Fixer

(The other Xmas present story, probably time I should get around to posting it. |D Another humans and aliens story, but much happier than the last one.)

Warnings: mild swearing?


The smooth, steady rumble of the drill gave way to an unpleasant squeal of machinery.

Nngli flinched away from it, her arms contracting closer to her soft core protectively. Nothing further happened, fortunately, but the drill had stopped. Nngli contracted further in upset and disappointment. How could they possibly get the samples she needed now?

“Shit,” came the voice of her one companion on this tumbling asteroid: a human from Terra named Kendall. She emerged from the enclosed drill control station, bounding quickly across the surface in the minimal gravity.

“Hold on!” she called over the comms to Nngli, who followed anxiously after once Kendall had examined the drill and nothing else alarming happened.

“It is broken?” she asked, three arms reaching out and then contracting again. She had no help to offer in this situation. At least she could be grateful that someone (hadn’t it been one of the humans?) had finally worked out a proper translating device that would accurately convert Glion brainwaves into an audible signal for humans. She almost sighed in slight envy for the humans’ ability to produce physical sound, though they did lack the Glion ability to shift color and pattern.

Communication had certainly been difficult at first.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Kendall answered her, laying flat and peering down into the drill hole with a bright light. She stayed there for long clicks, but then pushed herself upright with the sound the humans called a ‘sigh,’ indicating frustration. “There’s something jamming it, which might have broken something. Won’t know ‘til we get it pulled back up.”

“Oh no! Then we shall have to wait for a Fixer to arrive,” Nngli said, all her initial disappointment rushing back. That could take a long time, and this work might not be considered important enough to send anyone. She’d had to find a human Operator to bring her here and work the drill, after all.

“A fixer? You mean someone to make repairs?” asked Kendall. “You’re looking at her!”

Nngli rippled her arms in confusion. “But, Kendall is an Operator!”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do a little repair work here and there,” Kendall moved her face in the shape that humans called a ‘smile.’ “Wouldn’t have kept my ship going so long otherwise!”

“Wait,” Nngli said, arms rippling more in greater confusion. “You mean that your brain allows you to have more than one specialty?”

Kendall stopped and stared at her. “Umm…yes? Do Glion brains…not do that?”

“All learn to think and communicate, of course,” Nngli explained, “but the pathways in our brains are permanently set by that which we learn. Many pathways must be set for expertise, so many must be focused on the desired skills. I am an Analyzer, what you call a scientist. I have studied only Analyzing. I could not learn to be a Fixer now.”

“Oh,” Kendall said, her eyes a bit wide. “That’s…that’s a bit— Well, it’s very different from humans. Our brains create neural networks and pathways, I think, but they aren’t…permanent? They sort of are, but we can make new ones too. So, I know how to operate machinery, like the ship and the drill, but I also know enough about how they’re put together that I can do some repairs too. I don’t know as much as an expert, but in this case, I think I can manage.”

“Really?” Nngli asked, knowing that underneath her vacuum-suit her skin had shifted into the light red color of hope.

“Really,” Kendall promised with another smile.

True to her word, Kendall had the drill unjammed, fixed, and running smoothly again in less than one wake-sleep cycle. Nngli had extended all twelve of her arms, waving them joyfully when the steady rumble had started up again.

“Thank you, Kendall,” she communicated, pleased to receive a smile in return.

“You’re welcome,” Kendall responded. “I think you’re right about this hunk of rock having the elements we need, so I’m glad to help out with this.”

“Achieved quantities will be shared fairly,” Nngli assured her.

“I know, and thanks for that. It’ll help both of us out this way.”

The drill bore down, and Nngli settled in to wait, finding patience and calm where she had been unable to before.

Humans were very different, as she had been warned. But this one, at least, was an excellent partner, and together, they would prove that these asteroids were worth the time and trouble to mine.

Nngli hadn’t ever thought anyone would care about this particular Analyzing work, but she was glad to be wrong. Alone, she could never have reached this asteroid or run the drill. Alone, Kendall would not have known where to look.

But together…together they could succeed.

October 31

Fictober, Prompt 31 – “Scared, me?”

Warnings: monsters, implied hunting. Some Halloween spookiness to finish things off.

