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Chapter 9 – Sub-Level Six

Day 115, let’s all just get along already:

A new complication: Jane hates Nixa and is jealous of her – she told me as much the previous day when we bumped into each other “accidentally” at the food-stalls. The fact that I was emotionally unavailable and safe seemed to make me all the more appealing. But as much as I wanted to explore the infinite temptations of the Human form, I couldn’t bring myself to seriously consider her as an option (I was unwilling to officially rule her out either). 

Where that left things between us, I didn’t know, but I was equally afraid of being alone with her, and desperate for any opportunity. Life is complicated.

Jane admitted to me one night in my room that she didn’t find me attractive. And yet she kept making every effort to accidentally brush against me, making me sick inside because I realized what my part was in this psycho-drama. But I wondered if Jane knew. The part of me that was adult-ish and sympathetic to her plight told myself that she was oblivious to the games she played.

By the smallest of mercies, she finally left. I lay awake in bed, my mind racing and hormones surging through my body. I was sick with all my feelings and begged off work the next day, rebuffing Nixa’s offer to come over and see me so strongly that I worried about severing our connection – one that couldn’t be replaced.

Day 121, I mope therefore I am:

I avoided Jane and John for a whole week after that – hating John so much I could taste it, but couldn’t completely explain why. It was better for J&J to have each other, without me in the way. That’s what I kept telling myself anyway.

Much of that week was spent alone in my room, smothered in the darkness and further alienating Nixa (why did I do that?).

Day 122, the first installment:

P’shush’t summoned me to the patio bar that constituted its “official” office space. It was early in the day and the square was largely empty, the Slixt’s various hangers-on and bootlickers not yet in evidence. That left the two of us sitting across a table from each other, with me glaring angrily at the slug.

The Slixt took a pull of its deadly drink and got straight to the point, ‘Your ( friends ) are getting support from someone – I want to know who from, and what they’re up to.’

I became very afraid very quickly. ‘Uh…’ I said, thinking that the support that J&J were getting was from me, and what we were all up to was planning to escape. Or we would be if I could come up with a decent plan already.

P’shush’t made a ( dismissive ) gesture. ‘Don’t play dumb Human, up until now you’ve been a model citizen. All I’m asking you to do is to keep on doing what you’re already doing, only better.’

‘Er…’ I replied, thinking about what I did last week, which was to paint a brown Slixt on the courthouse wall, in the dead of night, with stink lines coming off, and the message “Down with slugs” in five different languages beside it. I blurted out, ‘Model citizen? … Uh, what about all that stuff I’ve been doing just to piss you guys off?’

( Slixt smirking ) ‘Yes, about that… it’s not really that effective is it? There’s a reason that things are the way they are here. You aren’t going to change anything with your little outbursts and the sooner that you accept that, the better it will be for everyone. But in the meantime, if it makes you feel better, ( knock yourself out ).’

Well, that was unexpected. ‘So that’s it? You don’t care if I keep acting out?’

P’shush’t waved some tentacles in my direction, ‘Quite the opposite. Hurting you won’t serve my purposes, so yes, feel free to ramp up your efforts.’

‘Uh, why?’

( Slixt anger pheromones ) ‘Your Human friends are looking to cause trouble and I need to know what kind… the more you try to cause us grief, the more they will trust you. They do trust you, don’t they?’


‘I guess so. Sort of. Maybe… but I’m not going to be your informant, if that’s what you’re asking me to be.’

‘Good, because I’m not asking… you’ll step into line, or else. If not, well… the city’s a dangerous place… anything at all could happen to you or your little ( insect ) friend. Remember that Human.’

‘Seriously? You’re a real piece of ( excrement ), you know that right?’

( Slixt laughing ) ‘I don’t care what you think about me Human, just do what I ask, and do it quickly. Now get out of my sight. I’ll contact you when I need you. And one more thing…’

One of those long silvery-things from work would have come in handy right then. Poking P’shush’t to death might’ve made me feel better.

I growled, ‘What? What is it?’

P’shush’t lazily closed most of its eyes and said very quietly, ‘When I call you for an update… you better have something good.’

Then, with a pat on the back from the end of a long tentacle, I was dismissed.

Day 122, just act normal:

I wasn’t paying attention on my way to work and almost bumped into a bird-alligator looking thing that shoved me aside roughly. And, it might have been my mood, but the city seemed less friendly today. Dodging another alien, I cursed and put my head down, walking briskly toward the tube station.

