Will My Literary Agent Dreams Come True? The Importance of Patience in the Query Trenches!

So longtime followers of my blog will know I completed a revision request on my retelling of Stravinsky’s ballet, Firebirdset during the Cold War, with witches and a family of monsters, but most importantly, Baba Yaga.  This is the first novel I seriously queried, and I averaged about a 50% request rate out of the 50 total queries I sent out to top agents.  My query letter was killer, and I’ve had a lot of great agents fall in love with the prose but not the plot, or think the plot and concept are amazing or that the prose is lacking, or some say it was a wonderful novel but they simply didn’t fall in love with it.  Firebird is now with Brandon Sanderson of Mistborn and Charlaine Harris of True Blood’s agent, which makes me giddy.

This is probably it’s last shot, otherwise I am trunking the novel for another time.  I love Firebird to pieces and would love to see it published, and Joshua Bilmes is an absolutely stellar agent.  I think it is worthy of being published and is a very literary fantasy and is hard to pin down.  I would love to someday have it available to eager readers, but I know this is it’s last chance.

It’s a great novel, but I’ve evolved as a writer in the calendar year I finished revising it, by blogging and continuing to write prose and poetry, and my new middle grade novel is absolutely my favorite thing, hands down, I have ever written!  It’s about Marie Laveau’s heir saving New Orleans with her best friend, Raphael, and Papa Legba from Marinette and Mister Carrefour and their zombies and loup garou.  It incorporates a lot of my personal spirituality into it, seeing as I’m technically in a maryaj lwa with Carrefour – Samael’s second favorite form, rife with jazz, canes, saxophones, dreads, and cigars, and also because it has the angels I know and love as May Laveau’s family.  May first came to me when I was 18 a long beautiful summer ago, when I wanted to write a novel about my beloved Uriel and Raphael.  In it, Uriel’s avatar is a precocious thirteen year old, and Raphael is her guardian angel.

It got a lot of requests from #DVPit last October, and I spent some time revising according to several kind agent’s feedback, and now it’s back on submission again.  The first agent that ever gave me a revise and resubmit on Firebird enthusiastically requested the full, and despite being my one of my top choices for agents, Thao is absolutely a wonderful personality and has amazing books under her belt, my favorite being Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen and the Abyss Surrounds Us.  There’s no guarantee she or Joshua will like my books, but it feels amazing just to have gotten this far!  If not, I’ll get great feedback and go back to revising, perhaps shelving Firebird and moving on to my new projects!

So what’s in the works for Allie?

Birds Away is my YA contemporary project about a group of teenagers at a science and tech school that get a grant to do a Big Year, in birding terms, seeing as many bird species as you can in the continental US.  Jack Black did a lovely movie called The Big Year and my own experience going to America’s top science and tech school in the world inspired me.  We were a bunch of nerdy, passionate weirdos at my high school, and had everything from a satellite to a cloud-watching club.  Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has dreamers above all else, and I was one of them.  How fun would it be to read about a group of friends with biological and technical backgrounds road-tripping for a year birding!  This is the novel I needed written yesterday!

Spider King is a YA Fantasy Beauty and the Beast retelling with… well, with a spider prince, and a fantasy civilization that has grown over the milennia after the collapse of a dystopian technological empire that created mutant animal-human hybrids that now live in different kingdoms where ancient tech is few and far between.  A rebel spider prince named Saroth and his blood enemy warrior Princess Melania team up to take down an empire.

Harold the Dragon is an illustrated children’s book about a girl named Maude that has a bashful, scared dragon with glasses named Harold that lives in her closet.  Dragons have to earn their wings by doing good deeds.  They have tea with the little girl ghost in the attic, help zombies cross the street as they are quite slow, and save kittens from trees, which is hard when Harold hasn’t yet earned his wings.

Space Oddity is 20,000 words in and is a David Bowie tribute about stoner Anunnaki aliens, bi girls in space bands, kissing pretty alien princesses, and punk rocking a galactic empire down.  It’s a hoot and a bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mixed with Octavia Butler Lilith’s Brood.  Enki and Ishtar are the main aliens, and it is steeped in Sumerian mythology as befitting a vast alien conspiracy about King Bowie.