Acknowledgment: This whole piece was inspired by a creepy Halloween night description that LiveJournal user eryne-chan wrote many years ago in an LJ RPG. I really liked the description and saved it, and wanted to do something in tribute (though this story is entirely unrelated to the original RPG post). The last half of the last line is borrowed directly from her description, because I could not get it to sound quite right with any other wording. The rest is merely “inspired by.” Happy Halloween!


I always patrol the streets on Halloween. I start early, before the sun is fully down, as the little children and their parents make their trick-or-treating rounds. I’m well known by now, and many of the children wave excitedly when they see me, exclaiming over whichever guise I have picked to wear this year. Their parents nod to me in thanks for the extra pair of watchful eyes.

There are some monsters that would snatch children away.

I nod back, but do not speak to them.

Dark comes early here, at this point in the dying year. Soon enough the streetlights are flickering on, pools of warmer golden light, a safer companion to the cold light of the moon, rising above.

Some of the streetlights continue to flicker, never quite coming on.

The parents with children avoid those streets. The older children, the ones allowed to walk together without adult supervision, make an appearance in greater numbers now.

They do go down the streets with flickering lights, encouraging each other toward the lighted doorways and spookily welcoming decorations.

“Scared, me?” they ask each other brashly, and do not listen to the instincts that tell them to stay away from darker paths.

I do not stop them. That is not my purpose, and in any case, it is mostly safe.

The moon is thin this year, its light weak.

Darkness steals into the spaces between houses, thickening between the pools of lamplight, creeping up to fill the treetops. With true darkness, the children are not the only ones on the streets anymore. More figures, costumed and masked as is appropriate, join the children, following in their footsteps, accepting candy at doorsteps but never taking their eyes from those they follow.

I follow them, and they are forced to nod in acknowledgement. They follow the children, as is their nature, but they do nothing else.

Adults begin to return to the streets, costumed themselves now, heading for restaurants and parties and bars. Other figures join them and are complimented for their costumes. They smile realistic sharp smiles, and nod in thanks, and wait.

They too are forced to nod in acknowledgment as I pass by. They follow the adults, as is their nature, but they do nothing else.

For now.

If the adults notice anything amiss, they brush it off as a product of the atmosphere.

“Scared, me?” they ask each other jokingly, and do not ask why the atmosphere feels the way it does.

Hours pass, and still I patrol the streets. Parties wind down, and people make their way home. Those that know, or sense, that they are not alone hurry. Many hurry. Some move more slowly, unaware, or too inebriated, to realize they should be watching the time.

The seconds tick by. I can hear them in head, though the large clock on the main street counts only minutes and hours, silently.

Almost.

I hold my breath, and many others hold theirs (or not) with me.

The clock strikes midnight.

There is no chime, as there might have been in older times, but all know that it has come. Even the drunkest people feel a sudden chill, and the darkness deepens as the moon slips behind the trees, acknowledging that the time of its pale light is done.

There is a moment of stillness.

I smile.

Masks begin to slip, and other smiles grow sharper.

Those humans who have not made it safely home must now make their way through streets that are less friendly. Some will not make it unscathed. Some will not make it at all.

The darkest hours of All Hallows Eve are our time…and dawn is a long way away.

October 29

Fictober, Prompt 29 – “I’m doing this for you.”

Warnings: monster, creepiness, not much else. Horror, of sorts.


I reeled in another clump of lake weed, and pulled in a deep breath, cultivating patience. Fishing was not my favorite pastime, a feeling exaggerated by the fact that it wasn’t going well today.

“How much longer must we sit here?” the monster asked from the other side of the boat.

Frustration surged up despite my best efforts, and I spun around to face it, scowling.

“I’m doing this for you,” I pointed out, “because you desperately wanted panfish for some unexplainable reason, and even more inexplicably you wanted me to do the fishing. You are well aware that I’m bad at this.”

“The contract—” it began, scowling back.

“The contract,” I interrupted sharply, “states that we will provide you sustenance in the form of livestock, once every two weeks. Anything additional to or apart from that is on a voluntary basis only, and I’m fast running out of a desire to continue volunteering. If you still want panfish caught by me, then shut up. If you don’t, then tell me so we can both go do other things.”

Not that I knew what the monster did with its time when it wasn’t bothering someone in town, but at least it might stop bothering me.

It bared sharp teeth (the one thing about its form that it couldn’t hide or change) at me.

I bared my blunt, human teeth right back at it, snarling. “Well?”

The teeth vanished behind something that was dangerously close to a pout, and it turned away, apparently unwilling to call it quits.

