Only Human is an absurdly-serious, funny, and quite possibly heart-wrenching Young Adult novel, complete at 75,000 words. It is the diary/testimony of a hapless teenage Human who was abducted from Earth by the slimy, slug-like Slixt – and forced to live in an oppressive, socialist, totalitarian city-state… floating through space. It’s a paradise that none have ever escaped. To survive, the Human must assimilate, or else they must find the courage to rise up against the system.
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Day 1, terror in the skies:
I woke up naked, curled in the fetal position and covered in translucent green goo, at the bottom of a squishy flesh-walled room. And, to make matters worse – my memory of the preceding night wasn’t just hazy… it was gone.
The “room” was more like a wet sack than the regular kind of rooms that I’d been used to up until that point in my life, and the walls were disturbingly warm, wavy, and slick with copious amounts of fragrant ooze. They pulsed with a soft orange light which meant that I could almost see a trio of shadowy forms gnashing knives together on the other side. Those “forms” were currently discussing something (probably me) judging by their muffled speech patterns.
Gradually, I became aware of my own screaming. It must have been going on for a while because by the time it became obvious to me, my voice was hoarse and my tears were all mixed up with goo. But the voices died out with the last of my screams, replaced by loud chittering, which was both terrifying and humiliating (since I was fairly sure that my tormentors were laughing at me).
With a swish of cold steel and a slushing-ploomp, the floor gave way and I fell onto a cold, hard, steel floor, while the warm smelly liquid from my flesh-prison rained down from above.
It was then that I hurled for real, the technicolor remains of my last meal splashing over the floor at my captor’s feet (of which there were three, but I would have preferred none at all). The monster on the left took a judicious step backward, which was followed by more chittering. Then a prod from a tentacle-like arm from the middle-most creature nearly caused me to lose it at the other end (at that point I had started to realize that they might be aliens).
Up until that day, the idea that an actual race of aliens was visiting the Earth and abducting people… well, it would have seemed a bit far-fetched if you’d asked me. But if I had to imagine what they might look like, I would have managed to cobble something together. Nobody would’ve batted an eye if I said that there would be a fair few tentacles involved. Lots of eyes. An alien could never have too many eyes (or so I thought), but I can assure you that twenty is an absurd number. Especially when they are spread across the creature’s head at seemingly random angles – all of them looking in different directions. And the mouth, not to be outdone, presented itself as a stack of three wet, overlapping slits. It might have been the scariest thing I’d ever seen, the more-so because it was also vaguely ridiculous.
Why wasn’t I trying to escape?
Anyway, they were saying something either to me, or to each other, as I did my best to keep my bare flesh out of view and/or reach. Sure, my body hadn’t come in super useful by that point in my life, but I was nonetheless quite attached to it – and flaunting my nudity in front of strangers wasn’t a thing that I was generally comfortable with (even if space-monsters were used to seeing that kind of thing all the time).
I had to escape! And, come to think of it… where the heck was everyone else?
That was the first time that it occurred to me: was I the only Human? Perhaps the last Human? Could these psycho d-bags have annihilated the whole Human race, from space? Leaving just me? Had Humanity already been captured, killed, tortured, maimed, and digested? In those pod-sack-hellchamber-thingies? And did that mean that I was the first (or the last) to go? There was no way to know for sure, but while I’d been thinking about it, the aliens finally stopped chittering.
Right, there were three of them. And as aliens go, they were as different from each other as I was from them. A creepy humanoid with one too many arms and leathery skin stood to the left of the tentacle-slug. It sported a mop of jagged black spikes, which passed for hair, and had the kind of shrunken, goblin-like head that only a mother could love. The nickname that immediately came to mind was “Jerkface”.
On the right was a hacking, gasping alien that looked like a cross between a boar and a crab. It was wearing a metal contraption on its back with all manner of tubes snaking out and then plugging back into as many openings on its body. I dubbed that one “Wheezy”.
That brought me back to “Slorp”, who started wrapping a half dozen tentacles around my arms and legs. I struggled big-time but Slorp had too many tentacles and I only had the regular number of Human limbs to work with.
Slorp’s grip was firm, but painless. That didn’t mitigate the fact that I was being pulled closer to its burbling mouths, and the thought of making my way through its digestive tract wasn’t all that appealing. I felt unwilling to go down without a fight, biting down on the nearest putrid, purple tentacle. A move that I regretted instantly. Slorp’s tentacle tasted horrible, and the alien’s only response was to slide another tendril around my neck. And then it squeezed.
The darkness washed over me like an old and welcome friend.
Still Day 1 (I think):
I regained consciousness on a steel operating table at some indeterminate time in the future, clenching the parts of me that science had taught me aliens would be most likely to probe in the coming moments.
A quick mental inventory of my body revealed that nothing was sore in a way that it shouldn’t be. All things being equal, they probably hadn’t probed me yet…
Unless they had done it gently?
