“It’s mucky out here, Z’lar. I can’t see a thing through all this black dust.”
Z’lar clicked in dismay. “It gives great cover, N’lar. We wait here per instructions.”
“But why this quadrant? There’s nothing out here but a bunch of globules.” N’lar stroked his sleek blue head. It calmed him for the moment.
“Earth isn’t the only habited planet, N’lar. You’ve fed on those silly creatures enough. We’re going to one of those nice slushy moons around Jupiter. Recalibrate the lenses. I want a closer look before we inform the other pods.”
“You’ve got bubbles for brains. Where’s Mamat? I don’t like what I’m seeing on screen. There’s something port side.”
“Maybe it’s dinner.” Mamat bent down then wriggled through the entryway.
Z’lar and N’lar made scooping motions with their hands, mimicked eating, rolled their thick tongues around bulbous lips.
“We’ll have an alien pudding before we’re through with this quadrant, “ Z’lar sniggered.
“Where are your manners?” Mamat shoved each brother to the side to get a better look at the screen.
“Looks like the usual gas whirls—let me see that vid feed. Here’s your problem. You idiots have brought us too close to the nebula.”
N’lar hung his head, snorted.
”There’s too much activity here.” Mamat glared at them from icy blue orbs. N’lar imagined popping them into his mouth, and then waiting for that luscious squirt.
“Then we’re the pudding, eh Mamat?”
“If there’s anything left of you to goop up,” Mamat chuckled, a strange sound they’d never get used to.”
“Some invaders we are. The Zor, may It reign through all time and space, will not be pleased.” Z’lar’s nostrils flared.
“The Zor,” Mamat cautiously chose her words, “has never visited this quadrant. It knows nothing but what we tell It. This is supposed to be a survey mission. We’re not invading until The Council, may It forever rotate around Itself, decides there’s something to be had here.” She peered through the aft portal,shook her head. “I don’t think it’s the Parnaks. They were faster. More powerful. If you believe the reports.”
“I’m still hungry,” N’lar whined. “Anything left in the cages?”
“No one’s feeding again until we solve this puzzle. Z’lar, get us out of this—whatever it is. N’lar, contact pods three through seven. We’ll rendezvous on Europa. I’ll be in my cell. Let me know when you’ve heard back from them.”
“Eh, Mamat.” Z’lar frantically slid knobs, pressed glowing buttons.
“What?” Mamat clenched and unclenched her fists.
“We’re getting pulled in,” Z’lar tapped the screen. “To that!”
The central view screen’s murky surface began to clear, revealing a pulsing maw of crimson heat. Dark tendrils, each writhing and whipping about, suddenly stiffened, and then excreted a dark viscous substance, which drifted toward them.
“Not a storm,” N’lar whimpered.
“I thought they were legend,” Mamat exhaled slowly before taking another breath.
Z’lar huffed, grabbed Mamat by her suit. She shoved him away.
“It’s a breeding ground, you idiots. You’ve taken us right into their breeding grounds!”
“And they’re hungry,” were the last words Mamat uttered.
(image credit: bigrdesign)
Author's Note: I originally wrote this story years ago for iscifistory, and it seemed like a good fit for this challenge.