When Talya is sucked into a wormhole she arrives in a new world where humans are primitive villagers pursued by hexalimbs, six limbed creatures, for food. Along with Gavin, also stranded from Earth, she helps the local humans. They rescue and befriend Kysum, a tailed humanoid who can metamorphose into other beings, from a hexalimb spaceship. In an ongoing fight against the aliens they search for a way home. In doing so, they transverse time-space and change the course of history in this far off universe. But who is really in control? Will it be possible to ever reach home? But does Earth even exist?
Talya had already squatted down and reached in the seemingly solid wall. Her fingers felt tingly and disappeared from view. She grimaced and reached further in until her fingers touched something solid, which she withdrew.
“The metal you kicked,” she said to Mixel and held the piece out for all to see.
“Careful Talya,” Gavin warned when she reached back in.
The inside felt like a pipe with a solid surface. It seemed large enough for her hand so she reached further in, her wrist disappeared and her whole forearm up to her elbow followed. Apart from the initial tingling, nothing felt unusual. From the outside, it appeared as if she was reaching through the wall for no gap showed around her arm.
“Just a little further.” Talya stretched her fingers and when her arm was almost entirely inside, she touched something solid. “The end,” she told the others and wriggled her fingers around. Everything felt cold, smooth and solid.
“Get your arm out. Quickly!” Gavin cried and pulled her back.
Talya toppled back into him before she even saw what had happened. The section where she had reached in began to glow a pale blue. The blue grew in intensity. Within seconds, it was the size of an oval door and radiated heat, so hot that everyone stepped back and shielded their faces. There was a whoosh, the whole area just evaporated and Talya could see a corridor inside at right angles to them. The walls glowed so it was easy to see in both directions.
“Go left,” Mixel said. “I’m sure that’s the direction of the sound.”
“And I’ll go first,” Gavin said. “Mixel could you stay here and scream if the doorway even looks like closing?”
“I’m coming with you,” Talya said
She followed Gavin inside and was closely followed by Qwan.
The corridor was the full height of the outside room so they could walk along it easily but not pass each other for it was barely a metre wide. It curved so the entrance soon disappeared around a corner behind them.
“Go back until you can see the way in,” Gavin told Qwan. “If Mixel wants to tell us something, tell us. Okay?”
Qwan looked disappointed but nodded and moved back a few metres. “I can see Mixel,” she called out in a soft voice. “Everything is okay.”
Talya followed Gavin. Her heart thumped in her rib cage and she strained to hear if there were any more thumps. There were none.
“Perhaps he knows we’re coming,” Gavin whispered.
Talya squeezed his hand but said nothing. They were all just guessing at what the outcome would be.
The smell of stale air reached them before they veered around the next curve and saw old-fashioned iron bars along the inner wall. As well, the walls stopped glowing and the whole area was in semidarkness.
“Is anyone here?” Gavin called.
A growling noise sounded ahead and iron bars rattled. Talya’s flesh turned cold but she was determined to continue. The first cell, for that was what they were, was empty, as were the next two. It was darker still now but she saw a movement ahead of Gavin.
“Look!” Gavin gasped and moved back so Talya could see.
Sitting on a slap in the next cell, was a ginger and white cat-like creature the size of a human. It had ginger and white fur with a striped fluffy tail that stuck straight up behind it, piercing eyes and ears that were flattened as if it was afraid. The cat’s eyes softened when it saw what they were. It was still frightened but there appeared to be a glimmer of hope in the eyes. Slowly the head began to change. The fur on the face disappeared, the ears grew smaller and moved down, hair disappeared under the eyes and the whole face contorted.
“Oh my God,” Talya whispered as the face became human to show slim female features with serious eyes, apprehensive mouth and long red hair.
The change continued with the forelegs becoming arms and the slender body of a young woman dressed in a faded top appeared. A skirt grew over the cat’s bottom half, as it became a human body and legs. A girl, human in every way except for a massive fluffy tail sat before them gripping the slab that would have served as her bed.
Around her was a basket with a few dried pieces of bread left, a flask quarter filled with water and further away another bucket that had served as a toilet. The floor looked damp and was half covered in slime and the smell was dreadful.
Gavin gripped Talya’s arm and squeezed it gently to reassure her. “It’s okay,” he said to the prisoner. “You are safe. We will not hurt you.” He stared down and saw a lock on the jail door. “We need a wrecker’s bar,” he snarled.
