Monthly Writing Challenge (January 2022)

January 2022 Prompt: Diana Goes on an Adventure and She Hates Space; this one is dedicated to my Work Wife.

Diana was dying.  She could feel her muscles beginning to stiffen, the rigor mortis setting in.  She felt badly about not telling Scotty goodbye that morning.  He really should listen to her more often, though.

            Although, she supposed there was only so much attention one should expect for a cat to pay them.

            Anyway… she was getting distracted.

            Diana was dying.  The muscles in her arms ached, her legs were beginning to go numb.  The hallucinations were beginning to set in, she was hearing voices.

            “Di, are you even listening?”  There was one now.  She was too busy to listen, she was dying after all.  Surely one could die of boredom, couldn’t they?

            A hand was being waved in front of her face; quite obnoxiously actually, if she were being honest.  With considerable effort, Diana refocused her energy from dying of boredom, to Henry.  The physical man standing in the actual room with her.

            “What now?” she asked him impatiently.  “Can you not see that I am incredibly busy at the moment?”

            “Mm,” said Henry, his brows raised, and his lips pursed in blossoming annoyance.  Diana could practically hear his facial expression in that one simple sound.  “Clearly”, he added, a man of few words was her Henry.  “So much so that you have nearly burnt your sample beyond recognition.”  A man of few words usually. 

            Diana’s gaze shot back down to the lab equipment on the bench in front of her.  She had not remembered staring at the periodic table on the wall opposite her.  Her sample dish was smoking menacingly.  Henry moved to stand beside her stool, joining her in staring down at her ruined sample.

            “Shit!” Diana cried.  She had been so busy trying to hold the other instruments steady, that she had completely neglected the temperature gauge.  “Shit!” Diana continued, frantically trying to correct her error.  “Shit, shit, shit!!  Why didn’t you say something, Henry!?”

            Henry rolled his eyes as he crossed his arms across his chest.  “Oh yes, why didn’t I spend the last ten minutes trying to hopelessly gain your attention?”  He grinned as he watched her.  “You really should just leave it,” he suggested, “that isn’t salvageable.”

            “You would like me to believe that, wouldn’t you?” Diana demanded, scowling at him as she sent lab equipment clattering across the tabletop.

            “You do remember we are lab partners, not competitors, don’t you?”  Henry’s brow did that adorable little quirk that she loved.  The dimple in his chin more prominent with his smirk.

            Diana scowled at the look of bemusement on Henry’s face.  He was always trying to distract her with adorableness.  It was not going to work today.

            “Let’s get dinner, we can try and figure out what happened then,” Henry was saying.  She ignored how much closer he had slid towards her along the workstation.

            “No, no, I know what happened,” she said.  “You go on without me,” she added, waving her hand at him dismissively.

            Sighing in defeat, Henry threw his hands up into the air.  “Fine,” he said, “I can tell when I’m not wanted.”

            “Are you absolutely certain about that?” Diana asked.  She looked up at him over the rim of her glasses that had been progressively slipping down her nose.

            Raising his hand to his heart mockingly, Henry took a stumbling step towards Diana.  In death, he fell upon her lab table, beakers clattering noisily as they toppled.  One piercing blue eye peeped up at her from beneath his long, dark lashes.  A coy grin was spreading across his face.

            “Forever a drama queen, are you not?”  Diana’s dark brow quirked in his direction.  “Lucky you didn’t break anything,” she tutted, righting a toppled beaker.

            Henry straightened, shrugging his holders as his head tipped to one side.

            “Have it your way,” he said.  “Just don’t go too far without me.”

            Diana waved her hand at him once more, her fingers fluttering.  “Yes, yes, I know,” she said with a huff.  “It’s a dangerous substance, we don’t know what it does yet,” she said shortly, mimicking a stern tone.

            “I was thinking more along the lines of I didn’t want to miss anything,” Henry corrected.  “But… yes, what you said as well.”  He gave her a little smile.  “See you at home, then?”

