Do you like to read sci-fi stories or watch sci-fi movies? Do you prefer gory details or alien love affairs? What about writing sci-fi stories?
The assignment for round 6 was:
– About a galaxy far, far away –
Let your imaginations run wild!
Since the assignment required the writers to write sci-fi, we added a note for them to make the story as humorous, scary or serious as they wanted.
Readers, what should you do now?
Read all the entries, and vote for the stories you like the best. Try to keep the assignment in mind when you make your choices. You have to choose three entries, no less, no more.
The survey is at the bottom of the page after the last story. Don’t’ forget to click the ‘Finish Survey’ button when you’ve made your choices!
We would love if you can leave the writers some feedback in the comments section below.
- Writers are not allowed to tell anyone which entry they have written!
- You can only vote once. Votes will be monitored and double votes will be removed.
- The voting round closes on Tuesday 18 October 2022 at 23.45 GMT (see the countdown in the sidebar).
- Results of the voting round will be published on this site on 22 October 2022 and then the author of each story will be revealed.
The Entries: Sci-fi stories!
Just like we did in the semi-final round, the writer’s previous scores have been wiped clean, so all come to this semi-final round on an equal footing.
The stories have already been sent to the jury, and they will rate each with a point between 1-10. Below, you – the public – can read the stories, and vote on the three you like best. The points the writers accumulate in this public voting round will be ‘translated’ to a point between 1-10, and added to the jury score to get the final result of this round.
Below are the 5 stories for round 6, the final round:
The writer who receives the most points combined from the public and the jury will be the winner of the Blogable Fiction Marathon 2022!
1. Fucking Humans
“I don’t understand, Zor. After all these years, why you want to me to have the surgery now?”
We were sitting in the waiting area of a couples counselor he’d arranged.
“It’s not a surgery, Christopher. More of a procedure.”
He closed all of his pea-sized eyes except the two facing me. I think he was trying to make himself look more human.
Charybdixians didn’t have very flexible necks, so they had 12 small eyes, about a third the size of the domestic cats that lived on Earth, circling their entire heads. Their eyes were so small because the sunlight on this planet was 100 times brighter than what shone on Earth. If I were to see it I would be immediately blinded. If I were to go outside, I would burn up.
Outside is not habitable on Charybdix.
“You’ve been erratic lately, Chris.”
“I know, Zor. I’m working on it.”
Truth was I’d been feeling closed in for a number of years. It was getting worse. My mom left ten years ago. The anniversary of her departure was coming up and it had never weighed upon me so hard.
Our relationship had started to feel a little constricting as well.
“You feel too much, my love,” Zorian had told me.
I kissed the top of his head. His hairless flesh was like an obsidian-colored dolphin skin, a taught, supple layer that protected the muscles that constantly flexed beneath it.
“It’s what humans do,” I said.
Ever since I arrived on this planet, at eight years old, I knew I found them attractive. A magnetic sensuality I didn’t understand until I matured.
“Mommy, they’re so pretty,” I remember saying when we first got off that exile transport. “They really are, aren’t they?”
“Can I have one?”
“They’re not pets, Christopher. They’re intelligent beings. I hope we can learn from them.”
That was twenty-four Earth years ag. Who knew I’d be sharing a bed with one?
There was a click on an invisible speaker. “Zorian and Chrishtopher, you can come in, please.”
A panel in the wall ahead of us silently glided open.
Zor took my hand, his three strong fingers dwarfing my five. “You okay?”
“Let’s do this.”
The therapist’s chair was turned back to us. They seemed to be on the phone.
There were two chairs across from their desk, a master class in minimalism. They seemed like butterfly chairs I remembered from a pop art installation Mom had shown me pictures of. They looked super uncomfortable, but when I eased back into one, it immediately conformed to my body like nothing I’d ever experienced.
“We need to get these for home”, Zor said, leaning back and closing all his eyes.
“Right?” I wriggled into the warmth and wondered if this was what waterbeds felt like.
A LED monitor floated above the therapist’s chair. The first line was a countdown timer.
Your session will begin soon.
We agree to use one language that is understood by all in the room.
1. No telekinesis
2. No teleportation
3. No telepathy
Relax and enjoy your session.
Dr. Hritchtex ⌂. Phlæn (call me Tex)
I, being an Earthling, had no natural affinity for telepathy. While some claimed to have had that power back on Earth, history and science has shown they were as reputable as faith healers in the 1950s, MLMs in the early 2000s, and cohort enthusiasts in the 2020s.
Zor told me years ago he’d experimented with telepathy in college, but it wasn’t for him. There were all kinds of AI enhancement chips available.
“Too many voices in my own head. Although getting banged by that Phoniciphian while he thought dirty to me was hot.”
Phoniciphians, while not having mouths to communicate with, were known for their extra large tentacles, and being very open minded. They were also able to morph into whatever form they wanted, which made them quite a commodity. They had very few tells, except for the fact that they could only maintain their new shape for about an hour. Just long enough to con someone, pose as an intergalactic politician for a solid deep fake, or to have an outstanding 50-minutes of sex work.
They weren’t known for their scruples.
A gentle chime rang.
The chair turned around and I gasped as Zor murmured “oh my.”
“What the fuck?” I blurted out.
My mother was sitting the the therapist’s chair. At least her spitting image.
She’d been dead for a decade, exposed to too much outside. Even with the incredible medical technology available on this planet, they were not able to reverse the damage.
She looked like she did when she brought me here. Beautiful. When we got kicked off X Æ A-12’s space ship because Mom said Grime’s music was garbage and that “Shinigami Eyes” should have been called “Shitigami Lies”.
“I’m just here to make you feel more comfortable, Christopher.”
“Zorian!. Doctor?” I tried to pull myself out of the chair. It wouldn’t let go. “Can someone tell me what’s happening here?”
“I’m Doctor Tex. I’m here to make this first session as comfortable as I can, and it’s our understanding that human homosexuals are notoriously comforted by their mothers, so our research has …”
“Let the doctor speak,” Zor whispered. He reached over and put his hand on my thigh. “Relax, love.”
Charybdixians don’t understand emotions, because they don’t feel them. For them, relaxation is status quo. Stoicism on steroids.
“Christopher,” the doctor broke in. “We’re here today because you and your partner, Zorian, have agreed to talk about how overly emotional you’ve been. As you know, beings on this planet don’t, how do you say, ‘go into our feels’ like many of our Earthling refugees. I’ve assumed the embodiment of your mother thinking it might help you relax.”
“You missed the mark,” I said. “By several light years.”
“The last thing I wanted to do was to upset you. To be honest, we don’t have a lot of experience with emotional counseling. We normally simply preform the procedure that you and Zorian have been discussing.”
“A silicone implant coded with Interplanetary Prozac?”
I turned my head to Zorian so quickly I thought I’d give myself whiplash.
“Is that what you want? An emotionless sex doll?”