I really couldn’t bear to entertain such thoughts so I tried to think of something else… anything else.
It didn’t work.
Either way, the time for pretending that this wasn’t really happening had come and gone – further evidence of my predicament provided by the straps that were binding me to the table.
At least I was lying face up, though I couldn’t decide if that was a good or a bad thing.
It was then that I realized with dismay that all three of my captors were in the room with me – Wheezy busying itself with some kind of computer-console-thingy up against one wall.
A sizable transparent display floated in the air between us, alien writing flashing across its surface alongside diagrams of the human body.
While this was happening, Jerkface leaned up against a metal cart, picking at its belly buttons – or whatever those things were.
I tried to squirm away as Slorp approached the table, the nearest tentacle waving something that looked an awful lot like a nail-gun. Even screaming felt a bit redundant at this point. Instead, I opted for a brave whimper as the alien oozed slimily along the floor – closer and closer – the smell of its goo filling my nostrils. As it loomed over me, drops of hot alien slobber splashed onto my bare leg, causing me to grit my teeth to the point of cracking.
I pressed my eyelids shut so hard that they hurt, unsure of what was coming next. I’d never not wanted to know what was going to happen next so badly in my entire life.
As it turned out, the not-knowing was awful.
Nothing happened. For a full minute. Then two. The loudness of my breathing mixing with the sound of more chittering. And then it got real quiet again.
Stars and pinwheels flashed behind my eyelids from the pressure of keeping them closed so tightly.
Finally, tired of being scared, or maybe just getting used to the feeling, I took the chance to open my eyes. Just a crack. Apparently that was exactly what Slorp had been waiting for. The lights in the room were extra-bright after having my eyes closed for so long, but the shadow of the alien device passing over my face remedied that situation quickly.
The nozzle of the nail-gun in Slorp’s tentacle felt cold as it pressed firmly into my forehead. I noted to myself that the metal barrel had some give – a little springiness if you will. I was thinking that this is a safety feature common to nail-guns in general. After all, you wouldn’t want to nail your tentacle to the desk by accident. So when the spring clicked I knew it was armed, but I wasn’t prepared when Slorp fired a bolt of screaming hot pain into my skull.
The world went black for a second time.
Day 1, a little bit later:
Either I hadn’t been out of it for long, or the aliens were really patient, because everyone was still standing or slorping along where I’d last seen them.
Jerkface gave me something approximating a wink, causing me to mouth off a long string of profanities and then Slorp waved its tentacles, shutting me up long enough to remember getting nailed in the head. The weird thing about that… I mean… one weird thing about that, is that it didn’t hurt. It hurt like the dickens when it happened, but now, nothing. I remember feeling as good as a person could feel strapped naked to a cold steel table, surrounded by a bunch of crazed monsters.
I couldn’t help but think that maybe this was a sign of maturity? Maybe I had grown up a little in the past few hours? A sense of pride washed over me and…
Slorp cleared its throats – loudly – giving the distinct impression that it was my turn to listen, but I didn’t see the point since I didn’t understand its stupid gurgling anyway.
(‘Relax’) it said to me. (‘You will come to no harm here.’)
I started to curse again but was stunned into silence by two facts. First, that I could suddenly understand what Slorp was saying. Second, that the translation appeared as sub-titles in my field of view – just about where I’d would have expected them if I were watching a foreign movie on a big screen.
And yes, I made the connection between the bolt shot into my head moments earlier and this miraculous newfound ability.
What was I saying? Yeah, the offensive gurgling noises coming out of Slorp’s mouth were still offensive, but at least I could follow along by reading.
Unsure of how to answer the slug, my witty reply consisted of a single word. ‘Er…’
More chittering erupted around the room, confirming my earlier suspicions: ( aliens laughing )
Well, at least someone was having a good time.
Slorp continued to speak after correctly guessing that I had – in fact – nothing intelligent to contribute to the conversation. ( ‘This process will go a lot easier if you try to relax and answer our questions honestly.’ )
‘What the fu…’ I started to say, but was cut off by Jerkface, who stopped picking at its belly-holes long enough to pipe up, ( ‘Just shut-up and listen Human.’ )
It really was a jerk.
Slorp gurgled, ( annoyed )
Admittedly, the sub-titles were handy, and forgetting for a moment where I was, and what was happening to me, I did shut-up. And paid attention. There was nowhere else to go, anyway.
Slorp waved its tentacles with ( impatience ) and asked me, ( ‘Are you ready to begin?’ )
A lot of different answers came to mind, but in the end I nodded.
Day 1, like almost right after the last bit:
Adjusting to the whole sub-title-thing wasn’t very difficult – my brain quickly started treating the translations like regular speech. Except for some of the aliens’ reactions, or when something really unexpected happened. Or when the Slixt diary-transcription-software inserted a word that doesn’t translate well from one language into another. It’s an imperfect system. Where was I?