            “See you at home,” Diana confirmed as Henry bent to kiss her cheek.  She watched him go, a smile creeping across her lips as she did.  Most couples would shy away from the prospect of working so closely with their spouse, but not them.  It created an ease and comfort level that were necessary to build strong trust in a lab partner.

            Diana shook her head; Henry did not even need to be here to distract her.  She wiggled her fingers, preparing herself for take two of their experiment on the mysterious substance that had been found in the archives of the Ancient Greece section of the History Museum.  Everyone in the building had gone into a tailspin when a cleaner had found a mysterious, thick black substance on the floor in the middle of an aisle.  There had been no trace of a spill or any indication of where the substance had come from.  Currently, it was working its way through the various science departments attempting to identify it.  Thus far they had determined it was not biohazardous, toxic, nor radioactive, but beyond that it was proving painfully difficult to identify.  It did not share any of the same properties as other substances found on earth, nor did it match any chemicals.  They were becoming very good at determining what the thick, black, iridescent – much like car oil in water, but in more of a solid form – substance was not. 

            Realigning the various instruments, Diana reached for a new sample tray and applied a small amount of the mysterious substance.  It sparked and fizzled when the heat was introduced.  She furrowed her brow; that was odd, she was pretty certain it had not reacted like that the first time.  Diana reached for her lab journal to record the anomaly, when the sample dish shot out an array of multi-colored lights. 

            Diana shrieked, diving for the floor.

            She stayed pressed to the floor for five more minutes, expecting something more to happen.

            But nothing did.

            She looked around curiously before slowly, and cautiously, pulling herself up from the floor.  She peered over the edge of the counter.  The sample dish was smoking.  Again.  The nearby beakers that Henry had knocked over on his exit were now scattered shards of shattered glass.  She had not heard them break.  The countertop was charred.  Had there been a fire?  Diana could not even recall an explosion of any type.  There couldn’t have been, none of the lab’s safety alarms were sounding.  There had only been the colored lights.

            How could the lab be in this level of destruction with no alarms sounding?

            Henry would never let her hear the end of this when she told him.  She had not only partially destroyed the lab, but also managed to damage the safety systems.

            Letting out a sigh of annoyance, Diana turned to begin her night of clean up.  She couldn’t very well pack up and head home for the night, now, could she?  She froze in her tracks.  She was not alone.

            Standing little more than a few yards from her, stood… a creature.  One of which Diana had no name for.  Nothing even close.  The closest things she could think of were centaur, dragon, Pegasus, and Medusa combined into one.

            The being stood no higher than Diana’s mid-thigh.  It had the upper body of a humanoid creature, the skin dark and iridescent like a black pearl.  Its eyes were a striking silver, its pupils were oval in shape.  Instead of hair, there were tendrils sprouting from its scalp, falling to rest upon its shoulders, the ends forming little bulb-like shapes.  From its would-be hairline, spiraled two ebony horns, twisting towards the sky, similar to a Racka.  It’s lower body – what would be the body of a horse on a Centaur – was covered in iridescent scales.  Its legs looked as though they worked in the opposite direction of a horse’s.  It had feet much like dragons were imagined to possess, its toes ending in long, sharp talons.  Its tail was long, covered in scales and ending in a spade-like top.  From its mid-back, where the pearl-like skin met the scales, sprouted a pair of black wings.  They were the type of black where all details disappeared into the darkness and Diana could not tell if they were feathered, like a Pegasus, or a membrane, like a dragon.

            Diana blinked.  Had she hit her head?

            The creature shook its head.

            Had it… had it just answered her?

            Now the creature nodded, pointing one clawed finger to its own head and gesturing to Diana.

            But… where did you come from?” Diana asked aloud.

            The being pointed to Diana’s workstation and the burnt remains.  Diana’s gaze followed the being’s indication, staring at her workstation.

            “The substance?” she finally asked.

            The being nodded.

            “Did I… did I summon you?”

            The being shook its head.  It moved its arm quickly before it, indicating a circle.