“You’re being illogical, Chris.”
“Don’t you dare quote Spock to me.”
I looked at the “doctor” to see if they were getting ready to call in some kind of thought-police. They nodded at me as if to say continue.
“What logic is there for a therapist to assume the image of the patient’s dead mother? What kind of logic is there to arrange for counseling in a world where “feelings” are discounted as the emotional detritus of a failed race?”
“To be clear,” Zor said, “It’s not the race that failed, it’s the people who were in charge of keeping your planet alive.”
“There as was nobody in charge of that.”
“Which is why there is no more Earth.”
“But we do have a library of recordings,” the doctor chimed in. “They help us understand what life on your planet was like.”
“Could you please shape shift the fuck out of my mom’s body?”
Mom morphed into a bluish-green, 4-armed, 2-legged creature with sculpted features that looked like a mouthless Cerberus head on the torso of a muscular feline, its pelt a shimmery coating of soft, brushed fur.
I felt a sting in my neck, coming from of the back of the chair.
“You’ve been injected with a short-acting chemical that will allow me to communicate telepathically with you. So much for Rule # 3.”
“Is that an issue?” Zorian asked.
“The issue is … I just don’t understand how this is going to help us.
“Because it’s Ciphian?”
“Because this whole idea is FUCKED.”
I heard what sounded like sirens approaching, which seemed impossible in a society that did need to police itself and had very few emergencies.
Zor leaned forward, all of his tiny eyes open. I turned my head as far as I could in both directions. I couldn’t identify where in this the “cube of safety” the alarm was coming from.
I looked up. There were half a dozen tiny drones, the size of small hummingbirds.
Zor jumped out of his chair and came towards me.
“Emotidrones,” he said. “Pull your shirt up over your mouth and nose. Stop talking and don’t breathe deeply.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
He put two large fingers over my mouth. His taste was immediately familiar and soothing. The musky saltiness I’d grown to adore.
The drones spayed down a mist that covered us both, and the doctor as well.
I wondered if I was going to die.
It’s what humans do.
Zor stood up and tried to steady himself.
“I suggest you retake your seat, Zorian,” the Doctor said.
The mist dissipated but the drones silently remained overhead.
Zor curled back into his chair, hIs breathing iirregular.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Gentlepeople, I’m sorry I had to call in the birds. But emotions were getting out of control. It’s important both of you continue to be safe.”
He held my eyes longer than he had the entire session.
“Are you ready to move on?” I heard in my head. I guess Zor heard it too.
We both said yes.
I turned to look at Zor. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, Christopher.”
“I’m not sure where to start,” I said.
“Just say what’s on your mind, sir,” the doctor said.
“I don’t want to be here anymore.
“In this room?,” Zorian asked. “In this relationship?”
“On this planet. I just want to go home. And I know how fucked up that sounds because, well …”
I made a soft exploding sound while closing one hand around the other and opening them up to move away from each other.
My people — well, not my people but the Muskians and the Trumploydytes — the last two coalitions of Earthly power — had blown the planet up just to prove that they could.
“I’m tired of being a living anthropology exhibit.”
“Christopher, no,” Zor whispered. “You are no such thing.”
“This planet, these people, you people — I really think of you all as people, Zor. I mean Charybdixians. Not whatever they are,” I waved my hand indiscriminately towards the desk.
“No offense taken, I’m sure,” the doctor quietly dashed through my mind.
I noticed almost all of Zor’s eyes were looking at me. He only usually needed two or three at the most. It was weird. He seemed not himself.
“Zorian, are you sure your okay?” the doctor asked.
“Wait,” Zor said, “I would like to say something.”
He stood up out of the chair, moved it closer to me and turn it so his body faced me directly.
“I’ve never wanted to go outside. I’ve never wanted to feel anything, it’s not the way we are. We Charybdixians learn. We teach. We express ourselves in short sentences.”
“I know. You’re like old-fashioned digital writers. Thank God that fad ended.”
“We focus only on what we control,” he said.
“But by doing that don’t you think you become controlling?”
“That is the way, Christopher. We control our what can and dismiss what we we can’t.”
He squirmed a bit in his chair. Almost as if he was uncomfortable.
“I notice that pleasure happens with you not just when we were having sex. I watch you mix nutrient packs together in new combinations and it makes you, I can’t say. Lighter? You sing songs you just made up. They are silly and annoying, and usually loud, but something happens to your face and eyes — it’s like you’re experiencing the pleasure that we only get from sliding ourselves into each other.”
“I do not get off on my own singing, Zorian.”
“No, but It’s like you experience different kinds of pleasure than we do.”
The doctor moved on to his desk, his ridiculously large tentacles sliding closer to both of us.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Zorian?” the doctor asked. “Your breathing is short and your coloring seems to be changing.”
“I don’t know,” Zor said. “But I need to say this. I notice how sad you’ve been. How thinking about the outside is destroying you. I don’t want you to fall into your mother’s footsteps. I don’t know why, but I believe that my life would be so much worse if you were to leave.”
“Are you having feelings, Zorian?” the doctor asked.
“No. Maybe. I don’t know. We don’t have them. It’s not like they are contagious.
“I’m catching them now,” the doctor said. “But I’m no Charybdixian.”
“Feelings are for outside,” he said. “Feelings are for outsiders.”
“Yes,” I said.
“You are an outsider.”
“I’ll die outside.”
“And you’re trapped here inside.”
“I’m starting to understand that,” Zorian said.
The drones quietly came to life. Dr Tex motioned for me to stay calm.
“Try, Zorian,” the doctor said.
“It’s like being in a tube and all you can see is the dull sheen of the wall that surrounds you and you’re forced to lie very still for an experiment you don’t understand. There is a constant clanging sound, a giant metal heartbeat outside of you. You can’t breathe and the more you try to relax the more you know you’re in some kind of danger and you have to leave but they won’t let you and I can’t breathe. Christopher, I cannot breathe. What is happening to me?”
“How can that be? I don’t have feelings. AAAGGHHHH Stop!” Zor screamed.
“Tex, for fuck’s sake,” I shouted. “Give him the antidote.”
The doctor waved his tentacle and one of the Emotidrones landed on Zor’s back, injecting him with an anti-feeling compound that reversed the effect of the mist he’d inhaled.
Zor fell into the chair.
“What happened?” he asked.
Dr Tex explained that the mist was meant to make Zorian feel. It was something that my mother and Zor’s uncles had been working on for years before she’d been overcome with the need to go outside.
“I’m confused, Doctor. We had agreed that mist would be the temporary version of the chip we’d talked about for Christopher.”
“Rational does not always mean clever,” I said. “I figured out your plan and paid him more. Phoniciphian have no scruples.”
“None,” the doctor said. “But maybe we need to find a way to make Zorian feel a bit more and Chris feel a bit less. I’d be happy to work with you both to …”
“Fuck off,” we both said.
