Dream Diary: Of Angels and Aliens

I dream I am in an intergalactic battlefield in a  far outpost of space, Samael the leading commander of a legion of demon aliens.  I’m a spy, with a laser gun and sleek gray uniform, and I show no mercy.  My friend is a star-crossed lover with a reptilian alien who is a thinly veiled Lilith, and her skin is poisonous to the touch.  She has long silky black hair, green scales, and is part serpent, with yellow slit eyes.  She is a leading general and their affair is across enemy lines, he the mad scientist that is trying to bridge the gap between man and beast through proteomics.  Zinc oxide forms on a potion he gives me, and the yellow crystals scratch my throat as I drink it, poisoning me only to acclimate my genes to space.  The high is crazy, and as my very proteins and genes shift, I feel the rush of interstellar travel slow to a halt.

Battle comes, and the scientist is dead.  Lilith weeps, and I go to her distraught side, reaching out to comfort her only to have my hands sizzle.  She puts on special gloves so that we can hold hands, watching nuclear bombs decimate a Martian planet, then slips me medicine that will make me able to touch the poison that drips from her skin.

We talk amongst the slain.  We wander.  Soon, we are in love, my assassin girl and I the scout, writing letters, only for her to leap into the range of attack before me and die in my arms, a final kiss our seal.

I wake in the astral in Samael’s room and tell him of my strange dream.  He is reading a paperback mystery.  I ask who the demon was.  He pulls out an old dusty photo album with a picture of serpentine Lilith and I holding hands on a sunset veranda, drinking wine, in days when bitterness did not run between us and I was angel, not human.  I startle at how whole Lilith looks, madness wiped from her face.  We are friends in the picture, and it aligns with recent divination on her I received.  She is my surrogate mother in a way, as Samael’s twin, a friend above all else, and memories of our times together in Heaven flood my mind.  I reel at the sudden influx of sensations – of her soft hands, of silky hair, and I wonder if the slaughter of her children drove her mad, or perhaps eons in Hell, or if she always had seeds of insanity to begin with.

Later that night I am with Michael.  We are in the astral in a breathtaking mix of Greece and London, endless coastline and sparkling blue seas crowned with villas, impeccable statues from Classical mythology, all woven into gardens, with a grand bridge that leads to nowhere.  We fly above through cirrus, and he tells me it is the end of the world.  We get lunch at a French restaurant, just light fare, and my onion soup is perfect.  Tired from our flight and the beauties that persist in the otherworld despite time, I ask who carved the statues.  He hints at Michelangelo, but I don’t press, as mortal’s lives in the afterlife are often quite private.

Michael goes inside to order more wine and I pull out his phone.  For some reason angels and demons are always a few years behind in technology, or perhaps they just like flip phones and clunky computers.  His cell phone has the angelic version of Facebook on it, and I laugh at the thought that angels have a social media network.  Curious, I pull up my profile, then find the phone has settings that let you see into the future.  I go to the year 2020, hesitant, as Michael comes back out, and the page loads:

“Am I happy in the future?” I ask, cautious.

Michael smiles like sunlight on birchwood.  “Extremely so.”

I load a photo of an older me, with longer blonde hair, a bit slimmer as I have shed winter weight.  It is the height of summer, and I am sitting on the porch with my father, who is ecstatic.  I am laughing like a burbling brook, in a flowing blue top and black skirt.

“What’s happening here?” I ask.

Michael eyes the photo, swiping to see the album.  “You just told your father you’re getting married.”

My eyes light.  “To who?”

Michael laughs, taking back his phone.  “I can’t tell you everything, can I?  That at least should be a surprise.  You always snoop around on my laptop or phone while I’m away.  Curiosity will be your downfall, but it is still a virtue, and it will also save you.”

I blush.  “Sorry, I can’t help it, angelic tech is so weird.  I can’t help but wonder how it works, how you can… see into the future.”

Michael looks down at the tides, which have skipping manta rays and coral sands.  “When you remember the future and realize everything is a cycle, that there is no time, then you’ll understand.”

We finish our wine and go walking along the shoreline.  The sun sets.  Gulls cry.  Nymphs and winged Victory cap the moon.

I awake to my alarm, feeling his lips on mine.

Space Oddity – Chapter 6

Chapter 5 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 1

The hall beyond was a mess of flame and smoke.  My skin tingled as if mint had been slathered on it, but the fire had no other effect.  The centipede’s blood seemed to have fortified me against it.  Anunnaki corpses littered the ground alongside centipede’s mangled bodies.  Panic rose in my chest, but I beat it back with calm resolve, thinking back to the high school scrapes I’d gotten into.  Back then, having a clear head had been the most important thing about winning – that, and fighting dirty.  The flesh traders’ weaknesses were their eyes – all I had to do was puncture those to have the advantage.

I could see how the flesh traders had overtaken the ship.  Their sheer numbers, according to their carcasses, were overwhelming.  A discarded stun gun lay on the ground by a slender centipede.  I picked it up for an extra measure of defense.  I came to the heartwood hall and hid behind the entrance, listening for the presence of flesh traders.  Screeching voices came from inside:

“Where is the human?  Ajirin should have found her by now.  She’s the reason we boarded the ship.  Without her, the market value of our flesh is nothing.  We’ll be in debt to our supplier.”

One of them overturned something – a table? – in anger.

“Ajirin is unresponsive.  We should send more Brood into the photosynthesis chamber at once.  Brood stronger than Ajirin and his men.”

“Ajirin was the strongest we have.”

“Rot Father damn you, I’ll have to do this myself, won’t I?  Fine.  I will go there to capture her and the royalty.  Then we must leave.  This ship’s life support will run out soon.”

“Yes, Queen Mother.  I will prepare our craft for departure.”

The flurry of footsteps drew close.  I braced myself, clinging to the shadows of a burnt leaf.  In stepped what could best be described as the worst parts of a praying mantis and a wasp.  The creature towered over me, eight-limbed, with mighty pincers, a slender thorax, probing antennae, and a cruel stinger.  I held my breath, praying not to be noticed.  

Its antennae flicked my way, and its orb-like eyes zeroed in on me.  I cursed under my breath, trying to disappear into the wall.  No such luck.  My heart ricocheted off my chest as it gnashed its mandible.

“You’re a rare thing, aren’t you?” the commander said.  “Warm-blooded, four-limbed, with a calcareous skeleton and barely any height about you.  How exquisite.”

I backed away, holding my balled fists up in a blocking position.  The commander was at least ten feet tall, over twice my height.

The commander pushed a proboscis through its mandible and tasted my neck.  I fired my stun gun at it, but its exoskeleton simply dented.  The commander was too heavy for the impact to have any greater effect.  The commander rubbed its back legs together like a fiddle, creating a cricket sound that resembled laughter.

“You’re amusing.  Now put the gun down.  I want no harm to come to you.”

I fired another ineffective shot.

The commander easily overpowered me, wrestling me into a headlock and wrenching the stun gun from me.  She – at least the voice sounded like a she, high-pitched and feminine, but I couldn’t really tell – was careful not to bruise me.  I flailed to no avail.  The commander chirped and forced me into the heartwood hall, where a host of centipede Brood were gathered.  One was feasting on what looked like Gishkim’s corpse.  I flinched.

The centipedes shrieked at the sight of me, rattling their pincers on the floor.  A pair of them entered after us, carrying the limp bodies of Enki and Ishtar.

Before I could react, the commander lowered her stinger against my back.  She pierced me with the needle tip, and I felt something cold slide into my veins.  My vision grew hazy, my limbs weakened, and soon, everything was black.

 

Sleep-grit glued my eyes shut.  I blinked slow, prying my eyelids open.  A cold ocean sloshed inside me.  I groaned, bruises on my limbs smarting as I attempted to collect my bearings: as far as I knew, I’d been abducted by aliens from a B-horror movie, turned into the xenolinguist from Star Trek, and propositioned for kinky alien sex by my roommate.  My life was turning into something from Stranger in a Strange Land meets space pirates.  I wasn’t even scared.  Just angry.  

My vision focused, revealing a dim, metallic room where I was strapped to the wall by cold chains.  Ishtar was shackled beside me, her head wound covered by a gauzy substance that looked like spider webs.  Other sheath class Anunnaki hung beside us in the darkness of the circular room.  

I struggled to move.

“Ishtar?”

Ishtar gurgled.

“Ishtar, are you okay?”

Her single eye opened to a slit.  “Ziggi,” she murmured.  Her shoulder tentacles threaded through the air.  “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t expecting the Brood.  I only had enough venom to take out one.  And now we’re here on this godforsaken ship because of my father’s folly.  Sending us on this mission with an indefensible ship was a death wish.”  

I balled my hands into fists.  “It’s not your fault.  I couldn’t beat them either.  There was one that must have been ten feet tall.  She overpowered me in an instant.”

“Ten feet tall?”  Ishtar’s skin fluoresced.  “Must have been Ajaxas.  She’s the Queen Mother of the Brood.  Sterile and cold as a gun.  The Brood’s females die in childbirth, all except their Queens, who rule over the Brood with iron claws.”

“What a bitch”

“Ziggi?  You smell different.”

I sniffed hard, detecting nothing but my sweat and the odor of moist Anunnaki flesh.