‘I asked if you were ready to begin?’ repeated Slorp, showing ( irritation ).
Again, I was already used to the sub-titles.
‘Yeah, sure… what choice do I have?’ I said, assuming that Slorp was getting the slorpified translation on its end. By this point I was fairly confident that the aliens weren’t going to kill or eat me – at least not right away. Why else would they bother installing a translator?
Slorp referred to a clipboard that it held in one of its tentacles, cleared its throats, and said:
‘You notice that your pocket has been picked and your money has been stolen, but you manage to catch the thief a few moments later. You find out that the thief is very poor, and is only stealing from you so that they can pay for their sick child’s medical care. Do you:
a) turn the thief in to the authorities,
b) let the thief go,
c) swallow the thief whole, or
d) let the thief keep the money?’
‘What?’ I asked. ‘What is this?’
Slorp waved its tentacles in an alarming fashion, ( annoyed ), ‘Would you like me to repeat the question?’
I wanted that very much, because I couldn’t remember all of the options. Both Jerkface and Wheezy gathered around the table to hear my answer. Slorp was sub-titling ( impatience ) again, so I said, ‘C…’ and then, ‘No, wait… D… I guess I let them keep the money.’
Side note: whatever it was I’d been expecting to happen next, taking a multiple-choice quiz wasn’t it.
Slorp made a mark on the clipboard with some kind of scary-alien-ballpoint-pen-thingy, and asked:
‘You come across a traveler whose ship has broken down in a remote star-system. They are clearly in need of assistance. Do you:
a) pretend to help the stranded alien so that you can eat them,
b) help the alien repair their vessel,
c) send out a distress signal and leave the traveler to their fate, or
d) signal your comrades to come help you capture and eat the alien?’
Oddly enough, I was already totally invested in this test. ‘This one is tough,’ I said.
Jerkface gave Wheezy a ( knowing look ) and prodded its compatriot with what might have been an elbow.
Slorp said, ‘You must answer the question.’
But which to choose? ‘Er… B. I help them fix their spaceship.’ By this point I had almost – but not quite – forgotten about being nude and strapped to an operating table. Yet I was also curious as to what the next question would be, and wanted to get a good score, if possible.
Slorp marked my answer on the clipboard, and asked:
‘A fiendish lout has insulted your honor. You feel that you must respond in some way. Do you:
a) engage them in mortal combat,
b) run away,
c) eat the fiend, or
d) try to talk out your differences.’
There was definitely a pattern here. The emphasis on eating other aliens was hard to miss, but I had no idea if that was the right answer, or the wrong one. If this had happened back on Earth, I probably would have chosen b) or d) but also knew that I’d have to toughen up a bit to make it out of this situation alive. I said, ‘A… I’d fight the bad dude.’
Wheezy gave Jerkface a little poke with a crab-like arm, Slorp replying, ‘Settle down you two,’ which made me feel a bit more confident. But Jerkface glared at my smug expression as if to say “You’re not in the clear just yet”.
Jerkface’s day of reckoning would come soon enough. Of that I was sure.
Slorp made another tick on the sheet, and said:
‘You have been stranded in a far-away land. You have no friends, no money, or support of any kind. Do you:
a) try to create a new life in this wonderful place,
b) try to eat as many of the local aliens as possible,
c) try to escape at the soonest opportunity, or
d) mope around for a bit and passively-aggressively annoy everyone around you?’
That last option seemed quite specific, and I was fairly sure by the reactions of Wheezy and Jerkface that this question was especially important. I was also getting the impression that the “eating-other-people” thing wasn’t the choice that they were actually looking for, so it was easy to discount that one. Option “C” also seemed like a bit of a trick-answer, so that left only one logical answer. ‘Definitely D, I’m really good at being irritated.’
It was probably the wrong choice, but it felt honest, and therefore good.
Slorp checked the appropriate box on the clipboard ( forcefully ). ‘Last question,’ it said from its upper mouth.
‘Shoot,’ I replied, shivering as Jerkface ( chuckled ).
Wheezy chittered, ‘Not just yet!’
Great… me and my big mouth.
Slorp ( pointedly ignoring Wheezy ).
‘After many years, you have grown powerful. You command the respect and obedience of a large number of followers. Do you:
a) guide your people in creating the perfect society,
b) incite rebellion against your true and rightful masters,
c) go to war with your neighbors to expand your influence, or
d) eat your fellow citizens?’
The answer to this one seemed obvious, but I was also tired of their questions, and more than a little bit ( annoyed ) myself. It’s funny how quickly fear can turn into anger. ‘One-hundred percent D,’ I said, ‘I’d eat ‘em all.’
Jerkface ( laughed ), Wheezy handing him a floppy stack of what I assumed was alien money.
Slorp checked off the last box and said, ‘Very well then.’
After that they left me alone, strapped to the cold steel table for what felt like hours.
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