If part of me was less disappointed about that than it should have been, I saw no need to acknowledge it.

Rebaiting my hook, I cast my line back out into the lake, and waited.

And waited.

The monster continued to…sulk? Its semi-furred back was to me. It had chosen a weird shape today, vaguely humanoid but with fur and other, almost cat-like features, though no cat had ever looked like that. It almost reminded me of that one musical with the weird cat costumes, now that I thought about it. Did the monster know about that? Had someone given it access to the internet? That was a truly terrifying notion.

“Why did you want me to catch your fish?” I asked to break the silence and my own increasingly weird train of thought.

Its head turned slightly until one gleaming eye was peering at me over its shoulder. “Because you smell the best.”

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October 28

Fictober, Prompt 28 – “Enough! I heard enough.”

Warnings: bad language, implied past harassing behavior, implied violent death, monster, slightly ambiguous ending? Horror.


“You stupid bitch! You can’t tell me where to walk on a public—”

“I can when you’ve repeatedly been asked to stop harassing my friend and persist in doing it anyway.”

This is harassment, you can’t just—”

I raised one extremely unimpressed eyebrow at him. “You’re the one spending your Friday nights walking around in a serial killer mask, getting your kicks by scaring random strangers. If one of us is in danger of harassing somebody, it’s not me.”

This launched him into another diatribe, with more insults liberally peppered throughout. I was tempted to cast my own aspersions on his character (well, more than I already had), parentage, and intellectual abilities, but restrained myself with effort.

A quick glance showed me that Sasha had snuck by while I was physically blocking him from following her, and she was now out of sight.

“Enough!” I cut him off. “I’ve heard enough. I can’t stop you from walking up and down a public street.  I get that it’s almost Halloween, and you’re not the only one in costume. Plenty of the bar goers even seem to appreciate the scare. But I can and will prevent you from scaring my friend, who has to walk by here for her job every night. She has repeatedly asked that you leave her, specifically, alone, and you have refused, which definitely moves you out of ‘sort of acceptable Halloween creepy’ and solidly into ‘actually creepy asshole.’ So, I will be here every night to walk with her and prevent you from being that creepy asshole as far as she is concerned. Capiche?”

He swore at me again, voice low enough to be muffled by the mask, and turned away.

I wished desperately that I could give him the ass-kicking he richly deserved. Halloween was big in our town, had been for almost a century, and he’d become an (unfortunate) fixture in the past couple years. If he kept his scares to the drunk bar patrons who were looking for that sort of thing, or for ‘fun’ selfies with a famous fictional serial killer, that would be fine.

But that wasn’t enough for our masked friend. I didn’t think he was a real danger to anyone, fake knife notwithstanding, but he was definitely the kind of asshole who enjoyed actually scaring people unwillingly, and that wasn’t cool.

He headed back into the dark alley that he enjoyed lurking in, with one more obvious glance and a raised middle finger at me.

Man, he really deserved that ass-kicking, but I kept my feet firmly planted on the sidewalk outside the alley. He’d not raised a hand or made any attempt to grab or harm me, even now when he’d been really angry, and I wasn’t going to be the one to escalate things.

Something else moved farther back in the alley.

Something big.

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October 27

Fictober, Prompt 27 – “Can you wait for me?”

Warnings: monster, implied violent death, brief mention of blood. North woods horror.


I sighed as Matt threw his plate into the trash bag and started for the lake shore.

“Can you wait for me? We can go together if you just give me a minute to pack everything away,” I called after him.

“It’ll be dark soon, though!” he protested, turning to face me but still walking backwards towards the kayaks. “I want to watch the fish some more.”

“All right,” I told him, sighing again. “Just don’t go too far until I get there, okay?”

“Okay!” he agreed, off again immediately.

As I turned back to dinner clean-up, I realized that his life jacket was still sitting next to mine on the spare picnic table.

“Matt!” I called, “come get your li—”

He wasn’t there. The kayaks sat where they had been since we’d come back earlier in the afternoon, untouched.

“Matt?” I called again, uneasy. “Come back and grab your life jacket before you go.”

No answer.

Unease growing, I put down the pot and started after him. He’d probably just gone into the woods to chase after some interesting plant he’d caught sight of, but usually he yelled for me when he found something exciting.

