Day 48, P’shush’t:
I was sitting on the couch when a new message, marked urgent, blinked on my tablet; thinking that it was from Nixa, I projected it onto the big screen.
( — From: ReSet Office : Confidential — )
New assignment: Species Transition Crew
Report: Transition Level Eight via Blue Downtube 7 — 31:00 hours — Cycle Three.
New access granted: Blue 7
n7W acc3ss gr4nt3d: Blue 77 – Error 8x023e
N_7 aCDesS g7anteD: Blue 77* [ not found ] – Error 8x102j
– error –
– error –
– Errors detected : report to Section Tech immediately –
( — end of message — )
I jumped up from the couch and did a little dance.
I’d done it!
I got the job!
Granted, all the “error” stuff was a little concerning, but I didn’t want to mess anything up and wasn’t about to report the malfunction (if that’s what it was) to any technician or anyone else. There was no telling what the Slixt bureaucracy would do if I brought it to their attention. Maybe they hadn’t meant to give me the assignment after all. Maybe P’shush’t had got me the job through some shady back-channel, a possibility I thought quite likely. Either way, I was determined to report for my new job in two days’ time – only a fool would jeopardize an opportunity like this for a couple of bugs in the system.
As for P’shush’t, the Slixt would have a hold over me now and I couldn’t predict when the slug would come calling or what it would want from me. Whatever that turned out to be, it couldn’t be good.
Day 49, the Humans that I know:
It’s easy to get the wrong impression about “Humans are Dumb”. Like I said before, it was the only time I got to see any Humans at all (even if they were shown in a very negative, and usually terrified, light). The absurd situations that the robots put them in, week after week, were a twisted reflection of the things that were happening to me.
Sure, the aliens here hadn’t tortured me, not as such, but they did kidnap me against my will. And they were now forcing me to become gainfully employed – as if I hadn’t suffered a non-stop stream of indignities already.
Night after night I raptly watched Bleep n’ Bloop pretending to throw babies out of airlocks, causing massive radiation leaks, or bestowing other random torments upon unsuspecting Humans. Their motivation? Seemingly for the huge number of “likes” that each episode garnered on their net-blog. I didn’t know that my species was that popular (it’s also possible that Humans are just magnets for trouble).
Watching each episode, I tried to convince myself that the show wasn’t real. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that the whole thing was orchestrated so that my reactions to the Humans on screen could be secretly monitored and studied by the Slixt. It was a conspiracy theory, but no more unbelievable than being sucked off of a planet and being forced to live in an alien-city aboard a cage hurtling through space and time.
Sometimes it’s hard knowing what to believe and what not to. But I felt confident that there was no way that there were other Humans living free among the stars. Not without anybody else knowing about it.
I wanted to be free too. To feel that I could determine my own fate. And the stories of the Humans that I saw on screen let me experience that freedom through them, even if it did mean occasionally getting scared crapless by a bunch of sadistic robots.
Day 50, 3rd Cycle, or third day of the Slixtian week:
It was the morning of my first day of work, which sucked, because up until that point a large proportion of my time had been free and could be used for better things: like relaxation (I don’t think that I’m lazy, but I also don’t want to work for a living).
A number of texts from Nixa were waiting for me when I woke up:
‘It’s your first day of work! ( smiling insect icon )’
‘Are you up?’
‘You need to make a good impression on your first day ( winking insect )’
‘You’re not up, are you?’
‘I’m coming over ( grumpy insect )’
Nixa was the kind of person that preferred to work, and I had a theory about that: she needed to keep moving in order to keep her whole body occupied, so that she didn’t have the space to overthink everything. Or maybe it helped her think even more, but in different in ways, or maybe not at all. Nixa is a complex person and quite possibly a masochist as well.
