Chapter 1 - Dib
Dib woke to stiffness, silence, and seclusion. As his consciousness slowly returned, he was made aware of the throbbing pain emanating from all over his body. He was lightly charred and bruised all over, but the worst of it was contained to his left side, where he could feel shrapnel still firmly burrowed in his flesh.
Dib would have thought that an absence of explosions would be nice to his poor ears, but he was wrong. The silence rang heavier somehow, let him really revel in how bad his tinnitus had become. But that was to be expected – if listening to Mysterious Mysteries too loud with his headphones could cause ringing, it was no surprise that literal alien doomsday devices would do worse.
Dad warned me about listening to stuff too loud, and I ignored him. Dib thought grimly. He ignores me when I tell him about our impending doom. I guess that makes us even, huh, Dad?
Dib didn’t know where his father was now, or his sister. Hell, he didn’t know where he was. He could extrapolate some information about his location, of course; considering the oppressive metal walls that loomed over him, the dark, chilled air, and the barred windows looking out over the frightening expanse of space, he could safely say some form of space jail. Or brig, he realized, watching the stars glide by impossibly fast, a brig is a jail on a ship.
Who’s ship am I on, then? Dib wondered stupidly. It wasn’t a hard leap of logic to make. The harder thing to figure out was – why was he on this ship?
The 24-year old made sounds unsuited for an adult as he attempted to sit vertically. The drumbeat of his heart picked up double-time, and Dib became ill from the ways he could feel his clothes become warm as his heart pumped blood out the openings of his injuries. He’d been stripped of his body armor while he was unconscious, and the casual garb he’d put on underneath did very little to keep him warm – although for some reason, they’d allowed him to keep his coat. It was more for aesthetics than function – Dib was a big enough guy to admit that, if only to himself – but it defended him from the chill of space and blood-loss better than anything else he had on.
Curiously, without allowing himself to hope, Dib patted down his pockets with his right hand. A painful gasp of excitement burst from him when he felt a promising rectangular shape – a phone??
His happiness was dashed when he pulled out a small stack of his stashed ration bars instead.
I guess it makes sense that they’d leave me with these, He thought miserably. If I’m in a cage and not dead, I guess that means they want me to stay that way, and they probably don’t want to waste their supplies on a race they just conquered.
That thought opened the floodgates, and Dib found himself unable to silence the sudden wail that escaped his parted lips. He felt his mouth moving to produce more distressing sounds as his mind replayed his last memories in startling clarity.
He pressed his balled-up right hand hard against his eyes, trying to force out the images, and more than that – the shame. It was too late. It was… over. So quickly, so efficiently. So mercilessly. Years of research amounted to nothing. A lifetime of waiting for life beyond the stars, punished in the most horrific, ironic way. The bitter hot tears stung in the cuts of his face a Dib lost his mind in the solitude of his cell. Even this moment was cut short, as Dib suddenly found himself once again flat on his back, his head bouncing painfully back onto the metal floor. Squinting through the pain and tears, Dib was only barely able to perceive the shape of something insectoid as it crouched over his chest.
Dib’s right arm lashed out to shove the thing away, but only the very edge of his blunt nails found any purchase as the thing launched itself backwards and out of sight just as quickly. Breath heavy, heart pounding, Dib pushed himself backwards until his back felt the wall. Nowhere to run. He was sent here to die, after all. He clamped his chattering teeth close together to silence their staccato sounds, firmly intending to die as bravely as he could.
Moments pass like an eternity, Dib’s eyes darting around uselessly in the darkness of the cell. The only sounds he could perceive came from his own terrified body. Somehow, the waiting was far worse than anything Dib had endured thus far, worse even than watching his childhood home sink into an artificial sinkhole in the earth, worse than watching his sister scream as she pummeled invader’s bodies into the ground with her bat. Dib decided he wasn’t going to wait for his comeuppance.
“So. I know why I’m in here, but how about you?”
With that, the agonizing quiet of the cell was broken at last. Dib was surprised by how even his voice sounded, all things considered; as if the psychological factors weren’t enough to have him trembling, the dry air of the dark cell was chilled enough that he had anticipated his voice quaking.
Maybe I sounded more badass than I feel. He thought bleakly, staring into the darkness, waiting for his assumption to be proven incorrect.
The creature in the darkness remained hidden obstinately, unconcerned with Dib’s desire to go out in a flam of glory. Time continued to drip past, in spite of Dib’s terror, and he found himself finally feeling the exhaustion of the days of fighting prior to his containment.
As long as I die, does it matter if this thing kills me in my sleep, or while I’m antagonizing it? Dib wondered. His eyes began to slip closed. Gaz and Dad are probably dead. As long as I get to see them again, it’s fine, isn’t it?
When he finally sunk into unconsciousness, he saw his family. Gaz was grinning at him, triumphant, arms free from blood – her own and her enemies – and Dad was openly crying, his face obfuscated by his collar. Smiling so hard his face hurt from it, Dib ran to them. They all crushed into one another in a family hug, all sobbing and laughing.
Oh, Dib, I’m so sorry I doubted you. Said his father.
Who woulda thought, my insane big bro was right about something? Said his sister.
Dib tightened his grip on them both, determined to never let them go.
I’m so sorry, my Tallest. Said an unfamiliar voice.
What was that, Dad? Dib questioned, pulling back from the hug. His father looked down at him, but his googles were gone, replaced by bulging red eyes.
Suddenly he couldn’t get away fast enough, and he was assaulting the two of them with healthy arm and injured arm alike, battering them with open palms and hyperventilating. Dib’s eyes burst open, finally freed from this dream-turned-nightmare – or so he thought.
Immediately before him, illuminated by a haunting red light, he saw that misshapen head, those bulging eyes, the three-pronged hands contorted into claws. Dib reacted before he could think, lashing out with one leg to kick it away from him. It hissed, aware now of its enemy’s wakefulness, and Dib cried out as he felt it swipe one clawed hand down the offending leg.
Time to die, he thought, both courageously and cowardly. Here I come, guys.
Instead, he felt just one more swipe of claws against the top of his calves before the creature slinked back into the darkness. Dib stared after it, angry and confused.
Even now, I’m not anybody’s biggest problem. I’m not even… a threat. I’m an inconvenience.
He curled in on himself, wrapped his fingers around his new wounds and just let the blood seep into his palm as he began to sob miserably. His whole life was a joke, and now his death would be one, too. No glorious battle, no validation for his years of research and training. He would bleed out, or starve, or die of exposure in the loneliness of space jail. Maybe it was what he deserved.
“Would you stop making that pitiful racket?” Hissed a voice. Dib scowled to himself, angry at the command, but not enough to obey it. “I said stop, you insolent worm!”
“What’s it to you if I want to spend my last few days alive miserable!” Dib yelled back, voice utterly broken to the point where it caused him to flinch in shame.
“You’re not fooling me!” The voice called back. Dib’s sobs lessened in his confusion.
“I said you’re not fooling me, fool! You want the mighty – you want me to think you’re so vulnerable, don’t you? You want me to think you’re weak, so you can see me weak! Well I have news for you, you hideous, vile thing – it’s not working!”
Dib sat in stunned silence as he listened to the thing’s shrill voice echo off the walls of the cell. Then, he couldn’t help it; he started laughing. It hurt, god it hurt his entire body, but the absurdity shook him so profoundly that he had no choice but to double over and positively wheeze with laughter. The creature in the darkness, seemingly convinced that its ideas were correct, retreated, not to be heard from again as Dib sunk back into unconsciousness.
His last thought before pure delirious exhaustion forced him to rest were: I guess having a cellmate isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to me.