Enchanted Spark

Writing Inspirations
Congratulations to our August Winner Levanah Sciple!


Another Day in the Ol' Encounter Suit
by Levanah Sciple

"Classics are always in style," Aya told Dad.  She patted her bubble-clear helmet, which she'd taken off while eating breakfast. The faceplate lit up briefly.  She smiled down at it.

"Are you wearing the clothes I set out?"  Mom scooped some chopped fruit onto her plate.  "Underneath that thing?"

"No thank you!  I like the jumpsuits Lagrange Station issued me."  They were a soothing grey, comfy and familiar and just snug enough to not bunch up under the encounter suit.  She would never wear the awful pink 'tee-shirt' with puffed sleeves and raspy elastic sewn in.  After that disaster, Aya hadn't bothered with the jean shorts.  Her helmet's 10x zoom showed an interesting mesh of pale blue with deep indigo pooled between the threads, but the weave looked scratchy.

"Earth girls don't dress like this," Mom continued.

"Except I'm a Station girl on furlough to the planet.  Now I look the part."

"It's hitting 115 degrees today so keep your suit charged and the AC on."  Dad opened his newspaper to an article on Mars Colony One.

Mom lifted the hateful jar of yogurt. 

"No!  I don't want any of that bacterial vomit!"

"Honey, it's probiotic-"


"That means it's still alive!  You didn't even bother to kill the bugs before putting them inside your body!  It's just as bad as that immune booster you gave me before we could come back to Earth.  How can you be sure all those things in the vaccines were dead?!  I could be crawling with hostile RNA, running in my veins instead of white blood cells.  Now you want to put creatures in my intestines, too."

Mom tightened her lips and stuck a spoon into the quivery white slime.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"

Dad sighed from behind his paper.  "Let her be; we'll try again tomorrow."

Mom glared at him and put the yogurt down.  It almost touched Aya's plate.  She shuddered.

"So honey," Dad continued, “what are you doing today?"

"I've got some cool homework assignments!  There's geometry, and frictionless physics, and an essay on the history of Martian exploration, and-"

"You know you don't have to work so hard on your summer vacation."  He peeked over the paper and smiled at her.

"You guys told me to have fun.  This is fun."

Aya poured milk over her food, mushed it together, and grimaced.  It would never be like the food pastes on Station.  She shoveled it down, forcing herself to swallow and not choke on the lumps. 

"Moocher's hiding again.  Feed him when he comes out."

She was glad her dad was buried in the paper because she felt herself turn white.  "Uh-huh." She edged away, snapping on her helmet and breathing deeply  as she started to hyperventilate.

Moocher was her parents' cat, left with Grandma while they went into space.  He was a big, fat, fur shedding, dander depositing animal who licked her and left saliva all over her arm, and she'd hated him from first sight until about six hours later...

She'd been lying in a bedroom she hadn't seen in eight years, and she was so tired her body hurt, but she couldn't sleep.   She stretched flat on a bed, not curled up nicely in a net to keep from floating away in zero g.  It was too bright from the moonlight through the curtains, and sometimes the house would groan.  The scariest part was the long minutes of silence. 

Moocher had come in, curled up against her head, pressed to her ear, and purred.  The steady rasping hum sounded like the air processors on Station, the ones that should always be rrrr-ing away or you were in DANGER. 

He'd slept with her every night since. 

Aya slipped into her pink and yellow bedroom.  Her racing heart ... stopped.

Ohnonono, last night she'd woken up to one of those big dust-shedding insects – a moth – beating its head on her window.  She had opened the glass to let it out, let the blinds drop again, and fallen asleep.

Some pollen must have blown across her night stand, contamination from the blooming trees outside.  She saw kitty paw-prints in it.

Damage control! 

She got a damp washcloth from the bathroom.  Every night she cleaned herself with one, because Station girls don't waste water or risk drowning in the shower.  Now, she used it to wipe the evidence from the tabletop.  Then she crawled onto the windowsill and looked out. 

"Locate Moocher," she whispered.

"Error, number of lifeforms present exceeds processing capability."

The helmet's display burst into a field of light like the Milky Way.  Squirming, wiggling things were all around her, from ground to sky.  She gasped and shut off the display.

She scanned with her eyes.  There!  Moocher was at the top of the wall, stretched out in the sun, his tail trailing down the brick. 

Okay.  She could sneak out, grab him, and no one would be any wiser.

"Activate stabilizers."  Aya jumped from the window. 

Thrusters in the wrists and boots of her suit kept her upright and she landed softly in grass.  She tiptoed up to the wall and readied herself.  She was really good at using her rockets in a zero-g environment, but Earth's gravity made everything tricky. 

"Booster," she commanded.

She shot up the wall – too much power!  She grabbed for the top, but her gloves were too bulky, and she couldn't dig her fingers into the gaps between bricks.  Moocher shrank away, eyes wide, as she soared by.  She flailed, accidentally kicked her heels skyward – and her rockets drove her headfirst at the ground.

