The three ships landed fifty meters outside of the settlement known as CenCast3 and I could see a crowd forming. A disembodied voice began to inform us that the atmosphere was not sufficient. Tikk walked back to the wall that had secured us during flight, which slid open to reveal storage. I mimicked Tikk by picking up one of the clear masks that hung on the wall. As I examined the translucent mask, I considered what I would say to my brother. I had been a long time away from home.
"The mask should fit you. Hold it in front of your face and it will shift to fit your small features. It will allow you to breath on planet."
Tikk was putting his mask on as he said this. Les and Urral already wore theirs and were watching me. I lifted the transparent mask to my face and could see it come to life. It flexed and reached for me while it shrank to fit snuggly around the edges of my hair line and jaw. As soon as my mask was on, the door opened and we all stepped out into the light.
I brought my hand up to shield my eyes as they adjusted to Kepler's sun, which is slightly closer than Earth's and Qualittia ʼs. The colony had to move the settlement twice a year in order to stay on the area of the planet not tilted directly toward the star. On paper Kepler was a perfect planet for terraformation. The climate was mild and livable, but in reality the soil was useless and needed thousands of years in order to be ready for sustaining oxygen based life. We were never able to grow anything and had wasted millions of gallons of water, shipped from Earth, in the process of trying. The small aquifers native to the planet had dried up within a couple years, and the suns proximity made rain nearly impossible.
I looked out on a dwindling settlement made up of three cylindrical-shaped tent structures. There had been over one hundred tents in the original colony. What appeared to be the entire population of CenCast were huddled together in their bulky walking suits about ten meters from the three ships. No one spoke and I pushed my way past the Par in order to make myself visible.
My brother was the first to recognize me. "Elinor!" Judas ran towards me and threw his long arms around my shoulders before I had a chance to respond. His walking suit made it an awkward hello but I didn’t mind the cumbersome embrace.
"Elinor, what are you doing here? What the fuck are you wearing?” His light blue eyes whipped about as he tried to take in the Par and me at the same time. “Who are these guys? Are you ok?"
Judas had stepped back but still had a grip on my shoulders.
"I'm fine, and these guys are here to save us,” I said, awkwardly tugging on my shorts as I motioned to the colorful giants standing behind me. “They’re called the Par. They’re from a planet called Qualittia, and I really don't think they want to hurt us, but… I did it…I found something.”
Everyone else was starting to crowd in now. Les and the other Par backed up towards the rear of their ships. The eyes of every human followed them.
“So… so, this is it.” Judasʼ eyes widened and his arms followed suit. I could feel another hug on the horizon. “You did it El. You fucking found something....someone." And there was the hug. He looked at the gathering crowd. "Hey, back up. It's El! She found these guys! She brought them here to save us!" He was screaming and waving his hands above his head at this point. I could see familiar faces but had been off planet for eight years. Everyone had gotten so old.
I saw my one friend, Ming, in the crowd and reached out for her. I hadn’t grown close to most of my fellow CenCast residents. I had been raised very separate from them, and when everything came crashing down I signed up for the Searchers and spent most of my life off planet. My brother had earned the love of these people but I never even tried.
"Look at you, beautiful girl." Ming pulled me into her small, soft body. "You have returned to us, and brought our salvation with you." When she pulled away there were tears in her almond eyes. Ming touched my face and began to laugh. "Are they going to say anything to us, or just scare everyone with their big, black eyes?" Her hand swept towards the colorful monstrosities lingering in the background.
I turned to see Tikk, Urral, Innc, and Bryyl inching closer to the murmuring crowd. I broke from Ming's grasp and made my way toward them.
"Wait a second." I put my hand on Tikk's chest and heard a reaction from the crowd of on lookers as they heard me speak Parian.
I told Tikk, "I still don't really know the general consensus yet.”
Then I turned back to the group of nervous humans and shouted, “As you can see I have come back from my Search with a solution, our only solution. The Par have offered to take us with them, back to their planet, which they have assured me will sustain us. They do not want to stay here longer than a few hours. I know this is sudden, but you need to prepare yourselves to leave now.” I looked back at Tikk to find Les behind me.
"What have you said to them?" He again placed himself very close to me, and my right shoulder was currently brushing against the center of his chest. I made no attempt to move away but instead leaned my head back in order to meet his eyes.
"I told them to pack and be ready to leave soon. I said you were going to take us back to your planet which is life sustaining." I was looking up at him and felt his hand rest on my lower back.
"How do we know these things don't just want to eat us or something? I know Kepler can't sustain us but what if we go with these guys and end up dinner?"
