by Mary E. Lowd
A Deep Sky Anchor Original, May 2023
Ekko felt the cool currents of water rush past her as she swam with all her might toward the ocean’s surface. Her powerful tail pumped; her belly muscles clenched and released, over and over, as she barreled through the blue. Then with a mighty splash, she emerged from the blue of the deep into the blue of the sky, trading a thick atmosphere for a thin one. Rivulets and droplets of water streamed off her aerodynamic body as she soared upward, leaving the Earth and its heartbreakingly empty oceans behind.
Up and up she flew. The power of momentum was on Ekko’s side, propelling her toward the ominous spaceship that hung in the sky like a festering wound. The sky ragged around the edges of the spaceship where reality had been torn open by its interstellar approach. But gravity was against Ekko, and before she reached the gash of metal and electronics cluttering up the sky, she felt her momentum dwindle to nothing. She twisted her black-and-white body around, turning her nose toward the ocean she’d just flown away from.
Ekko barreled back down to Earth, air whistling past her unnaturally dry body, dried by the gale force winds of her upward flight. Down and down she plummeted, angling herself for a steep angle of reentry to the ocean. She slipped into the watery waves with barely a splash, curled herself forward, and somersaulted until her nose pointed upward again. Without losing hardly any of the momentum she’d gained during her fall from the sky, Ekko rose out of the ocean again, flying like no ordinary orca could. But Ekko wasn’t an ordinary orca. She was the last of her kind, the only one left after the spaceship above had sucked up the rest of her people, stealing them away.
Ekko had to reach the spaceship. She had to save her people, and bring all the stolen orcas back to Earth. Or else she would be alone in the lonely oceans — empty of any orca song save her own mournful dirges — forever.
Over and over, Ekko jumped, building her momentum, flying a little higher each time. Flying so high and so fast that the ocean became a mere blip, a quick flash of experience, while more and more of her time was spent hanging in the sky.
Until finally, as Ekko shivered her way through the sky, blubber not quite enough to keep her warm in the face of thin air and brutal winds blowing first one way and then the other, Ekko saw the spaceship come close enough, just within grasp if she’d known what it meant to grasp something… But with her flippers and fins, smooth and fingerless, she did not. The closest concept Ekko knew about to grasping was biting with her powerful jaws.
There was nothing on the spaceship for Ekko to bite, just smooth metal, but she tried to catch it with her rows of razor-sharp teeth anyway. But then the spaceship reached out and bit her back, chomping down with an invisible force field that grabbed her body, leaving her writhing and fighting, struggling as it pulled her against gravity the last several meters upward. The smooth metal hull of the spaceship slid open, revealing an airlock hatch, and the force field pulled Ekko inside to a dimly lit, water-filled interior.
Finally! Ekko was making progress! She’d reached a new level on her quest to rescue her family, friends, and distant kin. Now all she had to do was find them, wherever they were trapped, and break them free!
But the aliens aboard the spaceship had different plans for Ekko.
The aliens’ plans involved laser beams slicing her to pieces, giant metal pistons smashing her flat, and clouds of putrid green poison engulfing and choking her to death. Sometimes, their plans even involved piercing her with their wicked scorpion-like tails, impregnating her and causing her body to explode moments later in a shower of tiny insectoids, like a pinata filled to bursting with even more of the horrid aliens.
Death death death. Over and over again, Ekko died horrible, painful deaths.
Over and over again, the hapless Chosen One orca resurrected at her last save point, where the force field had let go of her inside the airlock, after it finished sucking her into this spaceship full of evil, insectile aliens.
Ekko fought her way through room after room of the spaceship, memorizing its maze-like floor plan in her mind as she went. Retracing her path, swimming from one trap to the next, until she could hardly remember another life — she had always been an orca whale fighting her way through a spaceship of hostile aliens. There had never truly been an ocean filled with her family singing happy songs, each to each, jumping and splashing and pirouetting among the waves. This was all she was and all she’d ever be.
Then after an especially excruciatingly, painstakingly careful swim through the twists of the labyrinthine spaceship, her eyes bleary from focusing so hard and her tail muscles sore from swimming so fast, Ekko made it to the spaceship’s heart: the alien queen’s throne room.