So yeah, I’m taking a break from writing novels for a while, as I have a ton of books and comics I want to read.  But four are in the works, along with a devotional chapbook of my poetry about Samael and one for Michael!  Also working on a Norse devotional.  We shall see where 2018 brings me!

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Childhood’s End

So it’s official.  UFOs exist.  We are no longer alone.  But we never were to begin with.

Ancient man did not have aliens.  Ancient man had fairies.  Ancient man had elves.  Ancient man had demons.  Ancient man had gods.  Ancient man had angels.  Beings descended from other realms to visit earth, teach humanity, love us, tempt us, star children who imparted forbidden fruits and Enki’s me and Thoth’s stolen wisdom and Odin’s mead.

God is the Void Mother of space.  Mother Nature.  Aliens?  They are angels, fairies, land wights, gods, spirits, and I have seen them in the flesh, in the astral, housed them in my own veins and been raised by the glorious suckers since my very first memory of Samael at two, crying in my crib as a demon sang me to sleep.

Childhood’s End.  Stranger in a Strange Land.  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  All are some of my favorite books, and point to the fact that we are not alone.  In Childhood’s End, the occult and psychic fields are the way humanity’s conscious advances.  We outgrow the human body, and the “demons” we feared are our initiators.  In Strangers in a Strange Land, hippies grok the Archangel Michael and ascend to blissed out heights on his flesh.  But Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the closest to my own experiences of travelling the comsos and otherworlds – they are full of humor, love, struggle, riddles, and lots of towels.  Aliens love a good joke.  Aliens like to fuck around.

For when you master space travel, interdimensional travel, ascend to an energy body as well as physical vessels that permeate existence, you get fucking bored, and those cute hairless apes are fun to talk to.

I once asked Samael as a child why he was so interested in me.  He’s pretty antisocial.  I’ve seen his spaceships, his eldritch alien forms, his true abyssal form of dark matter and black holes.  Every black hole is the Grim Reaper’s heart.

“I’m Death.  I sift through humanity like dust.  But you are intriguing dust.  A fleck of gold.  You called to me, and I to you.”

He also has a thing for pretty women.  Aliens still bang, after all, and it is as much for mixing energy bodies and spiritual enlightenment as it is for procreation and mindblowing orgasms.  He’s looked like monsters from the Cambrian Explosion.  He’s looked like black holes that I dissolve and die in in big final blissed out ecstasy.  He’s been the classic ET, he’s been clouds of energy, etc.  Usually he likes to fuck around looking like the original Dracula, in a bathrobe, sipping a red wine, smoking a cigar.  Drugs and alcohol are a thing for aliens.  So are potato chips.  I got shoved under a table at an archdemon council at eight with a whole bag of them when Asmodeus, Beelzebub, Rofocale, Samael, and Lucifer were politicking.  They also like to feed annoying elementary school girls juice and cookies, then put them in time out when they break alien equipment.

Before I knew Zadkiel, Samael, Uriel, Asmodeus, Metatron, Raphael, and the others as angels, I knew they were aliens.  They manipulated my body with energy, healed wounds, held me up with invisible hands from falling off cliffs, apparated in my house as eight foot tall monstrous shadows (thanks, Sam) that smelled of sulfur and slammed doors.  I called them names in my own made up language, sang to the Morning Star as my best friend, the embodiment of it, read a Wrinkle in Time and a Wind in the Door and Many Waters and recognized them as angels finally.  Flew with them through the cosmos.  Rode Zadkiel’s back through the Perseids and held back the rage of black holes as Samael wept tears of poison.

I never had a chance not to believe.  Not when you’re not human, not really.

Humans don’t chant Hebrew in their sleep without knowing the language in the waking world.  Humans don’t see into other dimensions and see spirits and ghosts.  Humans don’t meet God after drunkenly soliciting the Archangel Michael to meet his mother, then have their heart stop and lay catatonic in bed as their soul is ripped out of their body into the seas of Her Cosmos.  Humans don’t have aliens visit them in their sleep and do etheric surgery on their bodies – sweet pain of razors and probes and drills and electricity at chakral and nerve points.  Humans don’t have past life memories of angelic warfare and a life in other dimensions.  I may be in a mortal coil, but I can hear and see and feel the aliens.  I built a tin foil hat at 7 to keep Samael’s touch away, but all he did was laugh.  Not in control of my powers, at 12 my body froze and I projected to the second heaven, into a battle between angels and the Void Monsters of which Samael is master, only to nearly die just as Michael pulled me out of harms way, shouted my soul’s name at me, and electrocuted me back into my body with vicious recollections of angel guts and beheaded seraphim and shadow demons so cold and wicked and evil.  “Zophael!” he screamed at me, pulling my soul from the path of killing claws and into a bloodsoaked glade.

