Behind us. They're coming. Hide. She slips right through the wall and leaves me to my own devices. Anxiously I scan the room: heavy pieces of obscure machinery affixed to the walls, binders and tablets messily strewn across the floor, none offering sufficient cover. Adrenaline again pools up with nowhere to go. As if right on cue, a gray tail emerges from the concrete and gestures toward a small cabinet. I cram myself in as quickly and quietly as I can manage. Just as the grating shuts over me the mess of squeaky boots and lab coats and weapons stumbles in, yells, pokes around, thankfully gives up to search elsewhere. The ghost phases gracefully through the wall while my contorted limbs thrust the rest of my body onto the floor. Pained groans ring out from my joints as I stagger upright. She drifts towards the opposite side of the room, feet floating just above the floor. Here. This. A set of ghastly gray claws gestures toward a monitor. A white column strobes expectantly against the flickering black. Unfamiliar. Don't understand. “Oh, it's just a terminal. A computer.” Hollow eyes stare back into my own. Clearly she's not getting this. “...I'll see what I can do.” Splayed fingers hang over the keyboard, eyes scanning over the readout. Whoever used this last didn't bother to lock it, so it's trivial to poke around and get a look at what access it's got. What... does this do? “Looks like it controls a number of electrical systems. Power flow, climate control, security feeds... and if we're lucky, doors like this one here.” I gesture at the massive vault doors at the mouth of the room. I see... I'm not sure if she actually gets any of that, but she seems to nod along. Even with eyes entirely black I can tell they're open wide, focused intently on this blinking little box. Something about her complete awe here is, admittedly, kind of adorable. An urge wells up in me; against my better judgement I cannot quell it. “We have to be careful with it though... one wrong keystroke, and it's live and rigged to detonate this entire facility. Instantly.” Her expression contorts in what is likely disbelief. Are you serious? “Nope,” and I give her a light flick right against the forehead. “Gotcha!” She continues to stare at me with the same puzzled blank expression. I keep up my teeth-baring smile to try and convince her this is a joke, but... okay yeah, perhaps I shouldn't mess with this potentially weaponized alien creature as I would a confused child. My teeth sink into my tongue as a reminder for those childish urges to control themselves. Fingertips dance across the keys, having found our ticket out of here, and confidently hit enter. Rather than the door opening its jaws an awful metallic grinding bleeds out from behind the wall. “Well, shit.” Allow me to have a look. With the ghost focused on the door I finally get a chance to get a decent look at... her? Them? It? I've still yet to figure out what the hell is actually accompanying me here. She's at least what, eight or nine feet tall? Her body is slender, a rough hourglass shape similar to mine, save for a few... exceptions. Most obvious is the thick tail winding behind her. The damn thing is nearly twice her length, if she couldn't phase through floors this poor thing would be dragging it all over the place. Let's not forget the horns curving backward from either side of her head, nor the ghastly claws, or whatever indescribable pillars make up her “feet”. Was this thing snatched from the outer reaches of the universe or grown in a fucking test tube? Additionally she's shown to be selectively tangible at times, passing through walls or leaning against them at will. Even now her hands pass right through the metal panels to access the lock's underlying mechanisms. She's nothing like I've ever seen or heard in scientific account nor fiction. But the worst part? Any observation could be moot. When fending off the swarm back there, she... morphed. Into a completely different form, one much more frightening than the roughly girl-shaped thing presently across the room from me. Can one assume this is her default figure? I'm not sure I want that answered. I can at least say the “voice” she beams to my head sounds feminine enough, but I doubt that's actually of her own volition, moreso my brain's way of processing it. Come to think of it she may be altering her physical form to appeal to me as well, but even if that were the case, why does she still look so... alien? That cannot be a matter of inability, I refuse to believe it. ...she can't read my mind, can she? Lord she better not be able to read my mind. The whine of twisted machinery interrupts my observations, as the vault doors miraculously creak open with an agonizing groan. Well before there's ample space between she phases straight through them, eventually they separate to reveal her face staring back. Come. This way. They'll be