Ishtar’s muscles rippled under her skin as she struggled against her fetters.  “Did you put Brood hemolymph into your biogauge?”

My eyes widened.  “If that was its blood, then yeah – I couldn’t interrogate the wounded one without speaking his language.”

Ishtar sighed.  “The improper dosage of hemolymph could have killed you – but I suppose you had no choice.”

I peered into the darkness of the room, not seeing my roommate.  “Where’s Enki?”

“The Brood separated us by gender to take inventory of our organs.  Those of us with the most unique physiologies – you, me, my brother, and Ratatosk – will be sold at the highest price to god knows whom or what.  Into a harem, into fighting rings, into labs – there’s no telling where we’ll go.”  

“Well, great.”

Ishtar spat venom onto the floor.  “If only I had a biomorph that was useful – I could change into something more machine than flesh.  But all I have is this form – DNA access to other species is highly restricted, and Enki had to jump through a plethora of hoops to get approved to morph into a human.  That form will be useless against the Brood.”

“So basically, we’re screwed.”

“In a word, yes.  The Brood are good at covering their tracks, and my father’s resources are already spread thin trying to suppress the axonal class.  What little military he can spare for our rescue will be few and far between.”

A cold light flared on at the center of the sloping ceiling.  A metallic buzzing like a horde of robotic bees grew as the light illuminated the room.  The room was vast, with the entire female population of the Anunnaki ship suspended from the walls.  

All except one.  At the center of the room was a shining table where a sheath class Anunnaki had been painstakingly taken apart, her strange organs pinned to a dissection board like a butterfly collector arranging his prizes.  

Silvery filaments – the mutilated Anunnaki’s neural matter – writhed like boiling spaghetti, and a single large, black eye twitched in a kind of vat.  Her severed antennae perked towards us, and her transparent skin struggled below its pins.

A scream died in my throat.

“I thought they were selling us into slavery,” I said.  “Why would they do that?”

Ishtar gave a rough laugh.  “To see how much the sheath class will fetch at market.  Most will be sold for food – we’re considered an aphrodisiac.  The outlaws of the Milky Way have translated their hatred of Anunnaki into a taste for our flesh.”

I turned my head away.

The buzzing grew louder.  

Ishtar narrowed her eye.  “Someone’s coming.”

A door on the far wall opened.  In stepped Ajaxas.  She clacked her scissor pincers together and opened her mandible, revealing that disgustingly long proboscis.  It flicked out to taste the air.

“I trust that you’re comfortable, your highness,” said Ajaxas.  “The Brood offer only the best to Anunnaki royalty.”

“Spare me your sarcasm,” Ishtar said.  “What will it take for you to free us?  Precious minerals?  More mercenaries than could fill a planet?  Ships?  Weapons?  On my honor as Abzu’s daughter, I can promise you that and more.  Keep the sheath class.  It’s my brother, me, and the girl that walk free in exchange for untold wealth.”

Ajaxas fiddled her hind legs together to produce a cricket-like sound – laughter.  “Abzu has no honor.  You expect me to believe that you or your father will keep your words, after your race ran my kind off our planet under the false pretenses?  I still remember the flames of the Burrow when I was a girl.  Your father’s fury rained down on my sweet Worm Mother’s earth.  The liberation of our prey destroyed our planet and made us refugees.”  

Ishtar bared her sharp teeth.  “You can’t blame me for my father’s misdeeds.”

Ajaxas fiddled her legs together.  “We are our parent’s failings.  Anunnaki especially so.  You’re no more protectors of the weak than you are preservers of order.  If your kind had any understanding of balance, you would have let the Brood be.  You pride yourselves on your knowledge, but the truth is Anunnaki are only good for fucking and eating.  No, I will not make a bargain with you.  Not when you will fetch such a handsome price.  I have Brood to feed.”

“You’re throwing away a ripe opportunity.  At least think on it,” Ishtar said, nictating membrane drawing halfway shut across her eye.

Ajaxas drew closer, idly stroking the Anunnaki eyeball in its vat.  “Stubborn, aren’t you?  Spoiled too.  No, I think I will sell you to the highest bidder, who, evidently, is on the ship now.  Come in, Seere.”

Ishtar shouted, struggling against her chains.

Her protests were useless.  In strode a red-skinned, towering alien, who I could only imagine as male.  Seere had horns on his sloping head, with a thick mane of black hair cascading down his back.  He was shaped like a centaur, with four legs, two arms, and a pronged tail.  A trio of eyes shone like flecks of obsidian on his brow.  His upper half was practically human, and downright demonic.  I felt like I had stumbled into a Hieronymus Bosch painting.  I half-expected Seere to be holding a pitchfork full of hot coals.  

Instead of being scared witless, a kind of cool fascination numbed my mind.  So this was my new captor.  Something off the cover of a death metal album cover.  At least he wasn’t Jabba the Hut.

Seere nodded at me, silent, and Ajaxas came to my side.  She pressed her pincers to my chains and they unlocked.  I fell to the floor, red marks on my skin where my bonds had held me.  I didn’t dare look up.

“Touch her and I’ll end you,” Ishtar hissed.

Ajaxas fiddled her hind legs, laughing.  She guided me to my feet.  I rose, my eyes downcast.  Ajaxas twirled me around as if I were a jewel on an auction block.

“You can smell the Anunnaki prince’s imprint on her.  She is his intended mate,” Ajaxas said.  “Look at her exquisite limbs, appreciate her delicate physiology.  This girl is a human at her physical peak.  You will find no other like her for light years.”

Seere ran a hand through his mane and stepped closer, his hooves clacking on the cold metallic floor.  He squinted with charcoal eyes, then tilted his head like a bird.

Ajaxas continued: “My asking price is a hundred neurobytes.”

Seere cantered over.  I stared intently at his legs.  His skin shimmered with scales, like a dragon.  As Spike would say, Seere was metal as fuck.

Seere cupped my face gently in his hot hands and lifted my gaze to his.  His eyes narrowed.  I felt like a fish on a hook.

Seere made a guttural sound, then looked to the Brood’s Queen Mother.  Ajaxas flicked her proboscis to my lower back.  Seere followed Ajaxas’ motions, clasping the back of my shirt and lifting it ever so slightly to inspect my biogauge.  He leaned over and let out a soft sound when his eyes met the socket in my back.  He gingerly prodded it with a strangely muscled finger, and I shuddered.  

Seere smiled.  He released my face from his grip and I stood still, pinned like a butterfly by his gaze.  

Seere lifted his hand to his mouth and bit his finger.  Black blood welled up from his wound.  I moved back in disgust, but he stilled me, pressing the bloody finger to my biogauge.  Just as it had absorbed Ajirin’s blood, the socket in my back made a sucking sound, lapping up the blood like a vampire.  

“No!” Ishtar said.  She struggled against the chains, but Ajaxas stung her.  Ishtar fell limp as Ajaxas’s poison spread through her, turning her flesh purple.  Her frills fell limp.

I doubled over as my stomach knotted.  A fire spread through my skin, like a million bee stings.  I puked up the worms I had eaten for breakfast.  

Seere hoisted me up and wiped the vomit from my lip.  After the brutal transfusion, I understood his language, half-purr, half-roar that it was: “You drive a hard bargain, Ajaxas.  I will take the Anunnaki royalty, doubtless, but this human – she seems to have a weak constitution.  What are her talents?  How can I possibly use her?  She will break like a stick at the slightest mishandling.”

Ajaxas blinked her compound eyes hard.  “Without her, the Anunnaki prince will die.”

Seere stomped his hoof on the floor.  “Fair enough.  Perhaps she has abilities that are not yet apparent.  The Anunnaki prince would have been drawn to her for a reason.”  

“Exactly,” Ajaxas said.

Seere placed his hand on my shoulder and ran his oddly formed fingers down my arm.  He closed his three burning eyes and inhaled deeply.  “You have a fighting spirit, don’t you?  I can smell it on your skin – the sweat, the blood.  Ajaxas tells me you killed her best scout.  My question is, how could a creature as fragile as you pose a threat to the Brood?”  

His grip on my arm was like a vise.  I automatically flexed, which prompted him to smile.  “I could snap you in two with the slightest effort.  And yet, you would struggle to the last minute.  I admire that.”

“Let go of me,” I said, shrugging Seere’s hand from my arm.  “You’re right.  I took out Ajirin.  But what do you know about humans?  I could be lethal.  I know tai chi.  Bet you don’t know what that is.”

Seere gave a rough laugh.  “You’re right, I don’t.  You may be lethal, but your skills are untested.  Which is why I’ll only buy her at half-price, Ajaxas.”

Ajaxas clicked her mandible.

 Seere looked at me.  “I hope you are lethal.  You’ll expire quickly if you’re not.”

It was like his eyes were stakes.  I crossed my arms and wished for more substantial clothes than the gossamer skirt and shirt the Anunnaki had given me.

Seere motioned for someone behind him to step forth.  Another centuarine alien, this one a head and shoulders shorter than my newest captor, trotted forward.  She – I assumed by the swell of her breasts – was slenderer than Seere, and seemed to have duller scales than him, the way female cardinals are brown compared to their mate’s red.  