Aliens.  They die.  They bleed.  They go mad.  Immortality is a curse, in a way.  I became human to escape the pain.  I died defending the Prince of Heaven with a spear of poison through my mangled heart from the Devil, only to have Samael stitch his own rotting heart into me.  I’m nothing more than an expendable vessel really, the Vitriol Girl, Green Lion that Bleeds Gold from the Sun, Lapis Exillis in her breast.  “You sprang from the heart of Lucifer,” Samael told me at seventeen as he pulled me out of my body on a car trip where I raged against him.  “It is my own black heart.”  At 18 on December 31 on my birthday, meditating under an old rotting crab apple tree in my backyard, Samael showed me a vision of him as Satan in the Paradasical garden, his ribs branches, his heart red fruit, and I a naked Eve with blonde hair dressings eating his heart.  The fruit – the meat – settled into my belly and the fire of immortality and the knowledge of gods lit within.  Eve is a metaphor.  Jophiel, or Zophael, is not.  I have lived lives as an angel.  I have lived lives as a demon, reborn like Moses a babe in the reeds of the Styx, to be raised by the Devil as his child bride in Hell.

I told the Abrahamics to fuck off and ran away to Earth.  I lived a human life as Odin’s volva and skald.  I reincarnated into the Yngling bloodline.  I lived other human lives, and I haven’t been back to the other planets.

I don’t intend to for another eighty years.

Aliens fuck.  Aliens bleed.  Aliens walk among us, either disguised as humans or in human skins like me.  I’ve seen Samael physically multiple times over my life.  I see spirits in their energetic forms about thirty times each day.  Each one a brilliant flying star that hovers over people – beautiful guardian angels, tempestuous fey, earthy land wights, house elves that are punk girls that like lofts and have mushroom hats.

Aliens love us.  Aliens are not here to invade.

They already arrived long before humans evolved.  In fact, they guided our evolution with the fires of inspiration, from the first shaman, the first medicine, the first fire, the first flute and drum, the first tears we shed, the first blood we bled, the first mother that looked upon her human child and saw an extension of herself but also, a soul.

Angels walk among us.  There are thousands of accounts of strangers appearing to people in peril, helping them – fixing cars or carrying them out of fires – then disappearing without a trace.  Michael did it in Vietnam in that famous story.  He particularly loves Italy, from Mount Gargano to the Vatican.  I’m probably a fly to the Pope and the elite Exorcists, but their wards aren’t hard to break.  Anyways, nowadays the secrets of the universe are available for anyone with access to an Internet connection.

Science is magic, magic is science, every being from mythology is real, and I’m a fucking biologist that went to the world’s top science and tech high school and America’s oldest college.  I studied in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson, met an alien from another dimension with my best friends during Imbolc at the same lake the President went swimming in.  I’ve seen countless UFOs.  But the difference between me and the conspiracy theorists is that I was raised by some of the major players in the galaxy, if not the most powerful beings over humanity.  It’s hard to deny the Abrahamic faiths are the dominant power across us 7 billion homo sapiens, and being buddy buddy with the archangels and archdemons and married to their princes means absolutely jack shit for me.  I ain’t rich, I ain’t powerful, I’m just a humble meme farmer and gregarious extroverted blonde that is bubbly, silly, and innocent.

I’ve seen my heart through Satan’s eyes.  It is covered in black rot, just as his body is crawling for it, for my heart is not my own.  I was created by Michael and Samael, one of the first angels, a pact between Heaven and Hell, but then two twins that loved each other and wanted to make a sister.  How horribly wrong that first experiment went, the first family rent apart by treason, by poison, felix culpa, o fortunate fall.

