This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap: The last chapter ended with Sneha being shaken by her encounter with a legendary alien life form of the Antilla constellation. They had communicated with her and even left her their biological fasilogram. Would she die due to the contamination? She waited to see what would happen next to her.

Chapter 4: Evolution

The next two days were boring and agonizing. The team had set up base and were receiving frequent communications from the crew approaching the Fornax Void. They encountered some issues with their backup equipment but in general, their journey seemed to be progressing well. Meanwhile, at the shelter, Sneha kept looking around for floating masses. During her breaks, she looked up the logbooks to find clues. As she scrolled through, she found various accounts of humans who had used the shelter for the last hundred years.Most had either died within its walls or went onwards to their missions.

After much digging, on day 3, she came across the records of her mother: The ‘original Sneha’ that had donated her DNA for research. The records showed that she had come to the shelter…but nothing more. Did that mean that her mother died on this planet? Did she die because of the life form that gave her their fasilogram and her body reacted adversely to it? Or did she just die due to lack of resources, or perhaps another disease she had? She kicked the cabinets hard in frustration. 

The commanding officer called her for a chat soon after that. They had noticed her acting strange since she had fainted and were worried for her and for the rest of the crew on the shelter. Sneha knew she was distracted but could not dare to share what she knew. They would throw her out without protective equipment onto the hostile planet for fear of contamination. She was a clone and dispensable! Instant death would be the only outcome.

“We will need to monitor you for the next fews days until we are sure that you are fine,” they said.

“What does that mean?” asked Sneha surprised. 

“It means that you will stay in the sick bay for a bit and as soon as you have recovered, you can be back at work”.

“I am fine. There is nothing wrong with me” Sneha felt her anger rising. They would only do this to a clone. “I am going to go back to work” she replied curtly as she turned away to walk out. Deep down she knew that they would force her to remain in the sick bay. Clones were not supposed to disagree. 

She dodged the stun shot that the commander fired at her and ran up the stairs to the dome. The door to the outside was right in front of her but she could not step out: she needed the protective gear to breathe and protect her body from being burnt to fumes by the gases on HR 4189-GR. She looked around helplessly as they restrained her and carried her downstairs. 

Sneha was screaming and kicking as they pinned her down to the bed. They held her hands and closed the clasps of the restraints on her wrists as they prepared the shots to subdue her. Sneha yanked at the clasps and then her heart almost stopped beating as she saw her wrists float gently away from the clasps. Just like that she was free! They watched in horror as Sneha almost glided out of the bed and stood swaying and shimmering by the side of the wall. 

Just then, she heard someone call in her head “We are back”. She walked upstairs to the dome followed by the commander and nurses. Sneha looked around and saw the floating shapes surround the entire dome. 

They were here…eerily surrounding the dome. A shimmering, floating circle had come for her. Was this her tribe? She heard a hard thud behind her and saw the commander faint as the shapes moved closer to the dome. “Come out” one of them finally said. Sneha hesitated, not knowing if she would be safe without the gear. She looked at her arms again where the clasps had been and then ran out of the shelter.

As soon as she stepped out, she sensed it. “Mother!” she wept, as she felt the wrap of the floating shapes.

Go back and read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3!

Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.