I didn’t know the woman that vocalized our fears, but she made her point and murmurs rose up around her. A middle aged man with a hooked nose added, “Look at her. They've probably brain washed her by now."
I stepped away from Les and moved in the direction of the thin man. Judas spit out the man's name as he stepped between the crowd and me, “Luke, How dare you make assumptions about my sister after she has brought us an answer; a solution to our problem. It's go with these guys or stay here and die. Yes, itʼs a risk leaving the planet and neither El nor I can make any promises, but staying on Kepler is death. This is our only chance and you all know that. I bet they know it too.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the Parʼs direction. “Do you really want to start this interaction with a fight?"
"I'm with Judas," Another older woman spoke up. "I want my children to have a chance to live, and to have the possibility to have children of their own. Come on boys." She said the last part to the three men standing beside her. There were no more children in CenCast. Judas was the youngest person on planet and yet he appeared to hold quite a bit of power over these seemingly broken people. Other groups concurred and broke off towards the living chamber.
Judas nudged my shoulder with his. "Come on sis. Let’s go grab my stuff. What’s the weird thing between you and the purple guy?" I attempted to interject but Judas ignored my look of indignation and pulled me into him as we walked. "Then you can give me a tour of one of those crazy ass spaceships."
I turned and looked behind us at Les who was standing akimbo looking very disheartened. I answered his disgruntled stare by saying, “We’ll be back quickly. Everyone is going to get their belongings. Just wait a bit.
I wrapped my arm around Judasʼ waist and allowed him to lead me away before Les could open his mouth. Judas led me toward the tent on our right while everyone else headed toward the tent on our left. "Got your own place or something?" I nudged him in the rib.
"Kind of; I set up a cot in the medical bay to be close to the radio in case you needed to communicate."
He opened the hatch and we entered the air tight chamber.
"Guess that feeling in my gut was legitimate after all." He patted some of the equipment and asked, "So you only found those guys yesterday? How did you get back here so quickly? Was their planet one of the ones on the scan?"
He spoke as he started to throw random items into a blue satchel. I thought to tell him all of these things were pointless now but I didn't want to thrust him into the reality of the situation just yet. Judas was excited and when we got excited we started to talk very fast, but even when no one else could, my brother and I always understood each other.
"Actually, they found my ship about twelve hours ago. Obviously they have crazy technology that I can in no way understand or explain, and part of that technology involves bending space. I'm sure Tikk will be happy to give you a run down when we get back to the main ship."
Judas cocked his head at me from the other side of the room.
I said, "Tikk is the green guy. The purple one is Les and the pink is Urral. Bryyl is the giant orange guy. There are only twelve male crew members on board this massive ship. I don’t remember all their names.”
"You've never been good with names. I bet you don't know anyone but me and Ming out there." Judas zipped up his bag and I followed him out.
"I've spent maybe a total of eighteen of the last forty-eight years on planet, and most of that was spent locked away in the old house."
He sent me a disapproving look as he opened the outside hatch. “No excuses; just own it. I love you but you can be a bit of a cunt at times." I punched his shoulder as he swung the door shut. "Guess there’s no point in locking up or anything now. Probably never see this rock again, huh?" He swung the small bag around in a circle and let it go. "I'll never need any of that stuff again either will I?" He motioned toward the bag as it landed behind him in the dust. It would sit there until the dust covered it.
"No, I don't think our tablets would work on Qualittia. I think everything is about to change." I nudged him in the ribs again because it made me feel like things weren't as serious as they were. "Oh crap, I forgot I was the only one that could communicate with them." I spotted a small group of people creeping closer to the waiting ships, with fear plastered across their faces, and rushed over to help Tikk corral them into the back entrances.
"Let me help. Where do you need them to go?" I asked Tikk as I approached the ship I had arrived on.
"Thank you. I was concerned they would reach us before you did, and I did not know how to tell them I needed them to leave all their belongings here. Clothing, food, shelter will all be provided for them once they are settled on Qualittia-- or Trallcore, and their waste will be used to charge a Zorb.”
He swung his head around and walked toward the back of the ship. Their arms were full of the same things Judas had originally thought to bring. All the useless crap we put meaning into because it was ours. I locked eyes with the woman closest to me and said, "You can't bring any of that with you. I'm sorry. I know I said to get your things, but the Par said that you will not need any of it anyway." More people with random, useless stuff cradled lovingly in their arms were arriving. Judas was telling everyone to drop their bags.