"Deactivate b-"

SMASH.

She lay there listening to her pounding heartbeat.  Her mouth hurt, and her back, and her behind.  She tasted blood. 

"Suit status?"  She tongued at the line of pain where she'd bitten her lip.

Hssssssss. 

The static was a bad sign.  Her suit's central computer must be offline.

Aya opened her eyes and looked at a cerulean sky cracked from side to side.  No, that was her helmet.  Moocher stood on her chest staring at her.  He bent his face to leave a wet mucus nose-print on her faceplate and trotted away.

She sat up and pulled her helmet off.  It had absorbed the impact at the back of her head and was partly crushed in, with a spiderweb of cracks that ran all around.

Okaaaaaay.  Stay calm, assess the damage.

She stood and checked the readout in her chestplate.  Her suit blinked with emergency lights.  She wasn't sure it could be fixed.

No way.  She couldn't go home with a wrecked suit and no cat.  She had to prove she could handle problems, or her parents might leave her behind on Earth!

She hid the helmet under a bush and stumbled after the fuzzy tail, shaped like a question mark, that stuck up through the calf-length grass. 

The sun beat down steadily, and she wondered if she'd get another radiation burn.  Her parents called it a 'sunburn', like it was something cute and not deadly stellar radiation penetrating the cells of her skin and scrambling her DNA.  Also, it was too hot to be walking around without AC. 

Huh, the thermometer built into her suit's arm still worked.  It read 105 degrees.   

Aya reached the stream that ran alongside their neighborhood.  A walking path followed the course and then crossed an old metal bridge before entering the wild woods beyond. 

She eyed the bridge.  It didn't look safe.  Rust peeked around the paint, and a few bolts were missing. 

Moocher scampered across and stopped at the far end, pretending to sniff the wildflowers growing in tufts there.  She saw his ears rotate, daring her to grab for him.

Right.  She set out, and the bridge didn't fall.  Moocher tensed, and she stopped halfway across.  While she waited for him to let his guard down, she reached between the metal supports and stuck the thermometer into the fast-running creek.  It was 78 degrees.  No wonder her parents kept telling her to 'go swimming'. 

They didn't see the little picture.  When she'd first come here, she checked the water under her x25 zoom, and one look at the horrifying underwater wilderness of algae cells and bacterium and insect larvae convinced her to stay in the suit.  The world was so different through human eyes.  Aya looked down the rush of water that burbled between gravel banks, down to where it joined the sea.  She'd loved the ocean when they flew here from Cape Canaveral.  From a distance, it looked so clean and neat and peaceful. 

Then the plane landed, and she saw the other side of Earth.

It was the jungle lurking at the far end of the bridge.  At first, she'd been dazzled by the pretty glistening green of the banana trees, the black shadows striping down.  She'd walked a little deeper, and it changed into a tangle of native trees fighting savagely for space.  Messy.  The texture stabbed at her, overwhelming after years in clean steel-colored rooms.  Up there, the only green you saw was the neat rows of foot-tall crops growing in hydroponics, producing food and oxygen.  Down here, life ran wild. 

Moocher flicked his tail and walked into the trees.

She hurried after him, and he picked up speed.  His black fur faded into the shadows.  She blinked her sun-dazzled eyes, wishing she could follow his paw-prints with her helmet scanner.     Sweat ran from her neck down her back, and her clothes got sticky.  With every step the suit seemed to get a pound heavier.   

She pushed herself to a jog.

The dark woods closed around her like teeth.  At least there wasn't a lot of brush to fight through.  Ants were the big problem.  They walked in lines everywhere, and she didn't want to slow down to carefully pick around them.

She took running jumps over the insects. 

Her face started to tingle with pins and needles.  She looked at the thermometer - 101 degrees.

Aya realized she was already compromised with pollen, mosquitoes, and who knows what else.  Her body was now a zoo, filled with all sorts of little bugs. 

Fine!  Whatever.

She pulled off every part of her now-useless encounter suit except the boots, wadded it into a bundle, and slung it over her shoulder like a duffel bag.

The air felt so good over her neck and arms!  No wonder people here risked all these weird creatures – this was the only way to survive without AC.

She was crashed on a hostile planet, her suit compromised, but they would never break her spirit! 

"Hm hm HMMMMM hmhmmmm."  She mumbled her favorite space opera theme song.  The tune helped her keep pace.

There!  She slowed to a sneak.  Moocher was right there – she needed to get close enough to grab him – he crouched and stared to the right, and she was four steps away – what was he looking at? Why was he fluffed up? - threeeeee, two steps – almost, alllllllmost -

"RrrrrrrRRRRRRRR!!!!"

Something rushed at them, blacker than the darkest shadows of the trees, big white teeth like the things in Monsters of the Wilds 3.  Her parents wouldn't let her see that show, and maybe she shouldn't have slipped into the entertainment room at midnight and watched it anyway because even with the sound muted, she had nightmares for weeks.  Now the nightmare was real.