And he morphed out of the room.
“You tricked me,” Zorian said.
I leaned over and kissed his head.
“It’s what humans do.”
2. Pray for Prey
Harrison decided to become an astronaut the day his wife died.
Eight months after they’d said their ‘I do’s,’ Laura started feeling sick. They visited doctors and specialists until the diagnosis was clear. Stage four pancreatic cancer. Incurable. She had three months at best. They’d made the most of those last few weeks together before Laura was drugged up on morphine and left to die in a hospital bed. After less than a year of marriage, his beautiful bride took her last breath.
Harrison put ten years into training, but his wife still haunted him every night. Sometimes he would wake, thinking he felt her warmth still beside him. Space travel appealed to him. Harrison didn’t want to die, per se, but he certainly wanted to get off Earth. Astronautics gave him that chance.
It had been twelve years to the day the night he found the new planet.
His crew was made up of six others — two women and four men, including Harrison. He spotted the astronomical body first, from the cockpit window. Their mission was new exploration, and this planet was their ticket to greatness.
Based on their estimations, it would take a little over a week for their small spaceship to reach land. Each evening, when Harrison went to sleep, he watched the planet grow larger and larger outside the window beside his bunk. It was a gorgeous planet — rich with whites, blues, and greens. The way, he supposed, Earth should’ve looked if humans hadn’t riddled it with chemicals and cancers.
Their countdown to approach finally came. They guided the ship down into the atmosphere of the strange planet, landing a few hours later on solid ground. The miraculous landscape featured sharp mountaintops and lush green fields — an otherworldly paradise that somehow echoed Earth’s beauty from long ago.
Harrison and his crew suited up for exploration, securing their oxygen and attaching their helmets. The latch of the spaceship hissed open, revealing a long ramp that touched the planet’s surface. Cautiously, they descended with tools and supplies, setting up a makeshift camp to begin their research.
After a long, sleepless week at their camp, the astronauts made a startling discovery — the atmosphere of this new planet echoed Earth’s almost identically. In fact, the air quality here was even better than it was back home.
With bewildered gazes and terrified chuckles, one by one the six astronauts began to remove their helmets. Harrison swallowed his fear, unlatched his heavy helmet with a hiss, and shook out his hair. The air was sweet and clean, making his head spin. Without the glass, he saw the world more clearly and his jaw dropped in awe. Every color seemed more startling — the rich greens and turquoise blues, even the rich sequoia dirt.
He desperately wanted to explore it.
“We should explore today,” he announced suddenly, glancing around at his crew, hoping they didn’t question his abruptness. But they all gave nods of approval, seemingly unable to pull their eyes away from their surroundings, just like Harrison. Good. That would give him the solitude he craved.
Trying to collect his wits, Harrison gathered some equipment in a backpack — soil testers, cameras, specimen containers, and sanitizer before saluting his crew as he set out on adventure. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, he knew there were protocols — that they should travel in pairs, that there should be some level of protection by checking in with one another. But the landscape was so intoxicating, Harrison left that all behind on the ship.
He started out towards the mountains in the distance, finding a lone dirt trail between impossibly high trees and strange-looking bushes. He couldn’t identify them, but he didn’t particularly care. Something dangerously subtle lulled him along his path, prompting his feet as if they had a mind of their own. The trees faded from green to blue to purple, with strange leaves and spindly branches.
The sky above seemed to move like water — different blues blending effortlessly into one another, unlike anything Harrison had ever seen. Wispy clouds rolled along with it, like cotton candy in a spin. Mesmerized, he tried to take note of his observations for documentation, but before he could make sense of one thing, he noticed something new.
Finally, he reached a clearing. The trees made a perfect U-shape, their gradients fading into one another like the changing leaves in autumn. But he noticed something else, between the trees.
His breath caught in his throat. Something approached him in the distance — a silhouette of a human. A woman. Her face was shadowed, but something stirred within Harrison as he took in the curvature of the body walking towards him. It was familiar. Nearly unmistakeable. Harrison fell to his knees, surprise overtaking him. It couldn’t be.
But there she was. His late wife, Laura.
She sauntered towards him, arms swinging at her sides. And as she got closer, he realized she was naked as the day she was born, her pert breasts bouncing with each step. Her long dark hair hung down each shoulder — perfectly wavy and silky like it had been before the chemo took that part of her away too.
Her long legs stretched towards her wide hips that Harrison could still imagine running his fingers over as they lay beneath their flowered comforter that he’d kept for as long as it smelled like her. He could see the freckles scattered across her nose, the scar that she’d gotten over her left eye when she was a child, and the silly little beauty mark under her right eye that she always hated. Her lips curved upwards as she approached. He fell forward, hands gripping at the dirt before him as he tried to swallow the emotion balled in his throat.
“Laura?” he managed to croak, tears leaking from each eye.
Laura smiled. “Hi.” She offered a hand to him and pulled him to his feet.
Harrison reached out for her, sighing as he felt her warm skin beneath his fingertips as he steadied his balance. How he had longed for her for so many years, now! Could he be dreaming? And if this was a dream, how could he touch her? How could she look so real?
“Is this heaven?” he wondered aloud. “How is this possible?”
“Anything is possible,” she answered. He inhaled, savoring the sweet jasmine and lavender perfume she’d always worn. It was like being transported back in time — back before she’d gotten sick, back before he’d become an astronaut. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Disoriented, Harrison’s surroundings seemed to fade into nothingness, leaving Laura’s presence the only thing he could focus on.
Harrison allowed himself to embrace his wife, not caring if he was hallucinating and not caring that it might be temporary. He would stay here as long as he could, savoring every inch of her.
“Is it really you?” he asked, cradling her head to his chest. He weaved his fingers through her hair, rubbing the strands between his fingers.
“Yes,” she answered softly.
“Oh Laura,” he cried, letting his tears fall freely. They landed in her hair and he wiped them away as he tried to contain himself. “I’ve missed you so much. I’ve thought of you every single day, every single minute. My life hasn’t been the same without you. I…don’t know how to live without you. Still! I became an astronaut and that’s all I’ve been able to focus on. Because…I was consumed with you. I felt like part of me died when I lost you. My god,” he sobbed, his shoulders shaking with grief. “I’ve missed you so damn much.”
Laura was silent as she listened to him speak, but Harrison hardly cared. Laura had always been the quiet type. At social events, he’d always done most of the talking. He’d been drawn to her shyness; her innocence, for as long as she’d been alive. He couldn’t figure out how the world hadn’t managed to taint her.
“Come,” Laura instructed, breaking from his arms and holding out her hand. He took it without hesitation — he’d follow Laura to the ends of the planet, no matter which one it was. Even if that meant staying here forever. Together they walked from the clearing, continuing on Harrison’s original path toward the mountains.