"Come on guys. There’s really no point right? The tablets have been useless for years now. We’re going to have new identities when we get there. Be new people." Judas always said things in the right way.
Ming tossed her bag to the ground and walked up to meet me. "What do I need any of that for anyway? I want some of those tiny shorts you’re wearing." She stuck her index finger into the top of my shorts, pulled it towards her, and let it go pop back onto my hipbone. She raised her eyebrows and whispered, "Sexy." I couldn't help laughing, but as I pushed her away because I was thoroughly embarrassed.
“This is all they have.”
"If you think I'm crawling into those teeny tiny things you are bat shit crazy," Judas said coming between us, satisfied that everyone was calmly discarding their now worthless belongings.
"Don't focus on the clothes right now, ok? Think about stuff like oxygen and the ability to cultivate crops, and help me organize everyone into three equal groups." Judas broke into action immediately, and I saw Les step off the ship to my left and catch sight of me. "We're separating everyone into groups, are you ready for us to load?"
Les walked toward me as I spoke.
"How did you learn their language so quickly?" Ming remained by my side and was watching our exchange in awe.
"They injected me with this stuff. Not pretty but it works. I think you are all going to get injected at some point." I shifted my attention back to Les.
He stopped further from me than I had expected. "We are ready. Have the… what do you call yourselves?" Les looked at Ming then back at me. "You are young compared to the rest of your species."
"I didn't age normally while I was out on Search. This is Ming." I waved my hand between his torso and hers. "Ming, this is Les.” I was able to jump between our languages with ease now. “He's kind of in charge around here."
I wrinkled my nose when I said this as much to put her at ease as to annoy him. Then I turned back to Les and said, "We call ourselves humans. I'll have everyone line up outside the cargo chambers.”
Les called after us as we made our way to the back of the ships. "Inform them of how to secure themselves into the walls. Also have them remove their bulky suite and throw them out for the Zorb. Then you return to this ship. You will be riding back with us in the main chamber."
I screamed from about ten meters away, "I’ll stay with them. In case they get scared, or want to ask any questions." I slowly walked backwards as Ming joined Judas in his attempts to keep everyone calm and coordinated.
Les took a couple steps forward and said, "No" in a low, vehement tone I had not heard before. It suited him. He closed the gap between us and continued. "I will help you organize the… humans," The word was difficult for him to say. "Then we will return to the main chamber." He walked past me before I could say another word.
- R.T. Kilgore
I awoke completely aware of my surroundings. My mind's ability to remain calm and alert was exasperating. Sometimes a girl just wants to sink into a state of shock-induced unconsciousness.
I was sitting up in my small bed when Tikk poked his head through the large opening, and said, “You are awake." He smiled a shockingly toothy grin and entered the room.
"What is it with the whole hiding everything in the walls and no closed-off rooms thing you guys have going on?" I swept the room with my arms. “How do I ever find this room again? I'd end up walking into the med bay when I need the toilet if I lived here.” I looked at Tikk and wondered if we had arrived at Kepler yet, but I was more interested in learning about my hosts than getting back to my useless planet.
"The bareness of our ship upsets you. Les and I spoke of your little outburst while you were asleep." I inhaled quickly upon remembering how I had yelled at the purple beast in my bladder bursting rage.
Tikk saw my look of fear and reassured me, "It is expected for cultures to clash when first coming into contact with each other. Misunderstandings are part of the process and easily forgiven. We are a warrior species. Since birth, Kara warriors are trained for combat and taught to always be ready for any situation. We evolved with little need for sitting. The Harllukna are a peaceful, research based culture; you will be introduced to them in due time. They have architecture more conducive to sitting and privacy. Closing off rooms would not suit the sense of camaraderie our culture wishes to uphold, and it would hinder us if the ship were under attack. We respect each other’s privacy and never enter another's personal space without themtheir being aware, but there is not great need for personal space among our kind.” We sit for formal meals and when we wish to have recreational time."
Tikk stretched his hand out to me. "Would you like to join us on the deck? Your planet should be coming into view soon."
I placed my pale hand in his green, callused one. The lines on his palm could have belonged to any human; if that human had three long fingers instead of four and black, unbreakable nails, but we both had thumbs that could clasp the other’s hand. Par skin is similar in form to human skin but feels as if it was covered with a few centimeters of tar, thick and impenetrable.
Tikk pulled me to standing and said, "As for knowing what rooms are where, that just takes time like when you enter any new place. It is simple when you understand the lay out. We are currently in the living- quarters section of the ship, which is the upper portion. Each portal opens to either a sleeping or facility room down this hall, and your room will now recognize you. When you approach, the opening the lights will illuminate. If you enter a facility room and do not need to use any of the devices then nothing will happen and you will know where you are."