searching for us. With the vault shutting behind us, the chimera's inexplicable form dissolves into the pitch black. My hand rummages through the bag on my shoulder and plucks out a phone, gives it a good shake to toggle the flashlight. It's pitiful but grants a short view of the hallway ahead. Suddenly her stupid mug emerges from the shadows, nearly scares me shitless. I reorient and shake off the adrenaline, and without a care in the world she settles above the ground just ahead of me, drifting along as I walk. You humans rely so heavily on sight to navigate, don't you? “Yes,” my lone voice echoes down the hall, “it's our primary means of observation.” I see... what other means do you employ? “Well, there's sound. Changes in pressure, like my voice through the air.” So I've heard. I ignore the pun, if even intentional. “Touch, physical sensation. The texture of a particular material against our skin, heat or cold, pain or... uh, pleasure.” Her head again tilts quizzically in my direction, this time accented by a sly smirk. If she's starting to pick up on human speech patterns and body language, she's doing it damn fast. “B-by the way... when you phase through solids, how does it feel? Like, when you intersect a wall.” It's a feeling so unremarkable I don't believe I can portray it. “Really now? You go from leaning against a wall to slipping straight through it, and you're telling me it's unremarkable?” Tell me, human, what does the cloth on your back feel like? “ cloth...?” I pathetically mutter. Exactly. The rate this thing is learning is accelerating, and terrifyingly quickly. It's impressive, sure, but I fear what may happen when her capacity for mental processing far exceeds my own. What does clothing feel like? The lengthy stretch of hallway leaves me to entertain this pointless exercise alone. feels tingly. The sudden voice in my head catches me off guard. “Tingly?” While not entirely accurate, that is the closest word of yours I can think of to describe it. I silently nod. Think of the sensation of your hands gliding through water. Shimmering, rippling, light resistance pushing back against you. As if the very molecules of your being reorient themselves to glide between those of a solid object... tingly. “H-huh, I see...” For a while we move in silence, accompanied only by the clunk of my boots, the threat of the inner sanctum long behind us. “Clothing feels like... safety.” The ghost continues to drift forward without a word. She perks up though, out of curiosity. I can sense it. “Physically, it's very light. A slight brushing against your skin. For the most part you don't even notice it. The times you're most aware is when putting them on or removing them, that moment of contrast. There's... a feeling of protection from the wind, the cold, what have you.” So without it, you feel... vulnerable, yes? “Yeah.” Another urge wells up in me, though of a much different nature. I ponder whether or not to let it escape. “...conversely, the vulnerability can feel... intimate. Letting your guard down with a loved one can be a gesture of trust, of assured safety in each other's company...” It's at this pause that I realize: this chimera isn't wearing anything. No cloth or fabric weaves around her, yet there's not a hint of obscenity: only smooth gray skin occasionally broken up by darker geometric scales or patches. It's beautiful, alien. As we approach the faint glint of light at the hall's end, I notice the temperature has been dropping, the humidity rising. I wonder if she feels cold. The chimera stays silent in light of my clarification. I can only assume she's pondering, wracking both of our minds to make sense of it all. Perhaps I made a mistake. The hall opens up to an expansive cavern, weakly lit by a spattering of electric tubes against the walls. What little we can see is bathed in an eerie green fluorescence. The path sharply drops off into the abyss, yet she just floats on forward, steadily cruising through the air like it's nothing. Takes her a few seconds to wonder why I hadn't followed her. We're almost out, it's just through here. Come along, now. “Alright, how do you propose I'm supposed to follow you?” Walk. “On what?” The bridge. Right in front of you. I motion down the pit before shooting her a very confused look. Her expression morphs into something that appears vaguely... concerned. Maybe sad. can't sense it, can you? Without a confirmation on my part she's already floated back down to the platform, allowing her form to rest on the concrete. She lifts a leg, stretching it over the chasm... and sure enough it clunks with a hollow ring on some invisible surface. Another step leads her off the safety of the ground, and she turns back to face me expectantly. I'm aware she can float but the sheer physicality of her steps makes me doubt whether or not she's pulling something on me. See? Try it. I try to choke