My name is Sebastian Cain and I’m here to tell you about the last planet my partner, Jiri, and I ever visited.
All either of us knew before we landed was that there was breathable air and rather than there being a sun and moon that rose and set every day, there were three moons that rose in succession creating varying degrees of light throughout the process. The first was supposedly called the Moon of Veils but no one seemed to know what that meant.
The three moon phenomenon was evidently an exceedingly rare astronomical occurrence that was to be explored at all cost.
I found out later that the ‘powers-that-be’ had once had contact with this planet but that all contact with it had suddenly stopped several years ago. But the truth of it was that the only contact our group had ever had with this planet was a distress call.
Now I understand why.
The following comes from my personal ‘after-action’ recorder because the long-term effects of being on that planet didn’t begin until after we’d left.
As we stepped away from the shuttle we found ourselves standing in the middle of a barren valley with tall, craggy mountains of what looked like black sand that glowed purple in the dim light of the moonless sky.
When the first moon rose we’d been told that everything would change but we’d not been told what that change would be, which wasn’t unusual since my partner, Jiri Akudo, and I were one of the advance teams that explored new class A planets.
I said, “I know it’s the 10th of December, Jiri, but what the hell planet are we on and how many does this make?”
The large golden eagle that flew far above me was quiet for quite some time before her thought came back to me, Why do you ask me these questions, Baz? You know I never keep track. Besides, what difference does it make? To me, this is just the planet of the indigo sky, so far anyway. We only just got here.
I sighed and said, “So when is it going to be my turn to fly and your turn to walk?”
Again Jiri was quiet before she said, As soon as you take your lessons more seriously and learn to shift. Then we can trade places for a while.
I’m sure I must have made a rude sound with my mouth and said, “You sure know how to ruin a good grizzle. It’s no fun if it’s my own fault.”
Then I heard an exclamation of disbelief from the bird above me and, Baz! Come quick.
So I ran to catch up to where Jiri had flown ahead.
But when I came around the foot of one of the mountainous hills of black sand I saw the first of the three moons just beginning to come up over the horizon and the whole landscape was beginning to change.
It was as if everywhere the moonlight touched a veil was being created and as the moon rose higher and higher into the dark indigo sky its light created illusions so strong that they looked completely real. Or maybe they were.
It was like there were curtains or veils everywhere and a few seconds after they appeared they would begin to rise, like the curtains on the stage of a theatre. But these veils looked as if they were made of … wispy, opaque mists.
I felt vaguely as if I was beginning a walkthrough of an eerie peep show, only I had no idea what I was going to be peeping at.
I heard a grumble then from Jiri, then she said, Damn, those veil things go right up over the top. I can’t see any more than you can.
She then circled back, landed next to me, and shifted into her human form. She was tall, muscular, and had short dark brown hair with golden brown highlights exactly the colours of her golden eagle feathers.
When I saw her standing there I took a firmer grip on my walking staff, which was not only a walking staff but also my first line of defence if there was something unsavoury hiding behind those shifting, wispy curtains. I did carry a gun of sorts but I had never had any call to use it and I had no intention to now unless it was unavoidable.
And if necessary, Jiri would shift back to her eagle form and attack from the sky as well.
She looked at me, shrugged and said, “This is one of those times when a grounds-eye view is going to be better than a birds-eye view so I don’t want to hear any guff from you, ok?”
I chuckled and nodded but was watching closely as the first veil began to rise enough to see that there was something very colourful behind it.
But what happened next still confuses me so I’ll just explain it the best I can.
First of all my brain started to feel as if it was full of buzzing bees, or like I could hear nothing but static on an old fashion radio. Then there was a burst of colour and I was a child again, visiting my first circus.
The circus tents were all red and yellow stripes, and there were clowns with painted faces and elephants with big, floppy, grey ears. There was the smell of fresh sawdust and popcorn that made me hungry. The sun was shining down on me and the heat felt good. I could hear a lion somewhere roaring and it made me jump. I could even taste the cotton candy I’d eaten only moments before. In fact, my fingers still felt sticky and I tried wiping them up and down on the legs of my trousers.