            “A… a portal?”

            The being nodded, giving its little hands a clap in delight.

            “A portal to what?”  Diana asked, perplexed.

            Surely, she was not looking at an alien life form.  She had done everything in her career to avoid the potential of working with anything to do with space.  Diana hated space.  It was so… vast.  And unknown.

            She shivered just thinking about it.

            The being drew Diana’s attention back to it as it opened its mouth.  A mesmerizing sound came out, much like being underwater and hearing someone speaking above.  It was garbled, and made very little sense, but most importantly contained sounds that Diana did not think her vocal cords were capable of making.

            “So, you can speak!” Diana said in excitement.

            The being made more sounds.

            “My ears are too primitive to understand as you’re from another dimension?” Diana scratched her head.  “Wait, how do I know that?”  She smiled.  “Of course; I cannot understand your language, so you’re telling me in a manner I can understand.”

            The being nodded, clapping again.

            The words she had said finally began to sink into Diana.  She had opened a portal to another dimension.  She knelt down, looking the small being in its bright, silver eyes.  Had it meant to come through the portal?  She hoped she had not pulled it through unwillingly.

            She looked back towards the being, her brow furrowing in concentration.

            “You’ve… lost something?” Diana asked.  “Long ago… fascinating,” she murmured.  “What did you lose?”  The only semblance of an answer she received was importance.  “Where could you have lost it?” she tried again.

            The being remained silent – it was always silent – unresponsive, it remained unresponsive.

            Diana’s brow creased as she thought.  If the being had lost something here, she presumed that meant it had been here before.  Where had the cleaning staff found the substance?

            “In the Greek antiquities storage,” Diana said half to herself.  When she turned her gaze back to the being, its silver eyes were lit with excitement and pleasure at her cleverness.

            “You’ve been to ancient Greece, haven’t you?” Diana asked gleefully.

            The being nodded, its eyes twinkling even brighter.

            Looking at the being more carefully, Diana could see she had been right before.  There was the inspiration for many of the most popular mythological creatures.  There was a dragon, a centaur, a mermaid, a unicorn, a Pegasus, and those were simply the ones that Diana could identify.  Who knew what else this being had inspired?

            The being began preening; it was proud of being that inspiration.

            Henry was never going to believe this.

            “Something in the Greek Antiquities storage belongs to you, doesn’t it?” Diana said once again.

            The being nodded.

            “But you do not have the words to describe it to me,” she concluded.

            The being nodded once more, miming a vague shape as it did.  It could have been anything; a vase, a goblet… Thankfully nothing like that had survived the ancient Greek era.

            The being squawked in alarm.

            “Apologies,” Diana said hastily, “I forgot you can listen in.  Sarcastic thoughts,” she explained, “that’s all that was.  There are loads of those types of relics from the Hellenistic Era.”  She smiled reassuringly.  “If I take you down there, will you recognize it?”

            She gave a start of surprise.  “How handy,” she said, “it calls to you!”

            For the second time that day, Diana pulled herself up from the floor.  “Well, come on then,” she said, “it’s after hours, so let’s go poke around for a bit.”

            The being followed along closely behind Diana, keeping pace surprisingly easily for a being of its stature.  She could practically hear Henry behind her saying “Well, it does have twice as many legs as you.”  Diana couldn’t help but giggle and she felt a probing in her mind.  So, she explained her imagined Henry joked to her other-dimensional companion.

            At first, Diana felt and heard nothing, and she was afraid she had offended the little thing.  But then she felt what could only be described as bubbles in her brain and she realized the being was laughing.  She laughed along with it, delighted.

            When they arrived in the ancient Greek antiquities’ storage, Diana looked to the being for direction.  However, it just gave a tiny shrug-like gesture.

            “Nothing yet, eh?” Diana asked, leading the way down the center aisle.  She scanned the racks, looking for anything that resembled the inverted triangle the being had mimed earlier.