Harrison focused on the feeling of Laura’s hand in his own — soft and petite, his own size dwarfing hers. For so long he’d wished he’d paid more attention to how she felt and memorized every detail of her so he could remember it after she was gone. But he hadn’t. And those memories had long since faded.
But now, he wasn’t going to take them for granted. He memorized every bump and wrinkle in her skin. The way her hips moved when she walked. The way her hair swayed — the way her brown eyes seemed to twinkle in the strange light of this new planet.
She stopped momentarily, turning to look at something and Harrison followed her gaze. To their left, an oasis of blue-green water had collected in a small wading lake surrounded by pure, untouched nature. It smelled woodsy and clean and Laura was already ankle-deep by the time he paused and looked down at his uniform.
“Yes,” Laura said adamantly. “This world won’t hurt you. You don’t need your fancy suit.”
And so Harrison shed his clothes too in a way he never had before. Adrenaline and lust fueled him as he kicked the bulky suit to the side and joined his late wife in the water. He let his fingers run up her arms, to her shoulders, before he leaned down and kissed her.
Stars exploded behind his eyes as his lips roamed hers like a familiar puzzle he hadn’t touched in some time. He inhaled her, allowing his tongue to explore her mouth as he tasted every inch of her. Flooded with desire, he felt the familiar sensation of pleasure build and knew before long knew he was already poking Laura’s belly. But if she noticed, she clearly didn’t mind, as she kissed him back without missing a beat.
Harrison explored the rest of her, hands fumbling over her breasts, squeezing her nipples, her ass, and hips, the parts of her he’d missed most, like a teenage boy unable to contain himself in the newness of exploration.
Laura’s hands found his shoulders and forced him down to the water, a little painfully, though Harrison shook it off. He lay in the water — a perfect, bath-water temperature — allowing it to wash over his body. Laura stood over him, raising her leg over his body so that she straddled him. She hovered there for a moment, keeping her eyes on him as she lowered herself closer and closer to his body.
The anticipation was agony. He felt her heat and he groaned, eager for her and consumed with emotion. And she delivered as she sunk down on his length, enveloping him in her warmth — a sensation he had never been able to recreate. He sat up with a moan as she began to ride him, but not before slowly bringing her hands to his neck.
“Laura,” he managed to whisper, as her grip tightened.
He relished in the sensation — Laura had always wanted to explore a little in the bedroom — but before long, it became uncomfortable. He tried to swallow, but the pressure only increased and suddenly there was nothing else he could feel but her fingernails pressing into his airway.
He tried to speak her name, to shout, to make her realize she was hurting him. But by then it was already too late. The thing that had become Laura tugged, tearing Harrison’s head clean from his body in one effortless movement.
The scene faded and the alien got up, brushing herself off in exasperation as she clutched the human’s head tight in her grasp. She looked back at the body, slowly bleeding out. The oasis they had walked into flickered and transformed — they’d been standing ankle-deep in a collection basin, where the rest of Harrison’s blood would go.
Scattered around the sides were other long, green aliens, their heads a small triangles with bulging eyes. The praying mantis’ each had their own human — the entirety of Harrison’s crew. They would take apart the rest of the bodies and squeeze the lungs, hearts, brains, and kidneys for the water their planet needed to survive. Harvesting humans was the easiest endeavor of them all — the hallucinations took hold the minute they landed on their planet by showing them the very thing they wanted the most.
3. It Rains Diamonds
Beast of Burden by The Rolling Stones blared over the spaceship’s radio. Archie, as usual, was singing at the top of his lungs, motioning for Galyna to dance with him as he floated in the common pit. She rolled her eyes, but accepted his hand. He winked at Brody as he drew her into his arms and Brody shook his head in amusement. What the prince wanted, the prince usually got, but the Ukrainian president’s daughter had resisted his charms longer than most.
The pair of reporters were already buckled in, though the ship wouldn’t start its descent for another thirty minutes. Today was a big day—the first time the press was allowed to set foot on planet Canakkale, and the first time the world would get a glimpse of the ARKS project. It stood for Advancing Research Knowledge in Science, though Brody found Archie’s colorful substitution—Asshole Rich Kids in Space—a bit more apt. Though Brody’s father and his partners had funded the project, Archie, Brody and Galyna had been chosen to be the face of it. Brody’s dad had joked they would be prettier on the television screen than some old fat rich guys.
When the Hadron Collider CERN had relaunched in 2022, it had opened up a section of the universe never seen before. Brody’s father’s team had discovered Canakkale, the blue planet, before Brody and Galyna were even born and had been engaged in legal battles with world governments ever since. Finally, a week before Brody’s twentieth birthday, his father had won exclusive rights to tourism (unless the Canakkalens wished to grant them to others) and partial rights to trade. This first trip was made much faster than the governments had anticipated, because Brody’s father had been secretly meeting with the Canakkalen king and his cabinet for years. Brody and the others had taken etiquette and Canakkalen language classes for the last eight months and had met King Menkol, whom Brody found likable enough, despite his foreboding appearance.
The King was personally there to greet them when they stepped off the ship. Archie, of course, was the first to bound down the ramp. Though his father had left the British royal family for America years ago, Archie was still versed in etiquette and protocol. He bowed and said, “Your majesty,” before shaking King Menkol’s appendage while the reporters snapped away.
The Canakkalens averaged around seven feet tall and their skin was a violent, almost metallic red, though it was soft to the touch. Their limbs were elongated, muscular, ending in three-fingered hands. By far, their most distinctive features were their glowing blue eyes set in a smooth, elongated cranium. They were predominately mouth breathers, with slits for nostrils and blocky, squared off teeth.
The planet itself was breathtaking. Rich, red dirt, glittery blue lakes and skies, lush black trees. Ever since he was a boy, Brody had shared his father’s obsession with space and he couldn’t wait to explore.
After all the pleasantries and photo ops were complete, they boarded a large, oval open air vehicle and the King’s assistant pointed out various landmarks in broken English. Canakkalens lined the streets to greet them, throwing up their hands and making a weird grunting noise as they passed. They smiled and waved back, though once Archie threw back his head and grunted, earning a roar from the crowd and a smile from the king.
As they approached the palace, Brody caught a glimpse of silver moving in between the blue bodies. A startlingly human-like child with silver skin and big green eyes smiled up at him for an instant before a Canakkalen snatched it away. Brody asked the King’s assistant about it.
“Lakedaímōn,” he said. “They are …” He looked up, searching for a word. Then he waved his hand dismissively. “Inconsequential.”
Brody looked to see if Archie or Galyna heard, but they were laughing at something the King was saying. He made a note to ask the King about it later, because they had arrived at the palace.
Lost in this strange, lavish new world, Brody didn’t think of the Lakedaímōn child again until they were seated in the large banquet hall. The humans had to eat pre-packaged food from home, because scientists were unsure if their diets were compatible with the Canakkalens, but it was presented on sparkling silver platters, and the servers were all Lakedaímōn.