“Well, at least I'll be able to find my room again." I smiled at this small comfort as we exited and turned right. "So, are we walking towards the area where the control and medical rooms are?"
”Yes, can you feel the floor slant down?" I could feel a slant in the floor but it seemed too slight to make much of a difference.
"We are descending into the main area of the ship now. The ship is made of a Philect similar to the fibers our clothes are made from, but with a different chemical base. It gives the ship a malleable texture that can be manipulated and made to fit into whatever shape is most needed at any given moment. The ship's usual shape looks a bit like this," He held up his free hand and pointed two fingers while spreading them apart to make a ‘V.’
He continued. “With the control room located at the center and the living and storage sections of the ship breaking off in separate directions. There are times when we need more space in the medical bay and so that space is taken from the storage area because they both run along the same section of the ship, and, if necessary, the medical bay can give up space to the hanger.”
He must have seen the awe on my face because he let out a small gurgling laugh again. "The way I am explaining it must make it sound fantastical, but I promise everything can be easily explained with simple physics, but I fear that it would not be so simple to you." He smiled at me then and I could see a glimpse of sympathy in his eyes.
"Another reason we prefer to keep a common color and design throughout the ship is so that those not familiar with the layout are easily confused. No species has ever been able to take a Par ship while Par still inhabited it. Les, we are here." I hadn't noticed that we were standing at the entrance to the control room until Tikk informed Les of our arrival.
Les was even more intimidating than I remembered. He was not the tallest of his crew. In fact he was about medium height for the Par, but Les demanded attention. His gaze rested on me and I suddenly forgot there was anyone else in the room. For a being I had considered monstrous just a few hours ago Les was very aesthetically appealing to me at the moment. Perhaps it had something to do with my planet, bright blue Kepler, looming at me from the window behind him, or perhaps it was the way his upper nostrils began to pulse as he stared at me.
As I tore my eyes from Les’ amethyst form to scan the room I realized that all their faces were more human that I had first thought. Their eyes: large, black, and upturned were gorgeously alien, but the gill-like nostrils took more time to acquire a taste for.
Les had a wide jaw, which only added to his animalistic appearance. Urral, and the majority of the crew, had longer more human features, but all of their noses were flat against their face, and equipped with a second pair of slits. I found myself staring at them constantly.
The extra slits on Les’ nose were going bat shit when my eyes returned to his face, and I was reminded of Tikk's existence when he spoke into my left ear. "We are ready to land, but Les and I would like to discuss our plans with you before we arrive. We have learned through experience that colonization is eased with communication. We have identified 71 life forms that match your genetic code residing on the planet, but the planet itself is not altogether hospitable." Les had begun to approach us as Tikk spoke.
Les stopped just short of my right shoulder. I could have reached out and stroked his thick skin. "Have you informed her of our plans?" He asked Tikk. Now that he was standing two inches from me I had become invisible.
"I was just starting to. I thought it would be best if we both spoke to her." Tikk was still linked to my left arm and he began to pet my hand as if I needed consoling. Now they both turned to face me and Tikk said, “Elinor, you and your people do not wish to remain on your planet, correct?" This was the negotiation.
"No, of course not." With those four words I had already lost. These guys weren't here to save us. They were here to profit off of us. I continued with caution, "This planet, Kepler, was only meant to be a settler colony while the process of terraformation was carried out. Earth, our planet of origin, had begun the process of colonizing other planets for natural materials with the hope of one day housing humans for the long term, but the colonies were never meant to be replacements for Earth."
Les’ face tilted in confusion and I pushed forward with the gory details. "My species had outgrown and over developed our planet. We needed a place to put all the excess people and also an answer to the food shortage problem. About two hundred years ago our scientists discovered a way to harness the sun's energy in a way that powered our spacecraftsspacecraft beyond anything we had known before."
I met Tikk's shocked gaze. He shook his head in confusion and said, "You used the star that warmed your own planet for energy? Even a massive and young star would be drained in a matter of…"
I nodded in agreement. "And that’s exactly what happened. We had only set up three colonies by the time the sun started to wane. The effects on Earth were of course catastrophic and everyone that could afford it escaped to one of the fledgling colonies, but obviously none of them were ready to maintain life. From and from what we could glean from the small amount of communication we received from the other two we are the only survivors. It wasn't like we didn't have any warning. My father remembered physicists predicting the inevitable and numerous attempts to stop technology from progressing, but who wants to listen to hippies and scientists when there are millions of dollars to be made. The people of Earth knowingly fucked themselves over." I stopped abruptly. Tikk and Les both shifted uneasily at my use of profanity. I again became aware that I was speaking in their language with such ease, and the word for fuck in their language is melodic when compared to its harsh parallel in my first language, English.