The attendant held a coral metallic disc that seemed to have been etched in curling patterns with a laser.  Ajaxas’s compound eyes widened at the sight of it.  The Queen Mother extended her pincers to hold the pink circle gingerly.  

“The neurobytes have the requested information on Nibiru’s capital?” Ajaxas said.

Seere rumbled with laughter.  “Hell-bent on revenge as always, aren’t you?  Yes, they do.  That information was costly, so keep it well-guarded.”  He appraised me.  “What is your name?”

“You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.”

Seere stomped a hoof, seemingly entertained.  It was like he liked to watch me squirm.  “I’ll call you Worm.”  He motioned to my barfed-up breakfast of annelids, then smirked with his muzzle.  “It appears Anunnaki food does not agree with you.  I promise you will dine much better on Gehenna.   My servants feast on only the finest minerals, the most purified sunlight.”

Sunshine?  Rocks?  “Sounds appetizing.”  

Seere smiled.  “You will need to keep up your strength, Worm, for I intend to test the mettle of the human who slayed Ajirin.”

“You have made a wise purchase,” said Ajaxas.  “Look at her hair.  It is the color of neurobytes.  She will bring you untold wealth.”

Seere smirked.  “You always knew how to oversell a product.”

Ajaxas looked down at the neurobyte disc in her pincers.  Her compound eyes shone like a green bottle fly’s back.  “We should not linger.  I must take the rest of the Anunnaki to market,” Ajaxas said.

Seere motioned for his silent attendant, who took Ishtar’s limp body down from her shackles.  Ishtar looked desiccated, like a starfish out of water.  Her tentacles were a ghostly lavender, sign of Ajaxas’ spreading poison.  Though the attendant was thin and lacked Seere’s muscle, she carried Ishtar with ease.

Seere smiled, showing fangs that ringed his mouth like a lamprey.  “Be careful, Vassago.  She’s a princess, after all.”  His gentle purr was mocking.  “Come, Worm.  Don’t make me carry you too.”

Space Oddity – Chapter 5

Chapter 4 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 1

“Ishtar?” I said.  I rubbed sleep-grit from my eyes.

She leaned over my bed, her skin bioluminescent, like blacklight tattoos at a rave.  “Come on, get up, we don’t have much time until Gishkim’s guards come back from their rounds.  They’ll smell my scent in your room and know something is up.”

I slipped out of bed and fixed the sagging shoulder of my gown.  “Um, alright.  Does this have something to do with earlier?”

Ishtar caressed the bark whorl on the wall.  The tree opened and she poked her head out to take a furtive glance around.  “I’ll explain everything in the records room.  It’s a dead zone this time of night.”  She motioned for me to follow.

I crept outside after Ishtar and the door sealed shut.  The atmosphere of the green planet below the glass floor was flashing with what looked like lightning.  Something chirped in the foliage like cicadas, and mist was a mirror in the air.  I swiped my hand through it and left ghostly trails in the white.

Ishtar took my hand in hers, careful not to spear me with her claws, and led me onward.  “Be as quiet as you can,” she said.

“Okay.”

We turned down a narrow hallway draped with green vines that hung from the ceiling like rope.  It was a constant nuisance to sweep the vines out of my face.  The floor was as spongy as damp, beetle-chewed bark.  It smelled sweet, like cedar wood.  The hallway was door-less, and I could barely see past the vegetation.  Ishtar glowed blue, her head-frill standing on end.  Finally, we reached a waterfall at the end of the hall with muddy banks and a warm pool from which heat rose in waves.

“Can you swim?” Ishtar said.

I nodded.

“Good.”  Ishtar slipped into the shoulder-deep pool and swam under the waterfall to whatever lay beyond.  I hesitated at the lip of the pool, my toes squelching mud.  

I dipped a foot in and was surprised by how much like a hot tub it was.  Maybe I could just stay here and get a good soak.  All I needed was a margarita.

The thought of relaxation was fleeting.  Curiosity itched at my brain – I wanted to know what lay beyond.  I sunk into the water and swam under, my back scraping against a cavernous ceiling.  

I was submerged for all of ten seconds: there was a muddy slide at the end of the rocky channel.  I slipped down it and landed in a wet pile at the bottom of a room that looked like a brochure for the tropics.  The floor was sandy, and at the edges of the circular vastness were waves lapping at the ground.  Palm tree-like pillars supported the ceiling, and a large glass window encapsulated the room.  Ishtar stood by a huge flower that bloomed dark as a merlot stain.  She caressed one of the petals, and a hovering screen bloomed from the flower’s center.

“This is where we keep our information on humanity,” Ishtar said.

I ran a hand through my pink pixie cut and squeezed moisture from it.  My gown quickly dried, as if it was water-resistant, and the heat of the room evaporated the liquid from my skin.  

I walked over to Ishtar.  She touched a pulsing button on the screen in the shape of an Anunnaki handprint.  It glowed white-hot and the window fencing the room grew fuzzy, settling into a full body scan of Enki with what appeared to be vital stats monitoring his anatomy.  Two organs pumped on the screen like hearts – one in his abdomen and one in his head – as his body rotated on a loop.  A red mass was under the skin of his head and neck-frills, concentrated at the crown of his skull.

“Enki is approaching his final molt,” Ishtar said.  “He needs to mix his genetic material with a human in order to sexually mature.  Only then will he be able to grow into his final form and absorb our collected knowledge on mankind.  He will become a vessel for humanity’s transformation.”

“I knew this was a bad SyFy movie.”

Ishtar manipulated the screen, zooming in on Enki’s head.  “Once he exchanges DNA with a human, he will be able to broadcast genetic information into your species’ bodies.  It will be like your biogauge, but on a massive scale, with Enki holding the master switch on humanity’s gene expression.  He’ll be able to manipulate humans’ phenotypic plasticity so that they can, for example, withstand interstellar travel, or understand the Milky Way’s languages.”

I reeled.  “Like mind control?  That sounds way more sinister than Cyrus – er, Enki – is capable of.”

Ishtar shrugged.  “Not exactly mind control.  But Enki is fully capable of changing humanity.  In fact, he intends to.  It’s the way we’ve dealt with primitive species for millenia.”

I knitted my brows together.  “Hey, only some humans are primitive, mostly just my ratchet friends.”

Ishtar laughed like there were rocks in her throat.  “I’m not saying I agree with the way my species operates.  But it’s what we do to survive.  We diversify our gene pool by exchanging DNA with other species, otherwise royalty would experience a decline in gene quality and our children would wither, prone to abnormalities and autosomal disorders.  Anunnaki genes are frail because they are so malleable.  We need constant outside inputs of genetic material to survive.”

I leaned against a palm tree-pillar, my mind spinning.  “So your race is just being selfish, and even though Enki claims he’s helping us, his crowning process is really just about his survival?”

Ishtar pressed a button and the window screen shut down.  “It’s an exchange.  It’s beneficial for both sides, and it’s what Anunnaki do to flourish.  That doesn’t mean I like it.”

I thought back to what Ishtar had said about Enki imprinting on me.  “So basically, I’m screwed.  Your brother is going to do god knows what to me to get my genetic information, and if I refuse, he’ll just find another hapless human to experiment on.”

Ishtar sighed.  “Enki likes you.  He wouldn’t have brought you abroad if he didn’t.  He wants you to be the one to undergo wussuru with him.”

I stroked the bark of the palm tree, hesitant.  “I pressed the launch button accidentally.”

Ishtar gave a slight, mirthless smile.  “Why would he have allowed you into his spaceship in the first place if he didn’t want you to press it?  That’s just an unnecessary risk, especially if he didn’t intend to take you to the mothership all along.  Enki can deny it all he wants, but the fact is he healed you, forming a genetic bond that’s marked you as his own.  That’s why Hashur outfitted you with a biogauge.  So wussuru could occur between you and Enki.”

I felt blood drain from my face.  “Oh god, this is like Earth Girls are Easy.”

Splotches of Ishtar’s skin flashed mauve.  “Calm down.  I can get you off this ship without anyone noticing.”

I stepped away from the palm tree, staring up at its fronds, unable to meet Ishtar’s eye.  “But if I leave, Enki will just use another human as his guinea pig.”

Ishtar moved closer to me.  “It won’t be that easy.  He’s already imprinted on you.  He needs you for his molting process to be complete.”

Amber liquid dripped from the leaves above onto my hair.  “What happens if he doesn’t mix his genes with me or whatever?”

Ishtar paused, biting her lower lip.

“Well?” I said.

“It’s not important.”

I examined her black, black eye, trying to read emotion on her alien face.  “It seems pretty important to me.”

Ishtar turned from me and broke a bit of the wine-dark flower off to smell.  “Whatever Enki told you about Anunnaki creating intergalactic peace is a lie.  Nibiru is in turmoil.  My parents are ruthless.  They have to be.  If Enki were to rule with his head in the clouds, it would bring ruin to my people.  I’m better suited for the throne.  Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the good of the galaxy, even though the necessary changes harm those we hold dearest.”

I instinctively curled my hands into fists.  “Sacrifices?  So you’re willing to let your brother get hurt, as long as you get to rule in his stead?”

“My brother’s death wouldn’t be in vain.  It’s the only way.”