I am weary, at my core, but also eternally joyful, youthful, reveling in beauty and my absolute faith in the goodness of humanity.  I am here to serve.  That’s what angels do.  I want to create love and help others, whether it’s saving the environment or writing novels that inspire or poetry that stokes imagination or healing others through teaching and support.  I don’t want fame.  I don’t want glory.  I don’t know if I ever want to go back to Heaven or Hell – I’d prefer Helheim or Asgard or Vanaheim, even Jotunheim – but do angels really get a choice?  Do we have free will?  I haven’t made many choices in my life.  I met my twin angel in human form out of over 7 billion people in the world.  I’ve made best friends with people halfway across the world through our shared remembrance of Zophael.  “Miss Archangel.”  “Saphael.”  “Freya.”

I’m a whore.  I’m a virgin.  I’m a mystic.  I’m a jack of all trades.  A mile wide, inch deep Washingtonian.

The angels let me in on a little secret: they’re envious of us.  So are the gods.

One perfect life is what immortals crave.  Innocence.  The chance for a good ending.  Our lives are like Hollywood movies to them.  They indulge in our culture, from Michael loving Ryan Reynolds and mixing up superheroes or rapping Hamilton to Samael indulging in horror flicks, Harold and Maude, and postwar German cinema.

They like to read a lot.  They like k-pop.  God forbid Loki ever makes you watch his Marvel movies.  That’s a trip.

Humans lives are a love letter to the stars.  Aliens lives are spent in our service, and they dream of us, exist for us, have been with us since time immemorial.  They’ve fought wars over us.  They’ve died for us.  Stolen fire from the Heavenly Throne from us.  I remember that most clearly, my Fall.  And now I am nothing but a girl.  I always die young.

Halfway between Satan’s Eve and Michael’s Joan of Arc.  My spiritual metaphors.

Halfway between Aslaug and Malusha the Prophetess, my ancestresses great and bold.

Aliens are old news to me.  Being one is old news.

But each of us have pieces of angels in us, pieces of the gods, pieces of the spirits, and all of us are, in fact, aliens.

Don’t be afraid of invasions or abductions.

It’s pretty cool inside of a spaceship, and Michelangelo has made some pretty beautiful sculptures in the higher realms.  There’s even beer and wine and French Onion Soup there.

Aliens love our inventiveness.  Curiosity and love are our greatest virtues.

We love their majesty, their divine guidance, their glory.  Also, they’re pretty hot.

Just remember, 42.  And bring a towel.

 

Beam Me Up

Blooming with biurnal beats, you rode moontide fractals
to my lunar shore on the froth of space, galactic lilacs.

Oh you sweet sunder-storm, heart of a neutron star, mass
heavy with solar flares and overwhelming, crunch gravity.

Your bones are pocked with craters, your comet tail burns
cold, incinerating as you fall to my lips from the stratos.

Alien, extraterrestrial, lover of foreign worlds, abduct me.

Galactic Symphony

Come the quickening blood, the churning luminaries to outer expanses
the Milky Way is my mortar and pestle and I grind star bones to dust
fly away, oh comet boy, and my net of stars will soften your landing:
I will catch you in dark matter arms and sail seas of white nebulas
soon we will be black hole screams, spaghetti, stretch inter-dimensions
but for now, your cradle is a sickle moon, and I am your quantum dream.

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 4

Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

Enki stood, and as he did, bluish and silvery-white patterns appeared on his skin.  His nose sank into his face and skin covered his eyelids.  His flesh became fish-metallic, and his legs bent backward into another joint below the knee.  

He removed his jumpsuit, revealing sexless, smooth features beneath.  Parallel ridges covered with fins ran down his chest, and his shoulders sprouted feathery tentacles the color of sea foam.  His fingers elongated, nails hardening into talons, and his pinkies reabsorbed into his hands.  His feet swallowed their toes and hardened into something like claws.  Finally, his ears and hair disappeared, replaced by fins and frills

A single, slanted eye blinked open in the center of his face, over lips stretched to where his ears had been.  He smiled, and sharp rows of teeth greeted me.  

“Put those fangs away!  You look like a sewer mutant.”