            Behind Diana, the being let out a chirrup of surprise.  As Diana turned to see what had caught its attention, she was just in time to see the being clambering through a rack of antiquities.  Her breath caught in her throat, fearing it was about to obliviate dozens of priceless relics.  But not one of them even wiggled, as the being appeared to be phasing through them.

            Curious, she thought.

            Diana set off, making her way around the racks, as she could not phase through them, attempting to follow the being.

            It took size aisles, but Diana finally caught up to her other dimensional friend.  It was riffling through a casket of gems, flinging the glittering rejects onto the concrete floor.  Diana winced as each priceless piece of rock that was not what the being sought clattered and skittered across the floor.

            She hurried forward, snatching up a basket from a nearby rack, and continued to begin to collect the discarded gems from the floor. 

            “No, no, here,” Diana gestured to her basket as the being was about to hurl an emerald the size of her fist over its shoulder.  The being looked at her, blinking its silver eyes slowly.  Shrugging, it dropped the emerald unceremoniously into Diana’s waiting basket.

            Diana waited patiently as the being riffled through diamonds, sapphires, rubies, amethysts, and chunks of jasper, lapis lazuli, heliotrope, and opals.  She watched as with each new gem, the being’s eyes would light up in hope that this was the one.  But then it would let out a bubbling warble and toss it into Diana’s waiting basket.  To pass the time, Diana began to hum; nothing in particular, just something to distract herself from the absurdity of the situation.  Ransacking an ancient Greek king’s treasure horde with an interdimensional being, she giggled nervously.

            Realizing it had been a longer pause since she had last caught a gem, Diana refocused on the being.  It was staring at her expectantly.

            “Oh, sorry,” Diana held the basket up a bit higher, she must have lowered it without realizing.

            The being shook its head, pushing the basket back down.  It gestured to its throat, flourishing its fingers as the extended their hand up along their throat and out from beneath their chin.

            “Oh!” Diana exclaimed, “did you like my humming?”

            The being gave a pleased sounding chirrup.

            “Do you not have music where you come from?” Diana asked.  “You do, just not self-made.  Fascinating.”  Diana paused, holding the being’s gaze.  “You can only make music with others!  Fascinating indeed!!  A communal band, then!”

            The being released its bubble-like laughter.  It gestured to Diana’s throat and mouth.

            “You would like me to continue humming?”

            The being nodded.

            Diana cleared her throat and began humming aimlessly, creating her own song as she went.  She watched the being’s eyes go wide in wonder.  One of its back legs began to tap its foot along with her.  The being’s head swiveled around to stare in alarm at its rogue, tapping leg.  It pushed down on its back hip, attempting to cease the limb’s bouncing.  Diana erupted in laughter.  She continued humming and began dancing about with the basket, twirling the gems here, dipping them there.  All the while, the being’s eyes followed her along, transfixed as it slowly loosened its grip on its back leg.

            “This is called dancing,” she said.  “You just move to the rhythm; like your foot tapping there, but your whole body.”

            The being watched closely, its head beginning to bob along as it followed her.  It released its leg, allowing the tapping.  It began to mirror Diana as she swayed back and forth.

            The time passed much more quickly as the pair danced along to Diana’s humming.  She felt a surge of pride; she had taught an interdimensional being something, and dancing.  Briefly, she had considered playing actual music on her phone, but Diana did not want to completely alarm her new friend.  It was strange how… companionable… this all felt.  She did not feel like she was interacting with a being from another dimension.  Diana had never even considered if it might be dangerous.  Part of her wondered if the being had immediately pressed those feelings upon her to keep it calm at its arrival.

            Suddenly, the being let out a warbling chirrup of excitement.  It was straightening from the casket of gems it had been riffling through.  The tendrils on its head began pulsating with an ice-blue light from root to tip, growing brightest in the bulbs at the end.  The tendrils began to float into the air, defying gravity and moving with the elegance of human hair underwater.  The being turned towards Diana, clutching a pyramid with rounded tips shaped object to its chest.  It pulsed opposite, but still in rhythm, with the being’s tendrils as it rested in its hands.