Instead of sending a lot of unhelpful texts, she should have been happy that I got a job at all. While most of my fellow captives had taken the traditional route though the Resettlement Office, it wasn’t for me. Unbeknownst to Nixa, I’d checked the Office’s site on the net. While looking through it, I confirmed that a Human like me wasn’t qualified for much. And after filling out a questionnaire, the site gave me only a few options: food services worker, garbage disposal disposer, goo-recycling technician, or a grub-cooking gig in the marketplace… all of which would have been pretty lame.
But none of that ended up being necessary; I took a big gamble by going to see P’shush’t and it paid off, even if the Slixt had its own reasons for helping me (yes that worried me).
So I was looking forward to starting my new gig on the “Species Transition” crew, nervous because it was the job I’d wanted and because I felt strongly that “immigrants” deserved better. Almost anyone (that’s me) could do a better job than my abductors had.
But as it happens, I’m only Human.
Day 50, work, work, work, work:
Nixa waited for me on the street outside my building, ( wringing ) her claws. Being the naturally suspicious type, she didn’t buy that I was actually excited to start working, and aside from trying to hurry me along, she hadn’t been asking a lot of questions (maybe I’m the naturally suspicious type too).
I said, ‘You never even asked what my new job is. What have you done with the real Nixa?’
She checked the time before answering, avoiding my gaze. ‘I thought you might be embarrassed about it.’
Really. ‘Why would you say that?’
( jittery ) ‘Can we argue about this on the way there?’
‘Yeah good thinking, I need to get to the tube station.’
Nixa faltered, ‘The tube? It’s not goo-recycling is it?’
When I didn’t answer, she asked, ‘( Crap ) recycling?’
It was time to come clean. I confessed the details of my conversation with P’shush’t, the weeks of waiting, and then finally the job offer.
‘I don’t believe you.’
So I showed her the official message on my tablet.
( furrowed “brow” ) ‘There’s clearly an error. Multiple errors in fact. This says that you should report to technical support. Immediately. Have you done that? No, of course you haven’t… you’ll get in trouble and then you’ll be sorry, but I won’t be able to help you.’
‘You won’t need to, this time,’ I said feeling confident. (Nixa wasn’t always right about everything.) (I’ll come up with an example later.)
She asked ( skeptically ), ‘How do you know this isn’t a trick? How do you know that the Slixt aren’t trying to lure you somewhere and disappear you?’
No way. ‘What could I have possibly done to warrant that?’ I said, but her reaction did make me second guess my confidence on this point. Suddenly I became very afraid that I would end up disappearing.
Neither of us discussed where I might go missing to.
Nixa was also angry that I hadn’t trusted her enough to tell her what I’d been up to. But since she was still Nixa, she helped me find my way to the elevator-tubes, clicking at me the whole way. Some of that was additional concern and some was the fact that I was already late (mostly because of how long our argument lasted).
Blue 7 tube took me to the “immigration and birthing” level of the ship, my heart rate spiking as soon the octagonal door opened. The space was as massive as I remembered from my first and only time seeing it, and my memory of it filled me with doubt. Part of it could have been that I’d soon be releasing mystery-aliens out of flesh-sacks on a regular basis. Some of those aliens might not appreciate the experience and, unlike me, might react with violence as opposed to a brave whimper. But that would be a problem for later-me to solve – current-me was late.
Finding my way to the right section was trickier than I’d imagined. Every part of the birthing level looked the same as any other and I got turned around quite a few times before finally finding my way, panting, into Slorp the Slixt’s office.
It motioned for me to sit down with a few tentacles, and now that I was face to face with the slug again, a wave of complicated emotions washed over me:
The sheer terror when I dropped out of the flesh-sack. Slorp looming over me after my abduction. Jerkface. Wheezy. The operating table. The entry-quiz. Oh, and the nail-gun. Also, I’m still not sure how I passed the multiple-choice test, but had thought long and hard in the days since what would have happened to me if I hadn’t (Nixa’s paranoia was somewhat contagious).