The childish joy I felt on that day overwhelmed me then and I felt the same way I had on that day so many years before.
I turned to Jiri then to see if she was seeing the same thing I was but when I looked at her she was just a little girl and she was off dancing in a field of wildflowers that hadn’t been there moments before when I’d looked to see where she was.
I had to call to her several times and it wasn’t until I called to her in mind-speak that she finally turned and looked at me and squealed, “What?! I’m having fun. Come dance with me.”
But as soon as those words were out of her mouth, she frowned and stopped dancing.
“Why are you a little boy? And why are we standing in the middle of a circus?”
I frowned too and said, “Um, no, I was wondering why you were a little girl and why we were standing in the middle of a field of wildflowers.”
A slight smirk formed on her lips and she said, “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
I think my frown deepened at that point and I said, “This doesn’t seem to be worrying you in the least. Don’t you think this could be the least bit dangerous? I mean, these veils could put either one of us right on the edge of a cliff and make us fall over, for crying out loud.”
Just then other veils began to rise, seemingly all at once, and Jiri and I began to see other scenes from our childhoods and as the moon rose further in the sky the veils rose faster and faster and soon we were being inundated with scenes so fast that, at least for me, it felt as if I were seeing my life flash before my eyes in disjointed snapshots.
I remember grabbing Jiri’s hand and saying, “Come on, we gotta get out of this before something really crazy happens.”
So we ran, hand in hand, for our shuttle, hoping that it would shield us from the worst of the effects of this moon.
As we ran, Jiri said, “How long before the next moon rises?”
I think I groaned before I said, “The gods only know. I hate to think what that one might bring.”
Jiri stopped for a moment and shifted to her eagle form and sprang into the sky.
A panic sparked me to run after her, yelling “Jiri! No! What are you doing? You’re going to get yourself killed!”
I suddenly heard her eagle’s cry and she said, Oh no, Baz, it’s ok. It seems that from up here I’m not directly affected by the veils but oh my gods, the things I can see now that the veils are up! Please, Baz, try to shift. You have to see this.
My first response to that statement was, “No chance. I will never be able to clear my mind enough to shift. Not with all this nonsense going on.”
Oh, come on, Baz, you have to try.
So I stopped then and that was my first big mistake because the veils all seemed to pounce on me at once.
Scenes, not only from my own life but from lives I had no knowledge of, inundated me with emotions and pictures, with smells, tastes, sounds, and sensations so that I didn’t know where I was, who I was, or what I was doing. Worst of all though, was that I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing.
I kept hearing Jiri’s mind-voice in my head telling me to shift, telling me to relax and clear my mind, telling me to block out the illusions but I couldn’t. I simply did not know how to close my mind to the hallucinations.
Finally came a hallucination stronger than all the others and I cried out in gratitude.
It was a hallucination of me shifting, or of someone else shifting, and it enabled me to become the bird of prey that had long languished in my soul. It had been there since I was a child and had first learned that I had Shifters in my family tree.
It was the oddest sensation of my life and I think the oddness factor was intensified by the fact that I was not only experiencing my own shift for the first time but because I was experiencing another person’s shift at the same time.
The first thing I felt was that I was shrinking. My bones felt as if they were made of putty and that someone was squashing me together from both ends. There was also a terrible burning in my throat and sickly sweet, metallic taste in my mouth. I felt my fingers disappear and the hair all over my body thicken and begin to grow. I have no idea where my clothes went but I all at once realised that I was no longer clothed and I was covered in feathers. Then I noticed that it was as if someone had turned off my sense of smell but had turned my eyes up to superhuman levels. That was when I realised that I wasn’t exactly human any more.
At that point, I held out my arms and saw wings and when I tried to wiggle my toes my talons crunched deep into the black sand of the planet.
