Day 242, a different day, a different cage:
Weeks had passed since we surrendered ourselves to the Slixt. I’d spent the majority of my time in a plasticky egg-shaped prison cell that was about ten times nicer than my apartment had been. I even had my own personal Slixt style goo-pool, though I didn’t have the courage or the desire to try it out.
I was waiting for my war-crimes trial to start and the only thing that I had to amuse myself with was my tablet, but there was no video access, so I couldn’t even catch up on “Humans are Dumb” (which I found myself missing). The only apps available were my calendar and my journal, so I spent the time organizing my thoughts and preparing my testimony. The bulk of that would be comprised of my diary, which told the story from beginning to end (from my point of view). I had gone back through every entry in the journal, adding a line here, or a paragraph there, anytime I could remember something important or could make certain things clearer.
I had never been a good writer, or speaker for that matter, but I did my best despite the Slixt translation software’s quirks (back on Earth I’d thought that autocorrect was bad enough).
The only time I left the cell was for interrogations, processing, or short jaunts down to the medical center for evaluation. I even caught a glimpse of Nixa, who was being held down the hall (J&J were nearby as well, but ( expletive ) them right?).
I hadn’t spoken to any of them in a long time, but was happy that Nixa was still alive even if I couldn’t talk to her. I hoped that she felt the same way, but her dreams had been crushed more times than anyone had a right to endure. And again, a lot of that was down to me.
The one time I’d seen her clearly through my cell-window, she was being taken down the hallway in chains, her magnificent new wings cruelly cut from her back by Slixt surgeons, so that only deformed stumps remained. She looked weak, the fire that raged under her carapace during the battle now subdued.
It’s hard to explain why I’m so good at ( cursing-up ) and ruining everything. Harder still to understand why people agreed to go along with my stupid plans. Maybe Humans did have Slixt-like pheromones in their genes after all. Mind-control could be the only reasonable explanation. And, as far as that went, Groazl’s pheromone extractor had worked. J&J were able to confuse the Slixt with the alien medical device. It was only due to Nixa’s intervention that the rebel’s plans were thwarted (they were probably pissed off about that).
So why did I stop them? Having been in the midst of the battle I knew that if the Slixt were defeated then things would get a lot worse before they got better. There were serious doubts in my mind that they ever would get better. So many of the alien species that had shared the city peacefully only a week before the revolution gladly took the opportunity to kill their neighbors, get revenge, or steal anything that wasn’t nailed down.
Removing the Slixt would have only increased the chaos, and the final loss of life would have been infinitely worse than living under Slixt rule. At least, that’s what I told myself.
To top it all off, the ship was still orbiting the Earth (my old planet was visible through the window at the end of the cell-block hallway) and I was dreading the thought of having it destroyed by the Slixt. They were sure to do just that, as soon as the trial was over.
I had no expectations/possibility of being found innocent.
Day 252, case by case:
It felt important to record everything – and it took some major convincing, but High Inquisitor Slub’bump (who was representing the Slixt prosecution) finally agreed.
So when I entered the courtroom, I put my tablet into “listening” mode. Whatever remains of my journal is from the auto-dictation software and a few frantic hours at the end of it all, with me trying to make sure that this record mostly-accurately represented what had happened to me. Right up until the very end.
( – recording started – )
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Human, you stand accused of high treason, the reckless endangerment of life, murder, grievous bodily harm, and anti-social behavior… how do you plead?’
‘Innocent,’ I said, even though I expected that a few of those charges would probably stick.
Judge Pwom’p, ‘That’s not a valid plea Human. Guilty or not-guilty?’
Attorney G’leert, ‘Your honor, I wish to invoke the Doctrine of Severability for these crimes, given that the Human has mitigating circumstances.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘And the Human agrees?’
Attorney G’leert, ‘May I confer with my client?’
Judge Pwom’p, ( belch-fart-belch )
My attorney (yeah, the Slixt gave me representation) leaned over to me. I turned to it and hissed out, ‘What the ( expletive ) are you talking about?’ (I wasn’t convinced that the Slixt had provided me with their best lawyer).
Attorney G’leert ( whispering ), ‘The Doctrine of Severability… you have the right to be severed into two segments and be tried separately for the lesser crimes… it will greatly improve your chances!’
‘Cutting me in half will improve my chances?’
Attorney G’leert ( whispering agreement ), ‘Drastically, yes.’
I screamed, ‘I want a real lawyer!!!’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Order! There will be order in this court!’
( – recording paused – )
After that, things got really boring and technical and then the prosecution made its case and nobody cares about any of that.