Death?” I said.  “No way!  I won’t let him die, even if he hasn’t told me the truth.”

“Then I can’t help you.”

 

Ishtar stayed in the records room, pouring over the details of Enki’s physiology, and left me to find my own way back.  I was in a state of shock.  When I had threatened to tell Enki about her lust for the throne, Ishtar had just laughed, saying it was to be expected, as royalty competed for the crown, leading to assassinations and the ever-popular exiles.  Assassinations, though illegal, succeeded if no one caught you, and exiles were only official if a sibling found damning evidence that another Anunnaki royal had broken intergalactic law on their way to the throne.  Ishtar’s attempts at trying to convince me not to undergo wussuru weren’t even offenses in the eyes of the law.  

I returned to my room within the tree just as the lights of the room turned back on, indicating it was morning.  I settled into bed, determined to get some shuteye.  I had my eyes closed for all of five minutes when something chirruped above me.  I looked up to see a six-limbed thing that looked like a cross between a sugar glider and a lemur, with a bushy tail and beady eyes.  Webbing extended between its legs, fanning out as it sailed down to the miniature creek that cut through my room.  It dipped its head into the water and pulled out one of the ciliated fruits.  With a wet crunch, it stuffed its face, and the fruit was gone.

“Aww,” I said, bending down to pet it.  “How cute.”

The creature drew away, its cheeks near bursting with food.  “Do not touch me!  I am Ratatosk, and I have been assigned to you as your guardian for the duration of your trip.  Really, do you have no manners?  I am a skilled warrior.  Gishkim didn’t tell me you were so rude.”  Its speech was a high squeak, muffled by the fruit in its mouth.

“Uh, sorry little guy.”

Ratatosk ran its paw through its neck scruff as it swallowed.  Jelly coated its lips.  “I am asexual.  I do not possess a gender.  Really, it’s quite obvious.  Humans really are primitive.  The way you treat rodents, like pests.  We are forces to be reckoned with, not creatures to feed peanuts or to lure away with cheese.”

I frowned.  “Well, I’ve never trapped a mouse, so I don’t think I really deserve to be attacked.  Did Enki send you?”

“Yes,” said Ratatosk.  “Get dressed.  Your clothes are in the walls.”  

To demonstrate, Ratatosk scurried over to the tree trunk, scaled it halfway, and scratched at a knob in the bark.  The knob expanded, revealing white clothes – a kind of silky, long-sleeved shirt, a bell-like skirt, boots, and undergarments.  I changed out of my gown into the new outfit, thinking all I’d need was paint spatters on the fabric to be Cyrus’ clone.

Ratatosk led me to the heartwood hall where Enki was waiting, stirring a bowl of what looked like green worms.  He speared one and brought it to his Joker-split mouth.  Ratatosk scurried up the table and was soon perched on Enki’s shoulder.  It licked the moisture off his skin, like a mother squirrel cleaning her young.

Enki scritched behind the creature’s ear.  “Ratatosk, thank you.”

Ratatosk cleaned its muzzle with its paws.  “You taste on edge, prince.  Your skin proteins indicate that you are close to molting.”

Enki frowned.  “Really?  So soon?”

“This shouldn’t be a surprise.”  Ratatosk looked pointedly at me.  “If you weren’t so distracted on Earth, you would have come to the mothership for a checkup.”

“Don’t blame me,” I said.  “I didn’t keep him chained to our apartment.”  I sat down across from Enki, not sure how to broach the subject of Ishtar’s ill wishes and Enki’s true intentions.

Ratatosk continued licking Enki’s slime.  He took no notice of it, as if it were a commonplace occurrence.  I was reminded of ants suckling fluids from aphids.  But ants drank the anal secretions of aphids, and, thank god, the squirrel-lemur was nowhere near Enki’s ass.  Not that Enki really had a butt.  His backside was smooth, crack-less, and blue.  How the hell we were supposed to have kinky alien sex, or whatever wussuru was, I hadn’t a clue.

Enki’s ear-fins straightened as he leaned in closer, pushing his food to the side.  “You look tired,” he said.  “Was your room not to your liking?”

“It’s not that,” I said.  A sheath class Anunnaki walked over and placed a bowl of green worms before me.  The food smelled like dirt.  I didn’t want to talk about wussuru with Enki, so I kept my mouth shut.

“Ziggi?” Enki said.

I poked a worm with my skewer.  “Um, well, I guess the weirdness of everything is just wearing me down.  Not that it’s not cool.  It’s just a lot to take in.”

Enki’s skin lightened, his fins and frills retracted, and within moments he had transformed back into his human form.  “Is this better?” he asked, smiling his lazy smile.  “It’s no trouble for me to appear human if it’s familiar.”

“Um, yeah, I guess, but you’re, well…”

“What?” he asked.  He stood up and reached across the table, putting his hand on my shoulder.  “What’s troubling you?”

“You’re naked.”

Enki jumped back like he’d been burned.  Ratatosk fell from his shoulder.  Enki whipped away from me, his junk bouncing.  “Damn it!”  He raced out of the room.

“Um, well then,” I said, trying a green worm.

“You upset my prince!  For shame,” Ratatosk hissed.

“You really are annoying, aren’t you?”

Ratatosk’s chest puffed.  “Well I never.  Forget guarding you.  You’re insufferable.”  It thrashed its tail and scurried out of the room.

Laughter came from behind me.  I turned, mid-bite into a worm, to see Gishkim and Hashur.  I automatically swallowed the wriggling food, which caught in my throat, and I choked.  The mutilated worm rocketed out of my mouth and landed at Hashur’s feet.

“I see Enki was being absent-minded again,” Hashur said, stepping around the worm.

“Maybe he’s just an exhibitionist,” Gishkim said.  “That’s a thing humans do, right?”

“I hope he didn’t offend you,” said Hashur as she and Gishkim sat down across from me.  A sheath class Anunnaki served them breakfast.

“He’s not the first dude I’ve seen naked,” I said.  I successfully ate my second worm, making sure to sever its head first this time and kill it properly.  It fell limp on my tongue.  It tasted like earth, in a strangely pleasing way.

“Our monitors have been picking up some strange wormhole activity, Hashur,” said Gishkim.  “I’m afraid of what that might mean.”

Hashur narrowed her eye.  “Are our shields stable?”

“Nothing on this ship is stable.  It’s an old clunker,” came a voice from behind us.  I turned to see Ishtar.  She smiled at me, as if in pity, but only for a moment.  I looked away and focused on my worms.

“Ishtar.  You’re up early,” said Gishkim.

“I had a lot on my mind,” said Ishtar.  She sat down beside me, barely giving me breathing room.  Her moist leg skimmed mine.  

Something jolted the ship.  Our bowls of worms spilled, and I fell to the floor.

“The hell?” I said, rubbing my now-bruised leg.  I tried to stand, but it was like an earthquake had begun.  The ship rumbled, and the heartwood hall’s vegetation began to writhe.

Gishkim cursed with a metaphor that really only made sense if you were the Swamp Thing.  “We’re under attack.  Quick, Ishtar, take Ziggi to the photosynthesis chamber.”

Ishtar scooped me up and raced out of the room on her doubled-back legs.  She ran down a flurry of halls and stopped at a crystalline chamber filled with sheets that held grass-colored liquid.  They were like the folds of a chloroplast, and they shuddered with each rumble of the ship.  Ishtar deposited me on a raised surface at the center where a gel-like floor stuck to me, holding me in place.

“Gishkim doesn’t seem too worried,” I said, my casual tone belying my tension.

Ishtar glanced up at the translucent ceiling.  Glimmering rays obscured the stars, supposedly the defensive shields.  “He’s an experienced captain.  We’ve dealt with outlaws before.  Gishkim’s used to suppressing riots among the axonal Anunnaki class.  He’s my father’s henchman.”

The mossy door unfurled.  In stepped Enki, no longer naked, morphed back into his Anunnaki form.

“Ziggi, are you alright?” Enki said, his eye twitching.

I nodded.

Enki gave a weak smile.  “These aliens are dangerous.  Flesh traders.  I came as fast as I could.  Ishtar, thank you.  For taking care of Ziggi.”

Ishtar blew air through her teeth.  “Like they pose a threat.  I’m more worried about your intentions for her.”

Enki rubbed his temple.  “I don’t know what you’re saying.”  The ship gave a violent shake.  

Ishtar narrowed her eye.  “You still haven’t told her about wussuru.  You’re about to molt and there are no other humans for millions of miles.”

Enki’s temple throbbed.  “Not her.  I’ll find another way.”

I finally managed to unstick my butt from the floor.  I stood on shaking legs.  “We’re sitting ducks here,” I said, letting a rumble pass below.  “It’s not really a martial art, but I know tai chi.”  I demonstrated a pose, extending one leg and moving my arms in wave-like motions.  “I can distract the space pirates with my sick moves.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Enki.  “Ishtar and I will defend you”

I practiced forming an energy ball.  “I don’t need protection, thanks.  I’ve been in enough scrapes to know how to take care of myself.  And I was kidding about the tai chi.”

We stayed that way for god knew how long, me practicing tai chi to calm my nerves, Enki and Ishtar arguing over wussuru while ignoring me.  The rumbling came at less frequent intervals, until there was dead silence in the photosynthesis chamber.

