Trigger warning: portions of this book may deal with drugs, sex, suicidal ideation, having to get a job, speciesism, and other things that might not be super pleasant to encounter.
Day 2, there’s
an another alien in my living room:
It wasn’t a graceful maneuver but I managed to arrange myself on the couch, draping an arm casually across the back of it, like alien monsters invading my living room was an everyday thing. Unlike me, the alien seemed to have recovered from its own shock, inviting itself in while the door slid closed behind it with an air of finality. I found myself wondering how this new horror had scored on the “eating aliens” part of the test from the day before.
The creature approaching my coffee table was something like a Human woman crossed with an insect. Just for laughs. It had an oddly-curvy, muddy-reddish-brown carapace. Long legs that were disturbingly shapely. Only two arms, but they terminated in sharp, handy-fingery-things with claws on the ends (instead of marshmallows, or feathers, like I would have preferred). And the head was slightly insectoid – a bit freaky, but the face was nicer than say, Wheezy’s.
A bunch of antennae swept back from its crown in an imitation of braided-hair which (admittedly) suited the alien. Most of the rest of its body was covered by a dull metallic dress – a fact that I was intensely glad of. And in fairness to its sense of style, it had accessorized rather well: a few colorful bangles decorated one arm, along with a thick matching necklace.
Best of all, it hadn’t tried to eat me alive. Yet. So I had that going for me. Still, I hoped that it had already eaten breakfast.
‘It must be a shock,’ it clicked at me ( compassionately ). The voice was odd, somehow feminine, and not as threatening as expected.
I relaxed by the tiniest of fractions. ‘I… uh… Er…’ was all that I could manage to say.
The alien recognized my discomfort, no doubt helped by my less-than-subtle reactions as well as its own sub-titles. It stopped mid-way to the couch. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ it said.
Easy for it to say.
( neutral expression ) ‘My name is Nixa’chrt’tk’chtil’tzrk.’
That was a mouthful. ‘Uh, I don’t think I can repeat that. Not that.. ah… I mean… it’s a nice name. I, uh… I just don’t think that I have the mouth-parts to make all of those sounds myself… uh, no offence.’
The alien seemed to take this in stride. ‘None taken.’
‘Can I just call you Nixa?’ I asked, hoping that my suggestion wasn’t offensive. All my previous experience had been with Humans, most of whom tended to get offended quite easily.
( pensive ) ‘I think that would be alright. Nixa then.’
The rules regulating the flow of normal/civilized conversation dictated that I should introduce myself in response (that was just social-interaction 101) but I didn’t.
Unwilling to make the next move, or any move, I said nothing. Meanwhile, Nixa took in the room, the big screen which was now dark, and then me, the same as I had been since it arrived: staring blankly at the coffee table.
When it moved toward the couch, I recoiled involuntarily – not that I meant to (but it happened anyway) and Nixa froze, ( uncomfortable ).
It was somewhat shocking to discover how poorly I felt about my reaction, though I was unsure why. The Slixt may have been the abductors, but Jerkface, Wheezy, and Nixa were collaborators. Weren’t they? All the same, an apology might have been in order. ‘Uh, sorry. I’m a little freaked out right now. Not by uh, not by you, of course. You’re great! … I just uh… I uh, I’m not used to meeting aliens and this is all a little bit much for me right now.’
Nixa turned to the side. I couldn’t be sure, but to be honest it might have been saddened by our exchange (although I might’ve read it wrong; the sub-titles weren’t a magic window into other people’s heads). ‘It’s ok,’ it said, ‘I’ve never met a Human before either. That’s what you are, aren’t you?’
Another long and uncomfortable silence developed, Nixa much more patient then I would have been in similar circumstances. Giving in, I replied, ‘I’m Human. Yup.’
It might sound like a glib reply, but to be fair, I’d never felt more Human in my life.
Day 3, a new kind of normal:
Nixa wouldn’t give up, having pestered me for the majority of the previous day, she was due to return – arriving at any moment. Yesterday, I learned that she’d been assigned to me as some kind of social-worker. A job that entailed helping new “immigrants” adjust to life aboard the ship. She’d chosen that line of work for reasons that were unclear and it wasn’t worth asking why (I wouldn’t have wanted to put up with people like me).
The thing about Nixa was that she talked a lot, but my capacity for listening was greatly impeded by a desire to escape both her presence and the Slixt ship in general.
It’s not worth going into everything she said, but Nixa opened up a little, telling me that she was an abductee too (I knew how the Slixt operated by that point, so it wasn’t exactly new information). The details about her past and capture were vague, but she admitted to living on the ship for a long time. At some point during this info dump, she mentioned that her species had three “sexes” (a fact that I didn’t need or ask for) and that she was a she. Not that I cared – the less that I knew about her, the better it suited me.