“No,” Talya said and walked back to the first cell and reached across to the opposite wall where a key ring containing four ancient keys hung from a hook. “I noticed them as we walked past.”
She handed them to Gavin. The second key worked and with a squeak, the door swung open. The girl still with the tail, shrunk back from Gavin and looked at Talya with pleading eyes. She gave a grunting sound that sounded cat-like and tried to stand but her legs collapsed beneath her and she crashed to the ground with a whimpering cry.
“She’s scared of males,” Talya cried. “Go and get Qwan to come and help.”
“Are you sure?”
“Go, Gavin. The poor thing is terrified. Find the medical kit in the wagon. We’ll get her out.”
Qwan arrived. “What is she?” she whispered.
“I thought you might know,” Talya replied. She had already helped the woman back onto the slab and offered her some of the flask water. “She was a cat when we arrived but changed. I guess the tail will go soon, too.” She turned. “This is Qwan my friend. Gavin the male, is also our friend. We are here to help. The hexalimbs have gone. Do you understand?”
Large eyes focused on Talya, the cat-girl reached out with two shaking hands and tears rolled down her cheeks.
“You are safe,” Talya said and reached out to hug her.
A burning sensation jolted through her arms and a white light seemed to flash behind her eyes. It was momentary but she let the girl go and stepped back in alarm.
“I am sorry to hurt you,” the cat-girl said in English. “I needed to download the language mode from your brain. We can communicate now.”
“You are ill,” Qwan said. “We’ll get you out of this horrible cell.”
“You arrived so quickly. That is why I had not begun metamorphosis. I had changed from hexalimb appearance into a feline beast to break from my chains.” She nodded at an ugly chain and clamp on the floor and her right ankle showed an ugly swollen and bruised circle where she must have shackled. She shook away tears. “I was scared and couldn’t concentrate. If you were the hexalimbs…”
Talya held her again, this time without any ill effects and studied the girl who, she now noticed, was hardly more than a teenager.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“And how come you didn’t change into a mouse and run away?’ Qwan added.
“Leave it,” Talya hissed but the girl smiled faintly.
“It is okay. I am Kysum. Yes, I could change to a mouse but it would be close to my natural size so it would be of no benefit to me. Felines are stronger.” She hesitated. “If you wait a moment.”
Talya nodded at Qwan and they both stepped back. Kysum shut her eyes and began to concentrate. Slowly the tail shrank behind her and disappeared. Other minor changes occurred. Her hair grew longer and features such as her nose became more refined, fingernails grew and now nobody could tell she had been anything except an attractive teenage human with long red hair.
“Except for my tail, this is the real me,” Kysum whispered. “I am a member of the human species like you but with the power of metamorphism.” She glanced at Qwan. “I am a vertung. Have you heard of my species?”
Qwan gasped. “Yes,” she whispered. “But like fairies and angels I thought you were an imaginary creature only found in children’s stories.”
“What’s a vertung?’ Talya asked.
“A god that comes down from heaven in a ball of flames to take the shape of any mortal creature and help those in need or punish the wicked. That’s what I was told as a child,” Qwan said.
“It’s exaggerated but quite a good description,” Kysum said. “We are not gods and it is not true that our species can live in gaseous form but we can change our physical appearance…”
“What is your age?” Qwan interrupted.
“Twenty planetary orbits of a normal sized life supporting planet.”
“Go on.” Talya dug Qwan in the arm.
“I was metamorphosed as a hexalimb and was a spy who reported on any attack against humans. “I was the one who contacted my superiors when the village was attacked,” she said. “Tell me, was I in time?”
Talya shook her head. “I’m sorry…”
Kysum nodded and sucked on her lip. “I didn’t know but the hexalimbs were onto me the whole time. I just got one signal away to when I was caught and….” Kysum shook her head and again brushed away tears. “It was bad but the worse was still to come. I would have been taken to a slave planet and….” Her voice became came a whisper. “Nobody has survived on a hexalimb slave planet. Afterwards my body would have been used for food.”
“But you are safe now,” Talya said. “There are no hexalimb onboard, just us and Mixel, Qwan’s partner. Come on, let’s get out of this evil place.”
Followed by Qwan she helped Kysum out of the cell and back along the corridor.