First I took a left when I should have went right, and then did it the other way around, which should, in theory, have brought around me full circle? When I got into the transport tube vestibule, I didn’t realize that I’d arrived at the wrong place entirely. While all of the Downtubes were color coded and numbered, all of the elevator rooms looked more or less the same (especially if you weren’t paying attention). So that’s how instead of getting into Blue Downtube 7, which would have taken me straight to the birthing level, I accidentally got into Blue Downtube 77.

I parsed the tube number at the last second, but by then it was too late. Who even knew where 77 would take me, or how the authorization worked. The new tube sucked me through a series of unfamiliar sections of the ship while fear and disorientation threatened to black me out. It was then that I remembered the errors that had popped up in my job clearance email (the ones that I’d ignored and failed to report to the tech-support slugs).

The ride through the tube seemed endless but it eventually spat me out, green and dizzy, at the other end.

I landed on the floor of a dark alcove lit from above by a flickering, barely-working light. Judging by the dust and grime all over the floor, this wasn’t an area that was frequently visited by anyone.

My heart started racing. I was expecting a Slixt “togetherness patrol” to arrive at any moment, bludgeoning me back into “togetherness” (yes, that was a thing that happened quite often, but I’ve been avoiding recording that fact for the obvious reason) and returning me to the city level of the ship.

I got to my feet and had a quick look around. Chipped white paint high on a nearby bulkhead revealed my present location to be ( Sub-Level Six ). The most curious thing about that, was that the writing was definitely not in the curving sloppy script that the Slixt used. This was immensely interesting: whoever did the labelling down here wasn’t on the Slixt payroll. Maybe the Slixt never even came down here?

Whatever the case, this was definitely somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be.

Listening hard for any signs of life, or anyone coming after me through the single Downtube, I heard nothing except the beating of my own heart and the rasp of my breath in the dank air. The smart thing to do would have been to head right back into the tube and get to work before anybody noticed a shortage of Humans… I should most probably and definitely forget about this place. But what the ( curse ); I was here already, might as well have a look around.


A large octagonal iris-door-hatch-thingy in the far wall creaked open automatically, if not reluctantly, like a diseased mechanical flower that had almost dried up. The sound amplified in the small stillness of the space, causing me to freeze on the spot, listening hard for any movement. If there was anyone else on this level, they would have heard that a kilometer away.

The odds dictated that I could make a break for the tube behind me, but sensing nothing except for an oily-smell, a slow dripping, and the creeping dread that overtakes one in abandoned places, I decided to move forward – sure that if I left now I wouldn’t have the courage to come back again later.

Then, in the distance, a faint slapping rattled me down to my bones.

I tried to control my breathing and listened some more, but it was dead quiet.

Maybe just my imagination then. One part of my brain said that on a normal day I experienced stranger things before breakfast, but the other part of my brain told me that all aliens are scarier in the dark.

The place was really freaking me out. I wasn’t sure if I was more afraid of encountering some new and terrifying species of alien or being this utterly alone for the first time in as long as I could remember. A bit of both, I guessed. Then again, if some slavering alien ate me in this desolate place nobody would ever know what happened to me (that’s me through and through, always looking on the bright side of life).

Decision time. Backward or forward? I pressed on the screen of my tablet, making a beam of light shine out of the bit in the front. I’d never used this feature before, but it worked surprisingly well. A cold cone of white light scythed through the darkness and after a moment’s hesitation, I followed it into a decrepit octagonal corridor beyond.

This must be some kind of utility tunnel. Possibly used for maintenance, or who knows what. The unfamiliarity of the architecture here was striking – because the Slixt seemed to prefer things that were swampy and wet. I couldn’t see the slug-holes creating anything like this. The city above me (however far away it now was) was for most part like any big city, a mishmash of different cultures and styles all butting up to and competing with each other. In other words, diverse.

This part of the ship however, unlike the other parts, was of a harsh and utilitarian sameness that felt different. I had to admit it felt both old and original. This place was ancient and there was no way the Slixt would have built anything like it. To be fair, the Slixt would have had to construct their fair share of utility passageways on a ship this size, but I just couldn’t see them making something this geometric and un-sluggy. My point was underscored by the hard grates covering the floors along with spiky protrusions coming out of the walls at weird angles about a quarter-Triblak’s length apart from each other.

Moving forward, I realized that my light no longer reached the doorway behind me. The tunnel ahead continued on in depressing darkness, with only the sound of my own boots on the ground to keep me company, but this was better than the alternative.