I also got the impression that Nixa wasn’t exactly happy with her present assignment, and that her tolerance toward Humans was limited, even though she hadn’t known any Humans before me (it was hard not take that personally).
The talking. She never shut up. Ever. Whether this was a side-effect of her job or some other personal issue, she had a strong opinion on just about everything and was eager to divulge every excruciating detail of said opinion. Only ten percent of what she said made it through, and part of the reason that I found myself reluctant to listen was because I needed to start actively resisting the terms of my capture. When Nixa reported back to the Slixt she could tell them that this Human wasn’t going to meekly go along with whatever they had planned.
Noticing my distant stare, Nixa flashed me a ( dangerous ) glare, after which I listened, but only partly. And that was only because she finally had some useful/alarming information to share.
The facts were these: I was stuck on the Slixt ship, whether or not that felt “fair” to me. People were free to consider themselves “immigrants” or “unwilling captives” (which I thought amounted to the same thing). The Slixt didn’t care which option you picked, but people who chose the latter tended to score lower on resident satisfaction surveys. The key word was resident, because that’s what I was now, according to Nixa. She said that I should try to make the most of it. That my outcome would be determined by my attitude (but if that were true, then I was in real trouble).
Moreover, according to Nixa, escape was not an option. Not that I was going to let that stop me from trying. She was very emphatic on that point – so much so that I decided to let it go for now and ask her again in the future (when she wasn’t being so bossy and negative about everything).
And, the Slixt didn’t consider us prisoners. My assigned living quarters were mine, and mine alone. Residents could come and go as they pleased, as long as they: didn’t try to escape, plot against the Slixt, or commit any major crimes. I wondered what constituted major crimes around here (and was wary of unintentionally breaking rules that might land me in jail) but was afraid that if I asked, Nixa would tell me. At length.
The last part of Nixa’s speech was designed to “inspire me” to become a productive member of society, but I had no intention of doing so (I hadn’t even figured how to do that on Earth).
When I did get a word in edgewise, my responses were unkind (at best), and it probably wasn’t fair to Nixa because it’s not like she had a choice either.
Before leaving, Nixa presented me with a medium-sized tablet, informing me that it functioned as a media player/recorder and communications device (like I’d never seen a crappy phone before). Still, it was a bit overwhelming. I wanted to know why I couldn’t use my own, but Nixa was adamant that Earth-made technology wouldn’t work with the Slix-tel system. So I had to make do. I was also conscious of the fact that the Slixt tablet could be used to track my movements, probably recording everything that I said or did in the process. But my phone was out of juice (so my offline apps wouldn’t be available either) and I was starting to go crazy without it.
A few minutes later I went from suspicious and disinterested to gripping the new tablet possessively, waiting for Nixa to go, so I could see if the device had any good games on it.
Preparing to leave (finally), Nixa said, ‘Well then, it’s good to see you taking an interest in something. That’ll help you adjust. Speaking of which, I’m here to help you integrate into society. No matter how long that takes.’ She consulted her own tablet and added, ‘But no longer than three weeks. After that, you’re on your own.’
Her sub-titles indicated that she was looking forward to that day.
I didn’t plan on being aboard the ship that long.
Day 6, … I suck:
Nixa left me a few days ago with the parting suggestion that I should spend some time exploring the neighborhood around my apartment. She also warned me not to go too far until I had more experience, and that I should avoid eating or drinking anything unfamiliar, pointing at my food-bar dispenser while she did so. Then she told me not to run off with any strange aliens, and to do my best to stay in open areas – in sight of lots of other aliens – while adjusting to my new environment. None of that sounded very appealing to me.
The prospect of going outside was scary. Intellectually, I knew that venturing into the alien city would probably work out fine, maybe, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. What little I’d seen on the way to my apartment building that first day had turned out to be fairly benign (if not bowel-emptyingly terrifying), but there was no telling what potential dangers might lay in wait. Nixa’s words of caution bounced around in my head, even though back on Earth, I would’ve given the same advice to a visitor from another planet.
Luckily there were better and safer options available to me, such as figuring out how to work the big screen in my apartment/cell.
It didn’t take long to decode the remote-control (it turns out that remote-controls, for all practical purposes, are in fact universal). The menu brought up a host of options, including a “Getting Settled Guide” – which I ignored in protest. Next, there were all sorts of maps, read-outs, stats, and technical options that I didn’t understand or have a use for. There was also a link to something called the ‘Net’ (it wasn’t what I expected) and another link, to my comms-feed, which was like email, I guessed. The system indicated that five unread messages were waiting for me. I’d been ignoring those same messages on my tablet for days, along with the alien equivalent of “texts”. The aliens could abduct me all they wanted (I was powerless to prevent that) but they couldn’t make me read their bloody emails.
