Surprisingly, James McCrane begins to regain consciousness. Sort of. Everything feels strange. Sight isn’t really sight. Hearing as well. Everything is simply … awareness. He has a body, but that feels strange as well. Stronger, larger, but also…. he might feel as if he is not quite alone within it.

As James slowly comes around, at first, he’s disoriented. Last thing he remembers is a serious pain in the ass, then  nothing. As he starts to tune into his ‘surroundings’, he realizes he’s not in Kansas any more, so to speak. “What the.. is this.. heaven? Or hell?” he thinks. “Knowing my luck, it’s hell…”

“How little you know of hell,” comes the reply of a familiar voice. There are no spoken words between James and Kemetti. Not anymore. James will now be aware that he is in the “Command Center” of the Yaralu. His “body” is devoid of clothing or feature, and it moves strangely. Where he would expect limbs to bend at a joint, they simply … arc, as if there were no true skeletal structure to the form.

“What the fuck!?” James thinks. “Ok, if I’m still hearing your cold hearted voice, then I’m definitely in hell. What the hell am I still doing here, and where the hell am I? This some kind of sick joke?”

“A joke?” Kemetti replies, and James can certainly feel the wave of amusement from the larger being, “I suppose it might be. But as to what you are doing here, I suppose that is up to you. We are in a situation where we can help each other. I suppose that if there were some greater hand at the helm of the universe, that might be a joke.”

“Help each other.” James thinks. “Ok… I’ll bite. Exactly how would that work?” In his mind, though, Kemetti can sense an ‘unspoken’ question of ‘why’.

“My systems are damaged,” Kemetti admits, truthfully, “I can find my way to a world to obtain materials with which I can heal, but it might take an age, and there is a slight possibility I might not survive a landing in my current condition. However, there may also be blood and death wherever I land. Now, I have grown a module which can be flown separately from me, and I could send a few mobile units, but at the required range, I can sense them, and I can sustain them, but cannot control them completely.”

“I see…” James thinks. “So you need me to act as a go between, directing them to gather the materials.” he thinks.

“That is the essence of it,”  the Yaralu replies simply, “I sustain this form for you. You can even prevent the sort of situation which precipitated our … meeting. And I am able to reduce the level of risk to my person.”

“So no more ship chomping.” James thinks. “Ok… you’ve convinced me. Let’s get to work.”

“Just so that we are clear,” the Kemetti sends quickly, “The sustaining of your form requires me to be aware of it and what you do in it. I can cease doing so at any time, and will if you betray this agreement. If you move past my ability to be aware of you, I will also no longer be able to sustain your form.”

“I hear ya.” James says. “Look, if I can help out and keep others from the fate of the Avondale, then I’ve got plenty of reason to help you out.”

“As long as we understand one another,” the great creature replies, “You may need some time to get used to this form. And the projection of your voice into the minds of others, which you will need to do if you wish to negotiate. You will find the excursion module in the landing bay. You will not need to concern yourself with the lack of atmosphere.”

“That’s one positive at least.” James thinks, and takes a few moments to ‘feel’ out his new body. Then he takes a few test steps, and ends up falling flat on his face. “Oof… ok… this is gonna take some getting used to.”

“You are trying too hard to move your muscles,” Kemetti replies, “You have none. Your mind can control the form directly.”

“Right… gotta think about what I’m gonna do before I do it…” James says. “Ok… let’s see…” With some extreme effort and taking movements literally a millimeter at a time, he manages to get to a standing position. Wobbly, but standing. “One foot in front of the other…. ” Shakily, he takes a step, but this time, manages to stay upright. The unit looks like a drunk swan trying to lift off, but despite that, it’s forward movement.

“Take your time,” Kemetti replies, “It is something you have plenty of now.”

James begins to get the hang of moving this new body. After a bit of time practicing, he starts to make his way to the landing bay to check out the excursion module.

The excursion module has an organic and sleek, if asymmetrical form. The only entrance is a large cargo hatch. Near the front of the interior is a pilot’s seat with two pedestals rising beside it, but no viewscreen or consoles.

James climbs into the module, and manages to make it to the seat. Sitting down, he looks at the two pedestals, examining them.

“Place your hands on  them,” Kemetti’s voice says of the two structures that look very much like nerve tissue.

James puts his hands upon the top of the pedestals as instructed. “Since we can communicate by thought, I suspect this also reacts to thought?”

“Yes,” Kemetti replies, unecessarily, as James becomes instantly aware of a much larger form. Sensors, propulsion, weapons, defenses. It is all part of James just as much as the mobile unit’s body.

“Convenient…” James says. “Well.. as my father used to say, ‘Time’s a wastin’. If we need to get you fixed up, then we need to get to it.”

“Do you require rest?” a faint question forms in James’ mind. It is not nearly so strong an impression as when he was aboard Kemetti, but still supplies a certain level of genuine curiosity, “I have never attempted this before.”

“You know, I am not really sure. I don’t feel tired.” James says. “Never had a body like this, but I guess we’ll find out with time. At least for now, I’m clear as a bell.”

