behind, also equipped with a plasma blaster.

“We don’t even know what we’re facing,” Jemma insisted. Her heart continued to hammer, especially as she realized the only weapon she had at her disposal was the dagger Eion had asked her to hold on to while he went to “scope the area.” 

That had been nearly twelve hours ago.

This wasn’t meant to be an overly hard mission. The Diplomatic Intergalactic Federation of Peace and Prosperity (D.I.F.P.P.) had sent a small team to meet with the inhabitants of a planet known as Planet 27 Elm r. The Federation had attempted to make contact with Planet 27 Elm r, but it didn’t appear to have advanced enough technology to allow contact to be made. So, the D.I.F.P.P. sent in a strike team.

Natalia Rodriguez, Imani Thomas, and Eion Radcliffe were part of a Special Forces Unit within D.I.F.P.P., all experienced in the various fields of combat and intergalactic travel. Jemma MacQuoid, in comparison, was far from experienced. Jemma was a computer programmer for the D.I.F.P.P., fluent in thousands of coding languages but inexperienced in the field.

Nevertheless, with a little urging on Eion’s part, Jemma found herself on this mission.

Jemma and Eion had known each other since they were teenagers, having gone to the D.I.F.P.P.’s University together. Eion, despite being a field agent, was a masterful computer engineer, hence the reason the two knew each other.

Now, Jemma found herself treading carefully on an unknown exoplanet located in the far reaches of space. The brilliant purple sky was slightly hazed due to the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air. The ground was pillowy, and Jemma’s feet sunk slightly into it as she walked forward. Tall, towering, plantlike figures surrounded the three women. Despite their plantlike appearance, the figures were bare of life of any sort.

“We’re facing the unknown,” Imani responded, snapping Jemma’s attention back to the task at hand. “That’s what we signed up for.”

Jemma didn’t dare retort that she’d signed up for nothing of the sort. She was slightly afraid of Imani. It wasn’t that Imani was mean, but the fact that Imani was so stoic around allies and aggressive around enemies. Natalia, in comparison, was a formidable opponent in a fight, but she was a friendly person off of the battlefield. Both Natalia and Imani had been in Jemma’s class at the University, hence the reason she was familiar with their fighting skills.

Jemma’s DN-Arm Band buzzed, causing Jemma’s hazel eyes to fall down to her wrist. Like most humans, Jemma disapproved of the required wristbands all humans had to wear. It allowed the D.I.F.P.P. to monitor one’s activity, disguised under numerous health benefits. Despite Jemma’s programming skills, the DN-Arm Bands were impossible to hack into.

“Can’t you shut that thing off?” Imani grumbled.

“No!” Jemma protested. “Knowing my heart rate is very important!”

“I’m sure it is,” Natalia replied gently. “But in a battle, your heart rate will always be spiking. So, these kinds of notifications will get you killed.”

Sighing, Jemma pressed the silver top of the DN-Arm Band to shut off the notifications. She winced slightly as the needles from the armband that pierced her wrist sunk deeper into her flesh. Yet another downfall of the D.I.F.P.P.’s favorite piece of technology. 

Screaming filled Jemma’s ears, causing her heart rate to spike once again. Had she left her notifications on, her DN-Arm Band would have been beeping uncontrollably. 

“Is that–?” Jemma didn’t dare finish her question. She feared the answer more than anything.

“Stay behind us,” Imani ordered, gesturing for her and Natalia to take the lead. Jemma allowed them to switch positions; she had no desire to meet whatever hellish beasts resided on this planet, essentially unarmed.

Imani and Natalia paused behind a large boulder, their backs to the gray stone and their plasma guns at the ready. Jemma hurried to join them, willing her uncoordinated legs not to trip over the pillowy ground. 

“There’s one major downfall to this planet,” Natalia whispered.

“Oh, there’s just one you can think of?” Imani retorted. 

“We can’t hear footsteps,” Natalia continued, seemingly uncaring of her girlfriend’s interruption. 

“That’s not good!” Jemma exclaimed.

“No, it’s not,” Natalia agreed.

“You know what else isn’t ‘good?’” Imani asked. “Bringing a computer programmer with no field experience into the field!”

“Eion wanted her to come,” Natalia reminded Imani. 

“Yeah, well, Eion isn’t here, is he?” Imani challenged. “We could have left her on the ship!”

“I’m right here!” Jemma reminded her comrades. “As long as Eion’s missing, we have to work together!”

“Eion’s missing?” Jemma’s heart raced at the sound of the voice that had spoken, but not because the voice frightened her. Her heart was pounding for another reason entirely. 

“That’s funny,” the voice continued. “Because last I checked, I’m right here.”

“Eion!” Jemma exclaimed, running over to where Eion stood. If the ground weren’t so pillowy or Jemma so uncoordinated, the running would have looked less like tripping. Nevertheless, Jemma made it to Eion and threw her arms around his neck.

“Hey, Jemma,” Eion whispered into her ear, hugging her in return.

“Where the hell have you been?” Imani demanded as Jemma and Eion ended their embrace. 

“Exploring,” Eion responded, grinning. 