I had become the red-tail hawk and was about to leap into the sky to escape the veils when I realised that it had been Jiri’s hallucination that had enabled me to shift.
She was standing beside me in human form and had been holding my hand before it disappeared, and had been why I’d seen her ‘memory’ rather than any of the others.
But now I could see that she was being overwhelmed with the visions again and unless we worked together one or other of us was never going to escape this madness.
I returned to my human form and I heard Jiri groan and forced out, “Go, you idiot, I came back to save you.”
Shaking my head I grabbed her hand and forced the shifting memory back into her mind and told her that we were going to shift together so we could both escape the madness.
With her beautiful green eyes beginning to glaze over she nodded but said, “Baz, for us to do this you have to concentrate very hard on your own bird because if you get too caught up in mine, since we are both doing this from my memory at the same time there is a very slight possibility that we will meld into one bird.”
I have to admit that I thought what she’d said was ridiculous but I nodded grimly and quickly began my shift before I could be overcome with the hallucinations again.
And once I was the red-tail again the visions quickly dissipated and both Jiri and I leapt into the sky.
The sensation of that first escape from the ties of being planet-bound was one of the most incredible of my life. The air rushing over my body and under my wings was breathtaking, lifting me off the ground and flinging me across the sky. I was only about half the size of Jiri’s eagle form but I could not have cared less. I was free.
The view from the sky was completely different from what Jiri and I had experienced on the ground and I could see why she had been so anxious for me to see it from above.
It was like looking through a kaleidoscope of images, all moving and flickering before our keenly sighted eyes but not touching our minds the way they had on the ground.
Oddly the scenes seemed to march across the landscaped like some kind of bizarre army.
And actually, thinking about it, that army of hallucinations could easily have overwhelmed quite a large force had it been trying to invade the planet. Which to me was a very sobering thought.
Then, as Jiri and I watched, the second moon, a blood red moon began to rise.
I heard Jiri’s mind-voice say, Let’s get the hell out of here, shall we? I have no desire to see what nightmares this blood moon might bring with it.
I screeched my agreement and we both flew off in the direction of our shuttle, even though I was curious to see what the second and third moons would bring. Though I was not curious enough to stay and find out.
However, there was a problem we hadn’t counted on when we reached the shuttle.
The veils had totally encapsulated it to the point where it could hardly be seen through the overlapping veils. So we decided to wait for the lull between the moons to try to get in.
We couldn’t have been more wrong though, because there was no lull. The Moon of Veils did not set before that Blood Moon began to make its mark on the landscape.
The weird thing was the moon didn’t stay red. It was as if the blood drained away as we watched. The higher it rose in the sky the more the colour changed.
We watched it go from red to orange, and orange to yellow, and yellow to green. And each colour began to build an element of the landscape.
It was like watching an artist painting a picture, laying down colours in layers.
At first, it was hard to tell what the picture was going to be but by the time it had changed to green it was a painting of a lush and verdant world.
I was suddenly curious about what would happen when the Painter’s Moon, as Jiri and I have decided to call it, reached our shuttle.
I didn’t have long to wait though and was very worried the shuttle would be swallowed up by the profusion of vegetation that was growing up out of nowhere. And it was growing so fast that I was right to worry.
If Jiri and I hadn’t landed, which was a terrifying prospect with what might happen to us if the painting decided to try to paint over us, the shuttle would have been totally overgrown in a matter of minutes.
It was only the fact that Jiri and I kept moving and were continually pulling the growing vines and plants off and away from the shuttle, ourselves and each other that we all (Jiri, the shuttle and I) survived. I am certain that if we hadn’t we would have been suffocated and killed by those plants.
That was when Jiri said, “Baz, what do you think the blue moon is going to bring?”
I stopped moving for a second to turn and look at her as I answered but realised very quickly that it wasn’t a good idea.
I immediately went back to my task, trying to catch up with what I’d missed in my momentary lull but said, “Blue moon? What do you mean? How do you know?”
