Day 74, we’d travelled nearly half-way around the outer city ring:
As we made our way over to the new Human’s apartment, Nixa droned incessantly, going on and on about what I should or shouldn’t do, and what I could or couldn’t say. It was distracting, compounding the riot of thoughts that raced through my head as we got closer. My mind latched onto the mental images cascading through it: faces from the past, personalities, shapes, ages, styles and stereotypes.
Stupidly, I wondered if I would know the humans. The Earth was a big place (at least I had thought so, until I learned just how big our universe really was). The Slixt could have as easily picked up my schoolmates as complete strangers from halfway around the world. It was entirely possible that we wouldn’t even speak the same language. Then, feeling the divot in my forehead and remembering the translation-bolt, I was sure this wouldn’t be one of the problems. That only left a million other potential pitfalls and dangers to be navigated.
I felt conflicted in so many ways. It was hard to identify which thoughts were most important, and even the positive ones were tainted by depressing possibilities. No matter how thrilling it was to have other Humans here, it meant that they had been forcibly taken from their homes and consigned to the same fate that befell me. Also, regardless of whether or not I liked them, we would be stuck here together.
Nixa sensed the depth of my apprehension and had the decency to stop her constant prattling in my ear. For once, she even managed to keep some of her opinions to herself. She said that the Humans were around my age, which could be a mixed blessing. Older people would almost certainly want to boss me around. On the other hand, kids would automatically become my responsibility. Seeing as I could hardly take care of myself out here, it was a good thing that I wasn’t likely to have that burden. At least, I hoped so.
Nixa had said that the new Humans hadn’t been adjusting well, which meant I would probably still have to take care of them. I’d rather hoped that these two could provide me some much needed support and not the other way around (if only life would give me what I wanted instead of what it wanted me to have).
When the Humans opened their door, it brought me back to reality. I had hardly registered that Nixa already knocked twice or that we’d been standing there for some time already.
Two people stood before me. My age, or close to it. Shoulder to shoulder and clearly afraid – their expressions questioning.
My mouth hung open while I willed myself to say something intelligent. These were actual Humans, not just ghost-images in an episode of “Humans are Dumb” – though I caught myself half expecting Bleep to spring out of nowhere and stun me with a cattle-prod or something (the robots weren’t very nice). These Humans, however, other than being totally freaked out, seemed ok enough.
He was the one I noticed first. Not what I was expecting at all. Tall, well-muscled, and the kind of handsome that every guy probably wants to be. So good looking that I felt uncomfortable in his presence, and more-so because I felt so uncomfortable. He wore tight jeans and a white t-shirt that looked like it had been carved onto his frame. He had dark skin and straight hair, intentionally a touch too long like a football player’s. His eyes were dark too, and they bored into me, soft and hard at the same time, until I had to look away. But my eyes didn’t stray far.
Where he was dark, she was light. Long blonde hair streaked through with highlights, tied back in a pony-tail. A pink sweatshirt worn with the carefully planned intention of appearing under-dressed. Of a type, and not the type that I usually got along with (as long as I’m being honest). I was pretty sure that she was judging me too.
Her pants were slim-fit, a little sporty, and flattering in all the right ways. I’m embarrassed to admit that I found both of the Humans terribly… compelling. In a way that I’d sort of forgotten about over the past few months. Not that I didn’t think about that kind of thing (I thought about it a lot). All the same, I’d tried not to.
She might have been half-smiling or half sneering-at me, or it might have been both. Apparently the translator bolt didn’t always bother with same-species subtitles for body language (it would have been nice though). Her bright blue eyes were cold, or maybe just suspicious. She was also shorter than I was, which might be an advantage, but I wasn’t sure for whom.
I was being petty, but it was mostly because I was already jealous of both of them.
An unexpected surge of anger rang through me like a gunshot, hitting my heart. I wanted them both more than anything I’d ever wanted. But somehow I understood that they were together. They edged closer, fingers touching as they took in Nixa and myself. It was painful to realize, even in that first moment, that I’d never really have either one of them. They already had each other.
Inexplicably I was taken over by the urge, in those first few seconds, with all of those crazy thoughts running through my head, to kill them both. I’ve never wanted to hurt anyone, not physically anyway, and was glad that Nixa was there with me (I’d totally lost it).
Nixa prodded my spine with her claws and I snapped back to reality, the two Humans taking an involuntary step back at her movement.
I forced myself to smile. ‘Er, hi,’ I said. ‘Can we come in?’ but on the inside, all I wanted to do was to run away.
Day 74, now there are three:
My heart lurched as I saw the Humans share a silent exchange. They had either known each other for a long time or I was right and they were a couple after all. Maybe getting kidnapped by the Slixt had a way of bonding people in triple-time. Whatever the case, they’d already developed their own secret language (I’d just got there, and already I was on the outside).