“The communication system is shot.  What a junk of a ship,” Ishtar said, banging one of the green panels.  “We should open the door.  Take a look around.  Gishkim’s probably fought off the invaders by now.”

“No, don’t.  For once be cautious,” said Enki.  “We should wait until the communication system is operating and we’re able to contact the rest of the crew.”

Ishtar ignored Enki and walked on taloned feet to the door, which was sealed shut with thick mats of what looked like Spanish moss.  She ran her hand over the greenery and it swelled open.

The hall beyond was on fire, jungle steam swirling round the flames.  The heat blasted us, wrenching sweat from my pores.  Where there had been silence, there were high-pitched ululations, like alien war cries, interspersed with what could only be Anunnaki screams.

Ishtar drew back as if she had touched a brand.  She tried to close the heavy moss, but the heat from beyond sucked the moisture from the vegetation, making it brown and curl up like dried seaweed.  The stink of charred flesh pervaded the air.

“No,” Ishtar said.  “My trip on this clunker wasn’t supposed to end in an inferno.  Enki, protect Ziggi.  I’ll get this filth off our ship.”

Before Ishtar could set out on her quest for vengeance, a blue laser of light focused on her chest.  Her mouth formed an O of surprise as a pulse of brightness hit her.  She blasted back through the room and landed on all fours.

“Shit,” she grunted.

In stormed a trio of aliens, red as poppies and covered in compound eyes.  They reared up on their many pincers and stank like moldy fruit, gaping circles of mouths covered in needle-like teeth.  They looked like centipedes from Hell.  I covered my face at their stench.  Translucent flesh and silvery blood clung to their bodies, evidence of Anunnaki slaughter.

“My god, they look like the reject children of Lovecraft,” I choked.

One of the mutant centipedes held what could best be described as a minimalist’s conception of a gun.  It used its pincers to pull the trigger and blasted Ishtar with another laser pulse.  She dodged it and opened her split mouth wide, unleashing a jet of foul-smelling slime at the gun-wielding centipede.  The slime coated its eyes and it shrieked.  Steam rose from the wounded centipede’s eye sockets, and it called out in a high-pitched language to its brethren.  The centipede to its left took the gun from the wounded one and aimed a blast at me.  

Enki blocked it.  He was throttled backwards.  We fell in a tangle of limbs.  

Ishtar tackled the weapon-holding entomologist’s wet dream.  She tore out the pincers that held its gun and bit into the centipede’s neck.  Its gun fell to the floor, and with another chomp she had severed its head.  It fell squirming to the floor, neon ooze spilling from its neck stump.  The centipede whose eyes were wounded crawled around in circles, knocking into the green panels.  One centipede was left intact and angry.  It was the biggest of the three, and it scuttled towards Ishtar while she was distracted.  Flashing its needle teeth, it suctioned Ishtar’s head with its mouth.

“Ishtar!” Enki said, picking himself off the sticky gel floor and rushing towards the centipede.  He used his claws to shred the centipede down its center.  It lost its grip on Ishtar, leaving behind a purple welt on her that exposed skull, and focused its attentions on Enki. The centipede and Enki wrestled.  It took bites out of Enki’s shoulders while Enki sliced and diced it.  Soon the monster and Enki were breathless, both stumbling over each other.  Ishtar lay stunned on the floor, clutching her head wound and moaning.

I dove for the strange-looking gun and picked it up.  The metal was soft in my hands.  I squeezed shut one eye, aimed, and pulled the trigger.  The laser pulse landed in the middle of the mutant centipede’s segmented body.  It rolled like a rock off Enki, hit a green panel, and let out a high-pitched whine.  Enki sucked in air, running his hands over the tears in his skin.  His shoulder tentacles writhed, one torn half off.

With both Ishtar and Enki too wounded to fight, it was down to me and the last bulky centipede, which was quickly regaining its footing.  It left a trail of neon ooze as it approached.  I fired off another shot, and it rolled back, only to scuttle forward again.  I continued to shoot.  The gun began to feel cold.  I wondered if some kind of reaction that fueled it was petering out.  Finally, I pulled the trigger to find it was out of juice.  The centipede seemed to smirk, its eyes shuttering rapidly.  It snaked forward, savoring its attack.  

I lobbed the gun down its gaping mouth.  It choked, the metal caught in its throat, and ran its pincers down its abdomen, trying to coax the weapon out of its gullet.  I used the centipede’s momentary stillness to attack, dZigging my hands into the shallow wounds Enki had created.  

I tore it apart with a berserk fury worthy of the Vikings, or at least the Viking metal bands in those music videos Spike liked, which was really my only basis of comparison.  My opponent thrashed under my grip.  The scent of rotting fruit grew stronger the further I dug into the choking centipede, until I reached deep within and felt something pulse between my hands.  I tore out a two-chambered organ the size of a Thanksgiving turkey.  The centipede fell lifeless to the floor.  

I lobbed the organ to the floor, wiped sweat from my brow with a grimy hand, then glanced over at the last remaining centipede with acid-burned eyes  It lay on its back, its pincers twitching.  Enki and Ishtar were out cold, but their chests rose and fell in a semblance of breathing.

I couldn’t leave the photosynthesis chamber without knowing the situation beyond the door.  I couldn’t leave it weaponless, leaping blind from the frying pan into the literal fire.  But how could I know what was out there if I couldn’t even interrogate our attackers?  

The eyeless centipede crooned like a demented harp.  Its neon blood – was it blood? – was jarring to my sight.  If only I could understand what it was saying.

“Ah, hell.”  

I scooped up some of the neon gore and dribbled it into my biogauge.  My vision flared, and a metallic taste sieged my throat.  My surroundings sharpened, and the smell of rotting fruit made me gag.  

The centipede’s whining crystallized into a language I could understand: “…Worm Mother, grant me safe passage into the dark matter.  Rot Father, bless my seed and home; that they may live on as I fade…”

I spoke, and a high screech came from my throat: “You’re not dead yet, but I’ll make your death much more painful if you don’t answer my questions.”  I nudged its side with my boot.  Its pincers stilled.

The centipede spoke, voice weak: “I’m listening.  If I answer your questions, will you end me quickly, like you did Ajirin?”

I knelt down beside it.  “Yes.  Is the rest of the ship destroyed?”

The centipede shuddered.  “We sabotaged the heartwood hall.  It’s as good as dead.  You have an hour left of life support, maybe less.  We’ve killed the captain and taken the crew hostage – the sheath class will fetch a good price, and the Ratatosk is a rare beauty.  Her we’ll keep to dissect; the Anunnaki royals guard their pets so well they’re hard to come by.”

Gishkim dead?  I felt like vomiting.  “How do I get out of here alive?”

The centipede rasped its teeth together, as if laughing.  “You don’t, unless you come with the Burrow, Rot Father and Worm Mother bless us.  You are a pretty thing.  I saw that before the Anunnaki burned my eyes.  We will treat you well.  We will sell you to someone who will treasure you.  Please, enough questions.”  Its long chest deflated.  “Kill me.”

“No.  I’m not going to end up on some alien’s table with probes shoved up my ass!  Tell me how to save myself.”

The centipede didn’t respond.

I kicked it.

It finally replied: “Worm Mother dies so that Her children may live.  Her brood crawl forth from Her ruined belly into the Burrow.  My wife did the same for our spawn.  A part of you must die to survive in space.  The Burrow is not kind.  But the Burrow knows worth when it sees it.  You are like the finest of rot.  You may bargain with us.  We will treat you well if you are agreeable.  You may yet save your friends.  That is all I can tell you.”

Space Oddity: Chapter 3

Chapter 3  – Chapter 2Chapter 1

I was disembodied, watching the daily routine of my teenage self on my parents’ farm.  Wake up early, make myself up with raccoon’s eyes of kohl and an unflattering shade of bruise-purple lipstick, then march to the bus stop with a spiked collar around my throat, past corn fields and ditches.  

I could hear my younger self listening to the Runaways.  The crops were feet above my 4’11 head.  I’d never grown past 5’ nothing even into adulthood.  I couldn’t see past them to the road, but I could hear the bus rumble away past the swaying stalks.  Younger me ran after it.

“Screw corn,” my phantom self said.  

Younger me looked like she’d heard a ghost, and then tripped over her feet.  “Crap!  Is someone there?” she said.  “How come I can’t see you?”

I sighed.  “This is your future self coming back in time to tell you your life is going to suck major ass.”

Younger me’s nostrils flared.  “I don’t think so.  I can sing.  I even play guitar.  I’m going to be like Courtney Love, minus the drugs and sex tapes and kid named after a legume.”

“Shut up, I love Frances Cobain, and you’re nothing compared to her, you little twat.  I forgot how bratty I was.”  I snorted.  “Guess what, you wannabe punk?  You’ll break your ankle senior year of college and never make it as a dancer, your band will fall apart every time you try to put together an EP, and to top it all off, you’re going to be a barista.  A fucking barista.  Kiss your dreams of a record deal goodbye.”

She’s a bitter specimen, echoed a voice.  It seems her childhood aspirations were never met, like so many humans we’ve studied.