His shoulder tentacles stood on end, and he frowned, his solitary brow arching downwards over an inky-black eye.  “Do I really?”

“Yeah.  Like the Leviathan or something.”

Enki examined his four-fingered hands.  “Anunnaki are about as close to humans as you’ll get in our galaxy.  Bipedal, male-female sexual dynamics, a highly social species. Now, if we went to the Andromeda galaxy, there’s a warm-blooded species closer to your physiology, but even that’s a stretch.  They’re more marsupial than ape-like.”

“Stop being so academic about this.  You’re freaking me out.”  I looked at the ground.  “I don’t think I can do this.  I can’t go upstairs and see more Swamp Things.  Take me home.  Please.”

Enki’s skin flushed cyan.  He frowned like a Cyclops.  “I’d like to, but the next ship to Earth doesn’t leave for a week.  We’re in the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way, about 6,400 light years from your solar system.  The crew wasn’t expecting our arrival, and it takes planning to create a wormhole.  Look, I already spoke to the ship’s captain, Gishkim.  He’s slated our departure for as soon as is feasible.”

I gawked, so overwhelmed by the foreignness of the being before me.  Enki was like something that had climbed out of Earth’s primordial seas, a fluorescent Cyclops sea slug that walked.  

“But I can’t stay here,” I said.  I looked around the vegetated room and shivered despite the rainforest heat.  “What about my job?  I’ll lose it if I’m gone.  What about Carlos and Spike?  They’ll freak.”

Enki’s ear-fins fanned out, like he was distressed, and the translucent frills on his neck stood up.  “It’s alright.  We’ve already used our ship’s communication systems to access your email and phone.  I’ve contacted your family and friends to tell them you have the flu.   Please, try to understand that we mean you no harm.  I may look frightening, but we’re a peaceful species.  You can’t stay in this ward forever.  You have to eat.  To move.”

I looked at the rotating walls.  “Ward?  That’s what this is?  Some place where your friends can plug vines into my back and watch me?”

“It’s not like that.  This room is like a hospital: the plants are genetically sculpted to administer medicine to patients and maintain their homeostasis.  Hashur constructed it specifically for you.”

I touched the leaf-like staircase and looked Enki in his obsidian eye.  “I want to blend in as much as possible.”

Enki nodded.  “Alright then.  Are you ready to go upstairs?”

I braced myself.  “Okay.”

 

The ship was like a forest – woody halls, genetically-engineered vegetation creeping everywhere, with dozen-petalled flowers that looked like a cross between orchids and roses.  A fine mist clung to the ceiling and amber liquid coated the floor, sticking to my feet.  It was humid and warm.  An occasional window would appear, and I would stop to stare at the velvety expanse of space.  Enki would pause, wait, and then nudge me along to our destination.

“Hashur and Gishkim are in the heartwood hall – it’s time for our evening meal.  I’m sure you’re hungry.”

I took note of the hollowness in my stomach and dully agreed.

Enki flashed his serrated-tooth smile.  “Have you noticed you’re speaking my language?”

I stopped.  “What?”  The question exited my throat, and my tongue didn’t shape it like an English word.  Instead, it was clear and bell-like, sweeter than human language.  I repeated myself in wonder, then deliberately switched to English.  I had been speaking a different language and hadn’t even processed it.  

“Whoa,” I said.  “Rad.”

Enki grinned.  “It’s the neurodrip Hashur administered through your biogauge.  It altered your brain chemistry so that you can speak our tongue.”

“Neat.  I’ve always wanted to by a polyglot.”

I rounded a corner and ran straight into another Anunnaki.  Their moist fins made contact with my skin, just like a fish plucked from water.

“Excuse me,” I said, frazzled.

The Anunnaki blocked my exit.  It drew its tentacles down my arm.

“Is this the human?” a feminine voice purred.  “I’ve never seen one up close before.”

I wiped her tentacles off me.  They left behind a shining film.  “Your skin is really cold,” I said.

“Sorry,” she said.  Her skin flashed purple.  “I was just curious.”

“Ishtar, give Ziggi her space,” Enki said.  “She’s adjusting to the ship.  Everything’s a bit frightening.”

“You don’t need to protect me,” I said.  “It’s not so frightening now that I’m getting used to it.”