It wasn’t happening like it was supposed to. Not like I’d rehearsed in my head on the way over. If it wasn’t for Nixa, I would have fled. I knew that she’d likely been reading the sub-titles (which would work for her), and feared that I’d betrayed her friendship, but didn’t quite understand why I felt that way. If only the new Humans could have been abducted by another Slixt ship. Or not at all (my mind is a complicated place and there’s times when I’m not proud of what happens inside it).
The guy frowned and the girl gave him an unknown expression back. I wasn’t clued into their knowing-looks and the translation-bolt was infuriating in its perverse way of reminding me of that fact. The girl addressed me (a little imperiously) and was avoiding looking at Nixa. She said, ‘You can come in… that thing… stays outside.’ Her voice was soft as a feather, a little breathy, every word full of many different meanings. Hot and cold and pissing me off.
I said, ‘Hey, she’s not a thing her name is Nixa, and she’s a…’
Nixa put her hand on my arm. I could see the waves of disgust roiling off of the Humans as they passed another look between them. Nixa said, ‘It’s alright. I’ll be out here in the hallway. Take your time.’
‘No, it’s not alright,’ I said hotly. It very much wasn’t alright. Nixa might be a little creepy and annoying, but she was also my friend.
Then the guy spoke, ignoring Nixa, ‘Listen to it and come in. Or don’t. We don’t care either way. Do we?’ he asked, glancing at the girl for confirmation. She touched his hand with a finger, and they shared another look. I tried to control my expression and whatever sub-titles were radiating off of me. Nixa was right, I needed to learn some self-control (that grated on me too).
Nixa turned around and walked down the hall toward the stairs without saying another word. I hated myself for not standing up for her more – instead, I walked numbly into the Humans’ living-room, passing between them for the first time while they shared a triumphant look and the door slid shut behind me.
Their room was worse than mine, which was saying a lot. It was smaller, and older, with a musty smell. The plasticky wall panels were more stained and cracked than mine. Anyway, I made my way over to the couch and, without thinking, sank down into the middle cushion. The whole time I was doing all of that, their silent gaze burned hotly into my back.
Then I was sitting, and they were standing over me, looking at me like another kind of alien. Nobody said anything.
When I stood up again they backed away as if an attack might be forthcoming.
For crying out loud.
Day 74, awkward silences:
There were so many questions. But first, these Humans would need to come to grips with reality. Therefore, I had to be the one to make the first move, verbally speaking, and figured that the easiest question that could be asked was, ‘So, er… what are your names?’
They traded glances. The guy’s constipated, and the girl’s afraid. She gave him a little nod and he focused an angry laser-like glare onto me, and said, ‘We don’t know our names… I’m calling myself John.’ Then he waved a hand in the girl’s direction. ‘And this is Jane. You know, Jane and John Doe, like in the movies,’ to which she gave a frightened little nod, and John continued, his voice carrying all the gravity of a black-hole, ‘We don’t remember anything about how we got here, and we have a lot of questions for you.’
John was aggressive in both posture and manner. No sub-titles were necessary for this conversation. I didn’t know if this was just his way, or if this was a defense mechanism, but there was definitely an undercurrent of violence to him that was frightening (and also somewhat appealing). I could see why Jane was so taken with him; where she was grasping at straws, he was turning them into weapons.
John alternated between a sideways shuffle and a fighting stance, like a boxer, his shoulders tensing and his fists clenching, and then self-consciously unclenching. He rounded on me, ‘So… you tell me… how did we get here?’
This was awkward. I didn’t know if John would hit me (if he was that kind of guy) but I thought for sure that he had it in him. Two Humans. Two stereotypes. Maybe I’d become adjusted to life with different species too easily, but a part of me suspected that maybe I had regressed a little bit and become anti-Humanist. I cleared my throat, ‘I was hoping you could tell me, actually.’
Jane cut in, ‘You expect us to believe that you don’t know? How can you not know?’ The smugness of John’s expression telegraphed his belief that he’d already caught me in my first lie (as he’d been clearly expecting).
‘No clue,’ I said, somewhat lamely. ‘My first memory of this place was waking up in a fleshy, sack-thing… you must have come in the same way. If I was doing anything special when the Slixt took me, I’ve no idea. They must be using some kind of memory-wiping technology.’ (I really should know how it works, considering what I do for a living, but then again I’m terrible at my job.)
John countered quickly, ‘That’s ( expletive ), I don’t believe it, you have to know something! You’ve obviously been here longer than we have. So come out with it, already… what’s really going on?’