back the dread in my voice, but let's be real, I'm not fooling anyone here. “P-please don't mess with me on this...” What purpose would that serve? At present, I need you just as much as you need me. I swallow the anxiety pooled up in the back of my throat. With weight shifted heavily on solid ground, my opposite leg stretches out over the boundless chasm, shakily lowers... and sends my brain in a short-circuiting sputter as my foot collides with solid air. “Oh you've got to be fucking kidding me....” I am not. My focus tries to settle on the “ground” but only plummets. Waves of panic ensue. My head spins. Instinct shoves my body backwards onto the concrete. I cannot do this. I can't I can't I can't. Sensing something, the ghost steadily returns, stops alarmingly close by my side. In a gesture I can only assume was sneakily plucked from the recesses of my brain, her arm falls in front of my own, claws sifting their way between my fingers... and she squeezes. In shock I look up to find a softened complexion- perhaps empathetic?- with swirling eyes staring right back into my own. You don't have to be afraid. I'll walk with you. Her hold stays firm even as my head jerks in the opposite direction. My face is burning, and while I'm sure she understands the nature of this feeling by now I can't bear to show it. A sharp inhale. A slow breath out. With throat constricting in tension I face her to give an affirmative, if reluctant nod. Together our feet lift from the concrete. Step by careful step, we plod atop thin air. The pace is dreadfully slow but it's the most I can handle. The chimera remains bafflingly patient. At points she guides me to change direction, making wide turns and loops around nothing in particular. I dare not ask what it is we're avoiding. Hell I don't know where we're even headed. With no frame of reference for my eyes to rest they remain shut, leaving me to concentrate on touch, the hand that cradles mine. More accurately, this alien claw that allows me to grip it to death. Her skin is smooth to the touch, unnaturally so, and just a touch cooler than mine. Pangs of fear ripple through my being as we walk, and with each one she gives my hand another encouraging squeeze. She must be reading my mind. At one point her tail wrapped around me without realizing it. It must've begun light, barely noticeable, but as we trek further in it's been ratcheting ever tighter, pulling our bodies closer and closer together until I'm leaning right up against her hip. I'm not complaining, closeness like this can be comforting... but it's also setting my brain ablaze. Just hours ago she barely knew how to communicate with me, what suddenly compels her to act like this? If only I could feel her tendrils wrap around my mind, somehow picking apart the mess of anxiety and fear and flustered feelings, somehow devising to caress me in such comforting affection. Finally I muster the courage to open my eyes and look up at her; her expression is blank. Devoid of emotion. Simply staring ahead, eyes shifting in focused navigation. Is she even aware I'm staring right at her? I don't get it. Abruptly she halts. Something isn't right. Stay here. Her claws slip out of my grasp and leave me alone to stand my imperceptible ground. Cautious steps carry her forward. As if a sensor scanning for threat, her tail swings silently behind. The cavern is unbearably silent. Suddenly she slips straight through the invisible floor, flailing as she tumbles into the abyss. My heart drops out of my chest along with her. All I can do is to watch her gray figure vanish into the darkness. Then the impact booms around me. Fuck. Immediately I turn around, scrambling back toward the hall, until I realize just how fucked I am and screech to a halt. Tears and adrenaline obscure my senses as I'm left to blindly shuffle a path through the invisible minefield. My mind collapses in on itself as I interrogate it for answers, to tell me where to go, what path we took to get here. Yet my sole focus during that walk remained on the smoothness of her skin, the gentle pressure pulling me against her, the one sense of comfort I felt in that moment. She guided me out here, and she's no longer here to get me back out. Instinct forces me to trudge forward. An abrupt pain stings against my forehead. It throws me backwards, feet anxiously shifting in fear of staggering off an unknown edge. Confused, I lift up a hand to touch the area of impact: no blood, no gash. Just lingering sting. I'm left looking around like a fool trying to discern what in the hell had just jabbed me clean in the face; until the claw appears from thin air, extended toward me at face height. Then the wide fucking smirk reveals itself, bisecting her face. The bastard bares her sharp incisors at me, splits them apart, and for the first time a hoarse voice croaks out from between, nearly incomprehensible: “Gotcha~”