After digging through some more menus, I found and selected the “Entertainment Feed”. It brought up a dizzying array of options, better than having all the channel packages on Earth (assuming you were into bizarre alien TV-shows). I scrolled through at least a hundred pages until I saw, and almost missed, an unexpected entry: “Humans are Dumb”
Humans? There was a show about Humans? I eagerly started the feed and found myself a bit disappointed to see two weird-looking robots having some sort of discussion about the number of followers they’d gained since their last broadcast. There must have been something lost in the translation-bolt, but I didn’t have much time to contemplate the robots because it was then that my door chime started ringing.
It kept ringing, and I didn’t have to be a master-detective to figure out who was calling (my social-circle wasn’t all that broad at the time). I reluctantly turned off the screen and got up to answer the door.
Surprise, surprise, it was the annoying alien. Nixa.
I said, ‘Eh, it’s you again.’
( resigned ) ‘Can I come in?’ she asked, but as usual, Nixa didn’t wait for my response and walked into the living-room uninvited.
Later on Day 6 – it had to happen sometime:
It took some convincing (that was typical) on Nixa’s part, but eventually we made our way out into the city together. Again, I was stricken by how strange and mixed up the layout was – there was a different kind of building to match every different kind of alien. All options were on the table: big, small, scary, funny, flying, squirming, bristling… and revolting (and that was just the architecture).
As I took it all in, trailing behind Nixa like a kid, or something, I asked her, ‘So where are you taking me?’
Her response was clinical in its dryness. As usual. ‘We have a few stops on our ( itinerary ) today.’
‘I’ll bet, thanks for the deep insight,’ I said cautiously, but curious all the same. ‘It’s not top-secret is it? You’d put my mind at ease if you just told…’
Nixa clicked as she counted off the stops on her clawed hand. ‘Office of the Controller. Recycling and Cycling. The Market. And the Resettlement Office.’
Only one of those things sounded remotely good or fun. That was the Market, of course. But then I remembered that Earth-money was no good here, and wasn’t about to ask Nixa for any favors.
The “Office of the Controller” was situated in/on a patio, out front of a run-down bar, in a busy and seedy market-square a half-dozen blocks from my place. It was also the first time that I met P’shush’t, even though I didn’t want to meet any more Slixt (because they represented the species that kidnapped me).
On the way to the bar, Nixa told me that P’shush’t could often be found in this very spot, drunk on ammonia-salts and Denebian-oxides by half-eleven every morning. Which was normal. This particular Slixt apparently had a legendary reputation for dodging work/responsibility, even among its own kind.
‘Why are we meeting this ( expletive ) slug again?’ I started to say to Nixa.
Nixa whispered ( angrily ), ‘Slixt! … don’t let it hear you refer to it as a ( slug ). Remember that your translation-bolt will give away the game and then you’ll really be in for it…’ ( alien sighing ) ‘You can’t go around broadcasting your emotions all the time, like you do with me. We all have to live here. And by here I mean on this ship, and the Slixt are in charge, whether you like it or not… You’re going to have to learn to go along with certain things if you want to thrive in this environment. You get that, right? ’
I really didn’t get it. The Slixt could go bark up a tree for all I cared. If they wanted to kill me, they would have done it already. They made a serious mistake telling people that they had to live on the ship forever. Forever is a long time. Long enough to find a way to escape or to get rid of the Slixt. One way or another.
‘I’m not sure I see your point,’ I said. ‘As far as I know the only rule around here is: don’t eat the other aliens. Tell me I’m wrong…’
( serious ) ‘Look… all I’m saying, is that for the most part you’re right, but when people do things that the Slixt don’t like, they go missing. And then you never hear from them again. If you’re ( stupid ) enough to ask, the Slixt always have an unverifiable reason: accidents, food-poisoning, mysterious illnesses…’
I shrugged so that she would get my meaning. ‘Stuff like that happens all over.’
‘Maybe, but that isn’t the truth. People that disappear don’t reappear, and I’m not keen on becoming one of them. Don’t insult the Slixt. Act like you’re happy to be here. And fit in. Those are the rules you need to follow. I’m not trying to sound ( dramatic ), these things happen… and you don’t want them happening to you. Nobody is stopping you from feeling what you feel, on the inside, but this is reality and you’re going to have to accept that. Think about it, at least.’
I did. As usual, my brain worked through the possibilities while my mouth formed a tight line.
Nixa was ( amused ), ‘I can literally see you thinking.’ Then she poked me in the ribs, click-hissing as we approached the Slixt’s table, ‘Just try to act as friendly as you can, ok? Forget that, just act friendly.’
By then, we were too close to P’shush’t’s table to argue any further, and the Slixt’s many eyes (at least the ones that weren’t asleep) were tracking our approach. Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure if the Slixt had ears, or could hear like Humans did. I made a mental note to ask Nixa about that later.