Then it dawned on me and before she could respond, I added, “Oh right, red, orange, yellow, green, and the next would be blue. Weeeellll, um, water? In paintings water is blue … isn’t it?”
But by then it was too late, the rain had begun.
Luckily, we had the hatch of the shuttle clear and were able to get inside before we were drowned by the torrential downpour that came without warning.
I was worried the whole planet would flood before the next phase of this second moon and wondered if there would be six phases, like in a rainbow, or if there would be seven, like in the chakras of the human body.
We were relatively lucky though because it ended up that there were only six phases but I was still worried what the purple phase would bring.
Neither Jiri nor I could imagine what the second moon was going to throw at us next so before it could become a reality we decided that it would best for us to take off before we found out the hard way.
We had only just managed to take off when the rain suddenly stopped and another totally unexpected event started as the purple phase began.
The purple phase brought … flowers, huge purple flowers.
Jiri and I were bemused by the final swan song of the Painter’s Moon. We thought maybe we’d have been safe on the planet until we saw what the flowers did.
They had what looked like a large bulb behind the flower petals that grew and grew until they literally popped. When they did, black spores flew everywhere and there were so many thousands of flowers, even in the small area we could see, that the spores became clouds that drifted this way and that with the currents of air.
That was when the third moon finally rose and it was a sickly greeny-grey colour that boded ill as far as Jiri and I were concerned.
As we hovered over the planet we both sat in utter silence as we watched the light of the Moon of Decay wither everything it touched.
Afraid of what that light might do to our shuttle we rose to what we agreed was probably a safe altitude and watched as every plant, vine, and purple flower was reduced to mush, then dust, and the black spores the flowers had produced become what Jiri and I had assumed was black sand.
And when the third moon finally set we saw exactly the same landscape we’d seen when we arrived.
Jiri shook her head and with real sadness in her voice, she said, “We have just watched that planet go through its entire evolutionary process in a one day cycle. How many thousands, or even millions, of times has that planet, with its indigo sky, gone through that process?”
I sighed and nodded, then said, “Yeah, and it makes me wonder if the entire make-up of this planet is just those black spores. And where did the original spores come from? And what was up with those veils? What did they have to do with the rest of what happened with the other two moons? And what was up with … ?”
Jiri held up her hand then, as if to ward off my words, and said, “I’m sorry, Baz, but I suddenly have a blinding headache.
That was when I saw a dusting of the black spores swirling on the floor of the shuttle and around Jiri’s legs.
A fear I had never experienced before gripped me then and I grabbed Jiri’s wrist in an effort to pull her to her feet but rather than that she just slumped to the floor.
To my horror I watched the black spores begin to swirl toward Jiri’s face.
I snatched her off the floor as fast as I could and hurried to the back of the shuttle where our stasis pods were located.
Though, as I moved I was horrified to see that the spores had continued to swirl and had slowly followed me to the back of the cabin.
Luckily, I was able to punch the button to open Jiri’s pod with my elbow and lowered her down inside it and closed the clear domed lid before any of the spores could reach us.
As soon as I thought Jiri was safe I punched open my own pod and leapt in as quickly as I could and barely got it closed before the black spores swirled up in what I can only guess was an attempt to get into the pod with me.
The last thing I did before the pod’s stasis process was complete was to send a distress call and warning message back to our mother ship, the Timewalker.
The plan was that it would pluck us out of orbit within 72 hours of receiving the signal.
Then I closed my eyes, expecting that by the time I opened them again this nightmare would be over, but I was wrong.
It has now been three months and I am still in quarantine but my poor Jiri is not only still in quarantine but has gone quite mad. And as each day passes I’m afraid that I too am going mad because not only do I see the black spores everywhere, that no one else can see, but I’ve begun to see the hallucinations again.
It is now my considered opinion that the Moon of Veils on the planet of Indigo Sky is only a reflective recorder of what the people that had once lived on the planet went through as they too slowly went insane.
Indigo Sky is now on the prohibited planets list and will hopefully never capture anyone else.
But oh gods here they come again … the veils.