A little further down the passage, my light caught on some large spiky writing on the wall, which revealed…

( – record redacted: content removed by order of Inquisitor Slub’bump : ref #869-N0K-000-Z )

… and having considered the immense significance of that, I decided to press onward. If what the writing said was accurate, then the Slixt would have some serious explaining to do. But there probably weren’t any Slixt that would be willing to answer my questions. Besides, revealing this knowledge to my captors would likely lead to a short and uncomfortable end. So, maybe not.

Another fifty meters on I arrived at a second iris-hatch and was admitted into a long, wide, gallery that led to something truly unexpected. Something I didn’t think I’d see ever see again.

A window.

It stretched from floor to ceiling, and was the biggest I’d ever seen. And beyond it… stars! The inky and infinite blackness of space stretched out as far as my eye could see (admittedly, not super far). The emptiness was punctuated with countless tiny points of light. Forgetting myself, I whooped out loud, ran over, and stood there for a long time with my hands pressed up against the cold glass (or whatever it was) taking in the incredible sight.

You can’t appreciate how much of an impact this had on me at that moment. Sure, there was nothing I could see that was of any importance or usefulness. After all, the stars didn’t look familiar and they weren’t moving or anything. But you have to understand… I could see them.

I could see outside of my cage.

It was devastating.

The act of seeing what existed outside my enclosed world brought home the grim reality that the life I had been living these last few months was an illusion. The real world (or universe, or whatever) was still out there. And I wasn’t. No matter how routine things had become, and how much I enjoyed the company of Nixa (and, to a much lesser extent, J&J) we were all trapped in this giant floating box. Trapped like rats – to be used for whatever amusements the Slixt had devised for us.

It was a massive betrayal. But not by my friends, or the other aliens. Not even by the Slixt. The pain came from realizing that I was my own betrayer. Wholly and completely. I had come to believe the lie that was my new life, and I found myself hating that window and everything it represented. Everything it made me feel.

A tear ran down my face, pushed out by the emotions that flooded into me.

The last Human. The one that didn’t make it. Had they also discovered this place? Had they seen what I had just seen?

I didn’t know. Maybe they had, but maybe it was just in their mind’s eye.

Eventually I recovered from the shock as the cold of Sub-level Six crept into my bones, bringing me back to the present. Someone might have noticed my absence, and worse yet, come looking and find me here. Whatever was actually true about my world, the Slixt would guard these secrets with a vengeance. Of that there could be no doubt. If anyone found out that this ship was…

( – record redacted: content removed by order of Inquisitor Slub’bump : ref #869-N0K-003-Z )

…then who knew what might happen as a result?

The spiky message in the tunnel behind me could have meant a lot. Or nothing. The one thing I was doubly sure of was that whatever all of it added up to, it wasn’t good.

Retracing my steps, I noticed deep, dimly-glowing hollows to either side of the big window. Somehow I’d missed them on my way in, drawn as I had been to the view outside, but surely there was enough time to take a closer look?

Closer examination revealed a short hallway, terminating at a round door set into the wall. A pair of handles were set into either side of the hatch, faint writing visible under years of dust. Wiping some of the grime away with my hand revealed more of the strange, un-Slixty script – which read: ( Escape pod 3-032 – occupants: 1 )

The shock brought me to my knees, as if struck by a terrible blow. Then panic hit; the slapping sound I’d heard before was back again, but much closer now, pounding and scraping toward my position. All caution gone, I sprinted all the way back to the transport tube, throwing myself into it, relieved when it sucked me back toward the main level.

From there I ran across three city blocks, jumped into the proper Downtube, sped through the birthing level, and right into the office that I shared with Jerkface and Wheezy. Stumbling in, covered in sweat, I was fairly shaking as Jerkface rounded on me angrily, ‘And just where the hell were you?’ he asked.

I panicked big time, trying to think of an answer they’d believe when Slorp came sliming around the corner. The Slixt was furious that we weren’t keeping busy, and gave us all a big bollocking. But, just as it was leaving, it ( winked ) at me from three different eyes – that was when I realized that Slorp probably thought I’d arrived late because of my meeting with P’shush’t. If Slorp knew what really happened, I’d be in big trouble. But it couldn’t have known. Not if it just let me go.

Right then I knew for sure that the Slixt were all in on it together, and that the only reason I wasn’t in more trouble was that they needed me – as an informant against the other Humans (ok, that should have been obvious).

Meanwhile, Wheezy mouthed off at me for being late and Jerkface slammed a clipboard into my trembling hands. ‘Right, let’s get to work then,’ he barked, storming out the door.

