“We’re going down!”
The world spun around them, clouds flying past faster and faster as the helicap flew into an uncontrolled dive. Telence screamed as the G forces pushed her into her seat, and her eyeballs into the back of her skull. She kept pulling the joystick upwards, trying to force her little bundle of burning metal towards the sky again.
It didn’t work.
“We have to eject,” Hector said, pulling on his lever. It was a fool’s errand, they both knew it. This wasn’t a random accident, it was an attack. An EMP to be precise, which would knock out their systems for 5 minutes.
And the ejector seats needed electricity to work.
“Come on!” Hector said, pushing the eject button furiously. Telence reached over to her own, fighting the strain on her muscles as she reached over to her own.
Maybe, just maybe, she thought.
She pressed the red button.
“Mercy on us,” Hector said, looking over at Telence. He reached out and grabbed her hand.
The helicap plunged down into the forest below. They wouldn’t be found down there, if they crashed. This was uncharted territory, uncharted enemy territory they were tumbling towards to.
They smashed through the top of the rainfall canopy. Now the tumbling clouds in the sky were blocked out by bits of tree, slapping into the windscreen, cracking the already fragile glass.
“We’re gonna-” Hector screamed, before being silenced by a piece of wood spearing through the glass and into his chest.
Telence screamed, ignoring the blood that splattered across her visor. She held Hector’s hand, staring at her companion, hoping that he would survive-
He looked at her, he gave her that look he always did when they did these damn missions. That this was it.
The final one.
“NO!” Telence screamed as Hector’s eyes glazed over.
The helicap was flung backwards, pointing the nose towards the sky. Telence could see the tinge of yellow, the few clouds that hung above. That was where her freedom lay – up there, not down here.
Down here was certain death.
The helicap plunged, screeching through the vines and branches, taking down with it huge chunks of the canopy as it did so. Metal screeched as it was ripped from the body of the jet, throwing the remaining part of the cockpit from left to right.
You’ve trained for this, Telence said to herself as she felt the panic set in. She tried to ignore the blood on her visor, the smack of her head as they fell another ten meters through the trees, plummeting towards the ground. The hazard wardings were screaming on the dials in front of her, even the reserve shields were suffering from the buffering.
The helicap turned again, giving Telence a short glimpse of the floor coming up to meet her.
May the Gods protect me, she thought. Maybe Julpe would be kind on her today, maybe-
The shock rocked through Telence’s body as the helicap slapped into the side of the ground, the fall barely broken by the twisting vines that had wrapped around it as it had fallen. Branches smacked into the top of the helicap’s battered bodywork, making Telence jump with the noise.
There was no training that could prepare her for this.
“Hector,” Telence said, turning slightly towards Hector. His head was thrown at an odd angle, his hands twisted from the impact. She could see the white bone poking through his kneecaps-
Don’t look, she turned away, trying to keep herself in control. She had to survive this, if anything for Hector. They knew the odds when they had flown in here, they knew what might happen.
No one had ever come back alive from a Ulman attack.
Might as well make it a first, Telence thought. Pain was shooting through her right arm, from the way it was pointing Telence was pretty sure it was broken. She could still feel her feet, cushioned by the shock absorbers on the pilot’s seat that was commonly used for absorbing pulsar shocks in space.
If she could walk, then she could find shelter. If she could find shelter, she could make her way out of this god forsaken hell hole.
Telence looked out of the cockpit window, or what remained of it. It was dark down here, the light barely penetrating the thick canopy of trees and plants above. It was a wilderness, untouched by any roads or man-made creation. A place that had completely been taken over by nature, and a place where the alien life form had evolved to be far stronger than anything that humanity could have considered-
A flash of light caught Telence’s eye. She froze, hand sitting over her release buckle, as a flashing light pieced the darkness, illuminating the hanging moss and thick trees that took up every inch of floor space.
Telence swallowed. That could only be one thing.
An Ulman itself.
The light grew steadily brighter as it came closer. Telence fought to try and keep herself calm, as she slowly clicked her buckle loose on her seat. The webbing strap fell heavy on her broken arm, making her wince.
The light stopped flashing.
“Julpe’s staff,” she swore as she fought to get the webbing strap over her broken arm. She winced as she fought to move her arm carefully, trying not to make the injury worse.
All the while, the Ulman floated closer.
