C H A P T E R 1


It starts like this: Eyrin is in his house, a quiet place too big for one person, right by a small lake. He’s tinkering with an old radio. It’s seven in the evening.

He does this often—tinkering, that is. Quite a bit of Eyrin’s free time is spent taking various devices apart and putting them back together. On occasion, someone might pay him to do so. He’s fixed a car, a computer, and even a few prosthetics from the ridiculously successful company run by his cousin, Silas. Of those who aren’t actually one of Silas’s employees, he might be the few qualified to fiddle with the technology. He’d spent a lot of time with him back in the day, helping him build smaller devices before Anima Bionics made it big. It’s been in the top ten tech companies since 2043—might’ve made the top five in the six years since then as it branched out into far more than just prosthetics. Technically, Eyrin might as well be a co-founder, but he didn’t particularly want to get involved with “corporate shenanigans,” as he calls it. He just… helps in the background, every now and then. As a consultant in some ways, maybe.

There is also the fact that both of Eyrin’s legs are Anima prosthetics from the thigh down. They’re covered by long pants now, but his feet are bare, revealing the bright white of the scratch-resistant polymeric chassis, broken into separate pieces by seams of black at the joints. Each toe—rather, where the toenail would be—is painted over with glossy black, same as his fingernails.

The radio in his hands emits a sputter just as he attaches a wire, pulling Eyrin out of his thoughts. He jerks away by instinct, but nothing more happens for a few seconds, so he raises it close to his face to inspect the wiring.

Of course, it’s at this point that there’s a too-close crashing sound, a slight tremor in the earth, and what seems to be an electrical surge that goes through the area, knocking out all the lights and electronics. Including Eyrin’s legs, which fold under him as he falls to the floor. The radio flies out of his hands, but that’s one of his lesser concerns at the moment.

Eyrin winces as he tries to move his legs—no luck. It looks like the quantum battery was disabled by whatever that was. He’s sure to curse his cousin for the faulty tech and his bruised arms. Failsafes upon failsafes… yeah, right. It’s too dark for Eyrin to see anything indoors, but he does catch a flickering blue light reflected in the glass door to his front yard as he props himself up on his arms.

A whirr and a hum make themselves known, and Eyrin looks down to see the seams of his prosthetics flicker with a pale white. The light pulses softly before fading to black once more. Eyrin tries bending his knees and finds that he can, though he can’t feel a thing in his legs.

Alright, Silas. Not bad, considering everything else in the house looks to still be out of commission.

Eyrin manages to push himself to his feet. He takes a few unsteady steps forward, groping around in the dark to support himself on the back of his couch, on his table, on the wall, as he makes his way towards the blue light. By the time he’s at the threshold of the door, his legs start tingling. Looks like sensory feedback is coming back.

He steps out into his front yard, consisting of a wide stone path surrounded by succulent gardens on either side, in addition to a few rectangular planters in which he grows various herbs and vegetables. The solar lights lining the path are completely out, though hopefully they’ll come back on soon.

Further out, the path widens. There’s a glossy black automated car here, courtesy of Silas, for whenever Eyrin bothers to leave his house. Actually, this entire place was the “courtesy” of Silas. An apology for Eyrin’s legs, probably, but Eyrin never really blamed him. Got mad at him, sure, but never blamed him.

Just beyond his front yard are grassy hills, populated with towering trees. Eyrin can see the light coming from right behind the hills—it looks like it might be from some kind of… blue fire? He tries to toe his shoes on, but as it turns out, that’s hard to do when you can barely feel your legs. He sighs and sits down on his porch to slip them on before pulling himself back up and trudging over to the hills.

He’s not really sure what he expected to see, but he certainly did not expect a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie.

As Eyrin is climbing up the hill, he first sees a long, sleek line of metal. At this point, curiosity starts to get the better of him. He keeps climbing and sees that the metal object widens from the tail—what he saw first—to the front tip, which, as he observes once he gets to the top of the hill, is embedded in the ground along with two prong-like things that go off to the side. Now that he can see the whole thing, he notices that it is massive. It’s taller than the trees around it, even at its slight tilt. Three separate metal pieces are stuck in the ground, as well. There looks to be a screen of darkened glass that goes around the sides and the front of the main object, but it's been shattered, and light streams out from the broken area.

There’s a crater, or at least an area of impact around it, ringed with blue fires dying into orange embers. It doesn’t look to be spreading, which is great. Small blessings, a part of him thinks, as the rest of him tries not to panic over the fact that there’s something that looks like an alien spaceship that crash-landed right next to his house.

It’s fine. Everything’s fine. He locks up his panic in a neat little box and thinks about what to do. Call the government? Do they have a hotline for mysterious objects crashing in the forest right next to your house? Maybe law enforcement?

His attention is drawn to the broken area in the glass when he sees a silhouetted form fall out of it. Whatever it is, it looks… pretty big. Bigger than a bear, except its body is long and serpentine as it collapses in a heap on the ground.

It shifts slightly, lifting one of its six arms—legs?—and letting it fall on the metal of the ship. Its hand glows a pale blue, and the ship is enveloped in the same glow before it disperses into light and is sucked into the creature's palm. All that’s left is the impact site, the fading blue fire, and the thing that is probably an alien.

Eyrin should call someone. Anyone. The alien looks dangerous. It could probably kill him in a heartbeat. And yet… Eyrin can’t ignore the sight of a creature in pain, struggling to stand.

Plus… he’s curious. His hands are sweating and he’s very much not thinking too hard about the situation, but who wouldn’t be curious about something like this? Eyrin supposes most people would be held back by their fear, but he has never been great at listening to the voice of reasonable safety in his head.