The humans looked at each other, because in the over twenty years of dealing with the Canakkalens, there had been no mention of another species. One of the reporters opened her mouth but was silenced by a glare from one of the pilots. They were here only to document, and were not supposed to speak unless spoken to. Instructions had been very clear about that.
The Lakedaímōns appeared to all be female, and they were stunning. Pale green eyes set against silvery skin with flowing, deep purple hair. They set the platters in front of the humans, then stepped back, as if awaiting further instruction.
“Who are they?”Brody asked. “We were not told of them.”
The King’s translator whispered in his ear and he wiped his mouth. “They are of no importance. Servants. Ten of them taken from a conquered planet.”
The translator beamed at the King. “Our Majesty was gracious enough to allow them to live and serve here in the palace.”
Brody felt sick, and knew from the faces of the others they felt the same. Prisoners of war? Slaves?
He was trying to talk himself down, reasoning that it might not be what it sounded like, but then the King said, “I took their queen as one of my wives.” Waving his hand, he continued, “She was disobedient yesterday, so she was not allowed to eat today.”
“That’s not—” Galyna blurted, but Archie silenced her by nudging her knee.
Brody understood what Archie was thinking. He really did. Here they were foreign and vastly outnumbered. This would be a matter for his father and his council. But when Brody saw one of the Lakedaímōns grimace and drop her head, he knew he had to try.
“Perhaps we might make an exception today?” Brody asked. “I’m sure the people at home would love some pictures of you and your beautiful bride.”
One thing Brody had observed about King Menkol—he was incredibly vain. He seemed fascinated by the media and the magazines they’d gifted him with his face on the cover. Brody’s ploy worked. The King whispered to one of the Lakedaímōns and she hurried to fetch her queen.
The Queen appeared at the top of the stairwell a few minutes later, defiance flashing in her peridot eyes, dressed in a shimmering purple gown. Her lady whispered something to her and the Queen turned her gaze to Brody. She gave him a slight nod. Brody had never seen anything lovelier in his life.
Dimly, he heard chairs scrape as everyone rose and he hurried to stand, too, as she descended the staircase. Brody gave a low bow as she approached. She rewarded him with a small smile and offered her hand. When he touched it, he was assaulted by a barrage of images behind his eyes—strange images, glimpses of his past. Then she released him.
During the meal, Brody had to make a concentrated effort not to stare at her, yet every time he glanced up, he found her bold eyes upon him. She never spoke. Brody assumed it was because she didn’t know the language, but it might have been by the King’s order as well. All he knew was that, every time he met her gaze, he felt something pass between them. Something wild and electric. Archie must have sensed it, because he talked even more than usual, engaging the King in conversation about his favorite subject—himself.
After dinner, Brody made up an excuse to return to the ship and Archie went with him. They tried to radio Brody’s father and got the head of ARKS security council instead. When they told him about the Lakedaímōns, he immediately said, “Don’t antagonize the Canakklens . Their culture is different and we have no right to interfere. Alien rights aren’t the same as human rights. You said there were, what, ten of them? We can’t risk this whole operation over ten beings. Your father has invested over two decades of his life in this project. We can’t risk it all by offending King Menkol and asking him to give up his servants.”
“Slaves,” Brody corrected. “Call them what they are. He wasn’t going to even let her eat today.”
“I will talk to the others,” he said. “But don’t get your hopes up and do as I say.”
The Queen had retired to her room by the time they returned to the palace, as had Galyna and the others. Pleading exhaustion, Brody and Archie asked to be shown to their rooms as well.
“Be cool, man,” Archie whispered. “We’ll figure this thing out, even if it’s not on this trip.”
Brody’s bed was comfortable, made of some soft, cool gel, but sleep eluded him. He glanced out the window at the midnight blue sky and decided to get some air. He walked out onto the balcony.
“Sometimes it rains diamonds here,” a soft, melodic voice said.
Startled, he glanced over at the next balcony, and was surprised to see the Lakedaímōn Queen watching him.
“You speak English?” he asked, and she laughed.
“We are not the useless dogs Menkol thinks we are. When I touched you, I learned you. Your language, your thoughts. We can do that, though none of the Canakkalens know.” She smiled, and her beautiful face sparkled with moonlight. “Brody. I like that name.”
“What is yours?” he asked.
“What do you mean, it rains diamonds?” he asked, as a gentle wind blew her hair around her face.
“You can’t walk in it. They hurt when they fall. Plus, the methane takes the oxygen and makes it hard to breathe so we stay inside. But it is something to see.”
He thought she was something to see, but he couldn’t say that. Instead, he chuckled and said, “Oh, boy. Wait until my father and the council hear about that.”
But the thought made him queasy. Once the council knew something like that, Nehle’s life would mean even less to them.
Maybe she could still read his mind, because she asked, “Why do you care what happens to me? What is a lowly slave to someone like you?”
“It’s not right to own another being. In no universe is that right.”
She nodded and gave him a sad smile. “You have a good heart, Brody. I wish I could’ve known you longer.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“The King is going to kill us when you leave. He’s excited about this new arrangement with your people. He sensed your displeasure and doesn’t want to jeopardize it. I’m sure he will make up some excuse as to what happened to us, and your people will believe it, because to challenge it is profitable to no one.”
Brody knew her logic was right. He just didn’t know how he was supposed to accept it.
“Are you okay?” Archie asked, as they prepared to lift off. “We will figure something out, I promise. And if they don’t like it, then—what is it? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I can explain,” Brody said.
A siren pierced the air. Then another. A cacophony of sirens.
“Hurry!” Brody yelled at the pilots.
“What have you done?” Galyna asked, her eyes wide as they lifted off.
“He was going to kill them, as soon as we left. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“Brody,” Archie said slowly. “What. Have. You. Done?”
As soon as they could unbuckle, he showed them. He opened the door to the baggage hold and the ten Lakedaímōns crawled out. Nehle came last, hurling herself in his arms. Brody kissed her, then said, “Guys, this is Nehle.”
“Nehle,” Archie repeated with a bemused expression. “How fitting.”
“What do you mean?” Galyna said.
“It’s an anagram for Helen.”
“Helen?” Brody asked.
“Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. Nehle’s face may launch a thousand spaceships.”
He clapped Brody on the shoulder and chuckled, “Congratulations, Chap. You may have just started the first interstellar war. The council is going to love this.”
4. Our Chosen Masks
The woman looked vaguely impatient, foot tapping, hand cool in her husband’s grip. She was neat, yet comfortable. Unwrinkled sweatpants and fitted tee, a contrast to his rough and ruddy looks. She monitored everything with crisp blue eyes while his gaze leapt and danced. He studied the masses and marveled at the wedding ring adorning his fleshy finger. Mostly he looked through the glass doors, past the crowd to the outside.
“Look at them looking at us. I can taste their jealousy.” Her lips brushed his ear, tone a low bumblebee rumble.