Younger me froze.  A particularly fiery cloud blazed on the horizon.

“God?” younger me breathed.  “Only prophets hear voices coming from the sky.  Mom was right.  I should have paid more attention in Sunday school.”

“Shut up,” disembodied me said.  “That’s not God.  This is a dream, my dream, and you’re just a memory of who I was.”

Younger me flinched, then looked at her arms, which were beginning to fall away like sand slipping through someone’s fingers.  “Oh?” she said, and then she was gone, clothes and headphones falling to a billowing pile on the muddy dirt road.  The CD player blasted “Cherry Bomb.”  

The corn rustled in the wind.  I looked to the burning cloud.  It swelled, swallowing the sky.  The heat was intense, and the fields caught fire, sending crows into thermals above.

The voice from above grew concerned: She’s sensed our presence.  Her mind is trying to expel us.  Give her more neurodrip.

“Who are you?” I yelled.  The boiling cloud enveloped the farm.  It was all that was, an oven of heat, like the warmth that had flowed from Cyrus’ hand to my ankle when he’d healed me-

Cyrus.  Our take-off.  “Cyrus!  Is that you?”

The neurodrip isn’t working.  She’s too alert.

I suppose we’ll have to wake her.

“Answer me.”

I was greeted with silence.  

The heat was unbearable.  I was in the womb of a dragon, baking into being.  

I panicked, then tried to reassure myself: “It’s my mind.  Screw it, concentrate.”  

I tried to imagine something peaceful.  

The fiery cloud dissipated, growing fuzzy like a TV screen crackling between channels.  My surroundings settled into my old backyard, with the creek, tree fort, and weeping willow.  I was back in my body, sitting in the weeping willow’s rickety swing.  I clutched the old rope fastenings and steadied myself.

I exhaled.

Switch her to the revitadrip.

I shook my fist at the sky.  “I hear you!”

Hashur, she’s fully cognizant of us.  Should we engage?

Hashur?  What kind of name was that?  Like Slash but more emo.  I stilled the swing, listening.

There was a pause.  The second voice spoke:

Only if Enki is here, Gishkim.  He’s still in his biomorph, so his form won’t frighten her.

“Stop talking about me like I can’t hear you.”

The first voice spoke: You’re right.  I’ll go bring Enki back from the containment ward.  Let’s let him deal with the fallout of his actions.  It might teach him a lesson for once.

I doubt that.  Our prince’s neural pathways are clogged with dreams, not common sense.  Up the revitadrip.  She’ll be fully awake when Enki is ready to debrief her.

Alright.

Prince?  Had I been captured by the British space monarchy?  Had David Bowie died, ascended to the stars, and become an alien overlord claiming people conceived at his concerts to build an army of glam?

My dream-body ached, on pins and needles, like an unused limb.  The creek trickled away into oblivion, and my swing shook violently.  Darkness flooded my backyard, and I cried out, blinded.  It was like the blackness behind eyelids, clogged with sunspot patterns.  I heard something drum – my heart.  

My eyes fluttered open.  

I wasn’t strapped down on a dissection table, being probed with metal cylinders.  Instead, I was alone, lying on a spongy floor, which was matted with something like grass.  Dim light came from the ceiling.  I was dressed in a white gown, made of some kind of downy material.

The lower region of my back ached, and I reached down to feel something like a vine rooted at the base of my spine.  I pulled the brown tendril from me.  It popped out with a suction-y sound, curled back into the ground, and left a small, bloodless hole in my back.  

I poked my finger in to find that the hole ended shortly thereafter, like an electric socket.  My throat clutched as I realized I had been plugged in and pumped with whatever revitadrip and neurodrip were.  Someone had implanted this – this thing in my back, basically turning me into an outlet.

My tongue felt leaden.  My limbs were jelly.  I could barely sit up, and when I did, the room – if I could even call it that – spun.  And it wasn’t from dizziness.  The walls were moving with a slow, lush whir, like water swirling in an eddy.  The air was warm and moist, like the Amazon, and brown and bluish-green vines, like the one that had been hooked into me, hung from the round, orb-like ceiling.  Droplets of amber liquid fell periodically from the vines to the ground.  

I felt the hole in my back again and flinched, craning my neck to see it.  The material that formed a small circle at the base of my spine was cool and porous, like a hollowed-out pumice stone.  Had I become a golem?  Had Ziggy Stardust descended from Mars to claim me as his bride?  What about Michael from Stranger in a Strange Land?

I struggled to stand, unable to lean on the moving walls for support.  Besides the vegetation, the room was featureless, like some sort of mossy incubator.  My gown fell to my ankles.  I turned around, searching for a door, or some kind of control panel, anything that could be used to escape.  

On wobbly knees, I walked forward to feel the green, springy walls.  They were soaked in the amber liquid.  Summoning my last reserves of strength, I pounded on them.

“Hello?”

No response.

I knocked until my legs could no longer stand.  I sank to the ground and stared listlessly at the ceiling.

After a while, the whirring of the walls grew louder, sending cascades of amber liquid from the vines.

The orb of the ceiling unfolded like a flower, splitting open into petal-like sections.  The light from above grew bright, bright, brighter, and I found I was at the bottom of some sort of shaft.  

Something like a leaf unfurled downwards from the rim of the shaft, past which I could see black sky and stars.  I drew back, but there was nowhere to hide.  The veined leaf opened and spiraled downward, forming a crumpled staircase.  It touched ground at the center of the spongy grass.  Cyrus was walking down the leaf, at a casual pace.

Cyrus?  What do you think this is, a walk through the park?”

“It’s good to see you.  I never meant for this to happen.  Hashur took you away before I could do anything.  You had to be stabilized, and I had to debrief the ship’s crew on our, um, our situation.”

He stepped off the leaf and reached out a hand to me, his smile tentative.  

I took his hand, stood, then slapped him across the cheek.  Angry red spread across his skin.

“You’re an alien!”

He steadied my shaking body.  “Ziggi, Ziggi, everything will make sense.  Just be patient.  That’s all I ask.”  He smoothed the sleeves of my gown.  “And my name isn’t Cyrus.  I got that from a really outdated baby name book when I was on LSD and the names came to life.  It’s kind of hard to explain that particular trip.  Anyways, Cyrus had a nice ring to it?  My Anunnaki name is Enki.”

“Is Anunnaki some kind of metal band?”

He straightened his white jumpsuit.  “We’re a kind of observer species.  We feed off the electrical release of neurons.  Our biology is somewhat similar to yours, but amphibious.  Does that make any sense?”

“No.”

He sighed, rubbing his temple.  “I know this must come as a shock to you, that your planet isn’t alone in the universe.  My race studies things, and in studying them, we grow, both figuratively and literally.  It’s a vital part of our developmental process.”

I drew back from him, cautious.  “Why were you on Earth then?”

“I’m on a mapping expedition of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy, what we call Ea.  The Anunnaki investigate planets like Earth periodically.  It’s part of my crowning process.”

I looked him up and down.  Alien or not, he was still annoying, even more so now that I had been abducted, and still romance novel-hot with his perfect, no-hair-out-of-place manbun.  “In my dream, the other aliens called you a prince.”

Cyrus – Enki – nodded.  “Royalty in Anunnaki society has a different connotation.  Have you heard of mirror neurons?”

I struggled to recall high school biology, drew a blank, then shook my head no.

“They’re the neurons in your brain that mirror other’s behavior – they’re related to empathy.  Anunnaki royals have an overexpression a substance like mirror neurons.  They allow us to bond with different species.  We manage diplomacy between planets and assess other races to see if they’re at an evolutionary step that would allow them to open relations with us.  Think of us as a mix between politicians and anthropologists.”

“Sounds like the plot of a low-budget Syfy movie.”

Enki’s smile was soft.  “I’ve been tasked with bringing humanity into the Me – or Milky Way – federation.  If I succeed, my crowning process will be complete, my neural makeup will undergo a shift, and I’ll metamorphose into my adult phase.”

My hairs stood on end.  “The other aliens said something about a, a biomorph, or something.  That you were stuck in it.”

Enki nodded.  “My species’ phenotype is fluid under the right conditions.  But enough about me.  Would you mind turning around?  I’d like to see how your biogauge is faring.”

“My what?”

Enki frowned.  “Hashur implanted a device in your back to help you adjust to space.  It’s hooked up to your nervous system and allows quick administration of chemicals that alter your physiology so that you can understand my language, or withstand our artificial gravity fields.”

He turned me around gently.  Enki unhooked a clasp at my lower back and inspected the biogauge.  He touched it gingerly. I shivered and stepped away.

“That is so not right,” I said.  “Hashur shouldn’t have experimented on me.  I don’t want to be an X-men.  Unless I’m like Wolverine or something…”

Enki sighed.  “After we launched, you were in critical condition.  We had to put you in suspended animation and perform the operation.  Hashur’s our equivalent of a doctor – she’s studied humans for centuries, and she knew exactly what she was doing.  You’re fine, I promise, and the biogauge can always be removed.  You’re our guest of honor, Ziggi – the first human to step aboard an Anunnaki ship.  Would you like to see it?”

My heart palpitated.  “I – yes, I mean – I guess so?”  