( – recording resumed – )
Judge Pwom’p, ‘We Slixt have a saying, that no two intelligent species can share the same planet.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘It’s rather simple: neither one is willing to be the inferior species. Eventually they will go to war. That process will destroy one, the other, or both… unless a better species like the Slixt forces them to live together in harmony. It is unnatural for two peoples to co-exist indefinitely. Only an artificial environment could sustain that kind of ( diversity ).’
‘My planet is diverse,’ I countered.
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Is it really?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘How many intelligent species are there?’
Was that a trick question? I had to think about it… Er, dolphins? … What about dogs? … Were they intelligent enough to prove my case?
After a bit of thinking I said, ‘Just the one I guess, but there are others that aren’t too far off in terms of smartness and stuff.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘But Humans are at the top of the pyramid?’
‘Er, yeah, and we’re extremely diverse. It’s not like all Humans are the same. Except, I guess, in some ways we are?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘So your position is that Humanity lives in perfect harmony, free from the burdens of war, or hatred, or anything like that?’
There was nothing to gain anymore by lying to the Slixt. ‘Uh, we do have quite a lot of those things going on, actually…’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘And here? On this ship?’
I saw where this was going. ‘Well, there’s lots of people who don’t like one kind of alien or another.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘But do we have wars? Do we kill each other? Or do we all get along?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Indeed. You manage to destroy half of our beautiful city and all you have to say for yourself is “uh”? That won’t do at all Human! By what right do you criticize the Slixt when Humanity wallows in war and pestilence on its own world, not by coercion, but by choice?’
‘What you do is wrong! You abducted us from our planets and forced us to live here in this freakish alien Zoo, against our will!’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Did we not give you food, water, a roof over your head?’
‘Yeah but you also tortured us, so I don’t think that you’re going to win this argument.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Did we… did we torture you? We gave you the job that you asked for. We gave you a chance to build a life here. We gave you opportunities. You had the freedom to form bonds of friendship and kinship with your fellow citizens. And then, when our society… our ( zoo )… what an insult it is for you to call it that, by the way… but when our magnificent city, that gives you life, is threatened, and we ask for your help, what did you do? You tried to destroy it all!’
‘But that isn’t how it went! P’shush’t forced me to help the Slixt… and might I remind you that it was against my will?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Forced you to save the city? Really? Does a good person need to be forced to do the right thing? And you call us ( evil ) when all you want to do is to tear down our world? The world that we created for you? And now you expect us to be grateful, because at the very end, after you caused such senseless, needless waste, and loss of life, that you feel “kinda’ bad about it”? Your own actions alienated everyone that you cared about! …
‘Clerk! Make a note please… perhaps the entry-exam needs to be updated… and you Human, you aren’t merely anti-social. You’ve proven to be a menace to society.’
‘But you kidnapped me! … I was happy on Earth!’
Judge Pwom’p, ( Slixt incredulity ), ‘You were happy on Earth? Be honest. You only get one trial and one chance at life, so I suggest that you make the most of it.’
‘I am being honest.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Did you not lie in your bed wishing that you could be something different? Someone different? In a place where you would be accepted for who you are? Did your fellow Humans accept you for who you were? Anti-social, awkward, confused, sexually directionless… I could go on but you get the general idea… Did you not yearn for something or someone to help you? Night after night you prayed to the cosmos to save you from your torment, and the Slixt did! We answered your prayers. It’s not our fault that you didn’t think it through well enough. Perhaps you were expecting someone else to answer, but we were the ones who heard your plea, and we gave you what you asked for! You can imagine what I’m going to say the next time people ask me why Humans aren’t more popular in Slixt ( collections ).’
‘Wait. You’re trying to tell me that you kidnapped me… from Earth… because I wanted you to?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Didn’t you?’
High Inquisitor Slub’bump, ‘Well, your Honor, I don’t see the point in this, do you? I think the only reasonable conclusion that we can come to is this: Humans are the worst species in the universe. I rest my case.’
I stood up, shouting, ‘How can you say that? The Slixt killed the Groazl. All of them. And you enslave other species, and you take over planets… and stuff!’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘We do, and we’re not going to apologize to you for that. It’s what we are. All species conquer their worlds and spread to others. The evidence has shown that on your own planet, you enslave animals and bend them to your will. How happy are ( horse-slaves ) when humans ride them? Not ( super thrilled ) are they? The horse isn’t into the deal is it? Your term for taming the creature is called “breaking” isn’t it? And then you give it a slice of apple and everything is ok because you love your slave animal. And you think the Slixt are barbaric?