He grunted, peering beyond their sealed room. He recalled his own nervousness and hated their hungry glances. Her hand snaked free of his.
“Rob, don’t be nervous.”
“It’s not that, Monica. I wonder sometimes. Maybe…” He said.
Her face crumpled.
A whine from a too-loud microphone cut the air. All eyes bounced to the stage towards a pair of painted lips perched above a strict business suit.
“Ahem,” said the mouth. “Congratulations to you all. Each one of you represents the future. Without you and those who came before our expansion would never be possible. You’re an elite group, fewer than two percent are chosen. Everyone wave those outside waiting for testing, you give them hope.”
The speaker waited while the watchers waved beyond the glass.
“There you go. I see you’re all holding together nicely. I trust you’ve read the pamphlets? Everyone understands travel? Space is vast, but we are near. Good.. is that a hand?”
The mouth bobbed up and down, absorbing a question.
“Not a coma, but close. You’ll be suspended, so to speak. Our attendants and machines will keep you alive and healthy. It’s perfectly safe.” The figure continued, “I understand we have a newly married couple? Outstanding dedication, you can learn something from them.”
Rob shuffled his feet. Instinctively he knew Monica beamed beside him, she had become a master of expression. Outside the room, he watched an applicant lose control, body dissipating, swirling before coalescing once again.
The speaker resumed. “You should all begin receiving your assignments. We used to give them out ahead of time, but security concerns changed that. No worries, your data files are complete. I have no doubt you’ll do great.”
Across the room, attendees jerked, listened to an unseen voice. A niggle of uncertainty chewed at Rob. A small pulse jolted him. His eyes snapped shut and images fluttered, relayed instructions and memories. A smile crept over his face. He wondered if his unpredictable human flesh coloured with excitement.
The messages changed, a swirl of red from a different sender. His eyes popped open.
“Human speech, Monica. We need the practice.” He said.
“Yes, dear. Seems I’m your mistress… er girlfriend, not a wife, but our role is one of the biggest. I was so worried it would be a bit-part.”
“We will change everything.” he replied. She frowned at his bottomless tone.
A small girl-shape dotted with eruptions of acne waved her hand in the air.
“Yes?” said the speaker, causing another cacophony of squeaks from the microphone.
The girl-shape raised to its toes and shouted.
“I don’t understand my part. So this Greta, she’s trying to make less pollution? But that’s bad for us. Sounds like revolutionary propaganda slipped in the system. How are we going to live there if we can’t breathe?”
The speaker chuckled, a hint of white teeth flashing beneath red lips. “It seems that way, does it? Our number one tool is dissension. The more the humans fight, the more selfish they become. The more selfish they become, not only are they less likely to notice us, but the more they raise carbon. By the time we reach their galaxy, their planet will be perfect. You contribute to chaos, you will encourage consumption and waste, and you are to ensure we spread the 5g network we rely on.”
“I don’t understand why we can’t we just kill them and raise carbon levels ourselves without this rigmarole.” the girl interrupted.
The figure on the stage paused, nodded.
“It seems we made a mistake.”
Glass doors slid open. Twin clouds of grayish vapor hovered in and descended upon the dissenter. Bodies and eyes shied away.
The speaker swirled into an angry mist. Over the struggle the voice boomed, “Those with revolutionary ideas will be removed. We don’t kill them, because they are building the atmosphere before our ships arrive. They will exterminate themselves while doing our work for us. Any acts to hurry their demise and any acts of pity will not be tolerated. Understood?”
Silence, loud and unnerving, answered.
The red lips reappeared first, then a hand smoothing blonde flyaways.
“I apologize for losing control. We’re overtime, group 406 is already awakening and we must be there to take their place, all except Greta, I guess.” The head shook. “Everyone line-up. We go through the red doors. Okay group 407, we are off to build the future. This way and remember, when you hit earth, stay within the 5g network. We hate having to kill humans because one of you lost connection and shutdown.”
The crowd filed forward. When the doors closed, the room was empty.
There was light.
He blinked, watched his fingers unfold, gray unlike the fleshy pink he remembered. This body was older. He simulated breathing, a measured movement that carried calm without nourishment. Messages and confirmations would come soon, both official and secret.
The office was small, furnished with a polished wood and lush wall paper. He ran a pale finger pad along of the edge of the desk, lifted a pen and turned it glinting in the sun. Amazing, he thought. His essence still galaxies away, but his mind here as a ball of energy. A hologram with the capability of touch. He stroked the black box resting on the desk, admired its sleek lines. An ancient terminal, the type group 1 must have infected in the early days. He had more in common with this collection of wires and tubes than the human he acted. How, he puzzled, had pioneers controlled events from these stationary prisons, built bots capable of passing unnoticed?
An alarm dinged in his ear. The pressure of a slender hand resting on his arm lighting a thousand sensors. He followed the pale line to a dark-eyed face, Monica, but here she was called Luciana, just as he was Pieter.
A scarlet haze blurred vision. Both bodies stiffened.
The voice of the red lips, loud in their ears, continued. “We are… breaking up… Only you two. Are you receiving?”
The fingers on his arm tightened. Her inflection was harsher here, cigarette and vodka scuffed vocal chords shared across space.
“You’re breaking up, but we’re functioning. I see our assignments, and I’m eager to begin.”
“Mind the maps…– shutdown. Ugh, try later.” Words popped and spat like water on a grill.
The communication halted, haze lifting.
Luciana recovered first, ran her hands over her curves. She snapped a wolfish grin at her partner.
“Peiter. I think I liked Rob’s body better.” She chuckled. “I can feel all the memories, the work of past groups. Outside that door is a secretary, and to the left is a washroom. Oh, this is great. I am going to leak documents and blame you.” She said.
He studied her, wondered if she suspected. Love was a human emotion, but one he craved. Could she feel it? If he told her, would she help? Could she come to care for these inferior creatures as he did?
The haze returned, only this time just he jolted.
“Your blocked from normal channels. Can you hear me?” A fresh voice, like loose gravel.
“I’m here, and she doesn’t appear to hear you.” Peiter responded.
“Excellent. We are going to have to move faster than planned. Headquarters knows the interference isn’t natural, they’re searching. I have uploaded the files to your bot. They should convince the US president, and if he’s convinced, we win. We will end her now to avert suspicion, afterwards you must act. I’m afraid we can’t save you, but your ending is one of valor.”
The words Pieter projected beyond the stars carried a dread no tongue could touch.
“Do you have to end her? Perhaps she could join us? She’s smart, and I’m sure she’ll see our way.”
His vision cleared. He swore softly at the fleeting transmission.
Luciana halted her inspection of the room. A hair swept across her face and she batted it away. Pieter smiled, but his mirth faded fast.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. We got this. Besides, we can find others if we need to. I think we can even send a message on these relics if we had to.” She said, patting the PC.