A short involuntary laugh escaped my lips, doing little to endear me to the new Humans. No, this wasn’t going anything like I’d expected it to. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked them loudly. ‘What’s going on, is that we’ve been taken by the Slixt, which you already know, and we’ve got to live here, forever, but I can’t tell you why. Only the Slixt know why they do it… I can assure you that they haven’t let me in on their little secret. And yeah, I’ve been here longer than you – almost two and a half months – but I’m no closer to the truth than you are. And you’re going to have to calm down a little bit… the Slixt tolerate a lot, but they can do a lot of bad things to you, and you don’t want to know what will happen if you refuse to play along!’
John and Jane shared yet another look, but this time it wasn’t hard for me to figure out. John sneered, ‘Go along? You show up here with that, that, that… freak of nature, out in the hall? And you tell us that we’ve got to go along with this insanity?’ He looked at Jane. ‘This one’s gone native.’ Then back to me, ‘When they told us that there was another Human here, we expected you to be a Human, not some slug-sucking little lapdog!’ The last bit was punctuated by little bits of frothy spittle as he screamed at me.
Jane seemed frightened. Then, as if she’d come to a decision, she put a hand on John’s arm (which caused my heart to twinge). She said to him, eyes big and doey, ‘John, please, we need to find out what’s going on here.’ Then, to me, imploringly, ‘Please tell us what’s going on!’
She had the first sign of tears forming in the corner of one eye. I felt bad for her since I’d cried my fair share already, but we were five minutes in and I’d already decided that I wouldn’t be shedding any tears for these two (I was wrong about that too).
I explained everything that had happened to me, starting at day one. Everything that I remembered, except for some embarrassing bits (and nothing about my life before being taken by the Slixt). Jane and John claimed to know nothing about their own pasts, not even admitting if they knew each other before they got here. It made me suspicious – especially the way they played off each other’s reactions.
They were joined by some bond. It might have been familial, or maybe romantic. The fact that he was dark skinned and she light, guaranteed nothing in terms of their ultimate relationship. Whatever the case, they were joined and, as was my habit, I quickly assigned them nicknames in my head. From that point onward they would always be J&J. A singularity. An atomic unit, inseparable, no matter how far apart they were, like ( two particles caught in quantum entanglement ) (yeah that’s the transcription software and not me).
I probably could have explained everything that happened in the last few months in about ten minutes, but it took three hours. John felt it necessary to interrogate every point, always asking the same questions in ten different ways, as if he were trying to catch me out in more supposed lies. Jane was more reserved, and frightened, though it felt like a role that she was playing for my sake. I can’t tell you why I thought that exactly, but I’ll say this: her attraction to John was undeniable, but her magnetic field extended far enough to draw me in as well.
Worst of all, I knew that Nixa was probably waiting for me in the hall, wondering what was going on. I needed to get out of this room, wanting to see Nixa and get back to how things were yesterday.
On one level I couldn’t stand J&J, but on another, needed them desperately (I told myself that all this weirdness was to be expected given the circumstances).
After another hour, John finally came to the conclusion that he’d get no useful information out of me. Not in terms of the how’s-or-why’s of it all at any rate. Instead, he turned his focus to something that had continued to be one of my favorite pastimes: the prospect of escape.
It didn’t take long to bring him up to speed, since I’d failed miserably at making much progress with my own plans to get off the ship. He thought I was clever for thinking about using a shuttle (if one existed), but he also berated me at length for thinking that we couldn’t just take over the mother-ship. I told him about the weapons I’d had, then recycled, and he was mad about that too. Meanwhile Jane stood off to the side and a little behind John, silently supporting everything that he said, giving me the impression that she might be willing to leave with the eventual winner.
I hadn’t even realized that there was a competition, but if there was, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to win it (reminder: I was already loving and hating both of them equally).
What was said next isn’t worth repeating, but afterwards, John nodded to Jane and then steered the conversation in a new and somewhat unexpected direction. ‘Do you know what your problem is?’ John asked me, voice raised, again.
I am intimately aware of my own shortcomings. Had we had a full week to discuss them, we could have covered about half. On the other hand, I’d had just about enough of John switching between charming and total d-bag. I crossed my arms and replied, ‘I suppose you’re going to tell me?’
His half-smirk made me angry (though I could also see that working on some people). ‘Yeah, I’ll tell you. Your problem is that you haven’t tried hard enough. But I’m going to need full effort from you from now on.’
Was he actually acting like the boss of me? Is that what was happening?
Apparently so, because he went on, ‘Jane and I… we’re not going to play these ( expletive ) aliens’ game. Be sure of it. We got to get out of here. All of us. Immediately. And we’re going to need your help to do that, so I suggest that you get your ( curse ) together and figure out a way to make that happen.’
Jane’s expression was stony, her aura subdued yet also more powerful on account of its shortened range. I wanted to say “no” to both of them. The whole idea was ridiculous, but I their needed help. And, even if these Humans were annoying, we needed to escape soon.
And I wanted them to like me.