‘Your planet is doomed no matter what happens. When you’ve sucked every drop of life out of it, your species will shed the husk from which it bloomed and seek out new fertile ground in which to sow its seed… you will do as all species do. We know everything about your world and we defy you to prove us wrong.’
(Reminder: I’m not super good at arguing in the moment. I usually come up with a good comeback a few hours later.)
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Can you deny that the Slixt are comparably advanced to Humans as Humans are to dogs or cats? Do you give special rights to dogs and cats? Are animals equal to or above your kind? Or do you train the “animals” to do your work? Do you breed them for food? Ask the horse! You subjugate every species you encounter! Plant or animal, it doesn’t matter to you which. And then you pretend to inhabit a moral “high-ground”, unable and unwilling to live by the same rules that you yourself would impose on the universe. Were you aware Human, that in your own language that the very word “animal” means “living thing”? A word, which at its root means “breath” or “soul”? What a curious concept the “soul” is, Human. That intangible thing that makes Humans think that they have the right to act as ( gods ) do. And again, I challenge you, is the Human method any different than that of the Slixt’s?’
The judge paused emphatically, but I had no response.
It continued, ‘Your species comes to the realization that you aren’t the biggest fish in the aquarium, and suddenly you want to change all the rules. Oh, we’re Humans, and what about us? Don’t we get to decide everything for everyone anymore? Boo hoo!
‘Humans act as judge, jury, and executioner over anything you deem to be morally corrupt, but you are the very source of that corruption! And you’re happy to enact “divine” judgement on anything that isn’t made in your own image, so please, stop with your petty protests! Own your Slixt-ness!
‘We both know that if Humans had the power to reach out to other worlds, they would shape those planets to their whims. And if they were to find less advanced species living there, would they not farm them and breed them to their purposes? Is that not what you already do on your planet? And if they had to choose between Humanity and an “equally advanced” species, would the Humans not want to be the ones in charge? Would they be willing to share the resources and power when they could instead take these for themselves? Are you so ignorant of your own history, in fact, you own present state, that you think they would take the high ground? Would Humans be willingly subservient to a more advanced culture and accept their mentorship, even if meant that Humans had to accept their rightful second-class place? They would not. Not as a people, and not you yourself, as you have adequately proven already.’
I addressed the judge. ‘This whole time you’ve been trying to convince me that the Slixt are actually the good guys, but it’s just not true.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘How Human of you! You always try to divide the universe into good and bad. But your people do terrible things for what they consider to be good reasons. And yet, you continue to judge us?’
‘Whatever… you say you’re doing it all “for the good of the people”, but it’s just words. It doesn’t mean that you have the right to keep us in your zoo and that we’re going to like it.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘( Zoo ), sanctuary, collection… what does it matter what you call it? The rights of the Slixt are not in question here.’
As sick and twisted as it was, I had to admit that the Slixt were actually sort of right. Not morally. Not ethically. But their argument had a kind of merit to it. I wanted to believe that Humanity could be better than the Groazl or the Slixt, but so far Humans hadn’t managed to take care of their own people, so how would they treat other aliens? Who was I kidding? If Humans had found a way to steal Slixt technology, there was no doubt in my mind that they would act any differently. It was likely we’d do an even worse job of it too… especially if I was the one they put in charge.
It was all very complicated.
I had spent my whole life begging the night sky for something powerful to come save me, and I couldn’t condone what the Slixt had done, or who they were, but back on Earth, a lot of the governments and the people in power were no better than the slugs.
They also controlled Human lives at their whim. Most of them were motivated only by greed and power, and had no trouble making war, and rarely did they seek ways to make peace. The ones in control of even the most advanced nations were content to let their own people starve, go homeless, live without healthcare, a basic education, or even a purpose in life… I didn’t want to admit it, but the Slixt had tried to give me all of those things.
Did it matter that we were essentially pets to them? Would it have been any better if I lived back on the Earth with the illusion of freedom? They always talked about how important freedom was back home, but I can’t say that I ever felt really free. There were more rules in my country than I had here. The only thing I’d ever really been required to do on the Slixt ship was to avoid (if at all possible) eating my fellow citizens. Maybe it hadn’t been so much for them to ask. Nixa was right all along; we were happy here once, and maybe some of us could be again, if the Slixt were willing to give us another chance.
I know how totally mental this all sounds, and I don’t expect you to understand my logic. You can judge me based on where you are, but until you’ve been where I’ve been, I don’t think you’ve earned that right. When you’re standing in judgement before the Slixt, then you can compare notes with me.