As it turned out, Slorp was pretty lazy for a child-abducting alien monster. I’d come to associate a lack of ambition and incompetence with the Slixt in general, but that wasn’t surprising, since the species seemed to value such behavior highly.
The first thing that Slorp did when I arrived was to promote itself to super-supervisor. From that point on, the Slixt would only engage in high-level “supervision” activities for the crew (which meant that it found a quiet office, far away from the real work, in which to sleep all day). Which suited me fine, because I hadn’t been looking forward to working all that closely with it. However, I’d also lost an opportunity to learn more about my captors and that could have a negative impact on my master-plan. But the job was officially mine, and now I was sitting pretty, starting my first day of work with Jerkface and Wheezy (yeah, none of us saw that coming).
“Work” is an interesting word because it can mean anything from back-breaking-labor all the way to sitting-around-doing-essentially-nothing-and-still-getting-paid. My new position involved a lot of the latter, because abducting aliens wasn’t a thing that we did all the time, apparently… (I was now, technically, an alien abductor). Jerkface explained that there was a huge amount of downtime, but we got paid the same amount anyway, so I didn’t mind all that much. Plus I was scared that we would take on new immigrants or, even worse, refugees. Sometimes the Slixt demolished an abducted alien’s home planet after they took them (why did I want this job again?).
Once we were out of Slorp’s earshot, I said to Jerkface, ‘Not that I’m complaining, but what are we supposed to do now?’
He waved an arm down the passage, ‘We’re going to get as far away from Slorp as we can.’
‘Slorp is fond of handing out make-work projects, and I’m keen to avoid that, but if you want to make yourself useful I could come up with something.’
‘Er, I’m alright, thanks.’
Wheezy chittered at that.
Later on, leaning against a table in our secret break-room, I asked them, ‘So, what do you guys really think about this place?’ It was a question that you generally couldn’t ask people, but we were all friends now (right?).
‘This place? It’s ( hell ),’ replied Wheezy, but I wasn’t sure about the sub-title provided by the translation-bolt nestled inside my skull. Did aliens believe in hell? Did I? I’d have to remember to ask Nixa, but first, ‘Really? You think this is hell? Jerkf— I mean, he said that this place was ok. At least, that’s what he told me on my first day. But I didn’t really trust him. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but life could be a lot worse, yeah?’ (Jerkface wasn’t super in-love with his nickname.)
Wheezy drew a deep breath through the tubes that covered their body. ‘We don’t all immigrate solo like you did. Some of us are stuck with people we don’t want to be around.’
They might have been referring to me, but I hoped not.
Jerkface interjected, ‘Don’t listen to them, they’re still sore about not being separated from their family. As for me? I think it’s great here.’
Genuinely curious, I asked, ‘Why’s that?’
Jerkface was fidgeting with a box of sanitized bolt-throwers (those were the things that shot the translator into your face) but I could tell that it was just a distraction. Jerkface spoke into the box, ‘My home planet… it’s not a nice place to live.’
‘Full of jerks?’ I said too quickly, not considering how much time I’d be spending with these people in the future.
( angry ) ‘I wonder what you think we call you behind your back Human,’ replied Jerkface, giving me a cold stare, while Wheezy puffed up like an angry boar-crab-monster-thing.
Day 52, rebel without cause:
I’d been boiled like a frog (confession, I have no experience with boiling frogs and am almost certain that isn’t a good/ethical thing to do – I’m not advocating boiling frogs). Right… what I mean is that the Slixt had boiled my brain so slowly that I hadn’t realized that I’d already been assimilated into their melting/boiling pot.
Becoming a normalized citizen was something that had crept up on me and I still wasn’t sure that I was onboard with the idea. Which meant that it was high time to start fighting back against the slugs. If they couldn’t be killed or overthrown, then they could at least be annoyed. Annoying people was something I did extremely well.