As I crossed the campsite, peering into the woods on either side, there was no sign of him. There had been no sound either, of someone moving through the leaves and underbrush. I increased my pace, hurrying all the way down to the lake shore, but he wasn’t there either. The kayaks were untouched, the paddles next to them.

Really worried now, I turned back. “MA—!”

He was standing behind me, watching me.

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October 26

Fictober, Prompt 26 – “You keep me warm.”

Warnings: creepiness, monsters, ambiguous ending. Horror.

(Credit for this idea goes to my friend KB, who has three lovely kitties.)


I wiggled carefully to avoid disturbing the cats as I adjusted my blanket and reached for my glass, book braced open with one hand. After a drink, I set it carefully down and chanced giving them each some head rubs, first Cinnamon’s tortoiseshell head, then Sky’s black one.

“Such good kitties,” I cooed at them, grinning as they both accepted the petting agreeably, shifting closer against my legs. “You keep me warm, you like getting scritches, and of course you are both a-do-ra-ble.”

Cinnamon and Sky had been restless today, and not in the way of their usual high-energy play. I frowned slightly remembering it. They had been alert for hours, almost seeming like they were on patrol, walking the perimeters of rooms, stopping regularly at windows and doors, watching. Staring at the ceiling, staring at corners. It got to the point where I had checked things over a couple of hours ago myself, almost convinced that something was wrong. If there was, I hadn’t found it. I had even checked the garage and outside the house too, but everything seemed normal to me.

But they had both settled down a little while ago, finally coming to sit with me as I read on the couch. The house wasn’t particularly old, but there had been a few mice, especially with the weather starting to turn colder outside. Maybe there had just been a mouse or two in the walls, and they’d been trying to track it down.

Returning to my book, I read for awhile, utterly content.

Sky’s head came up first, ears alert. Cinnamon followed. They both looked around, as if searching for something they had heard.

I held still and listened. The clock ticking in the kitchen, faint sounds of wind and passing traffic from outside. Distant hum of the furnace downstairs.

Nothing out of place.

Except that something was, because both cats had risen and jumped down from the couch. They paused there, crouching on the floor, staring across the room at an empty corner.

There was no play in their movements, only hunting intent.

The corner was empty.

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October 25

Fictober, Prompt 25 – “I could really eat something.”

Warnings: off-screen eating of carrion? Fantasy. With dinosaurs. Because I can.

(I’m a bit late tonight, this one wanted to get away from me.)


As we got closer, it became obvious that the large mound ahead was what remained of a dead frill-horn.

Very obvious. A brief whiff made me gag, cough, and pinch my nose as soon as I could to block out even that bit of stench.

Below me, I could sense White-Eye’s opposite reaction. She lifted her head, deliberately sniffing the air.

I could really eat something, she told me hopefully.

“Okay,” I told her, “but maybe let me down here? I’m going to stay back.”

Obligingly, White-Eye bent her strong legs and lowered herself down, letting me clamber out of the minimal saddle strapped over her hips before rising and making her way towards the carcass with long strides.

I smiled fondly after her, still holding my nose, and retreated upwind. There was a small rise nearby that would give me a good vantage point on the surrounding area, so I made for that and put a simple barrier spell before settling down for a stretch and a rest. Most predators would smell White-Eye on me and were willing to respect her judgment, but there were always a few who didn’t care. More importantly, it would also temporarily stop any of the large plant-eaters, who tended to wander around without paying too much attention to what was happening down around their feet.

For a little while, I watched White-Eye eat (a somewhat terrifying process that was better viewed from a distance), but she seemed content enough, and unbothered by the smaller predators swarming the carcass. Soon, the warm afternoon sun had me yawning; we had walked most of the night and all day today. White-Eye was in no danger, and the barrier would warn me in plenty of time to do something about it if anyone approached me, so I let my eyes drift closed.

The sun hadn’t moved too much when I woke, feeling a familiar tremble in the earth from heavy footfalls. I adjusted the spell to expand and cover White-Eye as well as she lowered herself next to me, and forced myself to shift around, tucking up against her side near a small arm.

You are well? She asked, her voice sleepy as she turned her head to peer at me, the patch of white around one eye contrasting brightly with her mostly-dark hide in the sun.

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October 24

Fictober, Prompt 24 – “Patience…is not something I’m known for.”

Warnings: implied monster, implied violent death, ambiguous ending. Horror in a midwest-gothic-adjacent sort of way.


A corn field. Of course part of this stupid Fallfest scavenger hunt would take us into a corn field.