“Then it would be my pleasure to show you.  But first let me change back to my true form.  Human skin is itchy.”

Space Oddity: Chapter 2

Synopsis:

Ziggi is a manic pixie dream girl that went on a bender and never recovered.  At least, that’s what her bandmates think.  Pink-haired with a moonbow on her butt, Ziggi is your average punk barista searching for meaning in suburbia.  Too bad her artistic roommate Cyrus turns out to be an alien who, when not smoking weed, is busy manipulating Ziggi’s genome in order to accelerate humanity’s evolutionary conga line.  Oh yeah, and he’s been at it for centuries, meddling with human biology so long the Sumerians started a religion after him.  At least he makes a mean fettucine alfredo?

After a concert goes sour, Ziggi and Cyrus blast off into space in Cyrus’ VW Beetle when Ziggi tries to turn off the radio.  Stranded on a spaceship suited for amphibians, not punks, Ziggi learns that her new tenant Cyrus, real name Enki, isn’t remotely human.  Gone are his good looks, replaced by tentacles and, well, he basically looks like a sewer mutant.  To complicate things, Enki is the heir to the Milky Way’s dysfunctional overlords, the Anunnaki: shapeshifters who feed off information.   In order to sexually mature, Enki has to shepherd humanity into his parent’s galactic dictatorship via good old genetic manipulation.  Too bad he would rather make trippy artwork or eat pot brownies.  A leader Enki is not, thus he is stuck in perpetual puberty, with the crown always just out of reach.  No wonder he likes to get high.

As Enki gives Ziggi a tour of his spaceship, she is thrust into a world of intergalactic intrigue where the universe is in turmoil, thanks to Enki’s ruthless parents.  Opposed to Enki’s genetic tinkering is his sister Ishtar who, though against interfering with species’ evolution, will do anything to take the throne.  Soon the Brood come, and Ziggi, Enki and Ishtar are sold to the highest bidder, who happens to have a personal vendetta against the Anunnaki.  Assassination plots are hatched, space pirates abound, and Ziggi discovers her talent for survival.  She’s not alone for long, however, as her bandmates soon wind up in space, stranded on an outlaw planet after they got caught in Enki’s tractor beam.  Forced to battle in interspecies cage matches and entertain their captors, Ziggi and her friends struggle to find a way out of the gladiator ring.  Their solution?  Form a space band, Anunnaki included, and rock their way to freedom.

Music is Ziggi’s ultimate salvation, and soon entire galaxies are salivating over her riffs.  But will her new supernova stardom be too hot to handle?  What about Enki’s despotic family?  And what will Enki do when he runs out of weed?  In this spoof of alien conspiracies, all these questions, and more, are answered in this Bowie-inspired mix of Lilith’s Brood and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Enki ascends to the throne, having overthrown his parents, and Ziggi, now a cosmic rock star, can finally quit her job at Java Lava and move on to bigger, better things, namely a record deal.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Smoke hung like a veil over the Black Cat as my hands worked a riff on my Gibson.  Carlos anchored the song with his bass line, and Spike drummed like an earthquake god.  Cyrus stood on the fringes, taking a drag from something that was decidedly not a cigarette.

Riff finished, I sang the bridge, then belted out the chorus three more times, summoning a chaotic picture of middle class ennui in the audience’s mind.  The mosh pit moved in frenzy as we performed the final piece from our concept album about midlife crises and the 99%’s suburban discontent.  Spike drummed on his cymbals, the lights flashed, and Carlos let his final note echo.  I strummed my guitar once more, then moved into a harmonic that played like a ghost across the room.  

The crowd cheered.

“Thanks,” I said, breathless, into the microphone.  “You guys are great.  I want to bottle your blood and sell it or something.  You’re that fucking sweet.  Like Pepsi or pixie dust or, or just like, I don’t know, hot chocolate spiked with rum-”

Carlos edged over to the microphone, bass over his shoulder.  “That’s Ziggi, alright, with her vampire blood shit – she’s a parasite.  Be careful or she’ll sip you right up.”  He slung an arm around me.  “CDs are at the back, next to the band patches.  Buy them, please, and feed me.  Playing makes me hungry.”

Someone threw a hamburger at Carlos.  He caught it, shrugged, and bit in.  Ketchup clung to his lip.

“Gimme that – you don’t know who or where in the hell it’s from,” I said.  

I took the half-eaten hamburger and threw it back at the audience.  The crowd hooted.  

The floor cleared.  We worked with tech backstage to dismantle our set.  I put my electric blue Gibson back in its case.  The Gibson, christened Orpheus, was my college graduation present.  Spike hauled my amp into his van.  Cyrus pocketed bits of trash from the crowd: a dysfunctional lighter and used earplugs.

We crammed into Spike’s van to drive back to Spike and Carlos’s townhouse in Arlington for an after-party.  Spike was at the wheel, and Carlos sat shotgun, with Cyrus and me in the back.  My roommate, dressed in a white jumpsuit, smelled pleasantly of rain.  His pot smoke refused to cling to him.  Instead, it coated me, like disgusting perfume from a sewer full of junkies.  

I tried to sit as far away from Cyrus as possible.  

Carlos put on the Dead Kennedys’ “I Fought the Law” cover.  “This is my jam,” Carlos said, his labret piercing flashing in the streetlights.  He sang along: “I BLEW GEORGE AND HARVEY’S BRAINS OUT WITH MY SIX GUN!/I FOUGHT THE LAW AND I WON!”

“Shut up, man,” Spike said, then changed the track to the Pogues, cutting Carlos off mid-lyric.  Some song from Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash played.  Dirty Old Town or something.  I was too buzzed off performing to tell.

Carlos slumped back in his chair.  “Fuck you, Spike-up-the-ass.”

Spike rolled down the window, letting the October air chill the car.  “Don’t start this, man.  We both know the Clash’s version is better.  The Dead Kennedy’s can’t sing covers for shit.”

Carlos blew air through his teeth.  “What, and Shane MacGowan doesn’t sound like a wino?  Screw your tastes and screw your van.  It smells like smegma.”

Spike arched his brows.  “You know what smegma smells like?  How many dirty dicks have you sucked?”

Carlos lit a cigarette.  “I only suck clean dicks.”  Carlos took a drag, then glanced back at Cyrus.  

Cyrus hummed along to ‘Dirty Old Town,’ oblivious to Carlos’s attraction.  

That was another thing about Cyrus – none of us could figure out my roommate’s orientation.  Maybe he was sapiosexual, if that was even a thing and not a 4chan joke – we were just plebs too dumb for his artistic genius.  In the few weeks that I had known him, Cyrus had spoken of no significant other, but with his dramatic flair for dress, long hair, and androgynous looks, I suspected he might have something going on.  Despite his sex appeal, Cyrus was sexless, showing no interest in anyone and continually laughing off Carlos’s advances.  Perhaps he was married to his art.  That, or his weed.

“Hey, Ziggi, maybe you should grow a cock,” Spike said, speeding past a yellow light.  “It would hit two birds with one stone, solving your lack of a boyfriend and curing Carlos’s lust.”

I curled my lip.  “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just suggest I become a dude.  God knows you two have enough testosterone for this whole band.”

“Speaking of the band, I think we should change our name.  ‘Iguana Knees’ is too grunge, and we’re not grunge,” Spike said.

“That’s our problem.  We never fucking know what genre we are,” Carlos said.

I looked at the silent Cyrus, and my ankle throbbed.  “Hey, I like our name.”

Cyrus looked at me, breaking his reverie.  “I think ‘Iguana Knees’ suits your aesthetic.”

“Fuck.  We dabble in so many styles, we’re unclassifiable,” Carlos blew smoke out the window.  “We’re punk one week, then glam the next.  Remember that time I dressed up like David Bowie in Labyrinth for that set we wrote about Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market?  Jareth or whatever, and Ziggi looked like friggin Sarah Brightman from Phantom of the Opera.  That was miles away from our new album about a suburban couple’s breakdown.  One’s Fairport Convention and the other’s Green Day.  I say we pick a genre and stick with it.”

“Hell no,” I said.  “Why limit ourselves?  Labels create sterility.  Anyways, we’re not trying to go mainstream.”

“Not now, but eventually,” Spike said.  “Right now we only have niche appeal.  How are we supposed to market ourselves if we don’t know what genre we are?”

“We’ll figure it out,” I said.  “You can’t just choose these things, they come to you, like the Oracle of Delphi.  We’re kinda like modern prophets of music, that’s our thing: the voice of our generation, or at least Millennials in the DC suburbs.”

“Right…”

We pulled into Spike and Carlos’s driveway and got out into the autumn-spiced night.  They lived in a tree-lined cul-de-sac in an area halfway between projects and a youth mecca.  The housing was cheap compared to most places in Arlington, filled with twenty-somethings and young families just starting out.  

We settled into their living room with beers and popped an old DVD of Mystery Science Theater 3000 into the TV.  Cyrus sat in a bean bag on the floor while my band and I sank into the single threadbare couch.  

The imprisoned character and his robot sidekicks of the cult TV show were spoofing a B-movie about hostile aliens.  The actors playing the aliens were poorly made-up, with green rubber lizard masks, and the 70’s special effects were laughable.  We munched on popcorn between sips of beer, chatting over the narration.  

