Four scavengers crept down the hallway of the abandoned spaceship. It was dark on board, only one large flashlight was held by one searcher to illuminate their path. The silvery metal walls encircled them like a tunnel while the light source reflected off the shiny handrails on either side of the group. The silence was nearly deafening, interrupted only by the softest of breaths and footfalls. 

The scavengers moved along the corridor in step with one another, poised and ready. At the end, they came to a fork in their path. The leader of the group, a diminutive blonde, looked down at the soft blue glow of the tracker in her hands and signaled left, and they moved as one down this smaller hall. 

Suddenly, a flash of illumination struck like lightning in the corridor. Live wires flew around the scavengers and reflected in an entangled web of oily black threads. At their center, a body was suspended by the wires. In the chaos, one glossy black wing revealed itself below the figure’s broad shoulders: a latticed pattern below the left arm, seemingly part of a suit clothing the suspended body. A wire loosened itself from the ceiling and fell, severing the body’s right arm just below the elbow. One of the scavengers gasped and dropped the flashlight.

Just as the body’s face was illuminated, almond-shaped eyes opened in shock, the suit began to grow, covering the exposed face and the new stump, and enveloping the corridor in a thick and tar-like darkness. 

***

A willowy young woman in a skin-tight glossy black suit with lattice-work wings and a large backpack paced up and down a glass catwalk in front of blue steel double doors. She huffed quietly and swung the backpack off her shoulders and onto the glass floor below. She pulled back her waist-length, light-brown hair and crossed her arms, leaning against the catwalk railing when the double doors opened to reveal an elevator. Two more young women stepped out, wearing low-rise bootcut jeans and tight Abercrombie tee shirts, laughing at each other when they noticed the tall figure by the railing. 

“Oh my god, Alexa, there you are!” shrieked the first one to step out of the elevator.

“Oh, uh, hey guys,” Alexa, the willowy one, replied, sounding a bit confused.

“Rachelle and I have looked everywhere for you, omigod,” said the third. “The Beyond Exhibition is about to get started, and we want to snag the fanciest cocktails right off the bat, you know?”

“Yeah, uh, totally,” Alexa replied, still unsure. The gummy looking wing attached to the suit she was wearing flapped pathetically as she realized that her arm was still raised in greeting and lowered it slowly and awkwardly. “Bring on the booze!”

“Not for you, silly,” Rachelle teased. “In your delicate condition, and all,” making air quotes with her hands.

“Oh! Right, um, that,” Alexa mumbled, but Rachelle and her friend did not seem to notice her hesitation. They gestured towards the elevator and Alexa stepped inside obediently, noticing her backpack still on the catwalk just as the doors shut. 

The elevator had hundreds of buttons in big blocks on all four sides of the interior. Rachelle whirled around to her left and hit one towards the center of the array, which prompted the elevator to tilt to the left and start sliding downward at a corresponding diagonal. 

“I heard the hors d’oeuvres are unbelievable, like the old crone really outdid themself for this expo, right, Nikki?” Rachelle chirped.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s what Austin told me,” the third woman, Nikki, replied. “He did say the tech this year’s pretty jenky, though,” she said, snapping her gum and pulling out a tube of mascara which she began to re-apply. 

“But like, what are they gonna do, come up with something better than this multilateral elevator?” Rachelle quipped, tapping twice on the metal wall before the box changed direction again to move straight down, then stop, tipping back and to the right, and ascending for a moment when, finally, the double doors slid open and the three ladies stepped out. 

Alexa let out a breath she had not realized she had been holding when she exited the elevator and took in her new surroundings. Glowing fairy lights all around seemed to be held in midair, illuminating an inviting midnight-blue ballroom space with a stage to the right and scattered tables to the left. Each table had a big canister on it with some kind of metal hunk within, floating in a light blue glow. Caterers scrambled about serving cocktails and gourmet bites among ordinarily dressed young people, conversing loudly to be heard over the thrumming pop punk music that enveloped the space.

Alexa balked, reaching out to clutch Nikki’s arm. “Guys my, my outfit, oh my god,” she choked out, her already fair face draining of color.

“You’re fiiiine,” Rachelle crooned, smirking. “Just fade into the crowd,” and she did. 

Nikki gently removed her arm from Alexa’s grasp and followed Rachelle towards the tables, but Alexa herself was drawn slowly over towards the stage where people were presenting their innovations under a massive Beyond Exhibition banner. As she approached, Alexa noticed a figure sitting on the far right on the edge of the stage. They wore a dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat. As Alexa stared, the figure turned toward her and she saw the rope around the back of their head holding a long carrot-y false nose on their face and a gruesome flaky thin leather mask covering their forehead, eyes, and cheeks.

Alexa gasped and looked away, disappearing into the crowd. Toward the back, she stopped for a moment to catch her breath and rationalize. The figure had been the crone, clearly, and the crone was funding the entire exhibition. The crone wasn’t scary, they meant no harm.

“Hello there,” said a sudden hot breath in Alexa’s left ear, making her heart jump to her throat. “It’s good to see you here.”

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