The following is an excerpt of Evan and the Alpha, a two-part omegaverse novel.
I’m bored. I’m lying in the scorching sand, staring up at the twin suns of Veda-3, both of them burning above me in the murky, yellow-green sky (I know Vince would tell me it’s chartreuse, but Vince got all the artistic talent in our family).
I didn’t know being stuck on another planet would be so mind-numbingly dull, but here we are. Mom and Dad thought it would be good “character-building” type stuff. I didn’t want to go on a diplomatic mission like Scott had—listening to his stories was enough to turn anyone off space travel. Christ, he’d nearly been killed. I remember Mom crying for, like, a week when we weren’t sure he was gonna make it back. And then she’d cried for another week when he did make it home alive.
No thanks. Somehow, Dad still convinced Vince to go on a space tour, but then, Vince has always been a little weird. He did a lot of cool abstract paintings.
Me—your guess is as good as mine. I’m stuck out here with Darwin, Dad’s eccentric archaeologist friend. I’m supposed to be helping him with research or something, but I’m not a science nerd. Just like I’m not an artist or a diplomat, a politician or a military mind.
I’m not much of anything, really. I just drifted through school, managed to graduate, and that means I’ve got my degree in business (useless, Dad says, and I’m not sure if he’s talking about the degree or me). He might be right—I’m pretty useless out here. I can’t help Darwin take the samples (he’s trying to teach me), and I’m not much good at camping either.
I’m pretty sure Darwin’s already starting to regret this, but he owed Dad some kind of favor. And Dad was insistent: he figured it would be good for me. Help me figure out what I want to do with my life.
I mean, I’ve got a lot of time to think. We’re thirty thousand lightyears from Earth, and we have to wait for the Columbia to complete her loop and do a return pass to collect us. That’s going to take almost two years.
It’s been two weeks, and I feel like I’m cracking up. There’s nothing to do here. We’re stuck in the middle of a desert, and despite what Darwin says, I don’t see life anywhere—not plant, not animal, nothing. There’s a river not far from here, but there’s nothing but dunes as far as the eye can see otherwise. If Vince was here, he’d probably find it super inspiring. Any time I ever tried to do art, it just looked like blobs or stick figures.
Darwin’s sent me “on break,” which is why I’m lying in the sand. He’s working at the site, probably two hundred feet away from me. Darwin’s definitely older, maybe in his sixties, with a short, white beard and short, white hair. He wears round spectacles and looks every bit the Victorian imperialist collector. I’m pretty sure he hates me, but he’s too polite to say anything. I think he needed space—so I wandered off into the dunes a little bit and plonked down here.
He’ll call me back. Eventually.
I feel like I’ve been lying in the sun forever. It gets brutally hot here—two suns will do that, I guess. My hair’s sticking to my forehead. I can feel the telltale prickle of a sunburn starting. At first, we though the atmosphere was like Venus—a lot of sulfuric clouds and gases and stuff—but we were pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite the color of the planet’s sky, the oxygen levels are almost perfect for human breathing.
Still stinking hot, even without a runaway greenhouse-gas effect. I force myself to sit, realizing I’m a little dizzy. I’m probably dehydrated, sitting out in the sun like this. Staying hydrated and warm at night—when the suns set and the temperatures drop—have been our biggest challenges so far. At least the nights have been short—probably thanks to the two suns on different schedules.
We’re also really lucky that there’s a river right here. And even more lucky that it’s water—not liquid methane like the science nerds on the Columbia originally thought. (It’s too hot for methane to stay liquid here. Even I know that.) Better yet, the water seems perfectly potable—Darwin’s still using caution and boiling it, but I can’t be bothered. Too much heat, too much effort.
I glance over my shoulder, raking a hand through my tawny locks as I take in Darwin’s back. He’s still crouched down in the sand, leaned over something. Maybe a rock.
With a sigh, I get to my feet and make the trek down to the river’s edge, the sand sliding under my sneakers. We’re supposed to be in regulation suits and boots, but Darwin was at least with me on ditching that protocol: it’s too hot.
I peer at the glassy surface of the river. It’s wide—really wide—and we have no idea how deep it is in the middle. The bottom seems muddy too. I don’t know much about water or geology or whatever, but I guess there’s gotta be an underground aquifer or something. Otherwise, this river would dry out in the blink of an eye under these suns.
Kind of like how I’m drying up. I drop to my hands and knees and dunk my head into the water. It’s barely cooler than the air, but it feels nice. I come up, gasping for air, then cup my hands and drink out of them.
Finishing, I drop my hands back to my thighs, rubbing them dry against the soft fabric of my shorts. I heave a sigh, looking out across the expanse of the river, contemplating another drink.
I glance down, then frown at what looks like a log floating in the middle of the river. That wasn’t there before. Was it? I twist my head, looking up and down the river bank. And where the heck did a log come from anyway? There are no trees around here. No vegetation at all, actually.
When I look back, there are two logs. A third one surfaces alongside of the first two, and something unpleasant twists in my stomach, a long blade of fear catching in my throat and making it hard to breathe.
We haven’t seen any living thing on this planet yet. Darwin’s looking for microbes, microscopic evidence of life, and he hasn’t found anything like that—no bacteria, no viruses, nothing. We thought this planet was totally uninhabited.
A fourth log breaks the surface and now I can distinctly see the shape of a snout, two flared nostrils at the end of it. Water sprays everywhere.
There’s a plunk, and I reel my gaze back in time to see a pair of golden eyes blink at me. I scarcely have time to register they’re attached to a long snout, which opens wide to reveal rows of cruel, sharp teeth that lunge at me.
