Part of a collection of prompts that I decided to upload by itself.
Maria was five years old when she first saw him. The lights had been turned off for the night cycle, leaving little more than a tiny night light to illuminate a close corner. The ARK was very quiet in a way she was not used to, the familiar low hum of nearby machines completely absent. Her room had been moved from one wing to another so she could see the Earth more easily from the window. Try as she might though, she could not find rest.
The darkness stirred and two red eyes lit up within in.
Maria gasped and brought the blankets over her head, silently hoping for the monster to leave. Although her grandpa had said that he told all of the monsters to leave the ARK, and the only ones who stayed were good ones, she couldn't help the fear that clutched at her. What if one of the bad ones had snuck back in?
When she thought enough time had passed, she brought the blankets down.
There was nobody there. The darkness didn't move. The night light revealed nothing to her.
She stared at her room for a little longer, then burrowed into her covers. She was out like a light within the hour, never seeing the eyes keeping a vigil at the edge of her bed.
Maria was five and eight months when she first talked to him. She was wandering around the hallways deeper inside the ARK, closer to where her grandpa had told her not to tread. She was so curious what happened in the forbidden zones, and that kept her going even as she passed yellow and black lines on the floor.
"You shouldn't be here."
Maria whirled around, heart hammering in her chest. Yet, there was no one. Her eyes flicked from wall to wall, as if she might catch whoever had spoken. It wasn't anybody she knew. Maybe it was one of those people her grandpa worked for?
A door opened beside her quietly. Maria turned and looked. There were no lights on. Not even through a window or from a computer screen.
Then two red eyes met her gaze.
Maria stepped back. The monster! But...it wasn't doing anything. Maybe it was a good monster?
"You should go back," he said. His voice was deep, even while whispering. He certainly didn't sound evil to Maria. Evil people laughed and shouted things very loudly. They also told people to do bad things. The monster did none of those things, though, so he was definitely a good monster!
"Who are you?" Maria asked softly.
The monster said nothing for a moment. The red eyes tilted and blinked.
"Your shadow," he finally answered. "Now go before you get into trouble."
"Okaayyy." Maria pouted, but turned and marched back all the same. She had already been found out. Going further would only get her into more trouble.
It would be months before she understood what he meant.
When Maria was six years old she gave her secret friend a present. She waited until the lights had been turned off for the night cycle, then crept out of her room. A few lights built into the sides of the walls gave just enough light to see by. Part of her wished that the sparse light from the half-darkened Earth could help her, too, but her friend had been firm on not being seen. He stayed to the darkness, never venturing into the light.
She wasn't quite sure when or where he would appear. The monster was so mysterious! It was part of why she loved him.
Unfortunately, not everyone believed her when she told them about him. Her shadow didn't want to talked about, so she couldn't even keep trying to make them believe her.
Her grandpa said that some people just liked to be alone. She didn't understand, but she kept quiet about the monster anyway.
Maria made her way to the kitchen and to the fridge on the other side. Taking a butter knife coated with hardened chocolate, she carefully cut away a slice of cake from earlier. She placed it and a fork on a plate, then tip-toed back into the corridor.
"Shadow..." she whispered. "Shadow? Where are you?"
"Right here," came the reply, and she nearly dropped the cake in a panic. Even after four months she couldn't get used to how he just appeared.
She could only see his eyes, so she hoped he wasn't mad at her for being out late.
"Here," she said, proffering the plate. "It's for you!"
One of the eyes disappeared halfway, like the Earth did sometimes, then came back. She felt the plate being lifted from her hands.
"...Thank you," said her shadow, and the red eyes disappeared.
"You're welcome!" Maria said, and she skipped off to her bedroom, giggling.
In the morning, an empty plate and fork were found in the kitchen sink, both smeared with bits of chocolate.
When Maria was seven she discovered something new about her friend.
"You're not a monster?" she asked, puzzled.
The shadows in the empty room moved. "No."
She tilted her head, the way his eyes did sometimes. "Then what are you?"
"As I said, I am your shadow," he replied. "I watch over you where the light can't reach me."
Maria frowned. "Well, why don't you come out?"
Her friend paused. He did that sometimes when he was thinking hard. "I would disappear," he said.
Maria apologized, not wanting him to go, but never brought it up again.
She had so few friends who made time for her. She wanted to keep the ones she had.
When Maria was eight the scientists were suddenly abuzz with excitement, and it wasn't because of their work. When she asked, she was told that another state had been added to North America. She didn't really understand, but she was happy for everyone just the same.
Then Abraham wanted to play hide and seek, and Maria went running through the ARK. They had agreed upon places that they would never use, and she resolutely avoided them. Bedrooms for one, the fridge for another. The latter was too cold to stay for long anyways, as the boy had found out some time back.
She stopped, then turned, smiling. "Shadow!"
An open door to darkness greeted her, then two red eyes opened. "In here."
Her shoes clicked as she went in. She had nothing to fear in the lightless room. Her friend was the darkness, after all.
The door shut and she waited. Occasionally, she would look over at her friend and ask a hushed question. He would whisper in return, and she would go back to listening.
She waited for a long time before she heard him. Quick footsteps, familiar ones that made her cover her mouth, as if hoping Abraham wouldn't hear her breathing.