“I’m sorry,” Pieter mumbled.
Her brow crinkled. Confusion loud on her face and in the mind messages that made their true language.
“We learned so much about this race and they deserve freedom. Do you understand?” He said.
Her eyes slid shut, and he knew she was seeking behind the moon and beyond the asteroids to home. He regretted the words that must pound through her thoughts, traitor. He reached for her seconds too late. She slumped, a marionette with cut strings. She fell to the floor. He could waste no time on sadness.
Striding across the room, he jerked the office door open. He scowled into the outer office, fixed his gaze on a tiny woman with heavy hair who stared at him from behind her monitor.
“I need a video call to President Bradon immediately.” His voice pitched to thunder, shook his own countenance.
The receptionist raised an eyebrow, “Yes sir, I will setup a call. Tomorrow morning should…”
“Now, or you’ll be in the hands of GRU before the day is out. Send my council.” Threats came easily, supplied by the memories filling this bot’s database.
He slammed the door shut, shaking books on their shelves. Despite his corpulent body, Peiter moved with agility, skirted the shell on the floor. Already he was mentally accessing files. He plopped down before the computer, fingers like fire pattering across the keyboard. The phone on his desk trilled, and he mashed the hands-free button.
“I have set-up the call. Login and join the usual room,” the secretary bleated through the speaker.
Moments later, a gray-haired man with a drawling voice stared out of the screen. “President Golubev, this is highly unusual. We have told you both privately and officially we will not deal until you remove troops back to your borders.”
“Troops don’t matter when your future is at risk. I’m sending a file, no don’t read it now. It explains who, no, what I am and what you need to do. Do you have EMP bombs? Don’t answer. This is no trick, man. My council is coming and I will give orders to drop the electromagnetic bombs on my country, as well as our nearest neighbours. None of your humans will die, but you will see some become lifeless. Autopsy them. You’ll find no flesh, nor blood. Start here with my mistress, if you can.”
He knew he spoke too fast. The file would have to explain. “My people cannot live without your machines. Without your internet, we cannot touch your planet.” Peiter stopped, a knock interrupting his rant. “My council is here. President Bradon, act quick. Call your United nations before it’s too late.”
He barked a command, rubbing a hand across his balding pate. The chat muted, he turned to face a line of stern-faced men arranged before his desk.
The men trembled and shook as they left. Heads down, for the orders made no sense. He watched them depart, knowing his role as dictator was well chosen for otherwise his words could never work. He just hoped the American president would heed his warning. He basked in bittersweet knowledge. The machine that housed him produced glints of water that ran down his cheeks. Outwards he projected, to his comrades at home awaiting words of triumph or failure.
“We have won, the humans will live.”
The room blinked, faded. Pieter frowned. It was too soon for the EMPs to fall. Gripped by great pain, darkness ushered in.
There was coldness.
The man, once known as Rob but also Pieter, awoke without human form. He was mist, vibrating and twirling, surprised to still live. Nearby, a smaller vapor swirled, a familiar shape. The fog formed the shapely curves of Luciana before settling on the neatness of Monica.
“You are alive,” he said. His cloud shook, strove for sense.
“Yes, but you won’t be, for long. I just wanted to thank you. That final sending. So sure you won, you gave them to us. All of them.” She spoke aloud, her face twisting humorously.
“But,” he stammered. His mind probed for his brothers, sought his partners in battle.
“Gone, all of them. Traces are mere child’s play, as you know. We knew you sympathized, I could see it on your face. It was the perfect setup, and you toddled right in. Earth will be our new base and the humans you love? Dead or enslaved. Your precious file? Fodder for conspiracy groups. The louder they yell, the more they fight. The internet buzzes with disputes and we will take of advantage of it.”
She laughed, a grating sound.
“Demolecularize him,” she said, her tone and glance offhanded.
Two clouds of gray descended upon him. Shards of agony ripped him apart. His mist separated, atoms stretching, tearing from his core. Her voice the soundtrack to his end.
“Perhaps some piece of you will float to earth and witness our triumph.”
Millions of miles away, a rumor murmured. Technology was dangerous and climate change must stop. The people, however, would heed no word. They planted their heels instead of trees, while onwards doom approached.
5. It’s Universal
The sheep farmer’s substantial hands and fingers wrapped around the sheep farm boss’s daughter’s mild middle body section. Her randy yelp informed him she was ready to be husbanded. The two eyes of hers and two eyes of his looked at each other, their internal pulses elevating at a rate of two.
Co’tuk rattled his spines and made a long swipe with a tentacle across the delete key, undoing the only progress he’d made all morning. Though the hologram keyboard projected to accommodate his 9-foot form standing, he questioned if he should reposition it again for better writing flow. Maybe in a tight ball of tentacles and spines, he could feel safe to just get more words on the screen?
His six eyes unfocused from the screen as he heard his assistant enter the twin office room. Though separated by a thick transparent material and very different atmospheres, the illusion that they occupied one space was achieved. Co’tuk stooped down, bringing his massive head to eye-level with the woman, though the audio from her side was crystal clear regardless of distance.
“How’s today’s word count going, Co’tuk?” She set her coffee mug and laptop down on her desk.
“This one’s writing flow is… full of interruptions. Self-imposed. The word count remains unimproved from the last cycle.” In a small flurry of tentacled steps, Co’tuk followed her across the room to squat by her desk as she sat.
“Well, that’s unfortunate to hear. The publisher wants an update before next week.”
“It is this one’s displeasure to report my slow progression, Ms. Jennifer.”
“Also, Co’tuk, we’ve talked about this. You don’t need to stop what you’re doing when I come in in the morning. Is there something you need from me, or,” Standing abruptly to her full height at 6’2″, Ms. Jennifer looked down at the crouching alien across from her for a brief moment, “Are you just delaying writing?”
Shaking his spines, Co’tuk straightened his tentacles to his standing position once more. Though the automatic translator did not communicate Centopodian body language, Ms. Jennifer could tell by the raised spines at the base of his head that the alien was embarrassed. She watched as he sulked back to his hologram workstation and picked up what was essentially a fidget cube the size of a mini fridge. His tentacles absently rolled the cube around as he stared into his screen.
Taking a moment, she marveled at the being across the way from her, An extra-terrestrial in the flesh, now almost as mundane as any other coworker around the station. Sure, they couldn’t occupy the same environments, and their basic physiology was toxic to one another, but humankind had finally made contact with another intelligent life form.
So much had been achieved in the last decade, and all without bloodshed, but progress had still been painful and slow. And yet, here they were, a Centopodian and a Terran, sitting together in a costly writing suite, trying to coach the next best seller out of the galaxy’s current top author.
This was hardly what Ms. Jennifer had envisioned when she first got into publishing. She idly checked the schedule and the approaching publisher check-in. Helping an alien write about humans for other aliens was… an inherently unique challenge.
