Aboard the Aïdolate the air was still. Much of the gigantic spaceship was still hermetically sealed; when it had crashed, nose-first, into the planet and buried nearly 90% of itself in the ground crash-doors had activated all through the ship, and only a very few had ruptured. Of those that had ruptured, only 5% of them were near the ship’s exterior, and the native air had made very few inroads. Throughout the rest of the Aïdolate the air was still, stale and poisonous. This didn’t matter much to the ship’s occupants at the moment as the ones who cared were all held securely in stasis pods or cryo-fields, and the ones who didn’t care were held in necro-fields.
In chamber alpha-7-gamma-echo-112, a five-dimensional designation very useful in faster-than-light travel where the ship’s engines unshielded singularities in patterns that caused space-time to wrap around itself locally and allowed rapid travel across vast distances, a solid-state generator stuttered as crystals very slowly slipped across each other. They’d been moving under a slight but constant pressure for over four hundred years since the ship had landed, and the shear strain was finally forcing them out of alignment. The generator stuttered again, and a red icon starting flashing on a tablet-sized computer that had been flung into a corner during the crash. Induced electric fields arose around it, sensing its need for power, and other things in the room flickered into life as they too received energy input. For several hours that was the extent of the activity increase, until the change in temperature caused by the electronic activity added enough to the shear strain to let the crystals slip over each other completely. There was a sharp crack like the momentary discharge of static electricity, and the generator blinked and failed completely.
The necro-field, a variant of stasis technology that keeps things dead, failed thirty-five seconds later. A pale blue light faded away, more noticeable by its absence that when it was present, and a horizontal alcove like a long, deep, high shelf appeared in its place. The necro-field had concealed it as well as ensuring that its occupant stayed dead. Two and a half-minutes later, all the shadows in the room rearranged themselves, flowing across surfaces like oil across water, greasily merging into a patch of darkness by the alcove, and something that might have been a long, thin, spindly-fingered hand reached out and felt around as though tasting the air.
On the tablet computer in the corner the red icon blazed brightly and symbols appeared beneath it, also in bright red strokes. Relays and solenoids clicked rapidly, chattering like a chipmunk, and a secondary generator received instructions to start up. For a moment power flowed through it and back into the necro-field generator, but before it managed to stabilise a necro-field the power faded away again, delicate circuits jolted by the crash burning through and out. In the shadows gathered by the alcove another hand appeared, and then another and another. Behind them something darker, and vaguely oval appeared, a patch of deep blackness in the middle of the shadow, moving like a bloated spider. Then the oval expanded, and for a moment it was as though a huge pair of wings unfurled above and around the shadows, ragged and torn at the edges. Then they folded away again and as the shadows flowed back to their rightful positions the whole shape of the barely-seen creature folded in on itself, tucking it and stretching out, becoming vaguely human-shaped.
“Aïdolate?” said a voice, hoarse and husky with disuse. It coughed. “Aïdolate? Can you hear me?”
Something hummed, and lights came on around the room. “I can hear you, Elder Matthia,” said an inhuman voice that seemed to be made out of windchimes.
“Oh good,” said the man-thing revealed in the lights. He now had two arms and two legs, one head, and a medium-height, slightly hairy, muscular body. Spines protruded from along the backs of his arms and legs, and little horn-like stumps poked out from each of his vertebrae. A ridge of bone stood out from his shoulder girdle making him look like he was wearing a ruff of some kind. His skin was a greyish burgundy, and his eyes were violet. “Aïdolate, where are we?”
“This planet is referred to only as Balanus-7-epsilon.”
“How very useful. I suppose my next question is why am I awake?”
“The necro-field containing you has failed.”
Elder Matthia sighed, and coughed a little again. Dust plumed in the air in front of him to his disgust.
“I had gathered that,” he said, his voice scratching but still managing to sound testy. He took a couple of tentative steps, finding out how stiff his muscles were. To his pleasant surprise he had no problems. “I would welcome a little more data. Why has the field failed? Was it a deliberate action?”
“No, Elder Matthia,” said the Aïdolate. “Your plan to have crew-member Frevel free you during the voyage failed when Frevel was killed during a maintenance check. We have crashed on a planet, and the damage we have sustained has finally resulted in your freedom once more.”
“Who else is free?” His voice was suddenly stronger, more strident.
“No-one else has woken yet.”
Elder Matthia smiled, the muscles in his face pulling the skin around as though it wasn’t properly attached, and his mouth opened enough to expose sharpened canine teeth. “How long has it been?” he asked. He rubbed his hands together.
“A little under five hundred years,” said the Aïdolate, a little surprised when Elder Matthia screamed in anguish.