I scream. I can’t even help it. I scramble back from the edge of the water, but that mouth just keeps coming at me. I fling sand at it, hoping to find a rock somewhere in there, but the creature just hisses and lunges again, this time grabbing onto my leg—not with those horrible teeth, thank God, but with a scaly, five-fingered hand, tipped with sharp claws that pierce my skin effortlessly.
I scream louder and kick at my assailant. I know my leg hurts, but I’m not really feeling it; I’m too scared, too hopped up on all the adrenalin.
“No, no, no,” I pant as the creature gets its other hand on my opposite leg. I buck frantically, still desperately trying to get away. I dig my hands into the sand, staring helplessly at the long lines my blunt nails leave in the dirt as I’m dragged backward down the bank.
I start thrashing again when I hit the water, hoping that maybe, by some miracle, I’ll get the creature to let go. Maybe stun it with water, slip away.
There are more teeth, more hands. I barely see the faces; they’re all shadow, haloed by the sun overhead, but I can make out three pairs of golden eyes, staring down at me, burning into me. I screw my eyes shut and tug against their hold on me, but I know it’s over.
They—whatever they are—have got me.
When I wake up, it’s because my head’s pounding. I feel like someone’s stabbed me. I cough weakly, then moan and roll over, curling up into the fetal position. I vomit, then try to force myself to lift my head out of the putrid mess.
I can’t. I screw my eyes shut, wrap my arms around myself, and try not to cry. I can hear Dad’s voice in my head, a sharp rebuke: crying won’t fix anything. It will only make things worse. I already feel awful. Crying will make my head hurt more.
“What’s he doing?” A sharp claw pokes at my arm, and I recoil. The voice is a low rumble.
I open my eyes again and force myself to look up at the creatures in the room with me. They’re standing over me; once again, the sun is behind them, casting their faces into deep shadow. I’m struck with deja vu, and it dawns on me that I haven’t been killed and eaten.
I’ve been captured.
I look up again, then away, even as the bright light of the suns stab me in the eyes. I keep doing that until my eyes adjust—somewhat—and I can make out the reptilian faces of my captors. They look like crocodiles—two golden eyes poking up on top of their heads, long, broad snouts that end in flared nostrils, and craggy teeth poking out. They’re blue, flashing almost iridescent violet in the sunlight.
Beneath their heads, they look more humanoid. They’re wearing what look like white skirts tied around their slender hips and sandals on their feet. They’re broad and muscular, bare on top. One is wearing a broad collar of something shiny—maybe gold or bronze—but that’s it.
The one wearing the collar sits down. “Greetings, sun spirit,” the creature says in a low rumble, lifting a claw-tipped hand. I stare at this crocodilian alien, unable to do much more. I understand every syllable—and that makes my brain want to leak out my ears.
How the fuck is an alien on a planet thirty thousand lightyears from Earth speaking English to me?
The creature continues, placing a hand on its chest. “I am Sobek.”
“Uh. Hi,” I manage, glancing around. I’m completely surrounded by hulked-out, bipedal crocodiles. Most of them are armed with spears—like they need anything more than their teeth or their claws.
I guess I’d better play nice.
Sobek doesn’t have eyebrows, but I think the creature would lift one if it did. I wet my lips, glancing around hastily. “My name’s Evan.”
Now they look more confused. I glance back at Sobek. “It’s nice to meet you?” I try.
Sobek squints at me, a hard stare and I think I might have messed up. “Did I ask you to speak, omega?” Sobek says.
Before I have a chance to figure out if I should respond, one of the other crocodiles tugs on Sobek’s arm. “Brother Sobek,” they hiss, “perhaps he does not know.”
“Hmph.” Sobek’s expression shifts subtly, but he still doesn’t look happy. “Tell me, then,” he demands, “are the rules different for sun spirits?”
“What rules?” I ask. I let my gaze flit around to the other aliens. They seem … maybe not mad? More curious. But the air is tinged with a kind of restlessness, nervousness. I think I finally understand what people mean when they say a situation is like a powder keg.
One wrong move from me, and I might be dead. “The rules about omegas,” Sobek insists, his golden gaze pinned to my face.
“I guess?” I scratch at the back of my neck. I have no idea what he’s talking about. What’s an omega? And why the heck does he think I am one? “I mean … we don’t have any rules about who can talk and who can’t.”
There’s some subtle whispering behind me. Sweat prickles the back of my neck. I focus on Sobek. His gaze is unnerving. Not only is it predatory, there’s something … ancient about it. Like he was here when the universe was born or something.
“Um, like, so … among my people, we just talk.”
“Hm,” Sobek says, like he’s considering that. He rises to his feet. “I suppose that is to be expected.” He turns around, and I have to jump back to avoid getting hit with his massive, dragging tail—just like a crocodile’s. I don’t think I do a very good job of hiding my grimace.
“Still,” says one of the other crocodiles, “he should respect our ways.”
“Yes,” comes a chorus of voices.
Sobek holds up a hand. “If he is to respect our ways, then we must extend him the same courtesy, my brothers. After all, one cannot expect the children of gods to do as we lowly mortals do.”
God? Fuck, they think I’m some sort of … ?
Oh, this is bad. Really bad. I scramble to my feet. “Uh, hey. Sobek? Or—”
I lay a hand on his wrist and get summarily batted to the ground. There’s a collective gasp from the crowd. Sobek turns those reptilian eyes on me again, and I barely swallow my fear.
“My patience,” he snarls, “only extends so far, sun spirit Evan. Do not test me again.”
I nod meekly.
Maybe I shouldn’t tell them I’m not immortal or divine.