Both civilizations had, of course, had stories that covered the genre of science fiction. Authors had dreamed up other lifeforms as far back as history was recorded. And after first contact was made, scientists had written painstakingly detailed essays about these very real extraterrestrials. But those documents had been dry and so academic as to be possible to read by the public.
What a tease it had been! Life on other planets found, but between the distance and the physical differences, very few individuals could actually step foot on their new galactic neighbor’s homeworld. Dual space stations like this had become the best option for collaborations between the two space-faring races.
“Co’tuk? I see a few deletions in the writing log. Talk to me about what’s not working.” Breaking the silence, this time, Ms. Jennifer wandered over to the alien’s workstation.
In a physical expression that was all too similar to its human counterpart, Co’tuk rubbed several tentacles over his face and eyes. “This one is struggling with the human intimacy moment.”
“Mmhmm, the sheep farmer, Bob, and Mary, the boss’s daughter. You’ve been slowly building their relationship up for 18 chapters now. ”
“This is correct. They have been courting long enough.”
“I’m seeing a lot of details written out about their embrace, but you keep starting the scene over. In the past books, you usually just fade out when things get intimate.” Checking through the deletion logs, she noted several scrubbed versions with varying explicit details. “So why the change?”
The mass of tentacles that supported Co’tuk’s head curled and swirled together tightly. The image of a human crossing their arms came to Ms. Jennifer’s mind as she waited for the author’s response.
“This one… was made aware of… a review.” The large mandibles finally got out in a strained voice.
“You know you should never read the comments.”
“Agreed statement. But this was not one of my planet’s reviews.” the tentacles shifted as he lowered his form. “It was a Terran’s review.”
“Oh.” Was all Ms. Jennifer said as her mind expanded upon that.
It had taken years for the two species to understand each other fully. Decades of research and advancement had made space stations like this even possible. It was easy to take for granted the instant translation that allowed them to converse and share ideas freely.
The first views of an alien world had been televised for all the Earth to see. In those first few years, the human scientific community was abuzz with papers pouring over every detail of the alien world. Likewise, the Centopodian science world tried to document as much of Earth as possible for their population. But the early explorations had read more like reports or dry nature documentaries. What would most catch the public’s attention was the fiction dreamed up by each species’ own writers. Even a decade later, it was still very novel to read about life on another planet. It turned out that a little plot went a long way in making it more accessible and engaging.
So Terran authors wrote novels about Centopodian lives and vice versa. Ms. Jennifer had tried reading authentic Centopodian books translated for humans, but it was like viewing a painting through a telescope. You got the gist of it, but the brush strokes were lost on you. So authors such as Co’tuk began to gain traction.
He hadn’t even been a published author before this. Working as a janitor on a space station, he’d gotten to know and interact with humans in a very different way than his more scientifically or politically minded representatives onboard. In Ms. Jenifer’s opinion, Co’tuk’s understanding of human behaviors was well ahead of most of his kind.
“Co’tuk, you know some people make a sport of criticizing works of art they could never make themselves.” She tried to offer comfort to the giant lifeform through the barrier. “It’s not personal. It’s just words.”
“This one was compared to Po’luk’Ree.” There was a slight grumble to the fellow author’s name as it left his mouth.
“That smut peddler?”
“That is who this one refers.”
“You are on such another level from that guy’s writing! Believe me. I’ve tried to read his stuff. His human anatomy is all over the place!” Mimicking a Centopodian expression, Ms. Jennifer flapped her arms with her last point.
“This review had highlighted that this one shies away from human intimacy while the other one goes into greater details of the scene.” his tentacles uncurled and grasped at the air around him, “This scene, this one had thought it might work to… explore the details. The human in the video found this one’s details… lacking.”
“Hmm, well, it sounds like you’ve been trying to take their critiques and try something new. But so far, you aren’t happy with anything you’ve written?”
The six eyes stared at the screen momentarily before closing in sequence, “No.”
“Would you like me to pull up some reference material for human coupling? There are some farm scenes in the data library that would be fitting. Is that where you’re getting stuck with the scene?”
“This one… doesn’t think that will help.”
Again, his tentacles rubbed over his closed eyes. Ms. Jennifer knew the Centopodians ran on less than 5 hours of sleep at a time, but she wondered if he’d been getting even 2 hours of sleep by the look of his face. The room was quiet save for the light hum of the station that was always in the background.
“Do you want to know why I took the job as your assistant?” She said after a short while.
One after another, the large eyes opened to look at her again. “This one would like that.”
“When Galaxy’s Edge Publishing reached out to me, they were looking at picking up an author from your species from a few candidates. I read works by all four to give my thoughts on which they should go with.”
“This one had not known there had been three others in the application process.” The towering being gently lowered himself to face her at eye level. “You read this one’s earlier works?”
“I did. Your writing was still rough, probably the least polished of the group. But,” She watched as Co’tuk’s spines quivered slightly. “you captured the heart of Terran life the best. It wasn’t about the physical descriptions, but the thoughts behind the interactions.”
The alien’s head nodded in what Ms. Jennifer knew was a human expression of an agreement he’d picked up while working here.
“And that’s what I liked about it. Your work. You. And it’s what your audience picked up on and enjoyed most too. There are other Centopod authors out there, but there’s a reason your books are rising up the charts with every release. The more, um, explicit scenes are not what people are interested in. Human or Centopodian.”
She went on, “So it sounds to me like this review has you focused on a part of your writing that isn’t what matters in your work. Trying to copy something that’s not your style.”
She watched as Co’tuk’s eyes shifted to a lighter hue, and he stood back up to his full height.
“Thank you, Ms. Jennifer.” He repositioned the hologram keyboard as he crouched onto a long seat. “Please, tell the publisher this one can be ready by next meeting.”
“I’ll be sure to update them on your progress.” She replied as she watched the document page start filling up with new writing, Co’tuk’s tentacles working furiously across the glowing keyboard.
Sitting back at her desk, Ms. Jennifer smiled to herself as she thought about the exchange. Centopod authors did word things in odd ways in their books as well as in their speech. But the stories Co’tuk wrote really did capture the way humans thought and felt. The spirit of things was always right. And if it helped two very alien species feel more like they could relate to each other, that was pretty important, in her opinion.
It wasn’t the scientific papers that made it possible for these vastly different species to relate to each other as sentient life forms. Neither was it the erotica that bent the laws of physics and body anatomy that helped billions connect with life as they lived on distant planets. It was the humble slice-of-life stories, with a decent amount of romance and suspense mixed in, that allowed the coldness of space to be bridged.
Ms. Jennifer went ahead and ordered meals for both of them to be delivered in a bit. As much as she was happy to see Co’tuk making progress again, it would be short-lived if he didn’t nourish himself. With another tap of the screen, she added an energized drink for the author before submitting the order. There was still plenty of work to do before this chapter was ready for their next meeting.