            “You found it,” Diana breathed.

            The being nodded.

            “What is it?” she asked.  “A way to go home?  To find home.  Have you been trying to find your way home since ancient Greece?”

            The being nodded slowly.

            “All this time,” Diana murmured, “you’ve been… what?  Wandering aimlessly through other dimensions.

            Again, the being nodded.

            “Well, let’s get you home, then!  A few thousand years away from home is long enough!”

            The being nodded eagerly, clambering down from the rack it had been searching.  It held aloft the navigation device, and began speaking in its warbling, underwater-like voice.  Diana watched in awe as a circle of multi-colored light shot forth from the device, rippling through the air with a crackle as it created a portal.  The center slowly filled in with a black, iridescent substance, like the coloring of its scales on its lower body.

            The being turned back to Diana, its silver eyes almost… sad.

            “So, this is goodbye then,” Diana said with a sigh of sadness.

            The being emitted a chirrup that seemingly turned down at the end with sadness.

            Setting aside the basket of gems, Diana knelt to be on the same level as the being.

            “I have enjoyed our time together,” she said, forcing a smile while her eyes unexpectedly filled with tears.

            The being reached out, placing its dark hand upon her pale arm.  Its bright eyes searched hers for a long, heavy moment.

            “Thhhh… ah… nk… ooo,” it finally croaked.

            Diana’s hand fluttered to her chest, breathless.  She could feel the strain it had taken on the being to form her words.  The aching impression it left on the being’s throat, was similar to the ache that was growing in her heart.

            “You are most welcome, my friend,” said Diana, wiping away a tear that had made its way down her cheek.

            The being pressed something into Diana’s palm before it began moving away towards the portal.  When it reached the portal, it turned back to look at Diana over its shoulder and wing.  She was flooded with joy, gratitude, and excitement from the being, but also an unexpected sadness.

            “Goodbye, my friend,” she said quietly, giving it a small wave.  The being mirrored her wave, smiling back at Diana.

            For the first time, the being spread it black wings.  They were much wider than Diana expected, given the being’s small size, but they were nearly as wide as she was tall.  It fluttered gracefully into the air, just as she had imagined it would move, more like a gliding leaf, than a flying bird.  It flew back to Diana, circling her and extending a hand towards her.  Diana raised her hand in response, the being’s outstretched fingers grazing the skin of her raised palm.  The skin burned pleasantly with warmth where it touched her.

            The being then shot back towards the portal.  With a blinding flash of multi-colored lights and a sound like a static electric shock, the being flew through the center of the portal and was gone, the portal fading away behind it.

            For the briefest of moments, Diana had been able to see through the portal.  There had been a glittering, bright city; one that put everyone concocted for Science Fiction films to shame and making them look embarrassingly outdated.  It had left her feeling as though her own world were dull in comparison.

            She sat back on her heels, a sadness and loneliness suddenly overwhelming her.  She had not expected to miss the being so much so quickly.  Though, she supposed that was the expected outcome having spent an entire night with someone.  Exhaustion flooding through her, Diana realized it must be very late indeed and that Henry was likely worried sick about her.  She felt her pockets, she didn’t have her phone on her, he’d probably left dozens of voicemails by now.  Glancing at her watch, Diana blinked in confusion.  Henry had barely been gone an hour.  But to her, it had felt like all night had passed.

            How strange…

            Diana remembered the being’s parting gift.  She spread the fingers of her left hand.  There, in her palm, was a handful of the being’s iridescent scales.  Unfolding the fingers of her other hand, Diana saw a symbol… etched?… into her skin.  The symbol had the same coloring as the being’s skin: the shimmering, multi-colored glory of a black pearl.

            Diana instantly knew what she was meant to do with each.  One was the materials to create the substance to form a portal, and the other was directions.  She could feel the being’s final, parting message ringing in her ears as though it had actually been spoken aloud to her.

            They would see one another again.

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