“We thought an alien had taken you,” Natalia admitted, walking over to greet Eion. Imani followed but showed no desire to greet Eion. 

“I’m still here,” Eion replied. “It took me forever because there are little to no unique landmarks on this planet! There are boulders and dead plants! That’s it!”

“Why didn’t you use your DN-Armband to send out a distress call?” Imani questioned.

“Because I was never in distress,” Eion’s grin remained plastered on his face. It was yet another trait Eion possessed that made Jemma’s heart speed up whenever she was around him.

“That’s a relief,” Natalia sighed. “Now, let’s get back to the ship.”

“If you can find it,” Eion shrugged. “Like I said, that task is easier said than done.”

“We’ll do it,” Imani informed Eion. “Unlike you, we’re competent.”

“Last I checked, I was the one leading this mission,” Eion cheerfully reminded Imani. 

“Last I checked, we didn’t get lost on the exoplanet,” Imani shot back. “You did.”

“Did you at least learn anything about any possible alien life?” Natalia asked. 

“Nope,” Eion replied. “I found no trace of any sort of alien life whatsoever.”

A slight hissing sound caused Jemma to turn around, tuning out Eion, Imani, and Natalia’s discussion. Jemma found herself facing a swirling ball of black and purple. The ball was floating four feet in the air and rising until it was at Jemma’s eye level. 

Jemma opened her mouth to speak but found her throat was dry. Fear spiked within her as the ball expanded toward the ground. Slowly, the black and purple mist morphed into a slime-like substance resembling a human figure.

“Guys?” Jemma called out, her voice barely audible due to the fear rising within her. There was a reason she chose to have a profession that kept her extremely far away from dangerous situations; she was no good in the face of fear.

The slime-like substance began to melt away toward the ground, leaving a humanoid figure in its place. The humanoid shape had wavy reddish-blonde hair that fell slightly past her shoulders. Freckles dotted her pale skin, particularly evident over the brim of her nose. A gray sweater fell past her waist, and its open front exposed the pine green shirt worn underneath. Blue jeans, an old style that somehow had survived for over 175 years, covered her legs, tucked over her black heel boots.

All of the humanoid’s clothes were ripped in various places, looking as though they’d gone through a shredder. The humanoid’s eyes were wide and a dark black color, no white coloration visible at all. 

Jemma found herself looking at a distorted version of herself. The humanoid was wearing all of the same clothes as her; only the humanoid’s clothes looked as though they had been through a war. 

“Guys!” Jemma called again; this time, her voice was slightly louder. Jemma’s hazel eyes were glued to this distorted version of herself and she felt extremely dizzy and light-headed. If her heart could pound out of her chest, it would have done so already.

Thankfully, Eion had heard her the second time around. 

“Jemma,” Eion began. Jemma assumed he was walking closer to where she stood, but she didn’t dare move. Even if she wanted to move, she was paralyzed with fear, so it was hardly an option.

“Jemma, step away from it,” Eion urged Jemma. Jemma heard Eion’s words but she couldn’t act on them. She was terrified of the humanoid in front of her. Actually, it was something greater than fear, an emotion that Jemma couldn’t quite describe. 

Jemma’s vocal cords, and body in general, refused to move. The fear growing inside of her was too great. 

“She’s afraid,” the humanoid cooed. The humanoid, much to Jemma’s dismay, sounded exactly like her voice. It was all becoming too much.

“Shoot it,” Eion ordered.

Natalia and Imani obediently obeyed, shooting the humanoid repeatedly with their plasma guns. The humanoid seemed unaffected, remaining completely still as the blasts hit her. 

“Eoin,” Natalia’s voice was filled with fear. Jemma still paralyzed with fear, couldn’t turn to see what had made Natalia so afraid.

Thankfully, Imani stated the problem that had arisen.

“We’re surrounded by these shadowy blob things,” Imani informed Eion.

“Do you think they’re the true inhabitants of this planet?” Eion asked.

“Perhaps,” Natalia responded. “Maybe that’s what the zombie Jemma used to look like.”

“In that case, hit the distress beacon,” Eion commanded. “Sooner or later, we’ll end up paralyzed with fear like Jemma.”

“These are aliens that feed off of fear,” Imani stated. “Wonderful.” The sarcasm dripping from her words was blatantly obvious. 

“The distress call has been received,” Natalia said. Jemma assumed that she was reading off of her DN-Armband but she didn’t really know. All she knew was that she was deathly afraid of the humanoid figure in front of her.

“Good,” Eion responded. “I’m so sorry, Jemma,” Eion dropped his voice to a whisper, his words obviously for Jemma’s ears only. “I shouldn’t have asked you to come.”

Jemma wanted to respond; she really did. But alas, it wasn’t an option in her fear provoked paralyzed state. 

Jemma wasn’t sure how much time had passed before she heard the whirring of a spaceship’s engine. Eion, Imani, and Natalia had all fallen silent, causing Jemma to assume they were in a similar, fear-provoked paralyzed state.

Jemma found herself praying that the reinforcements D.I.F.P.P. had sent would be able to defeat these seemingly undefeatable, fear-craving aliens. 

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