When Nixa wasn’t around I’d taken to: spraying graffiti on Slixt transports, engaging in the pointless destruction of public property, loitering… you name it. But nothing had worked so far (in fairness, I’d only been at it for a day) and my actions didn’t exactly endear me to my fellow citizens, some of whom asked me to stop in very persuasive/toothy ways.
Regrouping, I figured that maybe the best way to irritate the Slixt would be to actually escape (making headway in that area would have multiple benefits).
The first stage of my plan involved “borrowing” some weapons from work, starting with a couple of sharp scalpels and a long, silver, pokey-thingy. That night I laid them out on the bed, but seeing them there, I realized that they made for a pretty pathetic collection. The blades on the scalpels were sharp, but the thought of stabbing anything repeatedly and hacking it to pieces (the Slixt included) wasn’t so appealing. As for the “pokey-thingy”, each Slixt had like twenty eyes, and I doubted even the laziest slug would just let me poke them all out without retaliating (I would need a plan that didn’t rely on weapons).
And then I started to worry what would happen if they caught me with that stuff. So the next morning I stopped by the recyclers, where my arsenal was accepted without comment and for which I received a fat stack of credit chits.
Come to think of it, money would always come in handy, and there was a possibility that other things could be “borrowed” from work from time to time.
And maybe there was a way, if not to annoy the Slixt, then to at least rob them of the tools of their oppression and thus redistribute the wealth they stole from us, the people.
(Things like that happened on the Earth a lot too.)
Day 58, after hanging out with Nixa at the park:
Nixa found out about some of things I’d been up to (not the recycling) and hadn’t been too thrilled. But also said that she understood. That my reaction to the Slixt was fairly normal. I quote: ‘It’s just a phase you’re going through’. I found this irritating. She could pretend like she’d accepted life here all she wanted, but I knew better.
In between bouts of sparring with Nixa, I spent some of my newfound recycling budget on a few pencils and a sketchbook. That was where I would keep a detailed record of my secret plans. (I knew/suspected that the Slixt were monitoring my electronic journal, so my solution was to use an old-school paper version, hiding it and the pen under my mattress.) My regular journal, the one that I’m writing now, I keep on my tablet (yeah, I also see some major problems with my logic). So if I end up getting disappeared, this journal is probably the reason. That, or because I finally found a way to ( expletive ) the Slixt.
On that note, if I’m going to escape, for real, I’ll need help. But aside from Nixa, who can I trust?
Day 64, warping in the park:
The ship lurched suddenly. I wasn’t expecting it and I definitely hadn’t gotten accustomed to that sort of motion. The artificial gravity went haywire for a second, knocking me off the nub I’d been reclining on. Even more alarming was that, for a moment, I thought that I’d turned inside-out and then right-side-out again, along with Nixa and everything else.
‘What the hell was that?’ I sputtered, trying keep my lunch down.
Nixa, helping me to my feet, said, ‘It’s going to be ok. The ship must have jumped through ( – redacted – ), which means that we just travelled to another point in the galaxy. Their ( – redacted – ) technology is how the Slixt get from place to place. You never really get used to it.’
I supposed not. Waving her away, I said, ‘I didn’t think it was possible to do that.’ But to be fair, that’s how I would have described getting captured by Slixt until it happened.
We sat down again and Nixa said, ‘The ship hasn’t jumped since… well, not since you got here. And that means we’ll be taking on more ( guests ) over the next few days.”
A tight knot formed in my stomach. ‘I see.’
So far my Species Transition job hadn’t involved any actual alien-abducting.
Day 73, be very, very, careful what you wish for:
I’d been sick for almost two weeks and missed my fair share of work. Jerkface and Wheezy were pissed, but there was nothing I could do about that. Between the vomiting and fever, I was stuck in bed. And to make things worse, we’d warped across the galaxy at least three times (I can assure you that last thing you want when you’re already feeling like rubbish is to be turned inside-out every other day).