Only Cyrus was quiet, his eyes glued to the screen.  He seemed almost solemn.  The movie ended, and Spike turned off the TV.

“Man,” Carlos said, “screw aliens.  They creep the shit out of me.”

I kicked my legs up on the table made of wooden crates.  “Yeah?” I said.

Carlos nodded.  “I used to watch the X-Files, and it messed me up.  I was convinced that aliens were real, and that they had nothing better to do than abduct me and probe my ass.”

“I’m pretty sure aliens don’t want anything to do with a crusty bassist’s butt.”  Spike downed the last of his beer.

Carlos punched Spike, knocking his empty beer can to the floor.  “I’m not crusty, man.”

I laughed.  “You two are idiots.  God, maybe we should make our new EP about aliens.  No, alienation.  Crust punks and their fight against the man.”

“I’m not crust punk, and the only dude I want to fight is the idiot sitting next to me,” Carlos said, ribbing Spike.

“Don’t touch me.”  Spike laughed.  “I mean, look in the mirror – you’re an anarchist, you play a jacked up bass, and you listen to crap like Venom and Motörhead, and you think the best fucking place in the world is dirty-ass Richmond.  You’re crusty.”

“Yeah, fine, maybe, but you make it sound like my skin is flaking off and I haven’t showered in twenty years,” Carlos said.  He looked at me.  “Ziggi, that EP sounds like trite bullshit.”

I frowned.  “You always shoot down my ideas.  What’s your damage?  Why can’t we put a fresh spin on it?”

Carlos shook his head.  “I don’t know, it’s just so overdone.  The world doesn’t need more angry white twenty-somethings railing against the establishment.”

Spike snorted.  “Isn’t that what we do?  Admit it, we’re derivative.”

Frustration flared in my gut.  “No, we’re not!  We’re more original than 99% of the crap that’s out there.  People hear the Iguana Knees, and it means something to them!  Think of our fans!  What we stand for!”

Carlos squinted.  “Iguana Knees.  That name’s like a stink bomb going off in my head.  Can’t we be Wombat Attack Squad or something?”

“You always go back to Wombat Attack Squad, don’t you?” Spike said, amused.

“Wombats don’t attack things, Car, but iguanas have knees,” I said, tired of my band-mate’s nonsense.  

“How do you know they don’t attack things?” Carlos said, crossing his arms.  “Have you ever seen a wombat?  I sure haven’t.  They could be badass.  With hidden superpowers, like me.  Don’t underestimate a wombat.”

“Wombats are herbivores, they have no need to attack things, save grass,” Cyrus said.  He took a drag from his blunt, then pulled out the broken lighter he’d collected from his pocket and flicked it repeatedly.  No flame came on, but he was still enthralled.

Carlos narrowed his eyes.  “I don’t buy that,” he said.  “Ugh.  Why can’t we ever agree on anything?  We can never go on tour like this.”

I nearly choked on my stale beer.  “Us?  Go on tour?  With what money and what roadies?”

“See?” Carlos said.  “You say I don’t agree with you, but you always hate my ideas, whether it’s about going on tour or how awesome wombats are.  You’re like the band dictator.”

“I am not!” I said.  “Spike, back me up.”

Spike shrugged.  “I’m too drunk to deal with you guys.”

“Cyrus?” I asked.

Cyrus bit his lower lip.  “I think your tour will come to you when you need it most.  Maybe now’s not the time.”

“See?” I said.  “The stoner sage agrees.”

Carlos looked like he had a sour taste in his mouth.  “Fine, whatever, have it your way.  We can keep our shitty name and stay in the shitty suburbs and keep working our shitty jobs, living our small lives and never doing fucking anything.”

I flinched.  “I’m not the villain.  Come on.  I’m just trying to do what’s best for us!”

“We don’t need mothering,” Carlos said, refusing to meet my gaze.

I sagged.  “Fine, if that’s what you think of me, I guess I’ll just go.  Cyrus?”

Cyrus pocketed his lighter.  “Alright.”

Spike stood, placing his hand on my shoulder.  “Don’t leave.  Car’s just being a tool because he’s drunk off his ass.  You’re both oversensitive when you’re tipsy.”

I shrugged off his hand.  “Whatever.  I’m tired anyways.”

Cyrus followed me outside like a shadow.

“Screw what Carlos thinks,” I said, looking at the stars.  The lone lemon tree by the cracked driveway was bent with age and wind.

Cyrus dropped his smoked blunt and put it out with the heel of his shoe.  “I think your ideas are valid.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

We drove back to Centreville in Cyrus’ VW beetle on I-66.  I was still waiting on my parent’s spare truck to be fixed at the autobody shop before I could drive it.  Until then, I was dependent on Cyrus and the subway for rides.

Cyrus flipped through the radio stations until he settled on classic rock.  I sat there, doubting the validity of my ideas and my place in the band, despite Cyrus’ reassurance.  I finally broke the silence:

“Do you think I’m full of crap?  Are my ideas stereotypical?  I mean, I know I’m a caricature.  I’m a pink-haired barista named Ziggi Moondust Collins in a band that’s falling apart.”  I watched the moon sail across the sky, feeling empty.

Cyrus pulled into our apartment’s parking lot.  “I don’t think so.  You should let go of your worries,” he said, his voice soothing.  “Both you and Carlos just drank a bit too much.”

“Forget an EP about alienation.  Maybe I should just write about aliens.”

The radio began to play David Bowie’s “Starman.”

I gave a deflated laugh.  “What, is the radio psychic?  I was probably conceived to this song, fuck.”  

I reached for the dashboard, squinting in the darkness to see which button to press to turn off the music.  My index finger made contact with a red triangle-

“Ziggi, no, not that button!” Cyrus said.

I pressed it.  “What are you talking about?”  

A great clamor came from the VW beetle’s engine.  A white light pulsed on the dashboard, and my seat plunged backwards, taking me with it.  The windows darkened and the car thrust upwards, like the wheels had turned into rockets.  We shot off the ground, into the air, careening past the trees.

“What the heck?”

Cyrus cursed, gripping the steering wheel hard as he navigated us through the air.  “I can explain.  Actually, it might be a bit difficult.”

We hit turbulence.  

“Oh god, oh my god!”  I hyperventilated.

The radio became static, then was replaced by a voice speaking in a sonorous language.  I shrieked as the sound’s pressure made my eardrums near-rupture.  

“Whoops,” Cyrus said.

A holographic screen appeared in front of him.  Cyrus furrowed his brow and turned a hovering dial.  The screen enlarged, and foreign script scrolled across it.

The radio’s voice grew in volume.  It seemed to be asking a question.

Cyrus bit his lip, pressed another button, then replied to the radio’s query in the same language, so unnatural when it came from a human throat.

My stomach fell into my lap.  I screamed, vomited, then screamed some more, my puke flying around the car-turned-spaceship.  The velocity built, and my vision blackened.

Cyrus held my hand.  “Ziggi.  Ziggi?  It’s okay.  You’re safe.  I’m so sorry.  I shouldn’t have let you press the launch button.  This is all my fault.”

Launch button?” I said, then vomited again.  My head spun, and the force of us flying through the air was like being pressed to death.

Cyrus wiped vomit from my brow.  “It might be easier on you if you sleep this one out.  Your body’s fragile.  I’ll explain everything once you wake up.”

“What?  No.  No!”

He pressed a button on the holographic screen and a fine mist seeped from the air conditioning vents.  I inhaled the mist and was instantly calmed.  Drowsiness lumbered into my brain and sat at the crown of my head.  Sleep dragged me down through its depths.

Windborn Wanderers

I stand at the prow of the spaceborn ship, wormhole demon
at my side, a neutron star pulls us into fiery ellipses
with strong hands my demon takes the wheel with me, we
churn like making butter to navigate the stars, away from
crushing beat down gravity to the vast beyond, he reaches
out through the window, shapes cosmos, we skip hop time
to a place where our crew is frozen in stasis, just me and
my tesseract demon, alone for eons, in time we build moon
kingdoms of silver, comet diamond palaces, a trading outpost
for galactic wanderers, there is time enough for love, for
sweetest growing pains, my second in command is rough like
the cliff faces of Mars, but we are so far, midst Milky Ways
nothing spans the ages of celestial flight like love, truly
and we are wind-born solar flares, illuminating the void
with hearts like fireflies, sail on, silver ship, sail on.

Silver Sheen Overlords

The silver skinned greys descended in moonlight
sleek torpedo ships that lit the sky with hope
benevolent, enlightened, humanity knelt, bowed
soon we were rain in their hands, penitent masses
first they made future out of the past, building
streamlined jet towers and ecocyle roads, they
gave us the knowledge of the stars, fed us with
asteroid manna, I was their esteemed translator,
priestess of the holy silver ones, but in the
xenolinguistic babble brook burble of their tongue
I heard a single word – DESTROY – all fragrant fields
to rubble, farm humans for food, make them chattel
dependent on our miracle medicine, giving starman hands.
Rebellion came, from the far corners – war, supernova
nuclear waste, but we won, we won – now silver is illegal
mirrors are cursed, and we will never be fooled, ever
by diamond-sheen, moondust glimmering, lullaby aliens agian.