Ishtar’s ear-fins pressed close to her skull.  “Are all humans this spry, brother?”

I looked to Enki.  “I didn’t know you had a family.”

They both flinched, nictating membranes drawing down across their eyes.

Enki spoke: “Ziggi, my sister didn’t mean to invade your personal space.  She has no manners to speak of.  You’ll have to forgive her.”

Ishtar’s blue tongue rattled in her mouth.  “At least I’m not the family idiot.  Really, bringing a human aboard?  You’ll never finish your crowning process with the speck of neural matter you possess.”

Enki’s skin turned whitish.  “Don’t dredge up old arguments.  Completing our maturation cycles isn’t a competition.  Just because mother sent you on this mission with me doesn’t mean you have to hate me for it.  I didn’t force you onto this ship.”

Ishtar flashed her fangs.  “I wouldn’t be aboard this ship if you hadn’t taken so long to mature.  The clock’s still ticking, and how much have you progressed?  Did becoming addicted to drugs further your understanding of the human race?  How much more of my time are you going to waste on this asinine, dead-end mission?”

Enki clenched his lips.  “I don’t have to justify myself to you.  Don’t be so aggressive.  It’s unbecoming.”

Ishtar laughed, a throaty sound.  “I could feel your imprint on her.  You directly interfered with her genome on Earth – what, while she was sleeping?”  Her cold gaze fixated on Enki.  “Meddling with an uninitiated species’ biology is in direct violation of our laws.  Or have you forgotten the fiasco that happened the last time you studied humanity?  Your precious humans wrote religious books about us.  Even thousands of years couldn’t erase your mistake from their memories.”

“I always thought the Bible was fishy,” I said.

Ishtar’s smile was thin.  “Be careful, Ziggi.  Enki loses himself in the subjects he studies.  He’s a fool.”

“I think I can take care of myself,” I said.

Ishtar gave a hoarse laugh.  “How long until she learns what the crowning process entails?  What you’re grooming her for?”

Enki sighed, a wet sound.  “Not her.  Ziggi’s just my roommate.  It’s an accident that she’s here.”

“What’s going on?” I said.  “You guys are freaking me out.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Enki said, turning to me.  “My sister’s conjecturing.”  He glanced over his shoulder at Ishtar.  “We’re leaving now.  I suggest you do the same.”

Ishtar narrowed her eye.  “Stop lying to yourself.  No wonder you’re so addle-brained.  You swallow your own venom instead of spitting it out.”  She focused on me.  “He’s imprinted on you – it’s only a matter of time.”  

With that, Ishtar turned the corner, claws clacking on the damp floor.

Enki took my hand in his, trying to be reassuring.  “Sorry about that.  Ishtar’s usually unpleasant.  Come.  I’ll take you to the heartwood hall.”

I didn’t budge.  “Is this some kinda alien porno like Earth Girls are Easy?”

Enki’s skin grayed, like brine.  “What?  No!  It’s complicated, but completely untrue, and my sister is just mocking me.  Her comments were crass.  She likes to get a rise out of people.”

“What do I have to do with your crowning process?”

Enki looked over his shoulder, as if expecting his sister to return.  “Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.”

 

I poked what looked like a bowl of fried arachnids with a single-pronged eating utensil and flinched.

“Is this stuff, um, edible?” I said.

The Anunnaki laughed.  

I sat at a leafy table with Gishkim, Hashur, and Enki.  Gishkim and Hashur were both two heads shorter than Enki and lacked his shoulder tentacles, marking them as the sheath class of Anunnaki, who ran communications and performed everyday duties that supported their species’ overall function.  Their skin, instead of Enki’s default blue, was clear like glass, revealing strange organs beneath.  Silver flashed beneath their skin, which Enki said was something like neurons.  

Unlike Enki and Ishtar’s head- and neck-frills, Gishkim and Hashur had two fleshy stalks on each side of their brow.  I was reminded of the translucent sea slugs I’d seen on Animal Planet once, in a documentary about Antarctica.  They’d been called sea angels, as if they were otherworldly messengers from the depths.  That’s what the Anunnaki were, anyways – visitors from the ocean of space.