"Ma-ri-a!" he called, getting louder and louder. "I'm gonna find you!"
She strained to hear as the door across the way fooshed opened. A minute later, it closed.
A hand landed on her shoulder, and suddenly she was dizzy and stumbling. Gentle hands guided her to the floor. A whispered "I'm sorry" came from her friend, before she heard the frustrated groaned from Abraham outside. Maria help her breath, listening.
His footsteps retreated. His voice faded.
Maria giggled. The dizziness was worth it to not be found! She told her shadow as much and talked with him in low voices as she sat and waited.
She lost track of the time, and only knew the game was over when Abraham came back, calling out, "I give up! Come out already!"
Somehow, she thought her shadow was pretty happy about that. His muffled chuckles didn't help any.
When Maria was nine, she awoke to a hand on her shoulder and red eyes beside her bed.
"Come with me," said her friend. She was so tired, she didn't want to move, but her friend was insistent, and she was soon walking out from her room, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Where are we going?" she asked wearily.
"You'll see." Maria moaned, but shuffled along obediently. The footsteps were light, but noticeable, so they didn't get separated.
It didn't take long, but the footsteps stopped right outside the kitchen. "Go on in," said her shadow, and Maria walked inside and flipped the switch. She ducked her head and squinted, the lights blinding her for a few seconds. When her eyesight adjusted, she saw it.
Atop the round kitchen table where some wrappers were left, was a strange flat case. It was brown and clasped shut, but when she started poking and unlocking it, she found a side that flipped down. An odd ridged thing stretched out, and clicked into place. Then she found the wrinkled note, just to the side. The writing wasn't as flowing as her grandpa's, but still perfectly readable, if a bit messy.
'This is a polaroid camera," it read. 'The instructions are attached. Make some memories.'
And she did.
When Maria was ten, she decided that her shadow's birthday would fall on her own. He refused to say when he was born or how old he was, but everybody deserved a birthday party. So she commandeered the kitchen for an afternoon, and with a little help from her grandfather, she made cupcakes and homemade french fries.
At her first chance, she put a few cupcakes and a plate of fries in her room along with a handmade card. It was very colorful, a picture of the Earth on the front and a brown stick topped with a green blob on the back; a drawing of what she thought a tree would look like. The inside was scribbled in black pencil with two red, oval eyes in the middle. Underneath them, she wrote 'Happy Birthday, Shadow!' in white crayon. Then, she left it all behind as she went back to her grandfather, planning to give it to her friend later.
By the time she came back from her party, the food was gone and so was the card. However, carefully placed beside the plate was a torn bit of white paper.
It simply said: 'Thank you, Maria.'
When Maria was eleven she came to a very important conclusion.
"Calling you Shadow is going to get confusing," she stated, staring up at the ceiling of her room. Her grandfather had already told her about her new friend who would wake up soon. Both of their names were the same and she had no doubt it would be very confusing when talking to at least one of them about the other.
"Hm." Her friend hummed from inside her closet. He was kind of silly like that. "Do you have another name then?" he asked.
This time it was her turn to hum. "You're always watching over me like a guardian angel and we're on the ARK, so...you're ARK Angel!"
Her closet chuckled. "As you wish, Maria."
Two weeks later, Shadow the Ultimate Lifeform emerged from his capsule.
And her guardian angel never appeared to her again.
Maria was twelve when the Klaxon alarms blared and her grandfather sent her away with Shadow. He pulled her along, refusing to activate his air shoes for fear of losing his grip on her. Shots rang out behind them, boots stomped on steel, and voices ordered them to stop.
Her lungs burned. Being on the space colony meant that she never had to be very fast. Not even while playing. But now every inch of her begged for rest, to stop for just a moment before her legs turned to jelly.
A bullet whizzed by them, and she found the strength to keep going.
Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity of struggling to breath, they came to the emergency escape pod room. Maria was well aware of how the escape procedure worked. Her grandfather made sure everyone onboard did. So when Shadow walked further into the room looking around for an obvious pod for them, she pulled down the switch.
Her grandfather had always said that Shadow was a hope for humanity. That he could one day pave the way for a new future.
He was far more important than her. And even more, he was her friend.
Her only friend left.
He pounded on the glass, screaming her name in the most horrified voice she had ever heard. Yet, she smiled, gently, and told him her one wish.
Bam! Something solid flew into the door, but it held still.
Red crept in around the sides, and from the hall came curses, shouts, screams, and gunshots.
And she launched the capsule towards Earth.
Maria slumped against the console. She was so tired. Everything hurt. Even thinking made her head throb. But her friend was okay. He would live and all the people on Earth would be better for it.
Maria slid to the floor sitting and waited. Eventually, the gunshots stopped. But she didn't move. She had no reason to. A second pair of hands would be needed to send her out, and the only ones she trusted to do that were gone. She feared what the men in masks and armor had done to the people she called family, and prayed they had escaped. She could only do the same for her grandfather.
The hairs on her arms raised on end. The air tingled, and a second later, a sharp zap echoed within the small room. She slid her gaze up, and she smiled; a small, tired thing, but genuine.
A hand reached out for her. She reached back and grasped it.
Her ARK Angel, her ever watchful Shadow, had returned for her.