There was no doubt that we were taking on more “passengers” at each stop because I was receiving a bevy of increasingly irate messages from Slorp, who was filling in for me while I was out of commission. The lazy Slixt resented having to put in an honest day’s work, having gotten used to relaxing all day in his goo-pool (the ill feelings between us remained mutual).
Nixa was my saving grace, coming by my apartment every day, sometimes twice, making sure that I was eating and on my way to recovery. Alien illnesses could be severe, often resulting in horrific side-effects which could also be hard to predict.
Eventually, I started to feel better and she spent more time talking to me, huddled down in the cramped room beside my bed, urging me to eat. By the ninth day I finally felt normal enough to start paying more attention to my surroundings. That was when I slowly realized that Nixa had been deeply concerned about something other than my sickness.
I half-sat up, my back against the wall, wishing that I had another pillow or two, and wondering how much that might cost to replicate. Nixa meanwhile, seemed distracted.
‘What’s happened then?’ I asked, taking a sip from the cup of Koo-gloop she brought with her.
( cautious ) ‘I’m not sure you’re well enough to hear what I have to tell you,’ she said cryptically.
If I’d had antennae like she did, they would have perked up in response. Swallowing a mouthful of hot gloop, which burned the whole way down, I said, ‘I don’t like the sound of that.’ (I didn’t) ‘Come on then, out with it. I know you well enough to know when bad news is on the way… It’s my job, isn’t it? I’ve been gone too long…’
( stalling ) ‘I don’t know how much you remember from the last few weeks, you’ve been in and out of fever and…’
I tried to recall everything that had happened through the haze in my head. ‘We warped a few times… it is my job then; I’ve been sacked haven’t I? … There’s always other jobs, but I actually liked working on the birthing level. Despite what I say about them, Jerkface and Wheezy aren’t so bad, you know… and… now you’re mad at me.’
I’d been babbling on. Half of my growing concern was Nixa’s dark expression and I should have stopped talking but I wasn’t looking forward to what she would have to say. There had to be some kind of moral lesson at the end of her disapproval. It wasn’t fair. Getting sick wasn’t my fault, but here she was, waiting to give me a telling-off for being irresponsible, or something. That was just like Nixa. But what about my feelings? I’d been at death’s door. Practically.
Nixa tightened her expression and I had no choice but to hunker down myself, waiting for the coming storm.
Nixa glanced toward the open bedroom door as if she’d expected someone to walk through it. Maybe it was just to avoid looking at me. She said, ‘I have some news for you. Please remember that you’re still sick and you’re to stay in bed… promise me that you’ll stay in bed until you’re recovered enough to deal with the situation.’
Now that was alarming. I cleared my throat, hacking up some stuff that wasn’t too different from the gloop I’d been eating. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I managed to croak out, ‘So?’
( cautious ) ‘We picked up some new ( people ) while you were sick, and…’
‘I knew it!’ I said, then felt a bit stupid because that’s what we had literally been talking about the whole time.
‘Just ( shut-up ) a minute will you?’ She was being really serious now. ‘I was trying to tell you that we picked up some new ( people ) last week. And I just want to reiterate that you should remain calm, but…’
The suspense was killing me.
Focusing those insect-eyes right at me, she said, ‘They’re Human.’
I nearly passed out from the shock. It was like getting hit with a sledgehammer. We’d picked up real people? Humans?
I leapt out of bed. Got caught up on Nixa’s legs. And collapsed.
Day 74, I can’t even begin to describe how excited I was:
When I woke up again, my room was empty, the door closed, and there was a pile of clean clothes laid out at the foot of the bed. I got up and changed as quickly as I could, giving myself a smell-check and deciding that I’d pass muster.
Nixa called to me from the other side of the door. ‘I have something for you to eat.’
She’d thought of everything. But I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep anything down. My heart was racing, my mouth was dry, my insides flopping around like fish, and a lot of thoughts were crashing up against each other inside my head.
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