“She’s funny,” said Gishkim, the ship’s captain.  He smiled at me.  “You eat the imperva like this.”  He took his eating utensil and pressed it against a ridge on one of the arachnid’s backs.  The imperva’s exoskeleton split open, revealing something that smelled like crab meat.  The white, steaming flesh was split into different sections, and he stabbed his utensil through a portion of it and dipped it in a black sauce at the bottom of the bowl.

“What are imperva?” I asked, curious.  I watched Gishkim chew.  “Can I even digest it?  Are you sure you don’t have like a hamburger or something?”

“Imperva are a kind of filter feeder from our home planet, Nibiru,” said Hashur.  I absently touched the hole in my lower back.  “They’re a delicacy.  The sauce is made from their ink – it has a high salt content, but a savory taste.  I think you’ll find them a pleasing combination and fully digestible.”

I skewered the imperva meat, dipped it in the ink, and took a tentative bite.  The food nearly melted in my mouth.  I chewed and swallowed.  

“It does taste good.  Like fish.  But it looks like a spider.  I thought it would be crap,” I said.

Enki laughed.  “I’m glad that you’re adjusting.”

Gishkim took a triangular device from the middle of the table and shook it over his food.  The shaker deposited a red, spicy-smelling substance over the imperva.  He offered the shaker to me.  “This gives it a kick.  It’s crushed goudra petal.”

“Like a flower?” I asked.

“Heck if I know,” said Gishkim, looking to Hashur for an answer.

“They’re a bit like flowers,” Hashur, resident scientist, answered.  “Goudras are chemotrophs.  They degrade minerals.  I’m sure you’ve seen them on the walls of our ship.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking of the dozen-petalled flowers.  “You mean the ones that look like roses?”

Hashur nodded.

I took the spice shaker and sniffed it.  It smelled good, kind of tangy.  I sprinkled some on one of the imperva’s legs and tried it.  It tasted even better with the spice.  

Gishkim took a last bite of his food.  “Ishtar’s more aggressive than usual,” he said.  “She’s molting.  Try to avoid her.”

“That would explain her confrontation with us earlier,” Enki said.  “I’m sorry she’s so difficult.  I know it’s hard to keep her occupied aboard the ship.  I don’t understand why my mother has kept her here so long.  One would think Ishtar had learned enough about my crowning process already.  She should have been assigned her own planet by now.”

Gishkim rubbed his temple.  His head stalks stood on end.  “She’s already mastered the crowning procedures and memorized every report sent back from Earth.  She’s growing antsy.  I’m running out of things to teach her.  I think your mother hesitates because of Ishtar’s impulsiveness.”

“Tiamat has always been a cautious queen,” Hashur agreed.

“Only to counteract my father’s hotheaded tendencies,” Enki said.  “I swear, Ishtar may well be his clone.”

“Abzu is a fiery ruler,” Gishkim agreed.  “Your mother is his complement in every way.”

“Is your sister always moody?” I asked.

Gishkim smirked.  “That’s one way to put it.”

Enki sighed.  “Yes, she is, but she’s especially aggressive when molting.  Anunnaki personalities are polarized during the molting process.”

I finished the last of my imperva and chased it down with a gulp of water.  “So do you just turn into a total hippy-dippy druggie when you molt?”

Enki wiped his lips with a furry leaf that he plucked from the vegetated table.  “Uh, well, I suppose I become calmer and indulge in, well, I indulge in more substances, yes.  I find that cannabis soothes the painful process.  It helped me cope on Earth.”

“Thank the waters of Nibiru we don’t have to molt, right Hashur?” Gishkim said.  “It’s like being dried out and squeezed into a skin three sizes too small.  At least, that’s what Abzu says.”

“That sounds uncomfortable,” I said.

Enki nodded. “It’s a part of the royal maturation cycle.  We shed accumulated knowledge and cement neural pathway,” he said.  “It occurs in the years before sexual maturation.”

I thought back to Ishtar’s mention of ‘imprinting.’  “Um, uh, I didn’t need to know that.”

Gishkim did something like snort, but it sounded more like a gurgle.  “In a word, you could say Ishtar’s sexually frustrated.  Another emotion Hashur and I will never experience.  When the sheath class wants to spawn, all we need to do is touch antennae and-”

“Gishkim, stop being vulgar,” Hashur said.