I had chosen to believe that people different from myself weren’t as wise or capable… and realizing this wasn’t a good feeling. I’d always assumed that my own species, beliefs, identity, and background gave me a deeper insight into the world. What a dangerous path to take… in thinking that I knew best, I was neither seeing nor listening. My belief that I knew what was ultimately “good” could have only achieved what the Slixt had – to take away from diversity of thought and will, instead of adding to it.
Many of us are doomed to be born into a world we’re not sure we belong in. I might have been forced to come and live in this one, kicking and screaming. And I might have tried everything possible in order to avoid becoming a part of this society. But somehow, I still did. Unlike Jane and John, I got a job, I made friends, and I built a new life. There were times when it didn’t matter that I could never go home again because I realized that if I did, it would never be the same… That I would never be the same, and if the Slixt let me go back to Earth right now I’d be a stranger on my own planet, and I’d always look up at the sky and just end up wishing that something would come and save me again.
Maybe I’m crazy… maybe I can never know happiness as long as I refuse to make a place in the world where I am instead of dreaming of what might be.
( – recording paused – )
I asked the Slixt for a brief recess, and if I could please speak with Nixa before they passed judgement. Somehow, my stupid lawyer managed to arrange it.
Nixa looked better than the last time I had seen her, but she was clearly worried. Her own trial was not progressing well either. Her people had killed a good few Slixt during the fighting. For once, she didn’t have so much to say, so I did most of the talking. After some back-and-forth she agreed with the last of my bright ideas… like I said, it must be mind-control, or something, because people still occasionally think that I come up with good plans.
( – recording resumed – )
I asked the judge, ‘So what will happen to the other Humans? Jane and John?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘They will be put down. Recycled. Made an example of. The whole planet must be destroyed so that the people in our city can finally understand that the Slixt know what’s best for them.’
J&J were getting off easy considering what they’d done, but the unsuspecting Earth, not so much. ‘Wait, secret weapon or not, I thought that you knew that revolution was coming? The Humans never were a danger to you, were they?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Not really. No.’
‘Then why destroy the Earth?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘It’s just a single planet in a galaxy filled with them. And besides we won’t destroy it entirely… We’ll just clean it up a little with some light orbital-bombardment… it has some decent real-estate potential once the Humans are gone.’
‘It all seems so trivial from the Slixt perspective. Like, you don’t even need to do this, but you’re doing it anyway.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Does anyone really need anything?’
There was one card left to play against the Slixt. Their own nature. ‘Then why not just let it be? If it’s not that great of a planet and… uh… not that useful… then is it really worth the effort? Wouldn’t it be easier just to leave the Earth alone… it seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth?’
Attorney G’leert, ‘A valid point your honor. The Rule of None is the best course, it always has been.’
I whispered in my lawyer’s ear, ‘What’s the Rule of None?’
Attorney G’leert ( whispering back ), ‘If a Slixt has to choose between some effort and none, then it’s not really a Slixt is it? Nearly-omnipotent beings shouldn’t have to ( give a curse about anything ). It’s the same reason that we don’t use our most powerful weapon on the population of the city.’
‘You mean mind-control right?’
Attorney G’leert, ‘Exactly. When you’re at the very top of the food-chain, the entire purpose of the rule is not to have to use your power, because that in itself is effort, and if you have to make an effort, you’re weak. The strong don’t have to lift a finger. It’s a point of pride really.’
‘You Slixt are bonkers, you know that right?’
Attorney G’leert, ( shrugs tentacles ).
I addressed the court, ‘And what of Nixa and her people?’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘They too must be punished for their crimes against the Slixt.’
‘Doesn’t the fact that Nixa and her kind helped to end the war count for anything? That even though we weren’t able to stop it, we at least tried? Even the Slixt didn’t stop it… but you could have, right? … I’m still a little confused on the who-would-have-actually-won-in-the-end part and whether-the-Slixt-were-in-control-the-whole-time-or-are-just-pretending-they-had-it-under-control-the-whole-time.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Your argument is invalid.’
‘Is it really? If you’re the more advanced species, then you should act like it! Have mercy on the planet Earth, have mercy on the people of your city! You have J&J, and Nixa, and me, what more do you need? And to be totally honest, you don’t even need us, do you? I don’t think that anyone needs any more convincing!’
High Inquisitor Slub’bump, ‘Objection your Honor, the Human cannot plead for the Slixt to: just let us all go.’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘Sustained. Human, do you have anything else to add in your defense?’