Without any real enthusiasm, I said, ‘I’ll do it.’
Day 74, back to my place:
Nixa made good on her promise and was waiting for me in the hall, but seeing the troubled look on my face, she didn’t say anything until we got back out onto the street.
Free from the confines of J&J’s apartment, I was now far enough away from the range of their spell that its only lingering effects on me were a slight fogginess in my head and a thumping heart. Each step forward brought me a little bit closer to feeling normal again. ‘So…’ I said.
She tilted her head at me. It was an odd gesture, reminding me of her insectitude – a too-quick flick of the head to the side, the angle just a little bit wrong, but also classic Nixa. Strangely I felt better for it.
( inquiring ) ‘So?’
I let out the big breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding in, ‘Soooo… so, yeah.’
( confused ) ‘Is that good or bad?’ she asked, ‘Were the Humans bad? Did they do something to you?’
How could I explain that they had done nothing. Not physically. Yet, emotionally, they had torn me open, clawing at my old wounds like a frenzied Berfmert and adding some new ones to the pile. I didn’t know what to say.
We walked side by side in silence for a few minutes, which was nice because I knew how hard it was for Nixa not to be asking a lot of questions or giving me unsolicited advice.
In the end, her nature won out. ‘I know this must be difficult for you. When the Slixt captured me, I was only away from my people for a short time… but… it wasn’t easy re-integrating with my own kind. They were strangers to me, after all. I can ( imagine ) how hard this must be for you.’
I stuffed my hands into my pockets. ‘Yeah.’
‘Yeah…’ she replied in a semblance of Human speech – it was a word that she’d picked up from me.
That was the great thing about Nixa: she didn’t care that I was Human, and I didn’t care that she was whatever it was that she was. In the end, I ended up telling her most of what happened back in J&J’s apartment, only leaving out the parts where they insulted her (and the parts where my insides got hot and wobbly).
I definitely didn’t tell her about what I was planning to do. I wasn’t sure that I knew myself.
Day 91, toil and trouble:
The past few weeks had been unbearable. I’d returned to work the day after meeting J&J to find Jerkface and Wheezy giving me the cold shoulder. They didn’t believe that I’d been sick, choosing instead to think my illness had been faked in order to avoid doing any real work.
The periodic lurching of the ship as I lay in my bed indicated that we had made at least three or four stops to take on new citizens. But I’d been so out of it that I hadn’t noticed it was actually eight. The Slixt had visited a number of star-systems and taken on some Blizzerks, an angry Ruprican, and a half-dozen Zligs. And two Humans. Jerkface said the process had been a major hassle.
Now that I was back, it seemed that we were once again relegated to make-work and goofing-off since the flurry of Slixt abductions had stopped just as quickly as it started.
Wheezy was highly suspicious that I had found a way to avoid the only busy period in months. It’s not like the three of us got on well even before I got sick, but I felt like I’d slipped even lower in their esteem (if that was even possible). My attempts to make things right only seemed to make them more miserable towards me.
I left work feeling down, the Slixt choosing that moment to trigger an artificial storm. The crackle of fake thunder and the pelting of slightly-toxic rain further dampened my spirits. It all seemed so pointless. I’m sure that the slugs thought the artificial weather patterns in the city added a semblance of realism to the experience, but was one I could do without. Some people seemed to be enjoying it though; a flock of delighted Fleeborbs flooped and flippelled happily in the downpour (their carefree attitude made me grumpy).
I met Nixa at the market, which was busier because of the raging storm. Dozens of aliens who preferred it dry, like us, had all sought shelter under one of the few canopies in an outdoor cafe. We were packed in like Sardoxiperts in a tin can, with a smelly Nag-Grakk too close for comfort, and the over-warm body parts of a Zlerb wriggling against my side.
Nixa could see that I’d brought my foul mood with me and tried to cheer me up. It worked at first, but then I stupidly checked my messages and saw that quite a few had come in from either Jane or John (or both). All of them inquiring about my progress on the escape plan… of which there was none (also they were really stupid for using the word “escape” on the Slix-tel system).
The messages only served to remind me of how thoroughly I’d failed so far (and worse, I had this nagging itch at the back of my mind that I couldn’t quite articulate). Maybe it was that the prospect of escaping with J&J had already started to feel more frustrating than exciting.
In the following days my mood sank even further. J&J invited me to hang out repeatedly, while I desperately tried to find a reason not to. But it was my day off and there wasn’t a legitimate reason to flake out (other than my existing plans with Nixa).
If J&J would just give her a chance, they might actually like her, and maybe even adjust more quickly to life aboard the ship.
I tapped furiously at my tablet confirming the time and then invited Nixa to meet us at the place J&J specified.
Then I wondered: if they never left their apartment, how could J&J have known the most economical and convenient place to meet between my place and theirs?
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