Gishkim’s head stalks hung limp.  “I wouldn’t be royal if you paid me.  You’re the only reasonable member of your family, Enki, and even you’re an idiot.”

“He means that in the most affectionate way possible,” said Hashur.  “Don’t you, Gishkim?”

“Bite me,” Gishkim said.  “I had to rearrange an entire vortex schedule because our addict prince messed up.”  Gishkim laughed.  “Just kidding.  It was no problem.  Only as painful as plucking my claws out one by one.”

Enki flushed purple.  “Sorry.”

Dinner passed, and I watched in fascination as Hashur caressed a bump at the center of the table.  A pore opened with the sound of rushing liquid and something like sap filled the basin.  The aliens put their wooden plates, dining implements, and bamboo-like cups into the pore.  I did the same.  Steam rose from the pore as the digested the materials.  Dinner gone, the pore sealed shut.

“You guys are the most crunchy granola aliens I’ve ever met.”

Enki showed me to my room.  We walked down a central hall with a clear floor, allowing one to see the expanse of space underfoot.  Anunnaki trod over a gaseous, green planet with several rings and a single, crescent moon that hovered miles below.  Enki said the planet was a kind of intergalactic trading post that Gishkim’s ship had landed on yesterday to refuel and restock on supplies.  I was blown away by the planet’s beauty, atwitter from the idea that I could step out of the ship and fall into teal clouds.  

“Here are your quarters,” Enki said, standing beside a tree as thick as three elephants.  I gazed up at the branches that threatened to swallow the ceiling and disappeared into mist.

He pressed his hand to a whorl in the bark and the tree opened, just like the table’s pore had.  Enki entered and I followed.  The interior was the size of a studio apartment, with the same grassy floor as the ward I had been in and a bed made of moss.  Red goudra flowers hung from the ceiling, spicing the air with their scent.  A thin stream, lined with mossy slate, cut across the room, flowing in a miniature waterfall from what looked to be a sink.  The ceiling was clear glass, allowing me to see the stars above.  

Something splashed in the stream.  I looked down to see ciliated, translucent jewels floating about – a bit like the diatoms on the microscope slides of my high school biology class.  They glimmered every color of the rainbow.

“Snacks, in case you get hungry,” Enki said, bending over on his double-jointed legs to scoop one of the pear-sized creatures from the water.  Its strands retracted as he bit in.  There was a delicate crunch, and he showed me the interior of the organism, which looked a bit like red bean paste.

I sat down on the mossy bed.  “I don’t know if I can eat something with tentacles.”

Enki finished the supposed snack.  “They’re not really alive.  They’re the fruiting bodies of our plants – like seedpods.  Think of them as swimming apples. They drop into the waters of Nibiru and swim until they find ground to grow on.  That’s what the tentacles are for:  roots.”

“Maybe I’ll try one later.”  I laid down on the bed and stared up at space.

Enki sat on a prominent rock.  “I’m trying to make you feel comfortable.  Please forgive me if you’re not.”

I rolled over onto my stomach.  “It’s fine – well, as fine as being abducted can be.  I can hack out a week here.”

Enki smiled, baring his shark teeth.  “Do you want to watch TV?  We save every program broadcast on Earth for research.”

I met his black eye.  “Crap.  Do you guys have Metalocalypse?”

“You mean that cartoon about the death metal band your band watches after practice?  Yes, we do.  I quite enjoy that.”

And so an alien and I watched a black comedy that peaked in the late 2000s, broadcast on the ceiling.  Enki produced a joint and lighter from god knew where – did he have a kangaroo pouch or something?  If so, I didn’t want to know.  

The room smelled of goudra petals and weed, and the diatom-fruit drifted happily in the stream.  The scent of Enki’s joint lingered after he left, just like the sheen his ass left on the rock.  I couldn’t get over how sticky Anunnaki were.

My blanket was, predictably, a leaf.  The natural light the walls exuded faded, and I took that as my signal to sleep.  The moss beneath me was strangely comforting, and I found it as springy as a new mattress.  I drifted off to sleep with thoughts of a green planet above and sweet arachnids on my tongue-

Slimy hands on my shoulders.

So much for sleep.