I spent the rest of that day trying to act normal (and failing), my co-workers thinking I was being a ( curse-head ) again.

That night, the sight of my apartment door filled me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I slipped in quietly and slid straight into bed, curling up into a tight little ball.

Day 122, insomnia:

Sleep proved elusive. I lay there thinking about the escape pods on Sub-Level Six (I mean, how convenient was that?). There was no telling if the Slixt had a way of knowing where I’d been (somehow), so the pods would have to be used as soon as possible. But, like everything else in my life, it was a lot more complicated.

I didn’t have a way of knowing how big the pods would be on the inside. According to the alien writing they only supported one person/alien, but those aliens could have been almost any size which meant that maybe a few Human sized occupants could fit. The tunnels I’d travelled through were big, so maybe that meant the mystery aliens were big as well. And there were at least two pods. Maybe more.

It didn’t matter, as long as all of us could escape. Nixa was at the top of my list. Followed by J&J. But there were still some major problems to overcome. Like, if the pods actually worked the way they were supposed to. The Slixt might have sabotaged them, or controlled access centrally. I should have tried opening the hatch, but then again, it might have been alarmed.

The list of issues didn’t end there: everyone would have to find their way to Sub-Level Six, and I wasn’t sure if that was even possible (it didn’t take a genius to figure out that access to Downtube 77 was granted to me in error).

The biggest obstacle though, in my mind, was the fact that I couldn’t just grab my friends and launch into space. Even we could pull it off, the pods would need to be used near some kind of planet, or space-station. And, wherever that turned out to be, it would need to support life in a way that was compatible with our biologies. It would have done us no good to eject a million light-years away from anywhere.

Assuming we got lucky, our saviors would also need to be the kind of aliens that didn’t eat/kill other aliens.

From the moment we escaped this ship, we’d be on our own in a hostile universe. We would also need whatever supplies we could gather: food, weapons, tools, shelter, and all sorts of things that I probably hadn’t even considered. All of it would need to fit into the escape pods. Even if we managed all that, we’d still have to navigate through an atmosphere of some sort, crash landing on a totally unknown world.

I couldn’t wait to tell the others all about it.

Day 125, let’s go already:

Orchestrating a complex conspiracy aboard an alien spaceship is a lot harder than you’d think. I wasn’t sure who I could trust, exactly, but knew that my secret would have to be limited to a small number of people, namely: Nixa, myself, and J&J.

Helping Wheezy and Jerkface would have been the right thing to do… but they would have to take care of themselves. You couldn’t save everyone. Even if Sub-Level Six had all the escape pods in the world, the Slixt couldn’t fail to notice thousands of them ejecting from the ship. So with a heavy heart, I decided to keep our plan between the four of us.

Finding a place to tell them about it was a lot harder – the Slixt had eyes everywhere and were recording everything that went on. Especially after P’shush’t sent me to spy on J&J (I believed it was based on the assumption that the other Humans were planning an escape – but I was both the ringleader and the informant in this case).

So where could we meet? And when? My room, the market, and the birthing-levels were out. We’d need someplace remote, but there wasn’t any place like that in the city.  After all, the Slixt could still find out if someone overheard and reported us.

Day 128, J&J blues:

I was trying to think of a meeting place while the plan slowly developed in my head. But the way that life goes, I still had to go through the motions, and that meant trying to maintain my friendship with Nixa, deal with J&J, and keep my job.

Jane was messaging me a lot these days – her texts full of double, or triple-meanings, and emoticons, and all the rest. What she really needed was a job, or other hobbies besides messing with my head. Even so, Jane might not have possessed any skills aside from wreaking havoc among the only three Humans onboard (mainly by using her casual sexuality like a wrecking ball). I figured that her ultimate goal was to get attention – always the one who needed taking care of the most (but I might also be judging her too harshly).

You had to be careful with your sympathy when it came to Jane, because she would soak up everything you could throw at her by way of consolation and, at the end of it, would either lash out at you, or try to wrap herself around you quicker than a Slixt’s tentacles.

My relationship with the Humans was problematic, and  there was always a state of tension between John and me because of Jane’s mercurial affections. There might have been other reasons for the friction with John as well. I guess that we all wanted what couldn’t be, but he was too stupid to figure out that he’d already won. And his all too frequent threats of violence, outbursts, and intrigues were tearing us all apart. There was no doubt in my mind that Jane would have happily welcomed even more drama, and some part of me knew that she was only using me as leverage against John.

I didn’t like any of that very much.


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