‘Hello P’shush’t,’ said Nixa ( ingratiatingly ), this was followed by a curtsy-bowing-type-gesture. Her deferential tone was offensive, and I frowned, which earned a clawed foot stomping my own none too gently.
In a tight voice I yelped, ‘Hiiii!’
Nixa rewarded me with another stomp even though I was still smarting from the first one.
The Slixt belched from two mouths and made a farting sound from the other, ( slurred Slixtian speech ) ‘Ah, if it isn’t, ah…’ said the slug ( prompting ) with a tentacle.
‘Nixa… we’ve met before.’ To her credit, she betrayed no ( irritation ), and I wasn’t quite sure if Nixa’s ability to suck up to our captors was something to resent or admire. But I had to admit (seeing P’shush’t up close) that my plan to tell it what I really thought was a bad one.
The Slixt waved its tentacles ( lazily ). Most of its open eyes were scanning the crowded square, rather than Nixa or myself, perhaps as an intentional sign of disrespect.
( belching ) ‘Well, what do you want, Nixa?’
Nixa clicked something softly at P’shush’t. I didn’t get the translation, nor did I understand the subtleties of P’shsuh’t’s reply, but when it was over I could tell that Nixa was a bit put off by the exchange. She said, ‘Right, well, I wanted you to meet…’
P’shush’t waved a few tentacles ( dismissively ), ‘I can see that it’s a… Human… it is a Human isn’t it?’ the Slixt said, squinting a few of its eyes my way.
‘I am,’ I said with irritation showing, managing to dodge Nixa’s next stomp.
P’shush’t wasn’t impressed. ‘And it speaks too. A shame that. The last Humans would have been so much happier if they spent less time talking.’
Humans? There had been other Humans here? I didn’t like what the Slixt’s statement implied (past tense and all that) and was about to tell P’shush’t how I felt about that when Nixa cut in, ‘Ok then, fine, I just wanted to say hello and introduce you to my ( friend ).’
P’shush’t took a long pull of its poisonous cocktail while Nixa fidgeted, the moment dragging on for a few agonizing seconds. Then the Slixt’s eyes focused elsewhere, as if we’d already been forgotten.
Even Nixa must have known when she was beat. ‘Alright then,’ she said. ‘Happy goings P’shush’t, see you around.’
‘Off you go,’ it replied dismissively, waving its tentacles in our general direction as it continued to avoid eyes-contact. We backed away before turning around, like a couple of idiots who’d had an audience with royalty and who weren’t sure what to do when it was over.
While we were walking back into the crowd I asked her, ‘What was that all about? I mean, I don’t see the point. Why meet this Slixt Controller thing at all?’
But she ignored me.
A few minutes later I tried again. ‘So, are you going to tell me what happened back there, or not?’
( frustrated ) ‘You don’t get it, do you?’ she asked.
I didn’t, feeling that I should have picked up on something that had been said, or left unsaid. ‘Er… maybe?’
‘If you think that overgrown ( expletive-worm ) back there is as useless as he looks… then it’s not him, it’s you who’s an ( idiot ). It’s called a controller for a reason, and that Slixt can make your life very difficult if it wants to. Showing a little respect, even if you don’t mean it, is how life works. I can’t imagine what your home planet is like. You might actually be better off here.’
That stung. I wanted to press the issue, but was wary of looking any more stupid than Nixa already thought I was. Instead, I asked her about the other thing that bothered me tremendously about the conversation with P’shush’t.
Clearing my throat, hoping that it would signal a change in topic, I said, ‘I’m the only Human?’
‘I’ve seen other species walking about in pairs, and groups, and stuff. So why aren’t there other Humans here?’
Nixa seemed to consider how she wanted to reply. ‘Historically, Humans don’t integrate well into this society.’
That didn’t sound good. ‘What happened to them?’
Nixa quickened her pace, leaving me behind, but I’d gotten good at catching up. She said, ‘The other Humans? Mostly they succumbed to old age and disease.’
Nixa stopped. Turned around and faced me. It was a bit intimidating as I still hadn’t quite gotten used to the fact that she was a big scary insect. ‘When I took on your case, I tried to find out if there were any other Humans aboard. There weren’t, but two of them were living in the city a few ( time-periods ) ago…
‘One of them was killed in an altercation with a Balzaed Nymph.’
( serious ) ‘You have to be very careful about who you choose to associate with. Not everyone is going to have your best interests at heart.’
‘I thought people had to get along here. So what are you saying, that there’s murderers walking around out there?’
‘Or worse,’ she countered ominously.
That was hard to handle. ‘And the other Human? You said that there were at least two Humans here… what happened to the other one?’
Nixa tilted her head, staring at the domed ceiling high above us. ‘It…’
‘I… I’d rather not talk about it.’
‘The last Human… it…’ ( unknown expression ) ‘… that Human took its own life.’
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