“Do keep me advised,” Kemetti says. Even as he says this, a star system comes up on long range sensors, a binary system with orbiting planets.

“Hmm… seems we’ve got some planets coming up on sensors right now.” James says, adjusting course slightly towards them. “So, what are you needing to get patched up?”

“Primarily carbon-based materials,” Kemetti replies, “but calcium deposits and other minerals would be beneficial as well.” Of the seven worlds orbiting the star ahead, one of them has evidence of life.

“Hmm… life readings from one. Picking up anything like transmissions?” James queries.

“It does not seem to have a civilization advanced enough,” the Yaralu replies. There is certainly animal and plant life of a sort on the surface, though whether there is any intelligent life or not is difficult to determine. Continents are mid-sized, and wide-spread.

“Worth checking out regardless.” James says, angling to approach the planet. “If anything we could harvest some trees and maybe a selection of animals. Meanwhile I’ll scan for any mineral deposits.”

Sure enough, there are some calcium deposits in cliffs by the sea. The atmosphere has a particularly high level of oxygen, but as James no longer needs to breathe, it doesn’t pose a much of a  problem. Forests of enormous, swaying stalks rise from the hills that stretch out further away from the pale, pinkish sea.

James angles the vessel to make a landing near one of the stalk forests within easy reach of the cliffs. “Never seen a world like this one. But materials are materials I suppose.”

The landing goes off without a hitch, the feeling of touching down not unlike dropping to one’s feet from a nominal height. There is a slight breeze, and the “sound” of waves crashing at the foot of the cliffs below.

“Time to see just how this body works.” James says, relinquishing the control chair and stepping outside of the ship. He makes his way towards some of the tall stalks, examining them, and working his arms to see just how many he can grab in one go.

At this distance, it becomes apparent that each of the stalks is about a foot in diameter and about 35 feet tall. James is indeed able to tear one off at the base, however. It is made of a relatively soft material, and a certain amount of pale, blue liquid seeps out from the break.

Across the forest, a sound, like whistling wind, can be detected.

“What’s that sound?” James ponders, heaving up the stalk and heading over towards the dropship to place it in the cargo area.

“I am only as aware of it as you are,” Kemetti admits, his voice faint from the distance, “The wind seems quite weak.” Nevertheless, the stalks begin to lean toward the cliffs. And the ship.

James notices the stalks bending. “Strong enough to bend these stalks…” he says, getting the one stalk loaded. Apprehensive, he stays next to the ship, ready to leave quickly if necessary. He starts grabbing as many boulders nearby as he can that contain high levels of calcium.

The boulders seem far lighter than they would be if James were in his old body and are easily collected. Meanwhile, the stalks at the edge of the forest are laid nearly to the ground, almost as if reaching towards the ship. The wailing sound increases in volume.

“Ok, this is getting a bit weird.” James says, and he reboards the ship, taking his seat and reconnecting so he has access to the sensors. He focuses them on the direction of the wind.

The wind is truly not nearly strong enough to level the forest. And in fact, a few of the stalks seem to have grown in length by the time James makes it to the seat.

“Something tells me I’m not wanted.” James says, firing up the engines and lifting off. “It’s like these stalks are thinking.”

A couple of the stalks manage to snag onto a leg of the ship, but though their grip is strong, the ship easily tears them from the ground when it lifts off. Being at the “controls” of the ship, James can still “hear” the screaming outside.

Once he gets up high enough, he pauses to look over the situation. “They aren’t just plants..”

The sound, being further away, is a bit muted now. “Neither are you,” Kemetti says simply.

“True.” James says. “But we’ve got to get you patched up somehow… and if these are thinking creatures, killing one of their own is going to make them less likely to negotiate with.”

“That is often the way,” Kemetti replies, “Though their resistance seems of minimal threat.”

“Well.. lesson learned to be more careful in the future.” James says. “Ever seen a lawnmower at work?” he inquires, as he angles the dropship around to make a full power run right through the ‘forest’ of stalks.

“A lawnmower?” Kemetti asks, somewhat confused.

“Yep. Whirling blade, used to keep grass from growing to high. And that looks like a lawn that could use some mowing.” James says, looking to slice a path right through, the tentacles grabbing stalks as they go and pulling them into the cargo area.

The screaming sound returns with a vengeance, the stalks no match for the dropship’s tentacles as they are torn from the earth. As the ship passes over the center of the mass of stalks, the cargo hold is just about full. Even so, a single word forms itself on the fringes of James’ consciousness, as if he is making telepathic contact. “WHYYYYYYY?!?!?”

James picks it up, and figures it’s got to be coming from either the stalks, or the planet itself. Either way, it’s either get Kemetti some grub, or fade out of existence forever. Survival wins. “That should about do it…” he says, getting some altitude.

As the ship moves away from the planet, the screaming stops, and the stalks in the cargo hold are motionless. “Excellent,” Kemetti says, “That is a good start.”

“Probably pissed off whatever that was, but a guy’s gotta eat, you know? Pretty much if you eat, I eat.” James says, heading back towards Kemetti.
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