All around her, Ekko saw her friends and family, locked in cages, too tight for them to even shake their tails. Ekko sang a mournful song to them, and they called back in harmony. A song of sadness filled the alien queen’s giant throne room. The alien queen herself was many times larger than her daughters and sons — the size of a blue whale, at least, but made entirely of sharp, cruel angles instead of gentle, graceful curves.
The alien queen answered Ekko’s sad song with an incomprehensible snarl, slashed her scorpion-like tail, and shuffled her long, spindly legs in a threatening dance.
Ekko died instantly. She didn’t even know how. But she resurrected again, just as fast, still in the throne room.
Die. Resurrect. Die. Resurrect.
The alien queen’s throne room was a brutal place to be.
Ekko could hardly stay alive long enough to figure out how the queen was killing her — lasers? Poison? Her sharp-edged tail?
This was ridiculous. Even with the relative immortality granted to her by being the Chosen Orca, Ekko didn’t stand a chance against this giant insectoid queen.
Ekko mind grew hazy, boggled by the repeated deaths and resurrections. Her past life, living happily in the ocean, seemed farther and farther away…
…but a different reality grew closer and closer.
As Ekko became increasingly frustrated with her situation, she began to remember a different life, a different past that had brought her to this situation in an entirely different way.
Ekko hadn’t swum here by launching herself repeatedly into the sky — what a ridiculous concept! — no, her hands had typed on a keyboard, inputting a web address into a browser. She’d downloaded a game one of her friends had written…
She wasn’t an orca named Ekko. She a girl named Holly. And this video game was way too hard.
* * *
Holly pulled off her VR headset, pulled up a window on her desktop computer and dialed up her friend Jasmine who had written the game. Dots chased each other in a circle around her computer’s screen for a few moments, and then Jasmine’s face appeared in the window.
“Hey, Holly, how do you like my game?” Jasmine asked.
“It’s way too hard. My game, Cosmic the Pangolin, was a thousand times better,” Holly answered snarkily.
Jasmine bristled. “I mean, yeah, Cosmic was good, but it wasn’t a thousand times better.”
“You’re right. A million.” Holly grinned smugly at the webcam and was rewarded with the sight of her own winning smile in the corner of her screen.
Jasmine rolled her eyes.
“Can you just give me the cheat codes? ‘Cause I cannot get past this queen. You did write cheat codes into the game, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jasmine said. “Just like you showed me. I’m sending them your way. But in return, I expect you to send me the bonus level of Cosmic you’ve been writing as soon as it’s done.”
“Deal,” Holly said. Then she turned the video call off, pulled the cheat codes Jasmine had sent her out of their chat log, and got right back into the game.
* * *
Ekko felt herself grow more powerful. Her black-and-white body began sparkling all over. Tiny stars shed from her smooth skin and followed her in a wake of glitter as she swam across the alien queen’s throne room — finally, able to stay alive as the queen’s lasers pierced her body, slicing from every side. The green cloud of poison gathered around her, but it couldn’t choke her — the stars twinkling around her body protected her. When a piston smashed down from the ceiling of the giant room, it couldn’t flatten her — her body was stronger than the piston now. Stronger than metal. Stronger than poison. Inviolable. Invincible.
Ekko swam toward the alien queen. She summoned all of her fury, her anger at the injustice of how the aliens had treated her and her kin, and put those feelings into song. Her song filled the throne room, echoing eerily off the cage-filled walls. Her song reverberated and resonated, causing the whole ship to vibrate around her.
The other orcas joined Ekko’s song, and the power of their voices multiplied together.
A song of righteous fury filled the spaceship, rocking it back and forth in the sky, until the bars on the orca’s cages shattered. The queen herself vibrated, shook, and shuddered until her carapace exploded around her, breaking into tiny pieces of horrifying confetti. The whole ship shattered, breaking all the orcas free, leaving them floating in free fall, far above the ocean they’d once known as home, so high in the sky that even Earth’s gravity couldn’t touch them.
Ekko knew deep in her heart that she’d won. She’d rescued her family and fulfilled her purpose. And now, all the orcas would live happily among the stars, swimming forever through galaxies and nebulae, freed from the persecution of evil aliens and Earth’s gravity alike.