‘Yes, I want you to prove that the Slixt are what they claim to be. Let the Earth go, let it find its own potential, or to destroy itself… why not think of it as an experiment? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate expression of the Slixt philosophy, to act like none of this matters? Isn’t that the point of your Rule of None? Even your ridiculous Doctrine of Severability implies weakness!
‘I know how you can show the city why you should always be the ones in charge. I might not like it, and I can’t condone what your people do, ( hell ), I can’t even condone what my own people do half the time…’
Judge Pwom’p, ‘What are you proposing Human?’
So I told them, figuring that the Groazl was wrong when it said that people wouldn’t fall for the same old tricks. Jane and John proved that when they fooled the Slixt with their own inherent abilities of cunning, boldness, and ruthlessness.
The Slixt could only achieve their goals if they allowed the world that they created to unfold organically. To do that, I’d have to help them, while coming to terms with the crushing knowledge that I couldn’t save anyone, least of all myself. But the people in the city, prisoners as they were, would suffer less as a result.
I’d have to sacrifice everything. But this time, I would have actually made the choice. The fact that I, or anyone else, wouldn’t be able to right the injustices in this universe all by themselves was hard to swallow, but there was a chance to restore the balance at least.
In the end, that’s all that people really want: to live safely in their illusions and to figure it out for themselves, without the constant fear of war, even if meant that they were complicit in their own oppression.
( – recording ended – )
Day 243, deliberations:
Back in the cell again, but I still had my tablet, and was trying to record things right up until the very end. The Slixt had access to all of it, of course: my history, my thoughts, my dreams, my self-recriminations, and my self-pity.
I hoped that they would use this knowledge in the future and learn from it. And if they didn’t, then I just wanted it to be recorded anyway, so that future travelers would be able to understand the mistakes that I made. To see that I did the best under the circumstances, even if they would have made different choices.
I had many regrets. Chief among them was how I treated the people who only treated me with kindness. How I thought of them. How I called them awful nicknames right up until the end. I didn’t even know what fate befell Jerkface and Wheezy, and whether or not they survived the apocalypse that I had inflicted upon them.
Meanwhile, the Slixt were busy deciding what would become of us and I didn’t have high hopes for the Earth (or the rest of us for that matter).
Everything I’d believed about Humanity had been wrong – but with any luck, at least my fellow citizens could live long and productive lives no matter what cage they found themselves in. In the end, it was all about trading one cell for another. Maybe it wasn’t a cell at all – unless we chose to see it that way. Some cages were meant to be broken, and some cages protected society from itself. Maybe none of us would ever be able to escape as long as we brought our baggage with us.
I realized my time on Earth had been spent wishing I could be somewhere else. And then, when I came here, all I wanted was to go back. I was tired of living a life without a true home in my heart, or sense of belonging, except that I’d already found it the moment that Nixa accepted me for who I was (even though she rarely agreed with me) and then, again, when I finally accepted her, in all of her horrifying and beautiful Nixa-ness.
Only a fool would have thought that things could change overnight… maybe Humanity will evolve into an example that the universe could live by. But that wouldn’t happen today.
Everyone has a right to self-determination, even if we don’t like what others determine themselves to be. I couldn’t be the one to decide for them. But if there was a way that I could add my own individuality to theirs, and theirs to mine, and so on, all the way back to the Slixt, then maybe one day things would change for the better. In the meantime, I just wanted to belong again. To contribute to life instead of using it up and throwing it away. I knew that now, and the only thing left was to find out if the Slixt had been moved by my impassioned speech.
Maybe this wasn’t a zoo at all. Maybe it was an experiment that the Slixt were conducting to find answers that weren’t within their culture or their genome to decode. We all share the same arrogance, because even in that moment I believed in my very heart-of-hearts that I was morally right, morally superior, and the only actual problem was that I was powerless to bend the universe to my personal tastes.
I wondered if this was the inevitable end result of intelligence, that all creatures who thought rationally would eventually come to the conclusion that they had some kind of right to impose their will on beings who didn’t fit in with their personal value-system.
And even if some us no longer believed in gods or ghosts, in the end we were all animals. And as the Slixt had treated me like one, so had I treated others.
All work on this site is Copyright – Alex Markus. All rights are reserved. Please do not distribute this work in any format. This includes: link-farming, scraping, posting in whole or in part, digital, app, web, book, e-book, audio, print, multimedia, film, animation, merchandise, art, and all other printed, electronic, audible, or visual formats. Any and all adaptations are prohibited. Please contact me through this site if you would like to use my work.
The only right granted is to read the work as it appears on this website and to link to it (without payment, paywall, promotion, or profit). Please see the terms and conditions for additional info.