"Your species destroyed its own planet." I saw awe in Les’ face as he spoke. I could feel the tensions around us shift as they reconsidered me. Humans had become something dangerous to them. "We assumed we had found fellow colonizers, but this is…" Les fell silent but kept his eyes on me as he thought. Tikk began to tighten his grip on my arm as if preparing to move me quickly.
Then Les broke our staring competition by yelling, "Prepare the cargo ships for departure." Tikk pulled me out of the room.
Les followed us and Tikk took over the conversation. "We are going to take down three cargo ships down to load your people. We will not be staying on the planet for more than two hours.”
We entered the cargo hold and I saw my pod sitting in the corner. It looked jagged and tiny next to the massively cylindrical cargo ships Tikk was pointing toward. The cargo hold itself was cavernous and held more than just the four ships. The first half of the room was obviously for storage and had what appeared to be the only closed off room on the ship.
"You will of course come with us. We will need you to translate until we can get your people on board and injected with LiquiParian. We now know that it takes about ten hours for your body to assimilate the serum. Please, step up here." Tikk had lead me to the side of one of the huge, oblong white ships and was motioning for me to enter a curved opening that revealed a porcelain white interior.
I nodded as I placed my hand on the outer wall of the ship. “Who does your cleaning?” I asked, laughing at the silliness of my question because no one else did.
I stepped into the circular vessel. I felt like I was inside a slightly flattened sphere. Again the area was bare and a large viewing portal showed the cargo bay. I walked further in as Tikk, Les, and Urral entered the ship behind me. "How do you keep everything so white?" I touched one of the malleable walls; the surface was gritty, not smooth, as I had assumed.
"It is the same material the main ship is made from. It absorbs any residue that remains on it for longer than a couple fractions." Urral answered me. He smiled and turned toward the portal where I could see the side wall of the main ship was raising in order to allow for our exit.
The ship was beginning to buzz and click and I could feel a jolt as it powered up. ”Please, everyone take a position," Tikk said as he led me by my shoulder towards the back wall.
He turned me to face him and then pushed my back so that I touched the wall. Upon making contact the wall became soft and dough like. I felt like I was being pushed into a sponge, and when I was one with the wall, Tikk released me. I was about halfway into the wall and could feel it gripping me, but I also felt that I could easily pull away if I desired.
"These ships go very fast and stop even quicker. It is best that we do not have any option for individual movement while they are in flight." Tikk smiled at me and then leaned himself against the part of the wall to my right. I could see Les and Urral doing the same thing on the other side..
"So, can the entire ship do this? Like in my room or the med bay?" The ship began to move once everyone was secure and I was enjoying the view. It was the last time I would ever land on Kepler.
"You mean secure our bodies?" Tikk answered. I could hear Urral and Les discussing something about food rations and my stomach growled.
“This is far superior to anything my people ever designed."
We traveled very fast. The ship was already hovering about three hundred kilometers above what was left of the human settlement, and I had not sensed any shift in speed.
"We use the same material in all our ships, and in most of our homes on Qualitia. The wall becomes malleable as the ship prepares for takeoff. It is not used for that purpose on Qualitia, our planet,” He added to answer my questioning gaze. “The Tryllkit, our ship, manipulates space to travel and there is no need to secure yourself during that process. You can step out now. The ship will lower to the ground slowly.”
Les and Urral had already stepped away from the wall and were walking toward the front of the ship. I pushed myself away from the wall and joined them.
"Your colony is within range and should be aware of our arrival. Do you believe they will attempt to attack us as we descend?" Les turned to face me as he spoke. Tikk had moved to my left, so Les and I stood close to each other with the other two males flanking us.
"I don't believe they would even be able to.” I replied. “We used to have many powerful weapons and ammunition, but all legitimate fire power was used up during the last rebellion."
"You used weapons on your own kind? It is no wonder your population has gotten so dangerously low," Urral snorted in a laugh at the absurdity of my statement. He was right, we were not an intelligent species.
“When we land, you must do as I say and act quickly.” Les said. I nodded and watched my people make their way towards the ship, fully acknowledging that I did not know what to say about any of what had just occurred.
- R. T, Kilgore