Despite his better judgement, Eyrin starts making his way down the hill towards the creature. As he gets closer, he starts picking out more details. Its face and back consist of some kind of smooth dark bluish-gray material, with its underbelly a glossy black. Pale blue markings glow in soft pulses across its body—a line that splits the black from the gray across its body, along with lines that segment its underbelly. A crest resembling ribbed fins without any webbing curves elegantly across the back of its head and at its tail, edged with the same blue glow. There are also multiple black tails, curled up on the ground.

He keeps walking closer, alternating his gaze between watching his step and looking at the creature. It doesn’t seem to be moving much, besides a slight curling of its limbs towards itself as it lies on the ground. Soon, he’s close enough to hear and see the creature’s labored breathing, and once he’s about eight feet away, he stops and takes in the sight. It looks like it’s wounded—Eyrin can see a gash on its body around the middle set of arms, bleeding a very faintly glowing blue, the same color as its markings but less intense in its glow. Both hands from that set are pressed to the wound. Its hands have four fingers, a symmetrical structure with two opposable thumbs.

After a moment of hesitation, he calls out, “Hello?”

No response. Eyrin’s not sure if it can hear him. Or understand him. Or maybe it can’t move. Or maybe it’s just… not moving? Saving energy?

Eyrin moves even closer, towards the creature’s face—long and pointed, shaped a bit like a bird beak. It’s then that he notices it watching him. It has two eyes visible on the half of its face Eyrin can see, each a gray-blue iris with black sclera and a… strange line of horizontal beaded pupils that glow the same pale blue as its markings. An array of sharp, black teeth are visible as it takes raspy breaths through its parted mouth.

“Um… Can you hear me? Understand me?” He lifts a hand, as if to touch, but jerks back when the creature gives a low huff.

“Skka chyru achri,” it says, or something like that. It makes clicking sounds in the back of its throat that Eyrin’s not sure human language can capture.

“Uh,” Eyrin responds. Intelligent response, Eyrin. Great job.

“Hykte.” Its head sags and it closes its eyes.

That is probably not good. Eyrin moves closer, carefully putting a hand on its face. “Um… Stay awake? I’m not sure how to treat alien wounds. Sorry.”

It opens its eyes again, blinking blearily at Eyrin. And then it shifts, lifting one of its forelimbs towards Eyrin's head. He takes a half-step back in surprise, but the claws curl around the back of his neck, and he doesn’t dare move further. The creature moves its palm on his forehead—the hand is big enough to cover the entire top of his head. A faint glow comes from the center of the palm, and Eyrin closes his eyes, suddenly dizzy.

The next thing he knows, the hand is gone. There’s a fluid sound accompanied by what sounds an awful lot like bones cracking, and he opens his eyes to see the creature completely enveloped by black, convulsing horribly and… shrinking? Yep, it’s shrinking. The tails recede into the dark form, the middle set of arms disappears, its back limbs bend the other way, the pointed head shrinks into itself, and Eyrin realizes he’s looking at a human silhouette just as the blackness pulls away, revealing a completely naked and suddenly unconscious human lying on the ground. One that looks identical to Eyrin, with the only difference he can see being the hair color: where Eyrin’s is a pale blonde, the alien’s is even paler, nearly white. It looks like the wound is gone—reasonable, he thinks. It’s probably easier to heal a wound than it is to completely change the shape of your body.

In any case—Did an alien seriously just copy his appearance? Eyrin hasn’t the faintest idea of how to properly handle the situation, but he feels like this is bad news. He should call someone and have them take the creature away. Wash his hands of this affair.

But it… it didn’t hurt Eyrin, did it? He felt dizzy for a moment, but with how sharp those claws are, Eyrin doesn’t doubt that he could’ve been run through easily. Also, now that the thing has a human face, it’s even easier to read the pain the creature must be feeling.

Which is how Eyrin ends up dragging the alien to his house.

Well—not dragging, exactly. Eyrin would feel bad if he dragged a naked person, or an alien looking like a person, through the dirt, so he ends up going back to his house (which is still blacked out) and finds one of the carts he uses for carrying parts as well as an extra jacket. He still does feel bad about leaving the alien there for a bit, but it’s heavy. Maybe it didn’t lose any of its mass when it compressed into a human form? Though it’s still lighter than he might expect something of its original size to be. In any case, he goes back to the alien, dumps him in the cart, and tosses the jacket over him. It. Them? This is confusing.

Once he gets home again, he pulls the cart to the couch and rolls the alien onto it with a not-insignificant amount of effort. The furniture creaks warningly under the weight.

He gropes around in the dark for the fuzzy blanket he keeps on the couch—only for the lights to finally come back on, sparing him the trouble. He tosses the blanket over the alien, tucking the cloth around it.

The alien remains unconscious throughout the whole affair. Maybe the transformation is tiring? Or maybe it lost a lot of blood. Not that Eyrin has any idea of what he’d do to help.

Eyrin stands there for a bit, watching the alien, before his brain must decide that enough is enough. He promptly turns on his heel and gets ready to go to sleep—he showers, throws on his pajamas, brushes his teeth, and inspects his legs, trying not to think too hard about the situation.

Still, he caves one last time before he goes to sleep, padding over to the unconscious alien on his couch, leaning over its face to inspect it.

It really looks just like him. Just… paler. In general.

Eyrin lingers only for a bit longer. Soon, he trudges to his room, crawls into bed, and pulls the blankets up to his chin.

He closes his eyes.