She could see it now, the outline of the creature. It looked like a jellyfish, floating above the ground with it’s long tendrils drifting behind it. The trees parted as it passed, as if they knew what they were dealing with. Or maybe there was another symbiotic relationship that humanity had not discovered yet.
In any event, Telence was going to visit Julpe himself if she didn’t get out of the seat.
She wriggled her arm free, groaning as her hand caught in the elasticated webbing. The Ulman paused, a tendril drifting upwards, sensing Telence’s movement.
They might be blind, but they had senses far more powerful than any of the equipment on board of the helicap. Even their flimsy looking jelly like structure could withstand the strongest pulsar beam that Telence had on board.
She fought her hand free, pulling herself around the cockpit and into the remains of the helicap. She ignored Hector’s corpse. If she looked at it, she might stop moving, and that would mean she would be found by the Ulman-
Telence squeezed herself between the wreckage, cradling her arm as she did so. The whole internal carriage was wrecked in the crash, but it might be enough to survive in.
If she was still alive in ten minutes.
Telence glanced behind her, at the Ulman floating towards her. It had gone back to pulsating light, and now it was closer Telence could see the subtle shift in colours on the surface of it’s bulbous head. It was entrancing, beautiful-
Hide, she thought, her training coming back to her. That was all you could do if you met an Ulman, you couldn’t fight, you couldn’t run, you could only hide.
Telence threw herself behind the bend medicine cabinet. The whole structure had buckled under the weight of the crash, the hazard warning lights were flashing and liquid was oozing out of it.
I have no other choice, Telence thought.
She pushed herself into the corner and shut her eyes.
There was no sound in the forest, no birds, no insects. Nothing. Just the gentle swaying of the trees, in a wind that was not natural.
Then there was a scraping sound.
Telence opened her eyes slowly, recoiling in horror as a tentacle the size of her arm weaved it’s way into the helicap’s ruined core. It twisted like an eel, searching for something.
Searching for her.
She pushed herself back into the corner as far as she could go, hoping the shadows covered her. The tentacle flickered different colours, yellow, then red, then back to yellow again, like a light show that was almost hypnotic.
Then the tentacle turned towards her.
Telence felt a tear of terror trickle down her cheek as the glowing tentacle reached out and tapped her helmet just gently. She could see the suckers on the end, gently pulling at the cracked glass on her visor.
She held her breath.
The tentacle tapped her helmet, before withdrawing again.
It stopped a foot away from her, twisting in the air. It pulsated purple this time, then blue, then back to red.
The tentacle twisted, flicking at the end.
Telence was frozen in horror as the tentacle reached out and tapped her helmet again, before making the same gesture.
It wants me to follow, Telence thought as the tentacle pulsed from red to a vibrant green. If this was it, then Julpe’s greeting would be a peaceful welcome after whatever the Ulman did to her-
The tentacle knocked on her helmet again. Telence looked at the suckers, which were still pulsing green, putting her hand up to her voice comms unit.
“What do you want with me?” she asked.
The tentacle paused, turning pack to purple again.
It tapped her helmet.
I’m a gonner anyway, Telence thought, pressing the open button on the side of her helmet.
The effect was instantaneous. The tentacle lashed out, slapping onto Telence’s head-
You shall come with us, a voice echoed inside her mind, Telence of the Flying Warriors.
Telence swallowed. How did they know her title?
We have been waiting for you, Telence of the Flying Warriors. Come with us, and you may live.
The tentacle withdrew, changing back to green, before slithering out of the battered hull, outside again.
Telence swallowed, pushing herself upright. There wasn’t another option, she was lucky to have not been poisoned like the previous explorers. At least, this way, she might be able to escape.
She shuffled forward, janking open the medical cabinet as she did so. Phasers might not work against the Ulmen, but chemicals did.
Gotcha, Telence thought, grabbing the bottle of acid from the shelf that was still intact and tucking it into her leg pocket.
It was something, not much, but something.
She turned the corner, standing upright, still cradling her arm. The Ulman floated in front of the helicap, the glowing body of the creature changing between various shades of yellows. It turned, it’s tentacles trailing lazily after it as if it was floating through thick amber not air, puffing back the way it came.
Telence stepped through the cockpit, looking down at Hector.
“I am so sorry,” Telence said, pressing the open button on his visor and gently closing his eyes.
Then she stepped out of the helicap, and followed the Ulman into the forest beyond.
Enjoy this story? Check out another fantasy short story – Oela
Cover Image: Photo by Karan Karnik on Unsplash