As if my night wasn’t complicated enough already.

My assigned partner for the evening, who had introduced himself as Jake, had been eager to win the hunt. We had flown through the first few items, barely taking any time to get to know each other even though this was supposed to be a dating game. ‘See how compatible you are by looking for clues and solving puzzles together!’ the brochure had said.

Neither of us was actually here for a potential date, though. He assumed that I didn’t know that about him, and I was desperately hoping that he didn’t know that about me.

If he did, then this corn field was going to be even more dangerous.

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October 23

Fictober, Prompt 23 – “You can’t give more than yourself.”

Warnings: implied violent deaths? Nothing onscreen. Fantasy, rural fantasy if that’s a thing. Not quite midwest gothic, but leaning that direction.


Abby paced, agitated and upset, and I could only watch, sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of hot cider to warm my hands. Hers sat abandoned across from me.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said again, stopping only to stare out the window at the rapidly darkening corn fields. “And I’ve got to decide soon, the ritual is in three hours.”

I frowned down at my mug, lips pressed together. I didn’t like the group she was part of, especially the man leading it, but just because she was my sister didn’t mean I could interfere. She had to make her own decisions.

“I’ve learned so much already,” she said, back to pacing. I nodded, still frowning at my mug. That much was true; Abby had been able to harness her strange powers much better, with better control, than she had before, and that was certainly a boon for all of us. It wasn’t that I thought the group was all bad, but something about this ‘ritual’ of theirs made me uneasy. It was supposed to be some cross between a final exam and a party, the leader had told her several weeks ago, a chance to use their new skills and boost their power, and then celebrate.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do,” I told her, my first words in quite some time. She stopped pacing, sighed, and came back to the table at last, reaching out a tentative hand to cover mine where they still clutched at my mug.

“I know you don’t like any of it,” she said.

I shrugged. “You’ve learned a lot, like you said. I don’t like the sound of this ritual, but what I don’t like even more is that you’re not sure about it. That’s the thing you should pay attention to, not what I think.”

Abby blew out a breath and sat back. “I guess you’re right. It’s probably all your fault that I’m feeling weird about it anyway.”

I shrugged again.

“But…I don’t know. Something about it, about the way Master Barrett talks about it sounds a little, well, strange,” she admitted. “Like the sequence of events sounds fine, and it’s fine when the rest of us talk about it, but when he does, it’s just…”

“Which words he uses?” I guessed.

“Yeah,” she said, frowning at me now. Not angry, more thoughtful. “Yeah, something like that.”

I grimaced again, but held my tongue. That was one of the things that had sparked my intense dislike of ‘Master Barrett’ shortly after he’d wandered into town several months ago. He’d soon set up camp in the Dirksen’s pole barn and offered to teach those who needed teaching in magical things, and soon enough everyone was chattering about him as though he were the best thing since sliced bread. But whenever I listened to him speak, I couldn’t help but hear double-meanings in his words, and I didn’t like it.

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October 22

Fictober, Prompt 22 – “We could have a chance.”

Warnings: pursuit, implied creepy things. Urban fantasy.


Our footsteps pounded down the alley, echoing too loudly from the old brick walls. There was no way we could avoid pursuit, but my heart sped even faster than the exertion at the thought of the noise giving us away. We had gained a small lead, at least.

Cass skidded to a halt ahead of me as we neared the end of the alley. The buildings gave way here to the street and then the river and dam beyond. I stopped also, and we panted for a moment, staring at the open space ahead.

That was not safe either.

This was a small town, though, not a city with plenty of tall buildings and potential hiding places in between.

Behind us, the sounds of pursuit echoed suddenly loud down the narrow way.

Cass’s head jerked around, eyes wide with terror. I didn’t look, my eyes stuck on the river.

The river. The bridge.

“We could have a chance,” I said quickly, hearing Cass draw in a ragged breath. I would have to take a chance of my own, but I could accept that. “We have to get to the bridge.”

Crossing the open space would leave us vulnerable, but as I began to let my other senses stretch, I thought that most of the pursuit was behind us, fast approaching.

Cass nodded, and I said, “Go!”

We both took off again, breath just barely under control from our last sprint. Human shouts and footsteps mingled with other, less identifiable noises behind us, but they hadn’t been expecting us to make a break for it.

The bridge, I thought, willing us both to have enough energy. The bridge.

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