Moocher, like a fuzzy comet, shot up a tree.  She swung up right after him.  It was so easy without gloves!  Her hands naturally curved along each branch, and she moved as fast as a flagellate chasing prey across a puddle. 

They got halfway up the tree.  Moocher hugged the trunk with arms and legs, claws digging in, every hair standing up.  Aya crouched on a branch, holding the trunk with one hand.  She leaned out and surveyed the monster.  If it climbed after them, she would do the right thing as senior officer of the away mission and sacrifice her life so Lieutenant Moocher could escape.

Oh great.  The neighbors' dog had gotten loose. 

Crippen was a big, bad-tempered animal who lurked in the yard next door.  He'd thrown himself against the fence and growled the one and only time she went into her own backyard.  He barked at anyone who walked past, barked when no one was outside, in fact he only stopped barking when he had a bone to chew. 

... but where did he get the bones?

Aya shivered and petted Moocher.  He didn't unpuff at all, and her hair probably stuck out as wildly as his, but it made her feel a little better. 

The dog below them kept circling and growling.  Every once in a while he would try to lunge up the tree. 

An officer has to earn the title.

She remembered that from the junior personnel handbook.  It meant: sometimes the right thing was the hard thing.

Aya pulled the encounter suit off her shoulder and touched the protective double layers.  It shielded her from everything creepy, viruses to insects.  It scanned, magnified, and telescopically zoomed, showing her what most textbooks didn't bother with ... the secret world of the biggest and smallest things.  What would she do without her suit? 

She threw it down.

Crippen rushed over and seized it by the chest plate where the central computer rested.  He tossed his head, whipping it hard in the air.  The badly damaged computer made squealing noises,  and the dog snarled. 

Aya knew she only had a minute before he lost interest in the new chew toy.  She grabbed Moocher by the scruff of his neck, pried him off the tree, and with one hand held him to her shoulder as she climbed down. 

Moocher stared with huge eyes at the dog and dug his claws in.  She bit her lip – officers aren't afraid of a little pain! - and they slipped away.  Crippen didn't look up from ripping at her suit.

The walk back took a long time.  Moocher squirmed, but she held his scruff firmly.  Eventually they broke free into the sunlight.  She crossed the railway bridge and trudged home.

She licked her cut lip and thought about her options.  There weren't any.  She couldn't sneak back in without her rockets.  She sighed and went around to the front gate. 

Mom was out there vacuuming under the car seats.

"Honey?!  What happened?"

"I took a walk with Moocher."  It was mostly true.  She hurried inside before Mom could ask anything else.

Dad stood there with a cup of coffee.

"What the – Aya, where's your suit?"

"I dunno."  Also technically true.  She hurried upstairs, closed the window, and put Moocher down.  He rushed under the bed and glared at her, his yellow eyes slitted and malevolent.

"A little light on the gratitude, lieutenant."

She felt sticky and stinky and dirty and so gross.  The Monera covering her were probably five layers deep.  On Station she would have insisted on getting into the decontamination chamber.  Here, she'd settle for a shower.  The wet washcloth wasn't up to this job.

Her jumpsuit was a lost cause until she could launder it and irradiate it in the sun outside.  She wanted to see how the bacteria liked having their DNA scrambled.  Until then, she was stuck with the clothes Mom set out. 

The pink shirt was as hideous as she remembered.  The jean shorts were … really soft to the touch.  They'd probably feel nice on her scratched legs.

She stepped into the shower and kept the water on 'cold'.  Liquid paradise!  She covered her mouth and nose with a towel and risked dunking her head under the torrent.   

"HEY!"

That came from outside!  Aya pulled herself up to the little window set high in the wall.  She saw Crippen running down the street, her tattered encounter suit waving in his jaws like a silvery flag.  Mom chased him, vacuum cleaner raised overhead like a weapon.  Dad raced after them.  He wore just one of Mom's pink flip-flops and was armed with a rolled-up newspaper. 

"Reinforcements deployed against hostile lifeforms!"



Levanah Sciple lives in the woods of central Tennessee.  When she's not busy chasing Wolf spiders and Copperhead snakes out of the house, she enjoys traveling the world, cooking at home, supporting the arts, and rotting  on the couch with a good video game.  Levanah has been a speculative fiction fanatic ever since she was nine years old and Robert A. Heinlein broke her brain and set her imagination on fire with his classic "-And He Built a Crooked House-".  She has decided to try her hand at writing in the genre she loves and is currently working on a science fiction novel and several short stories.





2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Karl | August 28, 2013 at 09:47 PM EDT

That was a lot of fun.

2. Holly Jennings | September 08, 2013 at 08:47 PM EDT

Loved the idea and characters here, but the voice really came through above all. It made the story. Great job.

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